Hard to believe it’s already more than halfway through 2010, right?
I’ve had my usual “halfway best of” list near-ready to post since way back in early June, but I was really unhappy with the substance of the content I’d written on each record. What I needed to do was sit down and listen to each one as I wrote about it… but even until now I’ve only had times to do that in fits and starts. With Cohen’s arrival and work and the other trappings of the daily grind the best I could muster was a few re-writes aimed at saying something more than “this album is good, you should try it.” I’m still not entirely satisfied, but I’ve been working on this thing so long it’s just time for us to part ways.
So I sat around Sunday night with headphones on and banged this out. I tried to flourish where I could. Hopefully it might turn you onto something, or at least give you cause to call me a front-running wanna-be hipster, one of those two (perhaps both). See if there’s anything you can dig on:
10. Sleigh Bells – Treats [listen]
People who know my taste might find it odd I like this record so much, but so help me I do. You know what this record is? It’s a cheerleading record. No I swear I’m not kidding. It’s an album that tweaker cheerleaders do routines to. At times the guitars and beats and vocals and everything else are so distorted and clipped that songs risk becoming a static wall of sound, but in the end the beats and teenage-chant vocals prevail and land smack after smack of meth’d-out Toni Basil. All of it hits hard, but “Kids” and “Riot Rhythm” are likely my favorite of the stompers here. A lot of times I’ll try and give my opinion on what setting a particular “best of” album works best in – but for this one you should just turn it up and dance. Go; dance. Badly around your living room with your sons and daughters like I do. Dance and have fun doing it. This music is stupid and disposable and that’s what makes it so very enjoyable.
9. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today [listen]
One of the later entrants on the midyear list, Before Today didn’t grace my ears until sometime midway through May. I can still remember my first impressions: “What is this? Some retro Bowie/Eno/Hall & Oates mashup thing? Oh no wait here comes some Velvet Undergroundy guitar stuff. Man this is oddball. Drug music. Music for drugs. Slick; intravenous.” I guess this is what they call “art rock;” what a dumb taxonomy, music nerds are so full of themselves. But man, this swings. Pink’s music divides critics; some hate it some love it. With ties to indie wunderkind Animal Collective and a ton of underground press I think people are actually afraid to like this album for fear of being judged to be among the sheep. So do I like it or did the internet tell me I should like it enough that I’m brainwashed? Does it matter? I like it, of my own doing or the hivemind’s… I like it. Shut up.
8. Yeasayer – Odd Blood [listen]
If most of what I dug in earl 2010 can be pigeonholed as dreamy harmony-based pop, then Yeasayer’s record is the outlier. Opening with a relatively unapproachable (at first) beat-based Radiohead-sounding experimental piece, the album changes quick and offers up several pieces of highly danceable quirk-rock. In fact, I daresay that tracks like “Ambling Alp” and “ONE” would get most people shaking something. While other numbers aren’t as easy to categorize, the album as a whole leaves you with a happy feeling – each song upbeat in its own way, no harshing of one’s buzz here. It’s a hard sound to describe, and maybe a hard one to fall in love with, but I’m convinced that spending some time with this one will turn you, too.
7. The National – High Violet [listen]
The National’s records have always been “growers” for me. I don’t know how they manage to do it, but the urgency and energy of their music is often masked to me upon the first few listens. Yet as I listen more and listen carefully the real push and charge of each track is revealed. Sharaun has commented more than once that this album sounds “slow” and “boring,” but she’s still got the scales on her eyes and I’m just a little closer to Damascus. When those scales drop, my friends, you’ll hear such a passion in each deceptively muted rythym and baritone lyric you’ll know right away there’s substance to this one. The National do more with less (the pause between the words “blood” and “buzz” on “Bloodbuzz Ohio” drips with anticipation and is likely to make the weak swoon).
6. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast [listen]
Surfer Blood make trashy surf rock that, upon listening, recalls hearing Weezer’s debut album for the first time. You like guitars and fuzz? You like triple-tracked vocals with stadium echo? You like shimmery cymbals on a majority of downbeats? You like a 2010 take on 1960s beach-styled phrasing? Well by God man you owe it to yourself to get this album! I want to listen to these tracks hanging onto a rope stretched off the backside of a ski boat, a wakeboard strapped to my heels and a bellyful of beer while my bald head simmers in the summer sun – it’s that record you were listening to that one time you lost your sunglasses. The Ventures and Beach Boys meet Weezer (when they were good) and JaMC. You’ll want this to accompany your waterside summer, get it and find a palm tree to lounge under, bring a chick and a blanket.
