Slowtrain manager and all around rad lady
(we couldn't do it without her)
1. Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD)
As with all of Bradford Cox’s musical endeavors, be it solo or with Deerhunter, this album required a handful of listens before I could fully absorb it. Halcyon Digest was not what I expected from Deerhunter this year. For whatever reason, I expected an extension of the sound they created on their 2009 release, Microcastle. I expected something weirder and stranger, with more eerie and psychedelic sounds. The tone of Halcyon Digest is quite the opposite of that- it is sweet and subtle, even a bit tender. One thing that has always drawn me to this group is their ability to create an atmosphere with their albums. Listening to Microcastle makes you feel like you’re all alone and lost in a forest on a foggy night, while Halcyon Digest finds you walking around your neighborhood on a sunny day in a stoned and contemplative state. The layering of sounds and the various effects, specifically guitar effects, used by this band never cease to amaze me- they are masters of seamlessly blending their instruments and voices with such fluidity that it’s hard to imagine these sounds were ever separate entities. Halcyon Digest is a beautiful and unconventional pop album that will make you feel blissful, yet break your heart at the same time. Even after listening to “He Would Have Laughed”, my favorite song on the album, hundreds of times tears still burn my eyes when I hear it.
2. Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub-Pop)
Beach House’s sound has always been immediately recognizable to me- Victoria’s voice, the distorted guitar, the keys- mingling and slowly unfolding from the speakers. Their past two albums, both narcotic and hypnotic, shared a hushed and hazy tone- the music crept and lurked. Then, there’s Teen Dream, the band’s third and, undoubtedly, best album. Teen Dream takes Beach House in a new direction, to a new level, while still focusing on the original elements that made their sound so unique. The songs on this album aren’t slowly revealing themselves to you- they engulf you from the start, sweep you up off your feet and hit you with an intensity and urgency that has never been present on their past records. The blurred sounds are sharpened, the guitar plucking is vivid, and Victoria’s voice is sprawling and gorgeous. From beginning to end, each track is completely captivating, every word uttered is perfect and somehow you find yourself singing every line without thinking. Beyond instrumentation, adding to the allure of this album is the heartache strewn throughout the lyrics. From the sad, but hopeful chorus on “Walk in the Park” to the imagery on “Take Care”, Teen Dream will make you see love and life in a whole new light.
3. The National, High Violet (4AD)
The National has such a stylized and dramatic sound that I can understand why they might not be your cup of tea or rather, I can try to understand. From the first time I heard Matt Berninger’s voice singing on The Boxer I couldn’t help but love this band. While The Boxer holds a lot of sentimental value for me, High Violet, is my absolute favorite release from The National. Every track from this record exudes such emotion that I almost have to mentally prepare myself for listening to it- I know it’s going to make me think and feel a lot of things that I might not necessarily want to think or feel. Musically, High Violet has a fuller sound and more orchestration than any of their previous albums, partially due to the fact that the group had quite a few friends contribute their musical efforts to the album, including Nico Muhly, Justin Vernon, and Sufjan Stevens. Painfully beautiful in every way, each song on this album struck a chord with me in a way that none of their previous records have.
4. Baths, Cerulean (Anticon)
I’m not sure any words I can type here would ever be able to express the complete happiness that this album makes me feel when I listen to it. I never knew sample-based music could be so warm, uplifting and sweet. Listening toCerulean, I couldn’t help but be curious about the person creating this music because it has such personality. It turns out that Baths is 21 year old Will Wiesenfeld who hails from Los Angeles, California and has been making music in his room since he was about 13 years old. There’s a lot of playful and carefree music mixed with serious subject matter on this album. Take the song “Maximalist” where, between beats and instrumental samples, Will injects voices, one of which says “it takes a lot of courage to go out there and radiant your essence”. A striking and true statement, that Will, whether realizing it or not, is accomplishing with the release of this album. The authenticity and originality present on this album is like a breath of fresh air- reinvigorating your love for music, even if you didn’t realize you needed one. Catchy beats, washed out vocals and charming lyrics are only half of what makes this record so wonderful. The other half is something indescribable that you’ll have to experience yourself.
5. The Black Angels, Phosphene Dream
When I try explaining Phosphene Dream, I literally stumble over words and draw a blank. It’s sort of like when you see someone really attractive, maybe a bit cooler than you, and you can’t think of anything to say to them- you’re speechless, awestruck maybe. Phosphene Dream is still very much like older Black Angels albums, the heavy psychedelic influence is there, but the songs don’t overload you with drone; they are shorter and more varied in sound and structure. For me, this album is by far their most exciting, catchy, sexy and accessible album. Now, please promise not to judge me by my behavior at their show in December because I will be FAH-REEK-ING out.
6. LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening (Virgin)
There’s something very special within the songs that James Murphy creates. Yes, the man knows how to make you dance, but just as importantly (dare I say MORE importantly), he knows how to make you laugh, even think, while you dance. There’s something in the sarcastic way that he writes songs- he’s like your friend who is always half serious, even when joking. Half the joy of listening to LCD Soundsystem is Murphy’s dry humor and ridiculous quips and the other half is deciphering the lyrics and realizing the depth beneath the electronic surface. The delivery of clever wit mixed with real and profound truths make Murphy one of my favorite songwriters. From the opening jam, “Dance Yrself Clean”, to the unconventional break up song “All I Want”, This Is Happening will make you re-think what you know about “dance” music.
