The blog where it happens

This is a model takedown, and a lot of fun even if you’re not so much a “Hamilton” hater so much as a person who can’t understand how your friends had the time and foresight to see this thing.
Caveat: The impossibility for anyone but your annoying Instagram friends to get a ticket is cited as evidence that few people have experienced the dang thing. “Hamilton is the ‘nationwide sensation’ that only .001% of the nation has even witnessed.”
True, not many people have gotten to see it in person. But the cast album went platinum, in an age when nobody buys albums anymore. Lines from the musical have infiltrated culture and reporting. Insofar as a piece of theater can become widely known, this one is widely known. Just as people who have not seen “Star Wars” know “Luke, I Am Your Father,” I know “the room where it happens.”
That said, the people insisting that this is the greatest work of art of all time are silly. (That’s obviously Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick.”) I guess the question is whether this musical is still cool when the inevitable “Rob Marshall’s ‘Hamilton'” film adaptation comes out at the start of President Hillary Clinton’s second term.

Important: A Thirtysomething White Guy Has Grammy Opinions

This year, 2015, saw the arrival of a personal milestone that I never expected to see. I am old enough to cheer a Grammy winner. Beck, who’s now spent more years famous than he spent growing up to record his seemingly-one-hit-wonder “Loser,” won the Album of the Year for Morning Phase. Kanye West, being Kanye West, used the many forums available to him to protest that the award had not gone to Beyonce. This was wrong: Beyonce, one of the most beautiful and charismatic singers on the planet, makes generally boring music, all club tricks and gimmicks and vocal galloping.

Beck’s award, West’s protest, and the predictable Grammy for British shit-merchant Sam Smith — this got me thinking who I would have given the Grammys of various years to. It was a fun exercise, forcing me to weigh several factors against each other, to create a universe in which songs tuneful enough for the radio could be swapped in for whatever horrible music got awards for various years. I went back 40 years, roughly to the last year of prog rock’s boom. Annotations to follow.

Album: Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Record: King Crimson, “Starless”

Album: Bob Dylan, Blood On The Tracks
Record: Brian Eno, “St. Elmo’s Fire”

Album: Joni Mitchell, Hejira
Record: ABBA, “Dancing Queen”

Album: Art Garfunkel, Watermark
Record: David Bowie, “Heroes”

Album: Devo, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
Record: The Walker Brothers, “Nite Flights”

Album: The Clash, London Calling
Record: 20/20, “Yellow Pills”

Album: Talking Heads, Remain In Light
Record: Suicide, “Dream Baby Dream”

Album: King Crimson, Discipline
Record: Genesis, “No Reply At All”

Album: Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw
Record: X, “The Have Nots”

Album: Brian Eno, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks
Record: Yes, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”

Album: The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime
Record: The Smiths, “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want”

Album: Marillion, Misplaced Childhood
Record: Tom Waits, “Downtown Train”

Album: XTC, Skylarking
Record: Crowded House, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”

Album: Prince, Sign ‘O’ The Times
Record: The Go-Betweens, “Right Here”

Album: Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man
Record: EPMD, “Strictly Business”

Album: The Pixies, Doolittle
Record: Michael Penn, “No Myth”

Album: Fred Frith, Gravity
Record: They Might Be Giants, “Birdhouse In Your Soul”

Album: A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory
Record: Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Album: Adrian Belew, Inner Revolution
Record: Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Album: The Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Record: Archers of Loaf, “Web In Front”

Album: Nas, Illmatic
Record: Freedy Johnston, “Bad Reputation”

Album: GZA, Liquid Swords
Record: Ben Folds Five, “Brick”

Album: Steve Earle, I Feel Alright
Record: Sleeper, “What Do I Do Now?

