Ashes and Fire

Today, Ryan Adams releases his first true album in nearly two years, and his first without the Cardinals in far too long.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed a good portion of his work with his backing band, but I long for the solo years of Heartbreaker.  We’ll likely never get an album as solidly beautiful as that from Ryan again, but Ashes and Fire is pretty damn close.

Stripped down and free of the Grateful Dead affectations, this is Ryan at his purest, and man does it work.

I’ve been listening to the free preview for a couple weeks now, so I’ve already had time to fall in love with the album.  I’m not going to do a full write up of it (a la “The King of Limbs“), but I feel pretty confident in saying that if you’re a Ryan fan, you’ve been waiting for this album for quite a few years.

I’ll leave you with the first video single from the album, the excellent (though not even best track) “Lucky Now.”

A good day to you all.

Cynicism & the Death of a Celebrity

“The talk of the ignorant is like the rumblings which issue from the belly.” ~ Demetrius the Cynic

This weekend, as we all know by now, Amy Winehouse died.  Likely an overdose, though from what I’ve read, cause of death hasn’t been confirmed.  As a very public drug addict, death by addiction has the feeling of inevitability; even  more so now that she joins the 27 club.

In response to the news, I posted this comment on my Facebook:

Amy Winehouse is dead. Now it's time for the usual FB cycle: 
24 hours of "So sad" posts followed by a week of cynical jokes mocking her.

Probably inevitably, the responses to this comment mostly missed my point.  The misinterpretation was that I found grief ridiculous and that cynicism was the rational response to this famously trainwrecked celebrity’s death.  In fact, what I meant was that 24 hours of grief followed by immediate derision is a horrific response to the passing of someone, famous or not.  We, as a culture, seem incapable of sustaining a genuine emotion and we mock and deride any outpouring of it.

My problem isn’t with those who feel sad for the passing of Amy Winehouse (or any celebrity), my criticism is for the kneejerk cynicism that must immediately turn every public death into an attempt to one-up each other’s blasé attitude.


I think my atheism and penchant for dark, at times even morbid humor has given people the impression that I am a cynic.  The assumption being, since I have rejected the ‘feel good’ story of Christianity and enjoy a healthy dose of perversity I must think everything is stupid and worth mocking.

Well, that assumption is stupid and worth mocking.

Let’s set something straight:  I’m a realist, and I balance my innate personal pessimism with my general societal optimism.  I am always planning for the worst case scenario in my own life, expecting misfortune just around the corner.  It’s the rational approach to life’s uncertainties.  It is better to be prepared for a downturn that may never come than to depend on a lucky turn that will likely never materialize.

But when it comes to the overall evolution and progress of our society and species, I’m an eternal optimist.  I don’t buy into anybody’s apocalyptic predictions, whether they be religious or political, conservative or liberal.  Dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels and movies always ring hollow to me. 

In the wake of a Great Depression, Adolf Hitler, the Cold War and other great scares of the 20th century, writers predicted a variety of nightmarish futures.  Futures that never came to pass.

We live in hard times now, so naturally there is an abundance of doomsayers proclaiming the end of our society, but all I can do is look at the historical context of the hysteria and remain unmoved.  We will overcome.

But you’d be hard pressed to hear that kind of optimism coming from your television personalities.  Cynicism is the de rigueur attitude of talking heads and tastemakers (maybe it always has been?), and I have no use for it.

You Non-Contributing Zero

Cynicism is a useless stance.  It creates nothing, adds nothing, offers no solutions.

A cynic looks at problems (or potential problems) and merely points them out, almost gleefully.  It’s like a guy sticking his finger into your bullet wound just to poke and prod. The cynic would rather tear down than build up, and relishes the failures of others.  The cynic looks at Amy Winehouse and says, “Eh, saw that coming.”  Well, congratulations Miss Cleo, that astute observation (after the fact) was worth the price of admission.

