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10. All Delighted People EP – Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz garnered the bulk of the attention for Stevens this year, but for me, it was this “EP” that provided far more interesting moments. All Delighted People is chocked full of the gorgeous, wispy melodies that Stevens is known for, and songs such as “Heirloom” and “Arnika” are just as stirring as anything on 2005′s Illinois. I would take this bare-bones acoustic guitar over computer blips any day.
9. The Monitor – Titus Andronicus
8. Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter
Deerhunter is a band that I’d never listened to much prior to the release of this album, but one listen through of Halcyon Digest was enough for me to know that this was a band/album that I could really get into. “Helicopter” is, of course, a highlight, but the each song is as enjoyable as they are varied.
7. I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling
6. Brothers – The Black Keys
For some reason, 2010 was the year that The Black Keys broke out, despite the fact that they have been making albums for years now. Perhaps it was the strength of the songwriting on Brothers that did it, because this is garage-y blues rock at its best. Dan Auerbach’s voice always drips with passion, and the production here is tighter than ever.
5. Been Listening – Johnny Flynn
Johnny Flynn has no right to be this pretty AND talented. It’s just not fair. But with a voice beyond his years, Flynn beefs up the bare-bones guitar folk of his debut album and goes big(ger) on his sophomore disc, Been Listening. “Howl” explores blues to great effect, while “The Water”, a lovely duet with Laura Marling, sticks closer to his roots. Flynn’s greatest vocal asset is the wail that he can unleash, but he wisely uses that sparingly, making those heated moments all the more striking. He’s a songwriter with a knack for understated melody, and Flynn shows growth, and heaps of potential, here.
4. King of the Beach – Wavves
On King of the Beach, the newst album from Wavves’ Nathan Williams, he ups the production values, but doesn’t compromise his cheerfully defiant slackerdom. The album’s title track, “Post-Acid”, and “Green Eyes” embrace catchy surf-pop melodies, while other tracks such as “Baseball Cards” embark on a more drawn-out, experimental route. Either way, Williams’ creativity and exuberence is infectious, and King of the Beach is a front-to-back snarkily fun time.
3. The Wild Hunt – The Tallest Man on Earth
Kristian Matsson’s voice takes some getting used to. But even though the tone of his voice can initially seem harsh, this Swedish singer-songwriter sings with a tenderness that highlights its lovely, ragged peaks. And the contrast Matsson’s empassioned singing style and his delicate melodies intertwines perfectly. And boy, does Matsson know how to write a melody. The songwriting here is impeccible, with “Burden of Tomorrow” and “King of Spain” serving as rousing highlights.
2. Gorilla Manor - Local Natives
In a similar vein to Fleet Foxes, this is an album full of layered vocals and organically percusive rhythms. And this L.A. quintet plays that card very well. The songs are uniformly fantastic, with highlights including “World News”, and the Band of Horses-esque “Wide Eyes”. Considering that this vivacious collection of songs is only their first album, Local Natives is a band that I will definitely be following closely in the future.
1. Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons
Mumford and Sons was one of the year’s biggest success stories, and with their debut album, they proved that the attention was well-deserved. With propulsive banjos and beautiful melodies, this rousing group of folk-rock stompers begs for repeat listenings. Something about the timbre of Marcus Mumford’s voice is infinitely pleasing.
Paste may not be a physical magazine anymore, but that doesn’t stop them from consistently cranking out quality material on their website. And much like last year, when they had a different “Best of the Decade” list for every day of December, they are going list-crazy for 2010, too. And they aren’t wasting any time, because today they posted their choices for the top 50 albums of the year. Figured I’d share some thoughts. (You can click here to read the full list.)
- They get some of the most buzzed-about albums of the year out of the way quickly. Flying Lotus, Local Natives, Yeasayer, The Black Keys, and Deerhunter reside in spots #49-45, respectively. But Paste has always favoured their own “discoveries” to blog favourites, so I suppose that’s not too surprising.
