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Top 40 Albums of 2010 (40-26)

It would be an understatement to say 2010 was a great year for music.  Throughout the year I found myself listening to new album after new album and thinking, “This will definitely make my Top 20 Albums list.”  Which of course explains why I’ve doubled the list this year from 20 to 40.  While 2009 left me disappointed with many of my favorite artists releasing less than stellar albums, everyone showed up to play in 2010. Let the games begin.

Honorable Mention:

Blitzen Trapper “Destroyers of the Void”

Erykah Badu “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)”

Meursault “All Creatures Will Make Merry”

Sam Amidon “I See the Sign”

Shearwater “Golden Archipelago”

40. S. Carey

“All We Grow”

[Jagjaguwar; 2010]

While Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon was off exploring the world of hip-hop with his Kanye West affiliation, his band mate and disciple Sean Carey carried the Bon Iver flame in 2010 with his solo album “All We Grow”.  But while Vernon’s music is often barren and cold, Carey’s exudes the warmth of a winter’s fire.  The cover art of an aged childhood photo builds off this intimacy and helps stir the embers of memory within the listener.  Manned with simply a guitar, drums, and a piano, Carey build’s compositions that crescendo with emotional swells and soften for moments of contemplation.

39. Shining

“Black Jazz”

[Indie Recordings; 2010]

Back in July, I wrote of Shining’s “Black Jazz”: “On their latest release, “Blackjazz”, the doom-heads decided to try combining the two most devilish music forms from the past 100 years (jazz and black metal), resulting in an album of hellacious proportions.  Upon first listen, “Blackjazz” seems to be simply a polished black metal album, but beyond the familiar machine gun drums and crunching guitar riffs, this is more than simply black metal.  Shining rely heavily on synth, but instead of providing simply an ominous cloak, the keyboard is twinkled sporadically like a possessed Duke Ellington, venturing through scales and chord progressions more familiar to jazz night clubs than church burnings.  At times the album doesn’t even resemble music, rather a Jackson Pollock of sound, splattering up and down the malicious jazz scale in search of melody. The jazz meanderings are more obvious when Jørgen Munkeb picks up the saxophone and honks out notes like a line of tumbling dominos, notes rising and falling at will as the horn meshes with the chaos surrounding it.  These Norwegians have exorcised the true, dark spirit of jazz and unleashed it back into the world to wreak havoc.”

38. Perfume Genius

“Learning”

[Matador; 2010]

Perfume Genius’sMike Hadreas is a master storyteller, using his lo-fi, piano-motivated songs to reveal one heartbreaking tale after another.  With so many emotional stories of suicide, molestation, and drug abuse, you would think that Hadreas moonlights as a psychiatrist.  And maybe he should because beyond his captivating narratives, he also whispers one memorable melody after another, counteracting the depressing nature of the album.  His soothing melodies lift up the down-trodden characters, giving them a voice and in a strange way, giving them hope.

37. Grinderman

“Grinderman 2”

[Anti-; 2010]

On “Grinderman 2”, Nick Cave unleashes the sexual deviant within, throwing all of his 50 year old caution out the window and letting the women know that him and his “loch ness monster” have arrived with its “two great humps”.  Yes, this is 9-straight songs about Nick Cave’s penis (what I’m saying is this album pretty much dominates).  On “Grinderman 2” the band took a loose approach to their songwriting, taking a improvisational stance, and the songs thrive because of it.  Without restrictions, the album is free to be as dirty and untamed as it wants to be.

36. Caribou

“Swim”

[Merge; 2010]

Caribou’s Dan Snaith is such a show off.  On each album he’s produced a completely new sound, showing that there really is nothing he can’t do. We get it; you’re talented! On “Swim” Snaith takes the opportunity to show us all that he can make a great dance album.  Think of all those struggling other bands in the genre that have been trying to hone there sound, and then along comes Caribou and blows any progress they’ve made out of the water.  Not only does Snaith create some groovy dance beats, but he also provides a poppier sensibility to the world of club music.  And I guess that’s his secret – these aren’t dance songs at all, rather pop songs disguised in a dance beat garb. Where’s a glow stick when you need one?

35. Big Boi

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty”

[Def Jam; 2010]

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty” has the potential to be the best album of 2010, but a handful of less than stellar tracks hold it back (Jamie Fox…really?!).  Still, when this album is on, “it is on!”  The story of this album has become one of legends with the label not knowing what to do with it when Big Boi first presented it to them.  They asked, “but where’s the hit?”  Morons. The only explanation I can come up with is that with so many great songs they couldn’t tell which was the best.  The problem probably arose because what Big Boi brought to them sounded like nothing they’d ever heard before in the hip-hop world with it’s funky bass, 70s style chorus chants, and lyrics that require more than an urban dictionary to understand.  You dig home skillet?

