The "It Finally Clicked" Award
Bright Eyes - Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
Back in 2005, all my hip friends in college were gushing about I'm Wide Awake and It's Morning, the new album by Bright Eyes. Yearning for acceptance, I rushed out and bought Wide Awake, and soon found out what they were so excited about. It was a fully realized alt-country record, complete with sad-bastard balladry, Emmylou Harris harmonies and pedal steel licks a'plenty. Soon after, I sought out recommendations for more Bright Eyes. Most fans agreed: my next stop should be Lifted.
The first time I listened to Lifted was on a riding lawnmower. I had my iPod cranked to an idiotic level, no doubt boosting my chances of eventually hearing loss. Suffice to say, this is not a good idea, nor is it the right way to listen to Lifted. Or any record, really. But after that and a few subsequent listens, I stupidly shrugged off the album, considered it too far down the emo end of the spectrum, and retreated to Wide Awake.
Over the next five years, Conor Oberst would emerge as one of my favorite artists. But it took me nearly all that time to give Lifted another go. Glad I finally did, because now I can't put it down. I'd even be so bold to proclaim that it has surpassed Wide Awake as my favorite Bright Eyes LP. Sure, it's Conor in full-on "despair" mode, but the guy is at his best when he's got something to complain about. The anguish is spread thick, most notably on tracks like "Method Acting", "Lover I Don't Have to Love", and the ten minute closer "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to be Loved)". But there are some tender moments, like "Bowl of Oranges" and the weepy waltz "False Advertising". It's a beautifully adorned record, benefiting from the skillfull touch of producer, musician, and Monster of Folk Mike Mogis. I'm certainly happy I decided to give this one another shot. Kind of makes me wonder what other records I have that are waiting to be rediscovered.
The "Best Comedy Album" Award
David Cross - Bigger and Blackerer
If you've never watched Arrested Development, you are a lesser person for it. I apologize for being so blunt, but it's true. Seriously, go watch all 53 episodes, and if you can come back to me and say "You're wrong, I was not a lesser person before I saw AD", I will send you 50 dollars. But if you have watched AD, you know Tobias Funke, the mustachioed, never-nude doctor turned actor with a knack for unintended double entendre. He's a great character, but it's kind of funny how little he resembles the real David Cross. The real David Cross is a wildly liberal atheist with a sailor's mouth and no filter whatsoever. And this is what makes his stand-up so great. He spouts some hyper-offensive material--but all in the name of comedy. It's not like it's hate speech or anything--they're usually part of a larger satire. And I think he gets a kick out of how some folks will get so up in arms about "just jokes". But instead of just ignoring those people, he intentionally goes overboard in what seems like a deliberate attempt to simultaneously amuse his fans and disgust his detractors. For instance, on Bigger he does a bit about a date rape PSA. One of the tips suggested by the PSA is to avoid the over-consumption of alcohol, because you might "do something you'll regret...or worse". Here's the clip. You'll know what I'm referring to when he says it:
Admittedly, Bigger and Blackerer isn't flawless--the punchline for the closing bit about the cause of his despression is a total whiff--but overall, it's David Cross doing what he does so well: Being a bookish, sharp-tongued asshole and knowing it. Wisely, he injects just enough straight humor into his religious/political diatribes to make it pallatable. It's a litmus test for telling if someone has a sense of humor. Chances are, if you don't think David Cross is funny, your sense of humor on the whole is lacking. To improve it, go watch Arrested Development right away.
The "Meh" Award
Best Coast - Crazy for You
I don't dislike this album, per se. And I'll give Bethany Cosentino credit for sporting an excellent set of pipes and not being just another meek-voiced indie darling, like that chick from Pomplamoose in the Hyundai Christmas commercial. Man I want to slap that little "oh I'm so cute but OH SO INDIE DONT FORGET THAT PART LOOK A CARDIGAN" half-grin off her face. (Proverbially. HSW does not endorse the physical abuse of females except for most reality TV stars. The Snooki punch made my year...) But by the same token, do we really need another Cali-hipster beach-rock album? I know, she's all cool and quirky and is obsessed with her cat and blah blah blah, but Jesus her lyrics are so atrocious. I know she's young, so there's time for that aspect of her writing to develop. Who knows, maybe one day she'll win the "It Finally Clicked" award. But for now, all I hear when I play this album is this, if you replace "MEE" with "MEH":
The "Best New Artist" Award
(Editor's Note: I was looking for a picture of a pacifier to represent new-ness. So I typed it into a Google Image search, and Vin Deisel kept popping up. Then I remembered he was in that movie, The Pacifier. I found his pictures a lot more compelling than actual pacifiers. Therefore, this trophy shall be henceforth known as the Vinny Award.)
In some ways, the Local Natives are 2010's Fleet Foxes: A band whose debut sounds like a band in its prime. This is not the case with most debuts (see above). Even good ones tend to be a tad unambitious, or not fully developed. But Gorilla Manor is both ambitious and developed, as is the band who created it. I didn't get the chance to see Local Natives live this year, but I hear it's quite a show. As you might expect, Gorilla Manor appears in my Albums of the Year list, so I'll keep this entry short. But from here on out, my hope is that the world is unable to think "Local Natives" without first thinking "Vinny Award Winning Act."
This concludes the End of 10 Superlative awards. Now it's time to get serious. Top 20 songs and Top 25 albums should arrive next week--or at least before the new year.