Cynicism Masquerading as Critique

The cynic appears in many forms these days.  Perhaps most annoying to me is the cynicism that tries to pass itself off as the aged and wizened critic of artistry.  Maybe you’ll recognize this particular form of cynicism:

“Music today is terrible!”  Or, “Kids television is crap compared to what we had!” 

This ignores the fact that most of us are only a decade or so out from being ‘kids’ and that people said the same thing about our music and television.  You know why you don’t like kids television?  Because you’re not a kid.  You shouldn’t like it.  Stop trying to remain  a child and grow up.  And stop fetishizing your youth as if it was the best time of your life and nothing will ever be better.  If that’s really your outlook, I feel sad for you.  Try living with the belief that the best years of your life are still ahead of you.

The creation of art is going to keep happening, whether you appreciate it or not.

Cynicism is only interested in criticizing, never appreciating.  There is certainly a place for intelligent criticism in this world.  Reading articulate art criticism, for instance, is how one becomes an informed and well-rounded consumer of art.

An unfortunate drawback of the internet, though, is that in its democracy it has given voice to a million ignorant critics and very few educated or informed art lovers.

Personally, while I could talk about bands or movies I hate, I’d much rather and more enthusiastically talk to you about gorgeous songs and awe-inspiring films.  When you can intelligently discuss the merits of art, then you can legitimately discern when they are lacking.  But our age of cynics would rather shit on everything indiscriminately, as if the sole mark of being a critic is the ability to hate on things.  (My favorite film critic is the New York Times A.O. Scott, partially because we have similar film tastes, but mostly because his enthusiasm and love for the medium shines out of everything he writes.)

Ironically, no one is more cynical than early 20-somethings who have just had their first taste of freedom from high school and their parents.  They think because they’ve done a few drugs and had a few fucks, maybe even backpacked Europe (on their parent’s dime), that they’ve seen it all, and it all sucks compared to some Platonic ideal that never existed.  Their voice of disdain pervades the internet, and thus our culture.

Good riddance.

Another odd strain of cynicism that I’ve seen rising lately is the Christian Cynic.  This is probably a reaction against the Naive Christian, the easily ridiculed punching bag for rationalists and cynics alike.  The Christian Cynic is indistinguishable from most of the negativity of the world (usually with a Right Wing bent), a kind of chameleon of faith who wants to hold onto the keys to the kingdom while getting to join in with the fearmongering.

Maybe they’ve forgotten what it says in 1 Peter:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 

We Atheists get blamed for the decline of Christianity (and it is declining), but I think the true answer lies in that verse.  Christians don’t seem to be all that hopeful (certainly not the sect that holds up Glenn Beck as a voice of reason), and those that are hopeful tend to beat that ‘hope’ over our heads by claiming that we non-believers can’t possibly be as happy and content as them.

(Yes, there are exceptions, hopeful Christians who are kind and considerate of other beliefs or non-beliefs.  Sheesh, I have to say this every time.)

The Danger

Cynicism is the destructive force that will undermine our culture.  But your cynicism can’t destroy hope.  Certainly not mine.  I will succeed on my own merits.

The only danger your cynicism poses is to yourself.  You risk living a life devoid of beauty.  You put yourself in a position to miss out on just how amazing the world we live in truly is.  And it also makes you look like a prick, because while you cynically dismiss everything around you, there are people in this world with legitimately dire situations who don’t have access to all the perks that your cushy American life provides.

If you want to waste your life hating on things you know nothing about and whining about a society that is as close to utopia as our species has ever known, than go for it.  Be proud of the absolute nothing that you bring to the table.

I think Louie says it best:

And in memory of Amy Winehouse whose death is a tragedy, even if you’re too cynical to see it, a friend’s genuine tribute:

5 Songs I’m Loving Now – 03/29/11

Childish Gambino – Freaks and Geeks

Since Childish Gambino is the rapper alter ego of comedian Donald Glover, you’d be forgiven for initially assuming that this song was a comedy novelty rap (I did).  And yes, the lines in here are quite funny, but not in a Weird Al sort of way.  He’s crass, sexually explicit and witty as hell, with a beat that holds the whole thing together.  The EP that carries this track (go here to download for free, legally) is solid all around, though admittedly the lyrical content leans on the emo-side of rap (this isn’t Outkast).  “Freaks and Geeks” is the standout track, but if you like it, you’ll enjoy more of what he has to offer.