34.Les Savy Fav

“Appetites”

[Frenchkiss; 2010]

Everyone loves a come back story, so when Les Savy Fav returned in 2007 with their album “Let’s Stay Friends”, their first album in six years, it was cause for rejoice. But now, three years later, “Appetites” didn’t receive nearly as much love, which is a damn shame because the band is still as potent as ever with track after track of raucous art rock.  “Let’s Stay Friends” gave hints toward a more melodic approach and “Appetites” continues this tradition, expanding more upon this friendlier stance. I can’t lie, I will always prefer the earlier Les Savy Fav stuff that is completely reckless and insane, but I still can’t deny myself of a great song, especially with Tim Harrington’s lyrics as biting as ever.   The band is far from finished as shown when Tim shouts in the opener, “WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE!” Let the feeding frenzy continue.

33. Four Tet

“There is Love in You”

[Domino; 2010]

I hate the term “background music” because it implies that the music isn’t worthy of your attention, yet I almost just typed that “There is Love in You” is a background album. This would be misleading.  Yes, it works perfectly as the soundtrack to your day, to your work, to your play, but to suggest it’s easy to ignore? Unwise. In fact, if the music of Four Tet’s 2010 release does anything, it intrudes your mind with a wide range of thoughts and ideas, and through its hypnotic beats you are capable of organizing your thought process.  The title “There is Love in You” implies that we all have love, but if you don’t (ahem…me) this album will nourish your heart with it’s upbeat rhythms and give you a great big hug.

32. The National

“High Violet”

[4AD; 2010]

In the latest issue of SPIN, comedian Patton Oswald was asked to listen to some of the top albums of the year, and I felt his take on The National needed to be repeated. “Is this guy lying on a couch about to fall asleep? ‘Dude, do you want to have a half-hour nap before we record? Because we have time. We don’t need to do this right now, you look really jet-lagged.” While this would seem like an insult, the lethargic, overly dramatic presentation is what makes The National’s music so spellbinding.  It would be easy to say that Matt Berninger’s voice is the source of all the syrupy sentimentality that makes “High Violet” such an absorbing listen, and I think that’s the band’s goal. But back behind Berninger’s vocals hides the Dessner brothers with their astute songwriting that lifts the emotions to a higher shade of violet.

31. Frog Eyes

“Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”

[Dead Oceans; 2010]

I’ve seen Frog Eyes perform live a handful of times, and I’ve always enjoyed their wild live shows with singer Carey Mercer spastically shaking through each song. But for some reason, I pigeon holed the band as simply a great live band not thinking much about their music beyond the stage. Not only is “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph” a (ahem) triumph, it’s one of the most ambitious albums to come out in 2010. The record is broken into four parts, all adding depth to the overall story of an escape from the constraints of life, the perils of war, and the mourning that comes with death. The guitars fight for space, battling for supremacy as General Mercer transfers his manic energy into a war cry that will chill you to the bone.  So much love is paid to Mercer’s friend Spencer Krug, but with “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”, it might be time to give Frog Eyes the respect that is due.

30. Tobacco

“Maniac Meat”

[Anti-Con; 2010]

I’ve never really gotten into Black Moth Super Rainbow, and prior to this year, I’d never heard of front man Tom Ferc and his side project Tobacco.  Then of course after a chance run-in with his remix of HEALTH’s “Die Slow”, I gave into the temptation and bought Tobacco on vinyl.  Now my addiction to its grimy sound is in full force: the affected vocals, the crunchy synth that seems to be run through a twisty straw, the basic drum tracks that call back to the age of old school hip-hop. When my friend Justin heard me listening to Tobacco he asked, “Is that an 80s band?”  While the lo-fi, 80s feel is in full effect, nothing like “Maniac Meat” ever existed in the age of Reagan.  A lot of artists take sounds from the 80s and recreate it for nostalgic purposes. Not Tobacco.  Ferc has taken the 808 drum beats of Run DMC and the synth sounds of the Eurhythmics and created something completely original.  This is what “Walk this Way” would have sounded like if Annie Lenox moved in next door to Run DMC (oh, and if Annie Lennox had throat cancer, God forbid).

29. How to Dress Well

“Love Remains”

[Lefse; 2010]

Imagine all of your childhood R&B tapes getting water damaged in your parent’s basement. Instead of throwing away all your PM Dawn, Bobby Brown, and Billy Ocean away, you decide to give them one more listen.  You locate your dusty Walkman and begin relistening to your old favorites, quickly realizing that the damage has altered these once crystal clear, overly produced 90s standards. Yet, instead of just stopping the tape, you continue to listen.  The mold and mildew have created a cacophonous atmosphere, muffled the once pristine beats, created a ghostly R&B world where love songs have turned sour with sorrow. Then you realize that you aren’t listening to your old tapes, that you aren’t in your parent’s basement, and that you don’t even own a Walkman anymore. You’re just listening to How to Dress Well’s “Love Remains” (no flood damage required).

28. Ty Segall

“Melted”

[Goner; 2010]

My friends who have kids try convincing me of the joy associated with fatherhood.  And despite what they may think, I get it.  As an obsessive music fan, I’ve watched someone like Ty Segall grow up.  On his first self-titled release the songs are ornery and fun, yet not fully developed with his barebone tambourine drums set-up (he started as a one-man band on the street corners of San Francisco).  On “Lemons” his songs grew up with a full piece band backing him, yet his songwriting seemed to be going through an awkward stage, not quite as self-assured and free as seen on his first release. But now, with “Melted”, Ty Segall is all grown up.  The songs are still youthful in spirit but more mature and confident in form.  For me, listening to “Melted” is like watching my son get his diploma (and I didn’t even have to change a diaper).

27. Kylesa

“Season of Mist”

[Spiral Shadow; 2010]

The double lead guitar has been a mainstay in metal for years, but what of the double drum lead?  Kylesa beg to answer this question with a double drum set assault that beefs up their psych metal assault. The two drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry create intricate rhythms that bounce off each other like atoms on the verge of explosion.  These pummeling beats back up a band that has created some striking metal riffs and melodic anthems for 2010.  The Devil went down to Georgia, not to find a soul to steal, but to keep metal alive within the likes of Kylesa, Baroness, and Mastodon. And based off the out-put of these bands in the last few years, the Devil did his job quite well.

26. Liars

“Sisterworld”

[Mute; 2010]

The scariest album of 2010 is not by a black metal band; it’s by a little band that was labeled as “disco-punk” early in their career.  Since that label, the band has explored a wide range of sounds, venturing off into other territories musically.  On “Sisterworld”, Liars have taken a major journey away from their roots towards what I would describe as the auditory equivalent of the “Twilight Zone”.  The music is not of this world, rather an eerie environ where danger lurks around every corner.  Or maybe it’s not another land at all, rather similar to a trip to the Overlook Hotel where the mind takes its own jaunt to the dark side.  Whatever the case, this is Liars most complete album.  They are able to transport the listener to a nightmarish soundscape and keep them planted within the horror for the entire 42 minutes.   While past releases have shown the band’s versatility, on “Sisterworld” they remain locked in the “Sisterworld” where dissonance and death reign supreme. Disco is officially dead.

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Top 100 Tracks of 2010 (25-1)

25. “Tuning Out”

Eddy Current Suppression Ring

On face value, this is just another punk rock song, but if you listen a little longer you’ll hear exactly what makes Eddy Current Suppression Ring different than others within the genre.  While most bands would wrap this song up at the two minute mark, ECSR have just begun.  The next four and a half minutes of “Tuning Out” Eddy Current takes front stage, manipulating his Stratocaster to its limit, making a gluttonous amount of squeaks and howls, showing exactly why this is his band.

24. “Crank Resolutions”

Meursault

Back in Septemeber, I wrote of Meursault and this song: “While most bands are forced to rely on a more polished production value to push the sense of urgency to a higher level, Meursault rely solely on a strange mixture of popping beats and crunching piano riffs that are reminiscent of a CB radio broadcast.Crank Resolutions’ features a beat that is beyond description (which is a good thing).”

23. “Don’t Look Back”

Kylesa

Usually, Kylesa are pretty damn scary, but on “Don’t Look Back” they sound strangely inspirational. Tony Robbins better watch his back (on second thought Tony, heed Kylesa’s advice and don’t look back).

22. “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: Innocent”

Besnard Lakes

I saw Besnard Lakes perform this song at SXSW this past year, and since then, I haven’t been able to remove the soothing chorus of “Ooh, you’re like the ocean” out of my head.  You can put your ear up to my cranium like it’s a seashell and hear the sounds of “Like the Ocean” softly echoing inside.

21. “Hey Cool Kid”

Cloud Nothings

“Hey Cool Kid” is a story of an outsider, realizing that his idol is nothing but an asshole who will “beat me back into the ground”.  Despite this, his insecurity pushes him to still keep asking for the cool kid “to come around”.

20. “Suburban War”

Arcade Fire

When I first heard this song I liked it because the guitar lick reminded me of The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter”.  Then of course I made the mistake of listening to the lyrics, and this once upbeat song spawned sorrow for those friends I’ve lost in their pursuit of adulthood:

My old friends
I can remember when
You cut your hair
We never saw you again
Now the cities we live in
Could be distant stars
And I search for you
In every passing car

19. “Sleepless in Silver Lake”

Les Savy Fav

As far as I’m concerned, there are way too many songs about Los Angeles. Where are the songs about Bozeman, Montana for Christ’s sake!? Despite the saturation of “I Love L.A.”s and “Under the Bridge”s, Les Savy Fav present a fresh take on the City of Angels with “Sleepless in Silver Lake”:

The walking wounded wrap their face in gauze.
These kids’ll kill ya just because they can.
Their teeth are bleached and their tits are tan.

