Ah, the life of a columnist...
Believe me kids, it’s not all backstage passes, wild parties in Ibiza and throngs of adoring fans (that’s just a small part of it, unfortunately). Mostly, it’s banging my head on my desk at home, a Sunday night filled with frustration and self-immolation fueled by beer. Resisting temptation to sit and watch Sportscenter, chat on Yahoo Messenger or just call it a night and get some decent sleep.
As it was Sunday night, whining to a friend that I still didn’t have a column for this week while Sportscenter blared in the background, almost finished with my second beer and still not a single word typed for this week’s column.
She said I should consider myself lucky that I’m paid to write, to pursue my passion. Yes, you’re right, I answered, it’s a blessing and I never conceived that I’d be in this position. But, I continued, it was scant consolation that I was facing yet another deadline and I still had no clue as to what this week’s column would be about.
She asked what I was listening to at the moment (aware that my weekly presence here is ostensibly about music). Unwilling to admit that it was ESPN, I switched the dish to Sirius XMU and told her the Wavves, “So Bored.”
Asking if there was anything I could write about regarding the Wavves, it occurred to me that, coming up on the end of the year, I was obligated to compose some kind of “Best Of” 2010.
Except my heart was not into it, the problem being that pretty much every publication still printing on pulp would be running (or had already run) some arbitrary “Best Of” list for this year.
“I think you have your column,” she said after I’d expressed no shortage of ennui; “So Bored,” indeed.
I told her that, despite unreasonable expectations for such a list, for such a column, I really did not want to replicate yet another Top Ten list. After all, Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was going to be on the top of everyone’s list (as it should be) and to include it on my own would not just be redundant but absurd. Sure, it would most likely top my list as well but... who cares?
There’s a chorus for Kanye and I don’t care.
Besides, I have difficulty making the kind of comparisons that ranks one selection over the next. Not only is it unsatisfactory, in the end I’d look at the list and realize I got it all wrong.
We can thank late-December rain for there being no joy in Mudville but my aversion to creating my own “Best Of 2010” list only added to that malaise.
Which brings me back to the Wavves. While I don’t think their release in early spring was anywhere close to being one of the best albums this year, I have to admit that it was one of the most fun.
Then write about what albums were the most fun for you, she said.
Eureka. No ranking, no pretense of including selections that were smart but soulless, what mattered in 2010 were the songs and albums that time and again shifted my hand to the volume knob and caused me to crank the damn thing up.
With no particular order or assumption that any of the following titles are superior in some way to the rest, these are some of the bands that released albums this year that demanded to played loud, making a joyful noise.
Earlier this summer I was assimilated into the Bjorg collective, made a mindless slave to Swedish electro-pop (and not just because I finally got around to reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and thoroughly enjoyed it). Robyn’s “Body Talk” EPs — beginning with “Pt. I” in early summer and culminating with “Pt. III” last month — roused my adolescent self to dance, sing out loud and remember what it was like to have my hormones charged by shamelessly insouciant dance music. The fact that my kids (especially my girls) loved this stuff was an indication that I’d tapped into musical gold.
It didn’t hurt that Robyn infused her music with wit and intelligence. “Don’t F****** Tell Me What to Do” was not just filled with attitude but a nuanced poignancy (I could totally see Lisbeth Salander singing it to herself) while “Dancing on My Own” and “Fembot” allowed club kids everywhere to throw up a middle-finger salute to the rest of us unable or unwilling to dance.
Yes, I wrote a few months ago that I was completely burned out on hearing the Black Keys whenever I turned on the television (Fereffssake, they’re featured in a Kay Diamond commercial... ugh).
I was being disingenuous. Ever since its release last spring, “Brothers” has continued in heavy rotation on my pod. With it’s gritty commitment to the blues, garage rock and early ’70s soul (“Never Give You Up” is the best evocation of that genre and era in over a decade), the Black Keys created an album that, while giving a respectful nod to the past, looks unwaveringly to the future.
Speaking of respectful nods to the past, the incredible collaborative effort between Elton John and Leon Russell “The Union” reminded me of the big, big music of the late-’60s and early-’70s (especially Russell’s work as leader an impresario for Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour). With John returning to his rootsier, pre-”Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road” days and Russell as surly and idiosyncratic as ever.
Picking up as if they’d never left off (assisted by T Bone Burnett’s sparkling production), Russell and John resurrect music that we never hear anymore — a big loss, in my estimation.
When I’d heard that Superchunk was back in the studio, recording their first album in nine years, I was afraid it would result in some lame revivalist collection of worn out riffs and torpid ideas. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when “Majesty Shredding” was released in late summer. Yes, they’re older and wiser, middle-aged hipsters with mortgages and preschool tuitions to deal with, but they somehow managed to translate that into a relevance matched by 1994’s excellent “Foolish” (one of Indie rock’s seminal releases).
M.I.A.’s “Maya” was a revelation and a constant source of joy for me this year. Buried beneath the mix-tape feel of her punk/hip-hop/dance brew is some of the most ferocious protest music out there. Although I almost went as far as saying that “Maya” was M.I.A.’s “London Calling” (due to the album’s sheer eclecticism), I’ll withhold that plaudit, preferring to wait and see. What I will say at this point is that “Maya” will continue to confound and astound for years to come.
Some of the most fun this past year was found on LCD Soundsystem’s “This Is Happening,” a punk/funk romp of glam-rock and dance-floor anthems. As cool as Roxy Music and as manic as early David Bowie, LCD Soundsystem make breakup music insanely danceable and love-gone-bad a reason to shake the walls with maxed-out subwoofers. It didn’t hurt that “Drunk Girls” was one of the funniest and catchiest singles of this year.
Some of the sexiest, most seductive vocals anywhere are found on “Teen Dream” by Beach House. At the risk of sounding creepy, the songs on “Teen Dream” had me in a fevered state that reminded me of my 14-year-old self with a stack of forbidden magazines.
Finally, along with the aforementioned Wavves (with their Beach Boys as interpreted by the Jesus and Mary Chain surf punk), Sleigh Bells — who have some connection to the Wavves — made music that was on part early-’60s girl group, one part M.I.A. and one part Captain Beefheart psychedelia. More consistent and satisfying than the Wavves, it was by far, the most fun on album this year.
As I said, these were the most fun I had with music this past year and not necessarily the “best” of the year. For my purposes here I failed to include Kid Cudi’s “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager” (excellent but far too depressing), Deerhunter’s “Halcyon Digest” (a beautiful bummer), Neil Young’s “Le Noise” (a loud and angry mess, the best Young album in over a decade) and several others that, while challenging and wonderful in their own right, failed to achieve the appropriate “fun factor” I was shooting for here.
2010 was good to me, in so many ways, and music was no exception. There was plenty of fun out there to be had and much of it ended up on my iPod. If you’re looking for a whole lotta fun this New Year’s Eve, I highly recommend downloading (or getting the CDs) any or all of the bands mentioned in this column.
Believe me, you’re going to be getting your 2011 off to rockin’ start. I’d recommend that since next week I will be ranking the best releases of the decade. You’ve been forewarned.