BEST ALBUMS OF 2010: 5-1

image

Here we go…

05. Tourist History by Two Door Cinema Club

That’s right – it’s time to gush even more about the most addictive record of 2010.  I’ve already discussed the ultra-strong songs, the youthful exuberance and the driving rhythms.  What else could be said?  If you’re not on board yet, I’d suggest trying the superb singles “What You Know” and “Something Good Can Work.”  Now consider that this is their debut album and that the band is very young.  Many “mature” artists can’t make something so polished and cohesive.

For some, this pick will seem silly and void of real value.  In a way that argument is partially true.  The songs deal in very basic romantic emotion and the band doesn’t really break new ground.  Yet after making countless versions of my Best Albums list, I couldn’t put them anywhere else.  Sometimes music is just good and simply enjoyableTourist History is that for me and endlessly on repeat.

04. This is Happening by LCD Soundsystem

It’s hard to follow up on a record that contained the greatest song of the 2000s.  James Murphy doesn’t even bother really – This is Happening stands tall without anything like “All My Friends.”  But it’s better that way.  Instead of trying to recapture that brilliance, he keeps moving forward, introducing more sounds, better lyrics, better singing and powerful personal discussion across a full album.

What makes this record so amazing is how each song packs a punch.  Opener “Dance Yrself Clean” hits you upside the head when the drums kick in.  “Drunk Girls” is a sustained song-long rush.  “One Touch” has a wonderful groove.  “All I Want” is the saddest tune ever done by LCD and you feel for Murphy.  “I Can Change” feels naked and exposed.  “Pow Pow” is brilliant fun.  They all have something, and that’s why I can’t get away from this record.  It is personal to LCD Soundsystem, yet you can honestly sympathize and that connection is genuinely moving.

03. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

Different versions of this list have The Suburbs all over the place, but I can’t really justify the record outside the top three.  Quite simply this is one of the most complete albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.  No song, no sound feels out of place in the grand scheme of things.  Win Butler and company have built on the sonic foundations of Neon Bible and done something stunning.  Much like Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, the beauty offered here is something to marvel at.

Of course the 2,000 pound gorilla in the room still stands: this is no Funeral.  It lacks the true hard-hitters like “Rebellion (Lies)” or the “Neighborhood” tracks.  But that doesn’t matter.  It isn’t Funeral and that’s the point.  Arcade Fire have moved in a new direction and gained a great deal of artistic merit in doing so.  This is a triumphant release by a rising super-band and deserves the praise it has been dealt.  The Suburbs is a fantastic record and you need to hear it.

02. Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene

File:Forgiveness Rock Record.jpg

Grandiose has lost so much value as a phrase in music.  Everybody talks about how big a sound is, often citing arena acts that reach the biggest audiences.  But here, the sheer effort and enthusiasm of such a large group pushes Forgiveness Rock Record into an overwhelming place.  The sounds are layered from everywhere and the song styles are varied.  The huge build in “Chase Scene” is insane.  “Art House Director” is upbeat and exciting.  The productions values are phenomenal and the music is clear.

But you know what?  It doesn’t matter how big and exciting this is – the music itself is phenomenal.  I love the strong drums, the exciting guitars, the boisterous strings and the blaring horns.  It all blends to a tremendous point that few records can achieve: the songs are excellent standalone and the album is even better as a whole.  Yes, it’s just as good as You Forgot it People.  And that’s saying something.

01. High Violet by The National

File:Highviolet.jpg

Here we are with the best record of 2010.  Just everything about it works.  There is a real confidence in the band, exploring emotional realms and building a real sense of atmosphere.  Dark drums, tight bass and simmering guitars make every song consistent.  And that really matters here – there is no song worth skipping because they all bring so much to the table.  The album supports itself, making even the super high points (“Conversation 16” and “Lemonworld”) add to a much bigger whole.

So what makes this the clear top record of 2010?  For me it’s the details.  Matt Berninger is at his haunting best with vocals.  The lyrics are somber yet complex and draw you further into each piece.  The strings in many songs are just enough to push the whole thing over the edge.

