As 2010 rolls up on 2011, los grillos rolls up on our first birthday. We were born into this beautiful and terrible world in late 2009 with a martini in hand, a smoke in mouth, and an obsessive need to contribute to the admittedly overcrowded world of music blogging. Does the world really need another music blog? Probably not, but fuck it, we love to do what we do. And overcrowded is a pretty relative term when it comes to the ol’ interwebs, so we figure we can hang around in the shadowy corners of its hole in the wall clubs and dive bars, on the scene but just under the radar as we do what we do. And we’re happy to say that despite our low profile some folks have noticed our words about music, and hopefully this means that we’ve turned a few people on to some music they otherwise might not have heard–which has always been our measure of a what makes for a good music blog. That and, of course, good music, and there’s been lots of that this year. It’d take a plague of chirping crickets to cover all of the great music created and released this year, but we scant few at los grillos did what we could do to say what we could say about the music we discovered. We’d love to raise a toast to every great band, album and song that we discovered this year, but as our somewhat meager finances don’t allow for the purchase of the amount of booze that round of toasts would require, we whittled our list down to a traditional ten.
So light ’em up and drink ’em down, folks, the wait is over–here’s a list of some los grillos favorites from 2010.
#10–Wolf Parade Expo 86–I keep coming back to this angular, jagged, hook-filled cross between Gary Numan and Bruce Springsteen. Wolf Parade announced this year that the band is taking a long break. Here’s hoping that their “indefinite hiatus” doesn’t turn out to be permanent.
#9–The Sword Warp Riders–It’s a sci-fi stoner odyssey across time and space that rocks equal parts Manowar, Metallica, and Blue Oyster Cult. Fuck yeah!
#8–Big Blood Dead Songs–Damaged, dark and intimate psych-folk that balances fuzzed-out garage rockers with more delicate acoustic lullabies.
#7–The Fresh & Onlys Play It Strange–Garage jangle goodness that rocks like R.E.M riding across desert plains into a western sunset from a band that embraces their not-so-inner weirdness, Meat Puppets style.
#6–Pop. 1280 The Grid–Relentless, unruly, and unrepentant, Pop. 1280‘s ep, The Grid, is both a threat of, and an invitation to, a dirty-gutter, dark-sky, noir-as-fuck world.
#5–U.S. Christmas Run Thick in the Night–The latest from heavy-ass, psychedelic blues bad asses, U.S. Christmas, plays like an art show hung at a biker bar–shit is layered and cerebral, but shit is also fuckin’ immediate and fuckin’ visceral.
#4–Boduf Songs This Alone Above All Else In Spite Of Everything–The hushed intimacy and dark whisperings of Boduf Songs, the recording moniker for Mat Sweet, often conjures to the mind a gothic Elliott Smith or David Pajo’s melancholic recordings as Papa M. The result is an album that strikes an affecting balance between the pull of stark intimacy and the push of a full-blown sound awash in distortion.
#3–Koen Holtkamp Gravity/Bees–Mountains guitarist releases a solo lp with two sides of complementary, contemplative drone. Layers and layers of warm drone. Get lost in its depths and drift away.
#2–Neil Young Le Noise–Neil Young has a new album! And Le Noise is one helluva great record–it manages to accomplish that rare feat of both sounding exactly like an artist but also sounding completely different from anything that artist has done before. The songs “Love and War” and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” recall Rust Never Sleeps era acoustics, but the rest of this magnificent beast is made up of solo noise rockers that make it clear that ol’ Neil’s decision to fly solo but pack the tour bus with an electric guitar and racks of effects pedals on his jaunt across the country for the Twisted Road tour was inspired by the direction of his latest and greatest.
#1–Phosphorescent Here’s To Taking It Easy–Matthew Houck has taken Phosphorescent from a solo project with a revolving cast of supporting musicians to a full-on band that has made its most definitive artistic statement yet. From the celebratory groove of opener “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” to the country soul of “The Mermaid Parade” to the mournful folk of closer “Los Angeles,” Here’s To Taking It Easy brings together a range of moods and styles to create not just a collection of songs but a cohesive album–one that taken as a whole expresses a unique perspective on music and life.
With Here’s To Taking It Easy, Houck shows that he’s a true modern troubadour, carrying the torch of tradition handed down by the likes of Waylon and Willie and the boys.
And so the los grillos toast to the music of 2010 ends with an album whose title is a toast to taking it easy. Seems like a helluva good way to approach 2011 as we continue to make our way through the good times and the bad. los grillos hopes the times are all good for you, and we’ll see you on the other side of 2010.
Officially out today, and at a time when everyone else is singing “Joy to the World,” comes Joy Atrophy from Virgin Forest. And though it doesn’t necessarily fall in line with Christmas cheer, it’s fitting that this album should be released on the day of the winter solstice as it’s songs are quiet ruminations on the long nights and cold goodbyes of a broken relationship. The tearing apart of this relationship is soundtracked by a band with a clear musical connection between its respective members–Scott Stapleton, Elizabeth Barfield, Jeff Bailey, Jesse Ainslie, and Chris Marine. Some of these folks played together as members of Castanets, and all of them currently play in Phosphorescent. All, that is, except for Elizabeth Barfield, whose plaintive vocals intertwine with singer Scott Stapleton’s more resigned delivery to present a breakup from both perspectives, much the way in which, as noted by the label, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors chronicles a couple’s parting. From the themes the album explores to its 70s am radio vibe, this is an apt comparison, but in the way it blends lush, pastoral folk with moments of grittier rock, Joy Atrophy also recalls Richard and Linda Thompson’s final album as a husband-and-wife duo, Shoot Out the Lights. Bound by the ties of sorrow but not as dark as that album, Joy Atrophy is an honest portrayal of the withering of love in the wake of a relationship stretched to its end.
Given that so many of the best bands to emerge from the current indie scene wear Bruce Springsteen hearts on their musical sleeves–Arcade Fire, The Hold Steady, Wolf Parade and Titus Andronicus have all released Springsteen-indebted albums this year–it makes sense that one of the best albums of the year comes from The Boss himself in the form of The Promise, an album culled from Darkness on the Edge of Town outtakes. Last week a lucky few got to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform songs from that release in an intimate setting at Asbury Park, New Jersey’s Carousel House.
One of the coolest things about The Promise, aside from the fact that it fucking rocks, is that it reveals just how much Springsteen loved Elvis, a point driven home by this short set that closes with a version of “Blue Christmas,” a country Christmas standard that Elvis turned into a rock and roll Christmas classic when he released it on 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album.
Check out that song plus four tunes from The Promise in a video, appropriately titled “Songs From The Promise,” of Springsteen’s Carousel House performance. The video is available below as well as over at VEVO, where it will be up until January 1.
This week from Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly comes a parody of the beloved and (in)famous David Bowie and Bing Crosby duet on “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” back in 1977. In the video, posted this week on Funny or Die, the comedy video website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, Ferrell plays Bowie and Reilly plays Crosby. Together, the two play it incredibly straight and are faithful to the original pretty much line for line, giving the whole thing a vaguely surreal, creepy quality, right up to the punch line at the end.
Check it out below and compare it to the original from Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas television special.