Friday, November 17, 2006

Blowing Leaves of Information: How I voted

So, for the second year in a row, I joined Kyle Leafblower--whose blogger HQ is located conveniently adjacent to my own--in offering my own list of the Ten American Bands That, As A Holier Than Thou, Mega-Obscure Pontificator, I Support in Some Poorly Defined Way. As always, a lot of worthy bands were left off. Six of my ten made the list. Here's how I cast my votes.

1. Bishop Allen
Their unique EP-a-month gambit got my attention--the high-level of songwriting and graceful, simple melodies kept it. More than glib songwriters, Bishop Allen construct a world I'd love to live in--even at its most scarring. Through a year of writing and releasing music, these guys maintained such a constant and consistent level of excellence that it makes a lot of bands look like dilletantes. More to the point: it makes the way major labels farm bands for saleable tracks look incredibly uninspired circa 2006. These songs are about big hopes, big dreams, big adventures, the expansiveness of the human heart and mind as it travels through the world, and--THANK GOD--there's not an ounce of cynicism ANYWHERE.

2. The Hold Steady
Look, I know this band has haters who doubt the authenticity of the Hold Steady, or who tire of the recurring characters. But, from me to them: suck my ass. This isn't rock "for" the scene, it's rock "on" the scene. And what's great about their new record, Boys and Girls in America, is that the band has found a way to acknowledge their newly energized fanbase by giving them a song cycle that contains as many valentines as the previous one had cautionary tale. Envy everybody growing up with this band: they're going to matter for a long time to a lot of people.

3. Ghostface Killah
It's now officially safe to stop giving a shit about crap like hyphy. Ghostface reaches back in time to save hiphop's future from all the laffy taffy ass clowns and the five-minute fads that illuminate too many inferior MC's. Among the Wu-Tangers, 'Face was already head of the class, but Fishscale leaves him untouchable.

4. The Silversun Pickups
The rest of you music bloggers and your darling, pointyheaded folk princes and twee-pop bullshittery bore the fucking hell out of me. So: here's a rock band, bringing actual rock. Listen to them.

5. TV On the Radio
Like nobody else, TV On The Radio find a way to tap in to that which is elemental. During a time where too much of the world feels like it's on the brink of something apocalyptic, TVOTR shows the uncanny ability to take it all in and let you feel it at full measure. Yet, at the same time, the incendiary effect of their skyrocketing gospel-soul vibrations fill the heart with such courage. These guys know how deep the abyss is, but they've found a way out.

6. The Long Winters
I was late to the party on the Long Winters, but their new release Putting The Days To Bed, has been a constant companion every since I first heard it.

7. Green Day
This is going to look like one of those nods to a band you feel obligated to name, but even after all the time that's passed since American Idiot, you can see how mighty this band has grown. They are still the biggest brand name in American rock right now. When they needed an American band to join U2 in performing whatever that post-Katrina song was called ("Do They Know It's Not Wet Anymore'?), Green Day was the only plausible choice. Not bad for a bunch of guys who used to write punchy pop-punk odes to jacking it. Plus, Brandon Flowers talked shit about them this year, so I feel obligated to defend their honor against Flowers' poncey-ass hackism.

8. Sleater-Kinney
Going out they way a great band should--Sleater-Kinney hit Washington, DC and delivered a show that rocked with primal energy--as if they were a band feeling the kind of force they can wield for the first time. Their farewell pass was the only "be there or die trying" rock event of 2006 for me.

9. Cold War Kids
There's no denying the talent behind the Raconteurs--but, to me, it still feels so gauzy and pre-fab. And let's face it, none of them are rocking as if their livelihoods depend on it, and it shows. For a bluesy, sweat-drenched kick that feels like something is actually at stake, reach for Cold War Kids.

