Monday, December 20, 2010

Jay's Top 10 Albums of 2010

10. The Besnard Lakes-The Besnard Lakes are Roaring the Night -The Besnard Lakes are no longer the “Dark Horse” on their latest release they come out guns blazing, cannons sounding explosions, and painting the sky red. Or to put it modestly they created a really great rock record. This came out very early in the year and when I started putting this list together this album always stuck in my mind. “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt 1 and 2 are phenomenal opening tracks (they really are the same thing, they run into each other). It gives you a terrific idea of what to expect throughout the rest of the album. Soaring soundscapes that combine atmospheric dueling vocals from husband wife duo, Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, (Lasek has a very commanding falsetto while his wife provides smooth soft vocals). With thunderous drumming and extensively long and fuzzy guitar work. The album works well in building exciting momentum throughout each song, starting with soft piano or guitar work and ending with anthem like solos. The only knock on the record is there are not a lot of hooks in the writing, but what they lack in creating catchy pop hooks, they replace with well constructed rock songs, which in this day in age seem to be lacking.

9.The Morning Benders-Big Echo- This album honestly took me a little while to get into. This was on my list this year of top albums to look forward to. Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear was producing, and as a huge fan of Grizzly Bear, I was naturally excited. It’s a pop record, but the hooks and melodies don’t pop out at you. It takes a bit to digest, but the more you listen the more you appreciate the subtle catchiness of the record. Like on the opener “Excuses” the “la la” chorus eventually wins you over and gets stuck in your head. Plus the more you listen to it you notice the complex instrumentation that goes into the song, something I‘ll bet Taylor had a great hand in. It‘s very similar for other songs on the record such as “All Day Day Daylight” it’s combo guitar and keyboard riff is fantastic as it pulls you in, but it’s the straight up AM Radio Gold chorus that blows you away. Both “Cold War” and “Promises” are also similar for the their delightful choruses and guitar work. The album has a very hazy west coast vibe, but not in a sunny, energetic way. It has more of a, let’s go sit at the beach and stare at the ocean and enjoy our time together while the sun goes down. Very mellow pop record from a band with hopefully greater things to come.

8.Black Angels-Phosphene Dream-Finally, someone got dirty sexy rock right! Pretty much showing all the posers (Kings of Leon, Crash Kings etc.) how it’s done. The Black Angels have orchestrated a dark, scary, and deeply fun record. Channeling a great deal from 60’s and 70’s psychedelic rock, the album starts out with a frighteningly dark and catchy vibrato guitar and organ rhythm, followed by a sinister guitar riff and Alex Maas snarling vocals. The album opener “Bad Vibrations” like the rest of the record, is very powerful and in your face type of material that forces you to listen with full attention. “River of Blood” just sounds evil with it’s dark tones and deep drumming. Not everything is gloomy however, “Yellow Elevator #2” with it’s fun organ riff and the catchy single “Telephone” are examples of how they can mold their sound into something accessible for anyone’s ear, very much like The Animals or Jefferson Airplane. In fact “Entrance Song” is being used in some car add that I saw last night. It’s a great, sexy rock record that really succeeds conceptually where a lot of main stream acts seem to fail.

7.Band of Horses-Infinite Arms-Band of Horses are in my top ten favorite bands of the decade. Everything All the Time combined dream pop with al-country which was perfectly matched with Ben Bridewells lush reverb filled vocals. Their debut album reminded be of a much more mellow My Morning Jacket. Their follow up, Cease To Begin, was similar but a little more focused and rocked a little more. I was extremely excited for this to come out and then disappointed that critics panned it. I almost did as well when I first heard the record. Gone are the lush reverb sound they displayed so wonderfully on the previous records, and the record is filled with more slower mid-tempo numbers then rockers. However, my mind was changed when I saw them live, they are a ferocious live band! They are as excellent as they come. This forced me to take another listen, and I was surprised and upset that I wrote this album off so quickly. The reverby echo is replaced with wonderful harmonies that really shine and create very vibrant choruses like on “Blue Beard” and title track “Infinite Arms.” They also still managed to throw some great hook filled rock songs in the mix such as “Laredo” and NW Apartment” which is very reminiscent of “Weed Paty” from their first album. The change in direction could be contributed to the fact that Bidewell opened the floor to the other guys in the band. The songwriting was more of a collaborative process, unlike the other records when it was jut himself. The change is nice, the more you listen the more complete of a record it sounds, and it’s honestly not that drastic of a change. But it’s just enough to notice that the group is growing and will more then likely continue to make great music.

