So, strangely, this marks the very first year-end best-of list that I have ever actually put together. Despite running my college radio station and editing its music blog, and despite having had this site up for more than a year, I’ve somehow managed to avoid putting one up. I mean, I’ve thought about it every year, created a mental list, surveyed my listening habits and took stock of what really mattered to me out of everything I’d heard. Maybe my follow through just needs work… Who knows.
At any rate, this year I finally actually put the pen to paper (so to speak) and have diligently compiled my best of 2010 list. It may be a bit later than the heard, but who really cares, the calendar hasn’t flipped… yet haha. The funny thing is, I set out to make a top 10. I hate the arbitraryness of that over-used marker but it seemed as good a place as any to start. When it got down to it however, there were really only a solid 9 that I thought were worthy of the title. Strange but true.
I will not claim these to be the BEST records of 2010, doing so would imply that I have heard all, or at least most, of the music released this year and that is patently untrue. I, like most music lovers, have tended to stay within the realm of my own preferred spheres of music. Rather, this is by all accounts a list of my favorite releases of this year, the ones I couldn’t put down. The ones that looped infinitely on my ipod to and from work. The ones that I danced around in my living room to. Additionally, there are a few noteworthy records out there that I have not yet managed to get my hands on. Having not given them a thorough listen for one reason or another I felt it dishonest to include them in this list, despite the fact that I may very well later regard them to be one of the best of the year.
Ok, disclaimer over. Lets get to it!
Here is, in no particular order, the FastForward/Rewind 2010 year-end list.
This album grabbed me by the ears in a way that I did not expect. Like most of King’s releases I let it rest in the world for a bit before I finally gave it a whirl. What I found was an impressive record that did exactly what I have been waiting for Kind to do – fully incorporate a band. For the first time, from start to finish, Kaki’s wonderful guitar was part of a cohesive musical unit, one where she didn’t have to lead the song every second. To top it off, Junior saw a gigantic leap in songwriting, something that has been steadily growing from album to album. Here, rather than a small handful of songs containing lyrics, a full 9 songs – more than half the record – feature King’s voice prominently. If you’re still not convinced then I dare you to listen to “Spit it Back in My Mouth” without falling in love with the album.
The debut full length from Texas based Yellow Fever is catchy, a-symmetrical and sparse. Its lo-fi, a bit funky, playful and fiendishly clever. I lost track of this band for months but managed to find them again and have been quite thrilled about it ever since. Overall it’s a simple but solid and thoroughly enjoyable record.
I first saw High Places a few years ago at the Gramercy Theater, opening for The Blow. I was blown away by the live performance, but found their released material at the time to pale in comparison. It wasn’t just a difference of energy, it was almost like listening to an entirely different band. Live they created hypnotic, sprawling songs that still had a definable melody while mixing together a vast array of sounds into a sort of aural tapestry. Their recordings on the other hand were, by and large dull, lacking depth of sound and felt like listening to someone on an acid trip, meaning there was no sense of direction or coherence. This record however, finally lives up to the promise of their live show. It is packed full of sound, lushly recorded with plenty of space to loose yourself in. The songs are powered on by Mary Pearson’s wonderful voice, who creates a distinct path through the trance-like dirge of noise. The album’s closer “When It Comes” also turned out to be one of my all time favorite songs.
Grass Widow’s debut full length is one of those records that makes you sit down and shut up, it’s commanding as hell. The trio managed to combine the best elements of bands like Delta 5, The Raincoats, and Wire and turn it into something completely different. Its almost like avant-garde surf rock. Whatever you want to call it, it is quite simply irresistable. Admittedly, I was a sucker for this record before I ever heard it as it includes some of my all time favorite musical elements: Big hollow sounding tom toms, light prickly guitars, and people singing lyrics over each other. That each of the bands three members spend equal time at the mic on each song is in and of itself a unique approach to songwriting. The constant in and out of voices, singing over, under and around each other creates an intricate layering of meaning and circumvents the standard verse-chorus structure. Past Time wound up on a good number of this years “best of” lists and for very good reason. It has the sound of an iconoclastic record even on first listen.
An album almost ridiculously ambitious in scope, The ArchAndroid has a song for every mood. A testament to Monáe’s abilities as a songwriter and performer, it is one of those records that on paper shouldn’t work, yet she pulls it off almost effortlessly. It’s a pop album for the outcasts, the strays, the ones who have to struggle against society for something they know is right. The genius of the record, of Monáe herself, is that in pulling together so many disparate influences and genres she shows their commonality and at the same time makes a record that almost anyone can fall in love with, further underscoring her message of equality and perseverance.
The only bad thing you can say about Quilts, is that it unfortunately serves as the eulogy for a band that called it quits way too soon. Explode Into Colors had such a unique sound and energy that in their short existence they developed a dedicated following. Myself included. The band released a series of three 7″ records: Eyes Hands Mouth, Coffins, and Paper. These six songs were then compiled by M’Ladys records and released together as Quilts earlier this year. The band consisted of a drums, percussion and (the sole melodic instrument) baritone guitar, which combined to make music that was devilishly rythmic, dark, danceable and innovative. Though limited to only 1000 copies, there is still a small amount still available from M’Ladys records. If you don’t already have a turntable then I can’t think of a better reason to get one than to listen to this album.
I first saw the video for “Spanish Sahara” in early spring. Already a great song the video did it one better by giving it a haunting and visually compelling style to match. It was still a few months before their second album “Total Life Forever” was released, and though new to the band, I couldn’t wait. The album didn’t disappoint and served as the background music for almost my entire summer. Known for a tight and angular sound, their first album was mathematical in its precision. In contrast, on their second album the band managed to loosen up their sound and find spots to draw out and take their time with. No less complex in sound it is an album perfectly crafted for playing live as it gives the band ample room to play and improvise. It is, I think, one of the most uplifting and affirming records of the year, and is an honest and wonderfully written album.
Readers of this site know its no small secret that I love Lovers. That being said I’ll be honest, when I first heard their much anticipated fifth album (and first in the current configuration) Dark Light, I was slightly underwhelmed. The album has a slow but driving pace to it, the kind that takes a while to warm to. When they came through New York a few weeks after the albums release the songs took on an entirely new life. Live this album is amazing. And while I have to admit that the recorded version isn’t quite as good in comparison, it’s still light years ahead of everything else. The value of Emily Kingan and Kerby Ferris’s contribution to the band is proved over and over again with each passing song. I still feel that Cubby Berk’s songwriting is perhaps a little weaker here than on previous efforts, but the new found playfulness to her lyrics is exciting as is the new found ability to write lyrics that welcome the audience to sing along.
After two albums I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from Tender Forever, but her third album No Snare, blew me away. I was, quite frankly, unprepared. Leaving behind the youthful, upbeat sound of her previous albums, No Snare hits with a hard world-worn punch to the gut. It is visceral. I’ll put it to you this way, I played the opening song “Got To Let Go” for my mom the last time I was home, we both wound up crying by the end of the songs four minutes. Its an album that stands up on its own on first listen without any back story, but the fact that it was written and recorded in less that two weeks just serves as further proof of Valera’s genius. This just might be my favorite record of the year.