Tuesday, December 28, 2010

NYE Countdown With Big Country

When I think of New Year's Eve, I think of one band and one show. After a lengthy and successful tour of America, Big Country returned to Scotland for a homecoming show at Glasgow's Barrowlands on Dec. 31, 1983. This was at the peak of the band's popularity and, thankfully, MTV broadcast the gig to the United States. For those of you who haven't seen the concert, the general-admission, standing-room Barrowlands was packed to capacity with young Scots ready to celebrate the holiday. The lads ripped through four songs from 'The Crossing' and two new songs that would appear in 1984 on the 'Wonderland' EP. Then the clock struck 12. In an absolute first for any any show I have seen, the band gave the stage to a bagpipe clan called the Dundonald & Dysart Pipe Band. It's a very Scottish moment, and the raucous rock-n-roll crowd absolutely ate it up, kilts and all. Then Big Country returned to play several more songs, including all four singles from their debut album, as well as a sweet rendition of the Motown classic "Tracks of My Tears."

The consensus of Big Country is that the "Barras" is the band's "spiritual home" and that this show, in particular, was really something special. I have to agree. That's why I watch it every New Year's Eve as if I'm about to ring in 1984. I'll be thinking about the band more than usual this Dec. 31 because the surviving members of Big Country have reunited to play O2 ABC in Glasgow. Yes, things will be different this time around. Stuart Adamson, sadly, is no longer with us, but I think it takes real courage for Tony Butler, Mark Brzezicki and Bruce Watson to take the stage without him. Mike Peters of the Alarm will be taking lead-vocal duties. Although I won't be there to hear the results, I will be around in spirit. Good luck, fellas.

The Dec. 31, 1983, show was out of print for donkey's years but, as of last year, it is now available as a DVD/CD edition. Take my word for it. The sound and picture is fantastic. Order here. So, I know I'm going to have a great New Year's Eve. I hope you do, too. Stay alive!

Big Country - In a Big Country (mp3)
Big Country - Auld Lang Syne (mp3)
Interview with Stuart Adamson about the show (mp3)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010

If you have already checked out my Top 50 Tracks of 2010 list, none of the following picks for top albums of the year will be much of a surprise. It just happens that way sometimes. There isn't much science here. According to my iTunes, these are the albums that were played the most this year. It's as simple as that. The only exception would be 'Broken Dreams Club.' That's because it has only been out for a relatively short period of time. In case you're curious, Deerhunter, the Divine Comedy and Devo were the bands just out of the running. All in all, it was another stellar year in the world of indie music. It always will be as long as you dig... and digging is most of the fun anyway. See you in 2011.

10. Harlem - 'Hippies' (buy)
Listen: Gay Human Bones (mp3)

9. The Drums - 'The Drums' (buy)

8. Mates of State - 'Crushes' (buy)
Listen: Sleep the Clock Around (mp3)

7. Belle & Sebastian - 'Write About Love' (buy)

6. Tender Trap - 'Dansette Dansette' (buy)
Listen: Fireworks (mp3)

5. Club 8 - 'The People's Record' (buy)

4. Crowded House - 'Intriguer' (buy)

3. Girls - 'Broken Dreams Club' (buy)
Listen: Carolina (mp3)

2. Arcade Fire - 'The Suburbs' (buy)

1. She & Him - 'Volume 2' (buy)
Listen: Thieves (mp3)

Do You Need 'All You Need Is Now?'

I purposely put off my list of this year's top albums because I had such high hopes for Duran Duran's latest, 'All You Need Is Now,' out today exclusively on iTunes. I bought it last night the minute it was available and have listened to it several times in the past 24 hours. Sadly, it will not make the cut, but there are a few bright spots on the nine-song download. So, although it's not one of the ten best albums I have heard this year, I do recommend it.

It's clear Mark Ronson, Duran Duran's producer this time around, is a huge fan of the band's heyday, and you can hear several flashes of the band's signature sound, circa 1981-1983. This is particularly true of the opening three songs, the title track, "Blame the Machines" and "Being Followed." This trio is full of thumping dance beats, jangly guitar and cool keyboards that rival the 'Rio' era. Unfortunately, as the tempo slows down, so does my enthusiasm. I get what Ronson and the boys are going for when, for example, they attempt to capture the magic of "Save a Prayer" with "Leave a Light On," but they fall well short of that classic. Duran Duran doesn't spend every moment trying to bring back the past, but the more modern the sound the further the reach. I don't want to leave you thinking there is nothing else here beyond the opening three songs. For example, "Girl Panic!" will have those nostalgic for 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger' smiling.

