Best of 2010 (LP): My Top 5 Albums

Here’s a list of what I reviewed in 2010, with links to each individual review. I knew what my top 3 were beyond a shadow of a doubt, and the other 2 won out because I felt like there were pretty grand achievements from established acts. Notably, you won’t find The Suburbs, Age of Adz, or Contra here. The grammy-winner was long on pretense and short on strong material, the Sufe-ster went too far into left field, and the prep-punks got a little too glossy and cute. That’s OK though, those acts still have their best days ahead of them.

Below you’ll find my Top 5 records for 2010. What’s on your list?

kathryn calder are you my mother beach house teen dream

5. The Books – The Way Out…When it comes to “soundscaping” types of record, I normally expect the ones I enjoy to be good background music (ie Boards of Canada). The Way Out goes way beyond the confines of its genre, achieving a sort of giddy, off-the-wall, and soulful poppiness that may not be quite radio-friendly, but says it might just be possible a few albums from now. Otherwise, this is a great record, remarkably listenable and appealling for “found-sound.” “Cold Freezin’ Night” never ceases to put a smile on my face, but “I Didn’t Know That” is pretty cool too. (original review)

4. The National – High Violet…With HV, The National has officially become the greatest indie band to emerge in the last decade, taking ideas pioneered by the likes of Joy Division, REM, Interpol, Radiohead, Wilco, and others and creating their own mesmerizing blend of gut-wrenching chamber rock. The big highlight here though is Matt Berninger’s vocal work, which goes way beyond anything he’s done before. He uses his world-weary baritone to maximum effect, bringing in realms of emotion that have heretofore reamined untouched for The National. To that end, “Afraid of Everyone” is one of the record’s highlights, and probably Berninger’s most gut-wrenching performance to date. (original review)

3. Follow The Train – Mercury…At some point, great bands stopped thinking in terms of stadium-sized rock and roll. Follow The Train appears to be trying to reverse that trend, and while they may not be playing actual stadiums quite yet, with Mercury, they’ve prepared a set of tunes that would certainly do the trick. In fact, I can’t think of a band that has dreamed of making GOOD rock and roll this grand since Pearl Jam hit the airwaves in the early 90’s. This record is quite simply a delight in every way. I don’t know what the future holds for Follow The Train, but after the glory that is Mercury, I’m hoping they will let the world hear more. “Movin” is the best place to start. (original review)

2. Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?…Here’s one I really didn’t see coming. When Kathryn Calder joined New Pornographers a few years back, I figured she was simply standing in for Neko Case and would be relegated to backing band status. When she announced a solo album earlier this year, I barely took notice. Yet somehow, I gave this one a shot, and I’m thrilled I did. Packed with melody, romance, optimism, and spaced-out folk tunes, Calder’s debut is the understated gem of the year, a record with a little something for everyone. While it might not make many year-end lists, that just makes me all the prouder to tout it on mine. I certainly don’t mean to be patronizing when I say that this is one charming little record. Here’s a live take of my favorite, “If You Only Knew.” Oh yeah, and another prime tune (and cool video), “Arrow.” (original review)

1. Beach House – Teen Dream…On their third album, Beach House went for broke, and nailed it. Teen Dream contains ten pop masterpieces, songs that can’t be contained by studios or venues or any other confined space that you might dream up. From the epic swell of “Zebra” to the closing credits of “Take Care”, this a record that you’ll fall in love with, in large part due to the moonlight wails of Victoria Legrand, a vocalist that certainly ranks up there with the likes of Neko and Stevie Nicks. Words fail with this one. If you haven’t heard this yet, then what in the world are you waiting for? Here’s “Walk in the Park“, which was a runner-up for my year-end track list next to “Zebra.”  (original review)

Best of 2010 (EP): Top 3 Extended Players

I’ve never been a fan of filler, so I prefer a great EP to a decent full-length, especially because bands often reserve their most obtusely interesting moments for them. Chronic Town, 7 Songs, A Beautiful Place Out In The Country…I could go on. EP’s are less frequent affairs though, so I’m restricting the list to a Top 3 in this category. The competition was stiff. I reviewed 6 EP’s in the last few months of 2010 alone, and I gave 4 of them A’s. Wye Oak and Real Estate both put out strong offerings in this category, and I didn’t even get around to reviewing Crocodiles’ Fires of Comparison (def. solid) or any number of short offerings from newcomers.

