Slowtrain part-timer aka the man with the sweet stache
1. Damien Jurado, Saint Bartlett (Secretly Canadian)
I’ll be honest, I’ve known Damien’s music for quite some time now and never really paid him much mind. I guess I lumped him in with all the mediocre singer-songwriters that have come and gone in the past decade. The first time I listened to Saint Bartlett it gave me a giant slap in the face and informed me just how wrong I was to ignore his talent. The album is heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. Richard Swift did an outstanding job producing the album, building upon Jurado’s solid songwriting with pianos, strings, and all sorts of reverb soaked effects, owing a great deal to Phil Spector. It is a big departure from Jurado’s previous recordings but also opened my eyes to the genius of those earlier works. It still hits me hard every time I listen to it.
2. Baths, Cerulean (anticon)
I have trouble describing just how amazing this album is. It isn’t poppy, but its catchy as hell. The vocals are unique, but incredibly emotive. The beats lay somewhere between label mate Alias and the IDM world. I haven’t heard anything quite like this before. There are obviously influences from electronic music of the past but its a perfect mix of different styles to create something unique. And not only is it fresh musically but it is extremely emotionally resonant.
3. The Black Keys, Brothers (Nonesuch)
On their last album, Attack & Release, The Black Keys brought in Danger Mouse to produce, and the result was a heavier psychedelic feeling than the previous straight ahead blues rock of past efforts. This time around they are back to producing themselves, but they took the lessons learned from their experience with Danger Mouse. The result is arguably the best album The Black Keys have ever made. For the most part the blues influence is back at the forefront but its peppered with soul, psychedelic rock, and, on a few tracks, surprisingly fitting falsetto vocals. Definitely the most well rounded outing by The Black Keys.
4. HEALTH, ::DISCO2 (Lovepump United)
I’m not usually a fan of remix albums. They usually consist of some jackass throwing a techno beat on top of a perfectly good song and then extending another five unbearable minutes. I’m also not completely sold on HEALTH’s latest album Get Color. It is full of great ideas but I can’t get past some of the noisiest parts. ::DISCO2 is an example of getting the remix album right. They enlisted the best of the best of indie’s electronic artists, including Tobacco, Small Black, Crystal Castles, and CFCF. All the remixes bring out the best aspects of the originals and then build on those ideas. The beats are perfect and keep away from the bludgeoning techno cliches. Get Color is transformed from an abrasive noise rock album to something beautiful and haunting.
5. Yeasayer, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)
I love Yeasayer’s debut, All Hours Cymbals. It was adventurous and trippy. It took a lot from the freak folk movement, melding experimental psychedelic sounds with acoustic earthy instruments. So when I heard the first single, “Ambling Alp,” I was a little perplexed by the heavily ‘80s new wave influences. I got a little worried. But the more I listened to that song and the rest of the album I realized that the songwriting was still there. The songs range from upbeat dance tunes to strangely beautiful ballads. The synths may sound far far away from their debut, but Odd Blood is undeniably in the same experimental pop spirit. I can’t wait to hear what these guys do next.
6. Caribou, Swim (Merge)
Caribou’s last album took his electro-acoustic music, comparable to Four Tet, and mixed it with sunny ‘60s psychedelia. Swim tones down the ‘60s influences but still carries a heavy dose of psychedelic trippiness, this time filtered through a skewed take on dance music. The idea was to make “fluid” music that shifts back and forth like water, hence the title Swim. This makes for more interesting dance music than you’d usually expect from the genre. The songs never stay in one place, adding and subtracting elements and building tension. There is always something to keep you interested. The effect makes this a great headphones album. There is also emotional weight added through the vocals and lyrics. Caribou’s albums always push the boundaries of set genres resulting in extremely interesting music, and Swim is no exception.
7. Grinderman, Grinderman 2 (Anti-)
Nick Cave is a hero of mine. He has been making amazing music for 30+ years and shows no signs of stopping. His ranting madman vocal delivery brings me endless joy. Especially with his lyrics, a perfect mix of ridiculous and poetic. He surrounds himself with top notch musicians too. The rhythm section lats down perfect grooves and Warren Ellis gets all kinds of wacky with his loop pedals. I can’t help but describe this album as bad ass, as silly as that sounds. Between Grinderman and The Bad Seeds, these guys continue to move rock and roll forward better than most of the bands whose members weren’t even out of diapers when Nick Cave started ruling at everything.
8. The Black Angels, Phosphene Dream (Blue Horizon)
I had been looking forward to this album ever since I heard their last effort Directions To See A Ghost. They are so good I just wanted more and more. They surprised me by mostly doing away with the drone of Directions. What is left is the most concise and catchy psychedelic rock album made since the late ‘60s. It owes a great deal to that era of music but avoids sounding retro. There is a heavy dose of paranoia injected into the songs, and the lyrics reflect that. There is also an element of creepy fun, helped along by the organ’s psychedelic circus riffs. It really is a musical approximation of a drug trip. The best album they’ve made...so far.
9. Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
There is so much that's already been said about this album and even more that is going to be said on everyone’s best of 2010 lists. But it really is that good. It is perfectly crafted dreamy pop. It captures your attention and won’t let go, and it’s hard to say why. You just have to hear it for yourself.
10. The National, High Violet (4AD)
These guys just keep getting better. The atmospheric layered compositions the band craft are enough to make this a good listen, but the sophisticated lyrics and amazing vocals push it to new heights. This is another album that I connected with emotionally, both through lyrics and the sounds they create. It never gets old and the effect it has on me never diminishes.
11. The Tallest Man On Earth, The Wild Hunt
12. Best Coast, Crazy For You
13. Jonsi, Go
14. Menomena, Mines
15. Suckers, Wild Smile
16. Four Tet, There Is Love In You
17. Small Black, New Chain
18. Avey Tare, Down There
19. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
20. Suuns, Zeroe QC
21 LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening
22. Wye Oak, My Neighbour/My Creator
23. Thee Oh Sees, Warm Slime
24. Foals, Total Life Forever
25. Jaill, That’s How We Burn
Top 10 Songs of 2010
*Note: I decided it would be a bit redundant if I listed my favorite songs from my top 25 albums so I've excluded them. Also this list is in no particular order.
1. "You and I" by Washed Out, the Adult Swim Singles Series (available at www.adultswim.com)
2. "Who Makes Your Money" by Spoon from Transference
3. "Good Feelings" by Light Pollution from Apparitions
4. "Goodbye Sweet Dreams" by Roky Erickson, True Love Cast Out All Evil
5. "Lucidity" by Tame Impala, Innerspeaker
6. "Natural Selection feat. The Black Angels" by Unkle, Where Did the Night Fall
7. "If You Can Wait" by Jake Bellows, www.jakebellows.com
8. "Grape Aerosmith feat. Beck" by Tobacco, Maniac Meat
9. "Nordic Laurel" by Baths, (an online compilation available at heartmusicgroup.bandcamp.com)
10. "Hearts of Love" by Crocodiles, Sleep Forever
Matt’s fave shows:
1. Paul McCartney @ Rio Tinto Stadium July 13
This was my first time seeing Paul live. I was excited but kept my expectation in check. Sometimes legends don’t quite live up to their status when you see them 40+ years into their career. He was better than I ever could have imagined. I can’t believe the dude is in his 60s and has the stamina to put on a show like this. He had more energy and showmanship than dudes 40 years younger. It was truly epic. He played all the best songs from his solo career and a handful of Beatles tunes. He had touching tributes to John and George. And fireworks! Fireworks!
2. Bob Dylan @ Deer Valley Aug 17
The first time I saw Dylan at Deer Valley it was pouring rain. The crowd was bummed that they were getting soaked to the bone and freezing their asses off. Bob was bummed about something. Maybe the rain. Maybe the cold. Maybe he was just being Bob Dylan and wasn’t feeling it just because. Whatever the reason, the show was a huge disappointment. I thought I’d give it another go 2 years later. I’m glad I did. This time the weather was great and so was Dylan’s mood. He danced, smiled, and actually stepped away from his keyboard to play harmonica and guitar. He even talked to us. And the set list...so ridiculous! He played songs I never thought I’d hear live, like “Masters of War” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.” The man completely redeemed himself. Not that he really needed to.
3. Jonsi @ The Complex Oct 22
This show was connected to some negative vibes, since Jonsi was scheduled to perform at Slowtrain earlier in the day. I was really looking forward to getting to meet such an amazing musician and see him in such an intimate setting. By the time the first song was over all those bad feelings were washed away. Jonsi knows how to put on a show. The light show and projected images made it feel magical, as cheesy as that sounds. The songs were epic and the bands playing was spot on. It helped me love his album even more.
4. Caribou @ Urban Oct 11
Dan Snaith, the mastermind behind Caribou, sure knows how to put on a show. He could have easily brought a road case full of samplers and drum machines along with him. Bob his head while hunched over knobs and buttons. It still would have been a decent show, but its hard to turn that into an amazing live experience. Instead he brought along a full band. He put his drummer right up front, along with his drum set, which makes sense seeing as how his music puts so much importance on the rhythms. The set was absolutely phenomenal. The band put out crazy energy and the crowd returned the favor by dancing their asses off. They had the best light/projection show I’ve seen at Urban since the Black Angels were last here. I’m always glad when bands can make you forget you are just in a bar, and that you are actually at a show.
5. Yeasayer @ In The Venue April 23
These guys are amazing live. Last time I saw them was at Kilby Court, totally stealing the show from the headliners MGMT. This time they were headlining and they played with even more confidence. They played flawlessly. Ripping through songs off their new album and updating songs from their debut to fit their new instrument set up. The stage set up was very cool too, backed by screens pulsating with all different colors. Even their keyboards were on top of glowing columns. This show was the most fun I’ve had at In the Venue in a long time thanks to Yeasayer.