18. “Black Bubblegum”

Title Tracks

I’m 86% sure that this song is about Sherry Becker who chewed Black Jack bubblegum, wore an orange dress, and witnessed Jerry Seinfeld returning Tropic of Cancer to the library in 1972 (or was it Dentyne?).

17. “The Tree”

Blitzen Trapper (featuring Alela Diane)

Another highlight of 2010 for me was my last minute trip to Portland with my brother. The two of us rented a little Vibe and drove around the area, hiking whatever peaks we could fit in within our three-day stay.  While hiking along the Cascade Ridge, we came upon 300-year-old Sitka trees – an army of menacing patriarchs, standing judicious and strong, looking down upon all that pass by.  Whenever I listen to the 2010 release from Portland’s own Blitzen Trapper I can’t help but think back to that trip, more specifically this song with its lyrics of a tree that “grows never-ending”.   Upon each listen, I’m brought back to that day, standing with my brother and looking up at the majestic beasts that surrounded us.  The addition of Portland’s first lady Alela Diane to the song only sweetens the song’s enchantment.

16. “Take It Easy”

Surfer Blood

Starts off with a tropical feel, moves into an early 90s alternative chorus, and ends with an 80s U2 outro: this is what we call a song quilt.

15. “The Boys are Out”

Hanoi Janes

Whenever I play this song I feel guilty. I bought the Hanoi Janes latest release, and after listening to it all the way through a couple times, I found myself continually going back to this song (ignoring the rest).  There is just something about the little freak out that arrives at the 30 second mark- maybe it’s the drumstick cracks, or it could possibly the call-and-response guitars that reverberate from one speaker to the other- whatever it is, “The Boys are Out” is the most fun you’ll have in under a minute thirty.

14. “The Winner”

Kris Kristofferson

“Twistable, Turnable Man” was an album of Shel Silverstien covers that came out this past year, and despite an impressive list of bands featured on it (My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, Lucinda Williams) the best cover is performed by old reliable, Kris Kristofferson.  His raspy baritone naturally works with Silverstein’s narrative songwriting. When I listen to this song, I imagine the narrator is LeBron James and Tiger Man the Cool is Michael Jordan.  It just seems fitting after finding out this past summer that James doesn’t understand what it takes to be a winner.

13. “My Gap Feels Weird”

Superchunk

I would prefer if this song were about having a pain in your taint, but it ends up ol’ Mack wrote it about going to a show and realizing you’re the oldest one there. I hate to admit that I can relate.  At least I can take comfort in knowing old folks are always welcome at a Superchunk show.

12. “Night, Night”

Big Boi (featuring B.o.B. and Joi)

“Night, Night” is one of the finest rap call-outs you’ll ever hear, not pointing out one specific MC, rather annihilating all the fools that can’t hold themselves up to Big Boi’s standard.  To back up his flow built on intelligence rather than empty threats, Big Boi blends a funky bass with a spunky female choir that is completely devoid of auto-tune.  It truly is “something new.”

11. “Marimba and Shit Drums”

Moonface

Earlier this year, I wrote of this song/album: “There is only one 20-minute song on Moonface’s EP “Dreamland” and it is called “marimba and shit-drums”.  The title is straight to the point because, in fact, the song is comprised of just that: a marimba and shit-drums.  Of course, you also hear Spencer Krug’s voice, but otherwise it is simply a marimba and shit-drums; nothing more, nothing less. The constant pulse of the marimba gives the song imminence; a feeling that the echo of the wooden bars being struck by a mallet is building towards something, racing toward a culmination.  Then, of course, the shit-drums kick in and it’s on.  The crackling of the harsh rhythm plays as the perfect antithesis to the happy-go-lucky marimba.   Krug has taken the joyful sounds of the African instrument and somehow given it tension, made it angrier, made it sound more, dare I say, hardcore.  With only two simple instruments Krug creates music that is just as dramatic and heartfelt as anything by Explosions in the Sky.  Creating explosions with only two instruments?  In essence, Krug is the MacGyver of the music world.”

10. “Glitter”

No Age

When Dean Spunt sings “I want you bad underneath my skin”, he’s encapsulating addiction. It could be a dependence to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or maybe even an abusive relationship; whatever it is, the speaker knows it will cause harm yet craves it.   For me, the addiction is to the screeching distortion that lurks in the background of this song.  To many, I’m sure this sounds like simply noise, but I keep coming back. Not because I enjoy pain, but because I’ve found beauty within that dissonance. I can’t get enough of that needling noise underneath my skin.

