- Two Cow Garage, Sweet Saint Me—My favorite band in the world does it again. With Sweet Saint Me, Two Cow serve up an amazingly complete collection of songs. The highs are tighter and more mature than anything else in their catalog. Sweet Saint Me opens up with “Sally, I've Been Shot,” which, lyrically, took my breath away from first listen...and continues do to so every other play; how can it not, with a chorus that includes “Hello, Mrs. Hayes, this is Holden, and I'm so sorry to wake you up, but righteous boys caught me down in midtown, and I'm choking on the blood. What's the use?” There are so many perfect songs on here: “Lydia,” “Soundtrack to My Summer,” “Insolent Youth”...and you gotta love any disc with a song title like “Lucy and the Butcher Knife” (which exceeds the promise of its totally bitchin' name).
- The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever—The Hold Steady somehow manage to constantly refine and improve themselves. While this might not have quite as much edge as their earlier efforts, it makes up for it with improved vocals (particularly “Weekenders), improved textures (“The Sweet Part of the City”), improved musicianship (the solo in “Soft in the Center”), and what might just be the perfect pop song (“Hurricane J”) with the perfect lyrics (“They didn't name her for a saint, they named her for a storm, so how's she supposed to think about how it's gonna feel in the morning?”). Even more impressive, The Hold Steady managed to pull it off live, not just in front of big crowds (at Detroit's Fillmore) but in small bars (Toledo's Headliners). These guys keep improving, and this could've easily been my top pick.
- Ghost Shirt, Daniel—This too could've been my top pick. I received Ghost Shirt's first album (Domestique) after much struggles with a horrible online retailer. By the time I finally got their first cd, though, Ghost Shirt had already topped it with Daniel. Daniel is not as polished as their debut, but that works in the favor of this collection of songs. It moves from clean to distortion, from control to abandon, from beauty to rage, and everywhere in between. Astounding lyrical depth is only boosted by Ghost Shirt's arrangements...this is already a band strength, but the unexpected orchestration here takes everything to new heights. I first discovered Ghost Shirt when in Columbus to see a Two Cow Garage show. I'd heard a few online tracks, but they were amazingly cool and solid live. If there's ever a band to prove that you don't need a music industry to have awesome music, it's Ghost Shirt.
- Sick of Sarah, 2205—To be honest, I didn't really care for Sick of Sarah's debut...it seemed like all the rock and all the edge had been produced out of it. That is definitely not an issue with 2205, which manages to capture both the edge and the sophistication of this band. Infinitely quotable (“I'll do anything you ask for, anything you wanted, as long as it's free”), infinitely hummable (I dare you to quit humming “Kick Back” [see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqyBj11L45Q&feature=youtube_gdata] or “Kiss Me”, while still capable of bringing the rock (“Autograph”). They are awesome live, so go see them if you have a chance.
- The Sword, Warp Riders—This is one of the latest additions to my list (thanks, Spicoli!). Utterly fun and cool metal that makes me wanna grow my hair long...and almost makes me want to go back to double coil pickups.
- Hemline Theory, For The Stranger—More proof that the music industry is utterly superfluous when it comes to good music. Bowling Green's own Hemline Theory describes themselves as “Cabaret inspired rock with sultry female vocals and evocative lyrics.” I just think they're utterly smooth and cool, awesome musicians and cool people to boot. Go to cdbaby or iTunes and give them a shot. We got a chance to play with them in December and they were great...and I'm not just saying that because they gave the audience cupcakes.
- Superchunk, Majesty Shredding—These guys are a new discovery for me...and I always love discovering anyone who loves distortion as much as I do, is able to pair it with good songs, and realizes that good musicianship and songwriting can and should be paired with raucousness.
- Glossary, Feral Fire—Glossary continues to get closer to where they need to go, and this album is the best thing they've done yet. First off, it's an amazing sounding album...Matt Pence does his usual brilliant job pulling the rawk out of a band. But it's also much looser and cooler than previous efforts. If the opening duo of “Lonely is a Town” and “Save Your Money for the Weekend” doesn't get you moving, well, you might have bedsores.
- Peter Wolf, Midnight Souvenirs—who would've guessed that, post J. Giles Band, he had become such a bang-on honest songwriter? Good rock and roll with swagger.
- Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do—After a disappointing few albums (including the overwhelming sprawl of Brighter Than Creation's Darkness), the Truckers return with what is their best album since The Dirty South. Of course, the Mike Cooley songs, particularly “Birthday Boy” and “Eyes Like Glue” are awesome...proof that Cooley is cooler than you. However, Patterson Hood's contributions are better than they've been for a while...and “After The Scene Dies” is one of the best and most insightful DBT songs in ages.
Other album thoughts: I really tried with Titus Andronicus and Black Keyes, but I just don't get them. I really wanted to like Josh Ritter's So Runs The World Away; it certainly has some brilliant songs (“The Curse” and “Another New World” are both jaw-dropping), but it also has a lot of weak moments. I know I need to get Arcade Fire and The Henry Clay People, but I just ran out of time.
- Two Cow Garage, “Lucy and the Butcher Knife”
- The Hold Steady, “Hurricane J”
- Ghost Shirt, “Meds”
- Sick of Sarah, “El Paso Blue”
- Josh Ritter, “The Curse”
- True Grit—This has more mood and atmosphere than anything I've seen for a while. Plus a really wonderful performance both by Matt Damon (who continues to show more range than I'd imagine) and Jeff Bridges (who is simply cooler than anyone else).
- Toy Story 3—More exciting, frightening, epic, funny, and gut-wrenching than I tought movies (let alone children's movies) could be.
- Kick-Ass—People who found this too shocking completely missed the point...if you were not disturbed by this, you were not really paying attention.
- Red—Hellen Miren as a retired assassin? Utterly awesome.
- Inception—Wild, mind-bending premise that wasn't quite achieved...but gorgeous to look at anyway.
- Justified—My new favorite show. The dialog absolutely crackles, and Tim Oliphant is amazing.
- Castle—This continues to be one of the most clever shows on television, with the best cast chemistry ever.
- Leverage-A good, hip, cool show gets even better.
- Dollhouse—True, most of season two was actually 2009, but it finished in 2010...and it really showed what could happen when Fox took their hands off and let Whedon run.
- Big Bang Theory—Clever and painfully funny at times. Yeah, the characters are way far from reality, but the humor (an example: “You know, if they took the money they spent trying to make a decent Hulk movie, they could make an actual Hulk”) is “how do they think of this?” funny.
- Modern Family—One of the most consistent shows whose writing continues to deepen and add layers...all while being laugh-out-loud funny.
- Louie—Not 100% consistent, but when it works, whooboy, like early Woody Allen done better.
- Eureka-A show completely changes its back story via time-travel and leaves it that way? Cool!
I really need to catch up on: Doctor Who, Burn Notice, Terriers, The Walking Dead, Dexter. I've also been watching The Wire on DirecTV, which is better than TV should be.