Tag Archives: sufjan stevens

top ten albums of 2010

by Gordon

 

10. CONGRATULATIONS by mgmt

 

Flash Delirium [LISTEN]

While not as altogether catchy as their breakthrough Oracular Spectacular, it’s every bit as weird, and ultimately, as daring. Though a letdown on certain levels, you have to give it to the band for their genre-bending approach.

FULL REVIEW

 

9. INFINITE ARMS by band of horses

On My Way Back Home [LISTEN]

It doesn’t knock you out on first listen. Infinite Arms grows on you, reminding you of what makes Band of Horses a great band, be it the soaring vocals of Ben Bridwell, their undeniable melodies, or, less tangibly, the subtle way the music takes you to a quiet place just between childhood and last night.

FULL REVIEW

 

8. ODD BLOOD by yeasayer

O.N.E. [LISTEN]

Part Animal Collective, part Of Montreal, brand new and yet somehow reminiscent of an era that’s passed, it’s all come to be what is unmistakably Yeasayer, and I welcomed a heavy dose this year.

FULL REVIEW

 

7. THIS IS HAPPENING by lcd soundsystem

I Can Change [LISTEN]

This universally acclaimed third and purportedly final album from Murphy serves as an upbeat celebration of the end of a decade, while still encapsulating the sometimes introverted thoughtfulness that’s stood out in the artist’s previous work as well. Let’s hope he has more to say in the years to come.

FULL REVIEW

 

6. CONTRA by vampire weekend

Giving Up The Gun [LISTEN]

Proving that the earlier success of these four young New York City lads was no fluke, Contra serves up another dose of of African pop-meets-Western culture, but this time with even more boldness and purpose in direction.

FULL REVIEW

 

5. THE AGE OF ADZ by sufjan stevens

I Walked [LISTEN]

Do I wish Stevens, who for almost a decade has remained one of the most inspiring and sometimes life-changing artists for my generation, had combined the best of Adz and his recent EP All Delighted People to create an even better new release? Yes. But Adz is still undeniably an amazing record, grander in scale, scope and sound than anything yet from the quiet young Michigan native with a banjo.

4. GO by jónsi

Boy Lilikoi [LISTEN]

It’s Sigur Rós on Four Loko. With tighter compositions, fuller soundscapes, and just as much imagination as ever, you  need only close your eyes and imagine the other members to ease out of the feeling you’re committing adultery.

FULL REVIEW

 

3. TEEN DREAM by beach house

Walk In The Park [LISTEN]

It’s hard to believe how simple a song can be, or a band for that matter, and still make music magic. Amidst a broad pallette of pace and emotion, Legrand’s vocals leave the strongest aftertaste…soulful, confident, and even in a pop context, always a bit haunting.

FULL REVIEW

 

2. HIGH VIOLET by the national

Afraid Of Everyone [LISTEN]

It’s hard not giving this one the top spot. This is the third consecutive album from the band to be music gold, their instrumental style and lyrical intricasies too complex to merely describe on pen and paper. Singer Matt Berninger and the rest of The National continue to fill a void in contemporary music and culture, one that most of us, sadly, wouldn’t have even known even existed.

FULL REVIEW

 

1. THE SUBURBS by arcade fire

We Used To Wait [LISTEN]

I’m not surpised Arcade Fire would put out the best album of any year. I’m just surprised there’s a band as consistently good as Arcade Fire. Not every song may do it for you. When do they all? But the album’s strength is in its cohesive theme of the modern day, good and bad. And for modern music, it’s simply great.

FULL REVIEW

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HIGH VIOLET by the national

by Gordon

 

Pitchfork: 8.7          Rolling Stone: 3.5/5          Metacritic: 85          Spin: 4/5

 

Released: May 2010
Tracklisting:
  1. Terrible Love
  2. Sorrow
  3. Anyone’s Ghost
  4. Little Faith
  5. Afraid of Everyone [LISTEN]

  6. Bloodbuzz Ohio
  7. Lemonworld
  8. Runaway
  9. Conversation 16
  10. England
  11. Vnaderlyle Crybaby Geeks

   For the band’s most recent, High Violet, to have fared merely comparable with their previous two, Alligator  and Boxer, would for myself and most fans have constituted as a great success and more than welcome addition to their increasingly standout discography. And what the album does, apart from merely compare, is build and grow off of their now distinct and confident sound and push it further into the realm of wiser yet somehow more daring. Whether your first listen seeks a taste of the familiar or a glimpse at something new, it’s impossible to end up disappointed.

   “Terrible Love” introduces the album with a masterful melody of reverberation, courtesy of the Dessner brothers. It continues into a thundering pile-up of sound, drummer Bryan Devendorf characteristically churning an artful science out of the near chaos of his patterns. Berninger’s final lines resonate amidst a collective backdrop of choral “Oohs” before the opener roars into a crashing finale. Live video here (look out for their friend and sometimes collaborator Sufjan Stevens too).

   Perhaps the most structurally simple, “Anyone’s Ghost”, in keeping with a longheld National staple, is with a curious delivery that borders between optimistic and pessimistic. Berninger’s reflections are personal and claustrophobic, both lyrically and audibly, as if we’re hearing them inside our own head. “Afraid Of Everyone” is, above all, haunting, and despite what the title suggests, not without a tone that’s confident and domineering, full of self-aware introspection. Though strumming-driven, it’s the band’s prevailing, ghost-like background “Oohs” that again stand out. As Berninger eventually belts, “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out”, one feels led to agree, regardless of how. And in a frenzy of guitar and drums the song comes to an end.

