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)

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Quick Review (LP): Interpol by Interpol

Interpol
Interpol
Matador; 2010

My Rating: C

Best Tracks: “Summer Well”, “Lights”, “Barricade”

The thing is I’ve never really loved Interpol. Even their first album, generally considered one of the best debuts of the last decade, only managed to plant three tracks under my skin. They’ve always seemed way too cold and a little too pleased with themselves. That being said, I will admit that those three tracks showed a lot of promise, but at this point, Interpol is beyond becoming what they might have been. When it comes to urban indie rock noir, The National crept up on Interpol and overtook them long ago. The theme here is apparently “success,” and predictably they sound bored with it. Their sound has become tired as well. Track titles like “Always Malaise” don’t suggest the irony I assume they are intended to, and the production, though huge, sounds sterile. All in all, I think Interpol’s story will soon come to an end. When all is said and done though, I guess they’ll always have “NYC.”

Pitchfork review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review (LP): Are You My Mother? by Kathryn Calder

Kathryn Calder
Are You My Mother?
File Under: Music; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Slip Away”, “Arrow”, “If You Only Knew”, “Day Long Past It’s Prime”

I’ve already declared my love for this record elsewhere (see below). The songwriting’s great, the melodies are big, the instrumentation is lush, and everyone sounds like they are having a great old time. Quieter numbers like “Low” and “Arrow” are gorgeously reflective and dream-like, making optimal use of Calder’s girl-next-door vocals. At the same time, “Castor & Pollux” and “Day Long Past It’s Prime” demonstrate a penchant for National-esque post-anthem indie rock. But my favorite tracks are the ones that take the folk turns, especially “If You Only Knew.” The back-porch band approach makes for one of the best tracks of the year. The under-impressed accounts from the usual suspects be damned; our lady’s a musical force to be reckoned with. Any outtakes or b-sides there, KC?

Tracknotes: “If You Only Knew”
Albumnotes
Paste review
Pitchfork review
Her Myspace page

Quick Review (LP): High Violet by The National

high-violet The National
High Violet
4AD; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “Terrible Love”, “Sorrow”, “Bloodbuzz Ghost”, “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” a wise man once said. And who is The National to argue with that? Coming off of Boxer, which made them one of indie’s undisputed heavyweights, the band apparently tried to craft something a bit more upbeat. They failed, and the result is this haunting and opaque beauty of a record. At first, it comes off like “Boxer, part 2”, but after a few listens you’ll start to pick up on singer Matt Berninger really stretching himself and the rest of the band changing things up ever so slightly. For all of the cold tones of their sound, The National have at root an Americana soul that imbues their music with a warmth and richness that most upstarts of the NYC scene can’t quite attain. For what it’s worth, I think The National have officially become what Interpol might have been with a little heat to balance out their sound: America’s own chroniclers of urban lonesome and paranoia.

The National’s website
Daytrotter downloads
”Terrible Love” video
Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Quick Review: Pope Killdragon LP by Strand of Oaks

Pope-Killdragon-Cover I was an instant fan of Strand of Oaks after hearing “Bonfire” a few months back. Timothy Showalter has an approach that might best be described as creepy campfire folk, evoking all kinds of dark season imagery through melancholy vocals (a la Robin Pecknold), acoustic guitar, and eerie, lush synth. “West River” opens things in instrumental fashion, invoking the spirits of the other songs like any good overture should. “Bonfire” remains the obvious standout, but I really dug “Daniel’s Blues” for raising the early SNL players to archetypal glory. I don’t know that this is quite achieves what “Bonfire” set my expectations to, as some of the songs blend into a monotonous drone (an easy thing for this type of music), but it is a solid effort nevertheless, and I recommend checking it out. “Bonfire” is simply a must-hear. Rating: B. RiYL: Fleet Foxes, The National, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Songs:Ohia, Red House Painters.

Listen Here (Myspace site)
Pitchfork Review
Hearya Session
Daytrotter Session

Worth Shouting About: SUFJAN, SUFJAN, SUFJAN!

via Asthmatic KittyFirst we get a new “EP” (All Delighted People, with an emphasis on the “extended”), now we get news of a new LP (The Age of Adz, so much for the 50 states project???), and a sample track from the album. Give it a listen below:

The Asthmatic Kitty website has this to say about the album:

“It’s much too soon to cast descriptive lots, but we can say the new album sounds nothing like the All Delighted EP (although it shares similar themes of love, loss, and the apocalypse). Nor is this new album built around any conceptual underpinning (no odes to states, astrology, or urban expressways).

We can say it shows an extensive use of electronics (banjos and acoustic guitars give way to drum machines and analog synthesizers), and an obsession with cosmic fantasies (space, heaven, aliens, love), to create an explicit pop-song extravaganza, augmented by heavy orchestration, and maybe even a few danceable moments. Enjoy Your Rabbitmeets the BQE. But with songs. Verse, chorus, bridge, backbeat. Gated reverb. Space echo. Get your boogey on.”

Gotta admit, I’m still holding out for My Olde Kentucky Home: Colonel Sanders’ Mutant Fried Chicken Extravaganza, if for no other reason than to hear some cosmic, hardcore bluegrass from Dr. Stevens’ lab.

For a guy who has supposedly been “all quiet” for a few years, Sufjan in reality has remained surprisingly prolific. This will be his fourth major release in two years (BQE, Rabbit, All Delighted, and Age of Adz). Dude is anything but lazy!

AlbumNotes: Kathryn Calder’s “Are You My Mother?”

via radio3.cbc.ca

  • I’ll admit I was skeptical about Kathryn Calders debut when it was first announced a few months back. I didn’t know about her work in Immaculate Machine, and she’d only managed to make a star appearance on a few New Pornographers tracks since joining the band mid-decade. And anyway, the circumstances of her joining the band oddly struck of nepotism.
  • Any doubts that I had have been blown away. Are You My Mother? is a solid debut. Great melodies, fun arrangements, diverse rhythms, and crafty wordplay. It plays like one of Uncle Carl’s solo records, maybe less angular. I’ve been telling everyone I can about this record.
  • My favorite tracks are “If You Only Knew”, “Follow Me Into the Hills”, and “Slip Away.” Additionally, “Day Long Past Its Prime” sounds like The National fronted by a female vocalist. Really good stuff.
  • Apparently, it’s a very personal record as well. Calder’s mother died in the process of recording it. For anyone who has ever read the children’s book that gave her the album’s title, there’s plenty of emotional resonance here.
  • I’m thinking this one will probably wind up on my top 10 albums of 2010. At that point, I intend to give it the appropriate write-up.