For a couple of years in the mid to late 90's any movie trailer that you saw that had any sense of futuristic action featured a generic breakbeat track typically over some throaty unintelligible female vocals. For some reason, the drum and bass breakbeat became shorthand for futuristic action movies. Some of these films actually featured full soundtracks in the same vein, like The Matrix movies. The funny thing about all of this is D&B didn't become the music of the future, and pretty much all of it sounds incredibly dated. Even current artists who produce within the genre have a hard time breaking out of the box that they got put in in the 80's.
What does this have to do with anything? Well Flux, the third album by Love Spirals Downwards, prominently features the breakbeat, but in an interesting and effective way. Their previous two albums were a mix of ethereal female vocals mixed with shoegazey guitars, and are good in their own right. But on flux they dropped the standard percussion of those albums in favor of a more electronic approach. The mix is a lot more appealing than it sounds on paper, in that it gives us a unique take on both shoegaze as well as downbeat electronica and trip-hop.
The album actually starts off somewhat weakly, with the fairly forgettable yet pleasant "City Moon", which is followed by a much more interesting track "Alicia". The song is an interesting mix of Spanish sounding guitars and vocals over the breakbeat that will become standard for nearly the rest of the album. One thing that is interesting is how close they come to sounding too New Agey on the album, yet they never cross the line into schmaltziness.
There are three vocal based tracks that really stick out to me on Flux. The first is "Psyche", which has all the elements of Flux that makes it such a good album. There is less delay on the vocals, which make the lyrics more intelligible and affecting, and the droning loop underneath provides a good base for the rest of the track to build on. There are actually only a few elements at work on the track, but they come together with such ease that they sound as one. Next would be the similar "By Your Side". It sounds like a b-side to "Psyche" in that it evokes much of the same emotions and has many of the same elements. The vocals on the track sound somewhat flat, but that just makes it that much more endearing,especially considering the studio wizardry that would make them sound completely impersonal if they were to be recorded today. Last is "Ring", which takes its time a bit more than the other two tracks mentioned. Listened to one after another, this one is definitely comes off sounding more sincere. I don't know if its the vocal performance or the more up front backing track, but whatever it is makes this the track to listen to if you were only to listen to one track off of Flux.
However its not all breakbeats on Flux, as exampled on "Sunset Bell". Starting off sounding like a lullaby, it twists and morphs into a loopy psyched out bliss track, in the vein of the first two Seefeel records. At 8 minutes it is the longest track of the album, but no time is wasted. The build covers the running time well, and it never comes off as sounding bored or tired.
Flux is an interesting piece of crossover music history. It is strange to me that this blend of genre's exhibited wasn't emulated by other musicians, but maybe thats what makes this album so memorable.
Recently there has been a rash of artists crossing R&B with bass music. While the genre became increasingly popular in 2010 due to artists such as Flying Lotus and Mount Kimbie, it always left me a bit cold. While I did enjoy the Mount Kimbie record I never remember anything about it after finishing listening to it, nothing really sticks out and sticks in my mind. While Jamie Woon is doing a similar crossover, the appeal is much more palpable. His voice evokes R&B and soul, but has an emotionality to it that makes it both personal and enjoyable. His first EP, Wayfaring Stranger, was released in 2007. The self titled track was an A Capella based soul track that was pretty good. But what really struck me and most people about the EP was the Burial remix of the title track. It took the soulfulness of Woon's voice and put it over a lonely dubstep beat similar to Burial's own tracks. The mix of the coldness of the music with the richness of Woon's voice is pretty spectacular and stunning. It is actually very interesting to listen to the original "Wayfaring Stranger" in comparison to the remix. Instead of distant dubstep it is largely a Capella, featuring Woon's voice front and center, with minimal backing percussion. It is a mournful dirge that brings a different emotionality to the track. In late 2010 Woon released another short EP showing the influence he garnered from said Burial remix. The Night Air ep is only two tracks, the title track and a remix by Ramadanman. The track is a bit warmer than "Wayfaring Stranger", and features Woon incredible voice over a Fever Ray'ish backing track. The video for the song is one of the few instances where its not secondary or just thrown out there, it is actually well thought out and compliments the track incredibly effectively. There are rumors that Jamie Woon will be releasing a full length in 2011. After listening countless times to his two short EP's I am very excited by this prospect. Hopefully he delves deeper into the darkness of bass music with some hints of his guitar based origins, and it would be amazing to see another Burial collaboration. Check out the link below to hear both his EP's, and if you enjoy them please support the artist.
Public scrutiny can often ruin musicians entirely. Its not so much the fact that the person themself is ruined, its that their music itself reflects societies view of their art rather than their own personal vision. Crystal Castles previous album, which was self titled as well, reflected a mish mash of nihilism mixed with darkwave mixed with the icy cool of synthpop, yet didn't sound like a fully formed music project. The duo toured, was accused of musical plagiarism, had multiple on stage public meltdowns, and seemed to be getting attention for all the wrong reasons. Needless to say I thought this album was going to be trash, it seemed likely that they would either make a quick cash in on their coverage or target the mass market. What actually happened is Crystal Castles took the format of the first LP and pushed their influences in every direction.
