Thursday, also known as my birthday, started with my navigating the amazingness that was the “Dirty Sixth” aka Sixth Street in Austin. Closed off to traffic, it was what I imagine Bourbon Street to be like, except with indie music instead of jazz. Music and people everywhere, artists and press interspersed amongst us commoners, it felt like a place where it was impossible not to have a good time.
I strolled into The Stage On Sixth due to the allure of free Samuel Adams and was not disappointed by the beverages or the entertainment. Dinosaur Feathers impressed with their brand of indie rock, harmonies and melodies were on point. I left soon after as the crowd got a bit too large for my tastes.
Speaking of large crowds, I decided that it would be nice to see what all the hype was about at HypeM’s Hype Hotel and since I was pretty early, the line for wristbands wasn’t outrageous. It soon became outrageous behind me. Once inside, I saw what all the fuss was about. Free drinks! Free Taco Bell burritos! Oh, and music.
I did not know what to expect from Lee Fields (a wiki search calls him a funk legend but that’s on the page for Sharon Jones) and his band The Expressions but any expectations I could have had would have been blown out of the water. I rarely see an artist perform with such passion and his brand of funk/soul must be the closest thing to being able to see a James-Brown-like-performance currently available. His youthful band, particularly the brass section, helped keep the crowd electrified during what felt like a legendary performance. One of my favourite finds of SXSW. “Faithful Man” gave me chills throughout, unfortunately it seems like no one’s captured it so here is the studio version:
Speaking of youth, the next band that I had a chance to see were the unassuming dudes from Youth Lagoon, whose album The Year Of Hibernation was one of my favourites of 2011. Though they lacked a little in stage presence, their dreamy music was stellar and had the crowd engaged (enough to make someone next to me scream out in anticipation “Here comes the drum machine!“, and yes, he was serious).
The final band of my Hype Hotel experience was Alabama Shakes, a band that fittingly has a lot of hype. Led by the soulful voice and guitars of Brittany Howard, this is a blues-r&b-soul-indie-rock fusion like I’ve never seen/heard before. They lived up to expectations, rocking the Doritos-flavoured taco shells out of our hands.
Afterwards, I headed to The Belmont to catch three bands that I’m a fan of (unlike most people there, who were there for one). Arkells were one of the first on stage and put on a great performance. This was despite the fact that I was the only one in a crowd of 400 joining in with their Canadian indie-rock singalongs. It was a bit startling as I’m used to them commanding crowds at Sound Academy, but I suppose that was the nature of this beast.
Titus Andronicus followed and, as always, rocked the crowd with their indie punk sound. Songs from The Monitor were expectedly brilliant but I’m not too sure about the poppier, more-polished sound of their newer material. I’ll reserve judgment until the album though.
Finally, the band everyone was there to see, The Jesus & Mary Chain, hit the stage. Despite what seemed like a bit of tension on stage between the Reid brothers and a naked guy running onto the stage at some point, the band seemed to pick up where they left off in the early 90s. The songs were captivating, the focused wall-of-guitar sound had the entire crowd moving and Jim Reid’s voice, despite being a bit lower than I was expecting, sounded great. A great end to my second night at SXSW! See my photos here.
So I’ve procrastinated on writing this list for a while, mostly because I felt like 2010 was a great year for music. There was a lot to choose from when trying to find 10 albums, much from artists that I’d never heard of before this past year. With that said, there were also a lot of disappointments from some of my favourites. Ra Ra Riot, Sufjan Stevens, The National, Stars, Gorillaz, Born Ruffians and Vampire Weekend all released albums that I was not fond of. In fact, I even hated some of them (Stars, I’m looking squarely at you). The bright spots definitely outshone the missteps though.
Top 10 Albums of 2010
10. Mumford & Sons- Sigh No More
British accents, crescendos, relatable music. Like a lot of indie stuff in the past few years except you can show all your friends without some of them looking at you weird. You know which friends I’m talking about.
Highlights: Sigh No More, Awake My Soul
9. El Guincho- Pop Negro
The first time I saw the video for lead single Bombay, it was definitely a WTF moment. As confusing as the video was, the music really shone through. Infectious Spanish pop music with Afro-Carribean influences. 2010 was a random year for sure.
Highlights: Bombay, Soca Del Eclipse
8. Arctic Monkeys- Humbug
This album is on no other Best of 2010 lists. Mostly because it was released in 2009. With that said, it got panned by a lot of critics and magazines and I brushed it off as a mistake a year ago. At some point during 2010, I gave the album another listen and realized what I had missed out on. You should too. Darker with few catchy hooks, it was a departure from the Arctic Monkeys sound that I had grown accustomed to. But after some time to simmer on it, it’s an awesome album.
Highlights: Dance Little Liar, Cornerstone
7. The Black Keys- Brothers
Two guys making a lot of noise together and it finally worked on an album for me. An accessible sort of blues that has enough of a contemporary shine to really make me look forward to whatever they have coming next.
Highlights: Tighten Up, The Only One
6. Shad- TSOL
Real hip hop stand up. London, Ontario was responsible for more than a beatboxing pop-cover artist in 2010. Shad really has a knack for choosing beats that’ll get your head nodding and his lyrics become more and more refined with every album.
Highlights: A Good Name, Rose Garden
5. Local Natives- Gorilla Manor
Just a solid album all around. When I first heard the song “Airplanes“, I was blown away. Little did I know that it wasn’t even the best song on their album.
Highlights: Wide Eyes, Cubism Dream
4. Beach House- Teen Dream
Dreamy indie pop, this album immediately spoke to me. The airy vocals remind me a bit of Fleet Foxes except Beach House can at times actually outshine.