Album: Spiritualized, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
Record: Sleater-Kinney, “One More Hour”

Album: Belle and Sebastian, The Boy With The Arab Strap
Record: Pulp, “Like a Friend”

Album: The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs
Record: Guided by Voices, “Teenage FBI”

Album: OutKast, Stankonia
Record: Queens of the Stone Age, “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret”

Album: Jay-Z, The Blueprint
Record: Gorillaz, “Clint Eastwood”

Album: The Mountain Goats, Tallahassee
Record: Solomon Burke, “Fast Train”

Album: The New Pornographers, Electric Version
Record: Jay-Z, “99 Problems”

Album: Stars, Set Yourself On Fire
Record: Arcade Fire, “Rebellion (Lies)”

Album: Porcupine Tree, Deadwing
Record: Sigur Rós, “Hoppipolla”

Album: Keene Brothers, Blues and Boogie Shoes
Record: The Gossip, “Standing In The Way Of Control”

Album: The National, Boxer
Record: LCD Soundsystem, “All My Friends”

Album: Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
Record: Passion Pit, “Sleepyhead”

Album: Mastodon, Crack the Skye
Record: The Lonely Island, “I’m On a Boat”

Album: Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Record: Robyn, “Dancing on My Own”

Album: Mates of States, Mountaintops
Record: Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”

Album: Scott Walker, Bisch Bosch
Record: Chairlift, “I Belong In Your Arms”

Album: Tegan and Sarah, Heartthrob
Record: Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”

Album: Beck, Morning Phase
Record: Run the Jewels, “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

There are many reasons to be an Anglophile, many reasons to appreciate the relationship between Brit journalists and Brit musicians, and C86 epitomized them all. It was a cassette tape (really, how twee) packaged with an issue of the NME (which used to mean New Musical Express) in, yes, 1986. “Here,” said editors, “are the indie bands that could own the future. “Oh shit,” said listeners. “You are correct.” The tape began with “Velocity Girl,” a track from a band called Primal Scream, some sort of side project by the Jesus and Mary Chain’s drummer. It happened to feature one of the great jangle-guitar breaks of all time, and its authors would soldier on for — here I check my calendar — 29 years and counting. Its name would be nicked by a pretty okay American band with at least one great song (“I Can’t Stop Smiling”). And it was just the first fucking song.

My point is that British “indie bands” had a distinct style that influenced but was not fully supplanted by the Britpop of a few years later. It echoed American “power pop,” which by then had faded, in boppy sincerity and reliance on guitars over keyboards. My secondary point is that The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are a self-consciously twee revival band that knocked around the Ouija board and summoned C86 sounds while adding very little of thir own. And there is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with music meant to be played at reasonable volume as a boy (probably with wispy beard) snoggles a girl (probably with an art history degree). It’s not very new; then again, people still pay to see new generations of tenors sing the same old operas.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (2009)
Rating: 6/10
Best Song: “Young Adult Friction.”
Worst Song: “Hey Paul,” but the distance between the highs/lows is minimal.

Put the needle on and there are no illusions. “Contender” begins with feedback, as if the band has just plugged in or finished a song you’ll never hear. A distorted guitar comes in, being strummed at 4/4 time — D chord, G chord, D chord, G chord. Then comes the jangle, then the voice of Kip Berman sigh-singing about a romantic difficulty. “Look what you’ve done,” he goes. “Look what you’ve done. What do you have now?” By the time he gets to the chorus, there’s a female voice — that’s Peggy Wang, the very unobtrusive keyboard player — and the only suspense concerns when the drummer will count off and the song will explode.

That never happens. The rave-up only begins with “Come Saturday,” which was a single, as the licks and the “woo-woo-woo!” vocals should make clear. The intentions are almost clear now. You are in for a collection of songs ripped from some Manchester or Newcastle student center circa 1986. The guitar break on “Come Saturday” puts an exclamation point on the song without doing anything drastic. Pleasant music, no danger of blowing minds.

Then comes “Young Adult Friction,” and the skill of this band becomes apparent. It’s a perfect pop song, one of at least three on the record, getting the dynamics just right between a Buzzcocks drum pattern (go compare it to “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays”), shimmering guitar chords, and teen-journal vocals. (It describes a hook-up in a library, “our bodies spent among the dust and the microfiche.”) The album keeps delivering songs like that, with Alex Naidus’s bass line sounding just too cool for everything around it, in immaculate C86 style. “Stay Alive” is a little quieter, but adds some Dream Syndicate-style synthesized bells. “A Teenager in Love” is… again, basically the same song, but it pulls off the quiet-quiet-loud trick you were expecting in the first place.

