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Lessons Learned: 2011

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I learned a lot this past year. For example, did you know that Nicolas Cage could have been Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings? Crazy. But for more substantial learnings about life, let's turn to this year's music, and what it told us along the way. 1. Surprise People. 2011 in music was a year of surprises and generally stepping out of one's comfort zone. Usually this was in the form of collaborations – Kanye West reached out to reigning indie king Bon Iver, and Jack White worked with Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert and even the Insane Clown Posse just to screw with you. Sometimes it came out as wild ideas like The Flaming Lips producing a 24-hour song. Certainly, stepping out of your comfort zone doesn't always produce fantastic results, but sometimes the act itself is all the incentive you need. As the saying goes, the only reward of the easy path is that it's easy. 2. Two Great Tastes Don't Always Taste Great Together. Metallica and Lou Reed taught me that you can't just smash two things together and hope for the best. In the event that you do decide to smash two wildly disparate things together, avoid the hubris of talking it up in interviews. Do not, in any situation, tell people that this is the best you've ever been, especially if both of you happen to be legends in your respective field. I know I said surprise people – but do it in a way that is self-aware of the surprise, either with humor or humbleness. 3. If You're Amazing, You Will Last Forever In 2011, everything old is new again. It seems like every year, high quality box sets and reissues of classic material ramp up, and this was no exception. Whether it was The Smiths, U2's Achtung Baby or the mythological Beach Boys' Smile, there were enticing pieces of music history given new life in today's market. Maybe you lived through their heyday, or maybe it's all new to you. The lesson here is that the past doesn't quit, and that there will always be value in yesterday's best. 4. Know When, and How, to Quit. This year saw the end of Rilo Kiley, R.E.M. and LCD Soundsystem. Each had at least a healthy amount of success, especially R.E.M., so it's not like we didn't get to enjoy them while they were around. But things happen, and there's no shame in quitting. It's just a matter of how it ends. For Rilo Kiley, it was an ugly dissolution of relationships described as “deception, disloyalty and greed.” For LCD Soundsystem, it was a case of going out on top, and they did it in supreme fashion with a sold out Madison Square Garden. As the year ends, you'll be reflecting and evaluating how it went, and what emotion you want to attach to its passing. Here's hoping your year warrants more of a last hurrah than a quiet fade out.

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Sasquatch 2010 Recap: Day 2

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Day 2 of Sasquatch, the most dance-oriented lineup of the weekend, was an early start for me because for some reason the organizers put Caribou’s set at 12:05. I had missed them when they played the day before I left in Portland, so I needed to see their show from what my Brooklyn friends claimed. So I pulled myself out of the tent, made an amazing breakfast of egg and cheese sandwiches, packed a lunch and headed off. I slipped right in though security with little trouble and headed straight over to the main stage to literally catch them as they went on stage. The band severely impressed the crowd, which was quite large for such an early set. Their dual drumming attack and overall talent of the band blew the crowd away.

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Releases of 2010

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Music is a funny thing, like water and insanity it comes in waves. Remember that whole boy band thing in the late 90’s? What was that all about? How did that even happen? Either way 2009 was an okay year in music, though some may say it was “meh” and 2008 was better, etc. Well, this year holds a lot of promise for amazing new music, and here are some of the best albums in store for us in 2010.

10. Joanna Newsom “Have One On Me” (release date: 2/23)

I like Joanna’s whimsical style, and the recent announcement of this being a TRIPLE album just makes me even more interested in hearing it. Plus the couple of tracks that I’ve heard on her label Drag City’s website are quite good.

9. Fleet Foxes “TBA” (release date: TBA)

“Ragged Wood” was a CD that instantly grew on lots of people. Something about those sweet, bearded voices coming down from high on a mountain just seemed to ease us all into a pleasant, Rip Van Winkle-like slumber. I can’t wait for that to happen all over again.

8. Arcade Fire “TBA” (release date: TBA)

Supposedly this album is pretty much done, being mixed/mastered. While their last album was good, it was no “Funeral” and maybe that’s a good thing. But where can Win Butler go now? As long as they can still put everything into their live shows, we’ll all be in a good place.

7. Broken Social Scene “TBA” (release date: 5/4)

It’s been awhile since the last BSS album, but you wouldn’t know it because they’ve been all over the place the last few years, either putting out “solo” albums and touring as a collective, or just popping up in odd places. Either way, looking forward to another BSS experience.

6. Frightened Rabbit “Winter of Mixed Drinks” (release date: 3/9)

I love this band, the heartbroken lyrical play and the solid instrumentation makes me think that 2010 is the year they really break out. Keep an eye on these guys as they near the sun.

