Happy New Year! It is the year 2010 and alien technology has taken over the world. Humans are slaves to machines that replace all the simple things in life with a series of ones and zeros. I have harnessed the power of this secret formula and cranked out a list of 50 best releases of the year (in alphabetical order). Here it goes…
Animal Collective-Fall Be Kind (EP)
Many listeners are a bit reluctant to allow themselves to enjoy Animal Collective’s weirdness. Fall Be Kind is an excellent place to start. The EP is a big blurry trip through the lands of Björk and The Beach Boys all at the same time. Those who enjoy more structure will be soothed by the string bass that gently carves chord progression into electronic sound clouds. Unexplainable transitions will keep you on your toes while recurring vocal themes, synths, and samples bridge the gap between them. Fall Be Kind is definitely one of the best releases I’ve come across this year. (From Micro Beards: 15 Dec 2009 by Corey Murphy)
Animal Collective-Merriweather Post Pavillion
Hospice seamlessly blends haunting sound clouds into effected guitar ambience all based on a careful musical foundation. Lead singer, Peter Silberman whispers a soft and lonesome melody over all this, “I wish I had known in/that first moment we met/ the unpayable debt/ that I owed you”. The album, which is based on the death of a loved one is fittingly unsettling. The Antlers present in Hospice, a mix of crunching instrumentals and liquid flowing vocals set perfectly to a crashing basement drum kit. Hospice is incredibly artful and powerfully progressive.
Akron/Family-Set ‘Em Wild Set ‘Em Free
While everything on the album is recognizably Akron/Family, the album spans genres inexplicably. Starting in a bit of a dirty blues-rock feel and moving through electronic tracks and folk concoctions, the band even hits on some borderline scream punk just to say they did it. Often, transitions between acoustic and more electronically derived tracks are rough and uncomfortable but this Frankenstein of an album dances gracefully the entire time. The band, from New York City, remains relatively undiscovered but they ought to be. Akron/Family has a lot to add to the musical scene and effectively captures the style that many bands strive for. (From LIST 2000 to 2009 [Corey’s Staff Picks] by Corey Murphy)
Black Moth Super Rainbow-Eating Us
Blind Pilot-3 Rounds and a Sound
Bon Iver-Blood Bank
Surprisingly, when Bon Iver’s new EP dropped on January 20th, things were kosher. For an album so critically acclaimed as his debut LP For Emma, Forever Ago, it seemed as though future works would be doomed to fall short in the eyes of purists. But the release did well from the beginning, entering the Billboard 200 at number sixteen. Blood Bank, which is comprised of three new tracks plus one track left off For Emma, proves that Bon Iver is no one hit wonder. (From REVIEW: Bon Iver-Blood Bank by John Kruse)
The Builders and the Butchers-Salvation Is A Deep Dark Well
Califone-All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Camera Obscura-My Maudlin Career
Clem Snide-Hungry Bird
Dan Auerbach-Keep It Hid
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (Feat. Various Artists)-Dark Night of the Soul
Based on a book of photography shot by David Lynch, acclaimed american filmmaker best known for Mulholland Drive (2001), Blue Velvet (1986) and the television series, Twin Peaks, Dark Night of the Soul is an accompanying soundtrack written by Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse). Each track seems perfectly suited for its featured vocalist which include (if that wasn’t enough name dropping) The Flaming Lips, James Mercer of The Shins, Vic Chesnutt, Suzanne Vega, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Iggy Pop, Scott Spillane of Neutral Milk Hotel, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, and Frank Black…just to name a few. Due to a legal dispute with EMI, the music is very difficult to find without the help of the wonderful world of the internet and the book is sold with a blank recordable CDR.
The Dead Weather-Horehound
The Decemberists-Hazards of Love
With the bands fifth release, The Decemberists delve even deeper into the story-telling style that they are known for. On this album every track flows seamlessly to the other and themes come and go throughout the duration of the album representing the stories that are interwoven inside it. The band draws on its resources for The Hazards of Love as Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond,Becky Starke of Lavender Diamond, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket are all brought in to play various characters in the stories and provide vocals for the album. The Hazards of Love is a seamless blend of music steeped in an ancient troubadour tradition and converted by modern themes and musical styles into what can best be described as a musical. (From LIST 2000 to 2009 [Corey’s Staff Picks] by Corey Murphy)
Derek Webb-Stockholm Syndrome
The Dirty Projectors-Bitte Orca
In english, Bitte Orca is “please, killer whale”. The album’s title is as unexplainable as the music. Perhaps the reason that Bitte Orca is so effective is that it is so damn unexplainable. We’ve been drowned in the same old rock progressions for so many years that Bitte Orca catches us completely off guard. While tracks like “Stillness is the Move” come off as catchy pop hooks on the surface, it is the fact that they are this way that makes them so progressive. In the midst of so much indie music that tries to be experimental, The Dirty Projectors have created a sound that is a very effective experiment in the mainstream.
