Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Favorite Music of 2010

My 20 Favorite Albums of 2010

So this year, there was a ton of great new music that came out. Over the course of 2010, I figured out that I've listened through about 75 new albums (released this year alone) either on vinyl, mp3 downloads, CDs etc. I do a lot of reading up through online music blogs,, message boards, and music review sites to figure out what is worth my time. Because although 75 albums might sound like a lot, there is still a pretty large chunk of music that I wanted to listen to but didn't get a chance to this year. But anyway here are my favorite albums from this year followed by favorite songs and favorite live shows. My goal is to spread the word about some releases that maybe slipped through the cracks as well as get some feedback on music I missed.

1. The Black Keys - "Brothers"

For my #1 pick of favorite album of 2010, I decided not to go with a weird, "too cool for school" hipster indie rock album. Instead I went with the latest Black Keys album. Why you ask?? .......... Well because, I'm pretty sure it's the freshest and grooviest blues record I've heard in my whole life.
Six albums deep into their career, the Black Keys created their most massive-appealing album to date. Recorded partly at the world famous Muscle Shoals Studio (aka: Soul Mecca), the band incorporated a bit more 60's soul and hip-hop beats on Brothers. But not just that! The production and recording quality is incredible! Turning this album up loud in the stero, you feel like you're in the same room as the band. Patrick Carney's drumming has never sounded better and thumpier. Dan Auerbach's guitar playing and singing is soulful and gripping. Good Job Black Keys!

key tracks --> "Sinister Kid", "Tighten Up", "Everlasting Light"

2. The Arcade Fire - "The Suburbs"

This year, the Arcade Fire came out with yet another monumental addition to their already ridiculous catalogue in The Suburbs. This easily could have been my #1 choice of the year. The Suburbs is fifteen songs, no filler, and deals with growing up in the suburbs of Win Butler's hometown outside Houston, TX. This is the epic sort of album that is capable of influencing hordes of young artists to pick up their utensil (whether it be a guitar, camera, pen etc) and make art!
The Arcade Fire can do no wrong at this point.

key tracks --> "Sprawl II", "Modern Man", "The Suburbs", "Rococo"

3. The National - "High Violet"

High Violet was the album I most anticipated for 2010. Three years ago, the band released one of my all time favorite records - Boxer, which established the group as one of the most important indie rock bands of the decade. As with previous releases, High Violet is full of
intense, brooding backdrops of noise fronted by a singer who sounds like a mix between a 1950's crooner and Nick Cave. But there's something gloomier about this one.
This is not music you put on to put a smile on your face and have a good chuckle.
It's the kind of record you sit in the dark with, drink whiskey, and have a good cry to.
The songs are full of sadness, and mysterious dark beauty that pull you in with each listen.

key tracks --> "Runaway", "Afraid of Everyone", "Bloodbuzz Ohio", "Conversation 16"

4. Sufjan Stevens - "The Age of Adz"

It's been a solid five year wait since Sufjan Stevens has put out an album this exciting. After abandoning his 50 States Album Project with Michigan in 2003 and Come on Feel the Illinoise in 2005, he's returned with a whole new sound pallette of electric blips and bops. On The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens pulled a similar 180 to that of Radiohead's Kid A was released in 2000. Although, whether or not The Age of Adz will have the same staying power as Kid A, has yet to be seen. But after about 10-15 listens, I can say this is the most exciting album I've heard yet by Sufjan Stevens. This is definitely a grower, that is best listened to from start to finish. The album has a fair share of excess at times (especially towards the end with the 25 minute long song - Impossible Soul). However his melodies and lyrics are challenging, insightful, and never get boring. From start to finish, The Age of Adz was another high point for me in 2010.

key tracks --> "Futile Devices", "Too Much", "The Age of Adz", "I Walked", "Vesuvius"

