(Paul, right. Photo cred)
Paul Basile is one half of the creative team behind Brooklyn (by way of Alaska, by way of Long Island) indie/folk/rock band Great Elk. I’ve been friends with Paul since he was about 16, collectively obsessing over most of the same bands ever since. But that’s neither here nor there. If Paul was a complete stranger I’d still blast Great Elk’s incredible 5-song EP for anyone who’d listen. After playing around NYC for a few years, first by himself and later as part of the short lived but much loved Here Lies Pa, Basile and guitarist Patrick Hay formed Great Elk. Their first full year together was quite eventful. They dropped the EP last spring, got some nice attention from Paste and Magnet, packed Mercury Lounge a handful of times, and toured all over the Northeast. Check out two seriously great songs from the EP, and then read what Paul had to say about the music he loved (and didn’t love) this year:
MP3 :: Bow Echo
MP3 :: Vibrations
(from the Great Elk EP. Buy here)
Traditionally, I've avoided contributing to year end music lists of any sort because the fact is, for a guy who purportedly loves music, I really don't listen to it that much. I did, once, for a long time. But these days I find that I have little hunger for new music. I don’t really know why that is. I know musicians who actively avoid music for fear it will influence their ‘pure inner voice’ or something but I don’t buy that. Maybe I’m just content to continue ripping off the same artists I was 5 years ago.
Anyway, I not-so-gracefully dodged contributing to this series last year so I decided to put some real thought into 2010 and me and music. Not surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about music that came out this year (not much that’s positive, anyway) but I’ll say as much as I can about what I have been listening to, whether it’s of this 365 days or not.
I’ll start on a negative note with the obvious things that did come out in 2010 which are some of the records that I assume a lot of people will be talking about in these sort of things. In fact, I’m just going to lump a few albums together - The Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, The National’s High Violet and Band of Horses’ Infinite Arms are the three records I was excited about at the start of this year, before they were released. These are three bands that came to my attention somewhere between 2004 and 2006 and seem to have held my attention pretty well since. As I watched them move from Funeral to Neon Bible, Alligator to Boxer and Everything all of the Time to Cease to Begin, I think I believed I was witnessing three bands at the beginnings of important legacies in rock music. Certainly, that may still be true but all three of them left me disappointed me this year. In all fairness, I didn’t even try to like BOH’s newest effort. It was obvious to me after a couple listens that them boys have lost their balls. Was he serious with that Bartles and James shit? Shouldn’t that be a line from an early Gin Blossoms song or something?
The thing is, with Arcade Fire and The National I really did try. Damn, I can even hear myself defending them before friends who were hating a few months ago. But despite serious and honest efforts, those records just never sank in with me. I don’t dislike them, but knowing that I’m going to see them all over “Top Ten” lists in a few weeks bugs me. Both records sound good and sound distinctly like Arcade Fire and The National, respectively. The Suburbs sounds to me like filler from an earlier, superior, Arcade Fire album. Every song on High Violet makes me wish I were listening to Boxer, or even better, Alligator. I think it’s just that the songs aren’t as good.
The funny thing is that if I had to pick a “Top Ten” from this year those two albums would be at or near the top. As I said earlier, I’m not paying a whole lot of attention these days.
So what do I like that was released this year? I’m pretty into The Tallest Man on Earth. The Wild Hunt has probably gotten nearly as much play as anything in my house in 2010. My wife and I both love Beach House’s Teen Dream too.
If we were still playing cassette tapes at home the one we would have worn out this year is Blind Pilot’s 3 Rounds and a Sound. While this Portland, OR folk outfit’s debut was released in 2008 it’s only in the last 10 or 12 months that I found it. In some ways I think my love of this record marks a reversion to some younger version of my self as a music listener. Blind Pilot sounds much more like something I’d have listened to when I was a Birkenstock wearing 18 yr old in the 90’s (Jim knew me then) than anything else that gets frequent play on my iPod. At first, I only begrudgingly liked it, in spite of all my 21st century indie-rock pretenses. Sonically, the album’s foundation is a nylon string guitar and brushes on a snare drum. Add bass for a song here, some horns for a chorus there and some occasional coloring from strings, a banjo or an accordion and you’ve basically got it. The strength of 3 Rounds and a Sound is its consistently strong melodies. The genius of it is that there’s nothing to get in the way of them. This is by no means ground-breaking stuff but at a time when so much of the music I’ve listened to in the last few years seems to be getting tired (or sounding like variations on the same few themes) it’s been refreshing to soak up some well done, completely unpretentious folk rock.
My other favorite album of 2010 is even older. Neil Young’s On the Beach came out in 1974 and was the highly anticipated follow-up to Harvest. When it hit it seems that folks were pretty shocked by its rawness in comparison to its beautifully produced predecessor. It received rave reviews and die hard fans loved it but it never had the commercial success of Harvest. The record was taken out of print in the early 80’s, appeared on cassette only briefly and then wasn’t released on CD until 2003. Its rarity made it a highly sought-after, all but forgotten nugget from what were undeniably Young’s best years. I stumbled upon On the Beach a few years ago but it’s only in the last six months that I’ve really dug into it. This is an album best listened to from top to bottom but highlights include “See the Sky about to Rain”, “Motion Pictures” and “Ambulance Blues”.
Some other things I like that I think you should listen to (most of which came out this year)… Secondstar – Teeth, Wynn Walent – Eating an Ocean, Casey Shea – Love is Here to Stay, Jessi Robertson’s single, “Half Moon”, Matt Singer – Live at The Warehouse, Monuments – Monuments.