9. “Dance Yrself Clean”

LCD Soundsystem

I present to you an auditory cleansing. The first three minutes will help you relax, help raise your spirits. And then, well, then it’s time. James Murphy’s pumping beats and throbbing bass line burst through the speakers and spray you with an energy you didn’t have moments ago.  Suddenly, without warning, you’re on your feet moving; washing away your worries; shaking away your negative energy; dancing yourself clean.

8. “Desire Lines”

Deerhunter

If you asked me a year ago to name the top ten songs of the past decade, Deerhunter’s “Nothing Ever Happened” would have easily made the list.  Its fluid movements from one riff to the next continues to leave me in awe.  I didn’t think the band could ever top the song. Then along comes “Haclyon Digest” with the song “Desire Lines”, and I’m thrown for a loop.  Not only does this song follow the same transformational model (three minutes in the madness is unleashed), but it also features an even catchier chorus to start things off.  “Nothing Ever Happened” probably remains the quintessential Deerhunter song for me, but they are sure making things difficult.

7. “Post Acid”

Wavves

Only a year ago, everyone hated Nathan Williams for his meltdown in Barcelona, even his drummer. But now it’s officially time to exonerate him of his past mistakes.  Not only are his songs more instantaneously satisfying, but he’s also apologizing in “Post Acid” when he sings “I was just having fun with you.” Ah shucks Nathan; we forgive you.

6. “Wide Eyes”

Local Natives

The harmonizing voices, the machine gun drums, the twinkling guitar riffs: “Wide Eyes” is an example of a band finding their true potential. While much of “Gorilla Manor” is milk-toast mediocrity, this song proves that when all the pieces are put in the right place, Local Natives are capable of making extraordinary music.

5. “Round and Round”

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

All of the parts of “Round and Round” work together like a merry-go-round of melody, moving round and round, up and down, creating an experience that will have you begging for another ride through simpler times.

4. “Snakes for the Divine”

High On Fire

The metal anthem is not dead, despite what sports arenas around the country would suggest. They’d like you to believe that fist pumping and head banging died with AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica.  Wrong. Imagine if you will, your favorite sports team running onto the court/field/ice as the opening to “Snakes for the Divine” rumbles through the stadium, building a frothing mass of furious, energized fans, filled with bloodlust for a win, shaking, twitching, standing on the verge of a completely chaotic riot…. actually, it’s probably a good idea to keep High On Fire out of the stadiums (especially Detroit).

3. “Monster”

Kanye West (featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nikki Manaj, and Bon Iver)

When Kanye West sang his song “Runaway” at the VMA’s, most thought it was an admission of guilt to Taylor Swift. Not so fast my friend. Soon after “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” came out and all thoughts of apologies disappeared.  On “Monster” Kanye erases any suggestions of humility or guilt When he spouts, “I’m living in the future so my presence is my past. My presence is a present kiss my ass.” This is the musical version of Hulk Hogan joining the NWO; Kanye takes pride in his villainous portrayal.  The scariest part of “Monster” is not the flows of Rick Ross, Kanye, Jay-Z, or even the soothing vocals of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. That honor goes to Nicki Minaj’s venomous verse that electrifies and brings this monster of a song to life.

2. “A Cold Freezin’ Night”

The Books

Set to what resembles the theme music to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “A Cold Freezin’ Night” features samples of a little boy ranting about how he will kill you with a rifle, a shotgun, and cut your toes off.  In response, a little girl admits that boys are better than girls, even going so far as to wish she was a boy.  And somehow, all these chauvinist, psychotic threats are joyful due simply to a great dance beat (and a short harmonica solo never hurts). If only it was this easy to make little kids tolerable in real life.

1. “Caesar”

Ty Segall

Earlier this year I bought a record player and soon after found myself with a vinyl obsession.  Most of my records were used purchases, but I also dabbled in buying the vinyl of new releases. With many labels including a free download code with a purchase, it just seems to make more sense to get the larger than life packaging/artwork. One of my earliest purchases was Ty Segall’s “Melted”, and it quickly became a mainstay on my turntable.  Every time I listened to the album, I would get up and push the arm back to the beginning of “Caesar” to hear it one, two, maybe even three times in a row.  A month ago as I was compiling this list I put “Melted” on again only to find that during “Caesar” my record now skips.  While the loss of this song saddened me to no end, the scratch also symbolized my undying affection for this pop-punk gem. Fortunately for you, you can listen to the clip above as many times as you like without fear of a scratch (but you won’t get the full effect without it  crackling out of a record player).

