Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top Albums of 2010 - Some Runners Up and Some Singles

The Black Keys - 'Brothers' 
By far my most listened to album of 2010.  Just amazing from first to last note, I never tire of it.  I enjoy hearing them branch out on this release, incorporating bass, keyboards, backing vocals.  The album is so refined but never once abandons their trademark sweaty, grimy, blues rock.  You can literally hear the Alabama humidity in the famed Muscle Shoals Studio on this album.  They were able to effortlessly capture the feel of the countless records made in that studio.  Dan Auerbach is pushing his singing into new territory as well; offering up a suprisingly on point falsetto in 'Everlasting Light'.  The lyrics in songs like 'Next Girl' refer directly (I am assuming) to the messy divorce of drummer Patrick Carney.  It appears that Dan is singing for him here, letting him know he has a second chance to love again and he should turn the page on the "ex-girl".  The DangerMouse produced 'Tighten Up' is just plain fun - it is actually impossible for me to hate any song with whistling in it (save for children's songs).  I think 'Howlin' For You' is a cover but they play it like they wrote it.  The album isn't overlong or too short, it is perfect, not one song is a misstep. Quite possibly one of the few releases that is flawless.   

Highlights - 'Everlasting Light', 'Sinister Kid', 'Ten Cent Pistol', oh hell, listen to the whole thing obsessively. 
Further listening - seek out some of the live material with the additional keyboards, bass, and rhythm guitar. 

Vampire Weekend - 'Contra'
I will admit it, I wholeheartedly love Vampire Weekend.  It is like Paul Simon and Talking Heads had a baby and that baby absolutely adores me.  I enjoy the hell out of their releases.  They remind me that I am allowed to have fun.  This LP had a firm grasp on my record player for months, never leaving, constantly spinning.  The album cover faced me every time I descended my stairs, with that hipster photo of an 80s era blonde chick.  She hung out for so long, I feel as if I know her intimately now.  It was the soundtrack of Winter/Spring 2010 and has leaked into Summer/Fall/Winter - basically a part of my DNA.  Each tune is just effortless, they know their musical niche and they do it well.  'Giving Up The Gun' is their finest moment.  A true step forward in their songcraft. 

Highlights - 'Giving Up The Gun', 'California English', 'Diplomat's Son'. 
Further Listening - check out 'California English Part 2' on the bside of the Cousins 7" single. 

The Radio Dept. - 'Clinging To A Scheme'
I never would have heard this album if it weren't for the holy grail of snarky websites, pitchfork.  I check their site a couple times a week and troll through the best new music category looking for new bands.  Truthfully, the album cover displayed on their site caught my interest.  A grainy vintage photo of a young dude - possibly a Vietnam era soldier - smoking out of the barrell of a rifle, face engulfed in smoke, graces the cover.  It is pretty arresting, but upon buying the album (non LP sadly, they made a small amount and I am not cool enough to own one) it was the music that was equally arresting.  I knew nothing of the Swedish dubby, downtempo, dream poppers before this release.  From what I can gather they are pretty sporadic with their releases.  'Clinging To A Scheme' floats out of the speakers in a pop haze reminscent of The Dream Academy and synth based Euro/UK bands of the early 80s.  This is THE record to put on if you are home from work with the flu.  As you sink into your couch in a cough medicine haze, put on your headphones and sink a little further.  The vocals are amazing. 

Highlights - "Heaven's on Fire', 'Never Follow Suit', 'This Time Around'.  Hell listen to the whole thing - its under 40 mins. 
Further Listening - 'Never Follow Suit' EP

Broken Bells - 'Broken Bells'
Much like most of the world, I had never heard of The Shins prior to Garden State.  Thank you Nathalie Portman/Padmae.  Ok, there we go.  I used all the cliche references to The Shins, the same ones that are in every damn article you read about them.  So long story short - James Mercer and producer/arranger extraordinaire DangerMouse get together and recorded Broken Bells.  AND it is amazing.  A home run really.  It captures the pop sensibilties of both talents and melds together into some very solid songs.  It has the right amount of oddball quirky layered musical backdrops for Mercer's oddball quirky lyrics and trademark high register delivery.  It has the ability to transport me to some other planet, filled with great tunes. 
Highlights - 'The High Road', 'Your Head Is On Fire', 'The Mall & Misery', 'The Ghost Inside'. 
Further Listening - 'Meyrin Fields' - Bside to 'The Ghost Inside' single. 

Damien Jurado - 'Saint Bartlett'
Whilst racing through the streets of Montreal to a brewery in our friend Scott's van, this album made its way into my life.  After being completely floored by the voice, I immediately asked what it was.  Scott started gushing about Damien Jurado.  I was instantly sold.  Damien's voice and sparse accompanyments cut to the core of your very being.  It is rare to find musicians so honest and naked.  That night between delicious pints of craft brews, I made every effort to remember the artists name as the album wasn't due in stores for weeks.  It truly was a privilage to hear it prior to the release date or else I never would have known about him.  I bided my time until the release date, decided to forego local purchase and get it straight through the source with Burnt Toast Vinyl (Scott's incredibly cool label).  It too has a firm grasp on my turntable.  The atherial vocals accompanied with tastefully arranged strings allows 'Cloudy Shoes' to standout as an opening cut.  It was about a half hour before I could get past this song and onto the second track - spinning it over and over.  I greatly enjoy 'Throw Your Voice' and it isn't just because he sings "Michael", but because of its slow burn tale of what I can only contrue as heartbreak.  The album closes with the stark 'With Lightning In Your Hands' another triumph in his wide catalog of acoustic balladry. 

