The TOP TWENTY ALBUMS of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

Originally posted 2012-02-05 02:00:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

It is the best and truest mark of artistry in the music industry, and sales are no indication of significance.  Sequencing and thematic continuity, sonic experimentation within a basic set of familiar parameters, a healthy range of types and topics: these are the standards by which to judge an album.

The album.

It ascended into an art form in the mid-sixties under the careful work of artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Beach Boys.  It was taken to new heights with the experimentation of later bands, from the concept albums of the Moody Blues to the spin-off success of artists like Bruce Springsteen.  The album – and rock in general – saw a rebirth in the nineties, with the work of those like Weezer, the Wallflowers, the Barenaked Ladies, and a slew of others who led a surge of excellent rock music.

These days, the album has faced a crossroads.  Specifically, with the advent and surge of digital sales, the physical formats of music are on the chopping block.  Still, with the rise of vinyl sales even as CD sales continue to decline, there is hope yet.  And, contrary to an army of naysayers, there are still excellent albums being made.  This year, as with the past several years that I have been tuned into a vast array of albums, I would say there are about five albums that will undoubtedly stand the test of time and compete for top spots when I eventually get around to my Best Albums of All Time list.  Which, at this point, might have to wait until I hit retirement.

But, for the moment, you have my Best Albums of 2011 list, and if you’re interested in reading more about any of these albums, you can access my Weekend Review report (including star rating, production info, and a full review) by simply searching the album title and band name in the search bar above.  And, of course, if you see reason for disagreement or any gaps in my list, it’s up to you to leave comments below.

1)  The Whole Love (Wilco)

2)  The King is Dead (The Decemberists)

3)  Last Night on Earth (Noah & the Whale)

4)  Wasting Light (Foo Fighters)

5)  Bad As Me (Tom Waits)

6)  Unfortunate Casino (Gerry Beckley)

7)  The King of Limbs (Radiohead)

8)  Yuck (Yuck)

9)  Lasers (Lupe Fiasco)

10) W H O K I L L (The Tune-Yards)

11) The Graduation Ceremony (Joseph Arthur)

12) Vol. 2: High and Inside (The Baseball Project)

13) Collapse Into Now (R.E.M.)

14) Move Like This (The Cars)

15) The Valley (Eisley)

16) Cloud Maintenance (Kevin Hearn)

17) I’m With You (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

18) Alpocalypse (Weird Al Yankovic)

19) No Color (The Dodos)

20) Nighty Night (8in8)

 

Honorable Mention:

The Way It Was (Parachute)

The Dreamer, The Believer (Common)

Reflections on Rock Music: Remasters, Reissues, and Bootleg Releases…

Originally posted 2009-03-16 23:51:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In lieu of a video tonight, I’d like to take a moment and review one of the music industry’s favorite ways to make an extra dime on previously released material — also known as “remastered” and/or “reissued” albums.  And, just because it feels right, I’d like to incorporate some thoughts on the release of previously unreleased material, or “bootleg,” “b-side,” and/or “rarity” collections.

Remastered Recordings

What is a remastered recording, really?  Now, in some cases, a remastered recording can be the most exciting release in an artist’s catalog, particularly for longtime fans and audiophiles.  For instance, there really is no substitute for the fully stereo-version of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds.  This remastered disc created quite a controversy when it first came out, as you had purists who claimed it should remain mono, as it was originally intended and released by Brian Wilson and the boys.  Others embraced the all-new expansion of the sound on this classic album.  As for me, I cannot understand how anyone in possession of the Pet Sounds CD could refrain from skipping to track 14 every time to begin with the stereo recording of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  Compared to the mono recordings, the second set of stereo-mixed tracks are crisp and clear as they pop out around your ears.  You can hear each instrument and truly appreciate the minute instrumental and harmonic details that are present in this Beach Boys masterpiece, as compared to the mono versions which have a tendency to crackle and feel claustrophobic when turned up to any reasonable volume.

This, unfortunately, is probably the exception in the world of “remasters.”