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Top 100 Tracks of 2010 (100-76)

 

Just like every other year end list I’ve done for 2010, I decided to up the anty with my top tracks list by taking it from 50 to 100 songs. I know…I know…it may seem like a bit much. I can explain. Every year I compile my best songs list while making the 18 hour, cross-country drive to my parent’s house for the holidays. As I drive, I explore my i-Pod for the year’s stand-out songs and jot down titles into a notebook when I feel one is worthy of the list (not the safest driving method, I understand). By trip’s end this year, my list totaled 114.  I had a lot of fat to trim, and as I reached the 100 mark, it became more and more difficult to cut great song after great song. As a result, I’ve doubled my workload, but I don’t mind. These tracks have meant a lot to me this past year – the least I can do is give them the recognition they deserve.

 

100. “2012”

PS I Love You

What better way to start a 2010 list than with a song titled “2012”? Okay, it doesn’t make much sense, but I couldn’t help but squeeze this song on as the caboose to the list.

 

99. “Who Fingered Rock n’ Roll”

Cornershop

Back in the mid-90s Cornershop scored a hit with “Brimful of Asha”, a groovy track saturated with sitar and lyrics about using bosoms as pillows.  Unbeknownst to me, Cornershop survived the 90s and are still kicking out strange middle-eastern versions of the theme to “Wonder Years”. And they do ask a great question: who did finger rock n’ roll? My bets on Richard Marx.

98. “Arkansas”

Damien Jurado

Its nice to see Damien still thriving in the music world. His 2010 “Saint Bartlett” shows him taking his sound back to the sparse environs of “Ghost of David”, but the stand out song of the album, “Arkansas”, is probably the most produced. In the tradition of love songs to states, Jurado focuses his break-up with Arkansas.  It doesn’t necessarily have the double meaning found in a “Georgia On My Mind”, but then again, I did once date a girl named Rhode Island.

97. “I Don’t Believe You”

The Thermals

“I Don’t Believe You” is one of the only songs on The Thermals 2010 release “Personal Life” that features distorted power chords and – SHOCKER – it’s the best song on the album. A lesson in not straying from what works.

96. “Thank You For Your Love”

Antony and the Johnsons

A few months ago a fellow BDWPS contributer, PtheStudP, asked me if I’d purchased the new Antony and the Johnsons. I replied by saying, “Nah, I think I’m kinda done with Antony and his voice.” He of course berated me and called me a fool.  His verbal beating forced me to give The Johnsons one more chance, and I was quickly humbled by my disrespect.  Antony and the Johnsons – I want to thank you for your music.

95. “Racer X”

Japandroids

The Japandroids covering the Big Black song “Racer X”? YES PLEASE!

94. “What To Say”

Born Ruffians

2010 was a rough year for Born Ruffians with their disappointing release “Say It”.  Amidst the sloppy collection of songs, “What To Say” is a stand-out due to its memorable melody and its discussion of the age old inability to talk to women. Is it sad that a 32 year old man still relates to this teenage dilemma?

93. “Ain’t No Grave”

Johnny Cash

Would it be wrong of me to accuse Rick Ruben of manipulating Johnny Cash near the end of his life? I understand that Ruben’s production helped give Cash a rebirth in the music world, but now that Cash has died, more and more music keeps coming out from their sessions together, and it seems lik 90% of the tunes are about dying. I’m just saying… Despite the discomfort associated with listening to the ghost of Johnny sing on the 2010 release “American Recordings VI”, I can’t deny what an excellent song “Ain’t No Grave” turned out to be with its layers of dragging chains, spooky organs, and creaking piano keys. “Ain’t No Grave” is more evidence that Rick Ruben, manipulator or not, can make a good song great.

92. “38 Souls”

Bottomless Pit

Although I loved the music of 2010, I have to admit that the year was truly defined for me by Pavement. I spent most of my life scoffing at the suggestion of Pavement, but this year I opened up to the possibility that they may actually be good, and damn it, they were! As a result, I spent a large portion of the year searching for the modern equivalent of Pavement. I thought Bottomless Pit could fill that void, but I found that they are influenced by more than just Pavement.  For example, on “38 Souls”, a song about capturing souls, the band is able to conjure the ghosts of the 90s, channeling the sounds of Jawbox, Sebadoh, and even Dinosaur Jr. Now if they could just capture the soul of Stephen Malkmus.

91. “One Polaroid a Day”

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

This song stood out to me simply because it shows Ted Leo trying something new.  Instead of his usual falsetto rantings, this is a slow groove with Leo exploring his lower register.  He’s no Isaac Hayes, but the change of pace was welcomed in 2010.

90. “Threshold”

Beck

Doesn’t Beck sound happy on this song? That’s the sound of a man escaping the clutches of Danger Mouse. Rejoice!

89. “Be Yourself”

Robin Pecknold

I’ve always thought that Fleet Foxes sound a lot like CSNY, so it’s probably fitting that the best song on the tribute album to Graham Nash be by Robin Pecknold.