At $1.29 per song, if money means everything, I would say buy the first three songs and 'Girl Panic!' a la carte, but you may as well shell out the relatively paltry $8.99 for the entire album download. It's a better value and, hey, my take on the album, after only a day of listening, is not gospel. I'm a big Duran Duran fan, and at least a couple of the other five songs on 'All You Need Is Now' are bound to grown on me with time. After only a day, however, I can safely say Simon, John, Nick and Roger have managed to make the best Duran Duran album since 'Notorious.'

Happy Holidays From OMD

We must all be on the nice list. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Sister Marie Says" just appeared at No. 19 on my list of the year's top tracks. So, I'm pretty excited that OMD has just released a new mix of the tune as a free download to say thanks to their fans. Get "Sister Marie Says (Soil in the Synth Remix)" and a few other free goodies this week at the band's official Web site. Happy Christmas to you, too, boys.

Monday, December 20, 2010

This Will Get You in the Spirit...

Set your DVRs. Don't miss one of the all-time great holiday traditions when Darlene Love performs "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" this Thursday on the "Late Show" with David Letterman. Here she is in 2006 to set the mood:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Top 50 Tracks of 2010

Can you feel the electricity? Calm down. Before I unveil the best songs from this year, please remember these two caveats. I have returned to the rule that bands may only appear once. This keeps Arcade Fire, Crowded House and a few others from overcrowding. Also, if a band has released a song this year that won't be officially released on an album until 2011, it is still eligible for the 2010 list. Feel free to send in your picks, too. Now on with the countdown:

50. Sade - "Soldier of Love" (Buy)
The beauty makes a triumphant return after a ten-year absence.

49. Paul Weller - "No Tears Left to Cry" (Buy)
This was a bright spot from an album that left me cold.

48. Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up the Gun" (Buy)
My love affair has nearly run its course.

47. Jay Bennett - "Twice a Year"
Posthumous release reminds us we have lost a treasure.

46. Badly Drawn Boy - "Too Many Miracles" (Buy)
Damon Gough is producing inspiring work for the first time in years.

45. The Divine Comedy - "I Like" (Buy)
My favorite from his latest changes with the wind. Today it's this one.

44. The Coral - "Butterfly House" (Buy)
I abandoned these lads after their debut. Might have been a mistake.

43. Tapes 'n Tapes - "Freak Out" (mp3)
Our first listen to a 2011 release sounds interesting.

42. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Say No to Love" (Buy)
Prolific popsters make the list again.

41. Tracey Thorn - Why Does the Wind (Buy)
One of my all-time favorite voices returns.

40. Blur - "Fool's Day" (mp3)
I'll take any new throwaway I can get from these guys.

39. The Like - "Fair Game"
These gals shuffled the lineup and created an album that is worlds better than their debut.

38. The Postelles - "White Night" (Buy) (mp3)
Do you miss the Strokes? Give these guys a listen.

37. Interpol - "Lights" (Buy)
No, It's not 'Turn On The Bright Lights,' but at least this song is in the neighborhood.

36. Spoon - "Written in Reverse" (Buy)
Kind of a disappointing album, but this one stood out.

35. The Futureheads - "Heartbeat Song" (Buy)
Another in a long line of bands that returned to form in 2010.

34. British Sea Power - "Zeus" (Buy)
The band's sound has changed since their critically-acclaimed debut, but I must have changed with them.

33. Lucky Soul - "A Coming of Age" (Buy)
A solid followup to the even stronger 'The Great Unwanted.' What's left of the Pipettes should take note.

32. Jim Noir - "Car"
We appreciate the free downloads, but it's time for a proper album.

31. The Drums - "It Will All End in Tears" (Buy)
What can I say? The hype on these guys is unbearable, but the music is too good to ignore.

30. Dum Dum Girls - "Jail La La" (Buy)
Jesus and Mary Chain meets '60s girl group. Yes, we heard that a lot this year, but this is one of the best of that lot.

29. Kid Canaveral - "Good Morning" (mp3)
Big thanks to Scottish bloggers for turning me on to these guys.

28. Duran Duran - "Blame the Machines"
It's like listening to 'Rio'-era "Hold Back the Rain." If there were no rules, I could have easily chosen "Being Followed" for this list, too.

