Still have people on your Christmas list you’ve not bought a gift for? Here’s some of The Pulse’s favorite albums released in the past year. What better way to tell someone “Ain’t no other man but you” than with a stocking stuffed with great music?
Gnarles Barkley: St. Elsewhere
There’s never been anything quite like the eclectic blend of soul and hip-hop of Gnarls Barkley. Taking the country by storm with this summer’s mega-hit, the duo brought us together by stating what we all feel at one point or another, “Crazy.”
Part hip-hop royalty and part cartoon creation, Cee Lo Green of Atlanta’s legendary Dungeon Family (home to OutKast and Cee Lo’s original Goodie Mobb) and Danger Mouse of Gorillaz fame (of the ubiquitous song “Clint Eastwood” from a couple years back) were only playing around musically when they realized they might have something to offer unlike anything else, so they decided to put an album together.
In doing so, they may have saved contemporary music. The first single is easily the most downloaded song of the year and with its trippy Rorschach-style music video, Gnarls has raised the bar and brought the fun back to music. Television appearances and photo shoots show the guys dressed as famous duos from pop culture like Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper, Cheech and Chong and even Hunter S. Thompson and his sidekick, Dr. Gonzo.
And their music is touching the souls of millions. St. Elsewhere begins with the gospel-infused “Free” and from there it runs a musical gauntlet, dancing over genres and blending funky beats with Cee Lo’s soulful Southern twang. From the moody title track to personal faves like “Just a Thought,” the band manages to capture the spirit of this rough American era and keep us plugging along, well entertained.
This is one of those rare CDs that you put in and just groove to, never thinking to change a track.
The success has already put them on the map and they’ve just begun a tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (which hits the GEC in Nashville on Jan. 17).
? Juli Shipley
Thom Yorke: The Eraser
Thom Yorke placed this solo project down gently between a Radiohead album and a Radiohead tour. Practically, it was smart marketing. Artistically it was a moody, digital bank of politics and emotion, released at a socially cognitive moment.
As a side project it’s not the long-winded set of lost demos we’ve all come to fear. In 41 minutes Yorke yo-yos us between a possible romantic introspection and a set of fierce political questions in an evocative, yet firm, set of vocals laid over piano samples, sparse guitar, and a full range of clicks, clacks, tones and beats.
The romance culminates in the title track, and the album’s most poignant moment lands with “Harrowdown Hill,” an apprehensive piece about the death of British Ministry of Defense’s weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kelly. Cheeky Brits, with their sly political commentary.
The Eraser proves itself as one of the truest musical moments of the year on multiple levels.
? Valerie Nutt
Pete Yorn: Nightcrawler
On Pete Yorn’s third album, aptly titled Nightcrawler, he takes the listener on a journey. A journey through the past, present and future.
As diehard a fan as I am, his first album will always have a special place in my heart, but Nightcrawler is a close second. From the eerie opening track “Vampyre” all the way through to the closing “Bandstand in the Sky,” it is a songwriter’s heaven. The best track on the album would have to be “The Man,” in which two of the three Dixie Chicks accompany Yorn. His rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation” is superb, and “Georgie Boy” is as techno as you’ll ever get from Pete.
I highly recommend this album. Come with me to a place we both know/you can take my life/but I’ll never die/I’m heading for the bandstand in the sky.
? Alyssa Carlson
Beck: The Information
Released in October of this year, Beck continues in his tradition of original, innovative work.
The Information combines strange computerized effects, resonating melodies, unconventional rhythmic elements and enigmatic imagery to produce a finely-tuned package of musical creativity.
The style and subject matter are all over the spectrum. The unstructured beat of “1000 Bpm,” the sweet story of “I Think I’m in Love,” the haunting strings of “Dark Star,” and the spiritual ponderings of “The Information” all emanate from this eclectic album.
Making The Information an even more attractive gift is the extra DVD with all the music videos.
? Kelly Malone
Tool: 10,000 Days
Talk about anticipation. After five years, Tool finally put the fourth full-length album of their 16-year career into our hands this May.
Or, possibly sooner, as this album had a scandalous brush with Internet file sharing in April.
While Tool’s 16-year run has allowed for evolution, the band defies the fickle trends of our day and age by putting out an album that keeps their quintessential style to the fore. Keenan and crew direct our attention to the “Vicarious” nature of society, tell us all we “must have been so high” in “The Pot” and perform a 17-minute, two-song eulogy to Judith Marie Keenan, Maynard’s mother. It’s a masterful offering.
There may be other artists now who sound a bit like Tool, but it’s active flattery on the part of the pretenders.
