Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best of 2010: 40 Unfuckwithable or Nearly Unfuckwithable Jams Pt. 2

Part two, in which I try to get this over with and start forgetting songs that I SHOULD have had on the list but forgot about, which I will justify by saying to myself "Well, if they SHOULD have been on the list, I would have remembered them ya'd think."

20. Shearwater - “Castaways” from
The Golden Archipelago

Jonathan Meiburg's songs keep getting more and more epic. His vocals keep getting more full of conviction and there's almost a borderline sinister quality to them. He could make anything sound like some epic, end of the world jam. The Golden Archipelago is definitely an Album's album, but if it had a single, this is what it would be in my head. (Editor's Note: The Golden Archipelago DID have a single, and it was/is “Black Eyes,” my second favorite track from this record).

19. Hospital Ships - “Carry On” from “Carry On” 7”

Jordan Geiger is like some hidden gem of Lawrence's music scene. People tend to forget about Minus Story (present company included) and Hospital Ships seems like this dormant volcano waiting to blow up (and destroy a city, perhaps). “Carry On” is one of Geiger's best under his new moniker. This was one of the only 7”s I bought sight unseen (er, sound unheard). I saw it at Love Garden and suddenly it was on my turntable and I was listening to this brilliantly penned intimate bedroom pop song. It's a new local classic. Hopefully he doesn't move to Austin to fulfill his duties in Shearwater. Our stock of grade A songwriters has been greatly diminished and we can't afford any more losses!

18. Tokyo Police Club - “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” from Champ

(this video has puppies running about in it, which I REALLY love)
I don't know why I'd always pegged Tokyo Police Club as a dime a dozen dance punk band. Maybe they used to be. Maybe I'd never heard them. I DID hear them this year, though, when I got assigned to write a concert preview of some show they played in Kansas City this year and man, I was all “Holy shit this is some really catchy shit.” This song in particular, it's just well, a great fucking pop song. Catchy, ebullient and fit for jumping around a bedroom or something like that. I used to say stuff like "There's nothing special about this, but it's nice" but I think if you can write a song this infectious then it is especially special. It's like pop-crack rocks. (Note: I used to host a show called Pop Rocks! on KJHK and, in my head, it was a drug reference precisely for the aforementioned explanation of pop music being equal to drug addiction (which it isn't, but it's fun to pretend) (Note: No it's not))).

17. Girls - “Substance” from Broken Dreams Club EP

This felt like the biggest departure from Album. It's long, it's beautiful, it has female harmonies, and it feels like the next logical step. I think “Carolina” has been pegged as the top jam from Broken Dreams Club (an EP that's nothing but jams), but this one gets me every time. The way those guitar chords echo with Christopher Owens ever so sad vocals and the drums kick in. Oof. And then the female vocal harmonies that take it over the top. If anything, I'm impressed that they found a way to make the Dum Dum Girls singer sound compelling. I'm still under the impression that Owens made a deal with the devil to write songs that sound so immediatley timeless.

16. Tim Kasher - “The Prodigal Husband” from The Game of Monogamy

I don't think Tim Kasher's heart will ever mend. “Then why'd you decide to wear that if I can't come back,” he sings on this track, referencing some fancy underwear from Minnesota. Where my favorite album pick of the year was about moving on, Kasher seems to have been wallowing in divorce since Cursive's Domestica, and honestly, his steadfast devotion to the bitter love song is a bit of a triumph. The Good Life's Album of the Year was a standout of the last decade, and while the Game of Monogamy is, overall, a bit of a rehash overall despite it's lovely arrangements, “The Prodigal Husband” is full of all the miserable detail that Kasher is really great at condensing into three minute songs. And to be fair, no one does domestic misery quite like Tim Kasher.

15. Seapony - “Dreaming” from the "Dreaming" 7"

Transmittens were my favorite local band before I even started playing with them. When we started the Kite Tails, I was frequently amazed by Jen and Danny's ability to not only tolerate my fumbling attempts at making music with my limited skills, but their ability to play along to anything I threw at them with ease. They made those songs sound good because well, they're just excellent musicians. And Transmittens kept getting better and better and still no one ever want to their shows and I sat there like “Why why why!” and then they moved to Seattle, tweaked the formula a bit (ironically, by adding another Ian on bass), changed their name, and started playing dreamier tunes which almost stand in stark contrast to the synth pop they were so good at. Seapony seems drawn from the lovelier, sadder Transmittens songs, and though they'll invariably get lumped in with the whole “beach scene” of bands that love the beach, I still hear dream pop.

14. The Tallest Man on Earth - “You're Going Back” from The Wild Hunt

A tough call from a capital-a Album. Every song works together so well, it's weird listening to them on their own. So, this spot here for the Tallest Man on Earth is going to have to be the title track because, well, it's what hooked me. It's that beautiful Nick Drake grace tied to the Bob Dylanny draw in a slight Swedish accent. It's engaging folk music in a time where guy and a guitar music is everywhere.

13. The New Pornographers - “Crash Years” from Together

Vintage New Porns with a modern twist. Neko Case proves she's still the Grand Dame on an album where her former stand-in Kathryn Calder proved that she could play in the same league as Case. But alas, Neko still sings the pop hits. This one's a soulful slow-burner added to a list of instant classics that Carl Newman seems to pull out of thin air and thrust upon the world in the most loving way possible.

12. The Hold Steady - “Hurricane J” from Heaven is Whenever

The loss of Franz Nicolay crippled the Hold Steady more than they probably think. Or maybe they know that it just isn't the same (despite the fact that he only joined after their second album). But there's evidence. When I saw them in Omaha, Franz's beaming, mustacioed face and back-up vocals were sorely missed and I could only focus on how bored everyone in the band that wasn't Craig Finn looked (“Some nights it's just entertainment/ and some other nights it's work”). Heaven is Whenever is exhibit B. It's not a terrible record by any means and I like it, it's just really incohesive, has a couple duds, and just doesn't feel up to the standard I've come to expect from my favorite working band. They're still my favorite band, but I was sad about it. “Hurricane J” is the Hold Steady finally achieving a bonafide arena rock anthem and doing it marvelously well. That bit after the bridge? Epic. I get that feeling like I'm a girl in the 70s, on a dance floor. It's a weird feeling. I feel like Jenny, who might love the Hold Steady more than me. I feel what she feels when she listens to the Hold Steady, and there's something transcendent about that. It's a blast to listen to, this song.

11. Rooftop Vigilantes - “Kitty Vacant” from Who Stole My Zoo? EP
MP3>>>Rooftop Vigilantes - "Kitty Vacant"
Rooftop Vigilantes sophomore LP Real Pony Glue would have made my top ten this year if it wasn't in limbo. I hear it's coming out next year on a proper label, but who knows. In the mean time, they put out the Who Stole My Zoo? EP on a lark and it was pretty good. It featured their first real clunker, but it also had “Kitty Vacant,” which is pretty much everything Rooftop Vigilantes does well jammed into just over two minutes of pop bliss. It's the misdirection that does it for me though. It's great, catchy, energetic, fun, all that good stuff I expect from a Roofie Vig jam, but then that mid-90s breakdown comes out of NOWHERE midway through and elevates the motherfucker to the the place where I don't understand how this band is still toiling away in Lawrence and aren't fucking huge and beloved by everyone everywhere. And I mean that, too. This isn't some rah rah local music is so great rant, because well, most of it's just OK. But man, this band would be great if they were from anywhere and by some twist of fate they're from Lawrence and I get to see them play on a fairly regular basis.

