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[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » 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
John Cale
Black Acetate

Rating: 5.5/10 ?

December 5, 2005
In his best roles, John Cale operates by noting an absence and then filling that void. If it's a pop song, he finds a way to give it a sinister aftertaste, lacing melody with dissonant, unsteady notes or jarring drones. In an avant-garde context, Cale works to prevent bookish endeavors from spinning off into the realm of the unlistenable by acting as an anchor, always keeping the listener's sanity in mind. As a collaborator, he's excellent at balancing and keeping other artists in check, and as a solo artist, he's found ways to compliment his own warring sensibilities, resulting in stellar outings like Vintage Violence and Paris 1919.

After the '70s, though, Cale's solo work began to include more and more rabbit trails. You could sense his focus lessening as early as 1980's rock stomp yawner Honi Sott, and you could feel it coming undone entirely when he read Dylan Thomas poetry against a half-baked synth smoke screen for 1989's Words for the Dying. Here, the absences spoke louder than the music itself.

Black Acetate continues the return to a fuller, more balanced aesthetic that Cale began with 2003's Hobo Sapiens. It's a world of pop songs that go bump in the night, alive with snaps, claps, clicks, and clacks courtesy of our old friend the studio; there's a whole world inside this album, one with a multi-layer atmosphere. On "Outta the Bag," Cale reminds us of his best material by loading on the melodic components thickly and holding tightly to a central groove, tilling a dizzying field of Neptunes lite pop.

On a couple of other pieces, Cale also makes a convincing case for himself as a revitalized songwriter. "Satisfied" matches icicle-likes 4AD keyboards to baroque vocals, familiarizing the alien and vice versa, while "In a Flood" co-opts roots rock to beat the Yep Roc crowd at their own game. A master of sonic tensions, Cale offers plenty of disparate sounds to mull over in these songs, and in doing so produces some of his most compelling work in years.

Some unfortunate gaffes plague the rest of the album, however, derailing in execution many an idea that looked great on paper. Cale creates a sort of hard rock triptych with "Perfect," "Sold Model," and "Woman," and almost sells himself with the first song's shambling Bob Mould-y melody. Where Cale flaps up is in not allowing himself enough space for nuance atop his overdriven guitars, forcing the deployment of gaudy keyboard settings to match the guitars' "intensity" and even fumbling into a bona fide mall-punk chorus in "Perfect." "Gravel Drive" also suffers from flatness, establishing a porchlight ballad vibe but resisting inertia, content to do little more than let its guitars creek like hand-whittled rocking chairs as Cale's lyrics drone on with sentimental nothings. Almost, but not quite.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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