Tag Archives: top albums of 2010

Top 40 Albums of 2010 (10-1)

10. Beach House

“Teen Dream”

[Sub-Pop; 2010]

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

“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”

[Sub-Pop; 2010]

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.

6. Deerhunter

“Haclyon Digest”

[4AD; 2010]

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

“Heartland”

[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

“The Monitor”

[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

“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?”

2. Wavves

“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

“The Suburbs”

[Merge; 2010]

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Top Albums Lists

Top 40 Albums of 2010 (25-11)

25. Fresh & Onlys

“Play It Strange”

[In the Red; 2010]

Last year I purchased Fresh & Only’s self-titled album and thought they were just another garage band from San Francisco (don’t get me wrong; this is a good thing).  Boy was I wrong. With their 2010 release “Play It Strange”, Tim Cohen and his band of merry-makers have proven that with a little clean up and an emphasis on a 60s vibe, they are a band to be reckoned with.  The songs are still youthful in spirit but they’ve gained a maturity with the addition of production that clears the air surrounding their surfer guitars and Cohen’s mumbling baritone.  While other retro-outfits try to mimic a multitude of classic songs (Black Lips), Fresh & Onlys have made an album of songs that are completely original despite the fact that you swear you’ve heard them before on the local oldies station.

24. Male Bonding

“Nothing Hurts”

[SubPop; 2010]

It’s been a while since Sub-Pop has released an album filled with so many fast, fuzzy, frenetic songs (could it have been the early 90s?).  Whatever the case, the combination of Male Bonding and SubPop is a match made in heaven.  Male Bonding provide the label with that energetic noise that defined SubPop so long ago, and in return the label cleans the band’s grubby little punk songs up a bit.  Don’t worry – the production isn’t heavy handed, but just enough to allow the listener to enjoy the rowdy 2-minute romps without having to strain.   And “Nothing Hurts” isn’t all punk clamor all the time.  After bouncing your head around for 24 minutes like a bobblehead, the band provides a nice cool down with the final track “Worse To Come”.

23.  The Books

“The Way Out”

[Temporary Residence; 2010]

Usually with sampled music, there is a disconnect because humanity isn’t evident. We may take delight in the composition of the audio clips and the beats, but the enjoyment doesn’t go much beyond that.  This is not true with “The Way Out”.  On the album, The Books take samples of characters who either connect with the listener or expose their own weaknesses. Whether it be a little boy expressing his violent tendencies, a lonely man leaving a desperate phone message to a woman, or a creepy old man retelling the story of lil Hip-Hop.  Several tracks use the sounds of a man speaking about the self-help program auto-genics, and even though I think they are used for the purpose of humor, I’ve found myself on several listens actually slipping “deeper and deeper” into a meditative state.  And just when you think everything makes sense and that the music is really speaking to you, the band will throw in a joke like “The average human being only uses 5% of their brain. The other 95% is for…food.”  And in an instant, you feel like a fool for having such a deep connection to their tomfoolery.  There’s nothing quite like an album that mocks you, the listener.

22. The Roots

“How I Got Over”

[Def Jam; 2010]

A month ago I wrote of The Roots: “I worried that Jimmy Fallon had ruined The Roots like he’s done over the years to so many SNL skits and movies.  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. 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 whose 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.”

21. Vampire Weekend

“Contra”

[XL; 2010]

Earlier this year I wrote of this album: “When I first heard the title for Vampire Weekend’s latest release, ‘Contra’, I prepared myself for disappointment.  An album named after the greatest video game ever? No chance of being good (okay, I’m pretty sure the Columbia graduates were referencing the counterrevolutionary guerrilla group, but stay with me here…). Fortunately, I was wrong.  Not only is ‘Contra’ excellent, but it shares the same attributes that made ‘Contra’ a classic NES video game. What made ‘Contra’ such an essential Nintendo hit was how it moved from the side-scrolling levels that take place in exotic locations to a 3-D first person approach, with Bill Rizer and Lance Bean battling aliens and robots while running up a confined, futuristic hallway, laser barriers and all. The balance between these two environments is what makes the game so memorable and replayable. Vampire Weekend’s “Contra” followed the Konami video game’s formula to a T.  The familiar tropical/classical/ska sound is still there, but amidst the bongos and African inspired melodies the band throws in a more futuristic approach. Every song features technological touches (sampling, drum machine, auto-tuner) but these modern sounds are added in sparingly, providing a refreshing new twist to the jumpy Vampire Weekend sound we grew to love a few years ago. Basically, it’s bringing a soundscape from out of this world to the jungle – the premise to ‘Contra’!”