6.Strand of Oaks-Pope Killdragon- The most beautifully sad and tragic record of the year. Each song forces you to hang on every word and melody as Timothy Showalter, who is Strand of Oaks (who also happens to look like a lost member of Lynard Skyard), pours out buckets of emotions through brilliantly written folks songs. Although Pope Killdragon is by far and large a somber record that is similar to his previous release Leave Ruins, there are striking differences in the both the songwriting and production. For one, Leave Ruins, was a very personal record, the album was about a failed relationship combined with Showalter’s house burring down. Pope Killdragon’s songwriting is more based on fictional characters and stories from Showalter’s hometown. Tracks such as the powerful “Sterling” and the legend like tale of “Alex Knoa” are fantastic examples of the strength and emotion Showalter put’s into his writing of characters. They are all tragic and lead sad circumstantial lives, but they all take accountability for themselves. Not once does Showalter ask the listener to pity them, maybe share in their sadness, but never the emotion of pity. This is exemplified the most on “Daniels Blues” in which the song takes the narrative perspective of Dan Akroyd right after John Belushi killed himself. Akroyd conveys greif, “Oh who will I call/Chevy’s an ass and Gilda’s got a cold” (Gilda Radner was battling cancer during this time). He even pictures himself finding the dealer and killing him, but instead of hate and grief, Akroyd realizes he has to move on. Sonically, the album mixes traditional acoustic folk sounds with twangy telecasters and sometimes cheesy synthesizers. However, Showalters voice is the real weapon, as he shifts between soft and tender, to commanding and direct. A fantastic record that avoids the sophomore slump and deserves to be put in the same category as Bon Iver‘s For Emma Forever Ago. Showalter admitted in an interview that he feels he has written enough sad songs, and it was time to do some happy tunes. Being newly married and having a new home might spark some great material for a third album that is sure to capture more fans.

5.Peasant- Shady Retreat-Pennsylvanian high school dropout Damien DeRose’s sophomore effort is filled with heart on your sleeve songs about heartbreak and friendship, but lacks a lot of the emotional clichés associated with the genre. Unfairly compared to Bon Iver, DeRose sounds more like a stripped down Blake Sennette from the Elected. His songs have a very sunny 60’s pop quality, in that they combine very simplistic guitar and piano chords with with bright vocal melodies and catchy arrangements. Recorded in multiple locations but mainly in the attic of a 200 year old farmhouse, the album has a very organic feel. Nothing seems over produced or flashy. It’s an extremely easy album to listen to and get through, and you immediately want to hit play again. The album sounds like an open diary being read aloud as Derose conveys his thoughts and emotions in very vivid imagery. “The End” is a great example of how Damien can pour his heart out while the listener can enjoy a great pop song without feeling apathy or sorrow for the narrator. A skill that Damien uses in his writing that is refreshing for genre known for artists using the forum to openly display personal tragedies in their lives.

4.Best Coast-Crazy for You- I am declaring these guys have album cover of the year! It’s sort of cheesy and ridiculous, but that damn cat is so cute and out of place it just makes the cover pop. I randomly discovered these guys reading an interview by Bill Murray, who stated he was really digging them. So, I downloaded their record and found, pretty much what every music geek found, that this album is addictive as it is excellent! Best Coast mix their lo-fi distorted garage sound with a sunny California feel. The songs about boyfriend and break-ups have a very bubblegum feel, but Bethany Costentino’s vocal styling add levels of both sincerity and cynicism. The lyrics are the most simplistic I have heard in a long time, they’re very straight forward and lack depth, “Boyfriend” being a really great example, but it’s filled with insanely catchy guitar hooks as well as a sing-a-along chorus. Great summertime record that was in my constant rotation this year. It will be interesting to see how Best Coast follow this record up, as their sound is very specific and I can’t see a follow up record with the same sound being super successful, but as opposed to worrying about that I will enjoy the excellence of this record as I usually enjoy every moment of my short summers in Wisconsin.