10. Wye Oak - “I Hope You Die” from My Neighbor, My Creator EP

I saw Wye Oak twice this year, opening for Shearwater and later in the year opening for the Mountain Goats. All I could think about was how I fell asleep during their set at the Merge Records showcase a few years ago at SXSW. And then I saw them live (twice) and both times I was like “FUCK FUCK FUCK THIS IS SO FUCKING GOOD WHAT WAS I THINKING!” I think I was thinking that their first album was just OK but their follow-up and subsequent EP (which this track is culled from) are really fucking good. This song, though, they played it both times I saw them and it was immediate. The conviction in Jenn Wasner's voice, that made me think that maybe she really DID hope the person this song was about shuffled off this mortal coil. There's something grim about that, but something emotionally devastating about this song that makes you get it because, well, who hasn't been there? I still haven't been able to get into their records as a whole, but man oh man, this song is so great.

9. Perfume Genius - “Mr. Peterson” from Learning

My introduction to Mark Hadreas brutal and brilliant songwriting style. Despite being about a teacher having an affair with a high school student, there is no wagging finger, no blame, just sadness for the teacher's eventual suicide. It feels like not taking yourself seriously as a band or a person is an ever growing trend, and hearing someone bear their heart and soul as Hadreas does on his excellent debut Learning is incredibly refreshing. Honesty counts for something.

8. Blitzen Trapper - “The Tree” (w/ Alela Diane) from Destroyer of the Void

A beautiful tearjerker of a song that expresses the nature of life in a way that feels like it should be simplistic, but it's such a beautifully crafted song that it makes me all teary eyed when I listen to it closely.

7. Titus Andronicus - “A More Perfect Union” from The Monitor

(Did not know they had a proper music video for this!! Awesome!!! But, for posterity, here is the full, un-singlefied version)

THIS is how you open a fucking album. With huge guitars, even bigger riffs, Patrick Stickles sounding like he's going to rip apart at the seams and a blatant, unabashed Springsteen reference that these guys totally get away with because well, they're carrying his anthemic rock and roll torch and keeping indie rock interesting. Also, invoking the Civil War as a theme for a concept album is pretty much like catnip for indie rock nerds who also happen to be history nerds. Think of two venn diagram's crossing over, and in the middle it's this song and, well, all the songs on this record. But this is the sink or swim moment. The moment where you realize that this is going to be a great album or the moment where you forgot what it was like to be a totally absorbed punk rock kid between the ages of 16-18 and how there was nothing wrong with and nothing embarrassing about that and, quite frankly, you were probably a more genuine person back then anyway.

6. Frightened Rabbit - “Nothing Like You” from The Winter of Mixed Drinks

(For SOME reason this is the alternate version of the video. The original is pretty boring, this one is my second favorite music video of the year, what gives?)
The heart of my favorite album of 2010, “Nothing Like You” delivers the line that's effectively the thematic core of The Winter of Mixed Drinks. “She was not the cure for cancer.” It's an album about moving on, the difficulties that come with that, and accepting that starting over is way better than being miserable. At first I was let down by The Winter of Mixed Drinks, thinking it lacked that raw openness and heartbrokenness of The Midnight Organ Fight. And then I noticed it wasn't a break-up record and thus, shouldn't be judged by the same standards. It was a close call between this, “Skip the Youth,” and “Living in Colour,” but like I said, this is the jam. This is the one song that is right in the middle of everything and conveys the album's themes in the most elegant ways.

5. Los Campesinos! - “A Heat Rash in the Perfect Shape of the Show-Me State (or, Letters From Me to Charlotte)” from Romance is Boring

Romance is Boring is both immature and brash and wise and the most mature thing Los Camp have put out to date. It's an album that continues to grow on me, which, this late in the game (I heard it for the first time about a year ago), that's an awesome thing. This song kills me, every time. Every single time I get this tense feeling in my chest when Gareth Campesinos sings the titular line and the chorus comes in with the horns and the chimes and the last great harmonies from the departed Aleks Campesinos. It's like a great lost Sarah Records track from the early 90s with manic arrangements from the future. It's reverent to its influences without being afraid to push things forward a little.

4. Superchunk - “Everything At Once” from Majesty Shredding

There are too many great tracks on Superchunk's first album in 10 years (or whatever). It was a bitch picking one for the list. “Learned to Surf” was on last year's and I still consider “Crossed Wires” to be a 2009 song. However, after dozens of listens, I think despite the aforementioned 2009isms, “Everything at Once” is the most amazing song on that record. “Digging for Something” is a great, fun single, and “Rosemarie” has that killer chorus and “Fractures in Plaster” is a majestic slow-burn beast, but “Everything at Once” is fucking transcendent. It's pure bliss. Everything about it is solid gold, warm light like at the heart of the island on “Lost.” The guitars are just the right amount of distorted, the harmonies are just the right amount of “ooo,” the bass is turned up to just the right level in the mix, and the guitar soloing is in all the right places. And it's deceptively simple. “So here's a song about nothing and everything at once,” Mac sings. It plays at reflexivity but cuts through to what feels like uncharted territory. Well, not uncharted, but the path less traveled. It's glorious.

3. John K Samson - “The Last And” from Provincial Road 222 7”

Though the Weakerthans are due for an album any year now, I'll take frontman John K Samson's 7” series when I can get it. This is the lead-off track to his second installment (each one is dedicated to a different road running through his home province Manitoba). Though Samson admits that the song is rooted in the relationship of Ms. Krabapple and Principal Skinner on the Simpsons, it was the most devastating song I heard all year. A teacher carrying on an affair with her married boss, and the principal calling it off. It's full of all the remarkable details that Samson is so good at. The details that make him one of my favorite songwriters. “I remember how you made me feel/ I was funny, I was thoughtful, I was rare/ But like the jokes about my figure, kids think I don't understand/ I know I'm just your little ampersand.” On the last Weakerthans LP, Reunion Tour, samson wrote 13 songs about 13 different characters, both real and imagined. He's really good at it, and “The Last And” is another intimate portrait of someone who isn't real on paper, but is out there somewhere.

2. Owen Pallett - “Lewis Takes His Shirt Off” from Heartland

(This video moved me to tears the first time I saw it last last year. I think he knows it's one of those songs that's so good, if you were to die playing it things wouldn't be so bad.)

Last year I saw a video of Owen Pallett playing this song in the rain at some festival. The stagehands wanted him to stop as the rain beat down harder on the stage, but he kept stalling them in between breaths. He kept stalling them because this song is his masterpiece. This is elegant but fun pop music at its finest. Adventurous and playful and seriously profound and affecting at the same time. All of Heartland is like that, but this is the peak. Where the refrain of “I'm never going to give it to you” becomes a mantra of sorts for the album's protagonist Lewis, standing up in defiance of his god. It's a triumphant goddamned piece of work.