Highlights - 'Cloudy Shoes', 'Throw Your Voice', 'Kansas City'. 
Further Listening - Four Songs EP on Burnt Toast Vinyl. 

LCD Soundsystem - 'This Is Happening'
I like dance music.  LCD likes making dance music.  It is a match made in disco ball heaven.  I first fell in love with LCD upon hearing the first cowbell whacks of 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House' off their self titled album.  I assumed they were either English or from outer space.  Turns out they are the purveyors of cool in the epicenter of hip out of Brooklyn, NY.  Great thing about LCD is that they do not make music for hipsters, they make it for music junkies.  'This Is Happening' is so tight, wrapped up, and on the money it is truly a miracle of modern music.  James Murphy's vocals continue to shine, channeling his inner Bowie, his inner Moz at will.  The band has never sounded better.  LCD is a true dance band, cutting everything with actual instruments (gasp!) and live drums which sadly is becoming less and less common. 
Opening track 'Dance Yrself Clean' is classic LCD - subscribing to the slow build formula that they gave us in 'Get Innocuous' off the 'Sound of Silver' LP.  By the time the beat hits in 'Dance Yrself Clean' you are wanting it so badly it is maddening.  Then it hits, the spazzy synth and the drum beat is total elation coupled with a song about turning to music and dancing to rid thyself of everyday tedium.  'One Touch' is downright hypnotic with its propulsive synth and drums.  'I Can Change' is my favorite tune by a long shot.  Murphy's voice turns elastic while delivering a sad-bastard ode to being lonely - "I can change/If it helps me fall in love".  LCD can deliver songs like that and frat house anthems like 'Drunk Girls' with ease.  I hope they continue to produce material of this caliber, because lets face it, the world needs it.

Highlights-  'Dance Yrself Clean', 'I Can Change', 'Pow Pow', 'One Touch'
Further Listening- LCD's live album 'London Sessions', 'I Can Change' remixes by Tiga and Stereogamous. 

Spoon - 'Transference'
I am very transparent in my Spoon love.  Whenever they release an album it will be on my year end best-of list.  I listen to them obsessively, thinking that if they are the soundtrack to my day, I will somehow get some of their coolness via musical osmosis.  'Transference' is a definite change of pace for Spoon.  Rather than the impossibly perfect arrangements of prior albums, 'Transference' seems much more in-the-moment and off the cuff.  They are allowing themselves to wing it and make mistakes, some of them even show up on the final cut.  Even though they may be winging it, their tracks come through in classic Spoon fashion - witty, snarky, spiky, groove based and just so fu**ing cool.  They make early Elvis Costello records sound lame they are so cool.  'Mystery Zone' is a standout: playful, clean and a great story about an alternate world.  Said alternate world is exactly where I head to when listening to music, I have to thank them for giving it a name.  'Written in Reverse' is completely disjointed and compared to other tightly composed Spoon songs seems a bit unhinged.  It is the disjointed/unhinged aspect that makes it so utterly amazing.  'Trouble Comes Running' sounds like a first take, starting with distant demo sounding guitar strumming before vaulting into the song.  Piano ballad 'Goodnight Laura' will be sung to my children someday with their names in place of Laura's.  Album closer 'Nobody Gets Me But You" offers a stripped down arrangement and a bass line that Prince would have killed for in the 'Controversy' days.  Spoon always delivers.  They have an incredible ability to make the listener feel cool.  That is what it is all about. 

Highlights - 'Mystery Zone', 'Nobody Gets Me But You', 'I Saw The Light', pretty much the entire album actually. 
Further Listening - Check out their performance of 'Nobody Gets Me But You' with ?uestlove on Fallon

Ryan Montbleau Band - 'Heavy On the Vine'
RMB band never ceases to amaze me.  We have watched them evolve into a serious, professional, and awesome band.  This is their most coherent effort, their big record with Martin Sexton producing.  I thought having Sexton as producer would hurt the band, ultimately casting a big name shadow over our little band that could.  The truth is, you really can't tell that Sexton fingerprints are on the record, which is perfect.  It is like he just guided the ship and let the players play. 
Opener 'Slippery Road' we find them in familiar territory, putting Ryan's shining vocals out front weaving his words into stories and the band backing him up with classic and timely instrumentation.  'Songbird' is an easy standout.  It effortlessly lilts between summer pop and lite-reggae laced with Lawerence's viola runs.  'I Can't Wait' is essential, again riding the viola runs and showing off some call and response lyrics.  I heard the track live a couple of times and knew it was a keeper. 

Highlights - 'My Best Guess', 'Songbird', 'I Can't Wait', 'More and More and More'
Further listening - Live recordings from Fall Tour 2010, 'Stages Vol 2' (Ryan Solo). 

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - 'III/IV'
Unfortuantely I have not received this album yet, damn "presale".  But I just wanted to type it out as to will it to my mailbox. 

Runners Up/Notables/Singles
Gorillaz - 'Plastic Beach' - Amazing record. "Yourawinnah"
Wild Nothing - 'Golden Haze' EP - Steeped in 80s synth washes
Girls - 'Broken Dreams Club' EP - Pleasent surprise. 
Robyn - 'Dancing On My Own' single - This guy likes his Euro-Pop ok?
Usher - 'DJ's Got Us Fallin' In Love' single - Yep.  Usher. 
Cee-Lo Green - 'F**k You' single - Undeniable.

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