1) The Drums – The Drums
There’s something amazing about a collection of songs that don’t sound all that different from one another, don’t do anything particularly challenging or force the listener to give a song a second listen to grasp the nuances, yet ultimately provides some of the most satisfyingly catchy music that simply lifts the spirits. Except for the token slow song, each song blares with amazing lo-fi guitars, charmingly simple lyrics (example: “Oh mamma, I wanna go surfing), and straightforward song structure. But from the opening track, “Best Friend,” to the closer “The Future,” you can’t help but just be happy you’re listening to it.
2) Born Ruffians – Say It
This album was panned by quite a few notable review sites, claiming the instrumentation was sloppy or it completely failed to follow up their debut with any sort of cohesiveness, but they missed the point entirely. While Red, Yellow, and Blue was a great album, this one isn’t terrible simply because their sound isn’t necessarily an evolution of the groundwork they already laid down. “Oh Man” is both emotive and powerful. “Higher and Higher” has some of the most oddly constructed verses I’ve ever heard, but it works flawlessly in part because it doesn’t sound exactly like you’d expect. I understand his voice is weird, and he says words with inflections that no other human uses, but there’s something genuine in the songs, which is what most people must have missed.
3) CEO – White Magic
The album is not long. In fact, it’s quite short. But these guys pack so much variety into each song that you quickly forgive them and immediately give it another listen. It’s the mixture of live vocals, and intelligent use of electronic sounds that make each song pop. Title track “White Magic” throws such an amalgamation of different effects that the layers blend together perfectly despite their seemingly clashing styles. It’s all quite unique, and perhaps the short run time actually accentuates the risks they take since they have very little time to make up for terrible tracks. Luckily, each song is great, and we have to hope there’s more to come.
4) Metric – Fantasies
After a couple of so-so albums that failed to reach the same level of pop gold found in Emily Haine’s first two records, Fantasies brings back some of the glory with what might be the best zombie song (if you choose to interpret it as such) ever in “Help, I’m Alive.” Haine’s voice again takes center-stage while the instruments mainly add repetitive filler, but her voice alone easily carries these songs. I’d be willing to argue that the blandness of the rest of her band actually helps her shine that much more. Even the less poppy songs, like “Collect Call,” work surprisingly well, something I wouldn’t say about some of the slower songs from past albums.
5) Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
It’s certainly a far cry from their best work and won’t hold up to their previous albums, almost all of which were universally great, but removed from the pressure of expectations it’s a pretty decent little record. Duds like “Highway Slipper Jam” make me feel slightly ill, but there are a number of gems, like “All to All,” which, despite an amazing similarity in vocal style, is not sung by either Feist or Emily Haines yet holds its own against their best pop songs. Instrumental “Meet Me in the Basement” shows they haven’t lost all their rock sensibilities, while opening track “World Sick” has some sweet guitar hooks and enough variety to show BSS hasn’t run its course.
Favorite Concerts of 2010:
1) Built to Spill: It was the last show of their tour, in a tiny room on the Humboldt State University campus, and it was Halloween. I have no idea why they did the show in the first place since they were a pretty popular band (and still are?), but I’m pretty glad they did. The broke out a bunch of hits, managed to ignore the constant shouting of requests by inebriated undergrads, and didn’t even stop playing when an annoying Waldo jumped on stage to dance around before being forcefully removed by security. Classy dudes.
2) Fruit Bats: I only have their first two albums, so many of the songs came as complete surprises, and their style has changed considerably. Eric no long just sings sweet songs about Canyon Girls, but now breaks out in some truly impressive guitar shredding. This concert was bumped down to number two in part because I almost had my face punched in by a guy who didn’t take too kindly to my middle finger appearing in one of the 700 photos he took with his iphone. It’s not the Fruit Bats’ fault, but that’s life.
3) Hymn For Her: A husband and a wife that drive around in an Airstream with their kid, a cigar box guitar that has a broom for a neck, and some of the most enjoyable and rich sounds to come from two people make these guys an act worth looking out for. If nothing else, it’s worth seeing the cigar box guitar (which has two guitar strings and one bass string) in action.
4) Gratitilluim: I wouldn’t recommend buying their album, but in person they’re pretty good. Their songs include a lot of “ooooohing” in place of lyrics, but their sound is actually pretty interesting if you can tolerate the fact that many songs sound the same.
5) Jason Webley: The man can play a mean accordion. He seems half about music and half about showmanship. Example: While stomping around, playing the hell out of his accordion and yelling loudly, he has a small hat that sits precariously on his head, tilting from side to side and back and forth to the point of nearly falling at every movement. So do you listen to the music or watch the hat? Tough not to watch the hat. As a bonus he covered what he claimed to be the most beautiful song written in the last 20 years, which turned out to the “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” The man has taste.
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
///In recent years, there has been a disturbing aversion to perfectionism in music. In indie music, it has been the advent of obstruction, generally throwing as many old delay and loop pedals between the instrument/voice and the audience in order to generate a texturally dominant sound that was, in rare cases beautiful, and in most tedious and forgettable. In hip hop, pop, and electronica, the continued presence of autotune and quantization confirmed just how easy it is for computers to make music that sounds like music that’s supposed to be good. That’s not to forget of course artists like Lil’ B and Soulja Boy, who, so keenly focused on their hundred thousand myspace, churned out endless slapdash laptop production. Now is the part where I have to say something like: let it be said that I am an ardent supporter of the punk rock ethos that no one needs to have extraordinary skill or equipment to make music, BUT effort and vision have always been keys ingredients of great music and they have been especially hard to find in most artists these days. It is exactly that effort and vision that makes Kanye’s latest output one of the closest things we’ve seen to a perfect album in the entire decade. Many people have maligned the album as indulgent, but indulging is exactly what insane geniuses like Kanye should be doing. Every track, every moment has been sonically maximized with the feverish devotion only someone with extreme delusions of grandeur about the significance of his character and his music can do. The instrumentals are invigorating, the guest spots are consistently solid, and Kanye’s flow is at it’s peak. Say what you will about Kanye the person, but this album is a goddamn masterpiece.
2. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
///In many ways, this album shares the same strengths as Kanye’s. I read that Joanna Newsom and her production team went through this album measure by measure making sure that everything was perfect. For any album, that seems like excessive perfectionism. For a 3-disc, 2-hour album, that’s insane. But again, the extreme effort and vision behind this album are what makes it so perfect. The vocals, lyrics, orchestration, everything about this album leaves me dizzy and awestruck. To be honest, I’ve only ever listened to the album in its entirety maybe two times, and both times took great effort. And there are definitely tracks that have more meaning for me than others, but the fact that I can put on this album in any place and be blown away is testament to it’s grandeur. Also, listening to this album is the closest my robot heart has come to leaking it’s tear ducts in years.
3. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring
///The first time I listened to this album, sequestered in my room in India, I was just disappointed. The exuberance and brashness of the first two albums had suddenly been pushed back behind Gareth Campesino’s too-clever histrionic moping. Returning to the album however, I was struck by just how much these youngsters have matured. What stands out most to me about this album is melody. I was a little skeptical about ranking this album too high, since there are some tracks on it I don’t care for it all. But then I looked at my on-going list I had stored on my phone and found this, “Los camp top five sincerely drunk you”.
4. 中学生棺桶 – 矛先についたガム
///So I don’t really know anything about this band because I can’t understand anything that’s written about them on the internet. I know their name is something like Middle-Schooler’s Coffin. I know the lead singer looks like an insane old man. But this album is just so raw and heavy I don’t really know what to do with myself when I put it on. The warehouse production and the devastating low end of this album shreds my mind to bits in a language I don’t even understand.
5. The Body – All The Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood
///This album is just brutal in all the best ways. In the year I started getting into metal this album was critical. There are more finely crafted and consistent albums, but in terms of raw power, this is the most sincerely severe bludgeoning you can get. And if you’re like me, that means you’ll take the blows to an insuppressible goofy smile stuck on your stupid little face.
1. Black Milk – Album of the Year
The irony is that an album whose title seemed, at very least, audacious, ends up living up to it’s own standard. Even if Black Milk (Curtis Cross) intended an entirely different meaning—describing the events (most of them turbulent) that occurred in the year between the release of his previous album Tronic and this one—it’s the raw dynamism of live instrumentation that settles this album as a clear forerunner. Sure, Cross comes from a camp of heavily electronic, at times spacey, Detroit producers (you might have heard of J Dilla?), but his appreciation of real musicianship is reassuring. Daru Jones, who Cross recruited for the entire album, provides a surge of spastic, free-jazz driven drumming, which crosscuts a noticeably Ethiopian-influenced mixture of guitars, organs, and horns. “Distortion” and “Round of Applause” stand out as the album’s most vigorous jam sessions: “Distortion” uses enough delay effect to qualify it as basically a psychedelic song, and “Round of Applause” simmers to an extended closure of a bare-bones interplay between piano, bass, and drums, that captures none other than the collective reluctance musicians share when they realize they will soon have to put down their instruments. It’s an unsettling statement even for me to make, but fuck it—this is the album of the year.
2. Chico Mann – Analog Drift
3. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
4. Damu the Fudgemunk – Supply for Demand
5. Letherette – Letherette EP
Top 5 metal albums of 2010
1. The Body – All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood
All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood is a captivating and diverse listen. Creative usage of rhythmic chanting samples as a backing track, post production elements a la Boredoms, and layering of noise and stringed instruments paint over an extremely solid base. The doom-duo has nailed an intense and novel metal sound with a deeply resonating guitar and heavily compressed drums. Hearing this album made me believe once again that metal does not have to be a genre stuffed with bull’s blood and testosterone, the raging of simple minds against nothing in particular. The Body has created a complex work that will not easily be forgotten.
2. High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine
I think Skinner said it best: Matt Pike was born to do one thing and that thing was play metal. Snakes for the Divine is a great metal album. It has stifling heft from Pike’s guitar, the rhythmic chugs, the call to war. Plus, he is no stranger to the hook. If you listen to songs like “Bastard Samurai” and “Snakes for the Divine,” you son of a bitch, there’s no doubt you’ll recall an angry couplet or two upon exiting your boss’s office.
3. Earth – A Bureaucratic Desire For Extra-Capsular Extraction
A Bureaucratic Desire is not a new release. Extra-Capsular Extraction was Earth’s first EP and the rest of A Bureaucratic Desire is filled out with the 1995 live Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars, remastered and pressed on vinyl. Earth does their thing slowly but beautifully and from these origins you can see the promise of a foothold in contemporary metal.
4. Deathspell Omega – Paracletus
Deathspell Omega is an avant-garde black metal band from France. Paracletus bounces between prog, black, and death metal and there is no denying that the French spoken word interlude on “Dearth” over post metal is epic. Deathspell Omega’s take on black metal is refreshing in a genre that seriously dwells on each chord. The rapid changes of inharmonious guitar parts in Paracletus are almost jarring but push the genre to new places.
5. Nails – Unsilent Death
The guitar feedback alone is worth it. The breaks in the grind and blast stab you in unison with the most unpleasant feedback rendered in harmony by two guitars. The kind of feedback most would avoid coupled with a style of music just as repulsive, gives you something great to listen to when you’re real upset about that traffic preventing you from going home and pounding a forty.
1. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
2. Women – Public Strain
3. Liars – Sisterworld
4. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
5. Wavves – King of the Beach