1. The National – “Terrible Love” from High Violet

As much as I wanted to love High Violet, I didn't. I've been over this already. The opening track though, that just might be my favorite National song ever, and I wish the rest of the album had this much vitality. This much beautifully recorded, bottom of the gut energy and conviction. It's their practically patented slow-burn up to that goddamned destructive chorus. It doesn't need big guitars, it doesn't need to make things incredibly ornate. Just an interesting, almost martial drum pattern, some reverby guitars in the background, and then it all drops off. “It takes an ocean not to break.” And that's just the first half of the song. You've heard it, you know how good this song is, and I hope you can't deny how good this song is. This is buttoned-up prim and proper indie rock at its finest, and despite my middling feelings about High Violet, I still reserve the right to change my mind a couple years from now because I think the National are going to be one of those bands that makes indie music respectable again and one of those bands that pushes it into the realm of popular culture without selling out, without pandering to the people, without doing anything but constantly crawling down that rabbit hole and developing their sound in new and exciting ways every time out. High Violet felt like a risk, which seemed weird because the National have such a great formula that they've been refining album after album, but it felt fresh and different. Well, half the time. The other half I still think is repetitive and boring, but the tracks that hit, the ones that pull off grandeur without pompousness, THAT'S where it's at. And that's where “Terrible Love” is at. I won't forget them debuting this song on Jimmy Fallon and how my heart was pounding in my chest. Somehow they managed to carry that energy over into the recorded version, and in a year of let-down albums, I realized that great songs are oftentimes more important than great records. It depends on the day, the month, the mood or whatever, but I'll take a perfectly crafted song over an everyday great record pretty much any day.

Best of 2010: 40 Unfuckwithable or Nearly Unfuckwithable Jams Pt. 1

Despite being a kind of crappy year for albums, twas a good year for songs. I actually had to NARROW this list down, because there were just too many albums I thought were either mediocre to pretty good (or in some cases, pretty great but didn't feel like putting them on the album's list) that had at least one AMAZING song. It's more diverse than the album's list, and I mean diverse to be comical because my music taste, clearly, isn't very diverse at all. I used to have a problem with that, felt guilty for not listening to hip-hop or black metal in my spare time and compensated by just respecting genres and the people who like those genres and just listening to what makes me the happiest.

40. Frog Eyes - “A Flower in a Glove” from Paul's Tomb: A Triumph

I don't think I will ever love Frog Eyes, but I'll always throughly enjoy their records. Carey Mercer keeps good company in his off time (see: Dan Bejar and Spencer Krug in the always pretty great Swan Lake) and I think that keeps him sharp. Though Paul's Tomb wasn't as concise or as great an album as Tears of the Valedictorian, it's opening track “A Flower in a Glove” is an excellent example of a great Frog Eyes track. It's long as shit but it's totally engaging.

39. Shipping News - “Bad Eve” from One Less Heartless to Fear

A standout track from the new Shipping News LP that I thought was a live album because there are cheers at the end of some of the tracks and because I never listened to Shipping News until this album. I don't know why, considering the pedigree this band has. “Bad Eve” was the song that made me look up why I thought this song sounded so familiar to me and I saw June of 44 and Slint and Rodan and I was like “Ohhhh, this sounds like mid-90s Louisville math rock.” There's less build up than I was expecting, but something about the phrase “barnyard Mussolinis” really made me pay attention, and thus landed Shipping News the #15 spot on my year end list. Well, that and the awesome guitar swells and such in the last minute of the song that make my sometimes drunken head nod over the keyboard.

38. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - “Round and Round” from Before Today

I remember Ariel Pink from my first days of KJHK, when one of his totally fucking weird albums was in spotlight rotation and I played it and was like “This is fucking weird.” Since then, he's gotten conventional, and from what I listened to of Before Today (which is to say, I listened to the album a few times through and honed in on a few tracks and then just listened to those for a long time and put them on mixes), he's well, not REALLY that conventional because this album is still pretty weird. I mean, he answers some random phone call mid-song before the whole thing cascades into that gorgeous hook and plays around with going back to some of the groovy verses before realizing that the hook is too good to let go of. The rest of the verses feel like he's impatient to get back to the ebullient bliss of that chorus, despite the fact that the verses are exactly the kind of well played verses need to be to support an epic, classic sounding chorus like the one on “Round and Round.”

37. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - “Say No To Love” from the “Say No To Love” 7”

I feel bad for having a falling out with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I loved their eponymous debut for a solid couple of weeks before I decided that it was too derivative of My Bloody Valentine's early Eps with TOO much of a reverence to vintage 80s and 90s indie-pop for me to take seriously. And I don't know why I thought this, because I was like “This sounds just like 'Sunny Sundae Smile'” when I first heard it and I was kind of in heaven. Christ, why is music so CONFUSING. No more panning for stupid reasons. This is a wonderfully catchy jam and yes, I will adore it and cast no judgment for similarities because, well, it's just really great. I'm sorry, POBPAH, I don't know why I thought for a whole year that you weren't totally fucking wonderful.

36. Karma Vision - “Cowboys and Indians” from Actor John Goodman EP
MP3>>>Karma Vision - "Cowboys and Indians"

(Not the actual song, and sounds nothing like the actual song, but is just a lovely video of three of them playing in what appears to be the tunnel under the Kansas Union)
This EP was so weird and great, that picking a favorite track was hard. It's not exactly up my alley, but I was so amazed that Bobby Sauder could actually sing after a couple years of watching him front Mammoth Life, I was quite wooed by Karma Vision. This EP is weird and wonderful, and probably the best that the Lawrence underground has to offer. The saxophone SHOULD sound out of place and Kenny G-esque, but it works so well and I don't even know WHY. I feel like these guys smoke a lot of weed and somehow manage to fight through that stoner haze and make great, borderline dopey music that's really fun and inventive and packed with all sorts of cool potential that has me patiently awaiting their debut LP.

35. The Magnetic Fields - “You Must Be Out Of Your Mind” from Realism

After Distortion, Realism seemed like a lost cause. So I never really listened to it, except for the first track, this one. Which is classic Stephin Merritt. It works its way onto the list because I had it stuck in my head all the time, and still do. The melody of that chorus is just plain unfuckwithable to the nth degree. For sure.

34. Spoon - “The Mystery Zone” from Transference

Ah, Transference, the album I never listened to all the way through. Well, maybe once. It just didn't stick. I'm sure it's really good, I just never felt in the mood. This song though, it somehow ended up on a mix and I ended up digging it pretty hard. Spoon just sound more and more like vintage Spoon nowadays that it sounds easy. Britt Daniel's is like “What is this? Wadded up Kleenex? Oh wait, it's a new Spoon jam, here” and there you go. That's not meant to be disparaging, it's meant to be a compliment. Someone who can write righteous jams like this one time after time after time after time should get some sort of plaque. On his teeth.

33. Xiu Xiu - “Gray Death” from Dear God I Hate Myself

(Was fucking TAKEN all caps by their live show. Something about this dynamic really, really works for me. Maybe I hate myself, I don't know, but I like this)
From the get-go, Dear God I Hate Myself hearkens back to Xiu Xiu's breakout 2004 LP Fabulous Muscles. It's a bit more weathered, darker, and feels more personal. “Gray Death” with it's refrain of “Beat beat me to death” is catchy and utterly horrifying. Jamie Stewart's quaver through the verses is haunting and scary and yet, this is a song you can move to. Dear God I Hate Myself often feels like dance music for people who consistently “forget” to get their anti-depressants refilled, and the chorus and the aforementioned chant-a-long refrain made this one of the highlights of Xiu Xiu's show at the Jackpot earlier this year, and an excellent introduction to Stewart's excellent new record.

32. The Smith Westerns - “Imagine Pt. 3”

I don't think this was on an album, or it's on their album that's coming out next year, but I don't really care and fuck if this song isn't good. And these guys are all under 20 or very close to being under 20! It's messy and lo-fi and shitty sounding but fuck, those backing ooos and ahhs and the pre-chorus and well, all of it win me over with some very wonderful and sloppy charm. It's a perfect example of how a great song can shine through even the murkiest of waters, and thus, one of the things I love most about lo-fi.

