Monday, November 29, 2010

Sweeping Generalizations Under the Rug: 2010 - The Year in Review

Let me be brief, this is my third annual countdown/wrap-up/summation/celebration of the best (and worst) records, songs, and miscellanea in music. As always I like to state that I am not a professional reviewer, meaning only that I don't get paid (or published) and I don't get free records from labels. The only explanation for this list, I guess, is my compulsive need to categorize, criticize, and share with other music lovers. Thank you to anyone who takes the time to read, agree/disagree, and/or respond to this - my personal documentation of 2010, a surprisingly decent year in music.
Note: The only list that is presented in order of quality is the Top Ten Albums list, everything else is just collected, not ranked.

Top Ten Albums of 2010:

1. Innerspeaker by Tame Impala - This record is outstanding. Not because of some existential nonsense or groundbreaking instrumentation or genre defining paradigm shift, but just because of how it sounds. The actual music is perfect, it's one of the most pleasurable listening experiences I've ever had (and it better have been since I paid like thirty dollars for it, damn Australian import prices). Tame Impala blend catchiness, spaced-out effects, and garage crunch better than anyone using that formula right now, which is saying a lot, but they do it in a way that isn't overstated or obvious. Alter Ego, Desire Be Desire Go, and I Don't Really Mind are so effortlessly enjoyable it's as if they were created by some kind of Skynet-esque computer system to overthrow the world of popular music. However, Tame Impala is just a trio of Aussie dudes making a lot of (much appreciated) noise. Ironically, the only song I tend to skip is the album's first single Solitude Is Bliss, everything else is gold. The experimental era Beatles come to mind as an influence in both vocal style and song writing, but honestly, when don't they? Andorra era Caribou and Dungen are probably the best current touchstones (actually, Tame Impala sound exactly like what I hoped Dungen would sound like when I first got into them, no disrespect to Dungen). The overall vibe of this record is a kind of kaleidoscopic Earthtone voyage, the best of what this exact type of genre can create. Seriously brilliant.

2. No Mas by Javelin - Dance music. It was one of my very first loves, an only child listening to the radio every night, who could resist Rhythm Is A Dancer? Once you love dance music it never goes away, it gets in your marrow. I feel a kinship with the Brookylnites that make up Javelin because No Mas is a love letter to dance music. It's not disco, because it's a DJ record, and it's not a DJ record because it's more expansive than that - if that makes sense. I can't imagine that much (if any) of this record is instrumentation rather than electronic programming, but it feels present and live in a way that most other DJ/electronic bands either can't or don't want to achieve. It's got heart is more or less what I'm trying to say. Shadow Heart and Off My Mind are honest-to-goodness love songs, perfect for lonely yet optimistic drives home. No Mas does have another trick up it's sleeve however, it's also fun. Remember fun? Remember actually enjoying music? The tracks come and go unobtrusively and are infinitely replay-able. We Ah Wi, Oh Centra (which finally makes good use of that weird high-pitched singing effect that I usually hate), and Moscow 1980 are fantastic and build on the reputation Javelin already have in certain circles. I'd also love to know why soothing and enigmatic closer Goal/Wide wasn't the official theme song of the 2010 World Cup. This is a smart, fully-realized, and infectious dance record that anyone who cares should be all over.

3. Heartland by Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy - I can't even really begin to discuss or dissect Heartland, it's otherworldly, it's not something you see on the shelf every year. Owen Pallett has spent years arranging and composing music for highly acclaimed bands (Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear) as well as crafting his own orchestral masterpieces under the Final Fantasy pseudonym (which I hope he keeps, or at least makes up his mind about). Heartland is his first "big" album, at least, it's the first one that's getting any kind of mass attention. His music is based around violin loops and orchestral backing along with his peculiar sort of dynamic altar boy vocal delivery. I thought this record was a flop after the first few listens, but it has a slow-burn style to it, it's delicate and tragic and gorgeous if you can appreciate the care that has been taken. The pinnacle is reached with Oh Heartland, Up Yours! (X-Ray Spex references always work on me), an almost too-quiet-for-it's-own-good not-quite-centerpiece that is either an indictment or a celebration of Pallett's native Canada - or about something else entirely (I told you I couldn't discuss or dissect this record!!). Red Sun No. 5 and The Great Elsewhere are other personal faves, but this album (maybe more than any other I'll mention) needs to be experienced independently. Take it on a long car trip or just put on your headphones and let it go, Heartland is worth your time.

4. This is Happening by LCD Soundsystem - Ever since I got into LCD Soundsystem I've been kind of half-assedly obsessed with the man behind it all, James Murphy. Not uncommon for dudes of my ilk. Nevertheless, I read articles about him, buy almost everything he has a hand in, and keep my eyes peeled for him whenever I'm in New York or at a record store - he is from Princeton Junction after all. All that being said, I didn't love the last LCD record (2007's Sound of Silver) and I kind of wasn't super excited for this record. I bought it, it sat around in my room, I'd listen from time to time, 'Oh, All I Want is a pretty good song', ho-humming it all the way. It wasn't until about a month or two ago that I really sat with it and let it sink in. Obvious revelation - it's phenomenal. Every song is a quality listen, though occasionally I may skip Drunk Girls or Somebody's Calling Me, but that's just moodiness at work. The opener, Dance Yrself Clean is nearly nine minutes long and engrossing from start to finish, All I Want is probably the best song Murphy's ever written, and Home perfectly closes out the record and maybe the band if Murphy stays true to his promise to "quit" after finishing this album's tour. Not only are James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem the epitome of a full-band, hardworking dance music act, but this record serves as a document of certain success for an artist (and I rarely use that word) doing exactly what he wants, exactly the way he wants.

5. Before Today by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - I was introduced, musically, to Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti in the summer of 2005 and ever since then I've been waiting for this record. Before Today is his first legitimate studio album with a REAL band and REAL drums (previous records had surprisingly well done mouth-drumming) and, maybe most important of all, REAL expectations. APHG has been plugging away for years, keeping it LO-FI, writing songs about life in LA, saving yourself for Kate Bush, and of course evil. There was always the aura of nonchalance about his CD-R's and AM-radio-at-the-bottom-of-the-sea production style, but now he's on 4AD, the game has changed. To quote Rock n' Roll High School, "this is the big time girlie, this is rock n' roll". Before Today is, as I had imagined, unflinching. Ariel's psychotic pop compositions are just as great as ever, they just sound better now. He hits all the marks: un-ironic Alan Parsons soft-rockiness (Can't Hear My Eyes), South-Californian teenie-bopping (Beverly Kills), and a truly brilliant and absurdly catchy cover of a forgotten nugget called Bright Lit Blue Skies. There's a cool Crass-style bass line to open Revolution's A Lie and my personal favorite, Fright Night, has a demonic synth hook that will stay stuck in your head for days. Before Today is visionary in the way that only Ariel Pink tends to be and is the sound of an underground genius making good on years of promise.

6. Relayted by Gayngs - I know almost nothing about Gayngs except that they have a great name and are apparently some sort of supergroup. The $1.99 copy of this record that I purchased came with nothing but a track listing and CD, but these days I'll go for anything on Jagjaguar. After about thirty seconds of unprejudiced listening I was hooked. If you can allow yourself to appreciate a band that blends 80's buddy-cop movie guitar solos, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony style vocal layering, more than a touch of Godley & Creme, and an unwaveringly earnest approach then you may just fall for this record the same way I did. Opening track, The Gaudy Side of Town is true baby-making-music and sets down a groove unlike any other heard this year. Gayngs inhabit a space populated by electric pianos, echoing saxophones, and far-off dub drumming reminiscent of the short-lived pre-Mars Volta act Defacto. Maybe all you need to know about this record can be understood through some of the song titles: Spanish Platinum, Faded High, and The Last Prom on Earth seem to say more than I ever could. There is a misstep here and there, but overall this record is refreshingly different and incredibly well-made.

7. Strange Weather, Isn't It? by !!! - 2007's Myth Takes was a bit of a revelation, I've wanted to like this band ever since the early 00's, the days of Dance Punk, or whatever we called it back then. !!! (Chk Chk Chk) is one of the only bands to survive that era along with Liars and, to a much lesser degree, The Rapture. Myth Takes was amazing and essentially what I had always hoped they would sound like, so I was pretty eager for the next record. However, in Novemeber 2009 !!! member and all-around NYC multi-tasker Jerry Fuchs died tragically when he fell down an elevator shaft. I'm unclear as to how far into the recording process they were, Fuchs does appear on one track, fittingly it's the closer, The Hammer. Soldiering on and employing a crew of replacement drummers and additional instrumentalists !!! released Strange Weather, Isn't it? and once again created something both entertaining and genre defying. After you get past the mediocre opening track AM/FM it's a solid block of about six really solid funk/dance-rock songs from the shimmer of The Most Certain Sure to the dark soulfulness of Hollow. With the addition of a great supporting cast and solid production Strange Weather, Isn't It? outshines Myth Takes and prepares !!! for a break in to the mainstream...too bad the mainstream's idea of funk begins and ends with Maroon 5.

8. Maniac Meat by Tobacco - The day I purchased this record I had serendipitously run into two old friends at the record store. On the walk to get dinner before seeing Piranha 3D I let them know my feelings on Tobacco: "It's the dude from Black Moth Super Rainbow and all the songs pretty much sound the same, so you kind of either like it or you don't, and I do." That being said, this record is great. It really is, it's got an unassailable quality to it, it feels immune to criticism. I'm not saying it's a perfect record, but it moves along with a dirty insouciance and it doesn't care if you're on board. Songs like Sweatmother and Motorlicker (Tobacco's song titles are pretty incomparable) are what I would imagine punks would listen to in bad movies about apocalyptic futures. If Total Recall came out today I wouldn't be surprised to hear Tobacco playing in a Mars nightclub. The real feather-in-the-cap of Maniac Meat is Fresh Hex, one of two tracks with guest vocals from Beck. Complete with alliteration in the key of "C", Fresh Hex comes and goes before you can even appreciate it's sleazy beauty. Luckily this record sounds as fresh on the twentieth listen as it does on the first. One or two points off for some overly-long tracks towards the end and the creepiest (in a bad way) cover art of the year, but Maniac Meat is another huge step forward and easily the best recording to come out of the Black Moth Super Rainbow camp to date.

9. Transference by Spoon - As their popularity grows, one day someone is going to have to compile a Spoon Greatest Hits collection, anyone familiar with the band's catalogue can imagine what a daunting task this will be. I saw Spoon earlier this year and something you can easily forget is just how many great songs Britt Daniel and Co. have written over the past 16 years. They played for hours and I found myself saying, "Oh yeah this one...oh yeah that one...oh right, Jonathon Fisk!!" It's absurd. The point I'm trying to make, albeit slowly, is that the aforementioned eventual task got a bit harder this year. Transference serves as a strange yet fan-pleasing follow-up to 2007's would-be hit-maker Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. This album is more claustrophobic and metered and even a signature stomper like Trouble Comes Running is muted and reserved - although that doesn't take away from it being one of the best songs they're ever released. Before Destruction and Who Makes Your Money are somewhat coy but unmistakeably mid-tempo Spoon while Written In Reverse and Got Nuffin are the kind of rockers that no Spoon record comes without. Is Love Forever and The Mystery Zone are a little under and over-cooked, respectively, but don't hurt the overall appeal of the album. Spoon has been this good for a long time and it's nice to see that they're not afraid to do something left-of-center. They made a fan-centric record when they were primed to crossover, effectively showing us what really matters.

10. In the Court of the Wrestling Let's by Let's Wrestle - I bought this record for two reasons. 1. It's on Merge, and 2. The title, I hate to pass up a good King Crimson reference. Off to a Princeton side street, into my car and on with the awkwardly yet wistfully named Let's Wrestle. About a minute into the first track I decided that I would never again buy an unknown CD at full price, that's how much I disliked whatever this crap was. Driving home I kind of warmed up to the lead singer's odd, unpolished voice and the songwriting definitely got better as it moved along. Mix in a few classic lonely guy lyrics and I was a fan by the time I pulled in the driveway. Let's Wrestle, as it turns out, are a charmingly amateurish group of punks (??) from England. The real strength in this album is in it's nostalgic feel, every time I hear it I feel like it should have been released on Elephant 6 or Kindercore in the late 90's. It's not punk, as the members of LW have stated, at least not musically, but it does have the energetic spirit of bands like Olivia Tremor Control and Elf Power. Usually the 10 spot on my lists is reserved for underachievers, but this year I thought I'd change it up completely. Let's Wrestle have the potential to not only be a reminder of what was great in the past but also a really fun off-beat success story.

Top 15 Songs of 2010 (that are not featured on the Top 10 Albums):

1. Lottery Dust from Feel Good Together by Drummer - Maybe my favorite song of the year?? I don't know. No, probably not, but great nonetheless. Drummer is a sort-of supergroup with the drummer from The Black Keys (playing bass), the guitar player from (one of my favorite bands ever) The Party Of Helicopters (playing guitar for the first time since POH broke up), and a few other Ohio natives - all of which are primarily drummers, hence the awful name. The record is decent, six or seven really strong songs, but Lottery Dust is a monster and the only track where they really seem to be at full-power.

2. Sentimental X's from Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene - I got REALLY into BSS this year, kind of out of nowhere. I was going through a Canadian band phase (which persists!) and I figured I'd give them a listen. I see now that I always had the wrong impression of them. They're really skilled at building on a single structure and turning it into something you didn't expect. It also seems like their secret formula has something to do with a vocal cadence that I can't accurately describe in words, sort of a fragile pacing and momentary change in pitch. Anyway, Sentimental X's is amazing, it's a real wool blanket of a song. A compact little drum beat and soft, slowly ascending vocals make it a perfect pop song.

3. Swim from Astro Coast by Surfer Blood - I don't know what it is about this song, I just love it. The record wasn't great, the band doesn't seem very interesting, but this one just hooked me. Described by the band as a mix between The Cure and Andrew W.K., it's much closer to Party Hard than Charlotte Sometimes, but it's a severely catchy simple track that's easy to fall for.

4. Helicopter from Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter - When I saw Deerhunter this past summer this is what they opened with and what struck me more than anything was the bass. It was dominating, and although the album version is less drastic and has a strange, almost metronome sounding drum track, it's still a really stunning song. The soothing vocal delivery and gentle guitar work are juxtaposed with the intense subject matter giving it a distinctly Deerhunter feel. The album may have been a letdown (wait for it) but this song is fantastic.

5. Scrappy from Oh, Light by Careful - As far as I can tell this record slipped through the proverbial cracks the moment it was released, I never heard a word about it. I bought it for $1.99 because it looked interesting and was very pleasantly surprised. Think Horn of Plenty era Grizzly Bear, really intimate bedroom pop with the standard glitchiness and reverb you'd expect from something released circa now. Scrappy is short and sweet and the kind of hidden treasure that record stores were made for.

6. If You Can't See My Mirrors from Together by The New Pornographers - I may be biased, but New Pornographers tracks where Destroyer mastermind Dan Bejar takes lead vocal tend to be my favorites. Together was another strong effort from these indie stalwarts and I suppose I could have chosen almost any cut to make my list, but this one has a particular hold on me - probably because I dislike the title so much. Is it about a truck driver falling in love? Who knows, it's just a quirky, enjoyable song which is standard for these guys.

7. Down On Loving from The Soft Pack by The Soft Pack - Formerly known as The Muslims, The Soft Pack play VERY straightforward rock music that I tend to think they view as slightly more subversive than it is. This is the best song from a mostly forgettable album with three or four really nice tracks. C'mon is just as good.

8. Vacation from Beach Fossils by Beach Fossils - I heard this song one time on the radio but missed the artist run-down, I then spent the next two days searching the station's website for the name of this band. All I knew was that it came on around 8am and that the Velvet Underground were played right after. On the second day I realized I was looking at the wrong listing, found the correct one, and instantly was on the hunt for Beach Fossils. Not dissimilar to Real Estate (...and I imagine a thousand other bands), I have no problem with this type of sound flooding the indie marketplace. This song was also the unofficial theme song for my October trip to Montreal.

9. Stylo from Plastic Beach by Gorillaz - Let me set the record straight: I don't like Blur and I don't like Gorillaz, but this song is SO GOOD that I actually went out and bought this record...used. Simply put, this song is irresistible. Other than On Melancholy Hill the rest of the album is exactly what I expected, but Stylo is gonna be around for a while, deservedly so.

10. Post Acid from King of the Beach by Wavves - No one likes Wavves. Well, apparently some people do, but I haven't met any of them. On this new album the traditional Wavves sound has been somewhat cast aside for a cleaner more 'radio-friendly' vibe, and I have no problem with that. The record overall is so-so, just like the previous releases, but the sense of enjoyment that comes through in the really good songs has kept me listening. It's nice that there's a band out there that is so devoutly juvenile in it's efforts, nothing here is to be taken seriously which is a relief from the layers of pretense that tend to coat so many other current releases.

11. Mouthful of Diamonds from Eyelid Movies by Phantogram - I heard this song about 40,000 times on the radio this year, and probably all from the same DJ. This song has a familiarity about it and will tend to stick with you until you hear it a second and third time. This is what people mean when they say a song is crafted. It sounds groomed. Every moment is just right and I'm shocked I haven't heard it on a commercial yet.

12. Digging For Something from Majesty Shredding by Superchunk - I'd like to subtitle this song How Not To Get Soft After 20+ Years. More than just being cool, this should serve as a reference to the scores of aged bands who are trying to regain their long-lost magic. It's not easy to remain relevant for so many years, but it would seem Superchunk hasn't lost a step.

13. I Remember from Odd Blood by Yeasayer - Can I give two seconds of praise to a hipster band for writing a legitimate love song before you roll your eyes? I guess I don't even know what hipster music is anymore, is everything I mentioned hipster stuff? Who cares. This is a seriously beautiful song from one of the best named bands in music.

14. Walk In The Park from Teen Dream by Beach House - The duo behind Beach House kicked it up a notch this year. Their last record was good, a little too somber and occasionally uneven, but decent. This one, however, was great. It feels like things have finally congealed, their sound is completely hypnotic and every song draws you in. This track seemed to stand out to me, but wherever you turn on Teen Dream you can't really go wrong.

15. In Every Direction from Fields by Junip - Junip is the band that singer/songwriter Jose Gonzales was with prior to his solo work, and this is their first release since an EP back in 2006. It's a really great record and this song is one of the strongest, maybe being the opening track gave it more of an impression, but it's undeniably catchy. I'd also like to take a moment to advise all mellow stoners to buy this record, or download it, or whatever you stoners do.

Top 5 Favorites of 2010, Not Of 2010 (Meaning that I didn't get into these records/artists until this year, just to clarify):

1. Fits by White Denim - Why is this band not extremely popular? Why was this CD buried under the counter with a $1.99 sticker on it? I'll tell you why: Because no one cares that this album was ever released. As hyperbolic as that sounds (and of course it's supposed to be) I don't think it's very far off. This record has a little bit of everything from My Bloody Valentine-esque walls of sound to legitimate southern riff-rock to cleverly plodding guitar jams. I heard a few things about this band in magazines here and there, but not until I heard the record did I really pay any attention. Fits offers something that not many other records do and is completely underrated and worth discovering.

2. Japandroids - Like several other entities that I now love (LCD Soundsystem, No Age, and the TV show Garth Marenghi's Darkplace to name a few) I arbitrarily disliked Japandroids until I gave them a chance. I didn't like their album cover, or the fact that their songs were so long, or whatever else. It's an issue I've always struggled with, but it's rather easily overcome. Japandroids are a duo out of Vancouver that play simple, shouty, up-tempo not-quite-punk/post rock. They supply endless sing-a-longs and have released two records - 2009's Post Nothing and 2010's No Singles (a collection of earlier, previously released recordings). Both of these records are worth checking out, the first three tracks on No Singles should be more than enough to draw you in.

3. No Age (and to a lesser degree Mika Miko)- Why did it take me so long to give No Age a chance? Oh, that's right, because I don't trust SUB POP. Unless it's a David Cross comedy album, I look at anything on that label through squinted, glaring eyes, as if it's a pack of wild teens loitering outside of a...wait a minute...the last David Cross album sucked too! Anyway, No Age is something of an anomaly: A legitimately punk guitar and drum duo with experimental tendencies on a fairly major label, who regularly update thier blog, play on national TV, and get nominated for Grammies. I guess the duo-as-rock-group template is fairly common these days, probably another reason I was so wary. No Age's sound is comprised mainly of fuzz, crackle, and shouts, but in a bubblegum kind of way, and is completely devoid of swagger, which is uncommon to say the least. Perhaps if I'd had enough time to completely digest their new record Everything In Between it would have made my top ten, I'd say it currently sits at #14 or 15, and the track Shed and Transcend is a current favorite.
After discovering No Age I also discovered some of the other bands from their scene, chief among them Mika Miko, an all-girl (though it appears they've added a dude or two) punk band that blends the sounds of post punk and classic California punk. A little Delta 5, a little Adolescents, and just the right amount of snottiness. These two bands are great examples of current West Coast punk for discerning listeners.

4. There's No 666 In Outer Space by Hella - As far as I knew, when I plucked this disc from the used bin, Hella was an extremely talented experimental instrumental two piece, and that was enough for me. There's No 666 In Outer Space was a bit of a shock in that this record features a full band, sprawling epically technical songwriting, and a maniacal singer who sounds like what I imagine the guy from The Jesus Lizard sounding like - since I've never heard them. Think classic Chris Cornell if he was a mad scientist who loved Faith No More. Songs like Dull Fangs, Anarchists Just Wanna Have Fun, and Friends Don't Let Friends Win are hideous in the best way and challenge the listener to use a term that's been long demonized: Avant Garde. Though I'm an avid fan of classification, I couldn't come up with anything to call this record, other than heavy and brilliant. Buy it.

5. The Odd Couple by Gnarls Barkley - I've never been a fan of Danger Mouse's production whether it be with The Black Keys, The Rapture, or any of the other bands he's worked with. I also didn't like the first Gnarls Barkley release at all. It wasn't until I heard Going On on the radio that I took notice of The Odd Couple. I'm not saying it's a great record or that it's some kind of creative turning point, all I'm saying is that it has a few really impressive songs. Whatever and Charity Case are fun and catchy and Who's Gonna Save My Soul is oddly earnest. The best selection by far is She Knows, an awkwardly tropical dance track with a solid groove and a great vocal from Cee-Lo Green - who always sounds effortlessly good. Basically, this album made the list as little more than a reminder for anyone who wrote off Gnarls, or never cared much in the first place.

Top 10 LETDOWNS of 2010:

1. High Violet by The National - I'm sorry, but I just don't get this record. I spent much of the beginning of the year listening to Boxer on long, lonely car rides anticipating their next release, only to be baffled by this truly dull album. I love Lemonworld, I like Bloodbuzz Ohio, and everything else blends together. This time around the somber vocal style and spacious production just sounded tired. Maybe I expected too much, but they didn't even meet me halfway.

2. Volume Two by She & Him - Is it so wrong to WANT to love everything Zooey Deschanel does? She's beautiful, seemingly sweet, a fantastic singer, and she married a less-than hunky indie rock dude. Aside from that, the first She & Him record was really good. This one, on the other hand, feels rushed and a little too by-the-book. The final two tracks (Brand New Shoes and If You Can't Sleep) are decent and the NRBQ cover (Ridin' In My Car) is solid, but overall it's a pretty big disappointment.

3. Infinite Arms by Band of Horses - I may be alone in feeling this way, but this is one of the most boring records I've ever heard. I remember liking one of the twelve tracks quite a bit, but the record is so muddled who knows which one it was. I think this was supposed to be their breakout album, and for all I know it was, maybe everyone else loved it, I certainly know a few people who did. For me though, it was just static. I go to Band of Horses for harmonious lovelorn ballads, since they've done that so well in the past. I mean, Laredo? C'mon.

4. Dear God, I Hate Myself by Xiu Xiu - This one was a real surprise. 2008's Women As Lovers was a really accomplished and beautiful record. It had a cover version of Under Pressure with Michael Gira from Swans, uninhibitedly poetic songs like F.T.W. and No Friend Oh!, and one of my favorite songs of the last few years, I Do What I Want, When I Want. Dear God... is a really strange release, even for Xiu Xiu, who confidently operate outside the parameters of pop. The thing about it that makes it strange, to me at least, is that it's not at all memorable, which is the exact opposite of all their other releases, most of which I own and enjoy. I vaguely recall Gray Death and Secret Motel, but otherwise the record seems to have no lasting effect, not exactly what I want or expect from Xiu Xiu. What I've found they do best is a kind of haunting, darkly personal chamber pop (other reviewers tend to throw the word "goth" in there, but I think you need a little more than occasional shrieking organs to get the goth tag). Though the tracks here may contain some of the elements Xiu Xiu is known for, this record doesn't hook the listener in the same way that previous releases The Air Force (2006) and Fabulous Muscles (2004) had. Obviously, bands evolve and songwriting follows suit, there were also line-up changes for this release, but as it is Dear God... remains a bit of a bland mystery.

5. Crystal Castles by Crystal Castles - This is a woefully boring record that completely failed to build on the immediacy and apocalyptic fun of their debut. However, I'm not writing them off yet, I'll chalk this one up to the "sophomore slump".

6. Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter - It was like Christmas morning the day I bought Halcyon Digest. I actually called a record store to be sure of which day they would have it on the shelves. I couldn't accurately express how much I loved 2008's Microcastle/Weird Era Con't when I first heard it early last year, and I still can't, all I really know is that it's one of my all time favorite albums. Hence the reason I was so excited for Halcyon. However, as it is with most things people get over-excited about, Christmas morning for instance, it was apparent that we could file Halcyon Digest under "Disappointment". I PROMISE you, no one wanted this to be the album of the year more than I did, I had the spot tucked away months before it came out. The reality of this record is that it's flat and never gains any real momentum. Helicopter, as stated earlier, is a standout, but the rest of the album just kind of wanders. Apparently Desire Lines is a favorite among listeners, but I never got it. A little too straightforward, a little too vanilla, a little too obvious. It sounds like a run-of-the-mill Strokes track from their last record. Coronado is the only other song I really like, the addition of a saxophone helps lift it from the mediocrity. Songs like Don't Cry, Basement Scene, and Fountain Stairs feel like they could be great Deerhunter songs, but they're just not given either enough attention or care or something. I still love Deerhunter, a lot, but odds are that this record will be filed away and forgotten under piles of other sub-par releases.

7. Sleep Forever by Crocodiles - See Crystal Castles.

8. One Life Stand by Hot Chip - What happened Hot Chip?? Seriously?? Made In the Dark was SO GOOD! Every band has peaks and valleys, but this record was one notch above unlistenable. I Feel Better was pretty good as was Take It In, but I don't even count that song becuase it already appeared on the Bugged Out Mix from last year. Step In The Wrong Direction Of The Year.

9. Treats by Sleigh Bells - Yikes. I've made no secret of the fact that I love hype. I am frequently and wholeheartedly taken in by it many, many times a year. Once I get my hands on the hypee, however, I try my best to look at them objectively. This record is discordant to a fault, it's impossible to listen to (and that means A LOT coming from someone who owns and enjoys some of the records that I do). I'll give Sleigh Bells the following: Alexis Krauss is gorgeous (and would appear to have a good voice, but who can tell?), they have a teriffic name, and Rill Rill is a great song - but, it's the only song on the record that sounds like that. Everything else is just too distorted, too riff driven, and too monotonous. The silver lining is, of course, that it's a debut and with a little more focus and a little less kitchen sink they could make a much better noise.

10. When I Grow Up I Wanna F*** Like A Girl by All Leather - I don't wanna dislike this record for a few reasons: 1. I've been pro-Justin Pearson (the man and the bands) since high school because they're always tight and innovative. The Locust, Some Girls, Holy Molar, Head Wound's all good stuff. 2. I wrote him a letter about eleven years ago (because that's how punks corresponded back then) and he wrote me back and sent me a ton of merch and I talked to him at a show about a year later and he was super nice. 3. It has a cover of Well-Fed Fuck by Born Against, one of my all time favorite bands. All that being said, this is the first Justin Pearson project that seems stale. It sounds like it should have come out five or six years ago, and even then it would have been less than intriguing. There's too much reliance on a throbbing drum machine and fails to really progress at all. Although his voice still sounds great, you can skip this one, go buy the Ground Unicorn Horn 45 instead.

Top Three Mixtape Names of 2010:

1. The Square Root of Eternity

2. Science is My Lady

3. Real Whitewater Rapids in Midnight

Top Five Records I Didn't Hear, But Were Probably Pretty Good, of 2010:

1. Rohnert Park by Ceremony

2. Gemini by Wild Nothing

3. Public Strain by Women (Easily the best cover art of the year)

4. Songs For Singles by Torche (I bought this on Dec. 31st, and it's very good, but a little short for an LP)

5. Warm Slime by Thee Oh Sees

Monday, November 22, 2010

They'll Say 'Are Ya Married', I'll Say 'No Man'

I was in bed last night and I remembered (maybe) my all time favorite thing about winter weather. It was probably 9 or 10pm, so it was long dark out, but there was a fantastic pale blue light coming in through my blinds. It reminded me of how bright it gets outside when there's snow on the ground and the moon is bright and unobstructed. Just thinking about that certain shade of light hitting my window in the middle of the night makes me wish for a nor'easter. Never mind the cars sliding on the road, the endless minutes spent shivering until the heater kicks in, or the shovelling...dear god, the shovelling. I've always been a sucker for winter, especially before it arrives, when you can feel it coming, while also comfortably braving 50 degree weather. It tends not to be until early to mid-January that I'm cursing Jack Frost, gazing longingly at my shorts, and dreaming of swimming pools. But, for now, I can indulge in those pre-snow, pre-4 layers and a scarf, pre-wanting to move to Brazil days: Reading teen/YA books for un-ironic nostalgia, drinking hot chocolate, and listening to bedroom rock and warm indie synths because they feel like flannel ear blankets. Lately the air smells like the agonizing chore of waiting for the school bus every morning, but somehow even that now seems wonderful. I may get starry-eyed for this time of year, but be sure to check back in two months when I'm using my freezing, dry hands to write a love letter to the sun.