Hey kids guess who released their 4th record Tuesday? BOAT, that’s who. The band who made it cool to sing about your mom and seemingly invent lyrics on the fly have another fantastic outing with Dress Like Your Idols. The first single, although BOAT is a band of nothing but singles, is “(I’ll Beat My Chest Like) King Kong.”
Guess what else? The owner of a certain Salt Lake record store whose name rhymes with banana told me one time that she knows a publicist at BOAT’s label, Magic Marker, and promised (or at least that’s the way I choose to remember it) to make the call and get a Utah show booked. So stop by Slowtrain Records this weekend to buy a copy and badger the proprietors into pulling some strings!
Quite unintentionally, I’ve compiled a bit of a Dad Rock list here.
A few noisier bands (cf: Weekend, Deerhunter) could just as easily have made the short list but it seems this is just the way it turned out this year, particularly at the top of the list. And for that I make no apologies so stop interrogating me like a common criminal.
As always, my only criterion for what ended up on my list was, simply, “Did I Like It?” This is distinct from “Was It Important or Influential?” I listened to a lot of music that was way out there…and a little bit of AAA radio-ready stuff…and this is what stuck. I liked it. And because of my fondness for the complete album, these tend to represent whole statements, internally threaded and consistent. And look, it’s January 31st. I’ve posted a 2010 “Best of” list that is culturally irrelevant by any standard but 1-2 weeks earlier than the last two years. I Have a Dream that my 2011 list will be posted by MLK Day.
Because 10 (or as it turned out, 11) is a pretty small number for what was frankly an extraordinary year in music, I listed a few other great albums at the end which either arbitrarily did not make the cut or which I sampled extensively but didn’t yet have the money to buy. For all my faults, I buy all my music…every last CD…and I hope you do too. Listing the additional albums also helps create the false impression that I am more broad than I really am and cultivates my false sense of supriority.
Now the Top 10 Albums of 2010:
1. The National – High Violet
Of Alexander Payne’s movie “Sideways,” a friend remarked that he identified with the aimless 40-something characters. Not me. But I felt intimately attached to The National’s masterwork High Violet, filled with miniature epics about the muted anxieties of parenthood, career, and other banes of middle age. As close to a perfect album since Elbow’s 2005 Leaders of the Free World.
“England” by The National
2. Foals – Total Life Forever
Rhythmically exhilarating and dense…Foals adroitly cram more musical ideas into each song than most bands do in ten…Total Life Forever catapults the band far beyond dance-funk. TLF Marries David Byrne’s international beats (and, at times, his yelp), impossibly angular, mathy hooks, and…on songs like “Spanish Sahara” and “After Glow”…the brutal melancholy of Catherine Wheel.
“Spanish Sahara” by Foals
3. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
It is impossible to refer to Kristian Matsson as a modern day Bob Dylan without feeling cliched and really a bit lazy; the comparison is both apt and insufficient. In The Wild Hunt, the Swedish Matsson continues to elevate the American folk tradition with stunners like “Burden of Tomorrow,” his mastery of the guitar on “Troubles Will be Gone,” and the inimitable TTMOE vocal stylings on “Love is All.”
“The Wild Hunt” by The Tallest Man on Earth
4. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening Hot Chip– One Life Stand
Two bands who arguably reached their zenith in 2010, who toured together, and who I list together for many reasons. Not the least of which is that it allows me to cheat and add an 11th album to my list. In This is Happening, James Murphy has become a sort of Grand Old Man of indie rock with pithy observation about cool and perhaps the three best back-to-back- to-back releases of the last 10 years. Hot Chip, who share guitarist Al Doyle with LCD Soundsystem, just want to love you all over if that is not perfectly clear from the touchingly earnest “Brothers.” “Take It In” is one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard. Still makes me a little teary after all these months.
“Home” by LCD Soundsystem
“Take It In” by Hot Chip
5. Abe Vigoda – Crush
It’s tempting to compare Abe Vigoda to The Horrors, both wildly successful marrying shoegaze and goth. Crush brings more of a darkwave beat to the party and the vocals are, by turns, more derivative of Robert Smith (“Dream of My Love”) and Peter Murphy (“Repeating Angel”). The rich songcraft on Crush feels raw, uncontrolled, even live-to-tape at times, which it certainly is not.
“November” by Abe Vigoda
6. Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
Phantogram has several things going for it, not least among them Sarah Barthel’s captivating and sensual voice, the very best of 2010, which is saying a lot in a year that included Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino. The Massive Attack atmospherics and songs are fab, highlighted by the trippy soul of “You Are the Ocean” and single “When I’m Small” which recently cropped up on MTV’s “Skins.”
“All Dried Up” by Phantogram
7. The Walkmen – Lisbon
An observation missing from much of the acclaim about Lisbon is the New Orleans and Old World influence, so much so that it seems like the Big Album Elvis Perkins could have written after Ash Wednesday. Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals, if occasionally reminiscent of Rod Stewart, are brazen and earn every climactic, arena-sized chorus from “Angela Surf City” to “Victory.”