DM Stith-Heavy Ghost
This is an extremely daring debut album from graphic artist David Stith. Stith contributed the album artwork to My Brightest Diamond’s album also featured in the list [Zach’s Staff Picks], with contributions made to Heavy Ghost by both Shara Wordan (of My Brightest Diamond) and Sufjan Stevens (who, according to the liner notes, on the song “Pity Dance” clacked a stapler, and a pair of scissors, and played a Lakewood 18 inch 3-speed high velocity fan with a Vermont state quarter). This experimental pop jem is just the beginning of things to come from Stith. (LIST 2000 to 2009: [Zach’s Staff Picks] by Zach Harris)
The Dodos-Time To Die
Fever Ray-Fever Ray
Soon after “Do You Realize” was named “Oklahoma’s state rock song” The Flaming Lips must have grew tired of pleasing the masses. On the latest album, this psychedelic pop has degenerated into a crunchy nonsensical pile of sound. I mean that in the best way. Embryonic is an ingenious layering of textures through which lead singer, Wayne Coyne, leads us on a sort of psychedelic journey. While the lyrics and compositional aspects of the music are by no means spectacular, it is their presentation that is spot on. The thought that most frequently crosses my mind when I listen to Embryonic I bet the studio is a mess…I mean absolutely trashed. By the sound of this music, it seems like Coyne is just walking around smashing on objects lying around the room and pushing buttons on synthesizers with no particular method to the madness. But then you realize, in the midst of all this noise, a very careful bass line is emerging. And then if you can sift through all the crunching and crashing you will realize that these sounds have quickly evolved into drumbeats. Still drenched in overdrive, distortion and the like, the first track “Convinced of the Hex” rises from the sound. (From REVIEW: The Flaming Lips-Embryonic by Corey Murphy)
Fruit Bats-Ruminant Band
Known also for his work with The Shins, frontman Eric Johnson is famous for creating simple and accessible indie rock. Ruminant Band is no different. The album is a collection of recognizable guitar riffs paired with uplifting and energetic melodies. Ruminant Band is everything you want to hear in a song done in a tasteful and interesting way.
fun.-Aim and Ignite
Veckatimist is, in my opinion, the single greatest recording on this list. It is the third release for the band and the second since Daniel Rossen of Department of Eagles was added to the mix. Rossen’s collaboration with frontman Ed Droste, has proved to be very rewarding for the group as the result is a perfect blend between Rosen’s progressive folk style with Droste’s kitschy hooks and operatic vocals. All four members bring a lot to the table on Veckatimist, as Christopher Bear’s unique reverb drenched drum sound and Chris Taylor’s thick and rich bass are absolutely essential on the release (not to mention their participation in the frequent multi-part harmonies). Grizzly Bear has certainly set the bar high for musicians across the board as Veckatimist is nearly perfect in every regard.
Ida Maria-Fortress ‘Round My Heart
Japandroids debut album, Post-Nothing, is mindless fun and pure genius. The album is an infinite reincarnation of the loudest and most exciting basement shows and captures the intensity in its overwhelmingly distorted guitar sound and painfully shouted vocals. The equation is as simple as the music itself, guitar riff plus crashing drums plus two sentences that are fun to yell through the course of a three minute track equals Post-Nothing. (From REVIEW: Japandroids-Post-Nothing by Corey Murphy)
MF Doom-Born Like This
Everything MF Doom touches to gold. It makes me wonder why the man has to resort to “supervillainy” to obtain his wealth. Doom casts his flow of conscious lyrics as if they were carefully contemplated tongue twisters. “Villain here, have em shrillin’ in fear/won’t stop top illin’ til he a gazillionaire” Doom spits effortlessly on the first track, “Gazillion Ear”. Its hard to imagine Doom breathing at all during this record as it is a constant flow of though from front to end. Born Like This is easily the best hip-hop release this year.
Miike Snow-Miike Snow
Modest Mouse-No One’s First and You’re Next (EP)
Monsters of Folk-Monsters of Folk
Mos Def-The Ecstatic
Mount Eerie-Wind’s Poem
Neon Indian-Phsycic Chasms
Phoenix-Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is an intelligent brush with radio pop music. Phoenix, who is based in Paris, will make girls blush with cute mispronunciations of their english lyrics on tracks like “Lisztomania” but Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix has something for everyone as the band will show of its technical side in the nearly instrumental “Love Like a Sunset” epic.
Real Estate-Real Estate
Sea Wolf-White Water, White Bloom
This scope of this album is unbelievably vast for its indie-folk claim. The first track, “Wicked Blood” flashes hints of Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire, but the tracks that follow can be described so much differently. Acoustic guitar and violin lie at the core of every track but the electric instruments and drums that surround them work to pull each song in an entirely different direction. (From Micro Beards: 15 Dec 2009 by Corey Murphy)
Sing Fang Bous-Clangour
St. Vincent’s lyrics are often subtle but the music that surrounds them is energetic and complex. Take the track “Marrow” for example, “H-E-L-P/help me, help me” sings Annie Clark as a line of woodwinds come in crashing around her. The effect in this particular track is extremely energizing but this power is not unique to just “Marrow”, every song on Actor has such a vivid life to it that it is impossible not to get lost in the album.
Stadeath and White Dwarfs-The Birth
Sufjan Stevens-The BQE (Motion Picture Soundtrack)
The BQE offers a more diverse palette of sounds and textures than any other previous work by Stevens. Equal parts the familiar soft-spoken piano, choral voices, and layered counter-rhythms, as things borrowed from John Williams fanfare, 70s cop show themes, Gershwin-esque jazz breaks, and electro-club explosions. (From REVIEW: Sufjan Stevens-The BQE by Zach Harris)
Various Artists-Dark Was the Night (Compilation)
White Rabbits-It’s Frightening
The xx is amazingly simple but still a sound that’s very rarely made. The London quartet functions with two vocalists in what seems like a dialogue relationship. Overall, nearly every song has a calm intensity to it that satisfies repeatedly. xx is greatly successful for the group’s first release so releases in the future will surely be under radar. (LIST 2000 to 2009 [Corey’s Staff Picks] by Corey Murphy)
Y.A.C.H.T.-See Mystery Lights
Yo La Tengo-Popular Songs