10. Beach House
If you don’t pay attention, you’ll love “Teen Dream” because of Victoria Legrand’s smoky voice. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll quickly be singing along to the dreamy melodies of each memorable Beach House song. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll like this album simply because it’s tranquil and tender. Wake up. There’s no time to rest with Alex Scally on the guitar. You may not have noticed him at first with such a powerful voice up front taking charge, but take one look in the background – there! Behind the organ! Do you hear that eerie character sneaking in and out of the mix? Do you feel his energy floating around the room, bouncing from wall to wall, possessing your speakers and taking these already incredible songs to a euphoric level? Once you’ve spotted Scally, you’ll no longer be able to listen to “Teen Dream” without noticing his spirit. He’s the friendly ghost of the album, and he only makes “Teen Dream” a more welcoming place to sit and enjoy for a spell.
9. Crystal Castles
[Fiction/Last Gang/Universal Motown; 2010]
The Crystal Castles last release was about as confusing as releasing two self-titled albums in succession (which they did). Half of the songs were chilled-out dance songs, while the other half was comprised of Nintendo sampled scream-o freak-outs. It was a great album, if not in part due to this unpredictability, but it also seemed like the band was still trying to figure out exactly who they are. With their 2010 release, it’s obvious that they’ve figured it out. The Nintendo gimmick has been dropped and in its place is an electro-dance album that is melodic and chaotic at the same time. While most music of this genre is usually feel-good, Crystal Castles emanate frightening synths, produce a menacing beast within the beats, and hide an alienated, distant scream within the vocals of Alice Glass. As a result, this is an album of loss, disorder, and fear, all balled up into one focused dance album that aims to destroy all ravers in its path. Who needs ecstasy when you’ve got anarchy?
8. High On Fire
“Snakes for the Divine”
[E1 Music; 2010]
I must be honest, I have not been a metal fan for long. SongsSuck has been turning me onto all forms of metal over the past five years, but it’s been a slow, methodical process. Last year, after becoming obsessed with Slayer, the iron doors flew open and a newfound love for the genre was born. Being such a new budding metal fan, I can’t claim to have the best ear for what’s a great riff, or what’s a great solo. I’m just learning the differences between black metal, stoner metal, and doom metal. Really, it’s all quite confusing and new to me. Despite my utter metal ignorance, I do know one thing: “Snakes for the Divine” is a fucking incredible album. Unlike other albums on this list, I can’t pinpoint exactly what makes it so viciously thrilling. Maybe it’s the over-flowing amount of turbulent riffs. Maybe it’s Matt Pikes barking bellow from the depths below. Maybe it’s Greg Fidelman’s production. Whatever it is, this is an album to be reckoned with. The strangest part for me is that I always thought metal was “angry” by nature, but listening to “Snakes for the Divine” does the opposite, awakening my spirit, refreshing my energy, and igniting the flames of fortitude. Simply put: “Snakes for the Divine” makes me happy.
7. No Age
“Everything In Between”
No Age have always been noisy, but there is something different going on with “Everything in Between” that took me a while to figure out. Instead of the all-out art-punk wave of distortion that past albums have prominently featured, “Everything in Between” is as stripped down as you can get while still being abrasive. It shows the band taking a mature step toward using their biggest strength sparingly to leave the listener yearning for even more earaches. While they once splattered the overdrive and feedback haphazardly, they’ve now figured out how to access their palette and use these shades of sound when necessary. With the walls of noise torn down, the band’s masterful songwriting is left out naked for all to see, and as a result, “Everything in Between” is their most revealing album yet. Once bare and exposed, Dean Spunt sings of heartache, betrayal, depression, and addiction. I used to just like No Age because they wrote kick-ass two-man punk songs that split my ears; now I love them because they’re writing pop songs that cut straight to the heart.