Justice – D.A.N.C.E.

It’s like the Jackson 5 had an elicit, possibly illegal threesome with Jamiroquai and Daft Punk.  If you aren’t sold based on that description, may God have mercy on your soul.

Loudon Wainwright III – One Man Guy

I love Rufus Wainwright.  He is one of my favorite singer/songwriters (second after Ryan Adams).  He does an amazing cover of this song, and gives it an extra level of meaning because he is gay.  But, recently, I’ve been interested in the music of his father, Loudon.  Talk about a talented family:  Loudon, his wife Kate McGarrigle and their kids Rufus and Martha (and poor Lucy Wainwright Roche, too, having to live up to that pedigree).  Is this a situation where the cover is better than the original?  Maybe.  But there is undeniable power in the original version, especially for me, as it is a song about living a solitary life.  Quite simply, I relate.

Adele – Someone Like You

Holy crap is this song beautiful.  If every pop song were this effortlessly gorgeous and affecting, hipsters would have nothing to hate.  Every few years, a song comes about that fully captures the melancholy of a relationship (good or bad) ending.  This is it.

Go ahead, listen to it again.

Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People (Original Version)

Sufjan Stevens released an official album last year (The excellent, engrossing, “The Age of Adz”), and there are songs on it that I adore.  Yet, I keep coming back to the title track of the pre-album EP he released shortly beforehand.  Taken together, both albums are strikingly different and strangely complementary.  While not as immediately enticing as “Illinois” (or “Come On Feel the Illinoise” if you insist), Sufjan’s 2010 input is easily as rewarding.

But, it’s this sprawling, schizophrenic, nearly 12 minute long piece of stricken majesty that I return to most of all.  Usually Sufjan compartmentalizes his music, presenting either the achingly personal or exploring the world through grandiose, detached narratives.  Here, he manages to combine the miniscule and the epic in one perfect song.  J’aime.

Bonus song:

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

These mighty bearded ones are Indie darlings, especially among the folky set.  And for that reason, they should be on the top of my list of beloved bands, and yet I’ve never really gotten into them.  Don’t get me wrong, I like their sound and the few songs of theirs that I have on my computer I enjoy thoroughly, but I’ve never been all that enticed to buy an album.  Well, this is the first single from their new album (of the same name), and it’s making me seriously consider buying it the day it comes out in May.  So good.  It’s like a journey through blooming woods in the first weeks of spring.

Vote on my next city

The King Of Limbs

The King of Limbs

This will not be a review.  This is merely my thoughts, somewhat stream-of-consciousness, as I experience the newest Radiohead album for the first time.

First off, the track list:

The King of Limbs:

01 Bloom
02 Morning Mr Magpie
03 Little by Little
04 Feral
05 Lotus Flower
06 Codex
07 Give Up the Ghost
08 Separator

I am a Radiohead-obsessive, but I do not go out of my way to track down all the live videos that get posted after shows, because I don’t like to hear them in such bad quality.  For that reason, I’ve been informed (via AtEaseWeb) that 4 of the songs have been played live before, but the only two I’ve personally heard in other forms are “Morning Mr Magpie” (which I just happened to randomly post a month ago; guess I’m pretty prescient) and Lotus Flower (which has a spiffy black and white video, watch below):

Note on the video:  Apparently there was a choreographer, but if you’ve ever seen Radiohead live before, you know that’s pretty well how Thom dances anyway.  It’s a pleasure to watch.

Okay, now then, onto the album listening party (which is occurring in my bed right now; anyone want to join me?)

I loved the opening piano tickling of first track Bloom, then the fuzz kicks in and the album goes electronic.  A little bit symbolic, methinks.  And I’m digging it so far.

