Matt Medlock



The Top 100 Songs of 2010: #80-61

top100songsof2010

Welcome back. Read on for the next twenty.

Dec
27
2010
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The Top 100 Songs of 2010: #100-81

top100songsof2010

I won’t soften my words any more than this—this year was usually pretty disappointing when it came to album releases. Unless I haven’t heard most of the year’s best records (and judging by the common honorees on various publications’ year end best-of lists, I actually have), there haven’t been too many long-anticipated LPs or breakout full-lengths that managed to live up to the (often unfair) hype. Inconsistency was the real drag, followed by a general malaise in thematic songwriting, and then the unreasonable expectations that automatically put groups like the Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, M.I.A., the Daft Punk soundtrack, Kanye West and others at a disadvantage (either coming up just short or stumbling into a crevasse was their own doing, though). Hell, my favorite album of the last twelve months has a couple of dry spells, and the high and low points can be spotted from a hundred paces. Which brings me to the slight upswing: if not too many kept me transfixed from start to finish, that left ample room for the occasional great song to slide or blaze out of my speakers. That aforementioned fav album had at least six cuts alone that deserved exclusive merit among the best. So, since we’ve already presented our best albums of the year, allow me to now share with you the songs that kept me charging my iPod all year long.

Dec
27
2010
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Fifty Years of Great Music: Yet Another 100 Essential Songs

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Good news or bad news, depending on how you stand: this will almost certainly be the last song list for the Fifty Years of Great Music feature (never say never, but not likely). Which also means that in another month or so I’ll be rolling out the last list of albums for the series, leaving just one more visit to those five decades to go after that; something different, I assure you (though it doesn’t take a soothsayer to accurately predict what it’s going to be). But for now, let’s live in the present and take a look at another hundred terrific songs.  

I made a conscious effort to reach out in a few new directions this time, seeking out some groups and sounds that I’d previously withheld (however slight) deserving love; it is therefore important for me to emphasize that while I fully endorse all of these tracks’ worth, there are still plenty of likely more deserving tunes that I never got around to. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t make time for every little odd and end, but I felt compelled to make time for some material that I and people of my ilk frequently overlook or instinctually disparage. To those familiar with previous lists, most of these shouldn’t be too alarming, and there’s plenty of repeat customers to go around alongside the usual suspects. But I predict that a few of these will have you scratching your head, especially when you arrive at that tricky decade of the 1980s.

Dec
18
2010
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Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest Review

No doubt there will be some bemoaning the ever-shrinking distance between Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, but the common ingredients have kept them latched since day one (and not just because of Bradford). The messy psych-pop stained with guitar maelstroms and searing drone that once characterized Deerhunter has melted beneath their increasingly bright spotlight—they’re no easier today, but they’re certainly cozier. Once painful but impressive-to-behold scuffed-up boots, now worn bedroom slippers, Deerhunter seems no more comfortable with their roles as one of pop music’s greatest hopes—if for no better reason than because it seems unlikely that anyone on the pop charts is even paying attention—but there’s no resistance left. Devastatingly sad at times but always warm and woolly, Halcyon Digest is another notch in the belt of rock n’ roll’s undying optimism; hope springs eternal.

Dec
07
2010
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Fifty Years of Great Music: 100 More Essential Albums

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Welcome to another appendage to the Fifty Years of Great Music series. After presenting an additional 100 songs worthy of merit to the five previous decade Top 100’s last month, today I give you another hundred albums deserving of the love I previously withheld. Spanning some fifty years and plenty of genres, there should be something for everyone to embrace in here. As for me, I embrace ‘em all, from abrasive art rock to slight but irresistible pop and numerous avenues in and well outside those neighborhoods. And maybe you’ll get lucky and see me amend for past mistakes by showing some admiration for discs that you just couldn’t believe I passed over before.


The setup is the same as it was with the previous list of 100 More Essential Songs—randomly selected from the large groups of also-rans, listed by release date, etc.—with one key difference. During the 60s, music labels were slow to accept the LP as a viable/profitable means and most recording artists were slow to start thinking of their art in terms of a complete album instead of singles. And the 70s was rightly considered the era of AOR radio and the “LP as statement” gesture. Because of this, the group of great 60s albums starts running a little thin (in fact, only one was chosen here from the decade’s first four years) while the group of great 70s albums is overflowing with ones deserving. Therefore, this list contains fifteen albums from the 60s and twenty-five from the 70s.