5. Kanye West - "My Dark Twisted Fantasy"

I don't listen to much hip-hop, so I'm not the best person to review it. So
when something does reach out and grab me the way Kanye West's latest album did, there has to be something about it that is incorporating either what I'm listening to now, or what I grew up listening to. Kanye West always seems to pull together some really great obscure samples (King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man Wha-what??) and his raps are freaking hilarious at times. Then you throw in all the controversy about everything that leaves his mouth in interviews. Kanye West clearly does what he wants, when he wants, and doesn't care what anybody thinks..... And I dig that!..... A few things in particular got me hyped about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: 1. Rolling Stone magazine and Pitchfork Media both gave the album perfect reviews (unheard of!); 2. Bon Iver aka: Justin Vernon guests on the album (aka: indie lofi folkie songwriter that put out one of my favorite albums of 2007); and 3. The song Monster and my first introduction to hearing Nicki Minaj rap. Luckily, this album delivered all the way around. So let us toast to the douchebags and assholes.

key tracks --> "Monster", "Power", "Dark Fantasy"

word on the streets----> Kanye West has another new album coming out with Jay-Z in March and has already started working non-stop on a follow-up which he's hoping to put out summer of 2011!

6. Beach House - "Teen Dream"

Teen Dream is the first album by Beach House that I've heard, but definitely won't be my last. The appropriately titled band and album use big dreamy/spacey/shoegazey/summertime soundscapes fronted by Victoria Lagrand's smokey voice. The closest comparison I can give to her voice is that of Mazzy Star (Fade into You was their big hit in the 90's). From what I've read, Teen Dream was the band's first album recorded in a proper studio and as a result the sounds are bigger and more adventurous. This
is not the kind of music you put on to pump yourself up and launch a discus. This is an album to listen to while hanging out on the beach and smoking some bud. Also as a side note, you can buy Teen Dream with a bonus DVD which I highly recommend. It features a bunch of really great music videos that complement the songs by all different producers.

key tracks --> "Zebra", "Norway", "Walk in the Park", "Used to Be"

7. The Black Angels - "Phosphene Dream"

The Black Angels are my favorite local band right now in Austin, TX! The music is pretty basic on paper - verse-chorus-verse, play guitar riff over and over again; add drum; bang bang etc etc.. But what I love about the Black Angels is their use of dynamics in songs. The Black Angels (who are named after a Velvet Underground song) create what they call "Native American Drone and Roll" music. They remind me a lot of mid 60's psychedelic rock when it was heavy on the weird side and not on the jamming.
Phosphene Dream is easily their best album to date. This album is like a goth rock version of Pink Floyd's first album - Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The album is spooky and is great music to blast loudly when driving through desolate deserts and backroads. Highly Recommended.

key tracks --> "Telephone", "Bad Vibrations", "Yellow Elevator #2"

8. Laura Marling - "I Speak Because I Can"

At only 20 years old, this British folk singer has created a record that artists try a lifetime to make. Laura Marling's finger picking quietly carries this record along; with lyrics about growing up, and a voice that sounds much older.
ed by one of my favorite producers - Ethan Johns, t
he songs were recorded with very little accompaniement. Instead all the focus is on
the little nuances of her voice. If you are a fan of any of the following: Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Alexi Murdoch, Iron and Wine, Beth Orton, or Bonnie Prince Billy; you won't be let down with I Speak Because I Can.

key tracks --> "Devil's Spoke", "Made By Maid", "Rambling Man", "Darkness Descends"

9. The Walkmen - "Lisbon"

The first time that I heard this band was at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. The Walkmen opened for the Pogues in front of a sold out crowd of drunken Irishmen. Watching the show from the balcony of the "soon to be covered in vomit" 150 year old theater, I didn't instantly love their music, but they did leave an impression on me that kept haunting me in my sleep for years to come...... The voice! The swagger! The slight garage rock sound but overall very hard to classify-racket of noise! the scratchy guitar riffage! the surf rock drumming! what the bloody hell was that?...... Over the years, I listened here and there to their tunes, but still couldn't really follow them other than a few songs. Then Lisbon came out this year and I've started to get it!
The Walkmen sound like long lost cousins to the Velvet Underground. Their music is recorded using very old equipment and their lead singer sounds like Frank Sinatra's evil drunken forgotten twin brother from Ireland.
Musically, the songs really don't venture much, but underneath it all are big sweeping horns, strings, and a singer who possesses one of the most original voices in indie rock.

key tracks --> "Stranded", "Angela Surf City", "Victory"

