BEST ALBUMS OF 2010: 5-1

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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

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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

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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.

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BEST SONGS OF 2010: 5-1

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5. “Conversation 16” by The National

This was the song that finally got me.  I somehow didn’t “get it” for a while with The National.  I was like so many other lost souls.  I thought they were boring, or dull, or that every song sounded the same.  I appreciated the loud songs or the good piano songs, but I didn’t really understand.  And then the creepy chill of “Conversation 16” knocked me right over.  The warbling bass line and the pinpoint drums finally made sense.

But what I ultimately realized were the details.  The organic singing, the reeds playing, the haunting “ooo” behind the chorus, the emotive lyrics, the lightly plucked background guitar.  It took me long enough, but everything worked and that made every other National song work.  If you are how I was, I beg you to try this song.  It might change everything.

4. “Suburban War” by Arcade Fire

“Suburban War” is the most complete standalone song from The Suburbs and that’s why it lands so high.  Unlike the rest of the album, the mood and feeling of this song are retained in any setting, not just in its proper place.  The obvious draw is the plucked guitar that covers the majority of the song, but everything else leaves you holding on for more.

I personally love the little drum fill at the very start of the song, the sweeping strings, and the excellent harmonies.  But the song becomes so much more when it finally takes off, with thunderous drumming, desperate wails and a massive volume increase.  This gives the track real character, and leaves it as a very holistic composition.  This is the ultimate turning point on The Suburbs and the true highlight on a brilliant record.

3. “What You Know” by Two Door Cinema Club

I just can’t avoid this song or this band.  It defies simple dance rock by adding strong emotional depth.  While it starts with a “typical” guitar and drum figure, that high ringing guitar that enters at the 14-second mark changes everything.  Instead of just pushing with a grungy guitar and bass, the ringing guitar cries out with real strength and power.  It seems overkill, but it really makes the song.

But is one guitar enough to make it the third best track of the year?  It does when piled above an infectious beat, a great breakdown halfway through and enthusiastic singing.  Really, Tourist History does very little wrong, and this is the ultimate high point, with the whole track just popping out beyond almost all others this year.  Dance to it, feel sad about it, enjoy the whole thing.  It’s amazing.

 

2. “Desire Lines” by Deerhunter

I’m not the world’s biggest Deerhunter fan.  I don’t really think Halcyon Digest is the pure masterpiece that so many others claim.  I don’t know that I could seriously sit through one of their albums more than once.  They’ve awfully experimental and dense – which isn’t a bad thing, it just doesn’t fit my tastes all the time.  Of course, they’ve managed to make two insanely huge exceptions in singles.  The first was “Nothing Ever Happened,” a purely brilliant song and fifth best of the last decade.  The second is this song.

I can’t really pinpoint why I love the song so much, but it’s crucial to note what a late entry this track was.  I hadn’t listened to any of the new Deerhunter record until Christmas, and somehow didn’t get all the way to this track.  Oh boy was I missing out.  There are such haunting and genuinely bothersome voices.  There is a real sense of escape, but you can’t tell if that’s a good thing.  The chorus is centered around the phrasing “Walking free, come with me / Far away, every day,” which would seem nice enough, but a very subtle “whoa-oh” follows after every three syllables.  It’s mildly liberating and terrifying.

But the true release is in the final half of the song, a lengthy guitar solo and instrumental breakdown, almost fullfilling the initial promise of freedom.  The production is stellar, the pacing perfect, and it just sticks with you the whole time.  I cannot say enough about this song, but it does fall short of the overall top status.

1. “Don’t Do It” by Sharon Van Etten

Here we are at the best song of the year.  I was introduced to Sharon Van Etten through the All Songs Considered NPR Podcast (an excellent way to find new music) and completely blown away by her voice.  Van Etten sounds confident, but not conceited, and emotional without being whiny.  She strikes one of the most perfect vocal balances in current music, and her warmth just draws you in.

From here, the song sweeps you away.  Sparse composition creates a strong backbone for the singing to work around.  It’s all about mood in the instrumentals, and they develop a very strong one.  Light and effective drumming keeps a consistent pace while gradually adding cymbals as the song builds.

