This is Fifty Second Week.
And this is the end of 2010, one of the most tumultuous years of my life. When 2011 starts up, I’ll be in a new job, covering a new place. My life will look very different. But I think I’m ready for the change. The last weeks at the Beacon were hectic and harried and difficult, and I’m thankful to everyone who helped me through them. And the last week and a half, which I have spent on vacation in Massachusetts, has been exactly what I needed.
So yes, as much as I enjoyed 2010, I’m ready to put it behind me. But I can’t do that until I do this. Because as I said, this is Fifty Second Week.
A brief explanation for newbies: a couple of years ago, I realized that I was buying and listening to more music than I could effectively review in this column. I’ve since started a blog to allow me ancillary reviews, but it hasn’t solved the problem. I still end most years with 50 or 60 more albums than I’ve had time to review. And some of them really deserve mentions here.
So I came up with Fifty Second Week. For the next hour or so, I will review 52 albums that didn’t get their due in Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. I’ll do this by giving myself 50 seconds to get down my thoughts about each one. No editing, no takebacks, and if I’m in the middle of a sentence (or a word), I still have to stop when the timer buzzes.
This is the sixth year I’ve been doing this, and it’s a lot of fun for me. Some of you have let me know that it’s fun to read, too, which is always the hope. So here we go again. Timer’s up on my screen, we’re ready to roll, alphabetical style. Aw yeah.
This is Fifty Second Week.
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Sloppy, yet satisfying debut album from a band with a fine grasp of melody and some really sick lyrics. This probably should have been reviewed in full on the site, and I can only claim time constraints. It’s fun stuff, and the instrumentation is
The Black Crowes, Croweology
A two-disc acoustic studio creation from the Crowes, designed as a capper on the second phase of their career. This is excellent, marvelous stuff – every song you’d expect is here, plus a bunch you’d never dream would end up on an acoustic collection. It’s excellent, highly recommended, if bittersweet.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the Jesus and Mary Chain guys must be really flattered. BMRC do this riff-and-roll dark material very well, though, and this album is just another reason to like them.
The Books, The Way Out
Unless you’ve heard another album by the Books, you’ve never heard anything quite like this. It’s all assembled from samples, from recordings of speeches and other things, and while you’d think that would make for some bizarre and boring music, you’d be surprised just how enjoyable this thing is. Aside from a puerile joke at the end of one track
Jamie Cullum, The Pursuit
Don’t hate, haters. I actually love this record from the piano playing jazz singer. It’s much more pop oriented than his others, more willing to tear down genre barriers. And “Don’t Stop the Music” just rules.
Justin Currie, The Great War
Second solo album from the former Del Amitri singer isn’t quite as hopeless as his first, but it’s still bleak stuff. The melodies aren’t quite as sharp this time around, but with “The Fight to Be Human,” an eight-minute diatribe of epic proportions, he’s written his masterpiece.
Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do
There’s nothing here that these prolific southern rockers haven’t done before. But even if they’re not seeking out new avenues, Patterson Hood and company are still writing some kickass rockers and fine country-pop songs. If you have the others, you don’t need this, but it’s still fun.
Another overly-hyped band, the Drums play catchy pop, but don’t do anything remarkable with it. I think this is a fun, diverting little record, but not worth the attention it received. For fun indie-pop, in fact, I’d recommend Best Coast over this.
Once again, the promise of new tracks from some of my favorite new artists – Vampire Weekend, the Black Keys, Band of Horses, Muse – compels me to buy the soundtrack to a movie I wouldn’t be caught dead watching. Good soundtrack, though.
Brian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea
This is classic Eno, all atmospheres and twinkles. It’s very nice stuff, and Jon Hopkins (the man behind “Light Through the Veins,” which Coldplay pinched) adds a lot, but you’ll forget this album 10 minutes after it’s finished. Nice while it’s playing, though.
Extreme, Take Us Alive
Finally, a live album from a loudloudloud band that remains best known for a weepy ballad. Extreme is a killer semi-progressive rock outfit, and always has been, and this double disc set, which focuses mainly on their diverse new album Saudades de Rock, is the proof.
Brandon Flowers, Flamingo
Solo album from the Killers frontman focuses on his Springsteen side, and delivers one epic rocker after another. It all gets wearying after a while, especially considering how many songs use the same chords. But if you like Flowers, and Sam’s Town does it for you, this might too.
Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma
This is… fucking nuts. The most insane electronic album of the year, Cosmogramma sounds at first like a random collage of sounds, and even Thom Yorke is considered just another ingredient in the stew. But after a few listens, it comes together. It’s kind of amazing, if utterly off-putting.
Foals, Total Life Forever
I should have reviewed this one. After going all jittery and kinetic for their debut album Antidotes, Foals slow things down and space them out here. The result is a fine, atmospheric rock album unlike any other I heard this year. I quite like it.
Gin Blossoms, No Chocolate Cake
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…. Yeah, it’s like that.