Beware music fans when you pick up a CD or read online that a disc has been “remastered.”  The trick here is to read into the fine print and ascertain to what degree the recording has actually been altered.  For instance, the classic packaging/marketing trick has been for a sticker on a CD case to read “Digitally Remastered.”  That sounds great!  I have to have this new and improved recording for my collection!…

Well, perhaps so, but half the time all this means is that someone converted the analog tracks into a digital format.  Depending on the artist, producer, remixer, and age of original recording, there has often been no real improvement to the sound of the recording.  I’ve certainly been burned a few times by this “Digitally Remastered” marketing…

That being said, there really are some truly great remastered recordings out there if you’re careful to ascertain the degree of thought and effort that has gone into the apparent “remastering” (Like the re-issue of the main albums in Bob Dylan’s catalog a few years ago — and you better appreciate the improvement in sound quality, because there’s no booklet or bonus tracks to speak of!)

Reissues

Not to sound bitter here or anything, but reissues can also be just another waste of money.  Or they can offer any amazing addition to your collection.  How can you tell the difference?  Well, here are a few tips:

  • If it is a reissue of a recently released album, it’s probably just the same old material with a couple of shoddily recorded demos or tracks that didn’t make it to the album (usually for a reason) attached;
  • If it is an album that never made it to CD, then you must ask yourself: How much do I love this artist? If the answer is anything other than “very much,” then stay far, far away from this type of reissue!!  On the other hand, if the answer is “very much,” then what are you waiting for?  Some of my favorite CD purchases have fallen under this category, most notably Warren Zevon’s The Envoy.  I can’t believe that, previous to the reissue of this album in 2003, I wouldn’t have been able to hear such songs as “The Overdraft” or “Hula Hula Boys.”
  • If it is a reissue of a live album, you need to seriously question what has been improved since the initial release.  After all, what level of improvement can there really be in terms of sound quality?  It’s a live album.  It better have lots of additional tracks or an amazing, detailed booklet with updated interviews, etc.  Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison reissue is an excellent example of a worthwhile purchase in this category.
  • If it is an anniversary edition of a studio recording, some of the same criteria apply as above.  For instance, have the tracks been remastered?  (I mean, really remastered!)  Is there a decent array of bonus tracks added for the collector who already has the original album?  Is there a seriously detailed booklet with a decent number of pages?  I mean, after all, if this is an album worthy of a reissue, there must be a good deal of back story, historical importance, and/or artists from that band or other bands that are excited and willing to talk about it!
  • Finally, there is the enigmatic multiple format reissue.  What is this, you may ask?  This is when an album or collection of tracks is released and there are multiple options for the consumer.  For instance, when Pearl Jam re-releases their debut album Ten later this month, there will be three different packages available.  There’s the “Legacy Edition” with two discs — one with the original tracks, one with a newly remixed version of the album by original producer Brendan O’Brien and six bonus tracks.  There’s the “Deluxe Edition” with the aforementioned two discs and a DVD of Pearl Jam’s MTV Unplugged performance from 1992.  Then, there’s the “Collector’s Edition” with the aforementioned two CDs and one DVD, four vinyl discs (one with the original album, one with the remixed and bonus tracks, two with a live concert), a cassette version of Pearl Jam’s original “Momma-Son” demo, and “Package also includes an Eddie Vedder-style composition notebook filled with replica personal notes, images and mementos from the collections of Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament, a vellum envelope with replicated era-specific ephemera from Pearl Jam’s early work and a two-sided print commemorating the Drop in the Park concert.”  Wow.  Now that’s some selection.  For most people, the “Legacy Edition” really should be enough.  For me, the intermediate Pearl Jam fan (and the ultimate fan of CD packaging), I will consider the “Deluxe Edition” based on the price difference.  If it’s a reasonable amount more, I would really be interested to watch the unplugged performance.  As for the “Collector’s Edition” (valued on Amazon.com at $124.99), you truly need to be a Collector with a capital “C.”  Now, don’t get me wrong; they have really done it up with some amazing elements, but as much as I love and appreciate CD packaging, I’m not about to drop that much money on a single album reissue.  If my memory serves me well, this was the price for buying all the Dylan reissues at one point (again, admittedly without any booklet, bonus tracks, or memorabilia to speak of).