“Angela Surf City” by The Walkmen
8. Idle Times – Idle Times
I’ll buy about anything from a couple of labels, including Idle Times’ Hozac Records. This lo-fi morsel has an amazing ear…not just for gauzy deconstruction…but fist-pumping choruses on songs like “Every Time I Talk” mingled with switchups like the rockabilly “Prison Mind.” And riffs? You can practically hear Paul Westerburg fronting “Hey Little Girl” for the Crocodiles.
“I Don’t Believe It/X-Tina” by Idle Times
9. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
No album was ever less in need of a concept than The Monitor, so I encourage you to enjoy it strictly for its Jersey RAWK! aesthetic and ignore the Civil War non sequitors. At times Bruce Springsteen idolatry mockery, at times an out-of-control FUBAR performance reminiscent of The Pogues. Stick with this one…The Monitor rocks your face off.
“The Battle of Hampton Roads” by Titus Andronicus
10. Wounded Lion – Wounded Lion
Covered by The Intelligence but sounding more like BOAT, Wounded Lion feels like a nearly effortless pop expression. Like the band picked up their instruments on an LA back porch and crafted these gems extemporaneously. “Pony People” and “Hunan Province” are relentlessly catchy and stripped clean like a juiced up Marquee Moon. They also make a lot of funny sounds with their mouths.
“Pony People” by Wounded Lion
Here are some of the other albums I was really digging in 2010 that I recommend you check out:
Blank Dogs – Land and Fixed Deerhunter – Halycon Digest Destroyer – Kaputt El Guincho – Pop Negro Grovesnor – Soft Return Jaill – That’s How We Burn Nice Face – Immer Etwas Secret Cities – Pink Graffiti The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack The Tallest Man on Earth – Sometimes the Blues EP Teenage Fanclub – Shadows Ty Segall – Melted The Vaselines – Sex with an “X” Violens – Amoral Weekend – Sports Woods – At Echo Lake
Installment #2 of tunes from the past year that I really enjoyed.
Most, not all, are from CDs that are NOT on my list of top albums, or are culled from an EP, or simply represent the occasional one-off download. Roughly in the chronological order in which I discovered them. So supplement your listening of full-length releases with these nuggets.
“Double Knot” by Living Sisters – from Love to Live. Don’t be fooled by the innocent 50’s poses and Frankie Lymon harmonies. Several Love to Live songs are a bit filthy. But it’s not all stagecraft…the Living Sisters included alot of great songwriting on their CD for anyone who pines for the Eisenhower era.
“I Can Try” by Sambassadeur – from European. To start with, I am a sucker for this kind of string arrangement. Add to that Anna Persson’s uncanny vocal resemblance to one of my all-time favorite singers Kirsty MacColl.
“Imagine Hearts” by Ringo Deathstarr – from Colour Trip. Hate to wait until March for this one but there is a 5-song EP from 2008 if you really like your JATMC seasoned with sparkling guitar effects.
“The Turned on Truth” by Cornershop – from Judy Sucked a Lemon for Breakfast. Technically a 2009 release but not available in these United States until last April, Tjinder Singh has lost none of the charm of his britpop and desi fusion.
“Madame Van Damme” by Lightspeed Champion – from Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You! Devonte Hynes turns more towards art rock (shudder), but this song has one of the more traditional pop structures on Life is Sweet! Hynes also sounds more like Murray Lightburn here, which I much prefer to his Freddy Mercury turns.
“Tell ‘Em” by Sleigh Bells – from Treats. Galactic-sized hooks overcompressed to the point of self-caricature with white girl Go! Team urban styling.
“I Didn’t See It Coming” by Belle and Sebastian – from Write About Love. OK so the album is a liiiiitle radio ready. So sue them, this is still essentially the perfect pop song. Really very nearly perfect.
“Intil” by Menomena – from Mines.Love pretty much anything with this much reverb and sensitive Coldplay keyboard. But. But but but. Check out the wild little backbeat that kicks in halfway through Mines‘ closer, evocatively layered and gorgeous.
“Selina” by Pete & the Pirates – from Precious Tones EP. The climactic chorus (“Selina you don’t smile when you break my heaaaaart!”) is a little bit of everything I love about PATP.
“Pogo” by Eternal Summers – from Silver. All Hail Roanoke! They didn’t make bands like this during the 5 years I lived under the shadow of Mill Mountain Star but this two-piece writes snappy pop songs with plenty of open space. Instant street cred for all the up-and-comers at Hidden Valley High.
“Groove Me”by Theophilus London – from Maximum Balloon. I guess I wasn’t as smitten as the rest of planet Earth by this TV on the Radio side project, possibly because of the insufferable band name, but it’s hard to deny that “Groove Me” will groove you.
“The Great White Ocean” by Antony and the Johnsons – from Swanlights.Antony Hegarty is an acquired taste, a bit avante garde and of course he loves him some vibrato. I did though really enjoy 2005’s I am a Bird Now and this song shows nice texture as a lyricist and songwriter.
