As a result of growing up in western New York, Peter K has an appreciation for all things Buffalo, which may or may not explain his choice for album number ten. He reads Teenage Kicks and ridicules us in the comments, which seemed a good enough reason to invite him to participate in this project.
10. Buffalo Tom, Three Easy Pieces: A decade off didn’t hurt these guys a single bit. Three Easy Pieces is a great blend of melodic pop and garage rock, and is further proof that New West Records is one of today’s most vital and interesting labels.
9. The Mendoza Line, 30 Year Low: Ouch. Talk about your bad break-ups. 30 Year Low makes Rumors sound like Let’s Get It On. One listen to “31 Candles” makes it pretty clear that there will not be a Mendoza Line farewell tour. It’s a shame because this is an incredible album, sharp points and all, and the Mendoza Line was a great live act.
8. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky: This album succeeds despite Nels Cline’s incessant noodling. Look, Tweedy has always been about song structure. Even the chaos of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had structure. Cline kicks a hole in Tweedy’s structure and explores tangents that are at best inconsistent with the context of the song. Cline’s finest moments on Sky Blue Sky (i.e., Impossible Germany) work well because he shows the discipline to remain within the context of the song. I have to say though that Cline is practically invisible on my favorite Sky Blue Sky moments (i.e., You Are My Face).
7. Grand Champeen, Dial “T” For This: From Austin, Texas, Grand Champeen is the current torch bearer for the “get-drunk-play-loud-wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve” genre. Mixing the power pop sensibilities of Cheap Trick with the screaming harmonies of Soul Asylum, Grand Champeen has long been known as a great live band that doesn’t translate well in the recording studio. Dial “T” is as close as they’ve come to getting it right.
6. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away: I didn’t think Mercer could top Chutes Too Narrow. I’m not sure that he did with Wincing, but it’s a damn fine record. His arrangements have matured without becoming obtrusive or overbearing. Given the delicate nature of his songs, that’s some feat.
5. The Fratellis, Costello Music: My buddy Todd sent me a burn of this cd, and I listened to it without knowing anything about the band. Its propulsive exuberance (and butt-load of melodic hooks) sucked me in immediately. When I called to thank him, I was shocked when he said, “Pretty impressive first effort for three Scottish kids.” How the hell can there only be three people in that band? The album sounds like a full-blown party.
4. Joe Henry, Civilians: Every now and then I’ll hear a song that is so engrossing, I forget to breathe while listening to it. The song demands so much attention that the very act of taking a breath is too big a sacrifice. Civilians has about six songs that fit this description. The sad haunting piano of “God Only Knows,” the story of Willie Mays in “Our Song,” the burning torch of “I Will Write My Book” . . . . goddamn, I’m hyperventilating again.
3. Glossary, The Better Angels of Our Nature: I hate to use an overused cliché, but Glossary is the best damn band no one knows. Call it roots, heritage, alt-twang, new southern, whatever. Glossary does it well. Imagine X channeling Gram Parsons and singing a Flannery O’Connor novel. Beautiful harmony vocals, interwoven guitars, songs about drinking and religion and graveyards, and hope and rock and roll. Oh yes, it’s that good. Don’t believe me? Go to their website (http://www.glossary.us/) and download The Better Angels of our Nature for FREE. What have you got to lose?
2. Bruce Springsteen, Magic: Something has happened over the last decade that I don’t fully understand. Somehow, people have decided they are “too cool” to dig Bruce. Maybe it’s his politics? Maybe it’s because he’s old and married? I don’t know and I guess I don’t care. Magic is a great Bruce album. The songwriting is stellar, the arrangement is rich and full, and Brendan O’Brian does a first class job with the production. I’ll fly my dork flag high and proclaim it his best album since The River.
1. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: My aforementioned pal Todd and I have very similar taste in music. In fact, if he submits his top 10 to Teenage Kicks, it will look almost identical to mine. There is one glaring band where we differ however, and it’s Spoon. We’ve talked about it, I’ve sent him mixes, and I’ve even dragged him to shows. But he still hates Spoon. Until know, I couldn’t figure out why. But in a flash if inspiration the reason came to me. Listening to Spoon reminds me of the old Seinfeld joke about looking at cleavage. Jerry claims that cleavage should be observed in the same way one looks at an eclipse – glance at it, perceive its essence, and look away quickly. One must enjoy Spoon in a similar manner. Don’t bother listening too closely for literal meaning in either the words or music. One must take in the experience almost tangentially. My friend Todd, I’m afraid, doesn’t have the patience for this like of listening experience, whereas I’m able to enjoy a fleeting glance at a nice set of, err, songs. So anyway, this album kicks ass. I think it’s about a bad break-up, but I’m not entirely sure.