Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
You can also capture all 'Best Of 2010' posts on one page by clicking here or the tags at the bottom of each post.
10. Vampire Weekend - Contra
9. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
8. Sleigh Bells - Treats
7. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
6. Versus - One the Ones and Threes
5. Girl Talk - All Day
4. New Pornographers - Together
3. Spoon - Transference
2. The Roots - How I Got Over
1. Janelle Monae - The Archandroid
2010 was a year of some pretty exceptional music acorss genres and styles. But for me, I found none as interesting or as remarkable as Janelle Monae's The Archandroid. A stunning debut album from someone with so much ambition, desire and promise, it's hard not to laud her for this album while eagerly waiting for her next album.
Monae's tales of android Cindy Mayweather in a society that's gone awry are compelling. But it's Monae and her influences that cause you to take notice. She's aping James Brown, Prince, Bowie, George Clinton, Lauryn Hill, sometimes mixing them all up together. On Neon Valley Street, she could be any current R&B diva, singing sweetly; but then she starts rapping through a computer voice.
The first half, with songs like Faster, Dance or Die, and the infectious Tightrope, you see Big Boi and the rest of that Atlanta sound influence. She culls from sci fi as much as her parents 70s vinyl (the MJ influence is heavy too... Locked Inside sounds like an extra from the Off The Wall sessions). The second half is more tender, more classic neo soul, with exciting rock and funk elements.
If Janelle Monae is within 100 miles of your city, go see her show. It's a 1000 times more mind blowing than the album, with dancers, live instrumentation, and Monae's electric stage presence.
Read our June 2010 review of the Archandroid here.
Buy Janelle Monae's The Archandroid at the Amazon mp3 store
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
They are indeed excellent albums
J Cole's Friday Night Lights mixtape - In a year of uninteresting hip hop, here is J Cole making me believe in genre that most years I write off for dead. Aggressive on delivery he owns every minute of this mixtape.
Sky Larkin's Kaleide - Brainy, wordy indie pop rock band from Leeds. Katie Harkin's voice is worth the album alone, but there's so much energy here you'll stick around again and again.
Broken Social Scene's Forgiveness Rock Record - Just a fun dance record. I love Texico Bitches, mostly for the ram ma lam ma ding dong.
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings' I Learned The Hard Way - Whoa. Don't ever cross Sharon Jones. She will eat your punk ass for dinner, then write an incredible sould song about what a dog you are. And The Dap Kings will be there to back her up.
Shelby Lynne's Tears, Lies and Alibis See above about Sharon Jones. But instead of soul, insert Loretta Lynne country song instead.
Dum Dum Girls' I Will Be - Catchy lo fi fuzzy girl group pop. What's not to like?
Arcade Fire's The Suburbs - Tales of lonely suburban life from that band you used to like until your mom started liking them. Obligatory inclusion? Possibly. But that doesn't not make it a compelling and interesting record.
Best Coast's Crazy For You - Sunny, surfy, lo fi weed rock. You will get a contact buzz reading their twitter. You'll feel euporic just listening to these happy songs.
The Drums' s/t - Surf rock meets the Smiths. That is, dark moody lyrics about love over dreamy surfing guitars.
Superchunk's Majesty Shredding - 10 years since their last album, and Mac and the gang haven't mellowed one bit (insert obligatory slack motherfucker joke here). I think it sounds more like a kicked up Portastatic, since no one can be 19 forever. But damn if this entire album doesn't make you want to pogo around.
?uestlove even took umbrage with haters this summer on Twitter, essentially saying over a series of posts that each album is different and if you don't like it, tough.
So it would seem fitting that with How I Got Over, a collective that's been together for over 20 years turns in an album more introspective than the rest. For that's what happens when you get old, you get prone to take stock.
How I Got Over is more thematically consistent than any other work they've put out. It's dark and Black Thought is going places that hit as hard as ?uestlove on that kit. The stellar Dear God 2.0 is an anthem for urban recession sufferers (backed by a sample from Jim James of Monsters of Folk), a prayer to God to fix the world he's let go completely awry. "Why is the world ugly when You made it in your image? And why is living life such a fight to the finish?" The Roots are like a hip hop version of Springsteen on this album. But instead of speaking to a Jersey working class, it's Philly black inner city that frames it. HIGO at each turn perfectly captures what it means to work extra hard and try and live right and still feel like you're three steps behind. On Walk Alone, our hero walks alone, cos he's always been alone.