Belong (2011)
Rating: 8/10
Best Song: “Even in Dreams”
Worst Song: “Anne with an E”

Well-l-l-l, look who discovered The Cure! Belong begins with the title track, an on-the-nose statement of intent from a band that’s already fairly blatant about its influences and view of rock history. There’s another burst of fuzz, except this time, it’s faded in, then interrupted by a ringing guitar riff, which is crushed like the baker’s wife by a Black Sabbath crunch riff. Back to the full band, fully committed now to a loud-quiet-loud song with a melody that can bear up to 100 tons.

The beauty part of being a revival band is that, theoretically, you can always vacuum up more influences and improve. That’s what TPoBPaH did, for a record that is song-for-song much better than the debut. The opening three-song suite of the title track, “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now” and “Heart in Your Heartbreak” is immaculate; “Heavens Gonna Happen Now” has the band’s first guitar solo that can stack up next to “Velocity Girl.” Not RIGHT next to — maybe it’s Estonia, on the same Olympics winning platform as Canada. Again and again, from “My Terrible Friend” to “The Body,” the band builds a decent rhythm and slathers it with melodies and precious lyrics like “I want to hurt like it did before.”

It works. “Even in Dreams,” like “Young Adult Friction,” is an anthem that coheres everything good about the band’s style. The keyboards burble softly, the bass carries the melody, and the guitar plays at a nice, controlled buzz. Kip’s vocals are pushed to the front, falling into the mix only at the choruses, when a series of strangely tuneful air-raid sounds creep in. The weakest track is “Anne With an E,” which cops the “Be My Baby” drum-and-cymbals rhythm, which is the sort of thing you do if you have no intention of getting away with it. The song isn’t strong enough to grow beyond the influences. It’s the only one on the record of which that could be said.

Days of Abandon (2014)
Rating: 7/10
Best Song: “Kelly”
Worst Song: “Beautiful You”

The Pains’ journey through the 1980s takes them out of the curated indie garden and into the sweaty gymnasiums of pure pop. This is not a bad thing. The fuzz is almost totally gone, smoothed away, no feedback even in the traditional album-intro time slot. No, this time, you are welcomed in with the acoustic bedsit musings of “Art Smock,” and it includes a spoiler of a lyric: “Like a Felt song, I’m off the throne.” This, as any anorak worth his raincoat could tell you, is a reference to the song “Dismantled King Is Off The Throne,” by the aforementioned Felt, and as earnest as that bad was they sound like goddamned Judas Priest next to the Pains.

Sorry for cursing: I’m not saying this music is bad. “Kelly,” with a rare female-led vocal, is a good example of the band’s new, learned softness. It bounces along with percussion that could have been dreamed up by Wham!, and with lyrics that suggest our heroes have been aging at Peter Pan’s pace: “Passed out on the train again, woke up at the end of the world.” When the band gets loud it does so with a trick like the one that starts “Simple and Sure,” a collection of cute glottal stops that turn into a sing-a-long. (That song was sold for a commercial, and it says something about me that I can recall a decades-old Felt track before I can remember which cell phone company licensed which indie rock popper.)

There are fine pop moments like that all over the record; the only suspense is in how the band arranges them. “Beautiful You” becomes a slog because it contains only as many ideas as “Coral and Gold” and stretches them over twice as much time. Seemingly every song has a moment in which the keyboards reproduce the sound of a far-away harp, and on a trifle like “Until The Sun Explodes,” it feels like the center of a pocket symphony.

2014: The First Annual Only Culture Awards That Matter

This year, like every year, I consumed a bunch of #content. Less than usual, and far fewer books than usual, as I have trouble committing to a long read when I’m finishing up my own. I saw roughly half as many movies as I did in 2013, which actually led to less disappointment than usual when the year-end lists informed me that eight of the 10 best films came out for critics in December.

