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recommended boston area events

tuesday, december 4th

kelly hogan

@ johnny d's

thursday, december 6th

conor oberst

@ converse hall, tremont st.

thursday, december 6th

jason isbell &

the 400 unit

@ the sinclair

friday, december 7th

the weisstronauts 14th

annual holiday jubilee

with guests tsunami of sound

preacher jack, & the derangers

@ the midway cafe, jp

friday, december 7th


moving mountains


@ the sinclair

saturday, december 8th

patrick watson

@ the sinclair

saturday, december 8th

the faint perform

"danse macabre"


icky blossoms

@ the paradise

sunday, december 9th

band of horses

@ house of blues

sunday, december 9th



@ the paradise

wednesday, december 12th

concrete blonde

jim bianco

@ the sinclair

thursday, december 13th

annual boston christmas cavalcade

benefit for the homeless

featuring tons of artists

(see fb event for details)

@ johnny d's

thursday, december 13th

nada surf

eternal summers

@ the paradise

thursday, december 13th

mates of state

in the valley below

@ brighton music hall

friday, december 14th

forgetters (blake from

jawbreaker's band)

& more tba

@ democracy center, harvard square

sunday, december 30th

sufjan stevens

sheila saputo

@ the royale

monday, december 31st

my morning jacket

@ agganis arena

monday, december 31st

deer tick

two gallants

@ the sinclair

monday, january 7th


@ the paradise

tuesday, january 8th


@ great scott

saturday, january 19th

mission of burma

@ the sinclair

sunday, january 20th

camper van beethoven


@ the middle east down

sunday, january 20th


@ the orpheum

sunday, january 20th

ra ra riot

@ the paradise

sunday, january 27th


@ great scott

tuesday, january 29th

kathleen edwards

sera cahoone

@ brighton music hall

wednesday, february 13th

yo la tengo

@ the paradise

saturday, march 2nd

unknown mortal orchestra

@ brighton music hall

tuesday, march 12th

tame impala

@ house of blues

thursday, march 14th

jukebox the ghost

matt pond pa

lighthouse and the whaler

@ brighton music hall

tuesday, march 26th

yo la tengo

@ the paradise

wednesday & thursday

april 3rd & 4th

they might be giants

@ the paradise

visit tourfilter for more shows

Monday, January 31, 2011

[Faves] My Favorite Music of 2010

Here it is, under the wire, a list of the music that helped me through last year. Swore to myself I'd get this done by the end of January and, yeah, I made it.... with exactly 2 minutes to spare. Sharing my list of my favorite songs a couple weeks ago took some of the personal pressure off, but I couldn't allow the calendar turn again without this run-down of albums, EPs, and free downloads that soundtracked my 2010. And the music is about the only thing I'll recall fondly when it comes to those 12 mostly-miserable months.

This year's list runs the gamut - new discoveries (Standard Fare, The Drums, Beach Fossils), strong returns (Versus, Superchunk), and Boston-area obsessions (Ghost Box Orchestra, Young Adults, Travels); double-doses of dependable record labels Matador (New Prons, Ted Leo) and Merge (the aforementioned Versus & Superchunk), along with a whole lotta stuff you can find on Bandcamp. Let the records show: 2010 was Bandcamp's banner year - I can barely smell the rotting corpse of MySpace.

Most of the releases below include a link to an official promo MP3 - not necessarily my favorite song from each, but tracks that have been approved by the artist or their label. I've zipped them all up, along with a few extras, into one big honkin' file for easy grabbing. Each release also includes a link to where you can buy the physical or digital version.

All 31 legally-shared tracks below,
plus 4 extras, in one 228 MB .zip file

So here they are, starting off with my 20-ish favorite full-lengths in alphabetical order, followed by a few EPs, compilations, and some online freebies...

Favorite 2010 full-lengths...

David Bazan - "Live At Electrical Audio"
(on Undertow)

[MP3]: "Magazine (live at EA)"

This live-in-studio, recorded-in-one-day LP perfectly documents the well-oiled machine that David Bazan's touring band became while showcasing songs from 2009's "Curse Your Branches". Throw in a couple of Pedro the Lion and Headphones numbers, this 10-song treat felt like more than a time-filler between 'proper' albums. And the wait won't be a long one - his next full-length, the fan-funded "Strange Negotiations", arrives this year.