27. Best Coast - "Boyfriend" (Buy)
I'm a late convert to the duo's noise pop. This was my introduction.

26. Freedy Johnston- "Don't Fall in Love With a Lonely Girl" (Buy) (mp3)
Nice to hear you again. It's been too long.

25. Modern English - "It's Ok" (Buy) (mp3)
No joke. The band that did "I Melt With You" more than 25 years ago is back, and this is their best song since "Ink And Paper."

24. Devo - "Fresh" (Buy)
Not just nostalgia. It's never too late to join the Devolution.

23. Tender Trap - "Do You Want a Boyfriend?" (Buy) (mp3)
"Does he have to please you psychologically? Does he have to tease you gynecologically?" It gets my vote for video of the year as well.

22. The Apples in Stereo - "Dream About the Future" (Buy)
The album marks the first time this band has disappointed me, but this song stands out.

21. Brian Wilson - "I Got Rhythm" (Buy)
His Gershwin project produced love it or hate it results. This one captures the pre-'Pet Sounds' sound.

20. The Lodger - "Have a Little Faith in People" (Buy) (mp3)
Three for three, lads. You haven't put out a bad LP yet.

19. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - "Sister Marie Says" (Buy)
Classic lineup reunites with mixed results. This one sounds the most like the old stuff.

18. Cloud Nothings - "Leave You Forever" (mp3)
I can't believe there's some 19-year-old Clevelander putting this stuff out. Incredible.

17. Twin Shadow - "I Can't Wait" (Buy)
I didn't love the album as much as the blogosphere, but this song is outstanding.

16. Wild Nothing - "Chinatown" (Buy)
This was my first taste of the brilliant 'Gemini,' a candidate for album of the year.

15. The New Pornographers - "Crash Years" (Buy)
'Together' hasn't done it for me like the band's previous albums, but their worst is better than just about anyone else.

14. Girls - "Heartbreaker" (Buy)
One of my favorites from '09 backs it up with best EP of '10. "Carolina" should have been here, too.

13. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - "I Learned the Hard Way" (Buy)
I love this whole old-school funk/soul revival, and these guys are the best in a crowded field.

12. Harlem - "Friendly Ghost" (Buy) (mp3)
Austin's latest jewel comes straight from the garage.

11. Crowded House - "Either Side of the World" (Buy)
Deep cut stomps on the singles and helps push 'Intriguer' into running for my album of the year.

10. Sufjan Stevens - "I Walked" (Buy)
I didn't like like the new Stevens sound very much, but I can't get this one out of my head.

9. Deerhunter - "Revival" (Buy)
Overrated album, to be sure, but this song caught my ear a couple of months ago and hasn't let go.

8. Here We Go Magic - "Collector" (Buy) (mp3)
They sound like a bunch of bands from my youth, including the Feelies. That's praise enough.

7. Crystal Stilts - "Shake the Shackles" (Buy) (mp3)
Is that Ian Curtis? If I wasn't in a holiday mood, this moody lo-fi masterpiece would rate even higher.

6. Surfer Blood - "Floating Vibes" (Buy)
Here is another band that could have hogged slots on this list if I didn't have my one-song-per-band rule. One of my favorite new bands of 2010.

5. Club 8 - "Shape Up!" (Buy)
It took seven albums, but these Swedes have finally stolen my heart.

4. Arcade Fire - "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" (Buy)
With so many memorable songs from 'The Suburbs,' this was one of my tougher choices.

3. Mates of State - "Laura"
Even I can't believe a cover rated this highly, but it's as least as good as the Girls' original from last year.

2. Belle & Sebastian - "I Want the World to Stop" (Buy)
Seems like die-hard fans were disappointed, but I put this song up there with their best.

1. She & Him - "In the Sun" (Buy)
The first single from (by far) my most listened to album of 2010 was a logical choice.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Download New Song From R.E.M.

For the price of an e-mail address you can have "Discoverer" from the upcoming album 'Collapse Into Now,' out March 8. For me, a new R.E.M. song hasn't been exciting since their I.R.S. days, but you may feel differently. Here is the tracklist:

1. Discoverer
2. All The Best
3. Überlin
4. Oh My Heart
5. It Happened Today
6. Every Day Is Yours To Win
7. Mine Smell Like Honey
8. Walk It Back
9. Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter
10. That Someone Is You
11. Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I
12. Blue

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Hits! Vol. 1

Music is the one thing that can get me in the holiday mood. For some reason, this year, even the tunes are barely enough to help me capture the spirit of Christmas. Perhaps the following mix will help me. Surprisingly, I'm not a huge fan of complete holiday albums. There are, however, a few that come to mind that I hope you own. My two absolute favorites are 'Christmas Album' from the Beach Boys and 'A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.' 'In the Christmas Spirit' from Booker T. and the MG's and 'Wishes You a Swinging Christmas' from the great Ella Fitzgerald would be on the next tier.

