Thursday, December 23, 2010

Best of 2010: #1 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks

It happened in the mid July heat. Days before I’d see an excellent set by Ted Leo and his mighty Pharmacists at the Siren Festival. I dropped the needle on my copy of The Brutalist Bricks, as I had done several times a week since it’s March release. Everything went as it should, at first. But then… “No one lives for ever love, no one’s wise to try, to try, to try, to try, to try…” I had worn this LP down, old school style. Like your parents did to their Born To Run and Perry Cuomo. Thankfully the record sounds nearly as good exploding out of earbuds. (Thanks also to record companies being wise enough to offer free downloads with the far superior but also occasionally fragile LP format.) That’s when the record leaped from an early favorite to the clear front runner for album of the year, and it tightened it’s grasp for the rest of the year.

The Brutalist Bricks was never likely to top many year end lists. It’s not colossal in it’s commercial reach. It doesn’t upend rock and roll convention. What it is, is a batch of songs, most among the best of Ted Leo’s incredibly fruitful career. But Ted Leo is a workhorse, and the buzzy fly by night world of blogging(not to mention the even more depressing world of corporate magazine music typists) is often bored by consistency. So bored sometimes, that they might not notice an ever-present artist’s second renaissance.

Something in these songs seems to capture the feeling of the moment. Politics abound on the album. Somehow Leo name drops corn subsidies and Congressional pork in punk songs, and never settles for over simplified sloganeering. Instead these songs seem to understand the complexities of the issues piling up on our collective shoulders. They also provide excellent accompaniment to sooth your anxieties about the government and the economy, about the Tea Party lunatics and high unemployment.

The whole record, packed though it is with worries seems to suggest that there is reason for optimism. “Bottled and Cork,” easily one of the brightest rock singles of the year, finds common ground with Yankee doubting foreigners through life’s great equalizers, love and booze. “Even Heroes Have To Die” suggests our living isn’t futile, even though our time might be finite. The album ends with genuine End of the World 2012-style angst on the song “Last Days.” Leo demands we live for the moment even as he assumes that rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated.

Optimism seems like as good a reason as any to ware through a nice piece of vinyl. I’ve rarely heard a rock record balance a sense of intimacy without dipping into pathos or self serving confessions. Ted Leo has no time for that bunk, he has a lot to expound in forty minutes. I wonder what my year might have sounded like without The Brutalist Bricks. It seems stark. No record on this list, clearly no record this year, comes this close to where I am right now. Since I can’t sing, play guitar or write a song, I look for records that don’t just speak to me but in some way speak for me. Every once in a while I get one.

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