Top 10 Albums for 2010
What has been difficult for 2010 is that few albums stand out clearly as my favorites but so many others haven’t stuck with me. This has been a year that I’ve experienced excellent new music mostly in small form through EPs (Parenthetical Girls), 7“s (Panda Bear), singles (Summer Camp) and downloads.
I know many may disagree and I’m usually generally enthusiastic but I’m curious to know if others had similar experiences this year. 2010 has been a year that I’ve seen my favorite bands return with albums that I looked forward to but for some reason didn’t have staying power (Vampire Weekend), were difficult even when rewarding (The Books), will never match their caliber of earlier works (Arcade Fire), or outright disappointed me (of Montreal).
I have a suspicion, while chillwave is having its 15 minutes of fame and distracting everyone, somewhere out there a new band of upstarts are making their mark, and for that I look forward.
Until then – without any countdown- here are my top 10 albums of 2010.
Owen Pallett – Heartland (Domino)
Begun with an EP in 2008 Spectrum, 14th Century, the story of Heartland is carried out here like the best parts of the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings trilogies. The story reads quite the same: there is an ultra-violent farmer who questions his God (he who is self-referentially Owen Pallett) and must defeat the minor demons in the world of Spectrum before throwing his forsaken lord down the side of a cliff. Classic.
Heartland is built around the violin and loop pedal for which fans love (or are awed by) Pallett and his previous Final Fantasy releases. The orchestrations are dense, employing a Czech symphony, giving the album a sound that bursts at the seams. The songs are never a traditional affair, on “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” the steam-punk locomotion comes from the marrying of woodwinds and vintage electronics that amplify Pallett’s understated and defiant lyric “I’m never gonna give it to you!”
You can get lost in Heartland‘s epic poetry and tangle of dark symphony and I hope you do. Lose your way and come out the other side holding the lost treasure of this album’s 12 tracks.
Sufjan Stevens – The Ade of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
The end of the opener sums up the album in both heartbreak and the difficulty of communicating those hidden, honest feelings that overcome us: “And I would say ‘I love you’ / But saying it aloud is hard / So I won’t say it at all / And I won’t stay very long / But you are the life I needed all along / I think of you as my brother / Although that sounds dumb / And words are futile devices”
This song is the only composition on the whole album of simply guitar and Stevens’s soft vox. It presents itself like an unconscious thesis or preamble to the cacophony which follows. And what follows is a war between organic music of voices and instruments which often are defeated by an army of blips, glitches, beats, and echoed loops. As each song develops its own personality and voice, each listen and becomes a world unto it’s own. The lyrics contradict each other. There is schizophrenia in the songs, much like the subject of them – artist Royal Robertson – who acts like a stand-in for Stevens, so that he may come out of his shell.
Whether he comes out in his spirituality or freak-on, innocence or confusion, or just simply love, the songs are enough to allow us a glimpse past those cynical labels we apply to Stevens and begin to experience his internal clockwork of divinity. When the barriers between the music, the lyrics, the subject, and the artist — and finally ourselves — break down like they do on The Age of Adz I find it difficult to deny the power it has when it takes that area where our heart rests and rips it out, dropping us into a freefall.
Holly Miranda – The Magician’s Private Library (XL Recordings)
If The Magicians Private Library were a girl, then we dated for the better half of the year. She is atmospheric brooding and sharp witted and has traits that remind me of a long flirtation I had with the Bat for Lashes debut. Occasionally, the music-box references can be cloying but the songs overcome those moments quickly, asserting their ferocity through the use of horns and the sheer force of Miranda’s voice.
Where this album shines, it is in songs like “Waves”, “Slow Burn Treason”, and “Sleep on Fire.” All three of which share the quality of taking enough time and pacing to become intimate. By using boy-girl vocals to show off their soft force with haunting refrains like “Who’s gonna to feel you / Who’s gonna to lead you / Who’s gonna want you / Who’s going to hold you / Who’s gonna love you / Who’s gonna tease you / Who?” The album can be unsettling, but that’s why you shack up with her, to learn about her and yourself, and those faults and flummoxes are what make it all worth it.
Video from AesopTwin
Silje Nes – Opticks (FatCat)
Nes makes me rethink my assumptions about songs and how they fit into my conceptual compartments.
I think classic Krautrock and then she’s Folk(tronica) and I think Noisepop then she’s Twee, I think ethereal Shoegaze and she’s back to Krautrock. All in the first song from Opticks, “The Glass Harp.” The track is intentional, focused, and only messy because she designed the song way. Nes is a master craftsman that can best be equated with the Swiss clock-smiths of yore, creating intricate objects of precision and shiny beauty.