- Fulfillment of requisite Josh Ritter slot? Check. (#38)
- I enjoy how after naming She and Him’s Volume One the best album of 2008, they are obligated to place Volume Two somewhat high on the list (#30)
- Laura Marling, Vampire Weekend, The Tallest Man on Earth don’t even crack the top 20? What’s even left? This either means that it was such an amazing year for music that those great albums have to settle for lower spots, or that Paste will have a top 10 that I don’t like/have never heard of.
- Apparently I’m not the only one who likes to make breathless pronouncements about things, because Paste writes the following in their review of Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues: “If [Earle] can keep his demons at bay, we’ll one day see his three names cozied up against those of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, George Jones and the other denizens of country music’s pantheon.” Perhaps I should check out this album (I like the couple of tracks that I’ve heard).
So before reading the top 10, I tried to think of what they hadn’t covered, and there were a lot of big releases that I thought might find a spot:
- Sufjan Stevens (who I predicted for #1)
- Arcade Fire
- Janelle Monae
- LCD Soundsystem
- Joanna Newsom
- Kanye West
- Mumford and Sons
- Antony and the Johnsons
- Johnny Flynn (he and Monae were both on their list of acts to watch in 2008, so I think they’ll want to include at least one of them – more likely Monae – here)
- Best Coast
This is way too “mainstream” of a top 10, so some will inevitably left off the list completely, but I had thought that a lot of these would at least fall in the 40′s or 30′s somewhere.
* * *
So in actuality, the Paste top 10 went like this:
10. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (I haven’t heard it, but I’ve heard great things about it)
9. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (Lower than I was expecting. And even though one listen is hardly enough to go on, this album doesn’t do much for me.)
8. Phosphorescent – Here’s to Taking it Easy (Haven’t heart it, but I do love his 2007 song, “Wolves”)
7. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (We’ll definitely be seeing this one a lot on top 10 lists. I do like the album a lot, but it still hasn’t totally won me over. I much prefer Neon Bible, at this point)
6. Sleigh Bells – Treats (I don’t get the love for this album at all.)
5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (I DO get the love for this album.)
4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (It was inevitable. I haven’t listened to it yet, but apparently this album is “perhaps this century’s definitive portrait of torment, vanity, self-delusion, and pathos”. Wow.)
3. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (It’s becoming a bit of a mainstream crossover, and deservedly so. Fantastic album.)
2. Janelle Monae – The Archandroid (Time for some horn-tooting.)
1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (Well, I haven’t heard this one, either. But from previous work, I don’t think I’m the biggest LCDS fan.)
Either I’m better versed in new music this year, or Paste is going for bigger names. Because I’m familiar with all of these albums and have heard half of them already. And it usually takes me forever to catch up on all of the big albums from the year. Overall, it’s a predictable top 10, but not a bad one, I suppose.
I’ve been checking out a bunch of new albums recently, so I figured that I’d recap a few notable ones, along with one slightly older release that I’m just catching up with.
Champ – Tokyo Police Club
For my money, Tokyo Police Club is one of the most exciting new Canadian bands out there (and they put on a great live show, too). And while I liked their debut full-length, Elephant Shell, quite a bit, it felt a bit incomplete to me. But they’ve cleaned up every rough edge for their second LP, Champ. Their sound is a bit derivative at times (Strokes comparisons are still apt), but the sheer strength of their songwriter is far better than anything on Elephant Shell.
The opening track, “Favourite Colour” adds depth to their snappy sound, and lead singer Dave Monks has a refreshing nuance in his vocals. Other highlights include the instantly catchy “Boots of Danger (Wait Up)” and the album’s closer, “Frankenstein”. A couple of mid-album filler tracks aside, the songs feel fully-formed. Rather than falling prey to the sophomore slump, they’re a band that took the hype from their first album and used it to grow.
A Larum – Johnny Flynn
Since I dug the new Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling albums so much, I figured that I’d check out another mainstay of the current U.K. folk movement, Johnny Flynn. As well as being quite easy on the eyes (see above), Johnny Flynn can write an amazing song. His 2008 debut LP, A Larum, is chocked full of simultaneously hushed and rousing acoustic gems, sung in Flynn’s beyond-his-years husky tone. “The Wrote and the Writ” is a gorgeously written song on spirituality and love, while “Wayne Rooney” harkens back to the lovely stuff of Nick Drake’s catalogue. The album is fantastic all the way through.