10. Surfer Blood - "Astro Coast"

In my opinion, Surfer Blood were the most promising new act to come out in 2010. I really love everything about these guys - I love the band name and album title, I love that they're from Florida, I love the album cover, I love the anthems which were mostly recorded in a home studio (from what I've heard)..... I could go on an on..... I tried to see these guys play at the SXSW festival last year four times!! Each time the shows were sold out or I wasn't allowed in..... but to get on with this mini-review, I am very excited about what the future holds for this band. Surfer Blood wear their influences proudly. There is definitely a little bit of Pavement and early Weezer in these songs. Astro Coast is the soundtrack for face splitting, coral spitting, 30 foot wave surfing, gut spewing rock and roll surfer dudes.

key tracks --> "Floating Vibes", "Swim", "Neighbor Riffs", "Twin Peaks"

11. The Roots - "How I Got Over"

With How I Got Over, the Roots made one of the darkest and most inspiring hip hop records of their career. Playing on the Jimmy Fallon show and recruiting Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and Joanna Newsome as guest stars on the album seemed to draw more appeal from indie-hipsters than with previous releases. There really aren't any club jams on this record (not that I know much about clubz), instead its more about stepping back and examining your life from the perspective of someone going through a midlife crisis..... (bummer huh?)

key tracks --> "Dear God 2.0", "Radio Daze", "How I Got Over", "The Day", "Right On"

12. MGMT - "Congratulations"

MGMT surprised a lot of people with Congratulations. Gone were the hit singles of Oracular Spectacular and replacing them were weird longer song structures, and more challenging outer space melodies. If that wasn't enough, Sonic Boom from the very influential space rock/neo psychedlic group - Spacemen 3, produced Congratulations. With repeated listens, I've started to like this album even more than the previous record.

key tracks --> "Congratulations", "Flash Delirium", "Siberian Breaks", "Someone's Missing"

13. LCD Soundsystem - "This is Happening"

Sadly and supposedly this will be LCD Soundsystem's last album. This is Happening was the final chapter of a trilogy that started back in 2005 and continued in 2007 with one of my favorite albums of the year - Sound of Silver. This record continues to follow in the footsteps of the 80's new wave inspired music of the last two releases but is a little dancier. David Bowie's similar Berlin trilogy from 1977-1979 (Low --> Heroes --> Lodger) sounds like a huge influence on these records (try listening to Heroes back to back with All I Want); as does some of the early Talking Heads albums with Brian Eno. But through it all, LCD Soundsystem have come out with some incredible music that will likely be relevant for years to come.

key tracks --> "Dance Yourself Clean", "I Can Change", "All I Want", "Drunk Girls"

14. Vampire Weekend - "Contra"

After putting out one of the most raved about albums of 2008, Vampire Weekend released an album very similar to that release with Contra. The band continued to master their blend of afro-pop/Paul Simon/new wavey/ New York City sounds and overall, the songs sound more comfortable. But to me, comfortable doesn't always make for the best music. This album relies a little more on synth sounds and a little less on the punky garage guitars from their debut. I Still really love about half of this record, but overall I preferred their debut.

key tracks --> "Cousins", "Horchatta", "Giving Up the Gun", "Holiday"

15. Jenny and Johnny - "I'm Having Fun Now"

So in case you didn't know, Jenny is Jenny Lewis from the band Rilo Kiley and Johnny is singer songwriter Johnathon Rice. Together, they are a couple from California that write really catchy quirky summertime acoustic indie pop tunes. Overall this year, I didn't feel like there was enough music like this.

key tracks --> "Big Wave", "Animal", "Switchblade", "My Pet Snakes"

16. Spoon - "Transference"

This album took some time to grow on me but after a good five or so listens, I was pretty hooked. After their last album which featured a full horns section and a very radio-friendly sound, I was expecting Spoon to pull off a Kings of Leon and take that a step further. Instead, this release is a step into more sparse sounds that were more present in their early albums. This was not a bad move at all and I highly recommend this album if you'd like their earlier releases. Spoon is still as intact as ever.

key tracks --> "Who Makes your Money", "The Mystery Zone", "Trouble Comes Running"