There are no clever by half rhymes here (sorry Drake and Weezy fans). A tip to Julliard is about all you'll get. This realism in hiphop trend (see J Cole, Wale to some extent) is refreshing. On Now Or Never, Black Thought grapples with the success and questions of if he deserved it "What's the saying, bygone be bygones? Niggas who used to be the underdogs now icons." (I mean, you are on TV every night, so it's a fair question).
There's no need to discuss the musical chops. Every Roots album is flawless in that regard, and this is no exception. A perfectionist, ?uestlove produced all but one of the tracks, and there's not a note or high hat out of place. The echoes and haunting piano keys match perfectly. And the collab with James on Dear God 2.0 and Joanna Newsom on Right On shows that after 20 years there are still ways to innovate and stay fresh (Though the Bon Iver/ Kanye cowork on Monster and Lost in the Woods is AMAZING).
You shouldn't own this album because it's the best hip hop album out this year. You should own it because it's hands down a classic.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Maybe not metal, but Transference is an album that sees Daniel and company finally let go, strip everything down and get incredibly loose ("pure Spoon" Daniel says of it). Where Gimme Fiction is a shining example of tightly wound perfect indie collegiate radio rock, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a classic that improved the previous formula, Transference gets rid of all that and sticks to a few chords here and there. It's a return to that sparse sound of Girls Can Tell, but from a band that's more assured of where it's been and where it's going.
At turns it sounds remarkably unfinished (indeed, five of the 11 tracks are unpolished demos, a testament to Spoon's musicianship). But not unfinished in a Michael Jackson leftover kind of way. Just very raw. Raw in the way each song assaults. You might feel violated by Written in Reverse, and I'm pretty sure the piano did since its banged to kingdom come.
It's raw in the lyrics. "No one else remembers my name. Just those parts that I play" Daniel sighs in the closer Nobody Gets Me But You. And the title of "Is Love Forever" kinda says it all.
But it's that rawness and essentially freedom that has seen Spoon evolve to the band it is on Transference. He still likes his corny but endearing ballads (Goodnight Laura < Black Like Me < Fitted Shirt). And they still get plenty funky and obscure. What exactly is "Who Makes Your Money" about anyway?
Over it all, one thing is for certain - Transference is pure Spoon.
Buy Spoon's Transference at the Amazon mp3 Store
So…2010. Let’s see, it was hands down the most emotional year of my life. The year with the greatest ups and worst downs I have ever experienced. So one would imagine with those emotions flowing that I would have identified with a number of albums…after all one could argue that music is best experienced at heightened emotional times. However, 2010 proved to be a year of really great albums that I loved…yet only a few connected emotionally with me. None of these records however, stood out as a clear number one. If I were to revisit this list tomorrow, I may change the order again. Quite frankly, my top five from last year would be ahead of all of these from this year. Yes, there were songs on these records that moved me…I mean like you feel it in the gut…but none of the “albums” did that. They were all really great…but none were exceptional to me this year. Anyway…here they are and my thoughts and a quote from a song…one that for me resonated with me.
10. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
The Arcade Fire returns with a record that REALLY wants to be Funeral. It tries to grow and up and mature and all the things you are supposed to do…but it fails a bit towards the end. Don’t get me wrong…it has it’s moments. “Suburban War” and “Ready to Start” are definitely grown up versions of “Wake Up,” and “Neighborhood #3,” respectively. But as The Suburbs reaches it’s final tracks, I’m just left feeling less than satisfied.
“They said the past won't rest, Until we jump the fence and leave it behind”
9. Girl Talk – All Day
The DP nailed it on this one…to not like this record is to not like music. I mean, it’s the most damn likeable thing I’ve heard in years. It’s like skate and space on steroids. The regulars are there…Jay, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Neil Diamond...and although I think it is a bit passé to end with “Imagine” it is tons of fun to try and figure out which Miami Sound Machine that is.
(no quote would be appropriate…but the key track is definitely “Triple Double.”)