5. Zeus – Say Us [listen]
I’m not even certain how I heard about Zeus, but this album is what Dr. Dog should have made in 2010 (let’s not talk about what they did make). Every month of every year since the days of The Beatles some band released an album that sounds like the Beatles. That’s a lot of Beatles-esque records since 1969. Zeus shouldn’t be shy about their Beatles-tinged effort, however, they’ve done a great job and crafted some great pop-rock gems in the process. If you are looking for the most universally-approachable entrant on this year’s list look no further than “Say Us” – hardly anyone would ask you to turn this off at the barbecue, I promise.
4. Wavves – King of the Beach [listen]
The whole Wavves frenzy of a couple years back completely missed me. I didn’t even download that acclaimed record. The reviews alone turned me off, rambling on and making the music sound all a bunch of overblown half-baked garage crap, listeners suffering from the same strange mass hysteria that allows bullshit like Trout Mask Replica to rank as a “great” album. So I didn’t touch it. Then I heard the title of the new Wavves record and I was intrigued. For in 2010 the beach/surf/coastal theme is in vogue (sorry The Thrills in 2003, you tried), and calling your album King of the Beach is like catnip to front-running indie hipsters. Next, I saw the dang album cover. All Sgt. Pepper badge-esque in terms of color and featuring some kind of Freemason weasel or fox smoking a joint. I mean come on – I had to download it. And you know what, it is simple, it is garage, but it’s anything but overrated. In fact it’s right up my alley.
3. The Local Natives – Gorilla Manor [listen]
This record, the Morning Benders Record, and the Beach House record pretty much sum up the “sound” I’m digging so far in 2010. These LA-area folks seemingly came out of nowhere. I read about them in the UK press sometime early in the year and decided to give the album a try. Wow. With harmonies that would do any modern folk outfit proud, rim-and-stick happy percussion, and enough chops to get loud when they should – the Local Natives have made one of the best records of the year. And so yes, people may say that the album droops and sags at points (namely points that aren’t shored up by the stellar “Airplanes” and “Camera Talk), but the whole effort is sound to me. I mean, honestly, you could put eight tracks of random noise around the awesomeness that is “Airplanes” and I’d still buy the record.
2. Beach House – Teen Dream [listen]
Picked and plucked scales, dreamy harmonies, and plush backdrops. I got this album as winter was turning to spring and it fit so well. I just love the tunes here, the melodies are incredible – almost understated to the point of near breakdown, but done to perfection. As far as songs go, I often find myself falling for tracks with vocal melodies that are well-defined enough to be standalone songs in their own right. When a band or artist is able to craft a killer song musically, and then layer a completely different, yet just as amazing, vocal accompaniment on top of it I get goosebumps. Teen Dream is like that, and although you might think it’s too slow or limp at first I’d urge you stick with it. I mean just listen to the harmonies on “Love of Mine” and you’ll see what I mean.
1. Morning Benders – Big Echo [listen]
There’s that very last scene in the very last episode of the Wonder Years. It’s a slow-motion soft-focus Fourth of July parade and we learn the fate of the entire cast; it was a perfect ending. Even today my heart swells when I watch that scene, my eyes sting with tears held back. Not sad tears but the tears you experience when years of nostalgia crescendo and eclipse everything else in your head. When those moments come, those points of piled-on memory when all else in the mind slips away, you get a moment of pure feeling. That’s what happens in my head when I hear this record. The songs are somehow so familiar to me that I instantly loved them, “remembered” them even. In part I think it’s the lead singer’s voice, in part it’s the subject matter. I mean, the, “I can’t help thinking we grew up too fast,” bit in “Promises”… the tinkling piano and hints of feedback at the ends of the chords… fantastic. This is the kind of record that doesn’t come often, one of those love-at-first-sight things, and nothing in 2010 has topped it for me yet.
Honorable mention this year goes to The Radio Dept.’s Clinging To A Scheme [listen] and The New Pornographers’ Together [listen]. Both excellent records but each, whether due to pure whim or a lack of diligence or true deservedness, not bowing in my top 10. This should not, however, prevent you from checking them out – and it does not preclude my listening habits from elevating them come end-of-year.
So that’s what I dig so far. And yeah I know the Arcade Fire’s new one leaked already, but I’ve only been listening to it for a week or so and it can debut at end-year if it deserves it (I’ll let you guess).