The truth is, when it comes to holiday songs, I'm all about the mix. I like to blend standards with originals and icons with contemporary indie bands and '80s nostalgia acts. Unfortunately, you won't find many icons on LTL!'s mixes posted here. That's only because uploading, for examples, the Beach Boys or Johnny Cash, could get me into trouble. Believe me, it's happened before. Bah humbug, right? Still these are some of my absolute favorite songs of the season, and I hope you enjoy them, too. Look for another volume early next week that will precede my best songs and albums of the year lists.

The Apples in Stereo - Holiday Mood (mp3)
Belle & Sebastian - Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me (mp3)
Marshall Crenshaw - Sock It To Me Santa (mp3)
Freedy Johnston - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (mp3)
The dB's - Christmas Time (mp3)
NRBQ - Jolly Old St. Nicholas (mp3)
Ron Sexsmith - Maybe This Christmas (mp3)
The Chamber Strings - Everyday Is Christmas (mp3)
Paul Carrack - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (mp3)
XTC - Thanks for Christmas (mp3)

Download 'All You Need Is Now' Right Now

This is no joke. You can download the first single from Duran Duran's new album on iTunes for free. This wasn't supposed to be released until next week. The stunt should create quite a bit of buzz for the nine-song record, also called 'All You Need Is Now,' out exclusively for iTunes on Dec. 21. If you want to actually hold the physical CD, you'll have to wait until February. I don't have the patience for that. I'll take the download a week from Tuesday. What do you think? I love the chorus, but I'm not sold on the verses. I have only been listening for the past hour. So, I may change my mind.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 'Double Fantasy' Fantasy

I have thought a lot about John Lennon this week. I have heard others opine that -- chances are -- his best work was behind him. For some, imagining Lennon records in the '80s and beyond is more than they can bear. I disagree. I contend if you put his songs from 'Double Fantasy' and 'Milk and Honey' together (without the Yoko Ono tracks... as they should have been) this would have been his best record and the greatest solo album from a Beatle. Consider this tracklist:

Side A
(Just Like) Starting Over
Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him
I'm Stepping Out
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)

Side B
Nobody Told Me
Watching the Wheels
Borrowed Time
I'm Losing You
I Don't Want to Face It
Grow Old With Me

This may seem like a fella trying to stir up the pot, but I am being sincere. Does this look like the album of an artist with nothing left to give? What a tragedy. I have a mix of these songs on my iPod I call The 'Double Fantasy' Fantasy, and I listen to it all of the time. OK, feel free to sound off now. I can take it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Cars Turn Back the Odometer

The surviving members of the Cars have once again given us a sneak listen to a new song via their Facebook page. First, we got a minute or so of "Blue Tip." This week, the Cars give us "Sad Song." As I have mentioned a time or two, I'm not a big fan of these incomplete listens. I have to admit, however, both of these clips accomplished exactly what the band wanted. I'm intrigued. This sounds like vintage Cars, and I'm a huge fan. Although there is no official word, it seems clear a new album is in the works. Welcome back, boys. Have a listen below:

Frank Gifford, Really?

As you no doubt realize, today is the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death. Howard Cosell will forever be linked to the announcement of Lennon's demise because he broke the news to a live audience. It was near the end of the Patriots-Dolphins game on "Monday Night Football," and we have all heard Cosell's famous words "dead...on...arrival" many times.

If you get the chance, check out ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program this week. There is an audio clip of Cosell with color men Frank Gifford and Fran Tarkenton discussing Lennon's death off the air during a commercial break. They have just been told. Amazingly, Cosell doesn't see how he can announce the news. There is only three seconds left in regulation and a dramatic field goal will be kicked at the conclusion of the timeout. Gifford, of all people, is the voice of reason, telling Cosell that he must do it. "This is going to shake up the whole world." Cosell reluctantly agrees. "All right, I will get it in." This clip is only about 30 seconds long, but it is a must listen. Way to go, "Giff." Listen to some Lennon today. It won't hurt a bit.

In happier times, here is Lennon visiting Cosell in the booth during a "Monday Night Football" game in 1974.