31. Beach House - “Zebra” from Teen Dream

I would have thought Teen Dream was a beautiful album if I ever made it through the damn thing without falling asleep. Partially because it's dreamy, ethereal pop music and partly because I thought it was really boring to listen to that one all the way through. I'm probably wrong on this one, and I'll probably regret that feeling later on. I always liked this track because it was track one and then after that interest just stopped dropping. I like the guitars, they're dreamy. I think the vocals are pretty good too, kind of husky. And that chorus sounds like “Anything You Want, You Got It” to a point where I almost can't listen to the song but then it subtly changes and there are some synthesizers and it's just a beautiful track. Gorgeously arranged and produced, I wish I had more patience for Teen Dream, and I'm patiently waiting for the mood to strike.

30. Best Coast - “When I'm With You” from Crazy For You

Best Coast put out their first full-length this year, and this was the year I stopped full-on adoring Best Coast. There's nothing even WRONG with their music, I just thought that every song on this album was boring except this one, and it's because this song was a single before it was an album-track. All of Bethany Cosentino's singles before this were amazing, and Crazy For You felt like this shallow and obnoxiously twee over-saturation of boringness. This song still kills though.

29. Surfer Blood - “Floating Vibes” from Astro Coast

I was all about Surfer Blood until they seemed like nothing more than a handful of influences thrown together in a room that ended up being a creative writing workshop. And they were the person in the corner who never talked and always had kind of OK stories and just stole ideas from everyone else. This track, though, this is what I think Surfer Blood sounds like when they're sounding like Surfer Blood and not the Shins or something.

28. MGMT - “It's Working” from Congratulations

Oh how I wrote this band off SO hard upon their debut, Oracular Spectacular. It was music for car commercials, plain and simple. Music for MTV to use in their reality shows. Music for beautiful hipsters to get laid to, who knows. Catchy, ok sure, but heartless. Well, after hearing Congratulations, I retract my previous beliefs of heartlessness in the music of MGMT because if Congratulations is anything, it's an album this band wanted to make. And it REALLY pissed their record label off, and considering that this is a major (naturally, who ELSE would be pissed off by a really good and weird and wonderful record like this?), KUDOS MGMT! This is psychedelic reverence at its finest, and I'd dare say that Congratulations is an album that people won't really appreciate until 10 years from now. Fuck, even I don't properly appreciate it but I know there's a weirdness there that's going extinct in major label records. This doesn't sell because it's too artful, and I didn't even KNOW MGMT were artful!

27. Yeasayer - “Madder Red” from Odd Blood

(I don't particularly enjoy Kristen Bell, but I thought this video was great)
Yeasayer's debut All Hour Cymbals had a really good song on it that made the list the year it came out and I can't even remember it. I remember some drums. Then they had a track on the Dark Was the Night comp last year that I really loved, and that track persuaded me to listen to Odd Blood which I really liked. This track though, fuck, it's a dark and beautiful and mysterious tune that sounds caught in some weird time warp. I don't know where it comes from. The melody is beautiful, tribal-esque, and I HATE it when bands try to sound tribal! The drums kick ass exactly when they're supposed to kick ass. The guitars thrash and swell in and out in just the right places. The vocals are soulful but with the kind of gutwrenching plainness that pushes that gives lines like “it's hard enough to keep pretending I'm worth your time” an added punch in the face because hey, it might as well be you.

26. The Extra Lens - “Dogs of Clinic 17” from Undercard
MP3>>>The Extra Lens - "Dogs of Clinic 17"

(Couldn't find this one anywhere, but since you already have a copy of this record, it's the very last track. This is a video of the excellent runner-up "How I Left the Ministry")
I could barely choose a favorite from this record. So, I sat and thought about the one I remembered the most, and it's this one, the closer. The one that's all build up to some amazing outro chorus thing that totally pays off. It's an almost simplistic build. Typical verse, synthsizer break, Verse with backing vocals, normal break, FUCKING OH MY GOD CHROUS THING. “There's a liiiiiight in the window/ There's a light in all of us trying to get free/ There's a liiiight in all of you who hear my song/ There's a viiiirus eating its way through me.” John Darnielle is the king of my heart, and it should be known that my internal monologues are often carried out in his voice like some kind of wonderful shoulder demon.

25. Wolf Parade - “Cave-O-Sapien” from Expo 86

This is the song that worked best for me on Expo 86, which was content to be all over the fucking place. I really dug that album, but “Cave-O-Sapien” felt like Spencer Krug at his weirdest and most wonderful, burying this amazing pop song in this grandiose end-of-the-world number. The ascending/descending riff SHOULD seem pff in hindsight but god, it sounds like something the Four Horsemen would blast as they ravaged the earth. The chorus is practically buried, and supports Danny Rowland's logic of choruses being overrated. If a song is good enough, a slight change every now and then will do, but this song has so much drive and sounds like everything is crashing down around it that a proper chorus would feel out of place. It would also dampen the “I've got you/Til you're gone” bit at the end when the synthesizers come in.

24. LCD Soundsystem - “All I Want” from This Is Happening

I'm the asshole waiting for James Murphy to make a record that is nothing but songs like this and “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” and “I Can Change” (which is actually a really danced-up track). These beautiful, introspective and heart wrenching tracks with great beats that don't feel to removed from his more brash dance numbers but fuck are they good. I particularly like this one because the main riff sounds just like the main riff from that one Brian Eno song I like (is it the first track on Taking Tiger Mountain? Anyway, this one is good. I really have no business writing about LCD Soundsystem.

23. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - “Bottled in Cork” from The Brutalist Bricks

(Seriously, video of the year. No contenders.)
The video for this song convinced me to FINALLY listen to the Brutalist Bricks. It has an almost Hearts of Oak vibe, this song, but it also feels like he carried over his return to punk rock roots of Living With the Living and Shake the Sheets. The result is a fun ditty with some fucking backbone and a perfect sing-a-long chorus.

22. Diamond Rings - “All Yr Songs” from Special Affections

I didn't listen to this album. I heard this song late last year and wished I'd put it on my list because I love it's simple little overbearing drum machine bedroom pop song so very much. Maybe I didn't want to ruin it (like Best Coast ruined “When I'm With You For Me” a little bit, granted, it still made the list). I will listen to it next year, I'm sure. I just heard it was wildly different. But at least he tacked this one on at the end because it's goddamned perfect with that rare infinite-relistenability quality.

21. The Thermals - “You Changed My Life” from Personal Life

A lot of my fondness for the Thermals lies in their ability to pull of great pop songs that sound so simple but stick somewhere in the gut region for years and years. This song is mostly bass and drums, with a little guitar riff here and there, which feels new for the Thermals but I'll be goddamned if this band isn't crafting one of the best complete discographies of any modern indie rock bands. This track is the closing argument of the break-up themed Personal Life, and it does everything a great last track to a great break-up album should do: It assesses the aforementioned misery and what not in a new light and attempts to move on (Granted, the ones that end in total self-destruction (see: The Mountain Goats Tallahassee) are good too).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Best of 2010: 15 Albums That Fucking Ruled

2010 was the year I shut myself in and only listened to what I enjoyed. After three years of KJHK, I needed a complete detox to get obsession with the NEW out of my system and as a result, ended up listening to music from the 90s or the last five years or so. I couldn't help it, it just happened, and now they year is over and I've spent it dodging bands because they have boring names and really, if you have a band name like Tennis or Braids or whatever, I'm going to have a hard time you put as much thought into your music. A closed-minded way of thinking, I'm sure, but damnit, there's not enough time! So, I listened to the top 10 albums here dozens and dozens of times because they created a sort of comfort zone. They were records made by bands I loved that I think keep getting better. Amazing sophomore albums and post-break-out albums. Records made by people in other bands who typically make great records and one really stunning debut, which made me feel sad that there weren't more debuts but then again it felt like all the debuts I heard were the same old rehashed shit that every other band was debuting. Fuck genres and a reverence to the 1980s and “but most of all, it sounds like Cocteau Twins.” I don't want a band that sounds like Cocteau Twins! I want a band that sounds like a band that I haven't heard before! So, with this list, the only exceptions in my head are Girls (who sound like EVERY great band I've ever heard but still sound very much like themselves) and The Tallest Man on Earth (who will never escape the fact that his vocals are reminiscent of Dylan, but also again, sounds distinctly like himself). This is what made sense to me in 2010.

