5) Bad Books’ Self-Titled Debut
Manchester Orchestra isn’t a band afraid of bringing the noise, and when combined with the soothing acoustic stylings of Tri-state area singer-songwriter Kevin Devine, one wouldn’t be surprised, if not expect, the Rock to overtake the subdued pleasantries. However, in the case of this collaboration, it’s quite the contrary. The friendship of Andy Hull, the leader of Manchester Orchestra, and Kevin Devine goes back a long time, and as well as this affinity for one another, the pair also shares a talent for writing great Pop songs that draw the listener in with big hooks forcing you take in the darker messages attached. “How This All Ends” will have you singing along about human abandonment from birth to death. Don’t be disgusted with yourself while humming along to “The Easy Mark And The Old Maid,” a tune about losing faith in religion. And there is plenty of discourse on toxic relationships with “You’re a Mirror I Cannot Avoid,” “Holding Down The Laughter,” and the best song on the album, featuring wild-eyed tremolo picking by Devine, “Baby Shoes.” When the last seconds of music grow near and there are no more songs to be sung, I find Bad Books comforting. It helps to know even the most successful of artists share the same feelings of uncertainty as yourself.
4) Savages by The Gay Blades
Savages is big, brash, bad ass and complete with a messy, thunderbolt of an opening salvo named “Rock N’ Roll (Part 1)” that brings to mind the viciousness of early White Stripes tunes. The introductory track is not an enigma, in fact, the story is quite simple: A dude is going to take a chick home to see if she knows how to Rock N’ Roll, but the shallow depths of these waters increase very quickly. Much of this record was grown from two seeds of thought, familial issues and the passing of front-man Clark Westfield brother (Ian Savage Wells… for whom the record is named), and the anxieties of musicians on the road. The album’s single, “Try To Understand,” a track that owns bigger hooks than any other song on album and is sung over its brass coated choruses, is essentially a heartfelt letter to Westfield’s family in which he speaks directly to his brother, his mother, and himself, urging all three to change their ways before its too late. “Puppy Mills Presents,” (named for the other founding member of The Gay Blades…Puppy Mills) is a song of survival in which our two heroes are forced to panhandle for food, sell their bodies for money, and get jobs as clergymen in which Westfield takes a well earned shot at the church: “After all/I hear God pays pretty well/We can pay the little kids to show but never tell.” Amidst the like-themed tunes are tales of Rock Stars (“Mick Jagger”), songs of revolution (“November Fight Song”), and even a fiery number about robbing banks and the world coming to an end (“Burns And Shakes”). Savages in impressive sophomore release with something for everybody and their grandmother, if their grandmother happens to be fond of dirty, Bluesified, Rock N’ Roll from a trio of New York Trash-Poppers whose Beatle Boots have more soul than you.
“Try To Understand”
On The Gaslight Anthem’s debut, Sink Or Swim, the band tried to resemble the godfathers of New Brunswick Punk-Rock, The Bouncing Souls. On The ’59 Sound the band fixed its sights on a more soulful style similar to that of the king of Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen. With American Slang, New Jersey’s new favorite musical sons matured into a style all their own. One that combines a raspy grit possessed only by the most seasoned of basement dwellers, and a fiery emotion developed over time spent roaming windy boardwalk planks and listening to The Clash and Darkness On The Edge Of Town on vinyl. However, where Darkness is a tale of triumph, of coming to terms with a less than illustrious future and making the most of it, American Slang longs for better days that have come and past. “Stay Lucky” doesn’t hide it’s yearning for yesteryear “When you were young/And everybody used to call you lucky,” and neither does the track entitled “We Did It When We Were Young.” Other songs are more subtle but are sung in a past tense and draped in sadness (“Bring It On,” “Orphans,” “The Diamond Church Street Choir”). “The Boxer” describes a decrepit brawler whose best days are behind him and is losing the will to carry on. American Slang lives for the past and The Gaslight Anthem has never been shy about professing love for its heroes. Maybe Brian Fallon and company are weeping for the future because they see one without any real musical inspirations (Springsteen, Joe Strummer, Miles Davis)? And I suppose its too hard to view yourself as such, because from where I’m listening, The Gaslight Anthem is that inspiration.
2) The Monitor by Titus Andronicus
Punk-Rock and the concept album, in the words of Chef, just won’t splice. Ideologically, one is the antithesis of the other. In fact, it’s safe to say the development of the entire genre of Punk is the byproduct of an intense disdain for conceptual compositions. Just look at the contrasting song lengths. Leave it to an ambitious New Jersey collective to break the mold. Titus Andronicus’ sophomore release, The Monitor, tackles the severance of the Unites States during the Civil War era in comparison to the national divide of present day (“RIchard II”). Toss in moments of homesickness for the Garden State (“A More Perfect Union”), scenes from a world of parasitic bloodsuckers and journalists, such as myself, that continually try to convince you you’re nothing (“A Pot In Which To Piss”), and nightmarish displays of intense self-doubt accompanied by the dreadful feeling you’ve become something your not, thanks to a brainwashing android implanted within one’s own mind (“No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”) and you have an accurate depiction of the decrepit, dehumanizing, depressed landscape you’ll be entering within The Monitor. However, should you choose to see this ride through to the end, you might just learn something about your own humanity, or how to be human, and if projected onto the populous, that could change the world.
1) The Postelles Self-Titled Debut
Critics who have heard The Postelles’ debut have been less than receptive. Consequence of Sound gave it 1.5 stars (5) while SPIN gave it the backhanded compliment of 6 stars (10) solely for the fact that a few of the tracks were produced by The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. Although our musical society is on the brink of breaking free, it seems the Hipsterverse in which we currently reside is full of pen holders that are easily wowed by the weird, mystified by a synthesizer, and so entranced by ghostly, cave dwelling, vocals that they turn a blind eye to a lot of great music, such as this album.
Don’t get the wrong idea because of its co-producer. This band is not a replica of The Strokes, in fact, the two are cut from very different cloths. Where The Strokes used The Velvet Underground as major influence, the musical foundation of The Postelles predates Lou Reed and company back to the days when Motown and Buddy Holly ruled the radio. Mix in the Punk-Rock attitude of the Ramones, the experience of being young and living fast in New York City, and yes, getting lost in Is This It for hours on end, and you have the recipe that composes the sweet ear candy that is The Postelles.
“White Night,” the first song the band ever wrote together (according to guitar maestro David Dargahi) describes a debauchery filled evening on the town and is the hit track that will propel The Postelles on to dorm room playlists everywhere. But the opening number is an isolated incident. Most of this record’s subject matter deals with concepts like tattered relationships, lost love, and unobtainable love. Take a few minutes off from crooning along, read into these lyrics, and realize that you are in fact singing someone else’s hardships and depression.
Some are more comical than others like “Boys Best Friend,” which is, from what I’ve been told, a true story about two of the band members falling in love with the same girl that turned out to be a lesbian. Then there are the morose numbers like “Can’t Stand Still,” where front-man Daniel Balk pleads with his lover “Baby go where you want to go/But don’t leave me here lonely on my own.”
The closing bell is rang by “She She,” the best song on the album, a tale of self-doubt and intense mental stress brought about by what else…a woman (On a side note to all the ladies out there, don’t toy with us for kicks. It’s not cool). Where most of this album features the velvety vocal work of Daniel Balk, “She She” is an ode to the instrumentals, including a minimalistic, yet highly entertaining, guitar solo by Dargahi.
The Postelles’ self titled debut is SIMGE’s Top Album of 2010. As I’m sure many of you will disagree, please, feel free to leave a comment and tell me your favorite of the year…or call me a jerk. Either way, leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think.