Bootlegs (and B-sides and Rarities)

A final category in this collection of corporate cash cows (and music lovers’ delights!) are officially released bootleg recordings.  For convenience, I’ll lump in B-sides and rarities.  Bootlegs, of course, are tracks that have not been officially released but are circulated underground among fans.  Perhaps the most famous release of a bootleg was Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes.  Worth every crazy, weird minute of sound, my friends!  Dylan’s celebrated Bootleg Series is dedicated to releasing unheard tracks and live concerts that have been — almost without exception — wonderful and worthwhile purchases.  Again, I would ask that you apply that aforementioned question to the purchase laid out before you:  “How much do you like this band/artist?”

Most bands, at some point or another, release a collection of unreleased tracks, b-sides, and rarities.  These are sometimes mediocre at best (Hootie and the Blowfish’s Scattered, Covered, and Smothered) with a minimum of only somewhat interesting liner notes.  However, these are sometimes wildly fascinating and rewarding, such as the Beach Boys’ Endless Harmony soundtrack, Warren Zevon’s Preludes, or Pearl Jam’s Lost Dogs (the latter incorporating a detailed and interesting read of a booklet).

The trick here, to be repeated once and only once more, is to evaluate how much you like the artist or band, and then to take a calculated risk.  In this writer’s opinion, half the fun of surfing the racks (or the web) and buying new albums — whether they be standard releases, remasters, reissues, or bootlegs — is the risk involved.  You may be — and perhaps most often will be — unimpressed or only somewhat entertained.  But it’s all worth it when you have those moments of revelation as you discover a truly worthwhile addition to your music library!

The TOP TWENTY ALBUMS of 2010

Originally posted 2010-12-31 19:31:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The TOP TWENTY ALBUMS of 2010

At long last, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the unveiling of the best albums of the year, in order, as selected by the Weekend Review.

Okay, so the Weekend Review is really just me, but it sounds so much more official when I write it like that…

If you read my Best Songs list yesterday, then you also read my reaction to the “anti-top ten list” post made by musician/writer John Roderick earlier this week.  If not, suffice it to say that I think the end of year music lists aren’t meant to be accurate gauges of the previous twelve months’ new music releases.  If you believe that is even possible, then you must be deluded.  A top ten (or twenty, forty, whatever) list is a celebration of individuals listening to and loving and hating and interpreting and discussing and arguing over the meanings of and value of that aforementioned new music.

That being said, my list is pretty much perfect.  So, bask in its glory, experience the feeling of being in the shadow of greatness as you peruse, that shadow looming more or less large depending on how high or low you go on the list.

And, for crying out loud, leave comments and links to any music I may have missed this year.

1)  All in Good Time – Barenaked Ladies

More than a breakup album, and no, it’s not “a serious BnL album;”  it’s BnL as per usual: excellent.

2)  Sea of Cowards – The Dead Weather

All the potential expressed in the details of their debut is capitalized on here with this outstanding follow-up, and only a year after Horehound!

3)  Bad Books – Bad Books

Two indie artists combine to form an even more obscure band and produce poetry set to folky alternative rock.

4)  Heaven is Whenever – The Hold Steady

My first go-round with the Hold Steady left me wondering how I missed this band and their gritty, smart rock and roll before now.

5)  Kaleidoscope Heart – Sara Bareilles

Her second album is tantamount to hitting a home run, from a capella opener to piano rock/pop to stripped down acoustic and harmonica work.

6)  Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Danger Mouse and James Mercer form one of the most fruitful collaborations of the year, their unique sound accented with echoes ranging from contemporary dance to seventies Beach Boys.

7)  Mines – Menomena

I’ve never heard an album quite like this before, a patchwork of sharp lyrics and killer instrumentation that, combined, sound like an alternative rock orchestra.

8)  Transference – Spoon

Masters of the understated performance, Spoon both strips down their arrangements and manages to weave complicated, interesting threads throughout the album.

9)  Lonely Avenue – Ben Folds and Nick Hornby

A partnership made in alternative rock heaven.  (Was I supposed to say more?)