John Grant, Queen of Denmark
Bought this on a recommendation from Steve and Luke Beeley, and wasn’t overly thrilled with it. It’s the solo album from the frontman for the Czars, and the backing band is Midlake, and it’s full of interesting piano-pop tunes, but for some reason, it just fell flat for me.
Harvey Milk, A Small Turn of Human Kindness
Wow. This is an unrelenting, slow-as-death, punishing show of force. And I love it. This album is a single song, broken into tracks for no real reason, and should be listened to as such. The piano section was a real surprise the first time though, but now it fits brilliantly. This is a great record, if not for everyone.
Chris Isaak, Live at the Fillmore
If you think you know what this sounds like, you’re right. Isaak has been plying his ‘50s-influenced trade for more than 20 years, and it still works for him. Some of these songs sound like classics now, and his voice is, as ever, in fine form. I’ve always liked Isaak, and this live document reminds me why.
Freedy Johnston, Rain on the City
Reportedly, this album took years to make. I can’t understand why. It sounds just like every other Freedy Johnston album – rootsy guitar-pop, songs that almost get there but don’t quite, and Freedy’s voice, an instrument just this side of bland.
King’s X, Live Love in London
The Texas trio can still bring it. This two-disc set, recorded on their most recent tour, is just awesome. They are loud, they are tight, they are living proof that no band needs to be more than three pieces. Just listen to “We Were Born to Be Loved.” Amazing.
Remix album of tracks from last year’s Blitz, this just sounds like KMFDM. That’s either a good or a bad thing, depending on whether you like them. They’re never gonna change, so you might as well enjoy what they are.
Matt Pond PA, The Dark Leaves
Immensely appealing guitar-pop from this songwriter’s fourth album. Nothing remarkable about it, really, but these songs are nice and sweet, and Pond plays and sings them well. Inessential, but still enjoyable.
Nellie McKay, Home Sweet Mobile Home
McKay is delightfully daffy, and her fourth original album ramps down the Doris Day and ramps up the screwball, with sojourns in reggae town and loungeville. She’s always been the
Megadeth, Rust in Peace Live
There was a time when I considered Rust in Peace the greatest album ever made. This live record reminds me why. It’s just an unrelenting thrash monster, one impossible riff after another, one great song after another. And Mustaine and his new Megadeth are great live.
John Mellencamp, No Better Than This
I like that Mellencamp’s spending his golden years exploring his dusty folk side. This album was recorded in sacred places across the U.S., including Sun Studios, and it sounds deep and dark and woodsy and like the work of an old master. Good stuff.
Minus the Bear, Omni
A departure for this magnificent band, Omni finds them exploring synthesizers and pop music structures a lot more. The record is difficult at first, but I ended up liking it quite a bit. It’s not a patch on Planet of Ice, though.
Motion City Soundtrack, My Dinosaur Life
Hugely enjoyable sugary pop-punk. Not much different from everything they’ve done. But how can you not want to hear a song called “Her Words Destroyed My Planet”?
The Ocean, Heliocentric
Loud, long, slow, complex metal from this German outfit. This record takes a long time to digest, as it doesn’t seem to follow any pattern at first. It’s slower than the Ocean usually is, and the vocals are more melodic, but occasionally they just scream. This is the first half…
The Ocean, Anthropocentric
And this is the second of a double record. This one is more of the same. It likely took a long time to compose and record this material, but only the hardiest of progressive metalheads need apply. It’s pretty cool stuff.
Pain of Salvation, Road Salt One
Speaking of departures, here is Swedish metal band Pain of Salvation’s left turn into gritty ‘70s rock. It’s not all like “Linoleum,” but enough of it is that it counts as a real change of direction. Daniel Gildenlow still writes some melodic stunners, though. Worth a listen.
Pet Shop Boys, Pandemonium
The Boys’ first live album is pretty superb, including tracks new and old. Granted, there isn’t much of this music that’s really played live, but Neil Tenant proves he’s a singular singer even on stage, and it’s just cool to hear these songs played in front of thousands.
Photoside Café, The Beauty of Innocence Remains
Saw these guys at Cornerstone, on the main stage, and was blown away. They play an aggressive, Levellers-esque style of fiddle-rock… at least, live they do. The album sands away all the rough edges, and just sounds flat and boring. Definitely a band to check out if they come to your town, though.
Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard
Another band with a violin, Ra Ra Riot’s second album isn’t quite as good as their first, and de-emphasizes some of the things that made them special. But it’s still an enjoyable effort, and hopefully points to better things to come. I wish “Massachusetts” were a better song, for obvious reasons.
The Rocket Summer, Of Men and Angels
Bryce Avary’s project has always been pretty interesting to me, but this album just loses it. These songs are all over the top, and while they’re melodic and hummable, they’re also all the same. After 15 of them, it’s just a wearying, exhausting experience.
