Sunday, December 26, 2010

IMHO: The Top 20 Records of 2010 (Part Two)

And now for the ten best records of 2010 (at least according to me...)

More varied in style and sound than their debut but without any loss of their pop sheen, the boys moved out of indie darling status. Channeling parts of Paul Simon, tribal African sounds and pop hooks out of the sixties, Vampire Weekend established their cred as a creative force. Whether it was the urgency of "Cousins" or the straight forward pop of "Giving Up The Gun" or the laid back bass line that anchors "Run", the record is a constant surprise from track to track. A record that was expected and yet unexpected at the same time.

Early in the year I predicted this would be a record of the year candidate and I wasn't far off. Pastoral and easy going in it's execution, Album Leaf made a record for lazy days of pondering the past and the future. "We Are", a rare vocal track, epitomizes the quiet and refined nature of the songs. In many ways this record is what THE BEAT BAND used to do at their height and is welcome addition to records I will be enjoying long after the year is over.

Like The Album Leaf, this UK duo made a record that is so unusual in its use of small sounds that build to larger themes. "Knut" is probably the single best song I heard all year and it was on that alone I bought the record. The way it crescendos using only a four line refrain is breathtaking. "Tightrope" is a achingly beautiful ode to a lost love which one presumes is found on the acoustic hush of "Solstice". In an odd way it's an album that celebrates love in all its forms.

A welcome return from one of my favorite dance bands. More song structured than their early work and yet maintains all the madness of the dance floor. "Scribble" takes drum 'n' bass into the mainstream while "Diamond Jigsaw" is the song New Order was trying to write for the past ten years. What could have been a throw away by a no longer relevant band in a no longer relevant genre is a tour de force of all that is good about techno/electronic/dance music. And we all need something to dance to every once and awhile.

If Ra Ra Riot had not given up the punk edge they would sound a lot like this. Ramshackle and urgent, these Scots make pop music that demands you pay attention. You can almost hear the wheels coming off on the cracking "Good Morning" and "Smash Hits". I cannot wait to see what they come up with next and if it will be as good as this debut.

Who would have thought that a group of Spaniards would make a record with barely intelligible singing and songs that are part dance, part rock. part ambient work so well? A study in the power of collaborative sounds, "Subiza" soars and flies through a collection of synths and beats that are unlike anything I have heard. To compare them to anyone does not do them justice. In any other year this may have been the album of the year on the strength of it's sonically adventurous nature. A breathtaking work not to be missed.

Band of Horses have been kicking around for some time now quietly tweaking their roots rock formula waiting to grow into their place as a premier American band. Although "Infinite Arms" didn't make them household names, it did finally match the lyrical and musical beauty many of us saw glimpses of on their last record. "Laredo"is a swinging tune that anchors the first part of the record along with the bar blues of "Compliments." The record's strength really comes from the quieter songs like the starry night gaze of "Infinite Arms" and the after supper sitting on the porch idyllic "Evening Kitchen" which both evoke times long gone. The closer, the epic "Bartles & James", is a slow building rock song reminiscent of THE JAYHAWKS at their best. It's a record of constantly changing sounds and depth not seen in most modern music.

The next "greatest-band-on-earth" hit the big time with their third album. At first the record is not as dark as the first two until you really dig into the lyrical exploration of the death of the modern dream. A cry for help from the artist class as it is swallowed up by commercial consumption, "The Suburbs" is a wide ranging critique on who we are and what we really want out of life. Musically the record builds on the sound the Canadian collective has created for itself. Their is a punk rock edge to "Month of May" juxtaposed with the 80's techno pop of "The Sprawl". A statement record by a statement making band that will be viewed as the moment Arcade Fire took on the big boys of rock and roll.

I have no excuse for not naming "The Midnight Organ Fight" the record of the year last time around. (Seriously, Coldplay...what was I thinking?) and there is a fair amount of certainty in me that I may regret not giving this record top billing this year. There is no doubt that three records in, Scott Hutchinson has transcended into a troubadour poet who can now write beyond his own emotional scope. Where "Fight" was a deeply personal record, TWOMD is a more globally emotional record. From the opening fuzzy guitars of "Things" to the stomp of "Nothing Like You", the Frabbits and the leader are now writing songs to be sung by the masses. My first impression was that the band was trying hard to expand sonically on this record which is most evident on tracks like "The Loneliness and The Scream" and the epic "The Wrestle". "Mixed Drinks" is the sound of a band losing itself in new sounds and finding their voice at the same time. Now if they could just release a record a year they would eventually gain the top spot.

This really should be a 1 and 1a sort of thing (especially since I am writing this wearing a Frightened Rabbit shirt.) The National, however, get the nod mostly due to the fact that I simply could not stop listening to this album the whole year. Opening with the killer "Terrible Love" and moving through the political paranoia of "Afraid of Everyone" to the social malaise of married life in "Conversation 16", the album covers so much lyrical territory it's hard at times to stay up. Each listen to each song brings new visions and new experiences. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" starts off as a pretty typical National song led by the intense drum beat and Matt Berringer's baritone until slowly the song moves into a melodic place the band has never seen before. "England" and "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks" are in place as a calmer coda to the a rather rocking album. Jettisoning the jazz undertones of "Boxer" for a more direct approach has made the songs tighter and more focused. "High Violet" is a mature work of a highly confident collective that is at the height of it's game and hands down my favorite album from one of the my new favorite bands. Move over U2 and REM, THE NATIONAL are in the discussion.

Happy New Year everyone!! Here's to a great musical 2011.

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