The first single released off the album, "Doe Deer", is a cacaphony of blown out synths and distorted vocals which is reminescent of early 2000's no-wave bands like The Sick Lipstick and Black Cat #13. Other tracks such as "Celestica" and "Babtism" effectively throw big rave synths together with low key chillwave beats. As a whole, the album balances the noisier songs with the dance tracks and comes out in the end as a record that keeps you wondering what the next song will bring. It is a wonder to me that Crystal Castles survived the shitstorm after their first album to release one of the strongest releases of the year, and one of the best releases in the genre itself. It is a testament that the public spotlight doesn't turn everyone into raving egomaniacs that put their public persona's miles ahead of whatever artistic expression got them noticed in the first place. Crystal Castles - Celestica Crystal Castles - Doe Deer Crystal Castles - Empathy
9. The Books - The Way Out
Rarely do albums come along that requires active listening to the extent that releases by The Books do. This is an album that I could stare at a wall while listening to and be completely entertained. The Books create music using field recordings, found sound, original string quartet work, and a sense of storytelling woven throughout. On The Way Out, a lot of the tracks revolve around clips from obscure self help recordings and the videos that The Books have drudged up from who knows where. Where the songcraft really comes in is how little these sound like hodge podges of noises. Every track has its own personality and theme, and are arranged in perfect sequence. Those who listen to the album as a whole will be rewarded much more than those that pick and choose tracks. Another thing that the books do well is humor, and not in the way that you would expect. Maybe humor isn't the right word for it, the best way I could describe it would be a clever sense of self awareness that what they are doing is a bit rediculous. "Beautiful People" is what sounds like a reading of a geometry text book over a subdued high hat and manipulated in a way that makes math sound like it was handed down by God himself. "A Cold Freezin' Night" is rooted in a series of cassette tape recordings from childrens' TalkBoys (remember those?) that The Books found at a thrift store. The result is a mix of statements and threats that only children could pull off backed by a music video that is bonkers enough to not make the spoken words sound too ridiculous. There are also more traditional sounding songs, such as "All You Need is a Wall", which is a pretty straightforward track about loss. If I had to pick one track as my favorite I would pick "Thirty Incoming" which is centered around a series of answering machine messages. It tells a story in 4 minutes more effectively than most films. Is the woman in question leaving? Will they work things out? IS he stalking her or is she actually interested in him? Its not often that I have questions like these about songs, which is an indicator of the quality present. The Books - Beautiful People The Books - A Cold Freezin' Night The Books - All You Need Is A Wall The Books - Thirty Incoming
8. Owen Pallett - Heartland
2010 was a year where artists singular visions reigned supreme. This of course has its ups and downs, on one hand we get the full impact of the bloated egos of people like Kanye West, but on the other hand we get strong singular artistic visions such as the albums by Janelle Monae and Jonsi. Owen Pallett's Heartland definitely falls into the latter category. Owen Pallett has previously released a couple of albums under the Final Fantasy moniker, but he was prompted by Squaresoft to either change his name or face legal action. He seems to have taken the opportunity of the name change to put together his most lush and realized music yet. You can definitely hear Final Fantasy on Heartland, but it is so much more developed and fleshed out that at times it sounds like a completely different artist. Owen's main instrument of choice is the violin, and there are numerous passages of his playing that sound like they could be out of a violin concerto. From what I understand this is a theme album about a man leaving the midwest for opportunities abroad, but the theme itself never overshadows the album. The most defining thing about Owen Pallett is his ability to mix virtuosic arrangements with infectious melodies. Take for example "Lewis Takes Action", about three fourths through the song, the strings descend into an offkey take on the main musical theme, only to have the melody lock in again, making it that much more memorable. The album is full of little tricks of the ear that are both subtle and at the same time breathtaking. Standout track "Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" features Owen Pallett's most powerful vocal performance yet, with a ascending chorus that shows off the fact that not only is he a brilliant songwriter, but also a great vocal talent. With the amount of singer/songwriters out there it is refreshing to hear someone who actually knows how to play well, making him more of a songer/composer. I saw him open for The National, and honestly he blew them out of the water, even though it was just him and another multi instrumentalist on stage. Owen Pallett - Lewis Takes Action (Live with Orchestra) Owen Pallett - Lewis Takes off his Shirt (Live) 7. The Black Dog - Music For Real Airports
It bothers me that people dismiss music out of hand that isn't either instantly accessible, danceable, bass heavy, or vocally based. What these people are missing out on is music that affects through mood and tonal shifts, which is a completely different listening experience than from vocal based albums. I find it easier to listen to music such as this because I hardly ever pay attention to lyrics in the first place, I am much more affected by the way the music itself moves. That being said, Music For Real Airports is one of the most emotionally effective releases of the year. The album itself is billed as a sequel to Brian Eno's seminal 1978 ambient album titles Music For Airports. The Black Dog, who are typically a more straightforward techno group, have taken influence from the warm ambient sounds of Eno's ambient albums, and added a subtle backbeat that is never intrusive but effectively propels the album along. All of the loneliness of a modern society where you can be surrounded by hundred of people in an urban environment, or millions of people digitally online, is conveyed on this album. If you think about it, words can't really describe feelings such as these, which is why the album gets them across so effectively using subtle changes of key and tone. The opening two tracks set the mood appropriately, signifying arriving at an airport in a daze, not sure why you are there or where you are going. Then the album really shifts into gear with "DISinformation Desk", where percussive tones roll alongside dubby washes of sound, reminiscent of their peers Monolake. "Sleep Deprivation 1" begins with what sounds like a busy signal and a crowd of voices far off in the distance, which subsequently drop out in place of a deep bass beat that goes throughout the track. By the end of the album we are in a daze, ready to leave the airport, ready to get away from the society that packs us together in a way that makes it so we can never truly know eachother, and thats when "Business Car Park 9" starts. This is what the album has been leading up to, a cathartic release of melody and emotion. There is something about this track that is beautifully intangible, and really has to be heard to understood. The Black Dog - Business Car Park 9 The Black Dog - Disinformation Desk 6. Thomas Fehlmann - Gute Luft
2010 was a great year for dub. Whether it was the locked in groove of Echospace or the smokey chilled out cool of Pulshar, the genre consistantle produced great material. Thomas Fehlmann is a legend in electronic music circles, mainly for his work in the late 80's and early to mid 90's with techno innovators and legends The Orb. Since leaving that small collective he has released a few albums and singles under the consistantly solid German techno label Kompakt, as well as producing tracks for his peers. Even though he is in his early 50's he is still DJ'ing regularly and producing some of the most forward thinking minimal techno/dub, as evidenced by his latest work, Gute Luft. The album is actually a soundtrack for a documentary based around and on the city of Berlin, which isn't essential knowledge for listening but provides context for the very urban sounding Gute Luft. the album explores musical themes and passages that were first heard on Fehlmann's previous solo works. Take for example the melody that is first heard on the track "Wasser Im Fluss". The theme itself first showed up on 2003's excellent album Lowflow, but is given new life on Gute Luft, where it shows up on multiple tracks providing a sort of narrative that holds the album together thematically. It makes perfect sense as a soundtrack, in that certain passages are obviously meant to be heard as motifs. On "Permanent Touch" Fehlmann takes the main theme and puts it over snapping fingers and synth stabs, forming a marching rhythm that seems like it would be evocative of Berlin itself. Yet its not the straightforward minimal techno tracks that make this such a great album, for Gute Luft is also heavy on dubby ambient tracks that serve as the mortar that holds the soundtrack together. It is in these more withdrawn moments that Fehlmann truely sets himself apart from his peers. His sense of rhythm and thematic flow is something that he has been building and emending for 25 years, which makes Gute Luft a must have of 2010. Thomas Fehlmann - Permanent Touch Thomas Fehlmann - Wasser Im Fluss 5. Autechre - Oversteps/Move of Ten
