BEST ALBUMS OF 2010: 30-16

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30. My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky by Swans

I’m not overly familiar with Swans, but this record was the kind of brooding post-rock I’ve come to enjoy after trying out Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky.  A very enjoyable record with an amazing sense of mood.

29. Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus has been praised by so many, but I often find their music difficult.  It’s a strange mesh of jazz, electronica brought together by the tight rhythm.  Yet instead of being confusing, the nearly-alien effort is mesmerizing and worth many repeat lessons.

28. Innerspeaker by Tame Impala

Extremely washed-out psychedelic rock seems nice enough, but the production level brings this to a real high point.  It’s a lot of fun to just sit back and play this really loud and let the Lennon-esque voice and swirling guitars hit the ears.

27. Expo 86 by Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade have never returned to the heights of their debut record, but each subsequent release has still been worth hearing.  The vocals are still strong, the guitars still fun and the songs still infectious.  I advise trying to think of this apart from Apologies – it stands better alone.

26. Infinite Arms by Band of Horses

This record is confusing, with a three song super start and a very light country-rock remainder.  Of course, those top three songs are indispensible.  Taken separately the rest of it is also quite enjoyable, but it’s very different.  It will grow on you, so come in with open ears.

25. The Brutalist Bricks by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

It’s easy to push aside “typical Ted Leo” as something relatively uninteresting, but this record is just as great as its predecessors.  Super-tight instrumentation, overwhelming hooks and thought-provoking lyrics all add up to make this one of the best releases this year.

24. 99 Songs of Revolution by Streetlight Manifesto

I’m biased as a trumpet player in picking a ska record.  Yet I’d argue that this stands strong even aside from my passions.  The horns are rock solid and the interpretation of each song on the record (they’re all covers) is sometimes shocking and always fun.  Get up and move to this stuff.

23. Champ by Tokyo Police Club

Pure pop infection comes out of these guys.  The singing is strong and emotive enough to keep you engaged while the guitar work pushes it over the edge.  It’s hard to hear these songs without getting them caught in your head for weeks.  And I dare you to find “Bambi” weak.

22. Go by Jonsi

That voice.  Oh man that voice.  Much like on the proper Sigur Ros releases, Jonsi steals the show with his performance.  Top that off with dense sound and an exceptional rhythm section, and you realize what a great individual songwriter and musician Jonsi is.

21. Together by The New Pornographers

After a slight misstep in Challengers, the New Pornos come back with a wonderful record.  While the vocal prowess never went away, the songwriting wasn’t quite there on the last release.  This time it’s all back.  Strong melodies, and some stunning standout songs (“Crash Years” and “Your Hands” especially) make this a record to own.

20. The Monitor by Titus Andronicus

Here we can watch punk rock evolving into something much more.  Long compositions and weighty subjects are combined with the work ethic of a punk group to make a spectacular release.  The glorious guitars, a great lo-fi feel and raw singing all sound amazing, and make this one of the best releases of the year.

19. Romance is Boring by Los Campisenos

I love me some pure pop, and this year has been full of it.  Los Campisenos have excellent energy, and lovely singing, both elements that are basically prerequisites for this kind of music.  But what really makes the record stand out are the crafty musical turns.  You’re always left breathless, wondering where they’ll go next.

18. Total Life Forever by Foals

This album has soured over time for me, but its standing speaks to how strong the record actually is.  It’s a massive change from their last record, turning from a sort of chaos to something closer to The Bends.  Ringing guitars, complex song structure and engaging musicianship make Foals a respectable band with a very good record.

17. Let it Sway by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

More pure pop manages to show up on this list.  This manages to edge out Los Campisenos by being more addictive.  Particularly, super-single “Sink/Let it Sway” is brilliant with exceptional guitars and propulsive drumming.  Thankfully that isn’t the only good song on the record.  That kind of melodic excellence and light brilliance is carried in every track.

16. Best Coast by Best Coast

Lo-fi isn’t an insult here.  Instead it describes the warmth and accessibility of this record.  The strong lead vocal is clearly the focus of most tracks, but everything else manages to make every thing seem whole.  In particular, I can’t get away from the excellent low tones of the guitar and underlying bass.  It all adds up to a fun indie experience that is near the best of 2010.

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BEST SONGS OF 2010: 40-21

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This is Part 1 of a 3-part retrospective on songs in the year 2010.  This list is semi-limited to only three songs per artist, but the songs needn’t be singles.  Instead, it’s just the 40 songs that most struck me as being the best of the year.  Enjoy! 

40. “Derezzed” by Daft Punk

As a whole, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack was pretty miserable.  It sounded just like a soundtrack and nothing like Daft Punk.  This was the most notable exception, and it was amazing.  I want more of this.

39. “Turns Me On” by Big Boi

Big Boi managed to remind everybody that Outkast did, in fact, have two very worthy members.  His solo record was full of A+ moments, but this was the highlight for me.  Slightly seductive music and pitch perfect delivery from Big Boi.  He’s probably the best pure rapper right now.