“Until the Nipple’s Gone” by Atmosphere – from To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy. Slug’s narrative and cutting diction knock you down with their venom.
“Like the Wheel” by The Tallest Man on Earth – from Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird EP. iTunes bonus track from The Wild Hunt which I have gushed over enough. I played “Like the Wheel” approximately one billion times in 2010.
As I assemble a Best Albums of 2010 list, here is the first installment of individual tunes from the past year that I really enjoyed. Most, not all, are from CDs that are NOT on my list of top albums, or are culled from an EP, or simply represent the occasional one-off download. So supplement your listening of full-length releases with these nuggets.
And look, Ma…no links!
Consider it a small service: Just click the media player on most songs and rock out without the aggravating and impossible distraction of opening a new window. Actually there’s still a couple of links but for the most part I’ve done the work on your behalf because I love you.
“Odessa” by Caribou – from Swim. Whereas 2007’s Andorra was total psychedelia, “Odessa,” Caribou’s first release from the April LP Swim is a minimalist freakout more akin to Hot chip.
“The Hundredth Time” by Gigi – from Maintenant. Canadians who oddly…and sweetly…interpret (pervert?) 60’s pop with a teary male chorus that just seems more appropriate for Mary Wells.
“Icarus” by White Hinterland – from Kairos. Enchanting number that seems to belong more to Iceland more than Oregon.
“Girls FM” by Happy Birthday – from Happy Birthday. Who’d have ever thought there would be a Sub Pop band from Vermont?
“Someone’s Missing”by MGMT – from Congratulations. An otherwise unnotable sophomore album highlighted by a straight-up brilliant Jackson 5 payoff at 1:45 into the song.
“My Chariot” by The Depreciation Guild – from Spirit Youth. Kind of digging The Depreciation Guild more than The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, if truth be told.
“Constellations” by Darwin Deez – from Darwin Deez. Plays Kilby Court January 21 and you are mighty encouraged to attend!
“21@12” by Hot Hot Heat – from Future Breeds. Don’t know that HHH will ever return to the fighting strength of 2002’s Makeup the Breakdown but this song has crazy noodling synths I love.
“Them That Do Nothing” by Field Music – from Measure. I have Prog issues. I don’t like most of it, gives me bad dreams of junior high school. But “Them That Do Nothing” is a snappy little song that richochets between your ears.
“The Fight”by Sia – from We are Born. Yes the annoying girl who insists on painting her face and formerly trafficked in unremarkable loungey R&B also writes pretty dancy bubblegum pop.
“Rocket” by Goldfrapp – from Head First. Having already impugned my list of favorite songs with Sia, why not add this tasty number from Goldfrapp? ELO spaceship atmospherics included at absolutely no charge. #1 song of the year by far for my 6-year-old daughter Rose.
“On the Beat” by Jaill – from That’s How We Burn. Milwaukee’s Jaill turns out an entire album of angular guitar pop. Vinnie Kircher sounds a lot like the Hoodoo Guru’s Dave Faulkner here, which is fabulous.
It was tempting to presume yesterday’s EP-after-the-LP from The Tallest Man on Earth was simply a carrier for “Like the Wheel.” But if pithy, Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird is equally as powerful and nuanced as both of Kristian Matsson’s tremendous full-lengths.
Following May’s The Wild Hunt, Passing Bird opens with archetypal Tallest Man ballad “Little River,” marked by intricate finger-picking and the now-signature vocal acrobatics of a man without much of a voice to tumble with. “Tangle in This Trampled Wheat” likewise begins with a complex guitar line and the most pronounced undercurrent of woe on the EP. It is hard to overstate Mattson’s mastery of the instrument, though it always supports rather than overwhelms the arrangemet.
Like, but also unlike, Highway 61 Revisited, TMOE marks this release with his first recorded use of electric guitar. It is heady stuff. “The Dreamer” is a considered, not grandstanding, escalation of Matsson’s sound, hearbroken but not effusive.
“Like the Wheel,” the iTunes bonus track for The Wild Hunt, is at the sequential and creative center of Passing Bird. The song became a favorite encore for the Tallest Man on Earth, as memorably performed last May in absolute silence at Salt Lake City’s Kilby Court. The lyrics, if born in Sweden, evoke American dystopia better than Paul Simon:
And on this Sunday someone’s sitting down to wonder Where the hell among these mountains will I be? There’s a cloud behind the cloud to which I’m yelling I could hear you sneak around so easily
And I said oh my Lord why am I not strong Like the branch that keeps hangman hanging on Like the branch that will take me home
I am fully convinced that songs such as “Like the Wheel” are so perfectly conceived and rendered that they spring from some Jungian race memory. The Tallest Man on Earth has not so much written Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird as he has memorialized a portion of the human condition passed to him through some indefinable chromosomal essence that now marks a high-water mark of the American folk tradition.