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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
M. Ward
Transistor Radio
Merge Records

Rating: 8/10 ?

June 20, 2005
When I first heard M. Ward's Transistor Radio and read an interview he did in Newsweek, I felt a notion of nostalgia; not necessarily in an old-fashioned way - which relies on being immersed in a non-current style - but rather that he is performing to honor personal memories of the past.

Ward said he remembered the powerful presence that radio had in his life when he was younger. I'm sure all of us have similar memories - going on long car trips in the van or station wagon and listening to fuzzy ballgames or theater radio on Saturday nights before dinner was ready, or top 40 hits while on the way to the relatives' house around Christmastime.

M. Ward's memories are a bit more specific with Transistor Radio; almost like a romantic troubadour, Ward has a penchant for simple, gracefully relaxed tunes. What makes him unique is the way he wholly embodies the guitar but manages not to overpower the listener with effects and sound levels.

Much like fellow melancholic indie acoustic guitarist Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, Ward is entrenched in a lo-fi heaviness that comes from understated voice and acoustic guitar. His most distinguishing trait is a meek and subdued voice, with vibrato and late-breaking pitch. At times like "One Life Away", the vocals sound as if they are being recorded with a microphone at the stem of a Victrola phonograph bell, tiny and naturally distorted. "Big Boat" shows more aggressive vocals, filled with echoes and clear as he leads a band of drums, bass and piano.

Texture and detail separte M. Ward from other solo singer-guitarists, but his general songwriting formula is what gets him to the peak of exceptional list in the first place. Ward balances his knowledge of music's past (the album is dedicated to vanishing independent and open format radio stations, and he covers the Beach Boys' "You Still Believe In Me" and Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier") with a great focus for how he wants to portray himself in the present.

On this, his third full length release, he packs the album to its fullest with 16 tracks of subtle guitar loops, overdubbing, reverb, and mono-radio infected instrumentation. There is the feeling of nearly vacant, almost forgotten, dusty, rural town bars and their performers just as much as there is the essence of indie music in general within Ward. He poses ideas and questions that seem to be directed at no one, but aren't any less meaningful: "How you gonna settle your ties, when you ain't got binds to tie up?/Why burn your bridges when you can blow your bridges up?" ("Hi-Fi").

Transistor Radio is another progression in the career of one of Merge Records' finest artists. Eventually, music appreciators will be looking back nostalgically upon this, another notable happening in the history of rock.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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