20. Julian Lynch

“Mare”

[Olde English Spelling Bee; 2010]

In a glowing review from earlier this year I wrote: “Déjà vu is such a strange phenomenon. Is it just a series of circumstances that remind us of a past experience? Or is it a result of daily routines where it’s inevitable that events are bound to repeat themselves?  Or could it truly be that memories are timeless, that they float aimlessly through our mind, seeping in from the past, present, and future, creating a psychic horizon where there is no end or beginning? Whatever the case, Julian Lynch’s ‘Mare’ is auditory déjà vu, bringing you back to memories that never existed.  Something about Julian’s ambient psych-jazz resembles music you’ve heard before (maybe as a child, maybe on the ‘Finding Forester soundtrack’, or maybe in a dream).   The songs on ‘Mare’ exist in some way within our psyche, a collection of vivid arrangements that whisk you from one memory to another, then vanish just as you find yourself nuzzling up to the warm feelings that arise. You would swear that ‘Mare’ is a used record store discovery from the 1970s. At the same time, I think you would be hard pressed to find an artist in the 70s accomplishing what Lynch does with this album, an atmosphere from another place, another time.  At the risk of sounding cliche – it’s otherworldly while still being grounded in everything you know (or knew in another life).”

19. The Walkmen

“Lisbon”

[Fat Possom; 2010]

I don’t get how they do it. Essentially, every Walkmen album is based off the same three elements: a reverberating guitar, lyrics of heartbreak, and Hamilton Leithhauser’s incredible vocals (probably my favorite voice out there today).  Yet with each album, they are able to create something distinctive from other releases, although I can’t quite place how they are different. If you were to shuffle all of their songs, it would be difficult to find any major disparity between the songs. But when the songs are separated by album and placed among their peers, they suddenly become something more. “Bows + Arrows” feels like  a night in New York City, “A Hundred Miles Off” resembles Dylan when he first went electric, “You and Me” hearkens back to the 1950s age of courting, and with “Lisbon” the music somehow transports you to a romanticized Portugal where the sun always shines, even when you’ve just been dumped down in the Chiado.

18. Surfer Blood

“Astrocoast”

[Kanine; 2010]

An excerpt from my Summer Albums list: “Don’t let the youth of Surfer Blood fool you; these kids understand the power held within their six-strings.  The guitars of Thomas Fekete and John Paul Pitts complement each other in the same way I imagine it may sound like if Doug Marsh and Dick Dale joined forces.  The band succeeds at blending the surfer guitar licks of old with distorted riffs reminiscent of Pavement.  Back in March, I’d been listening to ‘Astrocoast’ two weeks leading up to SXSW, but when I actually saw them perform, all thoughts of it simply being a happy rock album were erased.  Watching the guitar work of these Florida youths had me in awe.  At first glance, ‘Astrocoast’ is simply fun, but if you delve deeper there is a darker beast brooding beneath the surface; a creature that craves to devour your pop sensibilities and digest them whole.”

17. Sufjan Stevens

“Age of ADZ”

[Asthmatic Kitty; 2010]

From a review this fall: “The songs on ‘Age of ADZ’ remind me of a lot of the literature of Kurt Vonnegut, a strange declaration, I’m sure.  Vonnegut is often referenced as a ‘science fiction’ author, but this label doesn’t sit well with me.  Yes, Vonnegut often wrote of time travel, aliens, and life on other planets, but it’s not done in the same way a Phillip K. Dick or a Ray Bradbury would approach it.  He isn’t writing of these places and events to entertain nor is he trying to convey them with realism. Instead, he’s using them as a vehicle for conveying a larger message about humanity.  The songs on ‘ADZ’ are done in such an over-the-top space-age motif that it’s difficult to take them serious, which in the end is the point. On surface it’s an album of robot take-over and the arrival of Judgment Day, but any able-minded person knows that Sufjan is talking about the demons within his soul, battling it out, not of UFOs and killer volcanoes.”

16. Laura Veirs

“July Flame”

[Bella Union/Raven Marching Band; 2010]

Some would like you to believe that the best album by a female singer/songwriter in 2010 was by Joanna Newsom, but they’d be wrong.  That honor goes to Laura Veirs and her highly underrated “July Flame”. Veirs could easily depend on her more intimate tracks that showcase her and her guitar executing the songstress routine, but she understands that to keep the listener engaged you have to switch things up, and each song takes her unassuming voice from one northwest terrain to the next. “I Can See Your Tracks” resembles a jaunt through Fleet Foxes territories, “Little Deschutes” takes her depressingly down to the water’s edge, and “Summer is Champion” transports us down memory lane to the days when The Decemberists were still entertaining. And she does takes you through all of these fabulous faunas within one 13 track CD. Beat that Joanna.

15. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

“Before Today”

[4AD; 2010]

I can still vividly remember the first time I listened to “Before Today”.  I was alone in Iowa City, driving around aimlessly, trying to find the venue where Lightning Bolt was playing that night. Frustration is usually the emotion associated with the sensation of being lost, but instead Ariel Pink’s drugged out mix had me giggling to myself as I passed one strange street after the next. Was this guy for real? It wasn’t just simply a band trying to sound retro, it was a sound completely pulled from the 70s.  Plus, the lyrics were over-the-top and completely self-aware.    Yet, this isn’t a comedy album. In fact, “Before Today” features 12 of the most memorable pop songs you’ll hear in 2010 (or in 1978). Now, I can’t help but imagine Iowa Hawkeye football players Johnson Koulianos and Nate Robinson sharing a joint while listening to Ariel Pink’s “Before Today”.  Oh, the crazy drug-town that is Iowa City, Iowa.

14. Quest For Fire

“Lights From Paradise”

[Tee Pee; 2010]

Quest For Fire is not a stoner rock band, despite what you may have heard. I struggle to believe that pot-heads can even keep up with this epic shoe-gaze-psych-fuzz.  Stick to your simple Pink Floyd because “Lights From Paradise” may cause flashbacks. The opening track is called “The Greatest Hits By God” but the album might as well share this title because these songs will take you to a higher level of understanding of the world that surround us.  The grungy guitars would suggest that this is an angry rock album, but Chad Ross’s calming voice shrouds you with positive energy, all held within the distant distortion. “Lights From Paradise” is tranquil and heavy, all at the same time. If anything, this music makes you feel stoned without any drug intake required (plus, there are no munchies).

13. Kanye West

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare”

[Def Jam, Rock-A-Fella; 2010]

I almost feel like I have to try explaining why “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare” isn’t in my top ten, or in the number one spot for that matter. It seems like every major music list is naming it the top album of 2010 (SPIN, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, etc).  Let me first say that there are some great songs here: “POWER”, “Dark Fantasy”, “All of the Lights”, “Monster”, “So Apalled”, “Runaway”, “Blame Game”, “Lost in the World”. The fact that I just named seven kick-ass songs out of ten should say something about how solid this album is from start to finish. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself singing “All of the lights!” while shopping for groceries or “This shit’s ridiculous!” while cleaning my room. At times I get annoyed by how much these songs have rubbed their stamp into my brain like a comic strip on silly putty. There is no denying that Kanye has a gift for memorable choruses and rhymes.  BUT, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare” is not the earth-shattering album that some have suggested. It’s not the in-depth psycho-analysis of a crazy man. The only thing insane about Kanye is that he’s insanely rich.  And honestly, if you want an album of a man who is lost and depressed, check out Sufjan Steven’s “Age of ADZ”, but then again, it won’t be nearly as fun or memorable as “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare”.

12. Swans

“My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky”

[Young God; 2010]

At first I was afraid of Swans; I was petrified. I read a few positive reviews of “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” and decided to check it out. After listening to two songs I turned it off. I didn’t get it. Why was this band considered to be legendary?  Then a few weeks later, while talking on the phone with fellow BDWPS contributor SongsSuck, he asked if I’d listened to “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” yet. After getting off the phone, feeling like a fool, I downloaded the album and sat down to give it a good, honest listen. This time I wasn’t bored with the opening track “No Words/No Thoughts”; it literally pained me to listen to the echoing church bells, the ominous organs, and the black metal crackling of the guitars.  I once again turned off the music; his name is SongsSuck for a reason. Then, only a few weeks ago, as I drove across the desolate plains of Kansas, something came over me. In that moment, that chaos that scared me months earlier seemed oddly intriguing.  I quickly found The Swans on my iPod and commenced listening to what goes down as one of the most captivating hours of music I’ve ever experienced.  Once the shroud of noise dissipates, Swans front man Michael Gira emerges with a pummeling series of doom- sludge-dirges, and then they suddenly come to a stop to allow room for the occasional brooding ballad. I guess SongsSucks may like songs after all.

11. The Tallest Man On Earth

“The Wild Hunt”
[Dead Oceans; 2010]

For Christmas my mom gave me Bob Dylan’s “Bootleg Series Vol. 9”, and I’ve been listening to the two disc collection of early recordings a lot the past few weeks.  I’ve always preferred the bootleg releases of Dylan because they are so raw – the guitars squeak, the tape recorder occasionally slips into a muffled state, Bob’s voice cracks and he even forgets words.  It’s as real as Bob as his music get. The Tallest Man On Earth’s “The Wild Hunt” gives me the same feeling of simplicity.  His grisly voice speaks honestly, out in the open without any back-up singers or basslines to interrupt.   The guitar thumps and crackles as Kristian Matsson nimbly fingerpicks and madly strums from one song to the next.  There is no need to polish what Matsson has on “The Wild Hunt”: 10 great folk songs that will have your full attention from start to finish. But while Bob Dylan wrote propaganda songs about the ills of the world, Matsson simply writes great songs about what’s right.

Leave a comment

Filed under Top Albums Lists

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Top Albums Lists