3.The National-High Violet- One of the most emotional records that I have ever listened to. To be frank, I really didn’t care for Boxer. I attempted to get into it, but it just seemed very downtrodden and boring. I feel the exact opposite with High Violet, the album is filled with energy and explosiveness. It’s a sad record that is filled with themes of coping with adulthood while losing friendships and lovers along the way. How it differs from Boxer is that it seems more accessible and pleasing to the ear. Matt Beringer has tamed his low tone, bellowing vocals to carry the songs as opposed to weigh them down. The songwriting is really sharp as well. “Blood Buzz Ohio” is a striking song that seems to always tends to make me sort of contemplative when I listen to it. I think a lot about life, my friends, family, that’s a powerful thing for a song to do, make you think of so many aspects of your life, as opposed to just being relatable to the material. But all of the tracks tend to do this, they make you think inwards and evaluate life. One aspect of the record that I don’t think gets talked about enough is the drumming. It’s thunderous, spastic, and carries the melodies perfectly. Overall, a fine album that has helped the group truly transcend from indie darlings to a band that commands respect out of the entire musical world.

2.Land of Talk-Cloak and Cipher- A truly great rock record that combines a 90’s alternative sound, with hints the current rock sound. The album has received little to no intention, and very little press, which is surprising, considering not only how the good the record is, but the fact they are on the Saddle Creek label, a fairly prolific indie label. Not to mention the guest stars on the album which includes members from fellow Canadian bands such as, Starts, Arcade Fire, and Besnard Lakes. I honestly would not have known about this record if it weren’t for my girlfriend who discovered them. The album is also interesting when you consider that lead vocalist Elizabeth Powell was diagnosed with a hemorrhage in a vocal polyp in 09‘. She could not speak let alone sing for six months which drove her absolutely crazy. But during the time period she used it to write and record Cloak and Cipher. The final product is outstanding, one of the best front to back pop rock records I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Powell’s strong writing and vocal styling is what carries the weight of the record. Very reminiscent of Chrissy Hynde from the Pretenders, she shows the power and range in her voice from gentle and melodic, like on “Goaltime Exposure” and the beautiful dreamy single “Quarry Hymns” to powerful and violent, “The Hate I Wont Commit” and “Swift Coin.” An awesome record that doesn’t disappoint the listener no matter what direction they go musically. Also, it’s very refreshing to hear a band take chances and mix different styling’s and have it gel into one cohesive unit, that in the end turns out to be one fantastic record.

1.Walkmen-Lisbon- The Walkman have become one of my favorite bands of all time. They are consistent as they are ambitious in their music, and Lisbon is no different. What the Walkmen do so wonderfully is combine the sounds they are known for, swirling atmospheric keyboards, spastic and thunderous drumming, jangley guitar chords, and Hamilton Leitheiser’s dominating Dylan esq vocals, with layers of other musical influences and genres. For Lisbon, the guys scale back a bit and strip down their sound to showcase their strengths, this time not borrowing from other genres as much. However, the writing is the real strength o this record. The album comes off as quite powerful and gives the listener a stranger in a strange land feel, even though you are familiar with your surroundings. The music and lyrics have this very lost and unfamiliar feeling, despite the fact you recognize all the faces and places you are seeing. But The Walkmen are the best at lamenting. Gone are the days of Bows and Arrows, where the group angrily reflected on the downfalls of post college life and bad break-ups. Most of the group members are now married and some have kids, but it doesn’t change the fact that the group is still resisting and lamenting on adulthood. “Juveniles” starts out right away by asking “Your One of us/Or one of them.” They draw a line in the sand stating they want to retain their youth and freedom, and not fall into the predicable rut of marriage life that becomes stagnant and routine over time. But they know full well that this line doesn’t really exist. For example “Victory” has this triumphant sound, but Leitheiser sounds defeated and beaten into submission. “Stranded” may be even a better example, the horns mixed with Leitheiser’s short and scattered lyrics paints you a picture of a man that knows exactly where he is, but feels lost and alone in the changes that are happening in his life. However, by the time we get to the very melodic guitar only “While I Shovel The Snow” which you could make a really strong case as the album closer, as to the second last song on the record. The group starts to become okay with their surroundings. They are still reflective, but there is some solace in the fact that you know what is going to happen tomorrow. Plus knowing the first half of your life was so unpredictable, it’s nice to know that the second half has some stability. In Lisbon, The Walkmen may start out a as snotty, defiant juveniles, but in the end slowly become familiar and accept the future state they are in. Which, in truth, turns out to be a nice place after all.

Honorable Mentions:

Broken Bells
Vampire Weekend-Contra
Sujan Stevens-Age of Adz
Stars-Five Ghosts
School of Seven Bells-Disconnect From Desire

1 comment:

Top Ten Albums said...

Really loved that Morning Benders album... but I barely listened to it for some reason. Nice album reviews too! - Andy