A new thing I'm doing this year is superlative awards: Individual awards doled out to particular albums or artists. You'll note that some are lighthearted, but there are some albums I wanted to call particular attention to. Off we go:
The "I Actually Liked This Album" Award
Awarded to the album I assumed I'd dislike, but wound up enjoying. And the winner is...
Jenny and Johnny - I'm Having Fun Now
Ever come across and album and think, "Man, I'm going to hate this." For whatever reason, I assumed this was going to be the case with I'm Having Fun Now. Jenny Lewis has never really done it for me (looks aside, of course). Plus, she wrote one of the worst songs of the past ten years, IMO. But on a lark, I nabbed her new album. And what can I say, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It's not a work of staggering musical genius, but I doubt that was the goal. It was a pet project--Jenny and her man (Jonathan Rice), cobbling together a handful of warm pop-rock tunes. It was also a nice treat to see them open for Band of Horses, a performance that sort of certified my acceptance of the album. Well done, Jenny and Johnny, for quietly releasing a super summer album.
The "Saddest Fucking Thing Ever" Award
Mark McGrath hosts Don't Forget the Lyrics!
Barely a week ago, I was watching a Saturday Night Live rerun on VH1 with some friends. The show ended, and before we could change the channel, Don't Forget the Lyrics! began. And, for some strange reason, Mark McGrath was there. In a suit. With a microphone. He was all exuberant and smiley, and he introduced the first contestant, some fat lady. He interacted with her in a way that was becoming of a gameshow host--lighthearted banter, appropriate physical contact such as shoulder squeezes. Good clean fun! And it wasn't like he was trying to maintain an image or anything. The guy hammed it up, and very much sunk his teeth into the role of a grinning shithead gameshow host. It was very confusing. Jarring, even. How did he get here? Isn't he the douchey, tatted-up lead singer of a crappy 90s band, a madman who once publicly went off on a teenager for calling his band "Sugar Gay"? It's not like I was a fan of Sugar Ray or thought McGrath was the posterchild for badassery. But I had this perception of the guy. I figured he'd go do his thing with Sugar Ray--you know, dress up in shin-length shorts and wifebeaters and play neutered alt-rock for high schoolers--and then go throw on some obscure punk records and smoke pot and skateboard. Remember, Sugar Ray was actually a shitty nu-metal band before they were a shitty pop-rock band. And now he's a gameshow host? This wasn't part of the plan, Mark! It should be noted that he previously hosted Extra, so the writing was on the wall. It's a sad, strange reality that yesterday's douchey musicians are today's harmless television personalities.
The "Best Live Album" Award
The Avett Brothers - Live, Volume 3
Since Live, Volume 2 came out in 2005, things have gone well for the Avett Brothers. Specifically, they released arguably their three most popular albums in Four Thieves Gone, Emotionalism, and I and Love and You. It's not hard to notice that, from an intensity standpoint, they've taken their foot off the gas a bit. Each album is a little more polished and reined in than its predecessor, and this has been offputting to some people. Would a third live album--one that largely covers these three releases--reflect their steadily developing sense of restraint? If you've seen them recently, you already know the answer. The band has had to expand their attack now that they're playing to civic centers instead of dive bars, but the music doesn't suffer, nor has their obvious passion for playing live music dwindled. Rest assured, Live, Volume 3 is an intense collection. I still prefer the raw intimacy captured on Volume 2, but I like that Volume 3 isn't just the same thing with newer songs. Rather, it showcases the band's current level of success, and will forever serve as a snapshot for this stretch the band's history. Incidentally, it was my only opportunity to hear "Talk On Indolence" live this year, since they neglected to play it either time I saw them in 2010...
The "Best Instrumental Album" Award
Marc Ribot - Silent Movies
Marc Ribot--a guitarist noteworthy for his contributions to the works of Tom Waits--released this barren, delicate instrumental guitar album a few months ago. I'll keep this write-up short, as this album appears on my list of the year's top albums, so I'll expound on it then. The list should show up next week. Get excited!
4 more Superlative Awards will be doled out tomorrow. See you then...