10)  Be in Love – Locksley

Sounding like the Beatles circa-Please Please Me if they had hailed from the golden age of garage rock, Locksley is a band to keep your eye on.

11)  The Grand Theatre, Volume One – Old 97’s

Only one half of the recordings that were yielded from the Grand Theatre sessions, Volume One is dynamic stuff.  (Does make you wonder how much better it could have been if the best of the best had been included in one release.  Or how mediocre Volume Two is going to be.)

12)  Night Work – Scissor Sisters

If you can get past the buttocks in tights being grabbed on the front cover, you’ll find a smart hybrid of dance music and guitar-driven rock.

13)  Volume Two – She & Him

Not quite retro, not quite contemporary, Zooey Deschanel’s voice casts a spell over each track.

14)  The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

A great album with an impressive sense of concept, implementation, and packaging, though it lacked the dynamism necessary to draw me back for multiple listens.

15)  Page One – Steven Page

A very strong solo debut that ran the genre gamut.

16)  Suburba – House of Heroes

A strong album from a band that clearly works song by song, each track working in movements with multiple elements at play.

17)  Stone Temple Pilots – Stone Temple Pilots

The Stone Temple Pilots do power pop.  (Good stuff!)

18)  Something For the Rest of Us – Goo Goo Dolls

Excellent sound and outstanding lyrics, though as a whole it lags a bit, falling into patterns four plus minute song after four plus minute song.

19)  Hurley – Weezer

The cover image of Lost actor Jorge Garcia notwithstanding, Hurley finds Weezer sounding relevant and rocking out more than they have in some time.

20)  Brothers – The Black Keys

If the album as a whole had been as dynamic as the first five tracks, Brothers would not have been floating on the periphery of this list.

Honorable Mention:

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West

I don’t really have a frame of reference for this one (thus the honorable mention), but West’s multi-layered approach has earned my respect, even if I will probably never feel comfortable singing the lyrics out loud with other people around…

Buying Music in 2010: Mp3s (Digital Downloads), CDs, and LPs (Vinyl Records)

Originally posted 2009-11-18 01:52:19. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Hello everyone, I’m back with another article, as I still don’t have my HD camera (that’s what happens when you order internationally) and I’m still inundated with work here at FMP Studios.  The Traveling Acai Berries are hoping to get a two-song recording session in on Thursday night, but we’ll have to wait and see.  Those, unless I get the camera tomorrow, would still be in standard definition.

Anyway, onto tonight’s article:

Today at lunch, I told my colleagues at work (who are all much older than me) that I’m loving using my turntable.  A turntable, for those of you who either don’t know or have forgotten, is a record player.  And a record player is a machine that plays 12″ vinyl discs with grooves on them, producing sound.

Everyone at the table looked at me like I had four heads.  I heard, “He isn’t 25 years old- take off the mask, Scooby and reveal the real killer old man.”  But, I told them how much fun it was- having these great collector’s items and being able to just sit back and listen to some great music of yesteryear.

Then, you should’ve seen their faces when I told them I had bought new albums this year on vinyl.  They all couldn’t believe vinyl record albums (or long-players, LP) were making a small comeback.  Most of them had gotten rid of their collections or even their turntables.  What a shame!  I know they take up room, but I’m really loving them.  I thought I would write tonight about the options of purchasing and listening to music in 2009 that led me to my old-fashioned choice for music.

Let me start off by saying that, no, I do not believe that they are somehow superior in sound quality.  For years, it was all I could do to reduce as much hiss as possible from my own music recordings and I love the sound of clean, digital recordings.  I even love when companies remaster albums and take away all the hiss, like they did with Elvis’ #1’s album from a few years ago.  Listening to the remastered, cleaned-up version of “Heartbreak Hotel”, you feel like you’re in the room with Elvis.  And that’s a place I want to be. :-)

So, albums are all but dead now.  I am in the vast minority of people that purchase full albums rather than individual singles.  And, that cross-section gets even smaller because I’m also the type of person that purchases physical albums rather than digital downloads.  You see, I’m a person that wants something for his money.  And purchasing an album online for ten dollars (from iTunes or wherever else you may buy them) just doesn’t seem right to me- you get a FILE?  No jewel case?  No CD?  Nothing you can put in your collection?  Let me tell you something- my father’s vast CD collection is a heck of a lot more impressive than the 10,000 digital songs I currently have on my iPod.