17. Charlotte Gainsbourg - "IRM"

French actress/musician/daughter of Serge Gainsbourgh - Charlotte Gainsbourg's 3rd album sounds dark and mysterious. Charlotte sings in her usual quiet and sexy as all hell whispers over lush string arrangements and the sound machine known as Beck Hanson aka: Beck. While Charlotte wrote some of the song lyrics, Beck wrote all the music and produced IRM. The music on this album was inspired partially by various trips to the doctors to treat a brain hemorrhage (In France, IRM is what they call an MRI). To me, this album has a lot of similiarities with Beck's Modern Guilt album from a couple years ago. If you liked that record, you should like this as well.

key tracks --> "Heaven Can Wait", "Le Chat du Cafe des Artistes", "In the End", "Time of the Assasins"

18. The Boston Spaceships - "Our Cubehouse Still Rocks"

One of Robert Pollard's 4 new albums for 2010 was pretty awesome! To me, The Boston Spaceships, are what I wish the Who sounded like today. Of course, with any Robert Pollard release, there are hiccups on this release, but this album is the closest we'll likely have to another Guided By Voices album and for that it is spectacular.

key tracks --> "Fly Away (Terry Sez)", "Come on Baby Grace"

19. The Bell Riots

You may say I'm a little biased here because I'm friends with these guys, but their first album is smashingly good! The album is chock full of short and sweet songs that feature metallic guitars, weird Star Trek clips, crazy song shifts from pretty and shimmering to classic hardcore punk riffs, and very interesting well thought out storylines.

key tracks --> "Automatic Door", "The Orderly Procession", "Amber Barbarella", "Pretty Mouth"

20. Broken Bells

In case you didn't know, Broken Bells is a project that includes James Mercer from the Shins and studio guru/Gnarls Barkley member - Danger Mouse. When I first started listening to this album, I chose it for some of the wrong reasons. I love the Shins and I was expecting the album to be somewhat of an uphill continuation of that band. Unfortunately with all these false hopes, I wasn't a fan of Broken Bells. After some time away from the record, listening again with fresh ears it's a pretty enjoyable record of radio friendly electro indie pop. However listening through, there is nothing adventurous enough that makes me go "Holy Guaca-freakin-Moly-Batman!".

key tracks --> "Vaporize", "High Road", "The Ghost Inside", "The Mall and Misery"

2 Great Reissues/Old Material Released for First Time

Bruce Springsteen - "The Promise"

This release is a Godsend! Thank you Bruce!! During the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce and the E Street Band recorded somewhere around 80 songs for the album. Only ten of them made the track listing. Many others, he gave to other artists to record ("Because the Night" - Patti Smith, "Fire" - The Pointer Sisters, "Rendevous", and most of a whole album went to the Asbury Jukes). Over the years, a few of the songs have found their way to the general public, but this year, two more discs (known as the Promise) finally made their way out. These songs are incredibly good! If you are a Springsteen fan, these songs are must haves! Hearing these, it's clear that Darkness could have easily been a great double album.

key tracks --> "Wrong Side of the Street, "Because the Night", "Rendezvous", "Fire", "The Promise", "City of Night"

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - "III/IV"

Two new albums in one low priced package by one of my all time favorite artists! These albums were originally recorded after Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights and sound nothing like those records. Instead, these albums bring to mind a more mature version of Rock and Roll. In my opinion, this is what should have come out in place of Easy Tiger. There is a much better flow to these songs than on Easy Tiger and the drums sound sooooo much better. There is a definite Strokes feel to these songs and Ryan's vocals sound better than ever!

key tracks --> "Stop Playing with My Heart", "Kisses Start Wars", "Breakdown into Resolve", "Death and Rats", "Kill the Lights"

