Tuesday, December 14, 2010

best of 2010

1. beach house- ‘teen dream’

my criteria for picking my five favourite records released this year has been very simple- i’ve merely had to choose the five records i listened to repeatedly in order of frequency. ‘teen dream’ sweeps this category- never in my life have i become so addicted to a single record (or band for that matter) as i did for this record. the only parallel i can draw from my own life to this experience is the days when my cure obsession was in its infancy. i’m not entirely sure what to say about this record that would do it justice- the songs are gorgeous, buoyant and ridiculously well-written. everything is utilized to achieve maximum effect- this seems to be something that comes so naturally to these two gifted musicians- victoria legrand has an amazing voice and way with old keyboards that would be kitschy and obnoxious in less capable hands and alex scally is a fantastic guitarist- someone who has the proper amount of respect for and ability to properly utilize reverb, which is not even to mention his way with slide guitar and the simple, inventive lines that he seems to be able to come up with so effortlessly. sheer perfection. ‘real love’ is high up in my list of favourite songs ever- it’s almost like it was put on this earth for me to adore for the rest of my life. i’m pretty sure i’m not alone in feeling this way. best record released in quite a long time. i don’t really care what they do next- near complete immunity. ‘white moon’ on that itunes exclusive ep is certainly pointing in a promising direction.

2. deerhunter- ‘halcyon digest'

ah, the new deerhunter. i don’t know what it is about these guys, but they get me every time. they're a 'love or hate' band and i'm firmly in the former category. i didn’t think much of this album when i first listened to it- i’d thought they’d gone a bit soft and poppy but then upon repeated listens i found that they had done a more admirable job of tempering their pop tendencies with some very bold experimentalism than they had since ‘cryptograms’ (which will probably always be in a league of its own in their body of work which will most likely grow to a pretty generous size). it’s nice to see a pitchfork pet that actually lives up to all of the hype and accolades heaped upon them- most pitchfork pets don’t. i love the last track the best. they are great with their album-closing tracks and also a sublime ep band (check out ‘rainwater cassette exchange’- which also took some time for me to warm up to and goes with this record the way that ‘fluorescent grey’ went with ‘cryptograms’).

3. dum dum girls- ‘i will be’

i was excited for this to come out. i managed to snag one of the hozac records copies (although not one of the 200 gold vinyl ones). i found the ‘catholicked’ 12” at reckless long after it’d gone out of print- something that i’m usually not lucky or savvy enough to accomplish. i saw it in the vinyl stacks three times before i finally bought it. what they’re doing seems so simple that anyone could do it and yet these songs are all so great in their own way. they are definitely mining similar territory to the vivian girls, but i’d say with a less punk-inspired, more tuneful bent. i seem cursed to never get to see them live. they have a way with covers that i would compare to galaxie 500’s (in other words, great). i am also one of those people who got into black tambourine after hearing the dum dum girls’ cover of ‘throw aggi off the bridge.’ really looking forward to what they do next and hopefully finally seeing them play live- i begin to wish that i’d dropped the $45 to see them and beach house open for vampire weekend. it’s kind of fun to do something like that and leave the venue just before the headliner comes on and all of the late-comers start showing up in droves.

4. thee oh sees- ‘warm slime’

i have loved nearly everything jon dwyer has done with thee oh sees so far. i find it effortless to love them in their mellow phase and their rocked-up garagey phase. this album combines pretty much everything i love about music of this ilk- long drawn-out jams, sheer noise and some wonderfully toe-tapping songs. i didn’t think much of this album when i first put it on mostly thinking to myself that ‘help!’ was better until i put ‘help!’ on one day right after listening to ‘warm slime’ and it revealed to me just how tame ‘help!’ sounded in comparison to this. what’s more one of the most satisfying and fantastic live experiences i’ve ever had was thee oh sees at lincoln hall this year. i figured they’d play for 45 minutes max considering how ridiculously fast they were playing. nope. try almost an hour and a half.