15. Shipping News – One Less Heartless to Fear (Ruminance, Noise Pollution)

I randomly decided to check this out for no reason other than, well, I can't even remember. But then I remembered one I looked at Wikipedia and remembered that Shipping News is basically what happened when that glorious Louisvlille Math Rock sound evolved. You get ties to all the heavy hitters: Slint, Rodan, June of 44, the For Carnation. And you know what, it's fucking awesome and vital and way a way more important sounding record than it ought to be. Some of the songs are recorded live, which made me THINK it was a live album and I was missing something but no, those versions of the songs were just better live I guess. It grabs you by the throat, this album. When I was music director at KJHK I used to have a theory that if I could put a CD on and go about my business (doing stuff on the internet, doing the dishes, cooking dinner, playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater, drawing, etc) and not be distracted by how good a certain song was, then the CD often went into the “straight to shelf” pile. This one had no fewer than five songs that made me stop, check the title, and go “goddamn this is really fucking good.” Also, I say this has no business being as good as it is only because I thought this awesome gloomy math rock thing that I only recently became aware of and fell in love with a few years back was supposed to be dead but no, it lives on in these bros. And this album fucking slays.

14. Ted Leo & The Pharmiacists – The Brutalist Bricks (Matador)

Oh Ted, please forgive me for being incredibly late for the game with this one. I only started spinning the Brutalist Bricks before catching his drop-dead rad live show at the Jackpot a few months ago, and this one weaseled its way into my car stereo for a solid week. I kind of lost touch with Ted Leo after Shake the Sheets, which is to say I didn't really listen to Living With the Living hardly at all. Well, I assume I didn't, cuz I can't remember a single song from it. I wonder why. Maybe it wasn't melodic and poppy enough, too punk rock despite Leo's fierce punk rawk roots. This one has all that good old punk rock energy but with no abrasiveness and hooks to spare, and I'd go and say it's his best and most complete album since Hearts of Oak. Let's just say it kicks some motherfucking ass. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that the fucking amazing, Green Day musical spoofing video for “Bottled in Cork” wasn't a big factor in reminding me to put this on this year end best of list.

13. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago (Matador)

For some reason, every time I see Jonathan Meiburg play I feel like he'd be better suited for a metal band. For some reason, this sounds like metal to me. Beautiful, gorgeously arranged metal that isn't metal at all but has all that huge grandeur and complexity of the music of our darker souls. Yet you see him on stage and he looks and acts like this sweet and affable guy. The Golden Archipelago is Shearwater's first album since Rook, the album in which they ceased to be an Okkervil River side project and kind of started kicking all sorts of ass on their own. This is another step up. Another gorgeous, haunting album anchored by Meiburg's delicate finger picking and riveting piano work. AND there's a local connection! Minus Story/Hospital Ships singer guy Jordan Geiger is a “multi-instrumentalist” which is awesome. Know what else is awesome, there's a dude named Thor in this band (and he posted this wonderful guide to tour etiquette earlier this year!)! But mostly, this album is just lovely and elegant (ELEGANT!) and I think you should listen to it.

12. Girls - Broken Dreams Club EP (True Panther)

I don't know why I always think that I don't like Girls. I think I read twitter and I am not very fond of Christopher Owens and then I listen to this new EP and all is forgiven, if there is anything to forgive. I don't think there is, he's just himself, and anyone that can write songs this great has to be pretty OK. The songs here are just as good and often better than a few of the tracks on Album. They're branching out (“Thee Oh So Protective One” borders on a South of the Border vibe without sounding corny), the songs are getting longer, and I think they're well, just getting better and I didn't even know there was anything to be improved upon. These songs sound like classics. Like songs I grew up with, songs from 40 years ago that people still think sounds fresh today. I want that guitar tone. I want to wrap it around my finger and put it in my pocket and take it out when I need to feel transcendent.

11. The Thermals – Personal Life (Sub Pop)

The Thermals always make my year end list. Mostly, this is because they consistently make really good records. Though Personal Life doesn't have quite the scope of The Body the Blood the Machine or Now We Can See, Hutch Harris' break-up record is as raw as anything they've done. Kathy Foster's bass seems up in the mix which hits right at the heart, the same spot the lyrics hit. I think this one might have got flack for not having the grandeur of their previous albums, but there's an immediacy here that can't be fucked with. It's as if the whole thing was written and recorded in a week and all that emotion and energy comes across in its purest form. I love the simple guitar lines, I love the simple straightforward lyrics, I love that this band does exactly what they want every time around and how their purity of spirit is what makes punky indie rock my genre of choice.

10. The Extra Lens – Undercard (Merge)

My love for John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats is widely known. I'm an insufferable geek. As a songwriter (in the fictional race in my head), only John K. Samson and David Berman ever give him a run for his money, but he's always in the top 3 and occasionally #1. The Extra Lens (nee the Extra Glenns) is his collaboration with Nothing Painted Blue's Franklin Bruno and this is their first album together in forever. At first it felt slight, but a lot of the best records feel that way at first. And then one song cracks the whole thing wide open. In this case, it was listening closely to “Cruiserweights” while stuck in traffic. “And there's a whole long list of other things I hate/ I had to starve myself all week to make weight/ Cleaveland, Ohio, 1985/ Almost out of the woods/ Awake and alive.” There's so much about a person in a time and a place. “Take a couple shots to the liver/ And remember what the food was like in prison.” It's a boxer as sad and wonderfully constructed as any of Darnielle's characters. And this is his SIDE project. Bruno's guitar lines and piano fills add something mysterious that absolutely separates them from the rest of the Mountain Goats back catalog. “Only Existing Footage” is a pretty perfect example of what the Extra Lens are and how they work, and more importantly, how they work best.

Undercard is a misleading title. It implies that this is a lesser work than I don't know, any other album when it's really a secret powerhouse. The little mid-album ditty “Some Other Way” makes me think of this powerhouse. The subdued verses and the punch in the throat chorus with Darnielle and Bruno harmonizing. There's “Ambivalent Landscape Z” which sounded amazingly strange the first few times I heard it, but I loved it for it's almost distracting verse riff and mismatched chorus and seemingly weird vocal line until I found it too infectious to think it was weird. There's “Rockin' Rockin' Twilight of the Gods” which sounds just like an old school Mountain Goats song even down to the recording quality (ok, it's not recorded into a boombox, but it definitely screams late-90s/early-00s. At the same time, there's this dreamy guitar work that separates it. Darnielle's masterful grasp of the story song is at work on “How I Left the Ministry” which, like a lot of these songs, feels light until it really sinks in. “None of this disaster would ever have happened/ If I had not been driving my neighbor's wife/ to the Alta Loma Days Inn where I registered us as/ A couple with a name I'm sure some other couple somewhere has.” “The autumn air was sweeter than a slice of wedding cake.” It so excellently captures the thrill of sin someone pious must have...and proves to be too much, what with the car wreck and all.