Beach Fossils - "Beach Fossils"
(on Captured Tracks)

[MP3]: "Youth"

Dustin Payseur's reverb-drenched bedroom pop marries the best parts of East River Pipe and early, snappy K singles to create songs that feel both laid-back and immediate. The album is so self-contained and self-assured, with sparkling, hooky guitar lines, that it latched me from the first surprise listen while sipping coffee at Radio Bean. The more recent "Face It"/"Distance" 7-inch ups the production ante, brings a more confident vocal performance, and makes me want album number two right now.

Bottomless Pit - "Blood Under The Bridge"
(on Comedy Minus One)

[MP3]: "38 Souls"

Shouldn't come as any surprise that I loved this second album from Chicago's Bottomless Pit, given my adoration for their 2008 debut and the EP that followed in 2009. Andy Cohen & Tim Midgett do the legacy of their beloved Silkworm proud with every release. "38 Souls", shared above, is one hell of an album-closer, the kind that makes you want to instantly start over again at side one, track one.

I'm insulated enough from P4K-fueled hype that I'd avoided any pre-2010 momentum that The Drums picked up, but in this case I wish I'd been paying closer attention. I fell for this one early last year as it played in the same coffee shop, on the same day, that I first heard Beach Fossils, and was compelled to ask the counter girl who it was. Bought it immediately, hooked ever since. Retains so much of what I love about the 80's electro-pop while leaving out the embarrassing bits.

Making complicated songs that stay catchy is a rare art, but the Brewis brothers have got it down. Rhythmically complex, melodically surprising, almost prog at times - these Sunderland, UK gents and their touring band put on one of the most flawless live performances I saw in all of last year when they hit Great Scott in March.

I adored "Hideout", Film School's 2007 full-length, and had some pretty high expectations for its follow-up. Perhaps those expectations were a little too high, as I don't think "Fission" quite met them, but that doesn't keep it off this list. While it feels a bit less cohesive overall, there are so many standout songs - especially the goosebump-inducing "Still Might". Gets me every time.

Ghost Box Orchestra - "The Only Light On"
(self-released via Bandcamp)

[MP3]: "Oh, the Moon Hangs Low"

You know what's awesome? Falling for a band and then finding out later that you've got a couple of friends in it - y'see, now I can honestly express my love and they'll know it's not just lip-service. Nope, GBO's debut doesn't sit here because their air-tight rhythm section are pals, but because the songs are f'in epic. The album may hold just seven cuts, but none lasts less than five minutes, and not a one feels overlong - powerfully hypnotic progressions surge and subside into mellow moments and back again - they might be a (mostly) instrumental outfit, but they're more than typical post-rock.

Gregory and the Hawk - "Leche"
(on Bandcamp & FatCat[UK])

[MP3]: "Landscapes"

[Video]: "For The Best"

Story time: I saw Gregory and the Hawk, aka Meredith Godreau, open up for the reunited Swirlies at the Middle East Upstairs in March 2009. As impatient as I was to see my beloved Swirlies back in action, Meredith absolutely mesmerized, especially one jaw-droppingly beautiful song in particular. It sat lodged in my brain well after the show, like a puzzle piece I didn't know I was missing, and it's never really left. I ended up emailing her to find out if it was available anywhere - even though she let me tape her set, I craved an official recording - and she said it was a brand new one she was calling "Red Cross With Silver Shine".

So I waited, and waited, until word of her next album arrived. "Oh, please, please let it be on there. It's gotta be. It's too good. Oh, here's a tracklist. Wait, what?! It's not there. Well, damn." But it is, and it's the lead off track, renamed as "For The Best". And it's perfect. Still can't get the melody out of my head, and don't ever want to.

Darren Hanlon - "I Will Love You At All"
(on Yep Roc)

[MP3]: "All These Things"

Darren delivers another charming collection of perfect little pop songs - this Aussie can do no songwriting wrong in my book. He alternates slight, sugary tales and heartfelt, touching stories with equal ease, all the while turning phrases that might make an aging Morrissey jealous. His short solo set opening for Corin Tucker last fall at the Paradise was not quite enough to satisfy, so I'm hoping he makes it back to our shores again this year.