Tool’s integrity without a doubt remains in tact with 10,000 Days.
? Valerie Nutt
Alice Peacock: Who I Am
The title Who I Am, is just that for Alice Peacock. This is who she is from beginning to end. From loving to losing, heart beats to heart breaks; it is a soundtrack to most people’s lives.
Probably the most poignant cut on here is “Who I Am.” It cuts deep, strips it down to the bare minimum with lyrics like: I may stumble I may fall / but I know that through it all / if to my own self be true / then I’m sure to make it through / cause I know who I am. One song that screams “Why did I ever waste so much time on you?” is “Taught Me Well.”
If there was ever a songwriter that is ever so honest and ocean-clear, it’s Alice. Her organic, earthy, and folky tunes instantly make you feel better, and her charming, down-to-earth personality makes you feel like, “Why did it take me so long to discover her?”
? Alyssa Carlson
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Stadium Arcadium
27 years after high school students Anthony, Flea and Hillel formed a band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers brings the funk to millions. These days the band packs so much funkiness it had to make Stadium Arcadium a dual disk release?slow funk, fast funk, pop funk, slap funk.
The record, yet another Rick Rubin production, continues the trippy, contemplative tone of the Peppers past two releases, the seas going from calm to stormy from one track to the next. While one disk is labeled Mars and the other Jupiter (both a mirror for the sun), both disks contain a variety of songs.
The guys are more restrained and MTV-friendly than a different RHCP in a different time?a little more funk than punk. But there’s a sophistication and subtleness that’s enticing in their restraint. Flea is still the best bassist in popular music, and Frusciante makes his instrument scream.
Stadium Arcadium does meander through some monotonous moments, but the disk, as expected, is highly recommended to put on, relax and listen as four guys make really fun and funky music.
? Bracken Mayo
Bob Dylan: Modern Times
I had some difficulty trying to obtain the new Bob Dylan CD Modern Times. Not finding it in the bin, the guy behind the counter said he could order it for $18.99. Then for some reason, he decided to look in the new arrivals pile and, sure enough, Modern Times had a nice sticker that read $13.99.
However, the credit card machine-a-ma-jig decided to quit working. How dare the stars align at the precise moment to deny my soul the soothing rambles of Dylan!
I returned to my humble abode and with the help of modern technology I was able to do an Internet transfer and withdraw twenty bucks from the ATM. A cigarette and a short drive later, I was listening to “Thunder on the Mountain,” the opening song of Modern Times. It was like breathing in a breath of fresh air, the first breath of fresh air since Time Out of Mind.
My ears keep tuning into the lyrics: For the Love of God ya’ll take pity on yourselves, or perhaps my favorite, Meet me at the bottom don’t lag behind / bring me my boots and shoes / You can hang back or fight your best on the front line / sing a little bit of these working man blues.
I can not tell you what Dylan is saying in Modern Times, only he can tell you that, but I think a person will find in this album what has been present in all of his albums?another exploration into that often miraculously enjoyable, and sometimes painful, experience of living life. It is an exploration that none other can narrate quite like Dylan.
Gonna forget about myself for awhile / go out and see what others need.
I think here the lesson is simple, forget about ourselves and be a little kinder to others.
? Brandon Johnson
The Mars Volta: Amputecture
The Mars Volta continues to push the boundaries of rhythm, scales, arrangement and vocal range in rock music with each well-orchestrated release.
In 2006 the extremely creative and thoughtful artists incorporated to a greater extent guitarist John Frusciante, of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, into its Amputecture record.
Luckily, The Mars Volta realizes proper amounts of time?longer than the radio gives?must be allotted to a piece to truly allow it to evolve into something special. While Amputecture contains only eight tracks, there will be no cries for your money back.
Further earning the band its “progressive” label is lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala delivering some songs in Spanish, drawing in millions of Spanish speakers worldwide, in addition to English.
Whatever language you speak, you should get this record. If the vocals, showing great range in pitch, language and other departments, aren’t enough for you, the composition is mind-boggling. Some of the beats and riffs take a good 20 listens to even begin getting your head around.
If you’ve ever wondered, frustrated, if all the good riffs have already been taken and if a band will ever come up with something truly new, tap into the minds of Mars Volta, unafraid to explore uncharted beats, sounds and tonalities (though sometimes sounding atonal, almost random, though always sure to be preconceived). From the Pink Floyd-esque opener on, Amputecture continues the evolution of music in the electronic age, by using effects not as a crutch, but a tool to express creative vision.
? Bracken Mayo