Best movie: Boyhood. I’m inclined to like every Richard Linklater movie, so it was awfully polite of him to make an absorbing classic.
Best movie-within-a-movie: Dune, as envisioned by crazy people in Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Best dystopia: The frozen world of Snowpiercer, everything from the roach-jelly that feeds proles to the psychotic elementary school to the machines run by tiny children. (Runner-up: Whatever the hell happens in the last act of The Congress.)
Best dopplegangers: A tie between the ideal couple in The One I Love and the parallel dinner-partiers in Coherence.
Best Angela Merkel joke: Her appearance in the credits montage of witches in Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi. (The Spanish ain’t happy with her.)
Best miniatures: A tie between The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Lego Movie.
Most jarring use of Ken Burns footage: The dust bowl scenes in Interstellar, which ground the famine-plagued future with interviews of real Okies. Nolan really gave away his source there.
Best sociopath (male): Nightcrawler‘s Lou Bloom, a criminal who’s terrifyingly good at applying self-help language to his manipulations and wanton destruction.
Best sociopath (female): Amy Dunne, the titular Gone Girl.
Worst fake journalist: Gone Girl‘s Ellen Abbott (Missy Pyle), a Nancy Grace stand-in who ruins a man’s reputation and tries to make up for it with the gift of a four-legged robot.
Best use of bluetooth: Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), in Locke.
Worst sex: The endless S&M of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and K (Jamie Bell) in the second chapter of Nymphomaniac.
Best music cue: “Real Gone Kid” by Prefab Sprout, which plays just as Under the Skin is shedding its plot dynamics and Scarlett Johanson’s alien has decided to try out humanity, and fail at it. The song gets her tapping her hand to the rhythm in a way that makes her seem more alien than ever.
Worst music cue: “Tusk” in Tusk, Kevin Smith’s attempt to ruin a great Fleetwood Mac song by associating it with fighting men in walrus costumes.
Worst science: Lucy, which not only relies on the myth that humans have yet to tap 90 percent of their brains, but gives Morgan Freeman a serious-sounding expository lecture about that “fact.”
Worst use of Kickstarter: Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here.
Best song by a fake band: “I’ll Have to Dance With Cassie” by God Help the Girl. Listen and agree:

(Runners up: “Hate the Sport,” by the adorable kids of We Are the Best! and “I Love You All,” by Frank and the Sonopofprbs.)
Best supervillain: Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn), the Starred Up prisoner whose efforts to protect his equally evil son are not stymied by physics, or timing, or logic.
Worst supervillain: Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Guardians of the Galaxy. Look: I’m a huge goddamn nerd and can quote back parts of the “Infinity Gauntlet” arc. But in the movieverse, so far, Thanos has 1) grinned, 2) glowered, and 3) fallen for the old “instead of delivering this powerful item to you I will steal it and defeat you!” rumble.
Worst action hero: Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who gives us very little to root for in Godzilla. If you’re going to kill off Brian Cranston, don’t replace him with a stack of cardboard.
Best action hero: Groot, duh.
And if I was assigning Oscars by diktat, I’d hand ’em to Julianne Moore (yes, Still Alice is Oscar bait, but it’s devastating thanks to her), David Oyelowo (for Selma), and Patricia Arquette (for Boyhood). Haven’t seen Whiplash, which all the smart kids say J.K. Simmons is perfect in.

Best mash-up:
Did mash-ups stop being cool? I haven’t heard one at a party in ages. Your loss, humanity: 2 Mello’s Final Fantasy (The 3-6 Chambers) was a complete masterpiece.
Best progressive album: Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas’s Other World. Hammill can really do no wrong, but the ambient guitar sounds brought something fresh and distracting to his music.
Best hip-hop album that isn’t Run the Jewels: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Piñata.
Worst progressive album: Pink Floyd, The Endless River.
Best cover song: Bryan Ferry’s “Johnny and Mary,” a synthtastic pop hit transformed into a slow roasting ballad.

Best supergroup: The Both, the collaboration between Aimee Mann and Ted Leo that produced some of their best music in years, as well as a gripping, friendly live show.
Best concert: See above — 930 Club, earlier this year.
Best music video: The masses are right: Sia’s Chandelier kicked everything else in the ass, and hard.

Most lifelike robot: St. Vincent.

Best flesh-eating monsters: Not The Walking Dead‘s stalwarts; instead, I got way too into the horrifying sex-crazed civilization-destroyers of Crossed.
Best space opera: Jeff Lemire’s Trillium.
Most confounding creator: Between East of West, Manhattan Projects, and God is Dead, I have no idea what the hell Jonathan Hickman is doing. Yet I keep reading.
Best biography: Different All the Time, Marcus O’Dair’s comprehensive life story of Robert Wyatt. A real tonic, and a real reminder to stop slacking on my own history of progressive rock.

Lloyd Cole

My waking life is largely being spent writing a history of/argument for progressive rock. I’ve wanted to write this thing since at least 2002, and it’s harder than you’d think to polish off a project with that kind of inspiration. But not too hard. When I write, I often listen to relevant music with my headphones’ volume half-turned up. The exception to that “often” — usually, the solo records of Lloyd Cole.

