2010 marked the entry of numerous bedroom rockers/producers into the fray, and while most of my listening centered around 7" records and EP's, I managed to cobble together a decent list of my favorite LP's from this year.
My tastes this year tended to gravitate toward the pop genres; Surf-Pop, Dream-Pop, Noise-Pop, etc. However, I still made room on my plate for a healthy dose of Hip-Hop, Electronic, and Experimental beats.
Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House ushered in 2010 with their third studio album, Teen Dream, and it's a gem. It brings warmth to the winter months, and while the record is, at times somber, it shines light on the dark. Teen Dream doesn't stray far from the core characteristics of a Beach House album as Victoria's beautiful yet melancholy vocals meld with hazy synths.
Silver Soul is a gloomy, yet incomprehensibly beautiful ballad. Used To Be is slightly more accessible and melodic. And you absolutely must check out this live studio performance as part of Pitchfork.tv's Special Presentation series. It starts with the band playing Zebra in a room seemingly made out of white feathers. Fucking perfect.
If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I'd dig a Kanye album let alone consider it for top album of the year, I would've had a heart attack. I've liked a few of Ye's beats and tracks in the past (especially that joint he did with Cam'ron, Down and Out) but generally I regard him as wack. That is, until I got my hands on his latest record. I still think he's a pompous prick but that doesn't take anything away from the fact that he wrote and produced one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time with the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Really, the album needs no introduction. Either you've heard it by now or you don't care to, so I'm just gonna throw out a few of my fave tracks. Make sure to peep Monster which features among others, Nicki Manaj, who is the truth! Oh and if you don't already know, Rick Ross absolutely kills Devil In A New Dress. And here's the obligatory link the the 35-minute masterpiece, Runaway.
Swedish pop star, Robyn, launched a musical armada this year. Three albums were released in 2010 as part of the Body Talk series, with the third album containing five tracks from each of the two previous albums, plus five new tracks.
Body Talk is easily the best pop record of the year. The beats, the lyrics, and the guest spots (Diplo, Röyksopp, and Snoop Dogg) all play a part and come together to create a record that is pop-perfection from front to back.
My grammer school level writing hardly does the album justice. Just check a few tracks and behold Robyn's greatness. Dancehall Queen is an absolute banger that really jumps off and Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do is an ice-cold display of electropop swagger.
On the front lines of the Surf/Beach movement is San Diego noise pop band, Wavves. He released his third album, King Of The Beach, this summer and I admit, I slept on this album, HARD. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.
The album is a noisy, LSD soaked, trip to the beach. And it rocks. Nathan Williams has really grown in terms of song writing and the ability to put together an album with great production and a lot of variety. It's impressive to say the least.
Droning guitars and repetitious, muffled vocals highlight Mickey Mouse while Linus Spacehead takes more of a grunge-meets-beach angle.
New Jersey punk rockers Titus Andronicus created a masterpiece with their sophomore release, The Monitor. It's a concept album based on the American Civil War, but it goes far beyond mere references in song titles and the name of the album (which refers to first iron clad warship, the USS Monitor).
It uses march-like cadences, rousing chants, and anthemic guitars to build the atmosphere of an army going to war, or to demonstrate the frustration of Jersey life in a post-industrial Northeast amidst a global economic depression. They even invoke the spirit of The Boss a few times. And the whole thing comes to a massive conclusion with a 14-minute finale that makes me want to wrap myself in Old Glory and fire a cannon from my front porch.
Definitely check out the video for the album opener, A More Perfect Union. It absolutely sets the tone for the whole record, a record that is best enjoyed by listening all the way through.
UK psychedelic dub producer, Matthew Barnes, also known as Forest Swords came with a late entry, releasing his album Dagger Paths in late November. In a word it's brilliant. In a bunch of words: sparse/primal percussion, obscure samples, and masterfully manipulated guitar notes come together to create beautiful yet eerie sounds. Though the beats sound sleepy and murky, eventually you pick out the melody and things clear up a bit. It reminds me of Avey Tare's album, Down There (an incredible album by the way), in that regard.
The whole album is unique and exquisite but I believe the first two tracks are the most accessible and inviting. Miarches is instantly captivating. Guitar reverb weaves in and out of other aural pleasures including a haunting female vocal sample. Slow, droning guitar, bizarre sounds and imposing drum tracks mark out Hoylake Misst. Barnes even does a cover of Aaliyah’s "If Your Girl Only Knew", retitled as "If Your Girl" (I'll admit I had no idea that song was a cover, however much distorted and disguised, and only became aware of it while brushing up on No Pain In Pop). Anyway, the album is fascinating and probably a look at the direction the genre of Dub is moving.
LA's premier beat maker, Flying Lotus, released the follow-up to his iconic LP Los Angeles this summer and it's another album that I slept on, much to my discomposure. It is important to understand that Cosmogramma is not Los Angeles. Rather, it is a sign of the maturation of Steve Ellison and the mark of his transcendence beyond his influences and peers. I avoided listening to it out of a fear of it somehow diminishing my love for his earlier work or some kind of misplaced sense of superiority, like I knew what was best for FlyLo, his catalog, and his fans.