All of the elements of Autechre (AE) make them perfect candidates for rabid fanboyism. All of their releases are first pressed onto vinyl, with sometimes elaborate, sometimes minimal, but always beautiful artwork. They helped pioneer a genre of electronic music, IDM, that is still going strong today. Not content with that legacy, they went off the deep end musically in the late 90's/early 00's, creating albums that polarized their fans as well as music critics. Gone were the melodies of Incunabula and Amber, in their place was a form of percussive musical chaos that was in is incredibly abrasive and hard to digest. Confield, the pinnacle of their experimentation, is a must have for any eclectic music fan, in that it pushed societies idea of what music is and should be to its most extreme limits. Since that 2002 release, AE have taken a bit of a step back from extreme experimentation, reincorporating tonal melody into their still percussive heavy sound. Oversteps and Move of Ten are both reflective of AE's musical past as well as a look into the future of music itself. Oversteps was AE's first release of 2010, and it starts things off right. Lead off track "r ess" will sound familiar to AE fans, featuring a skittering without of this world melodies thrown seemingly at random over the top. AE are notorious for starting their releases with a kind of mission statement on what to expect from the rest of the record, which makes them easy to browse. The following track is my favorite from the album. "iLanders" is both claustrophobic and expansive, apocalyptic and beautiful. It is one of the more organic sounding songs on the album, and has a memorable bass melody that is evocative and seemingly always just out of reach. On "Treale" AE wear their hip-hop influences on their sleeves. In a perfect world this is what hip-hop beats would sound like, challenging, forward thinking, curious, and musically exploratory. Instead we get the same Fruity Loops garbage repeated ad-nauseum. A wonderful thing about AE is how they work in movements. They always release and EP or two around the same time as the full length album, which further explore the direction taken by the larger work. For instance, 2008 saw the release of Quaristice, which was an album that consisted of twenty short musical ideas rather than the long form tracks that AE are typically known for. While it was an interesting change of pace, it ultimately came off as sounding unrealized and incomplete. That was until the release of quadrange/quaristice(versions) shortly after the release of the album proper. These contained the same songs as the full length, but in their more fleshed out and expansive forms, and ultimately surpassed the quality of the album itself. This is not the case on Move of Ten, which is a ten song EP released months after Oversteps. While the art is similar, and some themes are shared, they are ultimately two sides of the same coin. Oversteps is heavy on ambiance and reflection, where as Move of Ten is more immediately accessible. For an AE newbie, this would be a good place to start, in that its not too long, not too abrasive, and each track has unique musical themes. The first half of the EP really show AE on top of their game. Opener "Etchogon-S" starts with a bear only AE could forge, with stabs of bass and synth providing the fleeting melody. "pce freeze 2.8i" is a post industrial march with otherworldly instruments playing a repeating motif over the top, while horror movie string provide the listener with a disconcerted claustrophobic feeling. Rounding out the opening half od the EP is "nth Dafuseder.b", which sound like a deranged collaboration with fellow IDM and Warp label mates Boards of Canada. Overall the two releases mark a strong and sure footed point in AE's long career. They aren't doing anything completely new in their 2010 output, but they are providing some of the most consistently rewarding, jarring, and thought provoking music in a year full of great albums. Autechre - r ess Autechre - iLanders Autechre - Treale Autechre - Etchogon-S Autechre - pce freeze 2.8i Autechre - nth Dafuseder 4. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
Even though I have had my top 30 albums set in stone since the first week of December, I have been endlessly messing with the order than the albums would come in. Originally I had this album around #9, but every time I listened to it I would tell myself, "Come on, this has to be higher than that." That it ended up a position higher than my favorite group is a testament to how much I love The ArchAndroid. Another pitfall of putting my top 10 out so late is that I have already read what everyone else has had to say about the album at hand, but I think the best way to approach this is to pretend that I, as well as the reader, haven't been exposed to any of that commentary. For the uninitiated, KCK native Janelle Monae plays an incredibly eclectic mix of styles. I read and interview in which Monae complained about arists of her ilk playing the same type of music in the same tired genre over and over, and that it was her mission to break out of that box. With the amount of styles represented this could have been a failure and huge mess, but instead it is the most exciting and surprising album of the year. The styles flow together seamlessly, from the bubble gim of "Locked Inside", to the straight forward rock of "Cold War", to the off kilter hip-hop of "Tightrope", Monae innovated as well as entertains. The three best tracks on the album are indicative of the album as a whole, and are also the weirdest and most eclectic. In "Come Alive" Monae sounds as if she is channeling the undead version of James Brown over a riff that sounds straight off an early B-52's album. Her high pitched wail towards the end of the track is unnerving and at the same time incredible. "Mushrooms and Roses" starts off as a straightforward slow burn classic, and then Monae's digitally altered robotic voice comes in. This isn't auto-tune, it is vocal manipulation at its most effective in that it is essential to the mood and the vibe of the song. It also features one of the most gorgeous string arrangements on an album heavy on gorgeous string arrangements.Then there is the blissfully oblivious "Wondaland", which has Monae singing in a sing-songy nasal voice that would come off as obnoxious in lesser hands. Yet in hers it sounds perfect, and makes sense even though it sounds nothing like anything else on the album. The ArchAndroid is so packed full of ideas and styles that its a wonder that is came off as cohesive as it did. Where Kanye gets credit for changing hip-hop, he merely sampled from an already heavily sampled plate of appetizers. Monae on the other hand embodies her influences, and in so adds to them, expanding the musical lexicon rather than simply regurgitating it. Janelle Monae - Tightrope Janelle Monae - Cold War Janelle Monae - Come Alive Janelle Monae - Mushrooms & Roses Janelle Monae - Wondaland
3. Deftones - Diamond Eyes
I listen to a lot of different music than my 16 year old self, but Deftones are one of those bands that I have consistently enjoyed since first purchasing their Around the Fur album in 1998. Honestly that album kind of changed the way I looked at music, it was heavy in the same way as other garbage I was listening to at the time (Korn, Coal Chamber, yikes), but had a melodic undercurrent that their angst driven peers severely lacked. With each new album, Deftones have consistently pushed their sound in interesting directions, but always revolving around the bottom heavy riffs of Stephen Carpenter and Chino Moreno's non sensicle lyrics and unparalleled delivery. Up until the release of Diamond Eyes, I thought White Pony was and would always be their best album. It had the perfect mix of slow tracks, melody, and stubborn angst. Yet Deftones have surprised me once again, and released their strongest album yet nearly 20 years into their career. One of the immediately noticeable differences between Diamond Eyes and previous albums is the 8 string guitar that is in use. Deftones have always revolved around seemingly simplistic yet solid riffs, and this new low end is the perfect backing for Chino's directionless wails. Although the entire album is good, the greatness doesn't really show up until the third track on the album "So You've Seen the Butcher". Chino's vocal performance on this track is pretty amazing, getting across longing, disappointment, and desire without ever falling into the trap of sounding emo. The following track "Beauty School" follows a similar tact, and features probably the most epic sounding chorus Deftones have ever penned. I don't know if I am being blinded by nostalgia, but the chorus sounds like something I have been listening to and loving for ten years rather than a couple of months. It is this blend of potent nostalgia and solid playing that really makes Diamond Eyes a different beast than their past albums. By far the strongest track on the album is "Risk", which has the simplest, yet coolest main riff on the album. Musically the album is easily their best. The guitar and drums are perfectly locked in, and Chino's vocals sound better than ever despite his recent throat problems. I have a hard time convincing people that don't listen to Deftones that they are a serious band and nothing like the bands that they are associated with, and I think this album maybe the album that finally breaks them out of that mold. That is if they stop opening for shit like Alice and Chains, but that's a completely different story all together. Deftones - Beauty School Deftones - You've Seen the Butcher Deftones - Risk 2. Nina Nastasia - Outlaster
