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2011: 10 Albums I'm Glad I Bought

Though it surely wasn't reflected in my blogging frequency, 2011 found my relationship with music rebounding from the slump of the last few years.Though most new artists and I remain strictly platonic, several old flames rekindled the passion.

As has been tradition the last couple of years, here're the albums that stuck with me the most. Along with my thoughts, I've listed my personal highlights.



Adele: 21
One of those rare records that find simultaneous commercial, critical, and personal success. Though the album flirted with overexposure in the months after its release, I believe it will endure a long time.
Faves: Rollin' in the Deep, Rumour Has It, Set Fire to the Rain, One and OnlySomeone Like You

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The Cars: Move Like This
Reunion albums tend to have an air of desperation and the sweat of trying too hard to recapture past glories. Move Like This manages to avoid that completely. Ric, David, Greg, and Eliot pick back up and zip through these 10 songs as if it'…

More Songs of 2011

Here's the tracklisting and cover art for my end-of-the-year favorites mix. Click here to see the details on the first volume.



1. R.E.M.: All the Best
2. Raphael Saadiq: Radio
3. Wugazi: Killa Hill
4. Foo Fighters: Arlandria
5. The Rosebuds: The Woods
6. The Decemberists: Foregone
7. Wilco: Dawned on Me
8. They Might Be Giants: Can't Keep Johnny Down
9. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Skipper Dan
10. Fountains of Wayne: A Road Song
11. Death Cab for Cutie: You are a Tourist
12. Kaiser Cheifs: My Place is Here
13. Ben Folds Five: Stumblin' Home Winter Blues

Rock Solid: Paul Simon

"If you only own one album by Paul Simon it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

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Paul Simon is a big baseball fan, so I'll start with a baseball analogy: Paul Simon is to songwrit…

Refrigerated Love: A History

I was very surprised when I heard recently that U.K. band Refrigerated Love were reuniting - after nearly five years apart - for a winter tour and possible new album. It occurred to me that RL is one of those rare beasts, a vastly prolific but vastly unknown group. So, for those of you who have never heard of them, I thought I'd shed some light on their background. I'll warn you, it's a long and convoluted history, so grab a beverage and settle in…

Roots
In 1979 school friends Colin Porthorn and Nigel Hornblower began performing in clubs as a folk duo called The Coldsmen. Porthorn's raspy choirboy tenor and Hornblower's dexterous guitar technique were a fine combination, but they were severely out of step with the times. So they wised up and recruited mates "Pasty" Pete Pockhorn, Elvis Hornman, Hornel Lieberman, and Ricky Hornblatt for drums, lyrics, keyboards, and tambourine respectively. The group took on the new-wavier name Refrigerated Love and set off …

278. Refrigerated Love: Inmortality (2011)

It's an established truism in the music industry that you can never count a good band out. A lesser-known but no-less-true correllary is that you can't really count the bad ones out either.

And thus we have Refrigerated Love, the British group Stephen Thomas Earlewine once called "the chronic bronchitis of rock."

It's been a wild ride since their 2008 reunion release No Expiration Date. That album found modest success, mostly due to ironic attention from hipster bloggers, and the band went back into full swing. In 2009 they put out a spiritual follow-up to their 1994 all-female cover album We Refuse To Pun the Word Cover. The album, Coming In, featured the band's renditions of tunes by gay artists such as Judas Priest, Husker Du, Ricky Martin, and Indigo Girls. Despite excellent song selection, the album tanked.

This began yet another dark period for Refrigerated Love. In 2010 Lead singer Colin Porthorn served as a judge on the disastrous reality series Sing…

277. "Weird Al" Yankovic: Alpocalypse (2011)

Just when I thought I was out...

Last year I did a marathon review-every-"Weird Al"-album project. Honestly, it was more "Weird Al" than any person should have to experience in a short period of time. But now, Al's back with a new album, Alpocalypse, and duty compels me to throw in my two cents.

I actually already wrote about 5 of these songs, because Al released them 2 years ago as the Internet Leaks EP. I wrote then that this was somewhat of an odd strategy, and I still feel that way. It essentially means that a little less than half the new album is actually new. It's also disappointing because, as you'll see, I didn't much care for 4 of the 5 songs on the EP.

Following the format of my past "Weird Al" reviews, let's take a look at Alpocalypse.


Parodies:
The album leads off with Perform This Way, a take on Lady Gaga's anthem Born This Way. There was apparently a misunderstanding about this song, with Al going to great lengths to …

Songs of 2011

Every year I make a compilation of some of my favorite songs. Some years I make two. This is one of those years. Here's the tracklist and cover art for my first-half-of-2011 collection:

 1. Sloan: Shadow of Love
2. Adele: Rumour Has It
3. The Cars: Sad Song
4. Duran Duran: All You Need Is Now
5. White Light Riot: Conduit
6. Tapes 'n Tapes: Freak Out
7. The Get Up Kids: Regent's Court
8. Beastie Boys: The Larry Routine
9. Paul Simon: So Beautiful Or So What
10. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
11. Rogue Valley: Orion
12. Apex Manor: The Party Line
13. The Decemberists: This Is Why We Fight
14. Sloan: Beverly Terrace

Rock Solid: Van Halen

"If you only own one album by Van Halen it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

* * *
Word has it that Van Halen will put out a new album this year. It would be their first full-length effort in 13 years, and their first with…

Rock Solid: U2

"If you only own one album by U2 it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.



The declared winner will be subjected to the Thriller Test (do I need to explain the name?), a set of 4 criteria an album should meet to be considered a masterpiece. Those are 1) at least 3 hits, 2) great album tracks that sh/could have been hits, 3) no filler, and 4) memorable cover art.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible,…

12 by Old 97's

Here's the drill: 12 songs to summarize an artist's career, in chronological order (of course).

Featuring:











"12 by" is an old feature; the last time I did one was April of 2009. But upon discovering belatedly that the Old 97's put a new record out last fall (The Grand Theatre Volume 1), I realized they're due for a career summary.


1. If My Heart Was a Car (from Hitchhike to Rhome, 1994)
Lays out a rough blueprint for the band: Fast tempo, country roots, raw but controlled vocals, and metaphor-laden lyrics about how f***ed-up love can be ("If my heart was a car / you would have stripped it a long time ago").

2. 4 Leaf Clover (from Hitchhike to Rhome, 1994)
This one is always a concert highlight.

3. Victoria (from Too Far to Care, 1996)
I want Rhett Miller to write a song about me.

4. Timebomb (from Wreck Your Life, 1997)
A perfect marriage of music, lyrics, and performance. The narrator is about to lose control, and the song spends its entire 3 minute …

Rock Solid: Monkees

"If you only own one album by The Monkees it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

* * *
I spent a lot of time on the Monkees back in 2009, reviewing all 11 of their albums, plus a compilation and a …

Rock Solid: Weezer

"If you only own one album by Weezer  it's gotta be [insert masterpiece here]."

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we fill in the blank. Our goal is to pseudo-scientifically determine the best, the beloved, the most classic album in an artist's catalog.

Here's how it works: I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the professional critical point-of-view and Amazon.com offers the fan perspective (because most people who choose to review albums on Amazon are adoring fans of the artist in question). The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best.

An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits).In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question, as if you care.

* * *
Oh, Weezer. What more can we say about you? You've made us love you, made us hate you, made us question you…