Philip Selway, Familial
A solo album by Radiohead’s drummer? Ooo-kaaay. But this is pretty wonderful. It’s all low-key acoustic material, and Selway’s voice, small and thin, works well with this stuff. I didn’t know what to expect from Familial, but I ended up liking it.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Don’t Mess With a Big Band Live
Oh hell yes. I love Brian Setzer, and I love big, brassy horns. His Orchestra has been plying the same trade for two decades, rockabilly with a big horn section, but it still works beautifully. I’ll never get tired of this version of “Rock This Town.”
Sky Sailing, An Airplane Carried Me to Bed
This is a side project from Owl City’s Adam Young, and it’s essentially the same, but played on acoustic guitars instead of synths. This is adorable stuff, but I think he’s right to stick with the keys on his main project.
Sleigh Bells, Treats
Still not sure what to make of this. Sleigh Bells is essentially booming electronic drums, wailing electric guitar, and the monotone vocals of Alexis Krauss. The effect is like being in a stadium while thousands stomp their feet. No good songs, alas.
Spock’s Beard, X
The Beard continues to prove they’ll be all right without Neal Morse. This is the best album since the split, both on the epic tracks and the shorter songs. Plus it contains “Their Names Escape Me,” a song that includes all the names of people who pre-ordered. That’s cool.
Squeeze, Spot the Difference
I get why they made this. This album is note-for-note re-recordings of old Squeeze songs, so that Difford and Tilbrook will own these masters and can make some money. But it’s redundant, and now that I’ve supported them with my cash, I’ll never listen to it again.
This could have been cool. Sting with an orchestra, reinventing some old classics? “Next to You” is wonderful. The rest is just…. blah. You really don’t want to hear what he did to “Roxanne,” or to “I Burn For You.” Feh.
Street Sweeper Social Club, The Ghetto Blaster EP
Tom Morello’s new project finds him paired with a real rapper, Boots Riley, and delivering the same riff-rap he did with Rage Against the Machine. This is worth it to hear his takes on “Paper Planes” and the immortal “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
Surfer Blood, Astro Coast
Another very overhyped, very young band. There’s nothing really wrong with this debut, which combines surf rock with an indie edge, but nothing amazing about it either. I like “Swim” and the two “Jabroni” songs. But you don’t need this. Wait a few albums and see how they evolve.
Swans, My Father Will Guide Us Up a Rope to the Sky
Swans’ comeback album is classic stuff. The opening dirge, “No Words/No Thoughts,” belies the relatively compact, dark songs that come after. If you missed them, they’re back, and they sound refreshed and energized.
The Sword, Warp Riders
OK, so they’re talking about science fiction concepts instead of goblins and elves this time, but this is still the Sword. Despite the concept album trappings, they still play unadorned, kick-ass stoner metal, and they still play it very well. Closer “Tears of Fire” is awesome stuff.
Timbre, Little Flowers
Another Cornerstone discovery. Timbre Cierpke plays the harp, and composes long, long songs for her band to play. The resulting record is magical in all the best ways, and her high, strong voice complements it all very well. And she takes on Radiohead’s “Like Spinning Plates.”
Reunion album from this meat-and-potatoes rock band is more of the same, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like Emerson Hart’s voice, I just wish he would write more interesting songs. There’s precious little of the tight riffing the band used to do here.
Trampled By Turtles, Palomino
This was recommended by Mike Messerschmidt, who may be on the band’s payroll, for all he talks about them. Trampled is a bluegrass band that is clearly hooked on caffeine. Try out “Wait So Long.” It’ll make your fingers hurt just listening to it.
KT Tunstall, Tiger Suit
Not sure why I never reviewed this. Excellent third album from this British songstress. It incorporates more electronic touches, but keeps focus on the melodies and songs. This may be her best work, although it won’t sell like it.
The Wayside, Spiritual Songs
Absolutely lovely collection of hymns from John and Michelle Thompson. They worked hard on this record, and you can tell. Some may be put off by the deeply religious subject matter, but if that’s all right with you, this is a terrific piece of work.
Dweezil Zappa, Return of the Son Of…
More recordings from Dweezil’s Zappa Plays Zappa tour, and more faithful and fun renditions of his father’s songs. Dweezil has really learned how to play guitar like Frank, and his versions of songs like “The Deathless Horsie” and “Inca Roads” can stand next to the originals.
Frank Zappa, Congress Shall Make No Law…
I know I’m a Zappa junkie, but I think this is essential listening. It’s basically Frank’s testimony before the PMRC hearings in the ‘80s, matched with some other spoken word pieces on censorship and the American way. I like hearing Frank talk almost as much as I like hearing him play, and it’s great to have this.
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And that’s it. This brings the 10th year of Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. to a close. Thanks to everyone who has taken this trip with me. I appreciate your emails, your recommendations, your friendship. I’ll be taking next week off to recuperate, and then launching into Year Eleven, hopefully with renewed vigor. I’ll talk to you all then.
And thank you. Sincerely.
See you in line Tuesday morning.