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Top 10

Top 10 Songs of 2010

For the sake of balance I limited myself to one song per artist/album for my top 10 tunes of 2010. That meant like all my other lists I couldn’t make a full ten from this year’s releases – but what the heck.

Interestingly the top 2 are not videos OF the best songs, they ARE the best songs i.e. live performances that I never would have come across but for the glowing piece of wonderfulness that is Youtube. (To make the page load quicker I’ve made the non-videos small). Here goes –

1) This Too Shall Pass (Marching Band Version) – OK Go

No other song has lifted my heart this year as much as this. Thanks to Ok Go making it available for free download from their website. I’ve sometimes listened to this track 6 or 7 times in a row. Get it here – This Too Shall Pass (Marching Band Version)

2) Tightrope (Live On The David Letterman Show) – Janelle Monae

Not only is this preferable to the album version ‘cos we lose the lame Big Boi rap, but look at the band. LOOK at the band! Every member is playing as if their lives depended on it. Ever member is playing as if they are taking sole responsibilty for how the song goes down. Check out the guitarist carrying on even when his amp falls off the speaker. Truly awesome.

3) Revolutionary Died – Sho Baraka

This was a tough choice. I could have picked another 4 or 5 great tracks from the awesome Lions & Liars album not to mention Sho’s incenduary track Chaos on DJ Official’s Entermission CD. But the power, passion & poetry all come together on this track…

4) 40 Deep – Lecrae (ft. Tedashii & Trip Lee)

‘Crae, T-dot and Trip bulldoze your house to the ground and then give you a gospel tract. Git saved sucka!

5) Streets Of NY – DJ Official (ft. J.A.Z. & Magellan)

Great track perfectly matching the simmering tension in the lyrics



6) Treats – Sleigh Bells

Proof you can sound totally baddass with just a guitar and a laptop.

7) Taxi Cab – Vampire Weekend
I love how the african vibe soaks through this track without needing to make it explicit. It sounds like the british abroad

8) Azwaw 2 – Cheb Mami (1999)

Algerian Rai music mixed with a loping 12/8 beat, bagpipes and fiddle. Funky and foreign.



9) Mr Fancy Pants – Jonathan Coulton (2006)

Another example of Coulton’s ability to inject pathos into a supremely silly song. The fact that the word ‘pants’ means underpants in the UK is just icing on the cake.

10) The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks (1968)

This song has been stuck in my head since it’s appearance in Hot Fuzz. Awesome stream of conciousness lyrics, funky in an old school way and gloriously British.


 

Related Posts: Top 10 Other Stuff

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Top 10

Top 10 Albums Of 2010

The conviction that the album is dead has been growing in me and 2010 did nothing to dispel that. Despite trawling several best of lists (thanks Steve!) I found one album that I love released in 2010 (thank you Reach Records) several very good ones, and as usual a couple I love from previous years/decades/millennia.

Without further ado here they are

1) Lions & Liars – Sho Baraka

The best album by a mile. Genre jumping, serious, humorous, intelligent gospel rap. I’ve been raving about it for most of the year. Check out My Life (Nice Aim), Liars Anthem, Oh Well, Revolutionary Died.

2) Rehab – Lecrae

Lecrae shines on every single track but is let down by lame hooks from guest vocalists. However the disc is more than redeemed by tracks like High, 40 Deep, Used To Do It Too. Read my review here

3) Contra – Vampire Weekend

I was completely underwhelmed by the first album and now I can’t understand why. Perhaps it was the sucky name (pun intended). Contra is the son of Graceland & Rhythm of the Saints, right down to the wistful, bemused innocent abroad viewpoint. A band wearing the third world on it’s sleeve and not having to try too hard to prove it. Check Cousins, I Think UR A Contra, Taxi Cab.

4) Treats – Sleigh Bells

If The White Stripes had been born in the 22nd century and got all misty eyed for all that retro 21st c. technology, this is what they would have sounded like. A guy, a girl, a guitar, a laptop and a dustbin full of digital distortion. Check out Treats, Riot Rhythm, Straight A’s

5) Have One On Me – Joanna Newsom

Joanna was an Appalachian girl, cryogenically frozen in 1926, thawed out in 2001, then locked in a room with only a harp, Kate Bush’s first 4 albums and Sufjan Steven’s Illinois for company. No wonder she turned out like this. A sprawling 3 disc set of wondrous weirdness that I’m still getting my head round. Start with Easy, Have One On Me, Ribbon Bows


And the Top 5 (non 2010) Albums I heard for the first time this year.


1) Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles

It may have been a failure as a movie, but as a CD it’s filled with awesomeness. From The Fool On The Hill to I Am The Walrus, plus Strawberry Fields & Penny Lane

2) Whisper House – Duncan Sheik

The soundtrack to a Broadway show that never was, Sheik’s music blends memorable & original melodies and concepts with a total lack of concern at using a blindingly obvious and corny rhymes. Oddly compelling. Listen to I Don’t Believe In You, Oh You’ve Really Gone And Done It Now & The Tale Of Solomon Snell

3) Meli Meli – Cheb Mali

True World music from an Algerian Rai star. French hip hop, folk fiddle and bagpipes, dub reggae and Latino guitar sprinkled on top of an Arabic base to make a wonderfully spicy musical pizza. Check out Azwaw 2, Bledi, Meli Meli

4) Trill It Like It Was – The Templeton Twins With Teddy Turner & His Bunsen Burners

This album by a fake 1920’s cover band has to be heard to be believed. Sad that you won’t be able to as it’s been out of print forever. Read my post here. Check out Something, OOH OOH Guru, By The Time I Get To Phoenix  

5) Saltbreakers – Laura Veirs

No one can sing out of tune at the bottom of their range and make it sound good like Laura Veirs can. Not a concept album as such, but the reoccurring ocean imagery tie the songs together in a fantastic way. Check out Pink Light, Drink Deep, Don’t Lose Yourself 

honourable mention

Beauty Will Rise – Steven Curtis Chapman

Simply because it would have made last years list had I not bought it the last few days of 2009. Heart-wrenching honesty distilled into a beautifully melodic album. Listen to Beauty Will Rise, February 20th, Our God Is In Control

Related Posts: Other top 10 lists

My latest song: You Spoke The Stars
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Top 10

Top 10 Films of 2010

This is not a film blog, but I am a complete film nut so indulge me once a year. As with my book list most of the films weren’t released in 2010 because I don’t get out that much (having kids is my excuse).

1) Inception

2010 was the year that Christopher Nolan released a film that cured cancer, plugged the hole in the ozone layer and ended the global recession. Or at least you would think so from all the hype. What he actually did was release a special effect laden big budget film that was intelligent & well acted. Sad to say that’s a rare thing. But it was a brilliant film with a slightly lazy ending.



2) In Bruges

What starts off as a shot ’em up with a terminally dumb protagonist and industrial amounts of swearing evolves into a touching & laugh out loud funny exploration of guilt and redemption. Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleason shine.



3) The Prestige

Whereas Inception really didn’t wrong foot anyone if they stayed awake and kept their wits about them, Nolan’s Prestige pulled the rug from under you at least twice during it’s running time. (Memento did it every ten minutes, but that’s another story). A beguiling story.

4) Moon

Great films that are essentially two handers are rare but they do come along every now and again. But a film where the same actor seamlessly plays both ‘hands’ is a miracle. Sam Rockwell does the impossible, making it believable, and even managing to distinguish between the two roles even though the two characters are the same person. Has to be seem to be believed. He even has a fight with himself for goodness sake!


5) Unstoppable

I’d happily pay money to see Denzel Washington paint a fence. Thankfully this is more exciting than that. Tony Scott does a great job of keeping an essentially predictable disaster unpredictable. After all the runaway train is going to go down the tracks…

6) Erin Brockovich

Julia Roberts plays the role of a lifetime as a real life outrageously sassy heroine taking on an evil corporation . Steven Soderbergh directs the ultimate underdog story.

7) Zombieland

What made this stand out in a world of teenage Zom-coms was the interplay between Woody Harrelson’s Rambo survival nut and “I can’t believe it’s not Michael Sera”‘s teenage geek nerd. I.C.B.I.N.M.S. has his rules for Zombie survival, Woody just want to find the last twinkie on earth.

8) Despicable Me

Yep. I hate to say it but IMHO someone else made a better animated film than Pixar this year. Expect this to happen more often as Pixar continue to make films with numbers in the title.

9) Kick-Ass

Wasn’t great, but it was funny. Nicholas Cage seems born to play a deranged Dad who buys knives for his daughter. And what can you say about the line “with no power comes no responsibility”?

10) Star Trek XI

J.J. Abrams achieved the impossible. Kick started a dead franchise, won a new audience, pleased the drooling fan boys and made 1960’s lycra tops somehow blend with 21st century CG effects. The film was fun.


Honourable Mention

District 9 was awesome (unless you happen to be Nigerian) and definitely would have made the list. It’s just that I watched it about 2 hours before 2010 started. Sorry guys!

And my favourite non-movie DVD was My Name Is Earl Season 4. A real return to form (not that it ever dipped that much) and meant the series went out on a high point.

Related Posts: Top 10 books of 2010

My latest song: You Spoke The Stars
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Top 10

Top 10 Books of 2010

The title is something of a misnomer as I’m always playing catch up. Two books were published last year, one was published in 1851, the rest … somewhere in between.

These are the best books I read in 2010.

1) Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties

A erudite, witty & iconoclastic analysis of every song the Beatles recorded. Read my review here.

2) The Complete Beatles Chronicle: The Definitive Day-By-Day Guide to the Beatles’ Entire Career

Provides the context of the greatest pop music ever recorded in a story that is almost beyond belief. Parts of the story of Beatlemania resemble nothing so much as the great awakening and from the 62-66 they definitely earned the title of hardest working men in show business.

3) Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age

Who killed the music business? Steve Knopper takes us on a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions. Read my review here.

4) The Runaway Jury

Don’t judge me.

5) This Sceptred Isle : 55BC-1901

2010 was the year I finally learnt something about the country I’ve lived in all my life. Christopher Lee (not that one) made it as painless and entertaining as possible, despite his prejudice against the puritans, Cromwell and Disraeli (?!)

6) Moby Dick

Thanks to this monster of a book I now know more about whales and whaling than I ever wanted. An epic in every sense of the word, Melville takes you on a trip, sometimes so bizarre it feels more like an acid trip.

7) Mortal Engines

Reeves spins an utterly original children’s yarn of a dystopian future where the great cities are mobile and survive by devouring smaller cities. Peter Jackson has the film rights, so expect a movie sometime around 2050.

8) The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Never thought I’d enjoy a book by a choreographer, but Tharp is so widely versed in all art forms that her illustrations make everyone feel included. Full of great ideas for artists in any field.

9) Futurehit.DNA

Jay Frank examines how previous waves of technology have shaped songwriting before turning the spotlight on the digital age. Thought provoking insights on every other page.

10) Love Me Do! 

One of the earliest books on the Beatles means that this is entirely free from the airbrushing and Paul vs John agendas that mar recent books. The raw honesty is breathtaking, and the verbatim comments from press conferences are hilarious. 

Postscript

I did read some Christian books this year but non of them grabbed me sufficiently to make the list. For most of the last 20 years I’ve read almost exclusively Christian non fiction titles because that’s what interested me the most, but it was probably to my detriment if for no other reason than I found myself judging Christians who ‘wasted their lives’ reading fiction. I hope I’m becoming a little more balanced in my old age.

What’s been some of your best reads this year?

My latest song: You Spoke The Stars
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Gospel Rap Overdose

Passing over the irony about “the desire to consume” being condemned alongside adverts for artist T – Shirts, here’s a press release from Reach Records about Lecrae’s next album.

Whaddya mean next album? Didn’t he just release one? That right. But Eminem has Relapse/Recovery and ‘Crae has Rehab/Overdose. Sounds like we are definately riding someone’s coattails….

But I’m sure the album (like the last one) will be packed with good stuff. So now, a word from our sponsors…

Around every corner is the lure to consume. A desire to be satisfied. Unfortunately no human being has found anything under the sun that brings satisfaction. So we consume more, and more, and more.  Eventually, we overdose. However, there is hope–if Christianity is our Rehab. In Jesus, satisfaction can be found. Grace, love, peace and hope can be found…and there is always more. Consume more of Jesus. Overdose.

Rehab: The Overdose officially hits stores and online outlets 1.11.11.

Check out the promo video below.

To pre-order Rehab: The Overdose album go here. To pre-order the combo packages go here and go here for the new The Overdose Tshirt.