My 78 Favorite Songs of the Year

  1. Adam Green - "Castles and Tassels"
  2. Arcade Fire - "Modern Man"
  3. Arcade Fire - "The Suburbs"
  4. Arcade Fire - "Sprawl II"
  5. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffitti - "Round and Round"
  6. Band of Horses - "Factory"
  7. Beach House - "Norway"
  8. Beach House - "Walk in the Park"
  9. The Bell Riots - "Automatic Door"
  10. The Black Angels - "Telephone"
  11. The Black Keys - "Everlasting Light"
  12. The Black Keys - "Tighten Up"
  13. The Black Keys - "Sinister Kid"
  14. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Detka! Detka! Detka!"
  15. Caribou - "Odessa"
  16. Cee-Lo Green - "F##k You"
  17. Charlotte Gainsbourgh - "Heaven Can Wait"
  18. Charlotte Gainsbourgh - "In the End"
  19. Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr - "God Only Knows" (Beach Boys cover)
  20. Damien Jurado - "Cloudy Shoes"
  21. Deer Tick - "20 Miles"
  22. Fitz and the Tantrums - "Moneygrabber"
  23. Frightened Rabbit - "Swim Until You Can't See Land"
  24. Gorillaz - "Stylo"
  25. Gorillaz - "Superfast Jellyfish"
  26. Harlem - "Gay Human Bones"
  27. Jenny and Johnny - "Big Wave"
  28. Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social Club - "Burning the Bowery"
  29. Johnny Flynn - "Kentucky Pill"
  30. Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling - "The Water"
  31. Josh Ritter - "Change of Time"
  32. Josh Ritter - "Lark"
  33. Josh Ritter - "Lantern"
  34. Justin Townes Earle - "Harlem River Blues"
  35. Kanye West - "Monster"
  36. Kanye West - "Power"
  37. Laura Marling - "Devil's Spoke"
  38. Laura Marling - "Made by Maid"
  39. LCD Soundsystem - "I Can Change"
  40. LCD Soundsystem - "Dance Yrself Clean"
  41. MGMT - "Congratulations"
  42. Midlake - "Acts of Man"
  43. The National - "Runaway"
  44. The National - "Afraid of Everyone"
  45. The National - "Terrible Love"
  46. The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio"
  47. Phosphorescent - "The Mermaid Parade"
  48. Reverse - "Helicoptors"
  49. Robert Pollard - "The Weekly Crow"
  50. Roky Erickson with Okkervil River - "Goodbye Sweet Dreams"
  51. Roky Erickson with Okkervil River - "True Love Cast Out All Evil"
  52. The Roots - "Dear God 2.0"
  53. The Roots - "Now or Never"
  54. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - "Stop Playing with My Heart"
  55. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - "Breakdown into Resolve"
  56. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals - "Death and Rats"
  57. Sleigh Bells - "Rill Rill"
  58. Sonny and the Sunsets - "Too Young to Burn"
  59. Spoon - "Who Makes Your Money?"
  60. Spoon - "Written in Reverse"
  61. Spoon - "Trouble Comes Running"
  62. Sufjan Stevens - "Too Much"
  63. Sufjan Stevens - "I Walked"
  64. Sufjan Stevens - "Vesuvius"
  65. Surfer Blood - "Swim"
  66. Surfer Blood - "Floating Vibes"
  67. The Tallest Man on Earth - "Burden of Tomorrow"
  68. Vampire Weekend - "Horchatta"
  69. Vampire Weekend - "Cousins"
  70. Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up the Gun"
  71. Veronica Falls - "Beachy Head"
  72. Veronica Falls - "Starry Eyes" (Roky Erickson cover)
  73. The Walkmen - "Stranded"
  74. The Walkmen - "Victory"
  75. The Walkmen - "Angela Surf City"
  76. Wavves - "King of the Beach"
  77. Yeasayer - "Ambling Alp"
  78. Yeasayer - "O.N.E."

My 6 Favorite Shows of the Year

#1. Guided By Voices @ The East Side Drive-In, Austin, TX - September 30th

#2. Roger Waters @ The American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX - November 21st

#3. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros @ La Zona Rosa, Austin, TX - July 6th

#4. Evan Dando @ Emo's, Austin, TX - February 24th

#5. The Black Angels/Black Mountain at La Zona Rosa, Austin, TX - November 19th

#6. Justin Townes Earle @ Stubbs BBQ, Austin, TX - February 4th

Artists that released new music in 2010 that I still plan to check out someday --> Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffitti, The Avett Brothers, Blitzen Trapper, Codeine Velvet Club, Darker My Love, Grinderman, Jack Johnson, Joanna Newsome, Jonsi, The Len Price 3, Liars, The Lower Dens, Marah, Neil Young, OFF!, Patrick Park, Pete Yorn, Quasi, Ray Lamontagne, Ryan Bingham, Suckers, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,