Kristin Hersh - "Crooked"
(fan-funded via CASHmusic / Throwing Music)

[MP3]: "Flooding"

Must I expend more words explaining my long-standing devotion to Kristin and all that she creates? Actually, yes, I must - I've got a special giveaway in the works that will provide plenty more soon.

Land Of Talk - "Cloak and Cipher"
(on Saddle Creek)

[MP3]: "Quarry Hymns"

Montrealer Elizabeth Powell and a host of helpful friends crafted another keeper, one I somehow loved even more than the previous "Some Are Lakes" - a feat I'd not thought possible. I started running a bit last fall, and this record soundtracked my belabored breathing on the streets of Boston. Well, I stopped running, but I'm still listening.

Many called this one a "return to form", which is a little too tough on 2007's "Challengers". Still, it has a certain spark that its predecessor lacked, especially in "What Turns Up In The Dark", one of my favorite single songs of the year.

Chris Page - "A Date With A Smoke Machine"
(on Kelp Records / Bandcamp)

[MP3]: "Sideshows"

I've been listening to Chris' songwriting for nearly 20 years now - a realization that just made me feel older than dirt - from his days fronting The Stand GT up through current trio Camp Radio. His second solo record, "A Date With A Smoke Machine" is more than just a diversion between full-band full-lengths - it feels like a fully-realized document of what he's capable of. I always expect good things from him, but this one is something special. Keep an ear out for the next Camp Radio album, which is in the can and should be arriving soon.

The Radio Dept. - "Clinging To A Scheme"
(on Labrador Records)

[MP3]: "Never Follow Suit"

Any Radio Dept album is an album worth owning. Just sayin'. And I get to see them live in just four days. I am one fortunate Swedish pop fan. The band just released a singles/b-sides collection, so if you've missed the boat, jump on board there.

Not sure why their second long player didn't seem to get the attention their debut did, but it hit me just as hard. How great is the drumming on "Reprobate!"? Seriously. I hated that I was out of town when the band hit the Boston area last year - I so wanted to see these songs played in front of me.

When I was deep in the emotional morass early last year, Dave Godowsky, aka John Shade, helped keep me afloat. I saw him a few times accompanied by the Neave Quartet and was never-less-than-deeply moved - the combination of his songs and Zack Hickman's string arrangements is truly something that needs to be seen and heard in person. Though his excellent debut album was recorded before he teamed up with the quartet, he has a free track with them on his website, and has allowed me to share up the live track above.

In the good timing department, you'll get a chance to experience this yourself when John Shade returns to town this Wednesday night, February 2nd, for an intimate show at Club Passim - where he'll be backed by the Neave Quartet once again. It's his first Boston show in a long time (he's sadly left us for Brooklyn), and will supposedly be the last for quite awhile. Tickets are available here, and make sure you arrive early - they open the show. If you get shut out you can watch it live online thanks to Concert Window. The show's been canceled due to too much f'in white stuff. Curse you, Snow Miser!

They follow up "The Golden Spike" with another corker, and finally bless Boston with a killer live appearance at Great Scott in October. Yeah, 2010 was a very good year to be a Sky Larkin fan.

Standard Fare - "The Noyelle Beat"
(on Bar/None)

[MP3]: "A Night With A Friend"

I played this album over and over and over again. And when I was done, I played it again. From the first track to the last. "A Night With A Friend" was my first taste, "Dancing" was my second, and both were instant faves - at this point they feel like UK indie-pop anthems to me. Their performance at Great Scott endeared them to me greatly, and their team-up with my friends in One Happy Island for a brand new split EP did so even more. Each band gives us a new original, and covers one of the others' songs. Perfect.

Superchunk - "Majesty Shredding"
(on Merge)

[MP3]: "Digging For Something"

Talk about inspiring. They take an almost 10-year break and come roaring back with more energy, more hooks, more life than bands half their age. How the hell'd they do that? I was lucky enough to see them twice in 2010, once here in Boston and again at Matador's Las Vegas bash, and both times were pogo-filled parties. Welcome back, Superchunk. Don't stay gone so long next time, k?