Related Posts: Rehab review

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Trip Lee & Lecrae Reviews

I’ve almost come to view Reach Records albums the way I view Pixar films. Every new one is different from the last but bound to be high quality. I was very exited at the thought of Trip Lee‘s Between Two Worlds album. His guest spots are usually a highlight on other rappers albums – so a full album of his own is bound to be awesome right? Well I’m sad to say that’s not the case.
Between Two Worlds
Judging by the Amazon reviews I may be the only person on the planet that thinks this way, but for me nothing on the album hangs together right. The overall tone of the record seems a little dark, beats are mostly uninspiring, too many tracks filled with noodly gypsy violin solos. The raps themselves are either well done but targeting topics that have been done better before or have a fresh theme or angle (like confession in Snitch or the resurrection in Invasion) that Trip doesn’t really handle in any interesting way.
Sadly it makes me want to paraphrase the comment ascribe to Dr Johnson “Your record is both good and original, but the parts that are good aren’t original and the parts that are original aren’t very good”. The production seems sonically cluttered even though on some tracks there’s very little on there and occasionally Trips vocals are almost drowned out by the track.
I can’t put my finger on what is wrong with this album. I’ve listened to it so much trying to will myself to like it more that I’ve ended up liking it even less. Trip almost sounds like a young guy who is not ready to carry his album yet – but this is his third.
The one ray of light is the first part of Twisted. For about a minute and a half the track motors along with a passion, energy and originality that seems to have bypassed the rest of the set. Racking my brains to think what was different about this track, it hit me.
The first section of the song features Lecrae all by himself.
Rehab
Which brings me to Rehab by Lecrae. He seems to have a first among equals status among the Reach Records guys, so any CD by ‘Crae is a big deal. And he doesn’t disappoint.
Every track is packed with passion, dazzling artistry and deep theology. Some things grab you first or second time around but there are lines that on the tenth listen suddenly jump out at you as you realise how profound an insight he has just managed to slot into two lines.
There are some huge tracks on this record (High, Divine Intervention, Walking On Water) but first place must go to 40 Deep. Over a track that sounds like an outtake from Kill Bill or Enter The Dragon we get 3 body slamming verses from Crae, Tedashii & Trip Lee. And back to form Trip shines (as does Tedashii – singing!).
If this record stood on Lecrae’s rapping alone it would be straight out one of 2010’s top albums, but there are a couple of things that let it down. Biggest of all are the hooks.
A chorus on a rap tune is supposed to give you something memorable to grab onto as the millions of words speed by you. The hooks for the most part fail here in an epic way. Tracks with a rap hook (40 Deep, Used To Do It Too, High) are fine, but the tracks with a sung chorus just ramble, have too many words, little definable shape (God Is Enough, ‘Nuff), and sometimes seem unsure about what the title is (Gotta Know). It sounds like Lecrae just let the singer improvise till they got something usable or wrote a rap chorus and then got someone to make up a tune.
Here’s my plea – Lecrae you need to work with a real songwriter!
Second I’m a little uncomfortable with the whole ‘rehab’ vibe. NOT cos I have a problem with Christian artists going mainstream, NOT because I’m against Christian rappers reaching out evangelistically to the unchurched. But the artwork (Lecrae blowing smoke like he has a joint just out of shot), songs like Check In and Killa and the whole Rehab concept itself, seems engineered to pull some kind of bait and switch scam on non-christians. eg “Hey kids I’m a gangster doing drugs, screwing my life up. Check me out!” but then when they buy the record it’s “hey praise the Lord, you’ve been suckered into buying a gospel rap CD”

I won’t mention the continuing Reach Records tradition of awful artwork. I’ll just say ‘light grey liner notes on grey/black background’ and leave it at that.
Overall, a lot of great songs on here and well worth checking out, but I am hoping that Lecrae can kick the habit of putting lame hooks into his music.
Related Posts: Sho Baraka Lions & Liars review
Tedashii -Identity Crisis review
My latest song: You Spoke The Stars
Other free songs by Matt Blick
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Behind The Song Songwriting

Behind The Song: You Spoke The Stars

Download this song for free!  
mp3      Chord Sheet       Lyrics   

Not another pagan hymn?

The song started life from a single word in Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. In a quote from Calvin Miller’s The Divine Symphony, God is called ‘Earthmaker’.

Earthmaker, Holy, let me now depart
For living’s such a temporary art

I thought that would make a good title and digging around in my files found the phrase “You spoke the stars” which I thought would be a good opening. Together they suggested a Psalm 8 deal – ‘if the universe is so amazing what do you see in me?’