I’m four tracks in (no, I’m not going track by track, I’m just going to keep writing and listening to the album on repeat) and it’s obvious that this album is going to have 2 clear comparison points: Kid A and Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser (“Feral” especially has the feel of the latter, though the way Thom’s voice is de-emphasized in the mix definitely screams Kid A era).

So I’m just going to say it:  This album is not going to be as well-received as In Rainbows.  I don’t mean critically, which will likely be positive (because so far, in my mind, this album is really solid and interesting), but I mean by fans.  After In Rainbows, which some people saw as a companion piece to OK Computer (I don’t really see it), released 10 years later, The King of Limbs feels like Kid A’s spiritual successor (a little more than) a decade later.

And we all know that Kid A turned off a lot of people (intentionally so).

So, after Radiohead became the Biggest Band In The World for the 2nd time in their career (the 1st being after OK Computer conquered the world), is this the band intentionally sabotaging that widespread recognition by using a similar release strategy but giving a much less populous, much less Pop album?

Pure speculation.  I haven’t even finished the album yet.

Now “Lotus Flower”:  So beautiful.  Clearly a standout track, Thom’s voice is as gorgeous as it gets, with the delicacy pushed to the forefront.

And “Codex”:  Haunting.  Not what I was expecting from the title.  Figured this one was going to be a lot of glitch, but it’s mostly piano and Thom’s voice right there, soft and solemn.  Really beautiful, makes me wish I had a lyrics sheet.

(Now that I’ve caught up with some of my initial thoughts, it’s giving me a chance to write about each track as it comes):

“Give Up The Ghost” is a track that I know has been around, but I’ve never heard it before (or don’t remember it).  I tend to be a sucker for Radiohead’s slower, more contemplative songs, and this one definitely fits the bill.  That makes 3 songs in a row that fall into the Slow and Beautiful mold, which is a bit unusual for Radiohead as they tend to mix them up.  Yet all three of these songs has a different sort of beauty.

Lotus Flower feels romantic (upon first listen; reading the lyrics may undermine that feeling), Codex feels sad and forlorn, and Give Up The Ghost just seems to be filled with longing, a desire for someone (the line “into your arms” emphasizes that) that is reinforced by the way Thom’s voice echoes around him.

The famous closing track.

With the exception of maybe Hail To The Thief’s “A Wolf at the Door,” Radiohead closing tracks tend to be one of the best songs on the album (I actually like “A Wolf at the Door”, it just isn’t a stand out track for me).

So, “Separator”:  A return to drums, a bit more upbeat (just a bit) and then the gradual, sneaking return of guitars.  It’s a building track, starting pretty bare, just a repeating drumline and Thom’s voice, but elements keep appearing and adding, instruments and echo.  By the time Thom starts repeating “Wake me up, wake me u-u-u-up,” his voice is just another part of the mix.  Will this count as one of the great closing tracks?  My first, honest reaction:  I don’t see it.  It’s a fairly intriguing track, but I don’t get an emotional wallop from it.

That said, “The Tourist” seemed kind of bland at first, but now it’s one of my all-time favorite tracks, a truly mesmerizing close.

So time will tell, with all of these tracks.  That’s how Radiohead works.  The best parts of their songs reveal themselves with time.  This isn’t Lady Gaga.

After a first listen (as the album goes back to the beginning for a second go round), I will say this:  It does feel like a short album, but not a throwaway track in the bunch.  In reality, it’s only 2 minutes shorter than Amnesiac, my second favorite Radiohead album, so not all that short.

Real quick rehash as I go back through:

“Bloom” definitely feels Kid A/Amnesiac era, actually reminds me of the B-Sides from that phase, Fast Track especially (with Radiohead, ‘B-Side’ is never an insult).