8. The National – High Violet
The National return with a sonically astounding album. Start to finish, I cannot fault the feel of this album. It feels and sounds amazing. However, lyrically, I am not sure it is their best work. During the brilliance of this album, we have to “walk with spiders” “cover me with rag and bones,” and most disturbing “eat your brains.” So I don’t know what to do with this. The Runaway is one of their best…hands down…but I am left wanting a bit more.
“I never thought about love, when I thought about home.”
7. Kissaway Trail - Sleep Mountain
The type of band we all love (at least the DP does), one that wants to be the Arcade Fire. Great anthems fill this record and lyrically it is brilliant. I don’t know anything about this band…and I bought it on a whim in Orlando, with thoughts of yellowbirds, solely based on the album artwork. And I fell in love with the sound.
“It’s not how we planned it to be, maybe this year will be better.”
6. Local Natives – Gorilla Minor
An outstanding debut! Local Natives bring stripped down rock with haunting lyrics and make you want to sing along. I loved everything about this record…the feel, the sound, the lyrics…start to finish a solid debut from a band that somehow weaves the feel of those great late 90’s indie rock records with an urgency to push forward. My only complaint is that it is a bit similar throughout...which turns out to be a good thing. For goodness sake, it’s nice to know what to expect.
“Memory tells me that these times are worth working for.”
5. Spoon – Transference
An early 2010 release that hung around all year long. “Got Nuffin,” “Written in Reverse,” and “Goodnight Laura” found their way onto almost every mix I made this year. And as album it clearly stands out as one of Spoon’s best. They have found their way as a mainstay in my collection with an exceptional back catalog and a superb record in Transference.
“And you close your eyes and slow yourself and let your worry leave you and let go of it all just for this evening .”
4. Tokyo Police Club – Champ
The most geographically confused band I have ever known comes back with a bang. The most emjoyable record of the year for me. Nothing to heavy lyrically and the songs are put together much more sophisticatedly than on Elephant Shell. Champ finds the boys experiencing some more heartbreak but in a very Weezer sort of way. Like you can’t feel to bad for them because they are having so much fun.
“But the big bad years are gone yeah, the big bad years are done and gone away”
3. Kanye West –My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
It’s all been said about this record…I mean it really has. I wanted to not like it. I made the mistake of reading all the reviews, including Pitchforks grossly overrated 10.0, and I wanted to not like it. I wanted to find fault in it. I wanted to rip on his 4 minute ending to “The Runaway” with the auto-tune way past any point of understanding but then I heard it in headphones and realized The Beatles wished they could have pulled this off with St. Peppers. And ending with the Bon Iver track...I learned to just let it be what it is. One of the greatest accomplishments in pop music.
“I'm up in the woods, I'm down on my mind I'm building a sill to slow down the time” or Kanye’s take, “I'm lost in the world, I'm down for the time, I'm new to the city, Down for the night”
2. Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
A great debut…I mean this band has the makings of an amazing future. Lyrically the best record I heard all year. Hands down. At times they are part Avett Brothers, other times they are closer to the Fleet Foxes…but his voice, delivery, and lyrics may be closer to Conor Oberst. The opening track “Sigh No More,” is so much like a Fleet Foxes song it could end up on their next record…yet midway through the record we find “Little Lion Man,” a radio friendly track with banjos, only to find our way back to being reminded that we are “not alone in this” on the brilliant, “Timshel”
“Where you invest your love, you invest your life”
1. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
Let me start by saying that I overplayed this record…grossly overplayed. Almost enough to make me not want to put it here. But once I walked away from it…and listened to it for what it is it became crystal clear. Here is one of my favorite bands putting out a near perfect record. I can’t not put it at number one. From Ben’s lyrics on the opening track screaming “I don’t ever wanna come back home” to the closing notes where he whispers, “We could live by our own laws in favor” it was the closest thing to describing my year.
“On my way back home, a chance I thought of, oh my favorite song where I'd gone wrong.”
Monday, December 20, 2010
Among all that noise were the incredible sounds of a pretty amazing album. Catchy and upbeat, what's not to like?
Over 12 songs and 45 minutes, AC Newman tries to cram as much bombastic power pop goodness as possible. And with his army of golden voices he largely succeeds.