Point is, it's by definition a “sleeper,” even though I don't know what the definition of “sleeper” really is. It's a sneaky little bastard of an album. “Dogs of Clinic 17”! The closing track, with it's verses that keep building and building and adding and adding and you're just waiting for that chorus and then it comes and it's like “Jesus Christ, I thought that bridge was good but THIS WAS WORTH THE WAIT.” I'll take anything John Darnielle throws my way, because it's almost always going to be good and I can't think of the last time it wasn't. I mean, Get Lonely was a little weaker than the rest of his output over the last 10 years which has been somewhere between extraordinary and out-motherfucking-standing. So, you know.

9. Xiu Xiu – Dear God, I Hate Myself (Kill Rock Stars)

2004's Fabulous Muscles was huge for me. It came out my last semester of high school, right at the point where my punk rock self had burst into a bright ball of flames and rose from the ashes rose a bespectacled indie rock nerd in a cardigan. I'd started reading Pitchfork (at the time when it still had quality reviews and credibility) and Xiu Xiu was fawned over. It was WEIRD. Weirder than anything I'd ever listened to before, and kind of gay, and something just clicked when I listened to that album where I started recognizing artfulness in music. And then I missed a few albums and really liked 2008's Women as Lovers and well, Dear God, I Hate Myself just totally knocked me on my ass.

Dear God, I Hate Myself is easily Jamie Stewart's best record since Fabulous Muscles, and I'd go as far as saying it's just as good, but in a different way. I think I realized this after catching Xiu Xiu's show at the Bottleneck earlier this year where it was just Stewart and Angela Seo going fucking nuts on a bunch of electronics and cymbals and a Nintendo DS. It was much more raw than this record and all kind of blurred together like a wonderful fever dream of Stewart's quavery, about to have a nervous breakdown vocals and distortion. The album is all over the place, but in the good way. It's a sort of wonderfully diverse connect the dots adventure of highly emotional, borderline uncomfortable, often funny and ceaselessly beautiful songs made up of bleeps, bloops, and drum machines. I still feel like no one else on the planet is making the same kind of music that Jamie Stewart is making and that's a wonderful thing.

8. The New Pornographers – Together (Matador)

The New Pornoraphers have long been one of the bands I adore the most. They were there at the end of high school with Mass Romantic and Electric Version, they took me through college with Twin Cinema and the uneven but still quite good Challengers. Together is an album where the New Pornographers get their shit together, at least with Kathryn Calder as a full-time band member. She shines here, almost as much as Neko Case. AC Newman delivers the positive jams and Dan Bejar donates two of his poppiest, catchiest numbers to date and the gorgeous “Daughter of Sorrow.” This is the sound of a band navigating the familiar territory of the magnificent pop albums they've put out over the last ten years and adding a new sense of confidence that Challengers lacked, and Carl Newman does what Carl Newman does best: Find the precise ways his songs work the best with the incredible cast of musicians he has at his command.

7. Perfume Genius – Learning (Matador)

With his lean and devastating debut, Mark Hadreas pretty much establishes himself as the valedictorian of the Class of 2010 in my book. There are no staples of the hip music of today. No clicks, no whistles, no reverb, no irony. It's a guy, with a piano, and a voice that sounds like it's going to break at any moment singing these raw and frank songs in the vein of Xiu Xiu. Yet where Jamie Stewart approaches sexuality and abuse with a sort of horror movie-esque shudder and look away style, Hadreas just tells it like it is. Things are fucked up in these songs. A high school teacher carries on an affair with a student in “Mr. Peterson,” which provides the sort of details that aren't gruesome, but sad. “He let me smoke weed in his truck/ If I could convince him I loved him enough” and “He made me a tape of Joy Division/ He told me there was part of him missing/ When I was sixteen/ He jumped off a building,” he sings, all with a beautiful melody and a slight lilt to his piano. It's one of the saddest songs on a record that's nothing but sad songs. The song doesn't point fingers though. Sure, the student is being taken advantage of on a legal standpoint, he seems to be at that age where he's starting to make his own decisions, and seems to recognize the relationship as abusive despite feeling affection towards Mr. Peterson and gets acceptance from him where he otherwise does not due to his sexuality. And then Mr. Peterson kills himself for that same reasons of acceptance and the lack there of. The song is a perfect example of why this album works. It works because there is no finger pointing, no opinions being thrown about, just these hyper-emotional stories about what IS. It's raw, it's brutal, and most importantly, it's real.
6. Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring (Wichita)

My love for LC! Is unwavering, and it was very hard not to put this record higher up on the list. Maybe it's just because they've already won the top spot once (twice!) already so I wanted to give some other bands a chance. This is the grandest thing LC! Have achieved to date, and it fits them remarkably well. It's also the most off the cuff and raw thing they've released, which I was initially taken aback by but you know, eventually came around. Where Hold On Now, Youngster was remarkably controlled and produced to achieve the most proper of sounds, this one has the same live quality as We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, but in full-album mode. It's unified, but it's off the wall and strange at times. It's an album ruled by gut feeling, and that is Romance is Boring's greatest strength. It's all the embarassing things we do in the name of love that we regret later on but accept. It's all the misery and heartbreak of romance but with a sense of humor and growth, and despite the ramshackle quality the band has never sounded more together. The brashness of “Straight in at 101” and “Plan A” works incredibly well with the somber beauty and sadness of “Who Fell Asleep In” and “The Sea is a Good Place to Think About the Future.” The same way the classic indie-pop bliss of “A Heat Rash in the Perfect Shape of the Show-Me State” compliments Los Campesinos! Own brand of hyper kinetic pop on “There are Listed Building.” It's a band of music nerds, and on Romance is Boring they're still wearing their influences on their sleeves, but this time around they're more themselves than anything.

5. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)

I really can't find a single thing wrong with this record. Every song is great, which is an incredibly rare thing for an album to possess these days. 2010 has been my year for using the word “eloquent” to describe music. I've been using it with an alarming frequency and I don't know why. I think it could be that I'm trying to appreciate things on more of a gut level, and those things that strike me as particularly beautiful come across like gorgeously crafted pieces of jewelery or something. Like The Wild Hunt, a gorgeous album if there ever was one. It's got that classic quality you find in albums by say, Nick Drake or Bob Dylan's earlier records. The Dylan comparisons are seemingly inescapable because Kristian Matsson just has that unmistakable rasp, but with a slight Swedish accent. The same passion and conviction is there, too, in both his guitar work and his vocals. This wasn't Matsson's only release this year, either. He also released the excellent Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird EP. I'm glad he did that, too, because had those five songs ended up on this one it would be too long. The Wild Hunt is a lean 10 songs, which I've always felt to be the perfect number of songs for a great album. It ensures relistenability and honestly, in the case of the Wild Hunt, there aren't any songs I would ever think of skipping. The aching beauty of closer “Kids on the Run,” the jaunty whimsy of “King of Spain,” the singing-from-the-bottom-of-a-well conviction of “You're Going Back.” I need all of these things. It's a perfect fall album. One great for leaves changing, sweater weather, scarves and visible warm breath. But it's also about renewal, too, and I imagine this plays well in Spring as well. It's an album in between extremes, that fits comfortably like gloves in the bottom dresser drawer. A beautiful record that feels timeless, and I think time will prove that point.

4. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL)

There's nothing wrong with swinging for the fucking fence. Titus Andronicus prove that on their outstanding sophomore LP. Part Civil War concept album, part escape fantasty, part coping with adulthood in the modern world, there really isn't an album more unhinged and joyous than this one. It's brash and full of big guitars and even bigger guitar solos. Patrick Stickles delivers his trademark panic attack vocals but somehow with even more conviction this time around, taking twentysomething frustration, bottling it up, shaking the hell out of it, and dropping it off a cliff just to watch it blow up. “The enemy is everywhere” is the album's refrain whenever it needs to remind you that everyone is trying to fuck you over and that whether you're in Boston or Jersey, well, shit's the same pretty much everywhere. Like Titus Andronicus' debut, the Airing of Grievances, it's an album that unveils itself slowly and ties itself into a neat little package only after many listens. Yet for an album that takes a long time to really put all the pieces together, it's remarkably immediate. It's like a big “Fuck Yes” as soon as the guitars hit in opener “A More Perfect Union.” And in the repetition of “You will always be a loser” at the end of “No Future Pt. 3.” And all fourteen minutes of the album's masterful conclusion “The Battle of Hampton Roads.” Essentially, this is what happens when unbridled energy, off the cuff songwriting and amazing focus combine. It's a rare, rare thing, and if emo wasn't taken over by a bunch of pussies, this is what it would sound like today.

3. Owen Pallett – Heartland (Domino)

My nominee for the most artful and elegant album of 2010. It's an album of considerable depth, but it's never impenetrable and its tongue grazes ever so slightly over its cheek, whether it's in a particularly funny turn of phrase or in some playful orchestral motif ripped straight from some bizarre Disney film about a hyper-violent farmer and his conflict with his creater, Owen Pallett. Pallett has shown us his many gifts over the past decade or so, and here they all come together in a pretty wonderful way. From his string arrangements for people as hot as the Arcade Fire and as unknown as Jim Guthrie, and the extra something he brought to their albums with his string arrangements to the pop bliss of “This is the Dream of Win and Regine” on his debut LP as Final Fantasy, Has a Good Home.

I saw Final Fantasy a few years ago, and it was just Pallett up on stage with his violin and a loop pedal and it was one of the best shows I ever saw. His affable personality, his genuine thankfulness of the doting audience, and how the hell he managed to keep all the loops straight and churn out these avant-pop songs with seeming ease all won my heart. It's wonderful listening to Heartland over and over again, loving it a little more each time. There are so many little things buried in the nooks and crannies, and I haven't even begun to piece together the story he's telling. I know this is an album that will last. One that will be continually rewarding because well, that's just the kind of music Owen Pallett makes. Like I said, it's easily the most artful album of 2010, but these songs are so CATCHY, and to pull off pop songs like this, songs that are oftentimes very serious or heartbreaking or empowering or whatever, songs that are musically very complex yet you can easily hum along with them and get them stuck in your head all day, well, that's talent. Nothing feels out of place, and it feels like the truest capital A Album of 2010 in my book. Dear Owen, I'm sorry I never really listened to He Poos Clouds that much because it was called fucking He Poos Clouds. I was wrong to do that, because now I feel like I was missing out.

2. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)

2010 was the year I finally got into Superchunk, about ten years too late. I should have been jamming “Slack Motherfucker” all thorough high school but alas, better late than never. Having written that, I feel embarrassed because I had all of college to fall in love with them and never did. I even worked at a college radio station for 3 years, goddamnit! What happened? Sure, I discovered them, and I even bought Come Pick Me Up on vinyl, but something was still missing. It's the same thing that I am still missing when I listen to Pavement. That obsessive adoration. That's what I found this year when, working at CD Tradepost, I put Indoor Living on one day having plucked it from the refuse of junk we sold there. I listened to it obsessively after that, even when the head honcho determined that indie rock would be too confusing for normal folk and would alienate them. Fuck that shit. I continued on my path to becoming a Superchunk groupie.

And what a perfect year for it to happen. The year where Superchunk release their first LP in something like 10 years. 2009 laid the seeds of this brand new love with the Leaves in the Gutter EP, which featured the excellent jam “Learned to Surf.” I was happy to see it here (and with a new rippin' guitar solo thing on the last verse, nice). I'd also been really into “Crossed Wires” and had picked up the “Digging for Something” single at Love Garden a few months in advance, instinctively grabbing it and forking over five bucks. And then Majesty Shredding hit and it was what I wished indie rock still was, which is to say that I wish indie rock was still important. It's my comfort food. The music that I came of age to, and Superchunk excel at indie rock. It's like they never quit, too. That's how good Majesty Shredding is. There's nothing rusty about it, it's jammed to the gills with energy and pulling off hooks that young bands dream about. Majesty Shredding succeeds because it doesn't even have to try to be good. Superchunk make it seem effortless. This boggles my mind. How they can pull of a song like the amazing closer “Everything at Once” is shocking to me. How do you write a song that hits you in the guts in just the right way? The way where you stand in front of the mirror in the hall and play air guitar and sing along because you can't help yourself? There are no fewer than 6 moments like that on this album. Those triumphant moments where Mac's head sounds like it's about to explode. Every track is great, and many of them are outstanding. “Rosemarie” and “Fractures in Plaster” are the songs I'm most envious of after the aforementioned “Everything at Once.” I think that's the key to unlocking my obsession with this album: It sounds like the music I want to make when I think about making music.

I tried to play this album out and it never happened. It stayed in my car for a solid month until it started skipping and I was too lazy to burn another copy. I still listen to it almost exclusively when i'm doing dishes or cleaning or cooking dinner because, well, it's the sort of music that's good to do all of those things to. It's propulsive, catchy, and is definitely an album that rewards those who invest in multiple listens (“Slow Drip” and “Winter Games” are two growers buried in the middle of the album that for some reason required a lot of time until I realized why they were great, but they were great nonetheless). And seriously, Majesty Shredding. How fucking awesome is that album title? All these fucking bands now, with their nondescript one word band names and self-titled debut albums or nondescript one word album titles. MAJESTY SHREDDING, fucking amazing, and the only album title I can think of that I like more in 2010 is my #1 pick.

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fat Cat)

This is ultimately the record I'm going to associate with 2010, and though I debated long and hard whether this or Superchunk would take the top spot, this one just felt right. I also feel like I'm atoning for criminally ignoring The Midnight Organ Fight in 2008, which was really the year I needed to be paying attention to it. It's easily one of the most agonizingly painful records I've ever heard, and one of those ultimate break-up albums. 2008 was a pretty shitty year. 2010, on the other hand, has been a pretty remarkable year on an emotional front. Things like politics, the news, violence everywhere and the general stupidity of Americans leave a bad taste in my mouth, but ultimately things are OK. This is a record that, to me, is about trying to be OK. Just trying to manage, in particular trying to manage after a devastating breakup and putting things back together. It's still miserable, but there's a little ray of sunshine there. Not like the dudes in Frightened Rabbit ever see sunshine (cuz they're from Scotland and it's gray there! Get it! This is my typical American ignorance), but there's a little bit of it there.), despite the fact that this record simmers in what frontman Scott Hutchinson called “typical Scottish glumness” in his AV Undercover session this summer. Granted, that was in reference to his cover of the Lemonheads “Confetti,” but nonetheless, it fits. And I eat that shit up.

Come to think of it, Hutchinson's performance of “Confetti” was what made me listen to It's a Shame About Ray a for the first time and subsequently a million times this summer. So perhaps Frightened Rabbit at number one is an homage to that. And, come to think of it, want to know something really funny? I was pretty lukewarm about this when it first came out. I know, right! Crazy! It's just as RAW as Midnight Organ Fight, you know? It's a lot cleaner, and it sounds like the band has gone from being Hutchinson's little outlet to a full-fledged band that does all sorts of interesting stuff to adorn his brilliantly clever and utterly sadsack lyrics. Like most Scottish songwriters, he wears his sense of humor on his sleeve. Granted, it's often gallows humor, but that's often the best kind. Come to think of it, there are a LOT of references to graves, lying in graves, digging graves, etc on this record. But for a record with so many references to graves to the point where I almost dubbed it “Graveyard Rock,” it's really bright and full of great pop hooks in all of the right places. The three big singles from this record nail it and serve as perfect slices of all the facets of the Winter of Mixed Drinks.