Yes, High Violet is that good.  It is memorable, powerful and will convert you to following The National.  Feel the reward and explore the brilliance.

Advertisements

BEST SONGS OF 2010: 20-6

image

20. “Go Do” by Jonsi

Much like the best Sigur Ros songs, this track just fills the brain with a sense of wonder.  It simply feels like flying above a landscape and viewing the whole beautiful world.  The song is both pretty and epic – those thudding drums are amazing, and the voice combines perfectly with flutes and strings to push forward and into the mind.

19. “Compliments” by Band of Horses

When I first heard this, I didn’t realize it was Band of Horses – the voices and guitars were slightly different.  But after 20 listens, it was clear that this was a new height for the band.  Strong, exploratory lyrics and a slightly swung meter make this song stick.  Of course, without those great guitars, this wouldn’t be on the list.  This song stands with even “The Funeral” in their catalog.

18. “F*** You” by Cee Lo Green

Delightful profanity is always fun, but this time it’s universal.  “F*** You” was everywhere last year, and with good reason.  The song itself is a pitch-perfect blend of 1960s style and modern production.  It’s a great cousin to “Hey Ya” and seems to have just as much air time.  What puts it over the edge is Cee Lo Green, with excellent singing and playful wit (“Just thought you should know n*****”).

17. “Everlasting Light” by The Black Keys

This is tight.  Blues rock was supposed to be dead unless it was done by Jack White.  Instead, these guys out of Akron lay down some of the most muscular, passionate music in years.  The song is very simple, but it just works.  A very focused guitar, a straightforward drum and a great singer make this one of the best songs of the year.  Be sure to see these guys live too – they rock.

16. “Cousins” by Vampire Weekend

It’s unlikely that the band will ever capture the pop perfection of “A-Punk” but this song certainly taps a similar vein of brilliance.  Psychotic guitars drive the song, and it always feels just on the edge of collapse.  Instead, they push the pace forward, making this wild track one of the most satisfying in their short career.  It certainly helps that the final-lap close is an exceptional release.

15. “Let it Sway” by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

This is pure pop near its best.  Light jangling guitars, catchy melodies, easy-to-hear lyrics and a reasonable song structure are all crucial.  But the most important parts are the intro and outro.  That opening guitar salvo is very welcoming and danceable, and the closing breakdown has some excellent handclaps.  Fabulous track.

14. “Something Good Can Work” by Two Door Cinema Club

These Irish guys can summon up some infectious music.  Focused and consistent drumming help push the piece forward while the vocalist enthusiastically explores a potential relationship start.  Of course, the content doesn’t really matter so much here.  Those brilliant gutiars and synths make this one of the most upbeat tracks all year and works great on repeat.

13. “Lemonworld” by The National

One of the most complex and emotionally weighty songs on this list.  It’s certainly The National, but it’s better than most of their works.  Lyrically, this is a powerful reflection on the sorrows of modern life and escapism, and it blends perfectly with Matt Berninger’s baritone.  The straining strings and monolithic drums only help to give the song a distinctive and touching feel.

12. “Written in Reverse” by Spoon

Spoon is at their best when stripped down and rocking out.  “Written in Reverse” is just that type of song, and the true best off the underrated Transference.  Britt Daniels works the vocals with his typically confident style, the piano keys get beaten to lovely effect, and the guitar is simply attacked.  This has quickly joined the status of classic Spoon songs, and rightfully so.

11. “All of the Lights” by Kanye West

The most exciting (and exhausting) song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is also the best.  Rihanna doesn’t suck, Kanye is sharp, and the horns are awesome.  Of course, it’s the speed and percussion that matter here.  It feels like going downhill, especially in that chorus.  And, oh that chorus.  Almost makes you want to buy some new light bulbs.

10. “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae

Janelle Monae had one of the most successful breakouts in music this year.  She managed to juggle an appearance of part-diva, part-artist, and all-round entertainer.  “Tightrope” is her brightest point in what is practically a supernova of a debut.  She sings like Aretha, has artistic integrity, and had a phenomenal backing band.  If you can somehow avoid the power of “Tightrope” you’re not human.  This is what happens when R&B is truly great.