5. disappears- ‘lux'

this is what happens when pared-down music is done properly. this album is the textbook definition of finely honed and not in an auto-tune, pro-tools, tons of overdubs kind of way- disappears go for pure economy. wow, does it work here! not a single part, note, riff, tone or hook overstays its welcome. it’s also refreshing to hear that this was done in a purely live setting. can’t wait to hear what they release next. also a fantastic live band that somehow knows how to capture that frenetic energy on record. i’m very bummed to hear that their drummer is no longer with them as he is a crucial element to what makes this sound work so well.

honorable mentions-

normally i only buy about five or so of the new records released in any given year, but this year was a bonanza and there’ve been so many records that i’ve really loved that didn’t quite crack into the top five and these would be a good example of some of those records-

nina nastasia- ‘outlaster’

normally any new nina nastasia record would be a shoe-in for the top five as i love pretty much everything she’s done. this is also probably her all-around strongest record both in the arrangements and the material. ‘wakes’ is a fucking awesome song. yikes. ‘some familiar way’ is pretty amazing as well as some of the lighter songs like ‘cry, cry baby’ and ‘take your time.’ nina’s two-night stint at the hideout last year (which was supposedly recorded for a live release- when’s that one coming out?) was one of the best in my show-going experiences last year (the warlocks two-night stint at the empty bottle would probably be the only other experience that topped it). i also always love it when a record by one of my favourite artists somehow arrives out of nowhere- i didn’t even know this record was coming out until about a week after it was released.

woods- ‘at echo lake’

i didn’t get into woods until this year. i can’t remember what the impetus was for buying ‘songs of shame’- i think my friend mike can take the credit for that- but it motivated us to go see them at lincoln hall earlier this year just before this record came out. in a lot of ways i like this record more than ‘songs of shame’ although stefanie maintains that this is a silly comparison to make (because she thinks that ‘songs of shame’ is untouchable). to me these songs sound a bit more varied as far as instrumentation and mood. fantastic record!

the walkmen- ‘lisbon’

again, normally a shoe-in for the top five as i love the direction that the walkmen have been taking lately. ‘you and me’ was in the top five two years ago and i played (and continue to play) that thing constantly. i like ‘lisbon,’ but to me ‘you and me’ is still my favourite record of theirs. ‘lisbon’ i’d put in third place behind ‘everybody who pretended to like me is gone.’ my main gripe about this record is that it gets off to a bit of a sluggish start and doesn’t really get going until the nearly-perfect ‘blue as your blood’/’stranded’ one-two punch. those two songs are fantastic! ‘blue as your blood’ would’ve been a great lead-off track- the walkmen did open with it when they played at pitchfork last year. the strings on this track are in line with the kinds of emotional colours I’m going for in my own string arrangements. so. good. i also am enjoying this sort of winter-theme that keeps running through the walkmen’s music lately. ‘you and me’ had a distinctly winter/christmastime bent running through it. in keeping with that ‘while I shovel snow’ is one of my favourites on here as well. i hope that the walkmen keep going along these lines for a long time indeed- perhaps they’re entering a phase similar to neil young’s mid-70’s period.

grinderman- ‘grinderman 2'

i didn’t think much of the first grinderman album. it was definitely fun to hear nick cave do stuff that was similar to the birthday party stuff and ‘no pussy blues’ and ‘tell the women’ were great tracks, but then ‘dig, lazarus, dig!’ came out and blew that grinderman album right out of the water. in similar fashion this album has come along and blown ‘dig, lazarus, dig!’ out of the water. i am ceaselessly amazed at how nick cave is somehow able to continue to top himself lyrically as well as musically this late in his career. inspiring to say the least. this album is one that smolders. i also love pants-down shamelessly horny lyrics and this record is practically a graduate course in how no one else can pull this off as well as nick cave. ‘bellringer blues’ is one of the most brilliant tracks i’ve heard in years regardless of who’s done it. warren ellis’ genius is all over this monster of a record as well. great stuff!

superchunk- ‘majesty shredding’

yup, aptly named album. i keep thinking that ‘digging for something’ is a lost gem from the ‘on the mouth’ era. while listening to this record i often have to remind myself that this album just came out. while we didn’t see them at the metro this year, seeing them play at the metro in 2007 was a great experience- they’ve lost not an ounce of their vitality over time. superchunk records don’t exist to reinvent the wheel- they exist to showcase superchunk in their natural, superchunky state- which actually is a unique musical viewpoint in and of itself no matter what anyone says. furthermore who cares what anyone says. this record is the perfect example of this pure superchunk state of which i am speaking. i also never thought they’d make another record, let alone one like this.

