Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Holiday Album Buying Guide

Nothing I like better Christmas morning than to find neat little 5-by-6-inch wrapped rectangles under the tree.  (Used to be 12-by-12-inch -- but there, I'm dating myself.)  And if you're like me, you don't want to leave the selection of your new holiday tunes up to chance and the questionable tastes of your friends and family -- you want a readymade list of excellent new CDs to request ahead of time. Why, you might even want a list of CDs to buy for other people, while we're at it! Normally I'm not much of a list-maker -- well, not like Uncle E, at least -- but as a public service, herewith is my end-of-year round-up . . . .

1. Imaginary Television
Graham Parker 

I  love this record for many reasons, but mostly because it's the album that got me back into Graham Parker, launching a months-long voyage of discovery.

I first blogged about the track "Always Greener"...

2.  Lonely Avenue

 Ben Folds and Nick Hornby

 Well, technically it's just Ben Folds -- British novelist Nick Hornby
 doesn't perform on the records, he just contributed the lyrics.  Just.

Check out my blog post on "Belinda."

3.  No Better Than This
John Mellencamp 

I won't defend every record John Mellencamp's ever made -- I'll just say that this stripped-down, acoustic, monoaural, back-to-the-roots effort may be the finest thing he's ever done.

Here's my take on "Love At First Sight."

4. The Grand Theater, Volume One
The Old 97s

This Austin-based outfit definitely keeps the alt in alt-country, and I have never yet heard a track by these guys that I didn't like.  This new album is just insanely smart and funny and fun to listen to.

Check out "A State of Texas"... 

5. My Dinosaur Life
Motion City Soundtrack

Neurotic emo-pop is so not my thing -- so why I'm such a fan of this band?  Witty little portraits of slacker angst, amped up with tons o' melody and a mosh-pit tempo.

Exhibit A: "Skin and Bones"

6.  A Word to the Wise
Bill Kirchen

Now for something completely different -- the rumpled musings of veteran musicmaker Bill Kirchen, accompanied by an amazing set of equally experienced guest stars. 

Take a spin with "Shelly's Winter Love" and you'll see what I mean...

7.  ContraVampire Weekend

Okay, so those duelling Subaru and Hilfiger commercials have pretty much ruined the perky world-pop charm of "Holiday." Nevertheless, the fresh sound and lively indie energy of this young band started 2010 out on a very high note for me, and I still grin when any of this album's song rotate up on my shuffle.

Here's where I started, with  . . . yes, I'm afraid it was "Holiday".  But maybe someday we'll be able to enjoy it again!

8. The 88
The 88

I'll admit that Ray Davies' seal of approval gave this L.A. band a huge boost in my estimation.  But there's nothing not to like about this tight, melodic album, which takes pop music back from the schlockmeisters and gives it a good name again. Sorry, I never got around to posting here about this album, but I did review it for Blogcritics.

9. Junky Star
Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses

Bingham's work on the Crazy Heart soundtrack vaulted him onto my alt-country playlist; this album proved to me that was no fluke.  I've only started listening to this one -- haven' t done a blog post on it yet -- but trust me, there are plenty of dark, nuanced, twangy pleasures to be found here. Townes Van Zant would approve, I suspect.

10. Propellor TimeRobyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3

I want to resist -- but I can't.  If Robyn Hitchcock's peculiar psych-folk-punk music is a minority taste, then count me in that minority.  The odder his lyrics get, the more off-kilter the melodies become, the happier I am.Inexplicably, I never got around to reviewing any tracks from this album; in lieu of that, may I provide a link to the weird and wonderful video for "Ordinary Millionaire".

11. Brothers
The Black Keys

So who says we have to quit at 10? If we did, I wouldn't be able to mention this album -- another fairly new acquisition that I haven't yet written about -- a deeply, deeply funky artifact by a duo that look like standard-issue Williamsburg hipsters.  Go figure.  All I know is, these tracks put me in a souled-out trance, putting the hip in hypnotic.

12. Soulsville
Huey Lewis & the News

Let's make it an even dozen, then, and throw in my old boyfriend Huey Lewis, who delivers a heartfelt tribute to the vintage soul numbers that inspired his own career. A guilty pleasure, perhaps, but it is full of that patented Huey Lewis genial charm, and if it's not a groundbreaking, it is listenable as hell.

I did blog about this one, homing in on "Respect Yourself."

Still got room for a few more stocking stuffers?  Let's throw in Jon Lindsay's Escape From Plaza-Midwoodand Edward O'Connell's Our Little Secret, my two great slush-pile finds of the year.  Of course we're already looking forward to 2011 for the US release of Ray Davies' See My Friends and Greg Trooper's Upside-Down Town (no Amazon link yet but I'll keep you posted). The music never ends!


E said...

I'm the same way, Holly, ever since my aunt bought me Duran Duran's "RIO" way back in the 80's. Leave nothing to chance, I say. I can't buy cd's for others, though, because I always end up picking up at least a couple for myself. Can't help it, I'm an addict! I really want that new Mellencamp, as well, and Vampire Weekend really intrigues me.


Holly A Hughes said...

But then you never know -- that copy of Glen Campbell's Wichita Cowboy album turned out to be a treasure years later when I finally lost my knee-jerk prejudice against country music. It could happen again!

I should add that this is by no means a 2010 "best of" list -- in which case I'd have to add the Arcade Fire album like everyf*ckingbody else. But no way can you make me add LCD Soundsystem or that Kanye crap. Thar MGMT thing? I request earplugs (even though I really liked their last one). Okay, MAYBE Gorillaz.

And notice that I did not recommend the new Elvis Costello or the new John Hiatt, both of which are perfectly listenable -- but not up to the incredibly high standards to which I hold those two demigods of my personal rock pantheon. I'm just sayin'....