Dan Bejar's Silver Jenny Dollar is glorious and chipper and love note, just kinda bouncing along not headed anywhere in particular (especially when he chases the beat and growls "I love you"). If You Can't See My Mirrors is also cheery beyond belief. Indeed, every single song here (even the downtempo Valkyrie in The Roller Disco) is relentlessly happy.
But it's Neko Case's big gun vocals on Crash Years and My Shepherd that sell this album. She's more reserved than Middle Cyclone, but she infuses both with sweetness. Try not singing along when they come on.
There is no doubt in my mind you will instantly fall in love with this album and keep coming back to it again and again.
Buy The New Pornographers' Together at the Amazon mp3 Store
Friday, December 17, 2010
A bold claim for sure, but it's right. Gregg Gillis cratedigs and samples nearly two and a half generations of music to deliver All Day, the successor to the immensely popular and aprty all the time ridiculous album Feed The Animals.
The schtick and formula are the same to some degree with any Girl Talk album. Take a dozen tracks you already know, chop, layer, mash em together and voila.
But Gillis has gone over the top with All Day. Each of his albums are getting progressively longer, with All Day 20 minutes longer than Feed the Animals and almost double the length of Night Ripper.
They're also incredibly more complex, more sonically dense, more meticulous, each mashup more thematically consistent. Ludacris over Black Sabbath, doesn't just fit, after a few listens, you almost can't imagine the two songs as individuals again. Modern English and Jay-Z, bleeding into Lennon's Imagine reinforce this underlying thread that all pop music shares.
The jokes are still there, subtle but funny if you catch them. Wale's Pretty Girls over Beck's Loser is one of the funniest about DC's most famous perennial comeupper. ODB over Radiohead's Creep is brilliant.
If you haven't gotten a ticket to see Girl Talk on this tour, do it now. What is amazing on your iPod will make your head explode live.
Download Girl Talk's All Day for free from Illegal Art
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
2010 twas the year for fogey indie rock. Pavement got back together (and then not). Dismemberment Plan is touring again. Superchunk put out an impressive album. Apparently being over 40 doesn't affect your ability to rock out.
Which is true of one of my all time favorite bands, Versus (thanks to former Teenbeat label mate Tracy Shedd and Ft Lowell Record HMFIC James Tritten for introducing me to them and their music). It's been 10 years since they put out Hurrah, and the return with On The Ones and Threes is magnificent. Older, wiser and darker, the album doesn't lack any of the energy from their earlier albums.
Nu Skin indulges in a delightful guitar solo half way through that just gets louder and more destructive, falling apart before coming back together for the last verse. It keeps up with Cicada and Invincible Hero, but it's Fontaine Toups sweet singing that surprises and balances Richard Baly. Pink Valhalla is dreamy and morbid: "So step into the twilight/There's nothing left to lose/I can live forever." And then they go full pop with Scientists, a song that will make you a believer.
I hope I can be as good in a decade.
Buy Versus' On The Ones and Threes from the Amazon mp3 Store
Monday, December 13, 2010
After the Taylor Swift fiasco, Kanye hunkered down in his Hawaii studios set about his road to redemption. He invited his big brother Jay, and every other manner of person to rhyme/sing on his album. John Legend, Nicki Minaj, Pusha T, Rick Ross, even Bon Iver (which is just bizzare, but works so well).
But it's impossible to seperate that incident from him, and it's impossible to seperate him from his music. The album is intensely personal, fiercely defiant, and at every turn remarakbly brilliant. Where 808s and Heartbreaks was an mess, here Kanye brings back the laser like precision and sonic exploration of Graduation. No Kraftwerk or video game sounds here.
POWER, which might be the most impressive single this year, is dense with chants, hand claps and a thudding bass and gnarling guitar. West has never been in this territory over four albums. All of the Lights stands out for some of the most ornate orchestra (Violins! French Horns! Drum Circles!). Even his return to sped up soul samples with Devil in a New Dress (Mayfield!!!) seems less about his talent behind the board than behind the mic. He's raw here opening up and letting every emotion out ("She says she loves me for me, could you be more phony?"). West out raps virtually everyone who comes to play on this album (though Minaj's Monster line proves she's got something to say. Pink Friday proves it's just not much).