“Morning Mr. Magpie” is given the electronic treatment, no longer the solo acoustic track it was as a webcast demo.  It’s always hardest to embrace the songs you’ve known before in different versions (which is another reason I don’t try hard to track down advanced, live recordings of possible album songs), but I do really love how the song breaks in the middle for Thom’s ethereal voice to just float.  Sometimes that’s better than any lyrics.  This is a song (like “Nude” on In Rainbows) we fans have been waiting for an official version of for a long time, and now we have it.  I’m satisfied.

Fuzz transitions into:

“Little By Little,” a song that feels most like “In Rainbows” to me.  This one has a lot of interesting things going on in it, a sort of plastic/flamenco guitar strum in the background that is pretty different for the band.  This is a song that just chugs along with no chorus (classic Radiohead in that sense), and some floating reversed guitar in the background.  This will probably be the song that arouses the most passionate debate.  I don’t know why I say that exactly, but I just sort of sense that this song may be the bellwether for this album, in that whether you like it or not will determine whether you like the album.

And then, back to “Feral.”  Upon second listening, this track is the closest thing this album has to the ‘palate-cleanser’ tracks of Kid A and Amnesiac, “Treefingers” and “Hunting Bears.”  I say that not because it sounds like those tracks (it actually reminds me of “Kinetic,” another Kid A/Amnesiac era B-Side), but because it’s the shortest and because the lyrics are barely there, secondary to the atmosphere of the track.

Which brings me back around to “Lotus Flower” (still great).  I won’t go back around to give my second (or third) thoughts on the closing half of the album.

I will just give my summation of the album, as I’ve experienced it so far:

With over a decade since Kid A and Amnesiac released, this has the aura of a return to that form.  It’s sort of strange for a couple reasons.  While this isn’t exactly the band repeating themselves (the album definitely has it’s own vibe that’s going to make it stand out in their discography), it does feel like the band expressing a particular facet of their ability/taste that most coincides with the aforementioned electronic era of their music.

There are no hard-rockers here and very few guitars, so I definitely expect a backlash from those who never really liked Kid A in the first place.

But, the funny thing is, that album (along with Amnesiac) has gained such admiration over the previous decade that I think there will be a lot of people who absolutely embrace The King of Limbs as the return of their Radiohead.

So, a divisive album from Radiohead.  Shocker.

For me personally, I’m digging this album thoroughly.  There will be screams of “Overrated.”  There will be old time fans who love it, and those who hate it.  There will be those people out there who don’t like the album who will say that the people who do like the album are just “sheep” pretending to like Radiohead because they’re supposed to.

And at the end of the year, The King of Limbs will float in the Top 10 lists of quite a few people (with some of them even being people who dismissed the album at first).

I’m not being prophetic (though, come back and read this post on December 31st, I’ll be right), I’m just acknowledging the inevitable cycle that comes with the release of anything by Radiohead.

Is this album worth your time and money?  Quick answer is, if you like Radiohead when they mix electronic craftsmanship with beautiful serenity, then absolutely.

The real answer is, you should experience every work of art for yourself, if it interests you.  If you’ve never been a Radiohead fan, starting here won’t likely change your mind.  If you’ve been in and out throughout their discography, it’s really a crapshoot.  And if you’re like me, you’ll listen to this album over and over again until you’ve unlocked its many secrets and it becomes a part of your very being.


Stuff; or, How Radiohead is Setting Us Free

Monday morning, The Greatest Band On Earth (official title given by the Pope), announced that they were releasing their newest album, The King of Limbs, less than a week from now, Saturday.

The King of Limbs

This has made me more than a little giddy.

What Radiohead has done, yet again, is set up a situation where almost everyone in the world (those with musical taste) will be able to download the new album at once, so that the first listening of the album is a true communal experience.  That is a remarkable feat, but I think their release method is ushering in a far more interesting trend:

The end of physical consumerism.

Radiohead as a band, and Thom Yorke specifically, have commented in the past on their preference for physical media and they famously were resistant to releasing their music on iTunes (their library of albums only became available after they left the major label that retained the rights).  Like In Rainbows before it, The King of Limbs will see a physical release with an expensive, collector’s edition version of the album that includes vinyl records.  So, obviously, Radiohead is not burying the physical medium.