the brian jonestown massacre- ‘who killed sgt. pepper’

while i did really enjoy this album it seems to me to be more of a diversion than an indication of a new direction from anton newcombe. while i enjoyed it more than ‘my bloody underground’ (which is still a very cool record) i can’t say i’ve put it on the turntable in a long time. ‘detka! detka! detka!’ is a fun, beautiful and very inspired song as are several other tracks on the record. it got knocked out of the frequently played records rotation very quickly by all of the other amazing stuff coming out this year (there really was a lot). it’s always a pleasure to hear what tangents anton is going off on, but i do sort of hope that he makes some kind of return to that somewhat classic bjm sound (whatever that means) or at least records another record with his fantastic live band. it seems silly to have someone like matt hollywood involved with the group again and not have him play on the records. when we saw them at the metro this year i was also disappointed that they didn’t play a single song from this record as i’ve always loved what they’ve done with the new stuff with that amazing live band that they’ve got going. i was hoping they would kick around ‘detka!’ or ‘our time’ would’ve worked beautifully as well. ‘feel it’ is an old track and i figured it would at least give them an excuse to wow us with a blistering, jammed-out version of that song (which i’ve heard on many a bootleg, but never in person). shit, they didn’t even play ‘yeah yeah’ or ‘someplace else unknown’ (which worked very well live, i have to say) like they did last year.

joanna newsom- ‘have one on me’

we were way late to the game on this one. we fell off of the joanna newsom wagon with ‘y’s’- we heard it wasn’t any good so neither of us either bothered to buy it. by the time this record arrived we had all but forgotten about her. i’d heard that this one was a good record, but didn’t end up buying it until stefanie’s birthday. not sure if it would’ve placed higher had i known about it’s beauty earlier or not, but regardless this is a fantastic record! this is a triple record that somehow manages to retain a sense of being pared-down. these are very complex songs that are handled in a very restrained way- a very curious approach as most songwriters attempting something as dangerous as a triple lp would either go the complete saturation route (i.e. ‘sandinista!’ by the clash, which is actually the only other triple lp that comes to mind) or probably dive straight into the whole self-indulgent route head first. joanna newsom does neither. even tracks that feature more than piano or harp and voice do so in an interesting way- the tracks wind through passages where they wander in and out of a more fleshed-out form. since ‘sandinista!’ is the only other triple lp i’ve ever encountered i’m going to have to say that this record succeeds more as a fully conceived record than ‘sandinista!’ does. newsom’s voice takes on a completely new form here as well. she sounds uncannily like kate bush at multiple points. how could that be a bad thing?! one final note- perfect winter album.

moon duo- ‘escape,’ plus pretty much everything else they put out this year, which is a lot

i scrambled to buy everything that moon duo released as i’ve always had problems scooping up those wooden shjips releases that appear out of nowhere and then are eaten up in a feeding frenzy and then impossible to come by often days after the fact. ‘escape’ was ironically probably my least favourite of their releases- i always thought of it as the counter image of the much better ‘killing time’ ep- which was more restrained and succinct where ‘escape’ was sprawling, droney and quite loud. now that it comes to mind i find it difficult to believe that that’s a bad thing. such is the nature of pretty much everything i’ve heard so far by moon duo. seeing them live was pretty cool this year (not to mention the fact that wooden shjips finally played in chicago a few weeks before) and their holiday single is fantastic (as is the wooden shjips one- impossible not to mention them when speaking of moon duo). i’d listened to this record (and the ‘love on the sea’ 12”, the ‘catch as catch can’ 7”, the ‘bopper’s hat’ split 7” and the ‘killing time’ ep) so many times that i’d completely forgotten that this record had actually come out in 2010- it seems like moon duo has been around for years. could there be a better testament to such a band? stay tuned for the december diary playlist, in which i shall place their cover of the rolling stones song ‘winter’ (which is fucking AMAZING) which was purchased today (along with the wooden shjips christmas release). they can be as repetitive and droney as they want at this point if these are the results.