Highlights: Silver Soul, 10 Mile Stereo
3. Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I mistakenly wrote Kanye off a few years back. He’d started focusing on autotune, started doing even crazier shit and I just got tired of trying to explain his antics in my head. Then 2010 came around and I started hearing the singles on his new album. I still refused to be swayed. Then I saw him perform on SNL and I was taken aback. His cocky demeanor, his nonsensical lyrics, they were all still there, but it suddenly was working for me. I ‘got’ him again. Then he released an album featuring Bon Iver on three tracks and the complete 180 in my mind was complete. Even though he’s still releasing self-indulgent, pretentious 30-minute music “videos” and is still doing crazy shit, I’m now a fan once again. Let’s have a toast for the douchebag.
Highlights: Lost in the World, Runaway
2. Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
Everything clicked for Arcade Fire in 2010. I mean, they were big before but suddenly they had the same name recognition as Coldplay and Radiohead. They had youtube web broadcasts of shows, they had a number one album in the States and they deserved every bit of that success because The Suburbs is a hell of an album. It was better than Neon Bible and better than almost everything released in 2010. The lead single “Ready To Start” came along at a point in my life when I was ready to start a lot of things as well, one of those life-defining sort of songs.
Highlights: Ready To Start, Half Light II (No Celebration)
1. Titus Andronicus- The Monitor
I had never heard of Titus Andronicus before 2010 (besides the Shakespeare play) and a lot of people I know still haven’t. That’s a shame but it’s not surprising. The songs on this album are nothing short of epic but I wouldn’t say that they’re the most accessible. Buried under civil war references, Bright-Eyes-esque aching vocals and 4-5 minute long build-ups are bar-song rally cries and incredible hooks. The lyrics are dark but they contain a glimmer of hope, you just have to get through the entire album a few times to hear it. It’s complex, it’s simple, it’s the best album of 2010 and you’d be missing out if you didn’t give it a few chances. They’re also awesome live.
Listen to The Battle Of Hampton Roads below:
More words: The show was really solid. Openers Sandman Viper Command were awesome and I’ll be doing a review of their album in the upcoming weeks. Hollerado was pretty good as well (though I expected a little more energy). Titus Andronicus rocked really hard and the only aspect of the show that wasn’t awesome was some of the banter from the lead singer. But based on his lyrics, I suppose that’s just because he’s such a brooding individual. Namely, he was mad that people moshing to mosh-worthy music were hitting his monitors (you really need a monitor splash zone) and that there weren’t enough ladies in the front. Again, with more shows, I’m sure he’ll get used to the scene that accompanies this sort of music. Hopefully. The alternative would be that they start making music that Gap and American Apparel would like…
Here’s a video of their song “Four Score and Seven”, the camera shakes when jumping lads strike me in the arm:
Florence + The Machine, Kool Haus, April 10th 2010
Florence + The Machine at Kool Haus
One word: Sweet.
More words: Florence has the best voice in indie music. With that said, there was one major problem with the show: the crowd sucked. It wasn’t just a bunch of pseudohipsters, it was people who were expecting a quiet stroll in the park at a concert. There was little movement during songs in the majority of the venue and people were mad when there was bumping into one another or when someone was too loud (yes, too loud at a CONCERT!). And if you were wondering, yes, I was accused of being too loud. The only time the crowd did move was when Florence asked people to start jumping for “Dog Days Are Over” (which was incredible, btw). Kool Haus, as a venue, always disappoints. With that said, Florence had a great deal of energy and could never let a crowd down with a voice like that.
Here’s a video of “Kiss With a Fist”. The only movement in the video was me as the rest of the crowd around me might as well have been balancing bowls on their heads.
It’s taken me this long to write a post because I’ve been unable to put into words my love for the new Titus Andronicus album “The Monitor”. I have yet to skip a song while listening to the album, even though most of the songs are more than 8 minutes long. It’s that good. The album starts off with an incredible excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address:
“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide”
It makes me feel American pride and I’m a Canadian. The concept of the album is awesome, a perfectly-utilized civil war theme is consistent throughout. Speeches from Lincoln and abolitionists are interspersed between tracks like “Four score and seven” and “The Battle of Hampton Roads”. But this isn’t like some sort of civil war re-enactment with weird men in stuffy suits shooting fake guns. Each song builds into some incredible melodies and kick-ass riffs. The vibe of the whole album reminds me of Bright Eyes with more of an edge (sort of like in his song “Hot Knives“). And the lyrics, the lyrics are just incredible. Off the top of my head, this has become a favourite:
“I’ve been called out, cuckolded, castrated, but I survived. I am covered in urine and excrement but I’m alive. And there’s a white flag in my pocket, never to be unfurled. Though with their hands ’round my ankles, they bring me down for another swirl. And they tell me, ‘take it easy buddy – it’s not the end of the world'”
I cannot state this strongly enough. Listen to this album. Don’t skip a song because you don’t like how it starts or because the vocals initially rub you the wrong way. You will not be disappointed. This album is phenomenal.
… Oh and did I mention that they’re touring right now? Here’s the album closer “The Battle of Hampton Roads” and just wait for the mystery instrument to kick in at the end. It blew me away. Literally. I fell down and had scrapes on my elbows resembling a bike accident after listening to this song.
“And so now when I drink, I’m going to drink to excess,
And when I smoke, I will smoke gaping holes in my chest,
And when I scream, I will scream until I’m gasping for breath,
And when I get sick, I will stay sick for the rest,
Of my days peddling hate out the back of a Chevy Express,
Each one a fart in the face of your idea of success”