Monday, February 7, 2011

10 Best Albums of 2010

10 Best Albums (actually 13):

(Sorry this column is so late but laziness and the flu and more laziness got the better of me. Never it is.. and only a month late!)

1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (Merge Records)

A remarkable achievement for a highly lauded band to come out with a third album that is as fresh and vibrant as anything they've released yet, but also sounds like it just flowed out of them with refreshing ease. It's great to see a band mature and still maintain their creative high. I suspect that, over time, this may well come to be seen as their best album yet. Filled with their familiar themes of alienation, suburban life vs. stardom/the music business, rabid fans, and how to move forward, they waste no words and do not suffer fools gladly. Urgent, intelligent, always melodic and sweeping, and ultimately quite moving. Their live shows at The Shrine in October were exhilerating and electrifying.

2. Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void (Sub Pop)

Consistently in my top ten for the last two years, they return with what I consider their best album. When I saw them, for the third time, at El Rey in June they covered Destroyer... and it was the best I've ever seen them. Endlessly inventive melodies, some great guitar passages and Eric Earley's expressive and flexible voice guides the music and when blended with their intricate vocal harmonies, the songs soar. This album was impossible to stop playing for months.

3. Everest - On Approach (Vapor Records)

I also had the privilege of hearing this album come to life in concerts over the last two years, first in the composing stages and then , once the album was released, in live versions of the songs that were always the equal, if not superior to, the recorded versions. Solid songcraft has always been a hallmark of this band, and it has only grown stronger, as the songs sound like instant classic folk rock. Russell Pollard's vocals have never sounded this good and so much touring and performing has paid off with the whole band working together as a cohesive unit.

4. Pepper Rabbit - Beauregard (Kanine Records)

A highly original sound coupled with an uncanny gift for haunting melody. Imbued with that vaguely Eastern European flavor favored by artists like Beirut, Gogol Bordello or even Grizzly Bear. I love the air of sad, graceful melancholy, matched with some highly original lyrics, some sounding like nonsense until you listen a few times and realize they are actually deeply felt. Xander Singh has a winsome and lilting voice, backed by rich and varied orchestral flourishes, ranging from clarinet to brass instruments, and propelled by Luc Laurent's fascinating percussion, it all comes together so well showcasing the wide range of song styles they explore.

5. Three Mile Pilot - The Inevitable Past Is The Fututre Forgotten (Temporary Residence)

What can I say about the guys that make this music. They've found the formula to create music that bypasses all my filters and goes directly into my cardio-vascular system, so that it becomes like a heart beat, or breathing, or drinking water when you're thirsty. It is certainly one of the most beautiful albums of the year, put together by some of the creative forces behind The Black Heart Procession and Pinback. I got to see this band about a year and a half ago when they played Echoplex and I'm sure they played some of this new material because I remember being quite impressed with the show.

6. The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

The band that gives lugubrious a good name, their massive sound is epic in it's scope. The unexpected beauty of some of the compositions moved me to tears frequently when I first played this album. It comes in like a transmission from outer space then morphs into solid wall of guitar and bass, pierced by Jace Lasek's eerie falsetto vocals that are soon swallowed up in the throbbing. pulsating beat. It's an amazing amalgam on sounds, blended together beautifully. The layering that occurs on such songs as "Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent, Part 2: The Innocent" and "Land Of Living Skies" is positively tidal in it's pull until you feel like you could disolve in emotion. Live, they recreate the sound faithfully, with audiences swaying back and forth as if in a trance.

7. George Glass - George Glass EP (self release)

A new band that has rapidly ascended to the top tier of local bands. Surprisingly mature work with songs that are as unpredictable as they are unexpectedly beautiful. Nick Ceglio's plaintive yet expressive singing is recorded to really stand at the center of the songs and it gives the whole record a focus. Songs that begin one way, suddenly veer off in unexpected directions, keeping the listener on his toes and showing off Nick's talent as a songwriter. I've been watching this band live for the past year and to hear so professional and crisp a recording from them is a revelation.

8. Broken Bells - Broken Bells (Columbia Records)

As an offshoot to The Shins, James Mercer teamed with Danger Mouse to give his already quirky songs a kind of funky lift that doesn't seem like it should work at first. After you've played the album over and over, you realize, not only does it work, but it reveals a whole other side to Mercer's talent. Sometimes diverging off into orchestral, film sountrack-like flourishes, the music covers a range of styles and emotions. There's a wistfull loneliness that comes through, making for an emotional connection as well. Great to see them live, and at the second concert they performed new material not on this expect more from Broken Bells. I keep going back to this album over and over.

9. Field Music - Field Music (Measure) (Memphis Industries)

I'd only heard a couple of songs by this band before they came to town last year promoting a brand new record, so I picked up Field Music (Measure) at Amoeba and bought a ticket for the Bootleg Theatre. I was instantly hooked by their intelligent industrial Brit-rock that sounds like some of the most inventive and interesting music being made right now. The variety of instruments coupled with their proficiency on each one makes for a rich musical experience. The music is as unpredictable as it is intricate, but it is not easy and requires a certain amount of concentration. There's 20 cuts on the album and it plays like two albums, with a definite break at the eleventh cut where the music becomes more experimental for the remainder. I got to meet both brothers, Peter and David Brewis, at the Bootleg and a couple of days later at their free show at Amoeba, and they were a delight to talk to.

10. Film School - Fission (Hi-Speed Soul)

I was such a fan of this band before this album that Fission came as a real surprise. The unexpected upbeat quality of the music and the use of more group vocals, especially Lorelie, really caught my attention. It's a wonderfully varied collection of songs that really grow on you. Still anchored in that comfortable melancholy, the songs still have a rueful quality, even when they make you want to jump up and dance around the room. Greg Bertens' voice still has that dream-like quality that attracted me to this band in the first place.

11. Avi Buffalo - Avi Buffalo (Sub Pop)

The long-awaited debut album by Long Beach supergroup turned Sub Pop artists was the fulfillment of a year and a half of following this band all over town. They were almost instantly recognized as band of rare talent, and I'm happy to say I saw them close to the beginning. I was so famiiar with the live versions of these song that to hear the versions committed to CD was both thrilling and scary. Would they be as good? In most cases the answer is yes. Nicely recorded there's even room for some of Avi's spectacular noodling on his guitar. Sad to say the group is no longer together but look forward to the next phase of their collective careers.

12. The Californian - Sea of Love EP (self release)

This band just exploded for me. First time I ever saw them was in April last year when they opened for Radio Free Silver Lake's Lost Episode of "Let's Independent!" at El Cid and I was totally blown away. This little EP is only four songs, but each song is among the best individual songs I heard all year. Having now seen then over a half dozen times, and hearing all their unreleased material, boy, does this band ever have a full album in them and I can't wait. John Graney is an arresting and super-charismatic front man and I predict big things.

13. Lord Huron - 2 EP's Into the Sun & Mighty (self releases)

This band suddenly popped up out of nowhere last November and I have tried to see them every time they've played since then. A unique blend of atmosphere-soaked harmony vocals and shimmering guitars, mixed with a Carribean beat. I've never heard anyting quite like it and these two EP's are inseperable. That the band has tons of on stage presense will not hurt them. See them now, before they explode.

The following albums made a big impression as well, but if I stop to talk about each one, this piece will never be published.

Tommy Santee Klaws - Rakes (self release)

Dead Meadow - Three Kings (Zemu Records)

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me (Drag City)

Helen Stellar - If The Stars Could Speak, They Would Have Your Voice... (self release)

The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers (Sub Pop)

EELS - Tomorrow Morning (EWorks)


No comments: