Rockin' My Turntable In 2010: Tankboy
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 28, 2010 6:30PM
Photo by Travis Wiens
It seems impossible that a year that saw fine efforts from both Arcade Fire and Spoon (or my beloved Kylie Minogue) wouldn’t also see those bands on my final “best of” list, but the truth is that both bands crafted the weakest albums of their career and while that’s still better than 99% of what other groups are capable of they ended up being more of a chore than a joy to listen to more than a few times. And there was lots of pretty music I fell deeply into this year, but I find I’m beginning to grow weary of so many sleepy groups drawing so much attention for basically writing the same song. It’s a fine song but I predict most won’t remember it next year. In fact, one of the sadder results of the rise of music blogging has been the subsequent accelerated backlash rate against bands championed just a month before. I’ve written about music for two decades now and while I love how easy it has become to access new sounds I’m also saddened by how little time new sounds are allowed to develop into something lasting and different.
So what am I left with? I’m left with twenty albums I really never grew tired of over the last twelve months; twenty albums I feel somewhat secure I’ll enjoy revisiting in, say, five or ten years. I’ve looked over my last decade’s “best of” lists and find this approach does actually hold up. Of course that means you may violently disagree, or you may discover something new, or you’ll nod your head in approval, or maybe all three or none of the above. Regardless, thank you for allowing me to share the music that’s stuck with me in 2010, in alphabetical order (because I simply am crap at ranking things like this).
The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Husband and wife team Olga Goreas and Jace Lasek head up this quartet, blending their voices together in dreamy, beautiful, arcing arrangements. The band comes together to create huge washes of sound that steadily but gently propel the listener ever upward. Their show at Pritzker Pavilion this summer was one of the highlights of that particular concert series; their majestic arrangements spiraled perfectly upward and into the deepening twilight. Surprising little musical twists happen throughout the album and no sooner will you be lulled into a hypnotic trance than a buzzing guitar will cut through the haze and wake you with an icy blast. Truly one of the most luscious albums of 2010.
Best Coast - Crazy For You
On one hand Best Coast’s debut album comes off as so many lovelorn journal entries from that really hot girl in high school who never realized she was hot because she was too full of self-doubt. In other words it would be easy to write the band off as the musical equivalent of a teen movie. It would also be easy to write off the trio’s music as a simple cross between Phil Spector girl groups and The Jesus and Mary Chain primarily because that’s a spot-on and wholly accurate description. But such oversimplification fails to capture just how mesmerizing Best Coast’s music is. In an era when too many bands stand, rightfully, accused of merely mining the past for sentimental knee-jerk reactions Best Coast manages to mine their internal worlds to deliver something both familiar and new.
The Black Keys - Brothers
Previous efforts by The Black Keys always found me appreciative if slightly bored. I mean, two underground bluesmen working a crusty guitar against a thumping drum kit? Haven’t we heard enough of that? My perception changed with Brothers and I realized The Black Keys finally made the album I always wanted to hear from them. It’s still rootsy and gutsy but the duo expands beyond its base sound to incorporate elements from gospel, hip-hop and strip clubs into a beautifully sticky stew.
Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer
This album would have warranted inclusion if it consisted simply the surprise hit of the year, “Fuck You,” played over and over. But no! Green took to the studio with the equivalent of a musical encyclopedia of ideas, stapled them in their various forms on the back of the loose theme of love and constructed an album whose primary purpose is to set the mood and get you fucking laid. Again, that alone would bring this disc muchos kudos, but the fact that Green deploys his enticements so artfully, and self-knowingly, lifts The Lady Killer up to a new level.
Free Energy - Stuck On Nothing
Free Energy spent 2010 on the road spreading the gospel of fist pumping, beer chugging, ‘70s tinged party music. In Chicago alone they played Empty Bottle, Beauty Bar, the Pitchfork Music Festival, Metro and Lincoln Hall (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they snuck n a basement house party I didn’t hear about in there)! No other band we saw this year looked like they had nearly as much (unironic) fun onstage. Their debut is full of the same god vibes and killer riffs, so if you’re looking for the perfect “rev it up before going out” or “it’s 3 a.m. let’s keep it up” music, this is an excellent place to start.
The Futureheads - The Chaos
One of The Futureheads’ hallmarks is their ability to wend incredibly intricate multi-part vocal harmonies through a minefield of buzz saw fast riffs and hooks so sharp they'll make your ears bleed, and on The Chaos they continue that approach with renewed vigor after a few years of silence. There’s not a single bunk tune in the bunch and they’re all the stuff adrenaline fueled perfection and frenzied dancing (in the rock and/or roll style) is made off. Absolute loads of fun from start to finish, just don't try and stop to catch your breath or you'll miss something!
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Plastic Beach, is a knotty conceptual masterpiece that allows ringleader Damon Albarn to mix dark themes with undeniable hooks, subtly crafted around a rogue's gallery of unlikely collaborators. Plastic Beach is both a fitting commentary on consumerism and big business eroding both our social and ecological structure and an amazing musical achievement fearlessly mixing genres and defying expectations. Albarn has truly upped the ante with this offering - and he continued to do so with the best live show I saw this year -and if you were to force me to pick my favorite album of 2010 it could very wel be this one.
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
At this point I admit I’m a little tired of writing about Kanye West (and you're probably tired of reading about him, right?). It’s been an exhausting year for both him and music writers following his latest moves while catching glimpses of the man’s artistic ambitions but it all paid off with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This is an album made for clubbers and headz and yuppies and you and me and anyone else willing to give it a listen and get lost in its layers. I’m not sure this is the best album of 2010, and in this my opinion is definitely in the minority, but it is easily the most stunning of the year.
KiD CuDi - Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager
Kid Cudi’s sophomore effort finds finds him exploring many of the same heavy stoner hip-hopera atmospherics of his debut. Instead of feeling like a return to the safe and familiar, though, Cudi instead expands his sonic ambition and lays himself upon its bed while opening his deepest emotional veins, streaming confessional lyrics all over the place. In most this approach would be insufferable, but Cudi’s own self-awareness in cunningly balanced by a fearlessness that gives credence to his words without forcing them to be bombastic, continuing to make the case that he is currently one of the few in hip-hop really willing to push the boundaries both musically and emotionally in an effort to create great art.
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Rumors of this album marking the demise of LCD Soundsystem proved greatly exaggerated, even if it did take far too many months of lazy music writers repeating that “fact” before folks decided to do the research and look at main LCD-man James Murphy’s quotes in context. If it had been the band’s swansong it would have certainly been along the lines of the Seinfeldian (a show Murphy “almost” wrote for at one point) “leaving on a high note.” Murphy has the uncanny ability to get even the most jaded hipster to unashamedly shake their hips to his unique blend of sounds owing much to his own heroes of the dance floor, cut out bin and 7” record clubs.
Les Savy Fav - Root For Ruin
File Under: Damaged art rockers discover honest to god chords and weave them with surprising ease into instantly hummable hooks without ever losing their anarchic edge or forcing singer Tim Harrington to abandon his simultaneous sneer and knowing winks. While longtime fans may be turned off by the band's sudden embrace of melody, big riffage, and sing-along choruses, I found the material to be far more satisfying than anything the band has previously done.
My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys
Danger Days returns to the grand notions and sounds that made My Chemical Romance famous, but continues to scrape off the band’s final layers of gothic screamo in favors of stadium pop polish. The sound is pure power-glam sheen driven by bright punky punch with My Chemical Romance’s songwriting hitting every pleasure center at every level. I’m firmly of the opinion that we need more bands unafraid to embrace big rock status without falling into the trap of taking themselves too seriously and simply enjoying the ride.
Of Montreal - False Priest
False Priest is easily the sexiest album in of Montreal’s oeuvre, even if it’s not the most challenging. We’re not used to Kevin Barnes and crew sounding so vibrant and so deeply colorful, but I blasted False Priest first through headphones, then stereo speakers and then with great glee through a club sound-system. The funk that drives many of their songs on stage but was often buried behind walls of treble on their albums is allowed to flow forth, rumbling and vibrating and driving the grooves in a way that, for of Montreal, is revelatory and exciting. Each listen seems to peel back another layer or reveal a delightful little touch we missed on the listen just before, allowing us to listen to the album over and over again with growing enthusiasm. We may just have a modern classic on our hands here.
OK Go - Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky
OK Go grew famous in 2010 for breaking from the Major Label machine and actually daring to be commercially successful while doing that, so it’s easy to forget they began they year with the release of Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky, an album in touch with a seriously funky side only hinted at in earlier recordings, with soul sheathed in a surrounding layer of industrial gravel. Drums are pushed to red in the mix, and bass guitar and deep synths are slathered over everything in huge gloppy doses. The hooks are still there, but now they're welded to the songs' underlying structure, propelling them along more subtly than the overt melodies the band employed in the past. 2010 saw OK Go changing the rules and launching into new directions, so far all good.
Robyn - Body Talk
If I were constructing a pop chart for 2010 Robyn would occupy spaces number one, two and three. Shes a pro at infusing dance floor anthems with real emotional gravitas in such a way that you can either allow her lyrics to bubble past you as you bump and grind or you can sit at home and empathize (or become envious) of her lyrical journeys from your easy chair. However you decide to experience Robyn is OK with me, but one listen to this album and I guarantee your outlook on life will become sunnier.
Sleigh Bells - Treats
Treats is a brutal joy, taking cues for the digital hardcore movement of the late '90s, coupling it with hip-hop rhythms as heard through an industrial meat grinder, and topping the mix off with strong yet sweet sing-song vocal lines. They combine speaker-shredding beats with inventive samples, or favorite being Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That," and while it will punish any sound system it's played through, Treats is one of the most pleasurable listens I've encountered so far this year. Will they ever release a follow up? I kind of hope not, I’d rather be left with this albums beautiful brutality than have it diluted by a weaker effort.
Superchunk - Majesty Shredding
Count on Superchunk to come back and remind all of us that they still know what it takes to rock out with this year’s Majesty Shredding, their first full album since 2001. Back is the hard charging scrappy punk and power-pop tunes, and gone are the majority rules of their latter career mid-tempo material. The band is light-years away from the sloppy glory of “Slack Motherfucker” but they have finally re-engineered the joy of that tune with the hard earned structure and chops they’ve picked up throughout their years in the Econoliner rimmed trenches. Shoot straight to “Learned To Surf” if you want a thumbnail view of what the whole album has to offer, music that makes you want to run around in circles while hugging friends and pogoing up and down with your low-slung air guitar. Some bands age poorly and some age well, but they should all be so lucky as to age like Superchunk.
Sweet Apple - Love & Desperation
Love & Desperation, is filled with pscyh-pop anthems awash in feedback but intent on moving the melodies forward. The group combines the musical approaches of singer / guitarist John Petkovic and guitarist Tim Parnin from Cobra Verde with Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and Witch bassist Dave Sweetapple. The interplay between the singular voices in the band merges seamlessly through most of the album to create a winning synthesis taking various strengths -- Petkovic's commanding bellows, the multiple guitars working in squalling noise amongst the hooks and Sweetapple's basslines nailing the whole affair to the floor.
Teddybears - Devil’s Music
You haven’t heard this album, and that’s a shame. It never saw a release in the states, despite including a particularly wonderful vocal contribution from Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, but if you can track this down it is well worth the search. Who would’ve thought a few ex-punk rockers would reformulate into a band that creates effortlessly grooving pop that seemingly can’t be stopped? Sometimes simplistic, sometimes deeply weird (and, I admit, at moments just kind of dumb) this is an album that never bores.
Yeasayer - Odd Blood
When we heard Yeasayer launch into "Madder Red" at 2009's Pitchfork Music Festival we combed through their b-sides thinking we had somehow been wrong about the band since we were in the critical minority when it came to Yeasayer's last album. When we discovered "Madder Rose" wasn't an unnoticed gem but instead a taste of what the band was cooking up for the future we began to get excited. With the release of Odd Blood we find that earlier enthusiasm entirely justified by a disc filled with songs that are more closely aligned with '80s synth-pop than the band's bucolic sonic reveries of the past. There is a thrumming life behind this batch of tunes that is giddy and catchy without being predictable. ADDED BONUS: The band just offered up a live recording from this year as a free download and I HIGHLY recommend grabbing it. The group has truly turned into a formidable touring act.
Archie Powell & The Exports - Skip Work [Our review]
Clip Art - Broken By Design [Website]
The Laureates - No Kontrol [Download the album]
Sam Vicari - Keep Careful [Our review]
Sky Box - Morning After Cuts [Website]
The 1900s - Return Of The Century [Our review]
ADELE "Rolling in the Deep"
Anya Marina "Spirit School"
Archie Powell & The Exports "Fighting Words"
Avi Buffalo "What's In It For"
Band Of Horses "Dilly"
Belle and Sebastian "I Didn't See It Coming"
The Besnard Lakes "Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Pt. 2: The Innocent"
Best Coast "Goodbye"
The Black Keys "Tighten Up"
Black Mountain "Old Fangs"
Blur "Fool's Day"
Broken Bells "The Ghost Inside"
Cee Lo Green "Fuck You"
Chappo "Come Home"
Clip Art "Dead Letter"
Cut Copy "Where I'm Going"
Free Energy "C'mon Let's Dance"
The Futureheads "I Can Do That"
Gorillaz "On Melancholy Hill"
Hiawata! "The Deep End"
Janelle Monáe "Cold War"
Jimmy Eat World "Coffee And Cigarettes"
Kanye West "Runaway (feat. Pusha T)"
KiD CuDi "Erase Me (Feat. Kanye West)"
KiD CuDi, Best Coast and Rostam "All Summer"
Kylie Minogue "All The Lovers"
The Laureates "No Control"
LCD Soundsystem "I Can Change"
Les Savy Fav "Let's Get Out of Here"
Lykke Li "Get Some"
Metric "Black Sheep"
My Chemical Romance "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)"
The Naked And Famous "All Of This"
The National "Terrible Love"
of Montreal "Coquet Coquette"
OK Go "This Too Shall Pass"
Robyn "Dancing On My Own"
Shout Out Louds "Fall Hard"
Sleigh Bells "Tell Em"
Spoon "Got Nuffin'"
Superchunk "Learned To Surf"
Teddybears "Crystal Meth Christian"
The Thermals "Never Listen To Me"
Torche "Out Again"
Wavves "King of the Beach"
The Whigs "Hundred / Million"