Thursday, December 2, 2010

Matty B's Top Albums of 2010

10. Warpaint- "The Fool" Haunting, moody, ethereal record. Warpaint to me seem to be the one of the best in a crop of similar artists (generally fronted by women including Glasser, Twin Sister and to some degree School of Seven Bells) that seem to be making some really interesting atmospheric music these days. The thing that sets Warpaint apart is the shear amount of layers buried in the music. If you listen closely enough, there's almost a jam groove there that you definitely don't pick up at the onset. Standout track is definitely the first single 'Undertow' but this is a record well worth your time.

9. Belle & Sebastian- "Write About Love" If Belle & Sebastian release an album, there's a pretty good chance it's going to be on my year end list. Stuart & company find themselves a little older, wiser & more laid back than on the past few albums and although it may not be the same quiet masterpiece of 'If you're feeling Sinister' or 'Boy with the Arab Strap''s nonetheless a worthy addition to an illustrious career. While the Norah Jones guest vocals at the onset seems unnecessary....I find myself actually enjoying it a lot (and with the ubiquity of 'guest vocal' appearances by Ms. Jones....this turns out to be one of the better ones).

8. Sleigh Bells- "Treats" Are Brooklyn's Sleigh Bells a 1-trick pony?....probably.... Are they capable of anything deeper than the bombastic & driving sound of the whole of the songs on their audaciously bass busting debut 'Treats'....probably not.....but MAN what a sound!! It's rare to hear an artist that carries true power & the combination of off the rails guitar, maxxed out back-beats & cheerleader vocals, Sleigh Bells have come up with a truly original & unmistakeable sound. Do I see a lot of room for growth? not really...but who knows! Sometimes ya just gotta enjoy albums on a surface level & not think too much about where the next step in their career will be. Treats is a a lesson in raw intensity that is refreshing and really exciting to listen to.

7. Vampire Weekend- "Contra" Success can be a funny thing for artists. When it came time for Vampire Weekend to release the follow up to their smash self titled debut, they were put in the odd position of facing some daunting, pre-emptive harsh criticism of some of the same fans that championed them in the very early days of their development. To (almost) everybody in hipster community's shock, VW by many accounts delivered an excellent album in Contra even garnering Pitchfork 'Best New Music' tag. I Contra as a great evolution and continued development of a very appealing sound that is one part world music, one part heartfelt songwriting & about 3 parts gratuitous pop (not that there's anything wrong with gratuitous pop!) I will admit that if I hear 'Holiday' in one more Christmas themed commercial, I might have to take that particular song out of my itunes...but overall this is a satisfying & enjoyable record.

6. Best Coast- "Crazy for You" The debut from the surf-rock musical vehicle of Californian & THC enthusiast Bethany Cosentino has just a tremendous knack for taking really simple but great musical ideas & translating them into wonderfully personal & familiar terms. It's hard for me to tell if the massive amounts of teenage yearning contained in the album is sarcastic, sincere or some combination of both...but the fact is, for me, it's actually really refreshing just to hear some good solid pop songs about boyfriends, breakups, infatuation & heartache. Delivered with an excellent lo-fi nod to 60s girl groups & surf rock and just enough technical merit to pull it off convincingly, Best Coast has the start to a promising career drawn up in 'Crazy for You'. Favorite line in the record (which also pretty much sums it up) "I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk" from track 4 'Goodbye'

5. Land of Talk- "Cloak & Cipher" Canada's Land of Talk has been kicking around for a number of years now & have put out a couple of other pretty great records although for me, none of those have even come close to 2010's 'Cloak & Cipher'. It's real shame that this release went largely unnoticed because the fact is, it is an excellently crafted record with moments where it's vulnerable others with real strength & at some points just downright anthemic. Whereas Canadian counterparts Metric seem to be hellbent on pure pop & Broken Social Scene conversely throwing everything at the wall in their latest release, Land of Talk demonstrates a measure of songcraft, proficiency & heart that's sorely missing from the 2 aforementioned artists latest releases. Singer Elizabeth Powell delivers a heartfelt performance paired with excellently epic arrangements that add up to a very compelling record from Land of Talk.