10. Gnarls Barkley
Sheesh. I give.

10 Bands that just missed the cut:
Margot and the Nuclear So and So's
Middle Distance Runner (but: keep watching Leaf's blog...I found a way to reward them)
The Strokes (it took a long time to learn to stop worrying and love First Impressions)
Beck (this, I admit, was a vastly egregious omission)
My Morning Jacket
The National
Okkervil River
The Dresden Dolls

One "band" we need a ruling on for the future:
Neko Case. Born in Alexandria, moved to Tacoma, Washington, then Toronto, where, by dint of participating in the New Pornographers, became mainly known as a Canadian artist. Now, however, it seems that she lives in Chicago. So, I ask that we get an official ruling on who gets to claim her, because, in fairness, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood was a fantastic record, and, as always, her live show this year was fantastic.

Bands that made the list that make me vomit in my own mouth:
Fiery Furnaces:
I don't think this band is ever going to re-find the otherworldly weirdness of Blueberry Boat. The record with their grandma on it was nigh upon unlistenable and their 2006 release, Bitter Tea was an album of slight, weightless amuse bouches, impossible to take seriously.

Car Stereo (Wars):
I like the Ghostland/Ghostface mashup a lot, as well--but I'm just not ready to place a mashup artist on a pedestal.

Tapes N' Tapes:
Dull and pointless. The perfect example of what Paul H. calls "is your radio broken?" music.

Anyway, register your objections here and/or there, and remember: MySpace exists so that you DON'T have to listen to everything bloggers tell you to listen.


PK said...

Comment #1: Credit where due: The term "'is my radio broken' music" was borrowed many years ago from one Daniel Feger Ancona...

Comment #2: I continue to be amazed by the capacity of the blogger community to ignore Mute Math. And yes, I know DCist did a show review a few weeks ago. But I mean, not even in the COMMENTS on leafblower?

Comment #3: How, exactly, did Wilco have a big year? I mean, I love Wilco... but if this is just the "top 10 bands" in some vague sense that allows Green Day to be included, then aren't there about a million other bands that had better years?

Comment #4: Bishop Allen, but no De Novo Dahl, eh? What's the story there?

The Deceiver said...

To answer your points:

--I think that the blogging community hasn't COMPLETELY ignored Mute Math. reports at least 86 mentions on music blogs. Kyle himself posted tracks last week and they've been discussed on Fluxblog and The Yellow Stereo, both of which are top-tier MP3 blogs. I'd say though, that the band is still bubbling under a little bit--they seemed poised to break open, perhaps even big time. To be honest, I think people may have shied away based on early reports that they were a Christian band: there are those who hear that and think "Creed" and others who simply harbor prejudices.

--It's hard to explain, and it's totally based on opinion alone, but certain bands get to a point where I feel that even when they are not releasing albums, they stay relevant in the discussion. Wilco is one such band. They continue to tour, their members continue to crosspollinate with other bands, and their influence is still felt even after their own hype dies down a bit.

--By contrast, I didn't put De Novo Dahl in the same category because they just don't have that sort of influence, and, in fairness, their "buzz" is only now starting to remount. They just missed the cut last year--and, actually, to be honest with you, I see now on my notepad that I wrote them down for consideration this year as well. I LOVE De Novo Dahl's first record, and what I've heard of their forthcoming release pleases me to no end. If the next record is as good as I think it will be, I think I'll be hard pressed to keep them from the list next year.

--"aren't there about a million other bands that had better years?" Well, to me, part of what makes this sort of fun is you really get to define your own criteria, confront your own inconsistencies, and basically just come down to the conclusion: "Whatever: I just LIKE it. I just WANT to." IT's sort of reassuring, after spending a lot of time talking about music as if it were a serious adult matter, to realize once again that a good song hits you where that kid inside you lives. I think that maybe some of these cats on this poll might be loathe to admit that, but I'd bet you they feel largely the same way. I feel sort of bad for the blogger who admitted that there were only three bands they could "stand behind." Shit! This isn't high-level diplomacy! Loosen up!

Nathan said...

I thought Neko Case lived in Tucson? Could be worng, but she has magically appeared at a couple of shows here in Town, most recently the M. Ward Show at the Rialto. nice blog, listen to opera.

wharman said...

Thanks, DCeiver. I hadn't known of Bishop Allen and their prolific attention grabbers until this list but have been listening early and often since this late bloomer flowered.