Also, Radiohead was not the first band to release their music digitally, not by a long shot.

Those caveats aside, Radiohead is one of the first and biggest bands to absolutely embrace the new digital medium and find a way to not only utilize the technological shift, but make it profitable.

I will download the new album, and because I am a fanatic and can’t help myself, I will likely end up owning a physical copy of it when it releases in stores (as I have every one of their albums).  But, as far as physical albums go, it will be one of the last I will ever buy (excluding any future Radiohead albums).

When I first started this blog, I wrote a post about selling the majority of my CDs.  Since then, I haven’t bought one physical album, though I’ve bought my fair share of digital albums.  Selling the CDs served a two-fold financial purpose:  It brought in some immediate cash, and it has saved me money each time I have moved since, because it requires one less box of stuff for me to ship.

Which brings me to my point:  I don’t like having stuff.  Every year since I began this project, I have shed various amounts of detritus from my life, whether it be CDs or comic books, clothes or furniture.  When I left Philly, I left behind mounds of things that I had absurdly been moving with me for the previous two years.  I left behind even more upon leaving Costa Mesa, and San Francisco, and Chicago.

When I leave Nashville, I plan to lose one more box worth of stuff that I have been keeping with me all this time:  Books.

As a writer, it’s sacrilegious for me to suggest that owning physical books is anything short of life’s greatest gift.  And the truth is, I’m not getting rid of all my books.  I’m keeping my Fitzgeralds and my Kerouacs and my Dostoevskys and the other favorites.  Selling them off would be like selling off my liver, and frankly, my love of alcohol would never allow me to do either.

But, as gorgeous and spellbinding as To Kill A Mockingbird is, I don’t need to own a hardcover copy of it.  I’ve read it twice in my life, enjoyed it both times, will recommend it to anyone who asks, but having it sit in a box under my 25″ television isn’t serving any purpose, certainly not proving my worldliness.

Since my earliest years, I’ve wanted to own one of those breathtakingly immense libraries that fills shelves from floor to ceiling.  But why?  I don’t own a house and I hope I never will.  I’m not Jay Gatsby with strangers walking through my palatial mansion, checking to see if the pages of my books have been cut.

If, someday, I am well-off enough to have a nice penthouse apartment with room for a library of books, maybe I’ll go back and stock up on the classics (both old and modern).  Certainly, if I ever have a child, I’d like her to be raised in an environment that sets books on their proper altar.

Until then, though, my books are just one more albatross.

What do I need with physical things?

I am a human, I have emotional attachment to objects, and some of those attachments are too strong even for my soulless being to break.  Mostly, though, I hold onto things because it feels like I should own them, not because I need to own them.

When I move again, I’ll have my clothes, my laptop, (hopefully just) one box of books, a box of DVDs (until I can afford a laptop with enough storage to house my film and television collection, I’m holding onto my DVDs), a box of kitchen necessities and a box of my journals/notebooks/photo albums.  And ideally, that is it.

As we talk about being ‘greener’ and leaving less of a footprint on the earth, I can’t help but think that our consumerist need to own things is a step in the wrong direction.

I’m certainly not advocating for the end of books (flipping pages is the most edifying tactile experience one can have), and I don’t foresee them going away any time soon.

But physical albums (and movies for that matter) will be going the way of the T-Rex soon enough, and I’m relishing the evolution.  Yes, the technological shift will bring with it financial pains for most industries (we’ve been going through them for a decade, at least), but they are inevitable changes and only fools will set their feet down and refuse to go with the rushing waters of change.

Less stuff in our lives means less anchors to arbitrarily tie us down.  For the first time in history, traveling around the world does not require a lifetime commitment with the risk of death or financial ruin.  Yet most of us will still stay in place our entire lives, fastened to our bookshelves and our entertainment systems and our recliners and we will be satisfied, because our things will all be there when we get home from work.