5. She & Him “Volume II” (release date: 3/23)

I love me some Zooey Deschanel, as I’ve said before, but I really enjoy the classic Carpenters-style musings from her and M. Ward. It’s probably the best summer tunes for a nice drive in the hills.

4. The Dillinger Escape Plan “Option Paralysis” (release date: 3/23)

Still the most intense live band on the planet, any year that this band releases material is one I want to live through. Each record gets more and more diverse without losing the math influenced metal touch that puts a smile on my face each time.

3. Gorillaz “Plastic Beach” (release date: 3/9)

Anything Damon Albarn touched in the last 10 years has been gold, and his Gorillaz project has been the most commercially successful and universally loved. There are very, very few successful acts that have combined rock and hip hop well, and Gorillaz might be the only one that lets cartoons speak for them.

2. Radiohead “TBA” (release date: This year?)

Through the Thom Yorke??? band’s time in LA playing a series of shows, we’ve all heard some new material that’s aimed at Radiohead’s new album. I’ve been reading reports on the blogosphere about Radiohead spending the last few weeks in LA recording at some mansion that the Rat Pack used to hang out at. Supposedly there was a wrap party there the other night. Does this mean what we all hope/pray it means? Hopefully all will be revealed soon.

1. LCD Soundsystem “TBA” (release date: TBA)

I don’t know about you, but I still put on “All My Friends” to get pumped up for any type of occasion. The one time I got to see this band, they upstaged Arcade Fire. What does that say? The anticipation is building… Honorable Mentions: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists “The Brutalist Bricks” (3/9) Erykah Badu New Amerykah, Part II: Return Of The Ankh (3/30) Battles “TBA” (TBA) Amy Winehouse (TBA) (TBA obviously… if at all)

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Top 10 Songs By New Artists that Should Be Covered By Older Artists

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While the common practice is for new artists to cover old ones, I find it much more interesting when it’s the other way around. In fact, there are a lot of old crooners that are doing contemporary cover albums lately, look at Johnny Cash’s last few records before he died. Here’s a list of some crazy matchups that could be amazing.

10. Stars’ “Look Up” covered by Joni Mitchell

Joni’s sultry voice is a good fit for this Amy Millan led song off Stars’ album Heart. Hell, anything Joni sings is good enough for me, really.

9. LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” covered by Earth, Wind, and Fire

This song is an intense dance anthem that gets more insane by the verse. Imagine if this group funked the hell out of it? That pounding piano track with some brass and some booty shaking? Yes please…

8. Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers” covered by Prince

When Thom Yorke’s falsetto comes in near the end, when it gets really into swing, that’s when Prince would step in with some sexiness. He’d probably add like a 10 minute solo to the end of this. If he did one hell of a job with “Creep” why not this song?

7. Arcade Fire’s “Intervention” covered by Stevie Wonder

This song works well with the organ of course, but what about some clavinet? Stevie can sing anything with some intensity, and this bible-based reflection would be a good fit for his touch.

6. The Decemberists’ “On the Bus Mall” covered by Paul Simon

Paul Simon liked to tell stories, just like the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, though Paul’s were somewhat contemporary. Colin prefers pirates and powdered wigs. Still, this gentle song would be a good place for Paul’s poetic musings.

5. Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” covered by Tom Waits

Part of the magic of this track originally is Jeff Tweedy’s rough sounding voice, it’s like he just cried for 3 hours and then came in to record. Such a feeling could be duplicated ten fold with Tom Waits stepping in.

4. Hot Chip’s “Boy From School” covered by Sly and the Family Stone

If someone could coax Sly out of his hole long enough to play some music, this Hot Chip standout could get serious funk under it. Hot Chip with a live drummer always gets the heads shaking, as proven each time they steal LCD Soundsystem’s drummer for a show.

3. Iron and Wine’s “Sodom, South Georgia” covered by James Taylor

This song has such an old feel to it that you’d swear it was a cover already. James Taylor could give this song is personal touch by pretty much playing it straight, it already feels like he could have wrote it.

2. Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness is the Move” covered by Aretha Franklin

The Amber Coffman led standout from Bitte Orca already feels like an old R&B classic. Let Aretha get up there and show you how it’s done, Amber. Don’t worry, she’ll kill it.

1. Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks” by Bob Dylan

While Dylan’s voice isn’t quite as quality as days gone by, the closer to Bon Iver’s beautiful For Emma, Forever Ago is made for Dylan. It’s sparse, but very rhythmic and lyrically driven. The best part is that Dylan would make it a new song altogether, adding his own brand of genius to the already solid track.

Honorable Mentions Anything by Grizzly Bear covered by The Beach Boys Jenny Lewis’ “Rise Up With Fists” covered by Loretta Lynn My Morning Jacket’s “Librarian” covered by Fleetwood Mac Ida Maria’s “Oh my God” covered by The Violent Femmes

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