I love music that surprises me. Sure I have my musical stalwarts that I will always enjoy and listen to their new material, but the best moments come from artists you either haven't heard of or have already passed judgment on only to have your previous expectations vaporized by the quality of a new album/ep/song. I've liked Nina Nastasia for a couple years now, and listen to all of her albums regularly, but never would have considered her a favorite. I was charmed by her direct delivery and stripped down approach to songwriting, and enjoyed basically all of her music. I had her pegged as a consistently good (not great) songwriter, only to have my expectations completely destroyed. Outlaster, and I am trying to not be too hyperbolic, is the best singer/songwriter type album in years. I am always skeptical when listening to a singer/songwriter. Too often they fall into the trap of relying to much on themselves and their own stories. While this is a topically effective way to get people interested in your music (the experiences written about are often so generic that anyone could put themselves in the songwriters shoes), it ruins its shelf life. Once that first layer is exposed, the listener can only be disappointed, because each subsequent layer is either a repeat of other common themes or completely non existent. Nina Nastasia sidesteps these pitfalls by creating music that on the surface is relatable, yet also is ripe to expose multiple layers underneath that the listener can explore. The first thing she did right on this album is her choice to employ a talented backing band. Typically her albums have been merely her and a guitar, maybe some sparse backing, but nothing compared to what is on Outlaster. Its not that I don't enjoy the stripped down sound, because I do, and I like all of the old Nina albums, yet the band really gives her a chance to flesh out what she only hinted at on previous recordings. The backing instruments never outshine or overpower Nina herself, yet they add a dimension that in conjunction with Nina's voice really pack an incredible emotional punch. This is an album that I was immediately enamored with, maybe because it has the best example of a perfect opening track in quite some time."Cry, Cry Baby" is a perfect song. No seriously, it is PERFECT. It opens with Nina strumming her guitar and singing a few lines, followed by some beautiful strings. The lyrics are simple, moving, and to the point. Never has someone expressed the confused feelings of anguish and relief that often result because of a break up in such an effective and concise way. The chorus, which is only sung once, is incredible heart wrenching, and often stops me dead in my tracks. Words that in lesser hands could have come off sounding cheesy or ironic sound purely sincere; we are right there alongside the artist going through this with her. The second time the chorus rolls around it is as if Nina is in too much anguish to sing the words, she can merely strum her guitar and let the strings take over the melody in place of her voice. Its a clever slight of hand that is incredibly emotionally satisfying and effective. Then the song ends abruptly, hardly providing the listener the time to breathe. The video for the track isn't as effective as the song itself, but does provide a great context to what we are hearing, and the tenseness of the room is palpable. Nina Nastasia's voice itself isn't boundless. On many tracks you can hear it on the verge of breaking, which gives it that much more of a down to Earth quality. On "You Can Take Your Time" you can hear her pushing her voice to its limits to great effect, the crescendo of the strings works perfectly with her ascending voice on the powerful chorus. There is a strength in her voice that is somehow at the same time delicate. Another thing that sets her apart other than her unique vocals is you never get the sense that she is cashing in on the whole female singer/songwriter thing. While some of her lyrics do have undertones of femininity, she never sounds as if she is victimizing herself. Many times when I hear this type of music it sounds as if the artist is patting themselves on he back, which isn't helped by the media stigma of such artists. She does use her femininity to her advantage though. The noir'ish "This Familiar" has a dark waltz type feel to it, a sense of smokey mystery. The cheeky "You're a Holy Man" provides the album with a much needed light hearted moment, but doesn't sound out of place in the context of the rest of the album. The best example of Nina using her limited vocal range to great effect is on the wrenching "Wakes". The track starts off in a minor key with lyrics about a funeral, but then an interesting thing happens. The track quickly switches to a major key which propels it into its soaring chorus, where Nina literally wails, especially later in the song. The effect is both jarring and curious, and always makes my ears perk up a little bit. The track ends with a exasperated confession, that no matter how much she wants things to be differently it cannot be that way. The album ends with just as strong of a statement as it began, but in different ways. "Outlaster" is in the vein of traditional seafaring songs, using imagery of ships and oceans that is a perfect metaphor for the longing associated with large amounts of time spent apart from what you want more than anything in the world. The song is mysterious, open ended, and gives itself plenty of room to breathe. The simple guitar is perfectly minimal, and provides the backdrop for the tale that is being told. Nina Nastasia has definitely raised the bar for herself on this album, and since she is never one to repeat herself completely it will be interesting to see where she decides to go from here. Nina Nastasia - Cry, Cry Baby Nina Nastasia - You Can Take Your time Nina Nastasia - Wakes Nina Nastasia - Outlaster 1. Scuba - Triangulation
Its interesting that in a year full of incredibly generic dubstep that the album of the year ended up being a dubstep album. Well it really isn't fair to pigeonhole Triangulation as merely a dubstep album, as it takes influences from a lot of other places as well. Most people upon thinking dubstep will just think of insanely loud bass, wobble, and a heavy grime influence, but the way in which Scuba both works within the confines of the genre as well as seemingly outside them pushes it to new places. The easiest comparison to throw out for Triangulation would be Burial's 2008 album Untrue, which was a landmark for the genre. While the albums don't sound incredibly alike on the surface, the mood and feel of the records are very similar. The problem I have with dubstep as a genre is that the market for it is becoming increasingly saturated. It is an easy genre to emulate, throw together a shuffle type beat with some simple synths and heavy bass that is pretty much it. What makes Scuba different is the way in which he understands the importance of space. Most of the tracks on Triangulation have plenty of room to breathe and grow, so that when the bass does hit it fills the emptiness in an extremely gratifying way. Rather than rely on a constant barage of wobble Scuba knows how to draw back, to heighten the tension, and then to open the valve and release the pressure. That's not to say that there aren't some very standard dubstep tracks on the album because there are. "Three Sided Shape" has a slow burn build for the first minute or so, and then becomes a pretty standard track. But the way in which Scuba manages the space between the and within each track on the recording is what makes this such a good album. It never falls into the same place for long, varying the tempo from song to song so that it doesn't feel like you are just listening to dubstep for an hour. The thing that shines most about Scuba is his subtle use of vocals. Where as his labelmates Joy Orbison use vocals as a standard gimmick, Scuba's use of them is more in the vein of Burial. For example on "Before", Scuba tweaks and manipulates a short vocal sample over and around a 4/4 beat that really doesn't sound like dubstep at all. I think that dubstep is goign to branch soon into two directions, one way is going to be the bass assault that most people associate with dubstep, and in 2011 we will definately see some popular pop stars toying with the genre and bringing it more into the mainstream. The other direction is a more subtle one, one that respects dynamics and timbre over bass overload. This direction is best signified by the track "So You Think You're Special", which is one of the coolest and most exciting tracks of 2010. The way in which it isn't rushed, and allows the listener ample time to get into the mood of the track before the main emphasis of it becomes clear, makes it that much more rewarding. It is one of the most organic sounding electronic songs, not in that the instruments themselves sound live or anything because they definitely sound programmed, but in the way that you can tell Scuba put his heart and soul into the track. Once the vocal sample kicks in two minutes in, you know that you aren't in standard dubstep territory anymore. It would have been a perfect way to end the record, but there are still 3 tracks following it, which are in themselves very solid songs as well. The actual last track on the album, "Light Out', is heavily influenced by dub, and is a good send off for the best album of 2010. At the beginning of the year I felt kind of through with dubstep, it seemed very few people had interesting visions for the genre. Scuba however has proved that there is still a lot to be mined and explored, and that definitely excites me. Scuba - Three Sided Shape Scuba - Before Scuba - So You Think You're Special Scuba - Light Out
Sade gets a bad wrap. She has been around making music with her band since the mid 80's, and has consistently released solid album that go beyond her deep R&B leanings. Unfortunately she is often pigeonholed into an adult contemporary wasteland, and while this maybe something you might hear sitting at a Starbucks, it is also something that is deeper musically than what is released by her peers. While she doesn't lyrically conquer any topics that haven't been covered a million times before, she has such a strength and conviction in her voice that it is easy to forget the seemingly trivial subject matter. Another thing that sets her apart is her band, who she has been playing with since the start of her career. While on first listen it just sounds like a competent backing band, the subtleties and nuances really reward those who listen to the album multiple times. The band never lets her fall into the easy territory of balladry, and even when they strip songs down to just Sade's voice it never comes off as ham handed. Also for being 51 years old, the Nigerian born singer is still incredibly striking to look at physically.