 

from famous-painters.org

My Top 3 EP’s of 2010

3. The Seance EP by Stars…With the exception of the last one, the tracks here certainly rival most of the material on The Five Ghosts as synth-pop heavyweights. Exceptionally mix-worthy, as they say. These are the songs you listen to on the way home after the show has ended, with the windows rolled down and the cold night air keeping you awake. And the last one may not be as poppy, but it recalls The Cure’s darker and more ambient work, which fits the same vibe. Nicely done. (read my original review) [listen to “Opinion vs. The Sun”]

2. The Years EP by Memoryhouse…”Sleep Patterns” is fantastic enough to make a new Nickelback EP worth a listen (no it’s not), but the fact is that the other three tracks here measure up as well. This is super-sleepy, even for dream-pop, and it’s the ambient layers that make all the difference. Where a similar act, say, Beach House, emphasizes dynamics and the wall of sound, Memoryhouse prefers drones and blurred over synth effects. Heck, “The Waves” is a dead-ringer for 90’s infomercial new-age ambient kings Enigma. Gotta respect that. So, yeah, Memoryhouse – fantastic nostalgia-rock, chanting Hindi dude not included. (read my original review)  [listen to “Lately”]

1. All Delighted People EP by Sufjan Stevens…Already raved about “All Delighted People.” The rest of the EP is incredible too. Thought I could have done without a “Classic Rock” version of the title track, there’s no denying that Sufjan represents here. “Heirloom” and “From the Mouth of Gabriel” are favorites, and the vocal work on “Enchanting Ghost” sends chills up my spine. Still, it’s “Djohariah” that’s the true wonder here, a birthday tune he wrote for his little sis. Dang prodigies… (read my original review) [listen to “Heirloom”]

Best of 2010 (Tracks): 80 Minutes of the Best Music

Before I get around to telling you my 5 favorite albums of 2010, take a few minutes to consider this little mix of what I consider to be 80 minutes of the best music released last year…

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Now the tracklist isn’t in any particular order, but below I’ve written up what I consider to be the top 8 and linked to where you can listen for yourself. Enjoy!

My Top 8 tracks of 2010

1. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire…Somehow the best track got tucked away at the tail-end of The Suburbs. Regine Chassagne sounds so good. On past efforts, her contributions were always welcome additions, but over the electronic backing here, she delivers a stark and captivating performance that steals the show. Lyrically, this is the most stunning track I’ve heard in ages. As a pop song, it sounds like it’s a lost synth-pop classic from the 80’s. Simply brilliant. (listen)

2. “Movin” by Follow the Train…There is a tiny minority out there that knows what I am talking about when I say, “World, it’s high time you meet Follow The Train.” And there’s no better place to start than this transcendent piece of freaked-out, soulful, symphonic space grunge. Dig those strangz dawg. (listen)

3. “All Delighted People” by Sufjan Stevens…Don’t call it a come back. The Age of Adz still hasn’t grabbed me like I hoped it would, but Sufjan made such a grand return with the preceding EP that I’ve pretty much shrugged it off. The EP’s title track is quite possibly the most glorious thing he has yet recorded. It takes everything that we’ve grown to love about the mild-mannered Suferman, vamps it up to a grand symphony, throws in a fireworks display, makes a joyful noise, and then pushes it completely over the top. Now THAT is how you make a return to centerstage! (listen)

4. “Zebra” by Beach House…The most elegant song on this list, it’s an impressionistic little waltz that, as I’ve said before, somehow becomes a stadium-sized thunder track. Between Victoria Legrand’s vocals and Alex Scally’s instrumentation, what on paper appears quite simple becomes dream-like and absolutely gorgeous. (listen)

5. “If You Only Knew” by Kathryn CalderWrote about it here. For those wondering what AC Newman was thinking when he asked his mousy niece to play Christine McVie to Neko Case’s Stevie Nicks, this should give you some indication. My pick for the backporch singalong track of the year. Too much fun…