The songs that bring it home are “Rewind” and “Silver > Blue” as a pair. “Rewind” is Nes at her most playful where the noise she creates on is at a micro- or toy-scale and she explores repetition and texture. The song leads into the Thurston Moore cover, and intentionally or not, proves itself as a No Wave manifesto. Because she’s drawn this analogy with herself and Sonic Youth frontman, Nes becomes a modern day punk, using modern day tools to create succulent music that outgrows the Lilliputian-notes she puts to tape.
Sleigh Bells – Treats (N.E.E.T.)
Derek Millar’s guitar sounds like a Stealth Bomber, Alexis Krause sings like she’s got an axe to grind and sometimes she sounds just like a guitar. Together they make songs so stripped down and out of distortion, I cannot believe they can be that simple. Add a Funkadelic sample, add some backing beats, add lyrics that are more than hummable anthems to kids in Jr. High everywhere “Wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces / What about them / I’m all about them.” Now go!
Former Ghosts – New Love. (Upset the Rhythm)
The sophomore album from Freddy Ruppert wrenches more blood from a stone than the debut Fluers did. On this album, Ruppert has more on the line and more to prove, there’s more to say and it may be summed up from a line in the first single “New Orleans”:
“It’s my fault / I fell in love in the first place.”
Adding Yasmine Kittles (Tearist) to the collaborators Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) and Nika Rosa (Zola Jesus) is a good addition. The female vocals on “Winter’s Year,” “Chin Up”, and “Only in Time” pop, burst and shake against the rest of the album which have Ruppert’s panic and anger-smoldering baritone.
I still hold that there are moments when Former Ghosts remind me of Joy Division and Siouxsie & The Banshees with all the post-punk washed off and replaced with some fresh makeup. On New Love., the compositions may be darker and more tarnished, but that is only because you see it against the beaming pulsations of light from Ruppert’s pain.
The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme (Labrador)
“People see rock’n‘roll as youth culture. And when youth culture becomes monopolized by big business, what are the youth to do? Do you, do you have any idea? I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.”
If that opening sample from Thurston Moore on the “Heaven on Fire” single gets you riled up listen to the Russian Futurist-esque of song that follows. The Radio Dept. consistently make exceptional pop-craft from Sweden, they are undervalued and underplayed.
The first single pushes up the ante just a little bit, delivering on what they are good at while keeping a little unpredictable. Their hazy-laments and sleepy-hooks are the reining king over anything that sounds like early Cure or New Order with some digitized smoke of My Blood Valentine just to keep things interesting.
Yeasayer – Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)
Don’t forget that Odd Blood came out at the beginning of 2010. Remember how many times you put “Ambling Alp” on repeat, or that others did, or XM Radio did. Is that why this album may have dropped off your radar? Did you get your fill with the hype around last year’s Dirty Projectors or Animal Collective (awesome) albums and their “experimental” art-rock? Take another listen – still addictive and sweet as See’s Toffee-ettes.
“You must stick up for yourself, son / Nevermind what everybody else done”
Also get their Live at Ancienne Belgique album at your own price.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)
For only if there were songs “Helicopter” and “He Would Have Laughed” this album would have made my list.
Both songs about the death of fallen figures in the Russian news and in music (Jay Reatard), evoke the most grotesque parts in us and still show us something we can hold onto and see as beautiful. This is the genius of front-man, Bradford Cox, and the enigmatic songs that come out of Deerhunter.
The songs on this album secure their sound somewhere between shoegaze-y guitar-based torch songs and the head-thumping evolution of Krautrock with a little Beach Boys sunshine slathered in there. The distinction between genres is a line that is difficult to draw. What the band can do with guitars surpass most patchwork artists with top of the line electronics and samplers.
Crocodiles – Sleep Forever (Fat Possum)
A band that I serendipitously saw in concert and became an instant convert is Crocodiles. Back that with one of the years best covers/mashups “Grove is in the Heart / California Girls” as the b-side of “Sleep Forever.” The only possible misgiving I has is my own butterfly tendencies when it comes to music and not spending enough ear time with this Modrocker-Come-Surfgazer outfit.
Imagine if Echo & The Bunnymen wore Hawaiian teeshirts and covered 90s house-version of Psychocandy, something like that. I forsee much more from this band that my only consolation is to spin this disc a few more times and see what else can be gleamed.
Video montage from StinkerGod