And with physical albums, you actually own something.  I can’t feel ownership of a file on my computer.  Call me old-fashioned, but I want something I can hold, something I can look at in the future without wondering if it’s compatible with my operating system.

So, there are three main ways you can purchase music in 2009, now that cassette tapes, DVD audio, and Super Audio CDs have bitten the dust.  There are digital downloads (mp3’s, usually), CD’s, and new vinyl albums.  Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of each:

Digital Downloads: Well, the obvious reasons are- they don’t take up any space!  Most people don’t want to search through hundreds of CDs to find the song they want, and I don’t blame them.  These things are portable and even I have fallen in love with my iPod portable music player.  But, for my money, I purchase the physical album on CD or LP and then put it into my iTunes for conversion into mp3 or AAC format.  Then, I have a portable copy to take with me, but I also have the physical copy for both my collection and in case something goes wrong with the file.  Plus, they haven’t perfected sound quality of these compressed digital files.  Sure, mp3s don’t sound bad, but have you ever listened to a song in mp3 and then listened to the CD version right afterward?  You’ll really hear the difference.  And, they’re coming out with new, higher quality codecs all the time.  What does that mean?  It means that every time they come out with a better-sounding way of presenting your music, you’ll have to either convert your CD collection again or purchase the songs again in a higher quality.  I like to do the job one time and that’s it, so no thanks.

CD’s (Compact Disc): The best part about CDs is the sound quality.  They are essentially uncompressed and you simply cannot get audibly better sound quality without moving up to surround-sound audio.  CD’s have been our main medium for twenty years now and there’s a good reason.  They scratch, but not too easily.  They take up space, but about a quarter as much as an old vinyl LP.  And they’re really cheap to both produce and to purchase.  Stores often offer CDs for $9.99 when they come out and still make a healthy profit.  I really have nothing against CDs- they seem to be very archival and I feel great about my collection.  There are drawbacks, though- they can skip while playing them if you’re on a bumpy road in the car, they can have digital “artifacts” from not being produced properly, and they’re just a bit too small to reproduce a beautiful album cover with the same effect on a vinyl LP.  Plus, they’re portable…if you’re carrying one at a time…  You can’t put a CD in your pocket or even dream about carrying 10,000 songs with you at all times.  Plus, CD changers are bulky and outdated.

Vinyl Record Albums (LP): “Everything old is new again.”  Again, I’m a collector.  I really don’t buy too much new music anymore, as my back-catalog collection is essentially complete.  So, when my favorite artists come out with a new album, it’s not a big deal to purchase a vinyl copy.  Buying four albums a year won’t take up much space and I’ll be able to see those great album covers and read liner notes, etc.  Plus, the actual vinyl record albums themselves are a sight to behold.  And there’s something strangely serene about playing one- putting the needle on the record and watching it spin while you listen.  It just calms you down.  Plus, I get a nostalgic feeling when listening to records- like I was alive then.  You’d even catch me listening to stuff I normally wouldn’t, like “Sinatra at the Sands”, that I listened to a couple days ago.  It just felt right.  Of course, records went obsolete for a reason.  In fact, most people that used them long ago really don’t miss them that much.  They complain about the dust, the needle cartridges, the scratches, and how easy it was to make them skip.  Plus, they take up a ton of room when you have a bunch.  So, they’re a nice novelty to me right now.  And, most new albums out on vinyl come with either a digital download code or a copy on CD so you can still have the clean version of the album and keep the vinyl as a collector’s item.

There’s only one recording medium that’s dead now that everyone agrees was a good idea to kill: the 8-track player.  I never had one of these and don’t plan to.

I hope you enjoyed this article and hope that you’ll contribute to the conversation- how do you prefer to buy and listen to your music?  Are you considering the switch to vinyl again?  Do you think they actually sound better?  We’d love to hear from you!