The subject matter also pushes the song beyond a simple vocal reflection.  “Don’t Do It” is effectively about suicide, with the singer pleading with the afflicted to not take their own life.  It is sobering, yet ultimately optimistic treatment of such a difficult topic.  Particularly poignant is one of the first lines, “Want to take you outside / Want to show you the sky to remind you why you shouldn’t.”  The song drops you right into the situation, and begs you to interact.

“Don’t Do It” isn’t a pure pop piece like 2008’s “A-Punk”, it’s not baroque pop like 2009’s “While You Wait for the Others” and doesn’t have the tone of the decade-best “All My Friends,” but it stands tall with these songs.  The reflective song and powerful voice push “Don’t Do It” into such elite company, and deep into your mind for months and maybe years to come.  Give it a listen, and enjoy the best fruit of such a good year.

Review: Tourist History by Two Door Cinema Club

Rating: 9.5/10

I’m a bit late on reviewing this one.  I’ve been listening to Tourist History since September, so I hope that at least a few of you got some exposure to this Irish band.  The brilliant blog We All Want Someone to Shout For had covered these guys for a while and that writing ultimately pushed me to listen to the band.

Tourist History is rough to critically review because it doesn’t feel particularly different or innovative.  But what makes it stand out is effort, honesty and the most infectious music I’ve heard since Weezer’s Blue Album.

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Song Roundup 8: Club Music–Indie Mix

Let’s not even talk about the massive gap in posts this time.  Maybe later.

I hate club music.  I try not to hate much music, but club music just represents some of my least favorite parts of sound and sonic mentality.  Club music represents sweaty parties full of people drinking to be drunk and dancing only for the sexuality.  I appreciate fun, but this style of music turns heavy bass into a disgusting sensation, rather than an invigorating one.  So on this latest Song Roundup, I want to look at indie music that would make me more comfortable at that next awful party (if only for a few minutes).

There weren’t truly limits on this list, but I did purposefully avoid “indie” techno, as Daft Punk and Justice are essentially definitive dance music.  I can hope that they’re a given for this type of list.

“Idioteque” by Radiohead

Sometimes they’re guitar gods, other times they fiddle with electronics.  Radiohead is a proven musical powerhouse that can touch many genres.  “Idioteque” is one of the most singular songs in their catalog.  That’s quite an accomplishment, but it goes further, making disaster sound exhilarating.  The terrifying sound of primordial computer composition blends perfectly with the rest of the band.  I always get chills, but the rhythm keeps me from a statuesque state.

“Daft Punk is Playing at My House” by LCD Soundsystem

Most LCD songs would be fair game here, but “Daft Punk” is one of the group’s most muscular efforts.  The song really pops with good speakers or headphones and deserves to be played loud.  I’m personally very fond of the version on the London Sessions release, but whatever rendition you get should do the trick.

“Whoo! Alright – Yeah… Uh Huh.” by The Rapture

Dance punk died too quickly in the early 2000s.  That is to say, I wasn’t really aware of it until it was already dead.  But we do have artifacts like this to keep us happy.  The tastefully complex variation on a simple disco drum is the real foundation of this song.  It keeps everything moving at a high tempo and lets the funky guitars work their magic above the rhythm.  But what pushes this over the edge and into greatness is that last bit of lyrical breakdown at the 2:34 mark – almost makes even me want to dance.

“I Can Talk” by Two Door Cinema Club

Two Door Cinema Club has been my guilty-pleasure band-of-choice ever since I first heard them.  Their debut record (Tourist History) is nothing innovative, but it’s simply brimming with energy.  “I Can Talk” is amongst the highlights.  The song has a blistering guitar attack, fun vocals and a massive disco drum/bass pattern filling all the space.  Embrace this Irish band – I think they’re in for big things.

“Dancing Choose” by TV on the Radio

I normally associate TVotR as dense, thinking music.  But at least a few tracks off their most recent record have worked to break my mental stereotype.  Dear Science has some heavy soul power, and tons of personality, and “Dancing Choose” highlights all of that.  Impassioned vocals blend with a propulsive tempo and wild horns to make the art-centric TVotR seem loose and fun.

“Heads Will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Many have discussed this before, but it’s always shocking to listen to YYYs change from a raw garage band to something more like glam rock or disco rock.  In particular, singer Karen O has removed some of that punk edge and suddenly sounds like a powerful diva.  “Heads Will Roll” is the most powerful example of this change, and makes a strong case for why we should embrace the “new” YYYs.  They do this kind of music the right way.