Archive for December, 2010

2010 has been another great year for music. There are artists who stuck with what they do best and made extremely solid records, like Guster, Shearwater and The Tallest Man on Earth. Then, there were others who completely changed the way sounds are produced and records made, like Sufjan Stevens or Sleigh Bells. At my job, my employer provides me with unlimited free music to stream while I work and they carry practically everything. So, although I (1) am no music critic and (2) have only listened to an extremely small percentage of the albums to come out this year, I have had the privilege to listen to many great ones and think about them. I didn’t get to much of this years tunes, as I was spending alot of time exploring the 60’s and 70’s era of music.
I do have to say that though this is a “best” list, this is in some senses subjective and rather a “favorite” albums list that could change from day to day. And with that, here are the best albums of 2010 according to me. Check out other year-end list from Paste Magazine, Pitchfork, Bob Boilen, Stereogum, Steve McCoy and my friend Michael Butterworth. What were your favorite albums this year?


No Category: (For new albums with old tunes)

James Taylor and Carol King: Live at the Troubadour
It’s amazing to hear these two playing the historic Troubadour, 40 years after these songs were originally released. They both sound as good as ever playing this wonderful batch of historic american songs.
Alexander Melnikov: Shostakovich ‘The Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87
A remarkable classical, piano record that introduced me to Shostakovich. Some are calling it the best classical album of the year.

Honorable Mention
Sleigh Bells: Treats
While this album was too abrasive for me, I respect that they did something that not many have done before, and they turned everyone in the indie worlds heads while they were at it. Sleigh Bells is loud and proud.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way
This could change places with my #30. Great, great record that sounds like a throw-back from the 50 or 60’s.

30. Hanson: Shout it Out
Yes, it’s the Hanson you are thinking of. Been a fan of these guys ever since they grew up and made “Underneath.” Years later, wives and several children included, they have made yet another fantastic pop album.

29. Stornoway: Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Wonderful, catchy tunes here. Wonderful, singable melodies that are infectious.

28. Caedmon’s Call: Raising up the Dead
A thoughtful, Christ haunted album that gives the listener something new to think about with each listen. The album begs you to keep coming back.

27. LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening
Rocking, danceable, catchy, vocally strong, infectious record with possibly the best opening tracks of the year.

26. Freelance Whales: Weathervanes
Wonderfully constructed songs here.

25. Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can

24. Jonsi: Go
Soaring, huge, magical songs. Jonsi has a unique gift for beautiful, original music. It shines here.

23. Buke and Gass: Riposte
Remarkably original album and sound. Sounds like it could self destruct at any moment, yet it survives.

22. Delta Spirit: History from Below
Soaring choruses. Thoughtful lyrics. Honest and vigorous delivery. One of the best indie bands around.

21. Janelle Monae: The Archandroid
A challenge to the listener. Janelle invites you to get on board or not even try. A brilliant concept record from an incredibly talented artist. She gave one of the best late night performances I have ever seen.

20. Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society
Modern Jazz excellence from a very gifted, and young, jazz bassist.

19. Stile Antico: Puer Natus est
Likely the most beautiful record on the list. 12 British Singers singing ancient English songs for the Advent.

18. Lost in the Trees: All Alone in an Empty House

Powerful lyrics with a unique and honest delivery. Gives you the feeling that they are in your living room playing these songs just for you.

16. The Black Keys: Brothers
Thick, textured, bluesy, sultry….unique record.

15. Vampire Weekend: Contra
These guys are the only ones doing what they do. Unashamedly clean and tight pop rock at it’s best.

14. Mumford and Sons: Sigh No More
I had a big-time honeymoon stage with this record, which ended and has not returned. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that these songs are great. Redemption lingers in the corners, and eventually comes into the spotlight on these songs.

13. Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone
What can I say? A legend in the music world. Mavis’ voice and delivery on this record blew me away. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco produced this one, and the results are wonderful.