4. The Black Angels- "Phosphene Dream" Talk about a band coming out of left field for me!! I had cast off the last two Black Angels releases as average-at-best psych rock albums (a position I've now revised even on those albums).... but from the first notes of 'Phosphene Dream', I knew that there was something really special & exciting about this record. For's wonderfully evil..but evil in a good way...kinda like 70s Ozzy evil. With swirling guitar, reverby vocals & straight up psychedelic organ, "Phosphene Dream" sounds like it could have been ripped directly from another decade & does so unapologetically. Paired this with some amazingly creepy vocals and extremely dark lyrics, Phosphene Dream is an awesomely crankable record that's sure to put you in a villainous mood. (and some days that's just what you need).

3. The National- "High Violet" For my money, The National are one of the best live bands on the planet today. The shear intensity & blazing power that these guys are capable of live is more or less unmatched in my book. High Violet marks another excellent entry in what has been an increasingly exciting career to watch. Singer Matt Berninger's deep booming vocals make the headline here although that shouldn't mean that the tremendous rhythm section & downright proficiency should be overlooked. I found High Violet to be a far more instantly accessible record than 2007's masterpiece "Boxer" and in many ways the songs play better to the increasingly growing audiences that are showing up to see these guys. With gorgeously arranged songs & deeply cathartic moments of intensity, High Violet delivers on the promise of a band that is quickly & rightfully taking it's place alongside the truly great artists of their era.

2. The Arcade Fire- "The Suburbs" When I heard the first few tracks 'The Suburbs' & 'Month of May' that went to the internet from The Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs", I have to admit I was caught off guard. Both tracks were stripped down, almost laid back & decidedly non-epic. I have to admit, I was worried. I like my Arcade Fire EPIC . What's funny about "The Suburbs" is that in the end, not only does it turn out to be incredibly epic, it also does so without a lot of the devices that it's predecessor 'Neon Bible' did. The diversity on this record is truly amazing and the ability for The Arcade fire to tell compelling stories over the course of an album through the use of recurrent musical themes is something they have basically mastered. Very very exciting. Standout track to me is actually "Sprawl II" which Regina takes lead vocals on . Inspired record to say the least.

1. Janelle Monae- "The ArchAndroid" For 2010 choosing my number one album of the year was an absolutely clear choice for me. Janelle Monae's "The ArchAndroid" is simply put, a work of massive ambition, incredible imagination & true brilliance from one of the most promising artists I've heard in years. The 2nd & 3rd part in Monae's Afro-futurism epic 'Metropolis' project, Monae assumes the role of 'Cindy Mayweather' an android sent to save the futuristic society of Metropolis. As if this, thematically isn't enough, Monae traverses an incredible amount of genres with ease & skill throughout the course of the album from soul, to punk to salsa. All this is done effortlessly and naturally with true intelligence and the whole thing is strung together just beautifully. Monae possesses the rare triple threat of being a truly gifted singer, amazingly entertaining performer and overtly imaginative songwriter. If you have not heard this album, for god's sake...stop reading this & go listen to it!

honorable mentions:

Beach House- "Teen Dream"
Amazing, atmospheric record. no reason this shouldn't be in my top ten other than the fact that i ran out spaces.
Sharon Van Etten- "Epic" Understated beauty, compelling songwriting. Probably should have spent more time with this one.
New Pornographers- "Together" Another highly competent & enjoyable record from one of the decades most reliable bands.
Superchunk- "Majesty Shredding" Return from one of my all time fave bands that shows no sign of dust despite having not recorded for 8 years.
Cults- "7"" Only 3 songs, but a nonetheless excellent glimpse at a promising artist.

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