That said I didn’t want to write another ‘pagan hymn’ as I’ve come to call them. You know, the kind of song that goes

God you made the stars,
Stars are so cool,
You are cool too

and that’s as theological as it ever gets. Not that I have a problem with such songs, per se, but I think we need more in the way of gospel content. One solution is to add a second verse that at least name-checks the cross. We have a million of these suckers, including awesome songs like Amazing God by Phatfish, What Can I Do? by Paul Baloche & Graham Kendrick even How Great Thou Art, so the church doesn’t really need any more. Sovereign Grace have a great song based on Ps 8 by Mark Altrogge called How Majestic which became my benchmark. I had to come up with something fresh or I might as well just sing Mark’s song.

Love the book Mr Tolkien. Could we just cut the ring stuff?

The initial ‘angle’ was that though God spoke creation he made us with his hands but there are several verses (including Psalm 8!) that speak of him forming the heavens with his hands and as the whole thing had a certain degree of metaphoricalness anyway (God not having literal hands) I gave up on that nuance. Next was the thought that though the stars displayed God’s power more clearly only formerly fallen human beings can proclaim his grace.

The first draft came along fairly quickly despite my usual lyrical overcomplicatedness expressed via big words and run on sentences.

Earthmaker, Earthmaker
Who are we that we should be the objects of your love?
Earthmaker, Earthmaker
All we bring is the sin that crucified your Son
Though a billion stars and galaxies
Proclaim your power more eloquently
Recieve our worship, Maker of the Earth

Everyone I played it to liked it, but no one liked the title ‘Earthmaker’ though no one could explain exactly why! That threw me for a loop. I’ve had problem lines before but never the line that the whole song is built on. It’s like trying to remake Lord of the Rings without a ring. But I tried and the rewritten chorus ‘Pure Grace’ wasn’t bad.

When you made us, it was pure grace.
Who are we that we should be the objects of your love?
When you saved us, it was pure grace –
Endless praise, cannot repay the debt we owe your Son.
Let a billion stars and galaxies
Proclaim your power more eloquently
We rejoice that we have known your grace.

But everyone liked the old chorus better. I admitted defeat for about a year.

Let it marinate

As I let the song soak for a year the desire grew to make the chorus more personal. Yes, we have fallen far short of the glory we were supposed to display but God is still ready to embrace us with his mercy just as close as he was when he took Eden’s dust in his hands.

But your mercy has found me.
In your grace, you embrace
The child that once was lost.
Let mercy surround me.
Help me see, I’ll always be
Encircled by your love.
As a billion stars and galaxies
Proclaim your power so eloquently
I will praise the mercy of my God.

I was much happier with chorus take three ‘Mercy’ and after I tightened up a few other lines we were done.

Musically it’s kind of straight forward, though one writer I sought feedback from detected my ‘Broadway influences’ showing through (I do love Gershwin, Porter & Kern)!

Download this song for free!  
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Related Posts: The story behind ‘The Morning After The Day You Saved The World’
 The story behind The Healing Song


Other free songs by Matt Blick

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Meet the New Boss (Same as the Old Boss)

I’ve  got a lot of respect for Bruce Springsteen. This interview only increased that.

He shows real humility – posing as the ‘Easter bunny’, giving due respect to fellow musicians and writers (eg Patti Smith), doesn’t take himself too seriously & shows obvious enjoyment in making music, even after all these years. And his dissing the fake scratches on Fallon’s guitar is hilarious. He doesn’t act like someone who’s sold 120 million records. And he doesn’t act like someone who’s sold his last 120 million either.

The Roots are pretty hot too.

At one point the Boss mentions obscure instrumental “Wiggle Wobble” as a good track for the Roots to cover. By the next commercial break they’ve learnt it! (Watch Springsteen’s face as they head into the break!).

As well as singing Save My Love, he pulls off a killer version of Because The Night. Remember this was an outtake that was due to be thrown away unfinished. Oh man. If only I had such diamonds in my trash can!

Fallon’s show kicked off with Springsteen sending himself up dressed as his 1970’s self dueting on Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair with erm…Neil Young.

Enjoy it. Before NBC gets all possessive.

Related Posts: Classic Rock beatboxing

My latest song: You Spoke The Stars
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