Oct
25
2010
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The Corin Tucker Band - 1,000 Years Review

Sleater-Kinney, Sleater-Kinney, Sleater-Kinney. There, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can move on. Okay, one more: Sleater-Kinney. It’s almost impossible to discuss the Corin Tucker Band without frequently referencing Slea—I mean, Tucker’s former gig. Not just for quality comparison (which is about as fair as comparing Wings with the Beatles) but also to compare how the music sounds. Is it of the riot grrrl persuasion, or angular, explosive post-punk, or starved and confrontational empowerment, or bluesy rock swagger, or anthemic agit-pop? Any of those could be expected from one of the most reliable guitar attackers and banshee wailers in the last few decades. Yet 1,000 Years doesn’t provide these familiar tactics with any consistency. If anything, Corin Tucker comes off here more like a PJ Harvey type with less acid, Chrissy Hynde with less emotional baggage, or a Jenny Lewis without the country twang. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course.

Oct
17
2010
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Fifty Years of Great Music: 100 More Essential Songs

100moresongsbannerAnyone who took a look at the Fifty Years of Great Music series from last year was probably at least marginally frustrated. Every time I chose a song or album widely-accepted as deserving of accolade, there was probably another one that left someone scratching their head (or outright shouting at the computer screen). And, of course, there were also all the worthy nominees that came up short, and probably merited inclusion despite my cold, hard judgment. It’s time to give some of the losers that might have deserved the honor a little love.

What follows are a hundred more songs from the last fifty years (twenty per decade) that have earned some measure of immortality. As usual, it’s an eclectic bunch covering almost all major pop music genres, with instantly recognizable chart hits, overlooked gems begging for a wider audience, and everything in between. It’s important to remember, however, that these are not necessarily among the next group of twenty that came up short on each of the previous Top 100’s, but rather a fairly randomly selected group of close calls, a handful of sadly underrated numbers that deserve a kinder reevaluation, and, in about three or four cases, ones that I just plum forgot about in my original assessment. They are not ranked in any way, but are simply listed chronologically according to their release date.

Sep
15
2010
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Concert Review: Autolux / This Will Destroy You / Mallory @ Southgate House (Newport, KY)

autolux“I imagine these roaming passages could be responsible for some truly inspired concert scrambles, but in the midst of mostly 3-5 minute songs, they seem to excise the important parts to get to the look-at-us-ramble freedom.”

So I wrote of Autolux’s new LP, Transit Transit, in my frustration to find great songs that reminded me of their oft engaging (and occasionally stellar) debut full-length. It may be too soon after the release to make judgment on how the new tunes unfurl in the electricity of live productions, but considering how long it took for the band to release the new record, I can’t imagine it was a rush job; they’ve clearly pored over them at great length to make them sound exactly as they intend. So it is with some chagrin that I must report that (as of now) the new songs mostly land undernourished and unmemorable onstage. I may not have grown restless when they dipped into the new playbook, but I was not alone in the venue at getting riled up by Future Perfect’s meatier offerings while cooling on my heels a bit in their absence.

Aug
24
2010
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Autolux - Transit Transit Review

Six years is a long time to wait for just about anything, especially when it comes to new music. Autolux is hardly a household name, and barely even qualified for “underground cult” status since, despite being well-received, their debut album Future Perfect didn’t hang on too many tongues in its aftermath (though loyalists remained steadfast). But the record was strong enough to leave most of those who sampled craving more. And then six years passed. It required a concerted effort from most (including myself) to even figure out what the trio was up to during the interim. Many probably assumed it was a one-and-done deal, another frustratingly short-lived outfit to arise in the fallout of the criminally neglected space rock virtuosos of Failure. But Autolux wasn’t dead, just pupating over the long haul for another go-round, writing and working and deliberating over a fresh batch (and reportedly engaging in label fights). As is, I suppose, appropriate for a band with the narrow fame of Autolux, it arrives without a whole lot of fanfare outside of the dedicated few who followed during those half-dozen years. But fanfare would be unsuitable anyway—this dark, slow simmer, black-burnt offering doesn’t clap you about the ears. It tickles the underbelly and either slowly wins you over or leaves you cold. Too bad it doesn’t invade your dreams, though—those visions remain fixated on Future’s yet-unreached promise.