12. The Tallest Man on Earth: Wild Hunt
One of the best songwriters around. This batch of songs was just different enough from his previous record. His voice is unique and nuanced, his songwriting is near flawless, and he clearly knows exactly what he is doing on that acoustic of his.

11. Guster: Easy Wonderful
I have loved these guys for many years now, and this just may be the best record they have ever made. They are some of the best pop-rock songwriters out there. Love this record, and it could be top 10 on a different day.

Top Ten

10. Punch Brothers: Antifogmatic
In my mind, this is the most gifted group of musicians on the list. Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek, is my favorite musician and everything he does is incredible. Their last effort, Punch, was composed primarily by Chris Thile and is one of my favorite albums ever. For this one, it was entirely collabrative with the other brothers. Once again, get ready to be sucker punched every few seconds. They even seem to have written a few nu-grass standards with “Next to the Trash” and “Rye Whiskey.” An incredible record by a remarkably talented group of guys.

9. Anais Mitchell: Hadestown
This album shocked me from the first listen. A concept/story album retelling the myth of Orpheus and Euridice, with different singers playing their parts. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Ani DiFranco, and the amazing Greg Brown are all incredible alongside Anais. The songs are near perfect, the vocals are sometimes fun, sometimes haunting. One of my favorite listens of the year that I keep coming back to.

8. The National: High Violet

A wonderful transition from their previous work, Boxer: remaining true to themselves and yet changing the approach to their sound. The structures to these songs are incredible solid, and the vocals are delivered with a seeming newfound confidence and vigor from frontman and principle songwriter Matt Berninger. Bryce Dessner’s guitar work is superb, with textures and hooks that are subtly powerful. Throw this record on for a night drive.

7. Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain’t No Grave
This one stopped me in my tracks. A haunting, spiritual, personal, vulnerable album from the late Johnny Cash. This is the last installment of the incredible American Recording, all of which were produced by Rick Rubin. Cash’s old, shaky, powerful voice on this final recording is extremely powerful. When he says, “Ain’t no grave, gonna hold my body down,” you believe him. Redemption saturated and believed on this one. A moment of silence please…

6. Local Natives: Gorilla Manor
Where do I start with this one? A percussive, really percussive, melodic, extremely melodic, catchy, biting, edgy, fun, original album here. This is easily one of the best first albums from a band that I have heard. These guys have written extremely original tracks and made it sound easy. With all of the complicated rythms, four part harmonies, and dynamics of this record…they make it all sound natural and flawless. And, even better, these tunes come across with even more power in a live setting.

5. Sandra McCracken: In Feast or Fallow
Contemplative, worshipful, introspective and simultaneously God focused, this remarkable record was #2 for me until a few weeks ago. This is a great example that worship and excellent art are not exclusive. The music and delivery that Sandra, and producer Derek Webb, provide only serve to enhance the incredible lyrics. Sandra has created a perfect atmosphere for these powerful songs to live in. This may be the best worship record that I have heard. Check out New Old Hymns.

4. Clogs: The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton

I love it when a group creates a world for the listener to live in. That is exactly what this album does. For me, this album is walking through a haunted forest. Clogs is a wonderful group led by Bryce Dessner of The National, though this group pre-dates them. This is the ensemble’s first non-instrumental album, and it features a few stellar vocalists such as Sufjan Stevens, Matt Berninger (The National), and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). This album became an instant favorite upon first listen.

3. Hilary Hahn: Higdon and Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos
This record is unbelievable. Modern composer Jennifer Higdon wrote this Pulitzer Prize winning concerto for Hahn specifically, and she wrote to her strengths. Then comes Tchaikovsky’s stellar concerto. These two pieces together, played by the same artist, is remarkable to hear. Upon hearing Hahn play, she instantly became one of my favorite artists. Below is a video introduction to the album.

2. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz
Five long years after the release of Illinois, Sufjan Stevens has given us The Age of Adz, inspired by the artwork of Royal Robertson. This is what I imagine “futuristic” music sounding like. He is really pushing boundaries of music here, and he does it extremely well, without leaving melody or beauty. Here, he mostly abandons real instruments for electronics, and yet the album still sounds organic and completely fitting. The last track, Impossible Soul, is my favorite track of the year. Here is a video for the first track entitled “Futile Devices.”

1. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Arcade Fire’s third installment, The Suburbs, is one of the best albums I have heard in quite a long time. This album takes a look at the suburbs from the inside and out, as an inhabitant and as an escapee. It takes constructive looks at suburban life without being preachy or harsh. At times, it adores and love the suburbs without being sentimental. It is a long record, with each song not only being excellent, but perfectly placed, making the listener work and wade through the tracks as an inhabitant. It is haunted with a longing for redemption, both from sin and from suburban life. The lyrics are thoughtful and honest, and the music perfectly suits the words in a way that few albums do. Although the lyrics and songs need to be taken as a whole, here are a few lines to consider, and a video of them performing “Month of May.” An incredible record by what may be the best current rock band.

” You never trust a millionaire
Quoting the sermon on the mount
I used to think I was not like them
But I’m beginning to have my doubts, my doubts about it

When you’re hiding underground
The rain can’t get you wet
But do you think your righteousness
Could pay the interest on your debt?
I have my doubts about it”


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Last night, Prima Coffee held their fourth Barista Bash at The Anchorage Cafe. It was a great night of delicious coffee, comraderie, and learning. Several took part in a “Best Cup” competition, which was won by one Chris Heiniger. All enjoyed delicious coffee from Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, and La Grange Roasters brewed by Matt Galyon and Lee Sill. It was especially wonderful to have  Jaime van Schndel of Barismo in our presence to teach us about coffee and the direction that third wave shops are going. A big thanks to the Anchorage Cafe and Prima Coffee for putting this event on, and for letting this amateur photographer get in their way a little bit to get these shots. Enjoy!

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Matt Argo, a friend of mine and roaster in Louisville, has recently purchased a beautiful roaster and has wasted no time in roasting and producing good work. He gave me a pound of the Bali Blue Moon to sample brew, and a couple of the cupping notes that I gave him are below. Be sure to support him in the future by buying his coffee. Also, please show local love to The Anchorage Cafe, a fairly new local shop that is doing some wonderful things for Louisville coffee and food. Prima Coffee is hosting their fourth Barista Bash there this evening at 8.


Coffee: Bali Blue Moon : Organic
Roast Date: November 20, 2010
Roaster: Matt Argo

Cupping 1

Brewing Parameters:
Brew Method: V60
Size 2 Paper Filters
.5 Liters (Aprox 16-17 oz) of Water
30 grams of Coffee
Water Temperature: 200 Degrees

Dry Aroma:
Sweet Milk Chocolate

Wet Aroma:
Fleshy Fruit: Like Ripe Cherries

Pine Needles – Like a Christmas Tree: Pleasant/Not like Grass
Cherry on the Back of the Palate
Delicious, Complex
Cupping 2

Brewing Parameters:
Brew Method: Siphon
400 ml of Water
25 Grams of Coffee
Water Temperature: 200 Degrees

Dry Aroma:
Milk Chocolate

Wet Aroma:

Very Complex/ Difficult to Pinpoint
Bittersweet Cherries: Like a sweet cough syrup that doesn’t exist. ☺
Red Wine
Lemon/Lime Zest on the back and sides of Palate
(The highlight here is the mouth-feel. In the mouth it is like a heavy red wine, incredibly smooth, silky and heavy.)

I consider all of the above to be Pros. The flavors were there and excellent. The mouth-feel, especially when brewed in the Siphon, was incredible.

I think this coffee was slightly under-roasted, but only slightly. While the flavors were there and quite good, it tasted a little “green” and underdeveloped, like the coffee was holding back some of what it really was. I would be interested to see this coffee brewed to a FC (Full City) or FC+.

Excellent work Matt!

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