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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
Paul Duncan
Be Careful What You Call Home

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

December 12, 2005
Paul Duncan's words have impact. So does a shotgun blast. Though a little jarring, lines like "I spout off/I lie/I reload" from the vicious, sexually charged "You Look Like An Animal" off Duncan's latest electro-folk masterpiece Be Careful What You Call Home won't cause massive blood loss. They may hit you full in the chest and leave you gasping for air, but physically, you'll recover. You'll just have to take a minute to catch your breath. It may seem like an overstatement, but I can assure you that such is the power of Duncan's candid, miserly writing and open-ended storytelling. Language is his slave and he whips the hell out of it.

For all of the abuse that Duncan doles out through his vocals, he treats his homey, richly appointed music better. Mostly based around soft, sumptuous acoustic guitar, Duncan's songs are as elegant as a southern plantation mansion. Out of the tool shed out back come instruments like chimes, synthesizers, glockenspiel, and harmonica that lend such lush instrumentation to Be Careful What You Call Home. But, just like many a plantation, below the genteel surface of Duncan's second album is evil and misery. That dichotomy is born out in "You Look Like An Animal." What the track is about isn't exactly clear, but it seems something has happened to one of the song's characters at work. It might be a failed office affair, or it might be something more humiliating, like a public dressing down by the boss. Whatever the case, this person has brought the office home with him - the age-old cardinal sin. When Duncan sings, "At the table/After dinner/I'll show you what the workplace taught me/at the meeting in your office; in your stockings/you look like an animal," it's hard to tell what he has in mind: is it sex or something more sinister? Going by the light breathy tone of Duncan's voice, the goofy barnyard vocoder and Ben Lee's gorgeously plucked banjo, you feel like everything's going to be all right. But is it?

Duncan isn't one to kiss, or hit, and tell. But he does have a way with handling the ennui of the modern man. In the contemplative "Oil In The Fields," he relates the story of a homecoming that's not exactly a happy one. On the plane, our protagonist comes to grip with an existential crisis. As he tallies up the score of his life, he adds the "forty seven suits and ties" and the "twenty three women I don't know" and together, they equal nothing. And when Duncan mouths the words, "I'm drawn back home again/and yes, I have been drinking," you can guess that whatever demons he's running from are going to catch up with him, regardless of his destination.

That's not a comforting thought. But Duncan has ways of making you feel right at ease, what with his Southern hospitality and all. A New York City transplant that grew up in Georgia, Duncan has a dry, yet resonant voice that pours like thick brown liquor. With the instincts of a painter, he smartly incorporates peaceful found sounds of urban living - distant sirens, unintelligible conversations overheard underneath a bedroom window, rain and thunder - into the keyboard instrumental "Toy Bell." And at the beginning of "The Night Gives No Applause," a poorly organized, ponderously paced small-town marching band makes a brief appearance.

The Norman Rockwell touches belie the sophistication of Duncan's Brian Eno-meets-Nick Drake compositions. They roll along with gentle ease, from the shuffling drums and warm keys of "Oil In The Fields" to the gauzy, beautifully crafted mix of Southern rock and English folk in "Tired and Beholden." More along the lines of the orchestral pop of Eric Matthews, "In A Way" is awash in gorgeous strings and the upbeat "Content To Burn" could melt glaciers with its sunny guitars. What's amazing about Duncan is how much care he puts into the instrumental interludes of Be Careful What You Call Home. With its clicking percussion, lithe background moaning, yearning violin and Duncan's delicate ivory tinkling, "Toy Piano" is one of the most beautiful pieces of incidental music ever put to record and "Manhatten Shuffle" follows with scratchy electronica and intricate acoustic finger-picking that's heavy on melody and light on aimless noodling.

Be Careful What You Call Home is this year's Sea Change, with more electronic detail and less of the maudlin self-pity. There are wheat-textured southern accents to Be Careful What You Call Home and the pace is slow, like life in the country. But when Duncan goes for the big emotional rush, he nails it. Be Careful What You Call Home has the relaxed feel of the bedroom-style recordings that are all the rage in modern alt-folk circles, yet the arrangements are more fleshed out than most of what you hear from like-minded artists. Taking into account the whole package, from his incisive, witty lyrics to his affecting, big-hearted melodies, Duncan makes a strong case for inclusion on the A-list of today's songwriters. Just don't expect him to say much when it happens. From the song "In A Way" comes Duncan's flippant theory on lyrical economy. He writes, "In a time of wordy music/ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba." Nobody's ever said it better than that.

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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