Aug
16
2010
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The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs Review

We can’t try to ascribe meaning or purpose to Win Butler’s mindset without becoming a target to his hostility. We shouldn’t try anyhow, but still we do. Nevertheless, we can navigate it with courteous ease—courteous, because his roots in melodramatic antagonism are so refreshingly honest. The only doubt to give us discomfort is the source, but even that can be hypothesized: he doesn’t much like us. But there’s tension there, allowing him to remain a fixture without pushing away his audience. Lucky for both parties, he has a band to surround and ably support him while they lend balance without contradiction. Notable, of course, is the tandem with Régine Chassagne, who could be a yin to the yang if she played a more vital (or at least visible) role. But unease is too valuable for them to offer equality, and who wants to hear these Montreal-based musicians pull their punches anyhow? They’re not even all that accusatory on The Suburbs, but at least they care

Aug
11
2010
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School of Seven Bells - Disconnect from Desire Review

Maybe SVIIB saw the crisis of clutter in the neo/post-shoegaze scene and decided it was time to jump ship. There has no doubt been a glut lately that inspires less rapture than rerun slumber, even for the good ones. Well, they still landed with a pristine splash into the same sea. The aptly named Disconnect from Desire is a disconnect, all right, one from their international flavor, their Kevin Shields blur, and, most critically, emotional reality (or hyper-reality, if you prefer melodrama). Where once they were sure-footed and managed to sound listless even in glaze, Disconnect finds them more relaxed and refined, losing some of their boldness while bolstering their lushness. They’re not yet in stasis, and they’re certainly more than capable of digging up some divine hook or two whenever they care to, but its leisurely drift, babbling beats and single speed sway betrays an awful lot of the exotic promise exhibited on Alpinisms, one of the best debut albums period of 2008.

Aug
04
2010
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Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty Review

When it was learned that OutKast’s follow-up LP to 2000’s Stankonia was going to be a double album split between the two personalities, interest tended to gravitate towards André 3000’s half over Big Boi’s, if for no better reason than the fact that André was recognized as the more experimental and creative of the duo, apparently dismissing the in-the-pocket MC skills and unexpected resonance of Big Boi’s persona. While waiting with baited breath for the next OutKast collabo, though, it’s become apparent that while the two still generate the most combustible energy in tandem, Antwan Patton is no second fiddle sidekick to André (Benjamin) the Conqueror. It could be argued that while both discs were hit-and-miss, Speakerboxxx actually overshadowed The Love Below—with fewer spaced-out slip-ups and more instant winners like “Ghetto Musick,” “Rooster,” “The Way You Move” and “Knowing,” it was certainly the less erratic.

Jul
26
2010
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Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today Review

If we lived in a vacuum, we would have blessedly been spared the risible likes of “Girl You Know It’s True,” questions about the identity of someone releasing dogs, and L.A.’s the Black Eyed Peas, but then we might have missed out on various nuggets that astonished us with their (gasp) irresistibility. Whether diamond-in-the-rough one hit wonders, the rare gem or two in the otherwise suspect careers of pop stars, or entire stretches of worthy interest in a style that might have been barren before and after, there are some pop songs that reflect nothing of substance and still work. Ariel Pink’s fondness for that kind of AM clutter has informed numerous releases to this point (of which I am admittedly only familiar with a small handful), but what I’ve heard has led me to the conclusion that Pink wriggled through old vinyl collections and re-imagined them from the point of view of forced anti-commerciality: the subject of lo-fi as benefit as much as circumstance. There was a cheapness, a weirdness, a cunning slovenliness to it all, suggesting a withdrawal from polish as if to forcefully suggest that formula works in any medium so long as it’s sound. Now with Before Day, he’s finally created the slickly produced monument to the plastic pop, soul, disco and funk of the 70s and 80s. Imitation, sincerest form, flattery, you get what I mean.

Jul
19
2010
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The National - High Violet Review

Of all the aggressively dour indie rock bands around (and there are plenty), the National might be the least solitary. Which is not to say that they’re some copycat, because I don’t need to tell you that there are way too many Joy Division and Cure clones out there, but rather that their murky blend of substantive drama, atmospheric fills, prickly longing, and bursts of highlighter expression sort of lumps them into a kind of mission statement purgatory where they simply revel in being themselves—which is great, so long as you find falling short to be a virtue. If for nothing else, rarely will you hear a band so ruthlessly confident in their sheepish misery.

Jul
15
2010
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Kyle Bobby Dunn - A Young Person's Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn Review

As Britain’s bad boys are wont to say, "And now for something completely different." Kyle Bobby Dunn doesn’t fit the mold of what I typically listen to, what we typically review on this site, or (presumably) what our average reader is drawn toward, but such is the fate of an album resting outside the popular music sphere towards which we gravitate and set in a niche like this—modern classical with an obvious affection for ambient drone. It’s a listen that detractors might snidely dismiss as a “two-hour dial tone in glaze” or fanatics might pretentiously deem to be “transportive, window-to-the-soul stuff,” so as an outsider willing to give it a chance, I’ll offer the equally unoriginal platitude of “difficult but rewarding,” one that inspires madness much quicker than fondness, yet still peculiar, hypnotic, and on blind side, occasionally even affecting. At least everyone can agree on the “niche” part, though.