How’d I come upon Lloyd Cole in the first place? It was definitely during the lost age of the record store, in that period — a decade? — when the Internet could point you to new music but couldn’t put it instantly on your title computer-phone. I’d gotten into Matthew Sweet in high school, and when I ran out of new Sweet records (he released nothing new from 1999 to 2003) I discovered that my mopey power-pop star had previously been a bassist for someone named Lloyd Cole. More research. Robert Quine, the man who made such disturbing sounds on Lou Reed’s renaissance albums, had played guitar with this guy!

So I trekked down to Mr. Wax or Jeremiah’s or some such place and bought the “wrong” album. I got 1990’s “Lloyd Cole,” the first solo effort by a 29-year old who was, in rock terms, nearly a has-been. In the mid-80s, Cole had been the front man for the Commotions, a pop group with all the miserable lyrics of the Smiths (“Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?”) and all the guitar jangle of Orange Juice. In 1990, he’d broken up the man and moved to New York and recorded a suite of depressing songs about cocaine and heartbreak and betrayal.

“Generally, my overview of life is that optimism is fairly redundant,” Cole told an interviewer at the time. “Certainly it leads to more unhappiness than a realistic, pessimistic approach to life. I don’t think I expect that much from life.”

The dude was married and pretty successful, but the record was bleak. And there on the single “No Blue Skies” was Sweet’s voice, unmistakable, singing a lyric he could have written: “Baby, you’re too well read.” Other lyrics were clearly the work of a sad, handsome Englishman: “You’re falling back into the English way of feeling only guilt ‘cuz you feel no pain.”

It was a loping, moping suite of music with some brilliant touches made by someone who was trying to rattle himself into a new mood. “Loveless” (you can guess the lyrical content) began with the sound of a falling can; “A Long Way Down” began with a brief, melodic orchestral piece. “Ice Cream Girl” relied on a guitar hook that never stopped shimmering. The record raced from style to style, something that was not true of the next album, which should have been Cole’s breakout. And it sort of was — people actually bought the hit single, sung from the vantage point of an angry man veering toward misogyny.

He thought that women and drink would make a man out of him
But the extent of his studies left a jaded man
So as she led him to the altar he was easily led
And when they asked him if he did, well, then this is what he said

“She’s gotta be the stupidest girl, I’ve ever seen
She don’t care who, why, where I’ve been
She’s got a right to be with all that’s wrong with me
But she doesn’t wanna understand that she’s a girl and I’m a man”

There was a hominess and safeness to the record. Side one moved quickly; Side two was stuffed with ballads. Cole grew a bit more experimental on Bad Vibes, an album whose song titles told the story that the album cover already told — Cole slumping handsomely in a lonely corner. “Love You So What.” “Can’t Get Arrested. He even sequenced a rocker called “So You’d Like to Save the World” — a jeer at a snobby environmentalist who, among other sins, is ignoring the narrator — with a ballad titled “Holier Than Thou.”

Bad Vibes was Cole’s worst-performing album, hitting with a thunk in a British music market that was starting to embrace the sounds of Suede and Ride and Blur (and soon, Oasis.) Cole returned in 1995 with Love Story, a record as apparently saccharine as the other records were sour. For the first time, Cole himself did not appear on one of his solo album covers. The record buyer saw a pleasant if slightly cloud seascape, and when he hit play he heard a warm, acoustic guitar tune playing under a hymn to whom Cole professed love for. Sort of. The song, “Trigger Happy,” kept on taking turns:

You know that gun is loaded
Sure you do
Summertime blue, summertime blue
Yes, you know that gun is loaded
Sure you do if not for you

Love Story‘s leadoff single, “Like Lovers Do,” took him back to the top 40. Small wonder, as it ran on an arresting melody of major and suspended chords chased by a chorus of minor chords. Her was a golf-loving husband, closing in on his 40s, still writing mournful and fingerpicked ballads.

And there he went. Cole did not release another album for five years, the longest pause (still) he ever took. He appeared here and there on compilations, but he was in an experimental mood. This was learned from 2000 to 2003, when in a flurry Cole released two studio pop albums, one album of outtakes and b-sides, and one of ambient music — a first for him.