biggest disappointments-

best coast- ‘crazy for you’

i’m beginning to think that i’m sitting on this lp waiting for it to go out of print so i can sell it on ebay because i don’t listen to it anymore. i bought it based on a review that i read for it in ‘the onion.’ i even listened to all of their songs on their myspace page. i find the lyrics and general lyrical theme to be repetitive, annoying and riddled with seemingly purposely chosen clichés. it’s even the kind of subject matter i like in songs, but done in such a hacky, tossed-off way. don’t want to ‘dress up’ your lyrics about yearning in a poetic way like all those losers do? guess what, yearning is poetic (read any lovelorn poem about longing or yearning written since the fucking middle ages for evidence) so you might as well make a contribution if that’s what you’re feeling. the music is pretty good most of the time, but it’s mining the same territory that so many other bands are drawing from and most of them in a way that is better, more inventive and varied than this (the dum dum girls record mentioned earlier is a good example or even the vivian girls’ album ‘everything goes wrong’ from last year). i’m beginning to think that this is a band that’s best taken in small doses and the explanation for their ridiculous hype is the fact that all of their previous releases were 7”es. this happens sometimes.

the black angels- ‘phosphene dream’

i can’t put this in with my favourites out of sheer frustration. while the majority of this record is so great there are some gripes about the way that it was released as well as one other bone of great contention for me- the single ‘telephone.’ two minutes of music by one of my favourite bands has never caused me as much rage as that song does- it’s the kind of hacky, sloppy, lazy, pandering crap that i’d expect from so many other bands, but never in a million years from the band that created something as sprawling, inspired and brilliant as ‘directions to see a ghost’- which is a masterpiece of modern-day psychedelic drone music. anyone who claims it’s not an overt and obvious grab at mainstream stardom is full of shit. playing pure, passionate psychedelic music is not going to endear you to the mainstream these days, but one of the reasons that the best modern-day psych bands are such treasures is that they are so passionate and dedicated that this is a sacrifice they are willing to make for the sake of doing something new with a type of music that has very deep roots and endless potential for expansion. i can’t help but feel like this is the sound of the black angels taking all of the brilliant work that they have done in the past and diluting it to the point where they are using up all of their previously built-up cache. there’s bone of contention number one. bone of contention number two is the issue of the six bonus tracks offered with different versions of the digital album through separate digital outlets. this is probably the result of record company meddling as is a lot of the previous griping. several of the six tracks outshine several of the tracks that made the final album that had more of a mainstream bent. ‘my boat is sinking’ is a track that hints at an entirely new direction that the black angels could take- why the fuck isn’t it on the fucking album? even if they had put it as the last track the album would’ve still clocked in at under 45 minutes and it wouldn’t’ve just ground to a halt after ‘the sniper’ (which is also a great track). as it is the album is very lean with a running time of 35 minutes. the single lp (which i thought was a double lp with some bonus material) cost me $23. shame, shame, shame record company- you’ve left a really bad taste in my mouth under the guise of one of my favourite modern-day psych bands. there are times where i’m endlessly frustrated with the fact that the warlocks will probably never get the attention and popularity that they are due, but then there are times like these where it makes me not want them to get pulled into this kind of record-company-marshalled mainstream corralling and corruption of a great band and then it makes me admire the dogged determination and purity of spirit that permeates a band like the warlocks, because this is an example of what happens when a psych band goes for the mainstream. all of that said as a whole i enjoy ‘phosphene dream’ and do find that this pared-down setup works for a majority of the songs and the album has a very nice flow (until you get to ‘telephone’) with only a few crassly pandering tracks. this is why the fans of the band banded together to gather the six bonus tracks and sent out links to downloads of all of them. illegal, yes, but consider it a lesson for the record companies- sometimes they leave us no choice but to steal it rather than willingly be fleeced. given all of the gripes about mainstream pandering the band IS mining new territory on this album- which is incredibly admirable as a band in a similar position to them probably would’ve been able and willing to coast on carbon copies of albums as great as ‘directions to see a ghost’ or ‘passover.’ i HIGHLY recommend that you track down the six bonus tracks as they are an essential companion to this album.

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