Jul
06
2010
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LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening Review

If, as James Murphy claims, This Is Happening turns out to be the last LCD Soundsystem album (or the last before an extended hiatus for the moniker), perhaps we should be grateful. For one, he is departing on a high note, leaving us begging for more. And for another (and more controversially), he is offering more of the same, with few modifications to the surface area, and difficult-to-grasp modifications to the deeper meaning (which was usually a lot of surface, anyway). If this suggests that I find LCD to be empty and repetitive, then allow me the opportunity to then insist that no one in the last decade has done his fusion with finer clarity, better chops, or greater impact—dubbed by some to be dance punk, but is really just wry, conflicted dance music that’s not always easy to dance to even when you really want to.

Jun
24
2010
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Meet the Chakras

chakras"There is something so blisteringly certain about the Chakras' future, you'd bet your last dime on it"   - The Fly   

Formed in 2006 in Dublin, Ireland, the London-based alternative rock band the Chakras are still little known as of now (especially on this side of the pond), but that could change soon as June 14 saw their first single, “Build Me a Swan,” get a release. Fronted by Rocky Whitaker (pictured), this outfit merges strong, anthemic pop hooks with a dense, reverb-heavy production recalling other solid UK acts such as Doves, Glasvegas and the Verve—in fact, Chris Potter, who produced the last two Verve LPs, mixed this single.

Jun
22
2010
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Creature with the Atom Brain - Transylvania Review

As the old adage goes, appearances can be deceiving. The cover of Creature with the Atom Brain’s sophomore LP seems to aim for spooky ambiance—a pale full moon overlaid by skeletal, clawing tree limbs writhing into the air. On the back, the unmistakable logo of The End Records (label of acts like Danzig, Made out of Babies, Kosmos and Lordi) is stamped into the corner. And the disc is titled Transylvania. Based on those three pieces of evidence, anything besides a goth metal record would be bigger flagrant false advertising than when The Simpsons’ Otto wandered into Stoner’s Pot Palace only to discover that the establishment specialized in selling kitchen pots. But while there is no doubt flecks of goth in this music, and the grim dirges of heavy metal play a significant role as well, Otto would find bleary bliss with the stoner rock haze seeping throughout. So while there is a film of blood collecting on this murk, anyone listening to it will be far too blazed to be terrified. Well, unless they’re the “paranoid” kind.

Jun
08
2010
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Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record Review

When Broken Social Scene first climbs onto stage, you think, “There’s no way this is going to work.” Best is when you spot them on a late night talk show, some dozen or so musicians huddled in the cramped little stage area trying to play their latest crisp but crashing indie rock tune. Short of gospel choirs or big band orchestras, pop music should never be this cluttered with mammals. Then Broken Social Scene starts playing and all niggling complaints and restrictions float away (or get a vicious backhand if the song explodes out of the gate). Then you wonder why they can’t throw in another drumkit for more clatter or an extra flutist or saxophonist for a more divine melody. Give me another arresting guitar line or two. Have someone else sing off-brand harmony. This group needs more trumpets, more trumpets! Hell, I’d forgive three or four folks just shimmying carefree, on the sidelines or right through the musician maze. Well, now I’m just getting all worked up. This outfit kinda does that to me.

Jun
03
2010
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Stone Temple Pilots - Stone Temple Pilots Review

If I were to look at the first fifty records I owned, I’d be a little embarrassed by the selection. Not so much because I owned an inordinately large amount of junk (the majority still holds up well today), but rather because the lineup was so repetitive, even predictable in its sameness. Mostly grunge (and dour alternative rock lumped into the grunge label) from the early-to-mid nineties, loud and angry and grim—made all the more alarming because I was not at all like the stereotypical lost, apathetic youth that were noted to gobble up this stuff.

But while I recognize now that the Offspring had no place in the same conversation with Nirvana, I don’t feel an enormous amount of shame in saying that I still kinda like Smash. My fondness for the likes of Throwing Copper and Blood Sugar Sex Magik have also faded yet they remain reliable or better in my estimation. But Candlebox? Corrosion of Conformity? Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid? Yeesh. One group, however, that I still insist is criminally undervalued and wrongfully scorned by us “elitist snob music critics” is Stone Temple Pilots. Turns out I was mostly wrong and they mostly accurate about Core (a decent record, but one ill-representative of who they are, and one I’m sick to death of—I could go the rest of my life never hearing “Dead and Bloated” and “Creep” ever again and be content). But the four albums afterward, from the near-masterpiece Purple to the vastly underrated, overlooked (and lamely-named) Shangri-La Dee Da, all hold up almost miraculously well some ten to fifteen years later.

May
31
2010
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