For a man with an ego as outsized as Kanye West, MBDTF is that perfect complimentary album. To not like Kanye West cos of who or what he does misses the point. He's back to making some of the most interesting music out.
Buy Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at Amazon mp3 Store
The first indicator that Sleigh Bells had a bonafide hit with Treats was my oldest son's reaction. The distortion, the noise, the chanting, the cheering... he loved it. For a 7 year old, this was the best kind of music: messy, loud and rhythmic. After listening to the album all summer, he knows all the guitar sounds, all the drum thumps, all the over the top call and responses. It comes up on shuffle and he asks for me to turn it up.
Which is good, cos I feel the same way. Sleigh Bells turned in an album chock block full of what can only be described as cheer rock. You feel guilty for liking it. And when people describe it as difficult, I find it odd. Because everyone I've ever played it for immediately likes it.
LA Times described it best: "It sounds bad in a way that suggests Rick Rubin fell asleep on a hundred-grand mixing board and pushed every fader to “11.”"
The assualt is brief, only 33 minutes over 11 songs. And they're not breaking new ground lyrically. A/B Machines might be my favorite, but the cheeky lines on a sun washed out Rill Rill are the best ("Wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces").
This album is fun and a guilty pleasure in every sense. Grab it now and blow a speaker.
Buy Sleigh Bells' Treats from Amazon mp3 Store
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
2010 was some sort of Southern California beach party, soundtracked by what seemd like a never ending string of lazy, hazy surf music. Surfer Blood kicked it off and had what might be considered a teenage boy's best year ever. Non stop touring (I saw them once as openers, the next two times as headliners in the span of a three months) and an upgrade to major label status with Warner. Not bad for a mostly under-21 group of guys from South Florida.
There's much to like here. Big noisy guitar sounds and relentless drumming shoehorned against the love turned bitter lyrics of Floating Vibes, or forlorning in general of Take It Easy.
Yeah, someone fell in love with Weezer's Blue album (they closed out one of their sets with a cover of the Sweater Song).
The single Swim is alone worth the price of admission. Awash in those effect pedal big guitars, and John Paul Pitts "oh oh oh" will have you drumming along at your desk.
I worry that Surfer Blood will lose the carefree attitude and freedom to drift that's so apparent on Astro Coast (Slow Jabroni and Twin Peaks just kind of wander along). As long as they keep having fun, I'll buy their next album.
Buy Surfer Blood's Astro Coast at Amazon's mp3 Store
Monday, December 6, 2010
"In December, drinking horchata, I look psychotic in balaclava."
And with that, the preppiest boys in indie rock start out their sophomore effort, making impossible rhymes with impossible words over impossibly infectious beats.
There's been a lot of growing up since Vampire Weekend dropped their self titled debut two years ago. They've toned down the Paul Simon Graceland aping, fleshed out their sound more and turned in an album of stories about what are essentially little preppy white boys and white girls growing up disassociated and disaffected.
Their characters are the douchebags you went to college with, the Diplomat's Son, the guy who still hangs around the same club, the girl who is principled enough to eat fake Philly cheesesteaks but use chemically abhorrent real toothpaste. And just for shits and giggles is the incredible two and half minute romp Cousins.
This album is fun, overly intelligent effort. Sometimes I wish they'd stop trying so hard to be clever by half and work on making excellent music. Contra comes pretty close to that request.
Buy Vampire Weekend's Contra at Amazon's mp3 Store
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Admittedly, I'm jaded. Autumn Ehinger of Cassis Orange is a friend, but her songs of love and lonlieness penned about her time in Japan are four of the most excellent tracks you will hear all year. "I don't want you to call me/I just want you to want to" she sings above the sweetest tinkling on her keyboard.
Other Runners up
Telekinesis, Parallel Seismic Conspiracies - A hint of what MBL will deliver on his sophomore effort from Merge next year, Dirty Thing.
Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Say No To Love 7 - This band is getting stronger and stronger, refining that 80s sound, like Pretty in Pink all grown up.
Ft Lowell Records FLR001 through FLR004 - Ft Lowell records have put out a series of really strong 7 inches this year, from Arizona and Tucson bands you probably never heard of, but should invest the $5 and get them. Dead Western Plains, ... music video, Wet and Reckless, Young Mothers and Tracy Shedd round out an incredible start for a first year label.