“Nothing Like You” is a blistering kiss off song that I read as a really great love song but only because I feel like I've been through this one before. “She was not the cure for cancer.” It sounds like someone shoulda used that one by now, you know? “Living in Colour” is that aforementioned brightness at its brightest, and it's this track that really perfects the album's contrast ratio. Tracks like “Foot Shooter” and “The Loneliness and the Scream” (which I've found was the album's FOURTH single), pull off the glumness with aplomb but man, “Living in Colour” is this motherfucking triumphant barn burner (or as close as a Scottish indie-rock band can get to a barn burner) that really makes me think this album is alot happier than a lot of it sounds. This song at least captures the letting go with grace. “You put the bood to my blue lips/ Forced the life through still veins/ Filled my heart with red again.” It almost sounds like an emocore song, but man, Hutchinson sings it with such conviction that it's beautiful. It's a “yes, that is EXACTLY how it feels dude” moment.

“Swim Until You Can't See Land” came out last year and I loved it then almost as much as I love it now. There's the little lilt of that guitar line that makes it seem misleadingly happy when it's really the emotional crux of the record. It has the grand dilemma: Are you a man or a bag of sand? Sink or swim. Let the baggage drag you down or fight your way through to set yourself free. Kudos, dudes. You made my new favorite post-post-break-up album of all time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Best of 2010: Honorable Mentions

Before posting my Top 15 Albums of 2010 list, I feel it's my duty to honor some albums I put a lot of time into but still felt a little let down by. This is me trying to analyze the sadness that came when I realized I didn't like certain albums as much as I wanted to.

The National – High Violet

This was supposed to be the masterpiece. Everyone read it as the masterpiece, but something just never quite worked. I absolutely love about five songs on this album and I think the rest are kind of redundant and boring. Pretty, sure, and they got better upon further listens but it's still an album where I listen to the jawdropping, motherfucking stunning opener “Terrible Love” and skip to the last half of the album. It's strange, really, because I've never found an album with such a strong back half. Usually it's vice versa, but yeah. Even “Bloodbuzz Ohio” got boring after the 10th listen or so. And while I love “Conversation 16” and “Lemonworld,” they all fit into the same pattern as the rest of the kind of pretty but boring songs. They're just more descriptive, and on a record where all the songs kind of sound the same, you pick the best ones and discard the rest. At least that's how High Violet worked. I feel guilty for not liking this. Boxer blew my mind, and I knew this was going to be great. There was so much hope pinned on it and I tried and tried until I had to quit pretending and just concede that sometimes I just don't get it. I have the sinking suspicion that a couple years from now this one's gonna come back around and knock me on my ass real proper like.

The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever

It's rough admitting that your favorite band made a kind of just pretty good album. The problem with Heaven is Whenever isn't the songs, exactly. Sure, there are a handful that just aren't up to the caliber the Hold Steady usually fire at, and I'm sure a lot of this might be the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay. Who knows. It just feels a bit off. The biggest problem is that the songs don't seem to form a cohesive album, which is a Hold Steady first (with the exception of maybe Almost Killed Me, but hey, they were just getting started). “The Sweet Part of the City” is interesting new territory, as is the epic finale “A Slight Discomfort” which grew on me a lot when “Barely Breathing,” “Our Whole Lives,” and “Rock Problems” kind of lost their luster. “The Smidge” is probably the worst Hold Steady song ever. “Hurricane J,” “Chips Ahoy” sequel “The Weekenders,” and “We Can Get Together” totally kill it though. At first I thought it felt rushed, but given that the Hold Steady had been releasing an album a year for about five years (roughly), it's more likely that this is overworked. All the wonderful spontaneity is gone, or severely lacking. Still, I like this album. Even the mediocre songs are still enjoyable because, like I said, it's my favorite band and I love them like a mother loves her kin. Unconditionally. Well, Craig Finn at least. I wish the other guys hadn't looked like they were having the worst time ever when I saw them in Omaha this year.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

I'm not a detractor for detractor's sake on this one, I just thought it was a little boring and I think its message is a little too grandiose and simplistic to be as affecting as Funeral, which was able to remain specific while being universal. The Suburbs is also a very long record, and I think it suffers for this. I think I'm having the same reaction as I'm having with the National's High Violet. It's a big, beautiful album that just feels like something is missing. Feels a little disingenuous and I don't really know if that's the band's fault, it just seems that with all the effort to execute precision, emotional rawness gets left at the door. Sure, it pops up here and there, and those moments offer a glimpse at how great the album could have been if it didn't feel overwrought.

Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer of the Void
(Sub Pop)

Blitzen Trapper continue to refine their throwback rock and roll with pretty excellent effect. “The Tree,” which features some of the loveliest harmony vocals all year by Alela Diane, makes me weepy every time I hear it, and the rest of the album makes me want to drink light beer and hang out on the back of a pick-up truck in the 70s. Though Blitzen Trapper tend to have one incredible song every album (Furr had its title track, Wild Mountain Nation had, er, well, maybe that one didn't have one) once their albums sink in they feel a bit light. The songs are great, no doubt, and the band has their craft down, but I still feel like there's something keeping them from becoming a really great band. It's probably originality, but given how well they pull off everything they do, I can't really complain too much.

Wolf Parade – Expo 86
(Sub Pop)

Ah, another wildly different album from Wolf Parade because, thank god, they can't stand still. Though not as strong as At Mount Zoomer, it's much weirder than anything they've done, in both music and lyrics. Spencer Krug's songs are kind of bizarre in the best way and Dan Boekner's are, actually, Boekner's songs are kind of the same fist-pumping Springsteen-esque anthems he's always done, but they're really good here nonetheless. The dancey, synthy, New Ordery vibe is quite cool, and while I wouldn't want Wolf Parade to sound like this forever, this experimentation makes me think that Wolf Parade is becoming the side project to Krug's Sunset Rubdown and Boekner's Handsome Furs. And considering that both those bands have been getting better and better and better, well, Wolf Parade making non-amazing albums is totally acceptable.

So Cow – Meaningless Friendly

Saw these Irish dudes open for Ted Leo and they totally ruled my world. Easily the best opening band I saw all year. Really great, ramshackle poppy punky indie rock with the kind of precise lyrics that I expect from A.) Really good songwriters and B.) Really good Irish and/or Scottish songwriters (they both share that same sort of glumness that I eat up). This is a really fun LP that may as well be the groundwork for this band's breakout, which will hopefully be Meaningless Friendly's follow-up because, well, yeah, these guys are great.

Frog Eyes – Paul's Tomb: A Triumph
(Dead Oceans)

Though as impenetrable as any Frog Eyes records due to Carey Mercer's violent vocals and weirdo songwriting (that is meant as a total compliment), I found myself listening to this a lot earlier in the year. It's good to see they're on Dead Oceans, which is still in my opinion one of the best labels that's yet to totally become a Merge or a Sub Pop or a what have you. It will, and over the past couple years they've been building a strong back catalog. This is another fine addition. This is my contender for album I'm going to regret not putting in the Best of 2010 proper in 2011, I'm sure.