FT5: Ted Leo Albums – An ACL Preview

Are you ready for Austin City Limits Festival?  Well, we certainly are, and we’re working with the fine folks at the festival to guarantee that you’re filled in on all the great sights and sounds coming our way.  We’re bringing you an introduction, to those who don’t know him, to Ted Leo, one of my personal favorites, and admittedly, my man-crush of many years.  I’ve seen him solo, in the club and at a festival, and he never fails to win me over.  So, I’ve decided to rank his 5 albums, excluding his work with Chisel, so if you’re a newcomer, you’ll know where to start, and if you’re not, then you can throw out your two cents to make your case. Be sure to follow ACL Festival for more updates on great bands, and we’ll do our part to keep you updated as well.


5. Shake the Sheets

Certainly, “Me and Mia” is possibly in my top five songs Ted has ever written.  You can’t open up with those ringing guitars any better than Mr. Leo and his posse of Pharmacists.  Listening back, there are loads of great songs all over here, such as “Counting Down the Hours” and “Walking to Do.”  It’s hard to even figure out why this album is at the bottom of my list, yet there are some throwaway songs here, at least ones I didn’t fall immediately in love with when I first put it on.  It almost feels like a live album, as Ted has a sense of ferocity here that he doesn’t always have.  Hours of my college career were spent air drumming across campus during those ferocious moments.  You can rest assured though, when he plays these tracks live, such as “Little Dawn,” you’ll be pumping your fists for so long that you’ll forget the one or two moments he doesn’t win you over here.


4. The Brutalist Bricks

As it stands today, this is one of my top albums of 2010.  This is precisely the reason that it falls in at number four on the list; it’s too new.  Will I love it as much as I do today, years from now, like I do his other albums?  No one in their right mind can ignore the catchy hooks of “Even Heroes Have to Die.”  He even threw a curveball straight at my head on this one with “Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop,” as it sounds nothing like his later work, almost quiet indie folk.  And where would my year be without that shift in approach in the middle of “Bottled in Cork?”  This is the record that served as a reminder to the rest of the world that no matter how long you take to put out your next album, you’ll always have to compete with the beautiful craftsmanship of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.


3. Living with the Living

Oddly, a lot of people gave Ted some flack for this record.  They couldn’t differentiate between the heavier moments and his softer melodic side, for whatever reason.  Personally, I love this record for its experimentation with styles.  As an avid Ted follower, I know a bit about his influences, and where he’s come from.  This album is Ted wearing his heart on his sleeve for all his fans, giving every piece of himself to the audience.  “A Bottle of Buckie” had me searching my favorite liquor store, just trying to get a taste of Leo and his experiences.  Then there’s tracks like “La Costa Brava,” which bang hard, yet still have a bit of the singer-songwriter in them.  His voice never sounded as good as it does on this record, assured of his place in the indie rock hall of fame.


2. Hearts of Oak

This is the record that seemed to bring Ted lots of popularity, and deservedly so.  In 2003, I spun this album more than anything else on the grid.  If you’re a fan of listening to albums all the way through, then this is where you begin, as every single song here is ridiculously solid.  Personally, I think everyone needs to listen to “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead” and “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone” at least ten times during the year to cleanse your palate of all other music.  Seriously, the ringing guitars, his distinctive vocals, his enthusiasm amidst the Bush presidency.  If you want to see an artists who can do no wrong within a record, then you need your hands on Hearts of Oak; every song is full of passion from all band members, and they all are just absolutely great.  If I had to be buried with an album, it would be this one.  Everyone in the afterlife would be happy I brought such great tunes.


1. Tyranny of Distance

Wait? Hearts of Oak isn’t number one?  No, but I have to explain.  Musically, it probably should be, but personally, this one will forever be my favorite.  It’s like experiencing something life-altering, where you always remember.  I was with my dear friend Tim, just sharing beers and playing Tony Hawk.  We would try to one up one another with hidden gems in our collections.  Tim busted out Ted. There’s a music when strings come in during the opening track of “Biomusicology” before the band kicks back in, and it just grabbed me, and never let go.  His falsetto during “Dial Up” as the guitars begin to ring and the drums roll on that high hat, I’ll never be able to relive that experience again.  I blame Tim for my addiction, but I thank him, as well, for introducing me to one of the greatest songwriters of the last decade.  Perhaps, new listeners should start here.  I can’t promise the exact same experience I had, but one thing is for sure, this album will begin a love affair you’ll never give up.


Admittedly, I’m an obsessed Ted-head, but he deserves my love and devotion.  I mean, really, I don’t have a single complaint about any of these albums, but I wanted to rank them, in case anyone wants to get started with their own Ted Leo love affair (I suggest you do!).  Start here, go slow, and absorb every bit that he has to offer.  You can catch Ted and his band at 12:30 on the Budweiser Stage. Honestly, this will be one of the highlights of the festival, and you absolutely would be doing yourself a disservice if you miss it.



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