09. “I Don’t Believe You” by The Thermals

There isn’t a particularly strong reason for why this song is so good.  It might be the pop-punk precision.  In only three minutes, The Thermals display great presence and personality.  Maybe it’s the guitar.  They’re exceptionally tight, offering a relentless melodic background.  Or maybe it’s those vocals, slightly strained and generally angry.  Or maybe it’s all of it at once.  Punk is fun, but when it’s refined it is great.

08. “All I Want” by LCD Soundsystem

This is the most emotional song on This is Happening, and also the best.  James Murphy sounds at the brink of pure breakdown throughout the song, and you can’t help but share his pain when he describes a breakup, noting “It’s too late to make it [the relationship] strong.”  Yes, the musicianship is all there, but the sad, pathetic cries push this to a different plane of song.  Murphy is human, and you cry with him as he wails “Take me home.”

07. “Chase Scene” by Broken Social Scene

Right from the start, it’s clear you’re in for something wild.  That strange guitar strum is pretty cool, and it quickly develops into an interesting multi-vocalist effort.  Of course, it hits hardest when heavier drums start to pick up.  And from there, it sounds like beautiful chaos.  Massive, unrelenting horns and strings just build, growing to a point of explosion.  Thankfully, the band gives us that release, with one final epic chord.  It’s tiring to listen to, but insanely awesome.

06. “I Want the World to Stop” by Belle & Sebastian

Such a beautiful, delicate song.  It exists in real fragility for so much of its first few half, feeling very dependent on itself.  Without those vocals, the keyboards or lightly plucking guitars, it would just fall apart into nothingness.  But then, strings and horns pick up and give the structure real meat.  Everything picks up, and the gorgeously catchy piece becomes powerful and infectious.  But the one constant, and the clincher, is the drumming.  Everything feels so unified, and this is the center point.  It’s a shame it took me so long to find this band – they’re amazing.

Canada Day 2010 – An Appreciation of Modern Canadian Music

Happy Canada Day to the folks up north!  In honor of this holiday, let’s take a look at some of my favorite Canadian music.

Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” by Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire is simply a brilliant group, and they’ve managed to only build their great reputation in recent years.  While we all look forward to Suburbs (their upcoming album), it’s always great to take a look back at some of their past work.  While all the “Neighborhood” songs are great, #3 stands out as both lout and stark.  It has a great beat but still manages to sound foreign after all these years.  It’s a great release from our northern neighbors, a wonderful treat from their musical culture.

Shine a Light” by Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade has become a more acquired taste with each new album, leaving Apologies to the Queen Mary as both their best and most accessible work.  But here is perhaps the most melodic and enjoyable song from the band.  Yes, there are these connections to Modest Mouse, but this is a real Canadian indie classic.  A driving rhythm, catchy guitars and synth work all add up to an awesome song.

Chase Scene” by Broken Social Scene

The newest BSS album (this year’s Forgiveness Rock Record) strikes a strange balance.  It is at once a great collection of stand-alone songs and a phenomenal suite of music that works together.  Using that first characteristic, “Chase Scene” stands as one of the most epic pieces of music in the past few years.  The whole thing just grows, adding guitars, strings, drums, voices, bigger-and-deeper drums, powerful striking strings, and then those horns.  Oh man the horns.  When the whole thing reaches a simultaneous end and climax that high note of the brass is just amazing.  I hope these awesome Canadians keep making music for a long time.

Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young

And then something a bit different, for those who may have forgotten that Canada produced great music before the time of indie rock.  Neil Young has forged an epic reputation for great guitar work, ranging from blues-rock to folk.  “Cinnamon Girl” finds Young in a harder rock setting, working his vocals and guitar along the brilliant groove.  Beyond just being a fun track to hear, this song makes a regular appearance for me in various road trip playlists.

Moral of the story here?  Go listen to more Canadian music!  Well, until the 4th of July, anyway.  A USA-based post to come on Sunday.