38. “And the World Laughs With You” by Flying Lotus (feat. Thom Yorke)

This was the first song I’d heard from Flying Lotus, and it convinced me to get the whole record.  It’s all impressive, but this is the best of the set.  The song is haunting and alive despite its electronic nature.  Curiously Yorke isn’t the highlight – he gets distorted to wonderful effect.

37. “Solitude is Bliss” by Tame Impala

Psychedelic rock with a modern twist.  The production quality is great, but the hazy feel and singing are excellent.  Add to it some excellent guitars, and this is like a “clean” version of a Hendrix/John Lennon-hybrid.  It’s pretty trippy and lots of fun.

36. “Palm Road” by Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade have managed to disappoint with every release since their debut record.  However, it’s only because the band hasn’t hit the same heights as its first.  Taken separately, “Palm Road” is a tight rock song with strong vocals and tight rhythm.

35. “Spanish Sahara” by Foals

I believe this track has the best build of any song this side of “Fake Plastic Trees.”  The emotion is raw and powerful, and when you finally hit the loud part it’s not hard to feel shock.  Sometimes the song feels too long, but it’s a real keeper.

34. “Even Heroes Have to Die” by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

The distinctive Ted Leo voice is there, and so is the infectiousness.  The song really pops out, reflecting the great energy and creativity of its creators.  Occasional breakdowns make this song exceptionally entertaining and enjoyable.

33. “Hell” by Streetlight Manifesto

It’s a cover (originally by the Squirrel Nut Zippers) but it is amazing.  Streetlight Manifesto have some of the best horn players in music (not just ska) and they’re in a great state here.  This has a breakneck pace and the spelling of “Damnation” is spectacular.

32. “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Arcade Fire

Blondie is an obvious inspiration (“Heart of Glass” much?) but that’s alright.  The song is still enjoyable, even in this version.  The strong lyrical continuity throughout The Suburbs makes this track even more valuable.  Strong emotions push this into “must listen” category.

31. “Romance is Boring” by Los Campisanos

It’s all about strong melody here.  Particularly, the main refrain is spectacular, absolutely popping out.  Tight guitars, lovely singing and great lyrics.  It also helps that the slight introductory section (same part as that between chorus and verse) is a strangely arresting guitar line.

30. “Green Eyes” by Wavves

I had managed to avoid the hype and subsequent blowout from the first Wavves release.  But here, I heard the song independently, and it was excellent indie.  The guitars are great, the vocals are raw and the melody fantastic.

29. “Vesuvius” by Sufjan Stevens

The newest Sufjan record is very difficult, and I personally haven’t found that much to like from it.  However, the clear highlight is the very moving “Vesuvius,” a song that finds Sufjan analyzing himself and the world around him.

28. “Bambi” by Tokyo Police Club

Crazy electronics and a very unified rhythm result in a standout track that is miles above the rest of the record.  “Bambi” isn’t entirely unique, but it is different enough from the rest of Tokyo Police Club’s output that the effect is great.

27. “Crash Years” by The New Pornographers

“Crash Years” is done in the typical New Pornographers style – strong vocals, strong harmonies, and big sound.  This makes it unspectacular in their catalog, but quickly qualifies it as one of the best of 2010. It’s sugary sweet and pure fun.

26. “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire

The Suburbs is difficult to pick singular songs out of because everything blends together well to make a strong whole record.  “We Used to Wait” is one of the singular pieces thanks to a mesmerizing piano line and impassioned vocals.

25. “Power” by Kanye West

Kanye was kind of a big deal in 2010, and this was the first single for all of it.  “Power” shows the rapper near the height of his current abilities, building insane layers of booming rhythm and tight spoken delivery to create a sound of desperation behind his egotism.  It’s human, but that’s good.

24. “Colours” by Grouplove

The main draw of this song is the development.  It starts as a quiet reflection, but quickly grows louder, eventually ending in a freakout before one of the final refrains.  It’s all about the strained singer and exceptional guitars.

23. “Pow Pow” by LCD Soundsystem

Do you remember “Losing My Edge?”  This is like a new version, but directed at all of society, rather than just hipsters.  It all feels like Talking Heads but with the classical LCD touches.  What keeps you coming back is the dry humor.  “You’re no Bruce Valance” indeed.

22. “Boyfriend” by Best Coast

Lovely lo-fi pop and emotional vocals.  These concepts don’t necessarily make a song great, but the delivery is spot-on.  “Boyfriend” is great when turned loud and played driving down the highway.  Keep it on all your traveling playlists.

21. “To Old Friends and New” by Titus Andronicus

This is punk rock slowed down, distilled, and with a piano attached.  It’s a good thing, and the addition of a female singer makes the raw back-and-forth even more effective.  This may not be the easiest way into The Monitor but it’s certainly the best one.

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.