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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
Crooked Fingers
Dignity & Shame
Merge Records

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

February 22, 2005
I have a friend who likes to introduce others to Crooked Fingers with Reservoir Songs, their release of cover songs. While I've always been a bit dubious of any artist who makes his or her strongest initial with a rendition of another artist's song (Alien Ant Farm, anyone?), I can stand by my friend's recommendation in Crooked Fingers' case, because the idea of borrowing and even outright stealing has been so critical in every song in Eric Bachmann's post-Archers oeuvre.

Eric Bachmann embraces tradition, convention, and heritage with an openness that makes callous elitists grimace, with Dignity and Shame standing as yet another fine celebration of pop music pleasures both guilty and not-so-guilty.

His penchant for thievery creates many of the record's finest musical moments: "Twilight Creeps" might be his purest Springsteen homage yet, with River-era piano lines and strong/sensitive blue collar vocals sketching out a woman "shuffling down the sidewalk scuffing up her brand new shiny leather shoes"; Lara Meyerratken's vocal hook in the refrain also calls to mind some of Prefab Sprout's ballads.

Soaring rocker "Coldways" draws from a less defined template, but it's pretty easy to recognize it's pummeling Zeppelin bass line - for a few notes, you'll swear it's "No Quarter," and during the chorus, it provides a hard rock underwire that usually only pokes through in Crooked Fingers' live shows.

"Destroyer" pulls a page from the Dean Wareham songbook, plodding through the verses and ending with a bonfire of a guitar solo that could've worked on On Fire, and "Valerie" cops a mariachi horn section for its Calexico/Love-tinged drunken serenade. "Call to Love" features the album's most questionable plundering - it sounds like Spoon covering Third Eye Blind's "Never Let You Go" (seriously) - but stops just short of plummeting into treacherous OC soundtrack territory and ultimately succeeds (though just barely).

As with other Crooked Fingers albums, Bachmann's stories really command most of our attention here, and they serve to elevate his songs beyond just being clever pastiches of pop music. Bachmann spends the majority of the album exploring his titular themes within the context of romantic relationships. Shame receives most of his attention.

In "You Must Build a Fire," for instance, he presents a character clinging to a lover in spite of the "wicked things" she does, while "Sleep All Summer" explores the vulnerability and temptations of laziness inherent to starting anew in the wake of a failed relationship. It's in the empathy that Bachmann shows towards needy, broken people like the clumsy drunk in "Valerie" that dignity surfaces; he never condemns any of his characters, but instead seeks to explore the complications and contradictions within their situations.

Dignity and Shame is familiar territory, to be sure, both for Crooked Fingers and for pop music in general, but Bachmann's knack for confronting difficult, almost paradoxical emotions within the context of songs that gleefully meld both credible and sketchy influences guarantees that every second will be compelling. For all of his borrowing, Bachmann always ends up being the artist that only he can be.

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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