John Lennon - Real Love (mp3) (from 'Acoustic')
John Lennon - Real Love (mp3) (from the 'Imagine' soundtrack)
The Beatles - Real Love (mp3) (from 'Anthology 2')

Huddle Up... It's New Go! Team

Am I alone in the sentiment that it's damn difficult to put on a Go! Team record and listen from beginning to end? I liked 'Thunder, Lightning, Strike' when it came out five years ago, but it's just so dense. It's like Phil Spector went crazy. Wait, that analogy isn't going to work, is it? Anyway, by the time the band followed up with 'Proof of Youth' a few years ago, it all started to sound the same to me.

Before "T.O.R.N.A.D.O" hit the blogosphere a few weeks ago I can honestly say I had not listened to the Go! Team in years. Unfortunately, the song sounded like more of the same. So, I assumed the new album, 'Rolling Blackouts,' out Feb. 1 on Memphis Industries, would prove they are, indeed, a one-note pony. Surprisngly, another song is making the rounds this week that has caused me to have some optimism. "Buy Nothing Day" features Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast on lead vocals, and every aspect of the tune is greatly toned down by Go! Team standards. I'm happy to confirm this approach completely works. You can stream it below. Check out "T.O.R.N.A.D.O." too. If you're a fan, you probably won't be disappointed. Mark your calendars. "Buy Nothing Day" will be out as a 7" and digital download on Jan. 24.

The Go! Team - T.O.R.N.A.D.O. (mp3)

Buy Nothing Day by threeminutesthirtyseconds

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ring in the Holidays With the Pipettes

You must have been good this year. Fortuna! POP released a new holiday song by the Pipettes today called "Santa's On His Way." Get your free download now. Yes, in 2010 the Pipettes fell out of favor with me. This gesture on their part makes me feel a little guilty about it. Try to remember the good times with the old lineup and a very catchy debut album... if you can.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Primitives No Longer 'Out of Reach'

When the Primitives started its Facebook page a little more than a year ago, we were told some exciting news was coming soon. On Wednesday we finally received the bulletin we all assumed was coming: The C86 legends will, indeed, perform again. For now, it looks like they will only play in the United Kingdom. Those shows are slated for March 2011.

Since the chances of me catching any of these shows is somewhere around zero percent, I will shift my excitement to the announcement the Primitives will release a new four-song EP to coincide with these shows. The digital download, called 'Never Call a Secret,' will be out on Fortuna POP! in late February or early March. The songs are "Rattle My Cage," "Need All the Help I Can Get," "Never Kill A Secret" and "Breakaway." A couple of these songs are obscure covers from female artists. "Need All the Help I Can Get" was sung by Suzi Jane Hokum, and "Breakaway" was recorded in 1966 by Toni Basil. Yes, that Toni Basil. The band's original producer, Paul Sampson, returned to the studio to help them with these tracks. I hope they were able to capture the magic on the Primitives' first two albums, 'Lovely' and 'Pure.' I have to admit I never had their last album before the 1991 breakup, 'Galore.' Here's one of my favorites from 'Pure' to get you in the mood for the reunited Primitives.

The Primitives - Secrets (mp3)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Target Gives the Gift of Music This Christmas

When I first heard that Target was giving away a Christmas music sampler, my heart raced. Would Jim Noir's Christmas countdown song be on the mix. If you don't remember, in 2007 Noir wrote new words to his bouncy song "My Patch" for a Target commercial. Instead of "If you ever step on my patch / I'll bring you down / I'll bring you down," we heard "Holidays are times of magic / We're counting down / We're counting down." In case you have forgotten it, here's a quick look at the 30-second ad:

Well, I loved "My Patch" at the time and found the spectacle disgusting. I have softened my stance considerably since then and wish I had the entire holiday-themed version of the song often referred to as "Christmas Calendar." Truth is, I don't know if Noir ever even completed the song. Perhaps he just wrote those three lines. Anyway, I quickly checked the Target site for the mix and was disappointed to see Noir's song was absent. Still, discovering 13 free holiday tunes eased the pain.

There are a couple of goodies here, including songs by Best Coast/Wavves and Bishop Allen. The real find, however, is the tune by Coconut Records. If you don't know, Coconut Records is actually actor Jason Schwartzman, and he has released two really good albums out there, 'Nighttiming' and 'Davy.' In fact, I loved 'Davy' so much it was No. 4 on my list of last year's best albums. Hear his new holiday tune, "It's Christmas," right here:

Then download Target's entire holiday mix. Check back in the coming days for some of my favorite holiday songs. 'Tis the season, you know.