This is a tough call. If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year what my top 10 would look like just based on anticipation, this album alongside The National album would definitely have been near the top. However upon hearing This is Happening I was pretty underwhelmed. That isn't to say its not a good album, because it is. It contains all the things about the previous two albums that I enjoyed so much. Standout track "One Touch" utilizes the Dance Punk builds and speak/sing vocals of James Murphy that we have come to expect, and "Home" provides a similar sense of catharsis provided by Sound of Silver standout track "All My Friends". But the predictability seems to have dragged Murphy into a rut musically. Opening track "Dance Yrself Clean" builds slowly to a noisy end, but grows tiresome. "Drunk Girls" follows in the goofy footsteps of cuts like "Daft Punk is Playing at my House" and "North American Scum", but is easily the worst of the three. And I actually skip "Somebody's Calling Me" every time, which is strange because I hardly ever skip tracks when listening to albums. So with all this complaining why is This is Happening still my 19th best album of the year? Truth be told I still like the album quite a bit. It neatly closes out his 3 album arc (Murphy has said this will be his last album),and is still a lot of fun to listen to. Even a mediocre LCD Soundsystem album is better than most everything else that comes out. I'm just sad that he didn't explore any new territory. LCD Soundsystem - One Touch 18. Deepchord Presents EchoSpace - Liumin
Dub Electronic (no not fucking dubstep) is an interesting genre. It grew out of the Dub Reggae movement, which took Reggae and stripped it down to its most primal elements, which was the groove. The electronic version of Dub has the same aesthetics, but the compositions tend to be more long form with an emphasis on the trance of repetition. Liumin is Dub Electronic to the bone, but it differs from other albums in the genre in some key ways. It is somewhat of a theme album. The composers went to Tokyo to record hours and hours of field recordings of the city itself, and then constructed the music around loops of the sounds themselves. It opens with something that sounds like water rushing, but with so much delay and echo on it that it begins to sound like a downpour or a waterfall, and then slowly over a course of minutes the groove kicks in, and doesn't really let up for the duration of the album. It morphs track by track, but is a steady undercurrent that holds the whole project together. Sounds of conversations, trains, footsteps, and other things you would commonly hear walking down a city streets at night weave in and out of the groove, providing a kind of narrative. This definitely isn't an album that you are going to listen to at a party, but it makes for a perfect listen for those up on there computers at 3AM, headphones on and drink in hand. DeepChord presents Echospace - Firefly 17. The National - High Violet
No one tackles the conflict between growing old and growing bored as good as The National does. While I would still recommend Boxer to a listener who was new to the band, High Violet is still a very good record. The opening 1-2-3 punch of "Terrible Love", "Sorrow", and"Anyone's Ghost" is among the strongest material that they have ever released, and "Lemonworld" is astonishingly beautiful both musically and lyrically. Where the album let me down a bit is how it falls into its own comfort zone and stays there. A couple of the tracks sound like they could have been either scraped or reworked, which is sad considering the strength of the tracks surrounding them. I saw The National live this year, which was something that I had been looking forward to for years, but was a bit let down. While the performance itself was great, it was at the same time very predictable like the album itself. There is a strength to be had with the music of a band as consistent as this, but I am hoping for their next album they decide to break out of the mold they have put themselves in. On another note, much of what I love about the album comes from the work of my favorite member of the band which is the drummer. Rarely does a drummer define a band in the way that he does. Not only does he set the pace and tempo, he provides single handedly the catharsis of the slow build and release. Not surprisingly the tracks that feature him the least are the most forgettable on the album. The National - Lemonworld
16. Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise
Pantha Du Prince's previous album, This Bliss, was a fuzzy minimal IDM album that while being very good at what it was, came off as a bit sterile. Black Noise brings all the elements of the previous album but builds on them exponentially. There is no sense of coldness here, it is in fact and incredibly lush and full listen. This is the type of album that can be listened to in many ways with different results. It is a great background album, in that it isn't blatantly obtrusive or abrasive, but where it really shines is active listening on headphones. Each track sparkles and shimmers in such a satisfying way that I almost always listen to this album twice in a row. Panda Bear makes a guest appearance on "Stick to my Side", which is the first time Pantha Du Prince has employed vocals on one of his tracks. It could have turned out sounding rushed, but Panda's vocals go perfectly with the icy cool backdrop of Pantha's production. The other track linked below, "Wlt Am Draht", evokes a sense of mournful longing rarely found in IDM. Pantha Du Prince - Stick to my Side Pantha Du Prince - Welt Am Draht
15. Jónsi - Go
Its only been two years since the release of Sigur Ros' most recent album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, and yet frontman Jonsi has released two major solo albums since. The first album was the experimental ambient album Riceboy Sleeps, which was a collaboration between Jonsi and his boyfriend Alex. That album explored the slower glacial facets of Sigur Ros, and was quite a gorgeous album. The second is this year's Go, which is on the other end of the spectrum from Riceboy Sleeps. There is an infectious playfulness on Go that is hard to compare to anything else really. While it sounds like Sigur Ros in that the vocal style is the same, it differs in that a lot of the songs are in English, and the music is a curious blend of toy like instruments and orchestra. What I love about all the projects Jonsi is involved in is that they always focus childlike wonder mixed with the beauty of the world itself, which comes across musically and lyrically in the case of Go. I dare you to listen to the track I linked without smiling. Jónsi - Animal Arithmetic
14. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
I am a proponent of the old school idea that an album should be listened to as an album, but this is an entirely different beast. Basically every single track on this album is a banger, and interesting in a musical sense a lot more so than any other rap. Where most rappers write a handful of singles and then flesh out the "album" with shit like skits and guest appearances, Big Boi doesn't cut any corners. Not to say that there aren't guest appearances, because there are on almost every song on the album, with some tracks featuring multiple guests. But every track sounds like it was approved by Big Boi, and he dominates all of the tracks even alongside the strongest guests. However the album is not without its flaws. Like I said in the intro its not really an album album, its more of a hodgepodge of songs. You could listen to it in any order and really nothing would be lost, there really isn't anything holding Sir Lucious Left Foot together other than the strength of the songs themselves. Also I wish that there were lyrical themes present other than sex sex sex sex (not that there is anything wrong with that, its just that I know Big Boi has more to talk about and how much of a badass Big Boi is. But I guess this is Hip Hop, where ego rains supreme. Big Boi - Shine Blockas
13. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Forgiveness Rock Record is the album that keeps on giving. I have been listening to it regularly for months and months and yet with every listen I find something new to like about it. Opening track "World Sick" is one of the best songs they have ever written, with its slow build toward its monumental chorus, and from there the album grows and morphs and changes at every turn. I think with one listen to the album people might just hear a generic indie rock record, but the rewards are there for those who pay attention. While some of the members of BSS are noticeably absent (Feist, Amy Millan), the ones who do show up put in some incredible performances, such as "Sentimental X's" which is the best thing Emily Haines has been involved with since her solo album. The perfect word for this album would be subtle, which is something sorely lacking in this world of rotten shitfests like Kanye West and Lady GaGa (I had to get a dig at them in somewhere on this list) Broken Social Scene - World Sick 12. Matthew Dear - Black City
Matthew Dear is kind of hard to describe without name dropping a bunch of other bands and musicians, so I would say he is a mix of the weirdness of Talking Heads, the vocal warping of The Knife, and the dancepunk aesthetics of LCD Soundsystem. Emotionally the album runs the gamut from goofiness to paranoia to cold calculation, but it all fits together nicely and more importantly never comes across as dull or tired. Matthew Dear - Monkey 11. Pulshar - Inside
This is on the other end of the Dub spectrum of Liumin, in that it is vocal based rather than repetition based. Inside is easily the best chill out album of the year. While the songs aren't 10 minutes long or anything, they still induce a sense of relaxation that isn't found in a lot of music. There is an icy coolness to the music that really lends itself well to late nights and long city walks. Pulshar - Stepping Stones
The Depreciation Guild are an interesting mix of shoegaze, chiptune, and twee pop. While Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine would bury their melodies under waves and waves of hazy distortion, The Depreciation Guild opts to bury the waves of haze and put the melodies right up front. While I don't find Spirit Youth to be as charming as their debut album, In Her Gentle Jaws, it is still a very enjoyable listen. It reminds me a lot of his other band, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. "Dream About Me" is a perfectly crafted pop song.
Although I enjoyed last years album by Fleet Foxes I never thought it was as good as everyone else seemed to think it was. It was a bit too polished and perfect; it didn't have any grittiness or reality to it. Gorilla Minor is much in the same vein as Fleet Foxes in its focus and reliance on beautiful vocal harmonies, yet it still has a bit of edge to it. To me this album sounds like waking up early and watching the sunrise while enjoying some coffee and some early morning music. Goddamn that sounds like a Folgers commercial or something. Local Natives - World News 28. Wolf Parade - Expo 86
This went largely unappreciated in my opinion. Wolf Parade are in the same group of indie rock royalty as The National and Arcade Fire, and yet don't get as much of an instant pass as those bands. One reason for this could be the shear amount of material that they release through their side project bands, which are all very good in their own right. Every song on Expo 86 has enough musical ideas to form three to four full tracks, and yet nothing ever sounds cluttered or out of place. The best thing about the group is that the songwriting responsibilities are split just about equally between two amazing songwriters. Spencer Krug is also the singer in Sunset Rubdown, along with being associated in various ways with Sunset Rubdown and Frog Eyes. Dan Boeckner is also in the band The Handsome Furs, which he formed with his wife. The side projects make Wolf Parade itself that much more focused, in that the members can take their ideas that might not fit with the band proper to their other projects, instead of trying to graft them onto music which it wouldn't fit with. Unfortunately the band as of now is on indefinate hiatus; fortunately we haven't heard the last of anyone in this talented band. Wolf Parade - What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had To Go This Way 27. Les Savy Fav - Root For Ruin
Root For Ruin is the defining album for Les Savy Fav, which is high praise for a band who's discography is as solid as there's is. They aren't conquering any new themes here, and yet the album is so cohesive as a whole that I always find myself listening to the entire album. If it comes up on shuffle I typically will stop the song and start at track one. In an age where albums seem to be getting longer and longer, Les Savy Fav keep things short and to the point. Interestingly enough my favorite track is "Sleepless in Silverlake", which sounds the least like anything else on the album, and the most melodic. Its when they take the time to slow things down a bit when they shine most. Les Savy Fav - Sleepless in Silverlake 26. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Admittedly I wasn't really that excited for this album. In the months leading up to this release there was so much press and hype about how amazing this album was going to be that I was turned off by the whole thing. Even on my first listen I found it to be a bit contrived, and yet I kept coming back; there was something about the album that bore into my brain. I instantly loved their previous two albums, even on my first listen. 2004's Funeral was in my top 10 that year, and 2007's Neon Bible introduced some elements to their sound that I previously would not have associated with them. On The Suburbs they have incorporated the lyrical themes of the first two albums and adapted them to the topics of aging, childhood, and urban sprawl among other things. It really is one of those albums you have to listen to a couple of times in order to get. One thing that I do remember "getting" on my first playthrough was the wonderful track Sprawl II, in which criminally underused member Régine Chassagne sums up in three minutes what main member Win Butler took 60 minutes getting across. Yes America is changing, yes consumerism is consuming us in some ways as a nation, but really its not as bad as it seems. Arcade Fire - Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (Unstaged) 25. How To Destroy Angels - EP
Upon hearing that Nine Inch Nails was going on hiatus, I was a little crushed. NIN were my favorite thing in the world from about the ages of 13-18, and I still enjoy nearly every single release. But upon hearing the work Trent Reznor is doing post-NIN, I am thinking that his decision was for the better. In this year alone he scored the movie The Social Network(which was the only good part of an overall uninteresting film), remastered his debut album Pretty Hate Machine with amazing results, and started a new band with his new wife. That band of course is How To Destroy Angels, and although the band name sounds like something a teenager would scrawl on his 8th grade math notebook, the music itself is much more. It actually reminds me a lot of the score for The Social Network, in that it ebbs and flows with such personality that by the end of the short EP it has taken on a life of its own. A couple of the tracks sound basically like what you would imagine NIN sounding like with a girl singing instead of Trent Reznor, but on others you can hear something new forming. I really have high hopes for their full length, which fingers crossed will come out this year. How To Destroy Angels - A Drowning
24. Holy Fuck - Latin