7. Gonjasufi, A Sufi and A Killer (Warp)
From the artist name and cover art alone, I was intrigued by Gonjasufi before I’d ever heard his music. When I finally heard the album, I became obsessed with it- I truly hadn’t experienced anything like it before. I recommended it to every one who came in the store and couldn’t talk about it enough. For me, it’s a hard album to explain because there are so many sounds and influences present. There are hints of psychedlia, blues, rock, hip hop, funk and even some world music mixed in. Both Flying Lotus and The Gaslamp Killer, legendary beatmakers in the Los Angeles area, helped with production on this record, so if you like their music individually, you’ll likely enjoy this album.Surprisingly, for being 16 tracks long, A Sufi and A Killer never grows old or stale. The songs are all fairly short- over half being under three minutes long and the flow of the album makes it seems as though you’re hearing a live DJ set, smoothly changing and blending sounds.
8. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge)
The excitement surrounding the release of this album was beyond infectious. It was the album everyone was eagerly awaiting this year and The Suburbs certainly lives up to the high expectations set forth for Arcade Fire’s third full length. It wouldn’t be an Arcade Fire album without being built upon a blend of social, cultural and political themes and, as the title clearly states, this album is a commentary on suburbia and all the ways in which it’s affected humanity. More aptly, this record touches on the dullness and sadness experienced by people who’ve paid into the American dream only to be disappointed- a topic that, for me, certainly hits on a lot of personal emotions. Even more impressive than the lyrical content is Arcade Fire’s ability to capture the emotion of each song so perfectly through their instrumentation. “Ready to Start” begins loud and fast, like a pounding headache resulting from working a 9-5 job that you despise and, as Win sings “I would rather be alone than pretend I feel alright”, you understand the darkness of what it means to choose solitude only to avoid faking an inkling of happiness in front of your peers. While short and vague lyrically, “Empty Room” can be seen as a song about the desire to be accepted as you are, in a place where only the status quo will do. When Regine and Win both sing “when I’m by myself I can be myself, and my life is coming but I don’t know when” my heart nearly breaks. The complete brilliance and talent behind this album is nothing short of impressive.
9. Black Mountain, Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar)
My love for Stephen McBean and the Black Mountain crew is undying (if you saw me at their show in July, chances are you know EXACTLY what I mean). Thankfully, so is their ability to continually put out epic and roaring rock masterpieces. Where In The Future was soaked in a psychedelic influence; Wilderness Heart has more of that good ol’ rock and roll feel to it with splashes of blues influences here and there. As always, Black Mountain knows how to balance the intense and roaring tunes like “Old Fangs” with a few softer songs like “The Space of Your Mind”. Without gushing too much, this album is another solid addition to the band’s already stellar discography.
10. Twin Sister, Color Your Life (Infinite Best)
I was really apprehensive to put a six song EP on this list because I know there are a lot of deserving full length albums that came out this year. After much internal debate, I decided Color Your Life MUST be on this list because even after listening to it all summer long, I still have so much enthusiasm for this record. Simply put, Twin Sister makes quirky, delicate and dreamy pop music. What makes Twin Sister different from all the other bands trying to create this sound? For me, it’s their remarkably original lyrics and the restrained beauty of their sound. The sound of waves crashing at the beginning of “The Other Side of Your Face” melds with a slowly strummed guitar and light, quick drumming as Andrea’s voice sneaks into the song at just the right moment. Like waking from a dream, feeling foggy yet strangely happy, Twin Sister creates songs that are mysterious, enchanting and blithe with surprising ease.
11. Wild Nothing, Gemini
12. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
13. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Before Today
14. Menomena, Mines
15. The Walkmen, Lisbon
16. Tamaryn, Waves
17. Laura Veirs, July Flame
18. White Hinterland, Kairos
19. Vampire Weekend, Contra
20. Glasser, Ring
21. Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record
22. No Age, Everything In Between
23. Small Black, New Chain
24. Best Coast, Crazy for You
25. Yeasayer, Odd Blood
Top 10 Songs of 2010:
(Not in any particular order)
1. Sharon Van Etten- Love More
2. Laura Veirs- Make Something Good
3. Damien Jurado- Cloudy Shoes
4. Small Black- Photojournalist
5. The War on Drugs- Comin’ Through
6. Tamaryn- Love Fade
7. Ty Segall- Finger
8. White Hinterland- Icarus
9. Spoon- Who Makes Your Money
10. Charlotte Gainsbourg- La Collectionneuse
Vanessa's fave shows:
1. Beach House @ The Star Bar
2. Black Mountain @ Urban Lounge
3. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings @ Pioneer Park
4. Ty Segall @ The Woodshed
5. Jamie Lidell @ Urban Lounge