I used to hate Deerhunter. Let me rephrase that; I used to hate the critics adoration of Deerhunter. Maybe it was a case of raging against something I didn’t understand. What I’d heard of “Cryptograms” was spacey, aimless stuff that floated around lethargically, much like a jellyfish. Basically, it bored me to shreds. A year later “Microcastle” came out and the critical acclaim continued for the band, so I decided I had to get down to the bottom of this whole Deerhunter phenomenon. I still found much of it to be pointless meandering, but then one day something happened: “Nothing Ever Happened” to be exact. Out of nowhere, a song arrived that, unlike the other Cnidarian stuff, had a backbone, had a beat, had a purpose. Fortunately for me, their 2010 release “Haclyon Digest” is comprised mostly of this same goal-oriented music. Don’t worry old-school Deerhunter fans; even with a backbone, the music is still frail as ever. The listless sound has been replaced by depressing lyrics like “No one cares for me, I keep no company” from “Helicopter”. Rest assured Graham Cox, I didn’t used to care for you or want to keep company with your music, but I’ve now officially joined the army of Deerhunter lemmings. Let us all rejoice our miserable demise!
5. Owen Pallett
[Domino Records; 2010]
Of all the albums I reviewed in 2010, Owen Pallett’s “Heartland” received the highest score of a 9. Here’s what I wrote: “ ‘Heartland’ is a gargantuan effort, an album produced on such a grand scale that I can’t imagine how Domino Records could fund such a monumental display. Every song is oozing with a sweeping string section, a verbose collection of horns blasting out triumph and turmoil in the same breath, and the concerto percussion group rattling away with thundering snare rolls that blend naturally with the drum machine hidden behind the timpani. The once unassuming one-man band has created a monster that D&D fans could only imagine.
Songs like ‘E is for Estranged’ and ‘Flare Gun’ are the type of orchestral fare you might hear in a Meryl Streep film, while offerings like ‘Red Sun #5’ and ‘The Great Elsewhere’ show Pallett meshing the prim with the in-proper as synths and pulsating rhythms bleed into the strings, a symbolic sound that fits with the storyline of the album. It feels as if the future is looming in the shadows, waiting to pounce upon the chaste and steal away its innocence.”
4. Titus Andronicus
[XL Recordings; 2010]
Earlier this year, I wrote what I consider one of my best pieces in my review of Titus Andronicus’s “The Monitor”. Here are some parts I culled from it: “One of the only New Jersey bands that truly fits the Bruce Springsteen mold is Titus Andronicus. Not only are their songs every-man anthems, but their constant references to the Garden State are pure Bruce. They play a wide range of styles yet define them within their own rustic parameters, another Bruce trait. And although it’s no Clarence, Titus even throw in some saxophone for good measure. Chirst, on the opening track, singer Ian Graetzer makes an allusion to the Springsteen classic ‘Born to Run’ singing ‘Tramps like us, baby we were born to die!’ and later he admits ‘I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen.’
This is not a concept album, rather a concoction composed of pop-culture and history, resulting in a multi-layered, dizzying narrative. This album is like T.S. Elliot’s ‘Wasteland’ if he had written the entire poem on bar napkins while a drunken local played ‘Nebraska’ on the jukebox. The entire concept is a bit weird and pretentiously over-reaching, yet it all melds together magically, creating a world where ‘our forefathers’ and ‘a keggar on a Friday night’ can live side by side. The album does run a bit long, yet you can’t hold back a muse that was definitely born to run.”
