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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
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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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
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Fat Possum
Palo Santo

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

July 28, 2006
In Shearwater's not-so-messy divorce, Okkervil River mastermind Will Sheff gave up his parental rights to the side project, leaving longtime collaborator Jonathan Meiburg with sole custody. Free to raise their baby as he sees fit, Meiburg, the multi-instrumentalist with the wide-ranging falsetto, was able to put his stamp on Palo Santo, writing all the songs himself on the fourth album from Shearwater. Without beating a dead metaphor to death, it appears the two differ somewhat on their theories of record rearing.

Hanging glistening acoustic guitar and a variety of instruments, from horns to vibes, on hooks of classical piano, Meiburg clears out most of the alt.-country clutter that filled past efforts and sets out to redefine Shearwater on Palo Santo. He succeeds remarkably, producing darkly beautiful, emotionally captivating music that can be noisy and unsettling, or as gentle as a lamb. Now dead to this world, the old grim folk personality Shearwater cultivated to mixed reviews on misery-indexing works Everybody Makes Mistakes and Winged Life has been placed in a burning car and driven over the side of a cliff into the pounding surf below. Assuming a grandiose, almost classical - sometimes even medieval - new identity, Shearwater walks away from the staged wreck a changed band, beginning with the vocals.

With Sheff out of the picture, Meiburg steps to the fore on Palo Santo, delivering a dramatic performance on that's every bit as expressive and theatrical as that of Antony in Antony And The Johnsons' I Am A Bird Now. Try as he might, Meiburg is never going to escape comparisons to his more androgynous counterpart, but rest assured, Meiburg is his own man. Over yearning, carefully struck piano chords, Meiburg, effortlessly climbing registers, wails, "All you border guards, so young and handsome in the light/Oh let me go through/One more time," in the artfully rendered opener, "La Dame et la Licorne," sounding helpless and desperate, but unbowed. In the heartbreaking "Nobody," Meiburg's tender croon quakes with profound sadness and undiminished hope, clinging to delicate acoustic guitar and soft piano that falls like snow - the instrumentation alternately spare and lush. His gossamer movements are even more sublime on the timeless fabric of "Sing, Little Birdie " - M. Ward, eat your heart out - unpredictably rising and dropping like a butterfly dancing in the humid air of summer.

Having restored youthful innocence to Palo Santo with singing that caresses words as if they were frightened doves sheltered in his trembling hands, Meiburg works on " ... culling the cancers out of our lives" in "Sing, Little Birdie." Easy finger-picking, simple stick-hitting-stick percussion, rounded horn sounds, and watery vibes float down a slow-moving creek without a care in the world, as M. Ward and Sam Beam watch approvingly from shore. The cancers leave without protest. And just to make sure he drives them out for good, Meiburg plays the avant-garde card on the angry piano-pounding numbers "Johnny Viola" and "Seventy-four, Seventy-five," recalling the urgency, and the contrasting elegance and sweat of John Cale. Given to bouts of fury, Meiburg pours out his venom in "Red Sea, Black Sea." To warped, bouncing keyboards, distorted vocal treatments and slight banjo accents, he raises the dead with impassioned lines like, "You're just pushing the darkness around."

The darkness occasionally pushes back at Meiburg, as it does in the black arts of "White Waves." Before the swaggering electric guitar comes on, Meiburg warns he "Won't go traveling tonight/Won't go back to the wolf's lair," and if you closed your eyes you'd swear Ian Curtis and all your worst nightmares were in the room with you. A treatise on fear, "White Waves" does more than whistle through the graveyard. It walks boldly on, with Meiburg raising his discomforting voice - perhaps to mask his trepidation. Lyrically, Palo Santo is willfully obscure, but because the themes are so universal, it's impossible not to get Meiburg's meaning - just as it's impossible not to be affected by this music. A wonderful combination of traditional and modern arrangements, with thorny nests of distortion and feedback lying underneath, Palo Santo is a Southern Gothic epic in the tradition of Will Oldham - see "Hail, Mary" - that's full of grace and beauty, and gathering storm clouds. Do not immediately seek shelter.

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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