88. “Jail La La”

Dum Dum Girls

Only the Dum Dum Girls could make being “covered in shit” sound adorable.

87. “In Every Direction”

Junip

If I were to make a year end list for video games (which I have no right attempting), I would put “Red Dead Redemption” at the top due to its never ending landscape that I wasted hours of my life exploring.  My favorite part of the game’s storyline though is when you first enter into Mexico – the game shifts from its annoying harmonica music to an actual soundtrack of Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away”.  A month after passing the game, I purchased Junip’s 2010 release “Fields”, and everytime I listened to it, Jose’s voice would bring back the image of John Marston entering Mexico where there is nothing but desolation “in every direction”.

86. “General Patton”

Big Boi

When your nickname is General Patton, you better have a song that lives up to Patton’s legacy, and Big Boi steps up to the challenge with this song, an operetic-orchestral chaos that is more fit for Darth Vader than Patton.  It’s possibly the only song that will have you nodding your head to the chants of a concert choir.

85. “Heartbeat Song”

The Futureheads

When I posted my list of the “Best Summer Albums of 2010”, my friend Tim emailed me, pointing out that I once made fun of him for liking The Futureheads. I was forced to admit defeat writing, “Yeah, that’s because I’m a pretentious douche”.  Not even a pretentious douche can deny the melody of “Heartbeat Song”.

84. “Angry World”

Neil Young

Neil Young was a bit misleading with he called his new album “Le Noise” a folk metal album.  Lyrics about the plight of polar bears and bison aren’t necessarily the most metal of subject matter.  If only the album had more songs like “Angry World”, matching the wave of distortion with lyrics that delve into the darker side of the human psyche.  I’d like to believe “Angry World” presents what it may have sounded like if Neil had joined Black Sabbath when Ozzy left.

83. “Roman Candles”

Suckers

I present to you the Seven Dwarves of indie rock!  “Roman Candles” is a reminder that whistling was fun before Andrew Bird came along.

82. “July Flame”

Laura Veirs

Most depressing 4th of July song ever.

81. “Norway”

Beach House

I don’t necessarily love this song. It’s more of an addiction to the disorientation felt while listening to the sickly guitars.  Not even Robitussin can save you from the nausea of “Norway”.

80. “ONE”

Yeasayer

Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” pissed me off. When did they become a dance band? Unfortunately, “ONE” made it very difficult to hate them for long.  I would be lying if I said I’ve never danced to this song while cooking pork chops with a plum-ginger sauce. I’m straight, I SWEAR.

79. “Early Warnings”

Love is All

What if John Lennon woke up and didn’t fall out of bed, rather knocked his head on a bookshelf? What if instead of dragging a comb across his hair he almost choked on his toothbrush?  Yes my friends, we’ve discovered the anti-thesis to The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.

78. “Odessa”

Caribou

The actual city of Odessa, Texas is not nearly as fun as this song would suggest.

77. “Kids On the Run”

Tallest Man on Earth

With “Kids On the Run”, Kristian Matsson ditches his acoustic guitar for a piano, and surprisingly it’s the best song on the album.  It could be due in part to the poignant lyrics that reveal a story of two scorned lovers, still running away from their past like children. Basically, it’s “Born To Run” except in this version Wendy is trying to escape Bruce and his velvet rims.

76. “Fuck You”

Cee Lo Green

Yesterday I was riding in the car with my mom when this song came on the radio. Even though I’m a grown man, I still felt uncomfortable as the chorus arrived, knowing the YouTube sensation lyrics of “Fuck You!” were just ahead. Then, just when it arrived, the lyrics “Forget you!” came out the speakers as my mom sang along. I took comfort in knowing my mom was oblivious to the actual lyrics, and it made me realize this song is great, with or without the cursing (although I’ll take the cursing version if I must choose).

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The Roots “How I Got Over” / Maximum Balloon “S/T”

Ever since I heard Santana’s “Supernatural” I’ve held a deep hatred for the collaboration album. You know, the album where an artist features a different guest on each track, creating an album that resembles a soda-pop-suicide?  I just can’t fathom the true creativity involved when an artist pops into the studio for an afternoon and is gone the next.  After seeing “The Promise”, a documentary on the year long toil and turmoil that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band endured while recording “Darkness On the Edge of Town”, I can’t imagine the same commitment in the buffet style approach to the art form we hold dear to our hearts here at BDWPS: the album.

These guest appearance albums are common in hip-hop, where I guess they are more likely to work since the rap tradition has always grown out of family  tradition of helping up-and-coming lyricists and supporting those that have your back.  But even this can be a downfall at times. For example, Big Boi’s 2010 release is 70% incredible and 30% mediocre due simply to the likes of Jamie Foxx, Sleepy Brown, and Janelle Monae breaking up the high-energy romp that General Patton has frolicking through most of the tracks.  Two other recent albums from 2010 show the collaboration album at both its best and its worst.