Flynn’s follow up LP, Been Listening, was released earlier this year in the U.K., and I can’t wait for it to get its North American release on October 26. I’ve heard a few tracks (“Barnacled Warship” being my favourite), and it sounds great! A bit of a different vibe from A Larum, but still very Johnny Flynn.
Lisbon – The Walkmen
Best known for singles like “The Rat” (which made Rolling Stone‘s best songs of the decade list), The Walkmen is a band that’s never quite fully crossed over to more mainstream success. But on their sixth album, Lisbon, they make a convincing case as to why they should. Lead singer Walter Martin still sings with every ounce of abandon that he did in the beginning, and that’s best displayed here on the ferocious “Angela Surf City”. As a whole, the album is very cohesive, and it moves along at a faster clip than their previous effort, You & Me. At times, that cohesiveness starts to turn into a kind of -y-ness that I don’t like hearing from The Walkmen, but as a whole, it’s a very, very solid album.
Treats – Sleigh Bells
One of the most buzzed-about albums of the year, I decided to check out Sleigh Bells’ Treats for myself. I found it to be a very mixed bag. Some songs, like “Rill Rill” have a great groove to them. Others, like “A/B Machines” made me want to chuck my laptop out the window just to make it stop. To me, it was far less innovative or fresh than I was expecting. The little girl vocals are old, and the whole thing feels a bit amateurish. To me, it sounds like they tried to combine the aesthetic of M.I.A. (at times) with the fun mindlessness of Wavves, and it didn’t work on either account. It’s too dumb to be smart, and it’s too contrived to be offhanded.
Wavves’ third full-length album may be full of triumphantly self-loathing couplets like, “My own friends hate me / but I don’t give a shit”, but somehow frontman Nathan Williams (who started the Wavves as a one-man effort) always keeps the mood light. Full of would-be summer anthems and massive hooks, King of the Beach proves Wavves could be a viable pop-punk act, if Williams wasn’t seemingly in his own way.
The album’s celebration of self-destruction and dysfunction has inevitably drawn comparisons to slacker Gen X acts like Beck and Green Day, but at the mere age of 24, Williams represents an entirely different generation. And it would seem that this particular group isn’t afraid to have fun, and maybe even care a little. For someone so apparently apathetic, he manages to pull together some pretty brilliant songs. “King of the Beach” is a pop-punk blast with a huge chorus, and it makes for an unlikely surf-rock gem. And “Green Eyes” may fall near the end of the album’s short runtime, but the rowdy fuck-you to Williams’ frenemies packs the biggest punch of the entire album.
William’s loose, shout-y vocals (which are often just this side of grating) provide an interesting contrast to the sort of slick, layered production of the album. Certain tracks turn to technology for drum loops and multi-track vocals, but Williams proves to be much more masterful on the simpler tunes. The title track is almost numbingly basic, yet its sheer catchiness is something to behold. As tossed-off as Williams would probably want you to think this album is, in reality, it’s shrewdly calculated and well-constructed.
Wavves has had more than their share of online fans (regarding the music) and detractors (regarding Williams’ onstage antics). And while that may seem like extraneous information for an album review, this strange fascination in a relatively minor musical figure may be worth discussing. Many have complained about the lack of “rock stars” in modern music (who is the last one? Jack White? Lady Gaga?), and while the verdict is still out on whether Williams is someone who the public can embrace, he certainly is someone who gets them talking. And public antics aside, King of the Beach is an extremely solid, refreshing take on a genre that easily could have felt gooey and retro. Don’t let the goofy album art fool you.
10. Astro Coast – Surfer Blood
At ten songs and a total of forty minutes, Astro Coast is breezy and concise. It may be easy to play the “Spot the Influences” game with Surfer Blood, but that hardly matters when the album is so inherently listenable.
9. Transference – Spoon
After the candy-coated blast of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon return with a grittier, grounded batch of songs here. “Written in Reverse” shows a surprisingly intense facet to Brit Daniel’s usually off-handed singing style, and the whole album feels refreshingly innovative for a band with such a signature sound.