Internal struggle aside, every track on the album is unique and mesmerizing, with influences ranging from jazz, to drum and bass and IDM, to hip-hop. Zodiac Shit is a deep, cavernous beat and it goes even better with the tripped out video. Also make sure to check out the video for the cannabis-induced, MmmHmm, a gorgeous, spacey tune aided by bass virtuoso Thundercat.
An unlikely collaboration between an elementary school teacher and the guitarist for Hardcore band, Poison The Well, resulted in the loudest album in recent memory. Brooklyn noise pop band Sleigh Bells has acquired a lot of fans as well as haters since dropping their debut LP, Treats, this summer. Essentially, the album consists of Alexis chanting like a cheerleader over wailing guitars and pounding beats.
Treats is a fucking banger. It goes harder than any track this year. Turn it up to eleven. Similarly, Crown On The Ground will trash your speakers. Seriously. Oh and don't let the treble blast at the beginning scare you. Taking a softer approach, Rill Rill employs acoustic guitar and an infectious pop hook.
Crazy For You by Best Coast
Another one of the most hated bands of the year, Best Coast, released their debut LP this summer. Crazy For You is a lo-fi, indie pop, stoner record whose lyrics center around chron, cats, boys, and a sloth-like apathy. All the tracks are short and poppy with very straightforward lyrics.
Goodbye is an anthem of indifference where Bethany claims, "Nothing makes me happy, not even T.V. or a bunch of weed". Happy is an uptempo song that is actually about anything but being happy.
Crystal Castles (II) by Crystal Castles
And to complete my trio of "most hated bands" I submit to you, Crystal Castles, back with their sophomore album Crystal Castles (II). Drowned in Sound writer Jack Shankly once expertly described their sound as "ferocious, asphyxiating sheets of warped two-dimensional Gameboy glitches and bruising drum bombast that pierces your skull with their sheer shrill force, burrowing deep into the brain like a fever". Pretty much.
My favorite track off the LP is Year Of Silence. A terrifying, earthquake-like beat juxtaposed against a beautiful Sigur Rós vocal sample makes for one of the best electronic tracks of the year. Baptism is a more upbeat, dancey cut, with a strange/disturbing video.
One of my all time favorite bands, Arcade Fire, released their much anticipated third studio album this summer. The Suburbs is a radiant, captivating album that marks a rewarding return by the Canadian indie giants. My favorite song is Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), a disco track reminiscent of Blondie's Heart of Glass.
Fighting off comparisons to Best Coast and Vivian Girls are Costa Rica's all-girl retro band, Las Robertas. Their influences include The Breeders, Nirvana, and various C86 bands, which makes sense as they tend to have a scuzzy, lo-fi sound while still maintaining a youthful glow. On their debut LP, Cry Out Loud, the girls do such a masterful job of walking the fine line between garage rock and noise pop that they really transcend genre. It makes you think they can possibly usurp some of their lofty influences. Make sure to check out their friend Diego Arias's video for Back To The End.
Rhode Island Post-Punk Rockers, Fang Island, dropped their self titled debut LP this year to wide acclaim. They describe their music as "everyone high-fiving everyone", and that's exactly the feeling you get when listening to their album, Fang Island. Pitchfork's Ian Cohen summed up the album perfectly when he said, "This music is just honest and life-affirming and infectious, and it's that rare concentration of directness and simplicity that makes Fang Island so uniquely and wonderfully inclusive."
My two favorite tracks are Daisy, a soaring and infectious anthem, and Life Coach, which melds layer upon layer of vocals and guitars with very positive results.
After years of trying to break through, Nashville bedroom rockers girls in the eighties, finally gained the attention of tastemaker Stereogum in early 2010 and released Faceless Sonic Boom a few months later. The album is composed of bursts of energy in the form of short, noisy songs.
Vacation is my favorite track on the album and may be my favorite track of the year. Behind the noise and wailing guitars are some pretty stirring lyrics. The song starts out with a messy chorus chanting, "They say please stay, but I can't find a reason why. Until the world turns on its side, I am telling you goodbye. Until the storm settles inside, I am letting go of life." Fairly profound words for a noise pop record.
Upstate New York Trip-Hop duo Phantogram describes themselves as "a combination of Serge Gainsbourg, sampling and Detroit hip-hop". I can dig that. Their full length debut, Eyelid Movies, is a verdant and evocative trip-hop ride that owes its success equally to Josh Carter's detailed production and Sarah Barthel's enchanting vocals.
Mouthful Of Diamonds is highlighted by Sarah's saccharin sweet, breathy vocals over squeaky beats and piano keys. Sarah's seductive crooning is also central to When I'm Small, another one of my faves off this record. Also, check out the fan-made video for Running From The Cops, a spooky, droning track that changes up the pace from the rest of the album.