Maximum Balloon
“S/T”
[DGC, 2010]

RATING: 5

Last year TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone released a solo album under the moniker Rain Machine and the results were sometimes intriguing, but more commonly hum-drum and lacking. As discussed in my review of the album, it’s difficult to match up to the magnitude found in the works of TV On the Radio.

Despite this, fellow bandmate Dave Sitek tried his hand at a solo album a month ago using the name Maximum Balloon.  The project allowed Sitek to expand the layers within his sound and let loose, creating a synth-pop jog that lends its self to the sounds of 80s artists like Prince and Talking Heads. You can tell that Sitek is having fun, free from the pressure that goes with being in a world power band like TVOTR and having to follow-up classics like “Return to Cookie Mountain” and “Dear Science”.

Yet, I can’t help but feel that Sitek may have felt TOO liberated with his music. Instead of holding his own, each track features a new vocalist ranging from Karen O to David Byrne, and even inviting his band mates Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe in to sing on a few tracks.  The result is a wide range of sound without a real focus guiding it forward. Sitek’s backing tracks aren’t signature enough to make this sound like one single artist known as Maximum Balloon; it resembles a movie soundtrack more than anything.  Sitek is the DJ at a high school dance, standing to the side providing the background music to a sea of prepubescent make-out sessions, none of which who are taking note of the “killer mix” on the speakers.

When his bandmates step in to sing, it sounds like a TV On the Radio song. When Karen O steps up to the mic it sounds like a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s song.  But even these songs aren’t strong enough to stand-alone and would likely be consider b-sides for a TVOTR or YYY album.

Kyp Malone on “Shakedown”, a real crowd pleaser…..:

There are a couple high-points on the album, including the Aku assisted opening-track “Tiger”, and “Apartment Wrestling” – the best song due to David Byrne putting Sitek’s music in a full-nelson and making it his bitch.  While other artists on the album seem tentative and bored, Byrne does what he does best and dominates the final track. If only he’d gone all 10 rounds and saved Sitek from a less than stellar showing.

Does anybody else wish Byrne would join TVOTR in the same way legend Johnny Marr joined Modest Mouse?:

The Roots
“How I Got Over”
[Def Jam, 2010]

RATING: 8.5

I worried that Jimmy Fallon had ruined The Roots like he’s done over the years to so many SNL skits and movies.  When I first heard they would be the house band for a show that features more awkward interviews than Magic Johnson’s talk show, I was confused. How did this help The Roots? What did they get out of being on late, late night?  Even playing at ten o’clock for Conan would be a stretch simply because I don’t see how any steady gig like this would help their music or their cred in the rap community.

Then I heard their 2010 release “How I Got Over” and it all made sense. By playing nightly within the confines of a show that no one watches, the band was able to continue honing their craft through a medium that also provided them with the chance to meet a variety of artists (somehow Fallon’s show has had an absurd list of artists coming through the studio including a performance by Bruce Springsteen AND Neil Young together).

These two elements are evident on “How I Got Over”, where track after track features another guest appearance to go alongside the bands compelling jams.  The difference with The Roots approach to the collective-style album is that there is never a question who’s album this is: the band firmly has its fingerprints deeply pressed into every nook and cranny of “How I Got Over”.   When The Monsters of Folk softly sing an opening prayer on “Dear God 2.0”, ?uest Love’s pin-point drumming responds like a voice from beyond; when John Legend soulfully croons on “The Fire”, Kamal Gray’s constant pulse on the piano is the fuel that keeps the flame burning; when the sample of Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right On” appears on “Right On”, Black Thought plays the perfect anti-thesis to her distinctive voice,  punctuating his point right on cue.

Instead of letting their guests over-stay their welcome, they seem more like accents to The Roots live sound, now featuring much less of the sampling seen in past works. The band’s nightly practice sessions on live television have obviously assisted within track after track of tight instrumentation.

Beyond the fact that this is an album of guest appearances, it’s also a pretty extraordinary work as a whole.  While many of the band’s past albums have focused on the ills of the world, this is an album of triumph and optimism. “How I Got Over” is exactly what the title says: a narrative of getting over the set-backs and adversity that one will face in a lifetime.  Instead of wallowing on the negative, the album continues with a constant from song to song: keep your head up and move forward. This many seem like a corn-ball, inspirational poster in music form, but The Roots handle it like true craftsmen, building the story from the bottom up.  Each song leads into the next with the narrator rising up throughout, starting at the bottom where it delves into the hardships of growing up to the ghetto, and eventually elevating from one song to the next toward an adulation that arrives near the end with songs like “The Fire” and “Tunnel Vision”.  Now if only the band could rise up from the evil clutches of Jimmy Fallon.

This is what happens when you hang around Jimmy Fallon too long:


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