3. Fang Island
[Sargent House; 2010]
Fang Island’s self-titled release made the number one spot on my “Best Summer Albums of 2010” and it didn’t just make it because it was “summer-y”. No, this is an album as complex as Battles “Mirrored” yet as goofy and immature as Andrew WK’s “I Get Wet”. Here’s what I had to say about it this past summer: “The opening track to Fang Island’s self-titled album features the sound of fireworks popping, reminding me of when my dad used to take us out on the 4th of July in his fishing boat to watch the display over Spirit Lake. ‘Dream of Dreams’ multi-layered, Queen-like chant brings me back to the year ‘Wayne’s World’ came out and how whenever the song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ came on the radio my brothers and I felt compelled to re-enact the famous car scene. ‘Davey Crockett’ has a swirling synth/guitar line that conjures up memories of watching ‘Reading Rainbow’ with my brother Alex and laughing our asses off at the strange synth outro, and then commencing to imitate it the remainder of the day. ‘Careful Crossers’ punk rock anthem reminds me of the summers my friends and I would make trips up to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to see punk bands sweat it out at the now closed Pomp Room. ‘Daisy’ and its organ heavy backing track transports me to the summer I worked the late shift at a gas station and listened to Bob Dylan’s organ-heavy ‘Blonde On Blonde’ while selling cigarettes to meth addicts. ‘The Illinois’ is filled with guitar solos that almost seem stolen straight from classic video games, pulling my consciousness back to the days when, after a long day at the swimming pool, my friends and I would ride our bikes to the video store to rent the latest Nintendo game. Simply put: Fang Island makes me feel like a kid again. And isn’t that what summer is all about?”
“King of the Beach”
[Fat Possum; 2010]
If you haven’t noticed yet, both my top 40 albums list and top 100 songs list are riddled with pop-punk. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for a catchy little punk song. So what makes Wavves “King of the Beach” better than 2010 releases by others pop-punk greats like Male Bonding, Superchunk, Cloud Nothings, and Ty Segall? Well, “King of the Beach” is more than just a collection of memorable 2-minute songs. On the surface, you may place the pop-punk label on this album with its front-loaded first three animated anthems. Although the fun is briefly interrupted by the “Pet Sounds”-esque “When Will You Come” the album quickly returns to the skate park for a couple more adrenaline fueled melodies. Then, mid-way through the entire album, the real turn toward the strange occurs. “Baseball Cards” and “Mickey Mouse” are filled with expanding atmospheres reminiscent of Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch”. “Convertible Balloon” and “Linus Spacehead” are adventurous pop songs held within the same strange world found in Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets”. But Wavves are at their best when all of these various sounds come together like they do on “Green Eyes”. On the song, Nathan Williams sings “My own friends hate me, but I don’t give a shit.” And really, why would you give a shit when you can write songs that seem so simple but are truly complex masterpieces that don’t fit within one specific genre; not even pop-punk.
1. Arcade Fire
With the economy the way it has been this past year, you would think it’d be pretty tough to be an American these days, but somehow we continue to survive. Maybe it’s our steady diet of fast food, or maybe its our ability to distract ourselves with reality television and celebrity gossip. Whatever the cause of America’s resilience, it seems nothing can keep us from our daily, zombie-like trudge through life. It really is pretty easy to get through adversity with the American model of excess equals happiness…but then there are those moments, sitting in traffic, dazing off into the horizon of billboards – those moments of self-awareness. Questions arise: how did I get here? Where has the time gone? When I did I get old? What happened to my dreams?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either fooling yourself or listening to Bill O’Reilly on your commute home. On “The Suburbs” Arcade Fire have created a grandiose collection of songs that explore the modern man and the world of distractions we’ve created to forget the reality of what we’ve all become. Throughout the album, motifs continually rise to the surface, whether it be kids, cars, letters, darkness vs. light, or of course the suburbs that have erased our memories (and street names for that matter). The album is one long drive through suburbia, searching for that childhood home that has now been buried under “dead shopping malls (that) rise like mountains”. You would think with 16 tracks all focused on the same overlying idea, “The Suburbs” would get about as monotonous as a real drive through suburbia, but following the Bruce Springsteen model, each song shows the same theme through a different lens, creating a well-rounded study on the perils of the American Dream. In the end, we are all lost in the sprawl “searching every corner of the Earth” for that home we lost so long ago.