Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010...According to Tim

2010 was a good year for indie music. It was very difficult to narrow down the year's best output to just 10 albums, but below are the 10 albums that made a lasting impact on me. As you can see, I left out albums from LCD Soundsystem, Sleigh Bells, Joanna Newsom, and The Drums. Although all of these albums were quite good, and I enjoyed them a lot, they just didn't make the cut.

10. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild
Hunt - Dead Oceans Records | The Tallest Man on Earth is the moniker of folk musician Kristian Matsson, who hails from Leksand, Sweden. In October, I purchased his five-song EP titled Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird and was immediately struck by the incredible song-writing and poetic lyrics. This led me to get a hold of The Wild Hunt LP, which was released in April. I was not disappointed! The LP contains eleven stripped down folk songs that highlight Kristian's vocals and acoustic guitar playing. The vocal lines and lyrics on the album remind me of Bob Dylan's best folk music from the early 1960's. But instead of just copying Bob Dylan, the music and lyrics have amazing depth that demand repeat listens.

9. The National - High Violet - 4AD Recordings | The National's Boxer was one of my favorite albums of 2007. I had very high expectations for their new release, and I think this made it very difficult for me to place this album very high on my top 10 list. As opposed to Boxer, which opened up with the highly energetic yet contemplative track "Fake Empire", High Violet begins with heavily distorted base pedal notes on the guitar and lead singer Matt Berninger singing "It's a terrible love that I'm walking with spiders". Overall, I found High Violet a darker and more demanding listen than The Boxer. But in the end, I found myself enjoying it more and more the more I played it. It has been said before, but The National have a great early-morning, post-drinking binge sound that comes through brilliantly throughout this album.

8. The New Pornographers - Together - Matador Records | Is it possible to write smart pop songs better than this? Doubt it! The Canadian super-group returned in force with Together, with A.C. Newman and Destroyer (Dan Bejar) teaming up to write 12 outstanding pop songs. My favorites are "Crash Years", which features Neko Case's powerful vocals, "Valkyrie in the Roller Disco", and "A Bite Out of My Bed" which features a trumpet cameo from Zach Condon of Beirut.

7. The Vampire Weekend - Contra - XL Recordings |
Led by lead singer Ezra Koenig, New York based indie-rock band Vampire Weekend put in an excellent sophomore effort with Contra. Self-professed as specialists in "Upper West Side Soweto" music, Contra does a great job of mixing quirky lyrics, with up-beat melodies and luscious instrumentation. Even after hearing this album more than a dozen times, it's hard to discern any deeper meaning in the lyrics, but who cares! With music that sounds this good, just turn it up an enjoy.

6. Spoon - Transference - Merge Records | This album could have been aptly titled "Another Side of Spoon". Coming off their brilliant and heavily-produced 2007 release Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference features a different Spoon sound: raw and fiery. While the songs are much more stripped down, they contain just as much depth as anything Spoon has put out in the past. Transference contained my favorite musical moment of 2010: about halfway into the track "Who Makes Your Money". Check it out!

5. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz - Asthmatic Kitty | Sufjan Stevens, the amazingly creative singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan, put out a great album this year in The Age of Adz. In past albums such as Michigan (2003) and Illinois (2005), Sufjan's songs spoke of love, lost, and economic decline through vast stories that often contained multiple characters and historical figures. The Age of Adz is a grand departure from these past albums in that the songs are in the first person, providing a more direct connection to Sufjan and his thoughts. This is not the most accessible of Sufjan's albums, so I wouldn't recommend it to people who are new to his music, but it has more depth and raw emotion than anything he has done before.

4. Beach House - Teen Dream - Sub Pop | This album came out in the early days of 2010, but it had such big impact on me that I had to put it on my top 10 list. Teen Dream is the third album put out by the Baltimore indie pop duo Beach House, and my first introduction to their work. From the melodic counterpoint of the first track "Zebra", to the dreamy zig zags of "Norway", Teen Dream works as a complete album, with a surreal, dreamy feel throughout. I've heard some complain that this album would put them to sleep. I disagree. This album has such a great sound to it, that I can't help but listen to it over and over again.

3. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast - Kanine | Surfer Blood has to be my pick for the best new band of 2010. These young University of Florida students have guitars and they know how to use them. I can't remember the last time guitars sounded this good. Track after track, they pop out amazing guitar riffs, which just want me to turn up the volume. I can't wait to hear more stuff from these guys in 2011.

2. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest - 4AD Recordings | This album was the biggest surprise for me this year. Being my first introduction to Deerhunter, I had no idea what to expect. What I discovered was a band that combined an amazing late-night, hazy sound reminiscent of the best of the Velvet Underground with a guitar rock sense reminiscent of Spoon. Not only does Halcyon Digest have a great cohesive sound, which may be the result of mixer Ben Allen (who also worked on Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion), but it also contains some immensely creative song-writing. I had to put this album at the top of my list.

1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs - Merge Records| This is a stunning third album by the Canadian indie-music supergroup. I was taken away by their debut album Funeral (2004), which contained stomping anthem after stomping anthem of emotion. Their second album, Neon Bible (2007), left me perplexed. Instead of honing their large sound, Neon Bible's dark, melancholic anthems began to feel heavy and tiresome. The Suburbs, however, is an unqualified return to form. The album's songs are inspired by two of the band members' upbringing in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Over the course of the album's 16 tracks, we travel through the desolate streets, shopping malls, and highways of the suburbs. Paired with Arcade Fire's crafty melodies and non-stop energy, this is my favorite album of 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Best Albums of 2010, in a single post...

With a different post each day, it can be kinda unwieldy to read them all. So here's a post with links to each post.

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

Best Albums of 2010 No 1 - Janelle Monae's 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

Best Albums of 2010 - The ones I liked but not enough to be in the Top 10

There were two full scoops of albums I thought were interesting or amazing, but not amazing enough to be in my Top 10 for the year. These are albums I encourage you to pick up, explore, fall in love with, put on a mixtape. They are albums that fill in the space of a year that my Top 10 could not.

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.

Best Albums of 2010, No 2 - The Roots' How I Got Over

There are no bad Roots records. There are only ones that don't appeal to you. Like that underground spaced out sound? You're probably an Illadelph Halflife. The rockier side of live instrumentation hip hop? Phrenology. Aggressive no holds barred We're The greatest boasting? Well, that's Things Fall Apart.

?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

Best Albums of 2010, No 3 - Spoon's Transference

When Britt Daniel's mother listened to Transference, she worried that Spoon might be going too metal.

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

The Year in Music...According to Zak

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

Best Albums of 2010, No 4 - The New Pornographers' Together

The first time I heard this album was at listening party in a crowded bar in a pretty popular bar in DC, with what can only be described as two New Pornographers super fans. Suffice to say not in the most ideal conditions.

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

Best Albums of 2010, No 5 - Girl Talk's All Day

To not like Girl Talk is to essentially say you have zero affection for any Billboard Top 200 hit across any genre for the past 40 years.

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

Best Albums of 2010, No 6 - Versus' On The Ones and Threes

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

Best Albums of 2010, No 7 - Kanye West's My Beautifu Dark Twisted Fantasy

Has there been a more eagerly anticipated, blogged about, loved album this year than Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? And it's only been out for three weeks!

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

Best Albums of 2010, No 8 - Sleigh Bells' Treats

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

Best Albums of 2010, No 9 - Surfer Blood's Astro Coast

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

Best Albums of 2010, No 10 - Vampire Weekend's Contra

"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

Best EP of 2010 - Cassis Orange

I'm behind the ball on this Best of 2010 Album thing, but I had a free minute, and thought I'd drop out what I thought was the best EP of 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.