Holy Fuck's Latin wins the reward for the best workout/running album of the year. To me they sound like LCD Soundsystem's more momentous moments mixed with the virtuosity of Battles mixed with the pure drive of Maserati (PUNS). The albums peaks and valleys are perfect for interval training, in that they give you moments to breathe and rest in between the bursts of pure sound and adrenaline. Imagine Explosions in the Sky but replace the sentimentality with pure drive. Also the video mixes features high speed chases between cats and dogs, so yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHHH. Holy Fuck - Red Lights 23. Belle And Sebastian - Write About Love
Even though I have only had access to this album for about a month now I can already tell that it is my favorite release by this long lived band. Belle and Sebastian have been around since the mid 90's, during which they have slowly perfected their blend of twee pop and sentimentality. Their last album, The Life Pursuit, showed a side of them that hadn't been seen before. It featured bigger arrangements, multiple vocalists, and a generally fuller sound. Since then B&S mainman Stuart Murdoch released a side project album, last years God Help The Girl, which made my top albums list of 2009. This album seems like a logical progression from that project, and a couple of tracks wouldn't be out of place on a God Help The Girl release. I guess it comes down to whether you prefer the stripped down version of their earlier albums or the fuller sound of the previous releases, I am obviously in the latter camp. Also there is a Norah Jones guest track, which never hurts. Belle And Sebastian - Write About Love 22. Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here
This album is humongous. Even with nearly a complete lack of traditional percussion it fills up any space it happens to be in, whether it be the speakers into your room or the headphones into your ears. Emeralds are considered avant guard, but in my opinion they are very accessible. On previous releases they have written long form songs that rely on minutes and minutes of build before reaching a catharsis, similar to the post-rock format but with synths instead of guitars. However on Does It Look Like I'm Here they have honed and trimmed there sound. There are still the huge builds and releases, but they take place over a matter of minutes rather than tens of minutes. Imagine the earlier m83 albums but with an army of warm analogue synthesizers instead of just one or two. I can imagine someone reading the genre of the group and listening for a minute or two before dismissing Emeralds all together, but they would be missing out on one of the most rewarding listens of the year. It is hard for me to pick a song off the album to link, because it is very much an album album, but this is a good example of the range that Emeralds has. Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here 21. Delorean - Subiza
In terms of shear ecstatic happiness this would have to be my album of the year. It builds on what they created on last years Ayrton Senna (also on my year end list) to such a great degree that I was not disappointed whatsoever, even though this was one of my most anticipated releases of 2010. For the uninitiated, Delorean play a form of sunny Mediterranean pop that is nearly impossible to deny. Echoes of disembodied voices, mostly oohs and aahs, build along side an incredibly solid rhythm section into 5 minute doses of pure catharsis. The build and release during the song "Grow", which happens from 3:00 - 3:45, is maybe my favorite musical moment of the year. Even the fact that the last track on the album sounds an awful lot like Animal Collective doesn't bother me. This album, along with the Big Boi album, were THE albums of summer 2010. The only reason it isn't higher on my year end list is that after about 20 listens it gets a little bit stale, but those first 20 listens are rewarding. If you want to put a dance album on that isn't completely mindless, you could do a lot worse than Subiza. Delorean - Endless Sunset Delorean - Real Love
The first year of the new decade is coming to a close, and with that comes year end lists. Some people think these types of lists are superfluous, but I find it is a good exercise in gauging what actually happened during the year. During the first year of last decade, some monumental shifts in music happened. Kid A was released and spawned an entire wave of laptop musician innovators, and peer to peer file sharing was finally catching on, which would change the way music was consumed forever.
I looked for trends in this year, and maybe its the lack of hindsight that we have with the year 2000, but there really wasn't much of a defining trend. Major Labels are still going after their consumers with lawsuits, Lady Gaga is still making a watered down version of electropop mainstream, the Grammy's and VMA's are still recognizing musicians who are artistically bankrupt, and internet forums are still arguing over what the name of the newest hippest genre should be (this year I would pick witch-house for that award.) The one thing I did notice though is that music is widening, the outlets to which we can consume it are expanding, and as a result the listener is rewarded with as much music as he or she can handle. I know a lot of people who say that they wish they could have lived in the 60's or 70's and experienced the music of those generations, but I believe that we now live in the best time for music as consumers. The only problem is wading through the mountains and mountains of music that is released every year, which is what these year end exercises in list making are for.This year I chose to make my list in installments. 10 honorable mentions, and then my top 30 albums of 2010, posted in installments of 10 albums each. I posted links to my favorite tracks from the album at the end of each review snippet so that you can check out whatever you want. If anyone wants a download of the full album let me know and I will be happy to upload it for you. So onward to the super self indulgent top albums of 2010, enjoy. Aloha - Home Acres
Aloha is a band that isn't very well recognized, and those who do recognize it know it as "that band with the dude that plays glockenspiel", even though that is just a small part of their sound. The band has never been able to capture my attention in LP format, but this album takes what made their 2007 EP Light Works and makes it work in the album format. One of the things I like most about the album is the production, as it isn't nearly as polished as it could be. The instruments and vocals all blend into each other, which serves their subtle pop sound well. Hopefully they will change their name from Aloha to That Band With The Dude Who Plays Glockenspiel (TBWTDWPG). Then surely droves of ironic indie rock fans would flock to them. Aloha - Moonless March Altered Carbon - Altered:Carbon
The way that music is distributed has changed so drastically in the past decade that it is hard to think about what it would be like if you had to buy every album that you wanted to hear. This change in distribution has brought up some interesting predicaments, piracy aside. For instance I thought this album was an Autechre album the first 4 times I listened to it. It was billed as the first leak of Autechre's Oversteps, so I downloaded it immediately. All the tracks were tagged as the Oversteps song titles, as well as the album art. The funny thing is that I was fooled the first time through, but upon subsequent listens my fanboyism turned off and I started noticing it sounded nothing like Autechre. And yet I do enjoy this release. It shows in an interesting way that while it is easy to imitate the controlled chaos of Autechre it is impossible to get it just right. Where Altered Carbon differs is in their use of more simple beats, as well as a handful of vocal samples. In the end I am glad that I was duped, because if I hadn't been I probably wouldn't have given this release much of my attention. Altered Carbon - Tinted Corvettes Beach House - Teen Dream