With the loss of Touch & Go, Ted and his Pharmacists jump to Matador and hand in their best set of songs in awhile. Keep 'em coming, boys.

Travels - "Robber On The Run"
(self-released via Bandcamp)

[MP3]: "Smile"

Mona & Anar take their third step forward and it's such a strong one - easily their best album yet, both in songwriting and home production. They have a certain kind of magic - an ability to conjure beauty that is both comforting and unsettling all at once. Plus, y'know, bonus points for the amazing "My Funny Valentine" cover that closes it out.

Versus - "On The Ones And Threes"
(on Merge)

[MP3]: "Gone To Earth"

I wasn't sure we'd ever hear anything else from Versus, so this album is the very definition of a gift. I've been listening to Richard and Fontaine's voices for so long that hearing them again is like hanging with an old friend - one that's done some traveling and has some great new stories to tell. Like Superchunk, it's refreshing that a band that's been away for awhile can reemerge and pick up right where they left off.

Young Adults - "Black Hole"
(on AMDISCS / Bandcamp)

[MP3]: "Let Us Out"

The song-starting, heavy rock guitar riff of the year award goes to Young Adults' "Impression", track six on their debut, "Black Hole". I mean, jeez, that sucker is more metal than anything most so-called metal bands can dish out, and these guys are most certainly not a metal band. What they are is one of Boston's flat-out best rock bands. Can't get enough. Catch them next at the Boston Underground Summit III at the Cambridge YMCA on February 12th.

Favorite 2010 EPs...

Crooked Fingers - "Reservoir Songs II"
(self-released & funded via Kickstarter / Port Merch)

The sequel to 2002's original "Reservoir Songs" covers EP came to us not from a label, but thanks some Kickstarter fan-funding. I was proud to take part, and the investment was worth it - limited edition vinyl with Eric Bachmann covering Merle Haggard, The Kinks, Thin Lizzy, & more.

Electronic Anthology Project
(Built To Spill electronic reversioning)

(self-released via CD Baby)

[MP3]: "Eels (Else)"

An experiment that shouldn't have worked as well as it did - Built To Spill's Brett Nelson rebuilding seven BtS tracks electronically, from scratch, with Doug Martsch re-singing all of his original vocals parts. One song from every BtS full-length, done 80's synth style. Shows how strong the songs are, even without Doug's guitar heroics and the rest of the band's dependable backbone.

Girlfriends - Debut cassette & "Gov't Seizure" 7-inch
(tape on Floating Garbage Continent,
7-inch on Aurora7 / Bandcamp)

[MP3]: "Suckin Rare Meat Off the Bone China"

Yeah, so the cassette was December 2009, but it hooked me a couple months later, and the 7-inch sealed the deal. Boston's garage-rock wunderkinds will be taking their show on the road when they head down to SxSW in March, so don't miss 'em if you get a chance. Stream 8 tracks at their website, and have a look at this recent NPR Music feature.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart
"Say No To Love" &
"Heart In Your Heartbreak" 7-inches

(on Slumberland)

[Video]: "Say No To Love"

As long as the Pains keep cranking out little fuzz-pop confections, I'll keep partaking, even when the guitars come down and the keys come up (as on "Heart In Your Heartbreak"). That single, and its top-notch production, bodes very well for their upcoming Moulder & Flood-produced (!) sophomore album for Slumberland.

Telekinesis - "Parallel Seismic Conspiracies" EP
(on Merge)

[Video]: "Dirty Thing"

Mr. Michael Benjamin Lerner gave us two ace new songs, a couple killer covers (of GBV and the pre-Joy Division Warsaw) and a full-band version of "Calling All Doctors" on this Telekinesis EP, and it was just enough to ease the wait for the upcoming second album. That wait is now over, as you can stream "12 Desperate Straight Lines" in its entirety thanks to NPR Music. It's out February 15th, on Merge of course.

Wye Oak - "My Neighbor / My Creator"
(on Merge)

[MP3]: "I Hope You Die"

Yes, even more from Merge, and as with Telekinesis, this wonderful Wye Oak EP sated us while we waited for another full-length. Their 3rd album, "Civilian", hits shelves on March 8th, and you can catch them this week on tour with the Decemberists (they played Boston over the weekend), after which they head across the ocean with the Cold War Kids before returning to the U.S. for a headlining tour. Can't wait.

Favorite 2010 compilations...

Matador 21
(on Matador)

This 6-disc run through Matador's history, released to commemorate their 21st anniversary bash in Vegas, was gorgeously packaged and included a set of poker chips. It helped fill in a few of the gaps in my Matador listening history, and primed me perfectly for the Sin City trip. And the box only set me back 35 bucks, leaving me extra cash to blow on slots.

The fact that I have a music-loving 3-year-old wasn't the main reason I bought this special little collection - it was the lineup: Telekinesis, Tanya Donelly, Stars, Neil Halstead, Dean & Britta, Sigur Ros, and many more. Talk about stacked.

Listening to this locally-made, 26-track double-album feels like hanging at a party you wished you'd been invited to. Actually, it feels a bit like being at the Blastfest III where I bought it last March. It's stylistically all over the place, from stripped-down songs to full-band adventures to spoken-word pieces, but still somehow feels cohesive. They're doing JP proud.

As of a couple weeks ago, only 50 of the 500 copies pressed remained, so click the links above to make one your own.

Fave 2010 downloadable freebies...

Cuffs - 4-track Demos
(self-released via Bandcamp)

[MP3]: "Albert Kroft (demo)"

The existence of Cuffs very much eases last year's painful loss of Pants Yell!, as PY songwriter Andrew and drummer Casey carry on together alongside Martin from Reports and Ian from Big Trouble. No drastic shift in style here (thankfully), but the presence of a 2nd guitarist allows for some really nice melodic interweaving and gives certain songs some extra heft. The demos they've shared so far are just Andrew, but look for a 7-inch that should be out by the time the band opens for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart at the Paradise on May 3rd.

Bill Janovitz (of Buffalo Tom) - Covers of the Whenever
(shared randomly on his website)

[MP3]: "Here Come Those Tears Again (Jackson Browne)" (write-up)

Bill's been posting his home-recorded covers (and a few originals) on his site since 2008, and 2010 saw him offer up over 30 more of them. While his self-imposed sharing schedule changed from weekly to whenever (can't blame the guy - he's got a day job and had an almost-out Buffalo Tom record to get ready for us), here's hoping he's able to keep the covers coming, and the stories that usually accompany them.

Death Culture at Sea - "God Loves Lola" EP
(self-released via their website)

[MP3]: "Just Short By Miles"

Recorded in one weekend with minimal rehearsal time, and arriving with little fanfare, this (hopefully not) one-off project has quite a pedigree: Matthew Gallaway from Saturnine, Mike Donofrio from the New Year and Saturnine, and Matt Kadane of Bedhead and the New Year. Recorded by Rival School's Ian Love. Available entirely for free on their website. Hope they make that recording weekend an annual affair.

Snowden - "Slow Soft Syrup"
(self-released via NoiseTrade)

Snowden's 2006 debut album, and the live show they put on that year at Great Scott, simply blew me away. We're coming up on five years since that release, so the arrival of this EP last year signaled what I hope will be a second record in 2011.

And one for the kids...

Elizabeth Mitchell - "Sunny Day"
(on Smithsonian Folkways)

[MP3]: "Oh, John The Rabbit"

[Video]: Oh, John The Rabbit"

I can't express how grateful I am to have Liz and Dan from Ida, along with their daughter Storey and some talented friends, making music that I can share with my little guy. Sharing and singing their songs with him, and being able to take him to see them play (as we did a couple months back at Club Passim) is something truly special.

All 31 legally-shared tracks above,
plus 4 extras, in one 228 MB .zip file

Whenever I post one of these, I like to take a look at my "looking forward to in 2010" post to see which albums missed the mark, which ones surprised me, and which ones never showed. I may even have my 2011 version of that same list up sometime soon.

For a look back at my faves of years passed, here you go: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001.

And with that, I toss the last shovel-full of dirt on the grave of 2010. Let us never speak of it again.

featured mp3 download
neil halstead
live in cambridge, ma
on november 14th, 2008
previously: joy formidable - boston 2011

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