6. “Bonfire” by Strand of Oaks…Imagine if you will a character in an 80’s slasher flick who sits by a campfire and sings a lonely song that is simultaneously terrifying and pathetic, all while, unbeknownst to him, his cohorts are butchered in the cabin just across the water. You have just imagined “Bonfire” by Strand of Oaks, and it is actually one of the most touching and atypical love songs you’ll ever hear. (listen)

7. “A Cold Freezin’ Night” by The Books…Found sound usually isn’t this giddy and delightful. The bottom line is, this reminds me of all the good things about being nine years old. Who needs verse-chorus-verse? And the video is BADNESS…

8. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National…It was hard to pick just one track from High Violet. I can think of 3 or 4 great tracks that could have been here as well. But ulimately, the lyric “I still owe money/to the money/to the money I owe” was just too good to pass up. (listen)

What were some of your favorites?

Best of 2010 (Albums): Honorable Mention

Before we get too deep in 2011, I thought I’d put a bow on 2010 this week. I’ll be listing a CD-R’s worth of my favorite tracks, my top 5 albums, and maybe a few other things this week. Too start things off, a list of great albums that deserve some sort of honorable mention…

cerebellum tewligans

Cerebellum 1989 (via Slamdek.com)

 

While these albums didn’t quite make my top 5 this year, I don’t think there is any doubt that I will be listening to them frequently for years to come.

She & Him – Volume 2: I almost didn’t even bother here, but I’m really glad I did. Discovering this was like finding out about an old rock masterpiece. There’s a lot of warmth in ZD’s voice and songwriting, and M. Ward’s flourishes round out the best traditional pop record of the year. (listen to “Lingering Still“) Read my original review.

New Pornographers – Together: I’m not really sure how AC Newman keeps getting such inspiration out of this wacky ensemble, but Together, as its name would imply, manages to achieve both a stunning overall unity and the most idiosyncratic performances from each of the key players yet. Neko’s at her best on “The Crash Years”, Dan’s a wacky loverboy on “Silver Jenny Dollar”, Kathryn Calder shines on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk”, and Dr. Newman rounds out just about everything else. Fantastic artsy power pop, fabulous performances, a great experience all around. (listen to “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk“) Read my original review.

Venice Is Sinking – Sand & Lines: This is what rainy Saturday mornings feel like. The great thing about this record is that you can get up close to it or leave it on in the background, either way you enjoy it. As I’ve said before, I wish more bands would just hang a microphone from the ceiling and play a set. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for ViS. (“Bardstown Road“) Read my original review.

Frontier(s) – There Will Be No Miracles Here: Chris Higdon returns 7 years after the demise of Elliott with a record heavy on the DC-style hardcore. As packed as this one is with melodic, chunky riffs, comparisons to Jawbox seem obvious but entirely appropriate. Oh yeah, and it grows on you too. (“Abul Abbas“) Read my original review.

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise: Recorded in the late 70’s, this is a gold mine for just about anyone who cares about rock and roll. Did we really need a reminder of what a monumental and unique talent Bruce Springsteen is? The Boss himself seems to think we did, and for that, I’d like to shake his hand. (“Someday (We’ll Be Together)“) Read my original review.

Stars – The Five Ghosts: Stars fully embraced 80’s synth-pop on this record, and what came of it was one of the most listenable and catchy collection of tunes imaginable. With all their earnestness, I get a feeling it’s becoming less and less cool to like Stars, but don’t let that hold you back. This is some serious ear candy, so just indulge your sonic sweet tooth already. (“Wasted Daylight“) Read my original review.

Cerebellum – Cerebellum: How could this not be awesome? Cerebellum came to a pre-mature end in 1989, leaving only 5 studio tracks (collected here) and a handful of other unrecorded songs. They recorded them for posterity this year, and it’s remarkable just how much these guys sound like they are picking up right where they left off. The big highlight is the mighty “Crawl Out of the Water”, which existed as an inferior Crain demo. It’s in all its glory here. (“Crawl Out of the Water“) Read my original review.