The run started with The Negatives, a one-off gloom-pop supergroup — Cole, Jill “I Kissed a Girl” Sobule, Michael “Eve’s Plum” Kotch, Dave “film composer” Kirby, and Raja “future real estate broker” Maciejack. (Really, he is. He might be the richest of any of them.) Cole’s sound regained the heft of the Commotions, with 20 extra pounds and a girdle. I mean this in the best possible way.

The Negatives’ album starts with four perfect pop songs. I immediately loved the way the fretboard scraps in “Past Imperfect” remained on the track. “Impossible Girl” was cleaner; the scraping returned for “No More Love Songs”; with “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” the arpeggiating was accented by an out-of-nowhere keyboard. It was fantastic. None of its songs became hit singles.

In 2001 came the ambient album, “Plastic Wood” (which I like but don’t relisten to often), and the helpfully titled outtakes album “Etc” (which contains a Blood on the Tracks cover that captures everything Cole adds to the singer-songwriter canon). In 2003, Cole slowed way, way down — Music in a Foreign Language was very self-consciously slow and adult. The only electric sounds were moody guitar slides that accented the soft acoustic wrist-slashing ballads. “No More Love Songs” was reworked with more warmth. As if warmth could change a line like this:

“Rather than you,” she said, “I prefer solitude.
Rather than company, I prefer cigarettes.”

Did this mark a new direction? Sort of. In 2006 Cole returned with (hold the laughs) Antidepressant, a little chippier than the last record but not straying far from its front room production style. The only difference was the humor — the title track was an entirely literal story about two sad hipsters finding each other in a cafe.

I said I’m trying to write my novel
She said Neither am I
And either way I saw you reading No Depression
You’re doing nothing I’ll come over 
We’ll watch 6 feet Under
And then we’ll maybe get around to your condition
With my medication I will be fine

The courtship turned immediately into panic, and fear of commitment:

First she’s going to tire of my fixations
Then she’s going to tire of my face
I’m going to need a new affectation
I’m going to need a new one everyday

And Cole kept writing. In 2009 he released four CDs worth of outtakes, containing everything from Leonard Cohen covers (“Chelsea Hotel No 2” done up with his standard wry detachment) to Burt Bacharach covers to remixes of the singles that had not quite been hits. He followed a year later with Broken Record, which gave every confidence that he could record songs like this forever. “Do you have nothing to do on this fine afternoon,” he asked in the single, “but write?”

But you’ve got nothing today so you crank out
Another screenplay

About a writer without ideas
And her lover she pushes away when he gets too near

You can get a beat from a broken heart
You could write the book while falling apart
You can have it all save the one you want
Going for a song

The Best Albums of 2009 According to My Brain

20. Tommy Keene – In The Late Bright

19. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns

18. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

17. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

16. Antony & The Johnstons – The Crying Light

15. Regina Spektor – Far

14. The xx – xx

13. Junior Boys – Begone Dull Care

12. Muse – The Resistance

11. Robyn Hitchcock – Goodnight Oslo

10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz

9. Jay-Z – The Blueprint III

8. Tegan and Sara – Sainthood

7. Steve Earle – Townes

6. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport

5. Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

4. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

3. Pet Shop Boys – Yes

2. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II

1. Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years

Yes, There Is An Anvil

Matt’s commenters are skeptical that the band Anvil, from the amazing documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” are anything more than a hoax. Trust me, they really are a 30-year old band. From a concert review by Kathi Whalen in the Washington Post, published December 3, 1988:

Ten years have given Anvil’s playing a sheen few others in the heavy metal underground share, but it still can sound pretty dull.

Some early self-deprecating antics made the band’s 9:30 club show Wednesday look promising at first — lead singer Lips mugged and posed maniacally while the band dredged through numbers like the unprintable one whose opening riff was from the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme and “Concrete Jungle,” which was spiked with a jungle beat.

Still, once Lips decided the gag was over, the set speedily disintegrated into long-winded self-indulgence, topped off with an excruciating solo from drummer Robb Reiner.

Opener Death rooted every number in a hard-core beat and let the guitars flail from there. Although “Open Casket” was the one song with a genuine sense of rhythm, the most striking thing about this speed-metal band was how ridiculously artificial the overreverbed vocals sounded without a sepulchral video to accompany them.

So you see why critics forgot that this band existed.