It’s been said, you can’t take it with you.

I’m asking, why would you want to?

Year End Lists

I’ll admit it.  I’m a sucker for Best Of lists and Top 10 anything.  I’ll read through a Best Opera of the Year list if I see it.   I eat it all up.

So when my favorite sites/magazines/bloggers put out their annual Best of the Year lists, I read them religiously, listen and watch samples and vote in their polls.  Some years I feel like I have a very vested interest in who tops the lists and I root for my favorites.

Something kind of unusual happened this year, though, while I was reading through Pitchfork’s Top 50:  I realized I didn’t care.  Now, it could partly be because any list that doesn’t include Arcade Fire’s killer third album, The Suburbs, in their top 10 has epically failed (and maybe Kanye’s new album is amazing, but I just can’t work up enough interest to care).

But even more so, I realized that 2010 just wasn’t a big year for music, for me. I like to make my top 10 list every year just as much as everyone else, but I realized that I couldn’t do it this time.  For one, I don’t think I bought 10 new albums this year (albums that released in this year), and for another, of the new albums I did buy, only a few made much of an impact on my listening habits.

Frankly, I’m surprised how much Arcade Fire stuck out for me this year, because despite their solid first two albums, I never gave them more than a cursory listen before this year.

Both Rufus Wainwright and Antony and the Johnsons released albums this year, two artists who I love religiously.  And while both albums are solid entries, neither has managed to wiggle their way into regular rotation for me (yet; sometimes it can take as much as a year or two before an album really grabs me, so we’ll see).

This is why I love Last.Fm.  Instead of racking my brain trying to scrape together ten albums that I can say I liked, maybe even embellishing a bit so that my tastes seem hipper, I can just look and see what albums I liked this year.  I simply zip over to my album chart and click on ’12 Months’ and I can see exactly what albums I’ve listened to throughout 2010, with a Top 10 (Top 20, Top 50) list already made out for me.

So, what do I see?  (Click picture to enlarge.)

Well, Arcade Fire’s is the only album released this year that even cracked my top 10.  Florence + The Machine’s addictive album Lungs is essentially tied with The Suburbs, but it came out smack in the middle of 2009 (I just didn’t get it until this year).

Spoon’s stereotypically strong Transference made the top 20 in the kind of unassuming way they have of always hanging around the periphery of my favorite bands, and then Rufus’s All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu squeaked in as well.  Otherwise, my top 20 consists of pretty well all modern classic albums (Radiohead’s OK Computer, Ryan Adams’s Heartbreaker, etc) and albums I discovered late (Iron & Wine’s The Shepherd’s Dog, The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America).

Now, to be fair, the one flaw of making a Best Of list based purely on listens is that albums released throughout the year just don’t have the opportunity to be listened to as much as older albums in my collection.  Of course OK Computer is going to have a lot of listens, it’s my all time favorite album and I’ve had years to grow accustomed to it and find all its charms.

New albums take time to unravel.  I can honestly say that Jónsi’s Go and Sufjan Stevens’s The Age of Adz (and his All Delighted People EP) are in my top 5 of the year, but I just haven’t owned them long enough to earn a high playcount.

All the same, looking at the album chart is fairly revealing of where I was throughout this year.  It was a hard year, and for that reason, I turned to the comfort of familiar albums quite often, it seems.

One interesting anomaly is Ryan Adams’s 48 Hours.  It’s an album that was never officially released but dates back to Heartbreaker/Gold era Ryan.  It’s a great album and it doesn’t surprise me that it has charted so high, but I do think it’s interesting to have something that was never officially released be my 2nd most listened album of the year.

As we’re all making our year end lists and looking back on the past 365 days that has arbitrarily been determined to end and begin January 1st, I think it’s fascinating to examine our past behavior for true patterns, not just tidy Top 10 ready snapshots.

So, tell, me, who have you been listening to this year?

P.S.  And feel free to send me your Top 10 lists, cause I friggin’ love ’em and I’m always open for musical suggestions.