Sometimes music can sound too much like the album live. Sitting at home listening to an album is one experience, going out to see a performance live, in the best cases, is something different. It shows you a different side of the artist/songs that you have listened to over and over in their prerecorded format. Earlier in the year I saw Beach House perform, and while it was impressive to the amount that they reproduced the sound of the album in the live setting, it left me a little unsatisfied. Don't get me wrong though, Teen Dream is a wonderful piece of beautifully crafted music. It ditches the lo-fi of earlier Beach House releases and puts the melodies out in front where they belong, yet it retains a hazy wooziness that can best be described as romantic. This is a case of the songs and album itself being more memorable than the live experience. Beach House - Walk In The Park (Live) Anni B Sweet - Start Restary Undo
I enjoy a lot of female singer/songwriter music, but the genre definitely has its issues. The thing I can't stand is an artist coming off as "precious". Prime examples of this would be the cutesy yelps of Regina Spektor and the unbearably adorable lyrics of Joanna Newsom. Anni B Sweet is a Spanish singer/songwriter who straddles the line between precious and serious in a respectable fashion. I was introduced to her music through her cover of A-Ha's "Take on Me", which is in 3 minutes a pretty good microcosm of what you will hear on her album as a whole. Her guitar playing is tasteful, her vocal range evokes the little girl aspect of Joanna Newsom but with none of the trappings, and the video features her and her band running around as furries. My only complaint is the only version of the album I can find sounds as if it were recorded off of a cassette tape, which is quaint in its own right. Anni B Sweet - Take On Me The Bird and the Bee - Interpreting the Masters
There is an interesting resurgence of 80's ish music that lacks any sense of irony or parody. Personally I would much rather have this than a bunch of idiots in Iron Maiden T-shirts playing hip as fuck indie rock. Interpreting the Masters is a prime example of how to capitalize on 80's nostalgia without coming off as smug. The album itself is a collection of Hall and Oates covers, which seems like it could be a disaster. When I first hear about the release I imagined a bunch of tongue in cheek versions of the songs, but in actuality the album is actually very tasteful. It takes the incredible hooks and melodies of the original tracks, takes out the cheesy 80's synths along with the unbearable 80's drum machine sound, and creates something that is just different enough to be interesting. The mix of The Bird and the Bee's subtle electropop and the infectious Hall and Oates melodies is nearly impossible to not at least hum to. And at 9 songs, it doesn't overstay its welcome, although it does drag a bit towards the end. The Bird and the Bee - Kiss on my List School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire
On Alpinisms, School of Seven Bells previous album, the focus was on the layers of sound piled on top of the twin lead singers melodies. While I love the shoegaze of the earlier record, Disconnect From Desire is enjoyable on a different level. The vocals are no longer buried under layers of haze, they are way up front in the mix. The music itself, while not as interesting as on Alpinisms, serves the dual vocal interplay between the singers well. Certain tracks feature no percussion, just the vocals and some synths, and those tracks really show what this band is capable of. Sadly, one of the two twins left the band recently, which doesn't fare well for a group who's most interesting feature is the interplay of two identical female voices. School of Seven Bells - Heart is Strange White Hinterland - Kairos
White Hinterland is the artist name of Portland based Casey Dienel who has a dreamy airy voice similar to that of Beach House but with more of an improvisational fun vibe. She has a really good ear for subtle harmonies, as shown on the ooh's and ahh's on "Moon Jam" and the clinking Psapp'ish toy sounds on "Bow & Arrow". Another touchstone for White Hinterland that I would mention would be Feist, but she doesn't fall into the preciousness that I was alluding to earlier that Fesit often does. And no i didn't hear about her from the Revlon commercial or Project Runway, HIPSTER VICTORY. White Hinterland - Icarus Sleigh Bells - Treats
Over the past 20 years or so albums have been getting louder and louder. I'm not talking about the playing itself, rather the post production level adjusting. If you listen to a cd (cd, lol) from the early 90's, then compare the volume level to one released today the difference is startling. This is largely due in part to compression, which brings the levels of different tracks in line with each other. In some regards this is good, but in a lot of ways its bad. Lost is the quiet interplay in volume dynamics that has been a huge part of music since its beginnings, and it is replaced with an assault of volume that mashes everything together. Sleigh Bell's Treats is this taken to the extreme. All the levels are maxed on purpose. You can hear the music itself clipping because the volume was cranked up too much. To some this is grating, and if I had to listen to music all the time like this I would be annoyed as well, but as a one off curiosity it is really good. The complete barrage of layers and layers of guitars over slowed down bass driven hip-hop beats with sweet female vocals over the top makes for a unique listening experience. The first song on the album "Tell 'Em" is one of the best opening track mission statements that I have ever heard, and the Funkadelic sampling down tempo "Rill Rill" gives me a glimmer of hope that these guys aren't just a one trick pony. I am interested to see where this group goes to next, hopefully they will not rely on the clipping gimmick and move into other interesting territory, but it would not surprise me if this ended up being their only album, or only interesting album for that matter. Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em Sleigh Bells - Rill Rill Michael Mayer - Immer 3
I was recently having a conversation about the lost art of making a good mix cd. Gone are the days where I would slave over a tracklist and wonder which tracks to put on a mix and in what order, now I can just put everything I want into a *.rar file and send it to whoever I want, all at the same time. While Immer 3 isn't strictly a mix cd, as it does have some very subtle mixing, it sounds as if Michael Mayer slaved over the tracklist and running order for an extended period of time. Which makes sense, he has only released 3 of these mixes in the past decade. Not a single beat sounds out of place, and the way in which it flows is perfect. If I wanted to introduce someone to the beauty of a subtle DJ Mix I would give them this album and tell them to listen to it front to back. In many ways it is the anti Girl Talk in that it rewards patience and attentive listening, where as Girl Talk is merely a series of HEY MAN I KNOW THAT SONG I REMEMBER THAT SONG OMFG SO CRAZY ITS ALL MASHED UP!!. 9/10 times subtlety comes off infinitely more sincere than rampant heavy handedness. Also, the track I linked is probably my favorite song of the year. Charlotte Gainsbourg - The Operation (Superpitcher Remix) Yeasayer - Odd Blood
I'm really not much of a fan of the whole Psychedelic Pop thing that is currently making a resurgence. It seems to me like a tired take on a genre that is better off staying in the 70's. Yeasayer however has been able to straddle the line between psychedelic freak out and pop sensibility in a way that his peers have not. It helps that on this album he toned down the fuzzed out stoner rock and amped up the melodies. Each track has a great hook, interesting musical choices, and solid production. Hopefully on future releases he keeps going in this direction. Also the music video linked is one of my favorite videos of the year, in which an aspiring actress mourns the loss of her pet/boyfriend, who happens to be a unidentifiable lump of flesh. Its cooler than it sounds. Yeasayer - Madder Red