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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
(Happy) Album
Goodnight Records

Rating: 8/10 ?

November 29, 2005
He was Sad in 2002. Then he was Angry in 2004's Psychic Songs, also known as the Angry Album. Now, a year later, Askeleton creator and multi-instrumentalist Knol Tate is (Happy) ...Or so he would have you believe on this, the third and last album in Askeleton's trilogy of emotionally-themed records. The parentheses are a dead giveaway, don't you think? If this is indeed "happy" music, Tate would have no reason to qualify the word; he'd be hugging purple cartoon dinosaurs and playing tambourine with the Hare Krishnas at the airport, not writing dead-on social critiques aimed at the most ridiculous of animals, human beings.

You'll have to forgive the sarcastic tone of Tate's lyrics on the (Happy) Album; he's not trying to be malicious when he talks about how "this memoir you wrote is full of cum" in the song "Cities, Not The People In Them," or how, in conversations he overhears, self-absorbed "people are talking to themselves" in "Places Where People Gather." Rather, Tate seems amused and pleasantly bewildered by how silly we all are, by how we worry about the dumbest things and how we secretly long to make real connections with people while doing everything we can to sabotage those relationships. Even in the face of humanity's head-scratching foibles, Tate sees a reason to give a damn, even going so far as to sing, "Sad people are worth the fight," in "Some People/Things." That positive attitude, so plainly and forcefully communicated in the pumping electro-pop of "Life Is A Mood," pervades the (Happy) Album, and the good karma rubs off on Askeleton's slightly skewed, bittersweet indie-pop.

Minimizing the more digital elements of previous efforts and abandoning altogether the use of samples, Tate keeps the arrangements of (Happy) Album simple and tight, as if he's making a bed with hospital corners. Usually Tate starts with a lone circuitous guitar riff, then he adds gilded accents like the emotive horns of "Anti-Saints With Words In Their Mouths," or odd percussion, or brief electronic eruptions. Underneath these notions lies a well-constructed framework of taut, bouncing bass lines and efficient drumming, made soft by the pearly beds of keyboards in songs like "Thieves Choke On Spit," but it's those big rushing climaxes - like in the closer "Community Of Suffering And Struggle" or "Places Where People Gather" - that bring the house down.

Though the pattern becomes altogether too familiar - even formulaic - after repeated listens, the strong melodic tension and bright shine of these affecting songs makes them hard to resist. Cohesive and sinewy, the (Happy) Album has the gripping current of Spoon's Girls Can Tell and the compact structures and flooding emotions of Built To Spill's There's Nothing Wrong With Love. It's ambitious but not overblown; even the grandiose finishes build naturally and organically, like in the affecting "People Who Drive Cars."

Tate's understated brilliance comes through in the Fourth of July sparkle of the aforementioned "Places Where People Gather" and "Cities, Not The People In Them," a pop gem with a smiling chorus of regular-folk backing vocals that practically gleams. Coming early in the record, they suck you in with their drawn-out hooks, smartly setting you up for the combustible "People, Not The Cities They Live In." With energy to burn, the track's slashing guitar brings the (Happy) Album to a rapid boil. The rest of the album simmers on the stove, with Tate's cooking bring out a variety of pop flavors, from the pretty piano and woeful strings of "Someone Moved To Suburban California" to the wicked electronic sniping and goofy human beat box of the sunny "Can I Taste Rock N' Roll?" If you can't taste it on the (Happy) Album, your musical diet must be lacking essential vitamins and nutrients.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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