   First single “Bloodbuzz Ohio” sess Berninger melancholic in his delivery despite the overall drive and pace of the music, which is now more noticably piano-led. “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/ The floors are falling out from everybody I know”. The video (below), which Berninger’s wife helped direct, features the lead singer as an awkward and solo city figure.

   The short, simple and beautiful “Lemonworld” lives off of measured electric guitar strums, rolling tom-tom percussion, and Berninger’s baritone vocals, accented by a string of “doo-doo-doo-doo-doos” throughout the song. Though most of the band’s source material draws from the experience of close-to-home, tangible city life, Berninger decides to take a quick jab at the more outward state of the world: “I gave my heart to the army/ The only sentimental thing I could think of/ I’ve cousins and cousins somewhere overseas/ But it’ll take a better war to kill a college man like me”.

   “Runaway” is the soft and slow ballad of High Violet, the one you let your mom listen to first to see how she likes the band. Guitar plucking and deep strings crescendo into a passionate, memorial-like hymn. “Conversation 16” enters in stark contrast, a fast and thought-hungry tune that feeds on the singer’s troubles. But only Matt Berninger could make the words “I was afraid I’d eat your brains/ ‘Cause I’m evil” sound so unthreatening.

   In “England” I hear The National taking on new territory, not entirely, but at just the right pace and direction. Berninger sings of summer and rain, rivers and oceans, angels and cathedrals, all atop the artful placement of a series of beautiful piano chords. All this is accented by strings, guitar, percussion, as well as hints of trumpet that perfectly give rise to the feelings evoked by the country for which the song is named. Its closing minute and a half could not get any fuller.

   It’s old. It’s new. It’s slow. It’s fast. It’s sad. It’s happy. It’s shy. It’s aggressive. In short, High Violet, though just short of perfect itself, is still a perfect follow-up for The National, one of the few bands today that has gained much-deserved recognition by going the old-fashioned way: making amazing music.

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COME ON FEEL THE ILLINOISE by sufjan stevens

by Gordon

sufjanstevens.comeonfeeltheillinoise

Pitchfork: 9.2             Rolling Stone: 4/5             Metacritic: 90             Spin: 91

 

Released: July 2005
Tracklisting:
  1. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
  2. The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You’re Going to Have to Leave Now, or, I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!
  3. Come On! Feel the Illinoise!
  4. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
  5. Jacksonville
  6. A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, but for Very Good Reasons
  7. Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!
  8. One Last ‘Whoo-Hoo!’ for the Pullman
  9. Chicago
  10. Casimir Pulaski Day [LISTEN]

  11. To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament
  12. The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
  13. Prairie Fire That Wanders About
  14. A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze
  15. The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!
  16. They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!
  17. Let’s Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don’t Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell
  18. In This Temple as in the Hearts of Man for Whom He Saved the Earth
  19. The Seer’s Tower
  20. The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders
  21. Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few
  22. Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run

   If you haven’t discovered Sufjan Stevens, you have the pleasure of knowing the experience lies ahead of you. If you have, you already know what it’s like. Whereas some newly-discovered artists creep into your life and take over your itunes for a month or two, maybe even a season, Sufjan tends to take over for an entire year, maybe two for some. My experience probably mirrors that of half the rest of his fans: I was in college. I heard the song “Chicago”. The rest was and still is a magical journey (that I’ve had the luxury of sharing with other friends who’ve been  journeying too).

   Come on Feel the Illinoise, the second of Stevens’ Fifty States Project (whereby the songwriter plans to release a themed album for every U.S. state), was the best reviewed album of 2005 according to Metacritic. A few things stand out about the album, perhaps the most obvious being that it boasts both a lengthy tracklist, and that most of those tracks boast lengthy titles, a subtle yet revealing indicator that you’ve discovered something “else”.

   “Chicago” may be many’s favorite, perhaps favorite of all of Stevens’ songs, and though perhaps cliché, still justifiably so. Restrained at times, Stevens’ voice (arguably the best instrument he owns) is the primary focus, accompanied with strings or keyboard bits. Otherwise the track, as is many times the case, teems with all the sounds of nearly every family of musical instruments, even a chorus of background singers.

   Upon my first listen, the first track, “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”, told me any doubts I had about this new (now no longer) musician could be erased. It displays some of the prettiest piano chords (in a style all its own), atop Stevens’ characteristic innocent singing. If the first track is a bit sad and serious-sounding (indeed many will continue to be), track three, “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” brings back happier melodies (one of the benefits of longer songs is multiple melodies) again full of layered instrumentation.

   “Decatur” (short title) strips down to mostly just a banjo-strumming Stevens, singing along with his brother, Marzuki. Melancholy tunes like this, neither too peppy nor too lyrically serious, are some of what Sufjan does best. Though the same effect can be seen in “Casimir Pulaski Day” (a personal favorite), it is achieved instead through a mix of more personal, emotional lyrics countered with light chords and instrument arrangements.

   One could give all twenty-two songs equal mention, but there’s something so personal about these songs, about all of Stevens’ discography, personal in a listener kind of way, that doing so might only muddle what he’s trying to do, or doing without trying. Admittedly, a  number of Stevens’ songs, on this album and not, don’t always do it for me. But they remain beautiful pieces of an entire collection nonetheless, maybe because of how special Stevens himself, and what he does with his music, seem to be. That is why, while I cannot say he is my favorite musician, he remains my favorite artist.

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