8. Together – The New Pornographers
Thirteen years into their career, The New Pornographers give us a diverse, mesmerizing batch of songs on their fifth full-length disc, Together. The highlight of the disc is Neko Case’s showcase piece, the fierce pop gem “Crash Years”, but each song is gripping in its own right.
7. Teen Dream – Beach House
As the title promises, the third album from this Baltimore duo is downright dreamy. Victoria Legrand’s voice floats beautifully over the album’s ten tracks, and Teen Dream is perfect for just about any mood.
6. High Violet – The National
Like its wonderful predecessor, Boxer, High Violet as a whole is a grower. But it doesn’t take more than one listen to appreciate the beauty of songs like “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Conversation 16″. Matt Beninger is just as bummed out as ever, thankfully.
5. Gorilla Manor – Local Natives
This L.A. quintet’s debut disc is a blend of many different styles, but their multi-layered harmonies most closely echo the folk of Fleet Foxes. “Shape Shifter” shimmers while “Sun Hands” is a foot-stomper, but the whole album is gorgeous.
4. Contra – Vampire Weekend
Returning after the success of their debut album couldn’t have been easy, but Vampire Weekend’s second effort is just as good, in my opinion. “Holiday” and “Cousins” are pop gems, and Contra maintains and expands upon their world music influence.
3. I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling
At the ripe old age of 20, Laura Marling is writing some of the most beautiful, haunting folk tunes of recent memory. Ryan Adams is a fan of her (and the feeling is mutual), and the raw honesty of songs like “I Speak Because I Can” and “Rambling Man” recall Adams’ own gutting masterpiece, Heartbreaker.
2. Brothers – The Black Keys
Back with their sixth album, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney top themselves with this smart, tight set of songs. They’re up to their usual ferocity, but the album still feels entirely fresh thanks to the strength of songs like “Next Girl” and ” She’s Long Gone”
1. Sigh No More – Mumford & Sons
Not receiving a North American release until 2010, Sigh No More is the breakthrough debut of the year so far. “Little Lion Man”, the band’s unlikely hit, is propulsive, and the rest of the album is full of heartfelt sing-a-longs, too. It begs for many, many repeat listenings.
Despite what the title of The Black Keys sixth full-length album may suggest, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are not siblings (and, unlike another popular duo, The White Stripes, they’re not pretending to be). But there’s such easiness in their collaboration at this point that one could easily think otherwise.
While other recent musical duos like Japandroids and The Kills bask in the jangly limits of guitar and drums, The Black Keys seem to take pride in doing as much with one song as two people can physically do. They’ve always played as one unit – with Auerbach on vocals and guitar, and Carney on drums – but Brothers is their most cohesive effort to date.
As a whole, Brothers slants more towards slow-burning blues than to the psychedelic rock of early singles like “Set You Free”. Auerbach and Carney have clearly settled into a groove, and it’s one that suits them well. “She’s Long Gone” is blistering and loping, with Auerbach wailing about a girl who’s gone “like Moses through the corn”. “Next Girl”, a sludgy stomper about past mistakes, combines the perfect amount of sludge, soul, and guitar solos to make for one of The Black Keys’ best songs yet.
The album also explores the different influences that can be found in the band’s music. “Never Gonna Give You Up” fully realises their retro inspirations with the addition of horns and a motown beat, while “Ten Cent Pistol” plays on swampy southern rock.
Having been around for a while, these Akron natives boast audible evolution here. Auerbach now seems to favour an introspective, crisp singing style, rather than the crackling wail he unleashed in the past. This added maturity is refreshing, but a couple of additional up-tempo rockers wouldn’t hurt Brothers at all. Near the end of the disc, things get a touch too mellow to maintain the level of interest of the opening five tracks.
The songs on Brothers are more easily digestible than those on The Black Keys’ previous album, 2008′s great Attack and Release, with only one song clocking in at over five minutes. The band is clearly on the rise (Brothers debuted at #3 on the Billboard Chart, making it the band’s most successful sales week ever), and the songs here make it easy to see why. But it’s refreshing to see the band grow without sacrificing the root of their back-to-basics appeal in a time where selling out and cashing in is virtually expected in alternative music.