29 December 2010

Best of 2010: Records

(I asked Gary for art, but never received it. He is a busy man so I understand. If you are a business/organization and you need graphics don't hesitate to contact Gary at glassyeyeddesigns.blogspot.com)

These are my favorites from the past year. Other sites have other lists, but this is mine. Ideally, this would be a top 35 but that just wasn't in the cards. At one point, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to throw one together at all, but here's what I was able to muster.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
-Las Robertas
-Twin Sister
-Mountain Man
-Harlem
-Sleigh Bells

11. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (Merge)
Diehards didn't dig this one as much because it doesn't sound like Funeral or Neon Bible, but it would be borderline irresponsible on the listeners behalf to compare this album to those other two. This band can't be miserable all the time, and to demand bleakness is selfish on our part. "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" is a certifiable jam, at least for the occupants of a certain apartment in New Jersey. In conclusion, this disc is a tad more upbeat than its predecessors and for that it has been nominated for Album of the Year by the Grammy committee. That being said, it's still #11 here.
10. High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine (E1)
This is a raised glass, and tip of the cap to Matt Pike. All the albums attributed to this man have been stellar. From what he did with doom/sludge trail blazers Sleep to the all-around awesomeness of Surrounded by Thieves and then Death Is This Communion and onwards. It all makes me thirsty.
9. Thee Oh Sees - Warm Slime (In the Red)
This band first entered my life in July of 2009 with a rousing set delivered in a vacant lot amid fireworks, trains, apples, and stubbed out cigarettes. After that game-changer, it became a personal mission to track down any and all recordings by this group like a modern day Alan Lomax. There are still many more to accumulate, but this nugget still does the trick. The opening track shares its name with the album, and clocks in at over thirteen minutes of rad. "I Was Denied" follows as the chaser. Ideal for train rides home from work, Sunday mornings reading comic books, and any evening when at a bar and dissatisfied with the jukebox.
8. Woods - At Echo Lake (Woodsist)
Last year in this space, Songs of Shame was described as "the one consistently good thing to happen to me," and that was true since at the time my days and nights were spent sitting underneath a deck. In farming country, this album made me feel restless. Now in the trappings of an apartment complex, it just makes sense. It's a constant necessity, one that causes me to propose that the future, past, and present all happen at once. Not to over-sentimentalize, but these songs remind me of the ground that has already been covered and what still needs to be forged. It's not nearly as arresting as Bruce or Neil, but it still gave me just enough hope to carry on until tomorrow.
7. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening (Virgin/Parlophone/DFA)
This album is a solo hang out session, and a massive party romp in one disc. It's also quite possibly the last album for James Murphy. The lyrics are deftly hidden underneath the synths and drums, but they are in fact there. Drinking makes one move, but it also masks misery and this record is the soundtrack for all of it. "I Can Change" is hands down the standout track, but "Dance Yrself Clean" is the personal favorite. "Drunk Girls" is fun and for all intents and purposes pretty solid, but it sticks out on this album for the simple fact that it's more over the top than the rest of the tracks. Evidence for this can be found in the line, "Drunk girls wait an hour to pee." However, breaking this album down by individual songs is besides the point. It's a borderline event. If you're into this then sit and down, and listen for the sixty minute duration because it will be worth your while. If you're not a fan, then there's a good chance that you still won't give a shit. With that being said, it still receives high marks from me.
6. Zoroaster - Matador (E1)
A series of nightmares put the word 'Zoroaster' in my head. Internet research taught me that it was associated with an 11th century philosopher who viewed the human condition as the mental struggle between truth and lies. It also indicated that there was a terrific doom band located in Georgia who utilized the name as well. The latter came across as much more intriguing, and the album was purchased. The word 'record' gets thrown around a lot here in these parts, but it truly applies to this one. The first half is sludgy, dark, and heavy but it still moves as a quicker clip than you'd think. It all slows down on the second half to sludgy, dark, heavy doom that is downright evil at times. (Writer's Note: I'm a vegetarian, and 100% totally committed to it with no plans to ever change, but there are some songs on this album that make me want to sacrifice a goat.) This album is ideal for late nights when you are sick and tired of your upstairs neighbor making bizarre sounds and you need something to make him shut the fuck up.
5. Grinderman - Grinderman 2 (ANTI-)
"What's this husband of yours ever given to you/Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen/And a brood of jug-eared buck-toothed imbeciles/The ugliest fucking kids I've ever seen" ("Kitchenette")
While my birth certificate shows my age to be twenty four, the bitterness and self-loathing that colors my existence is more in tune with a man approaching fifty. It's akin to what Nick Cave has going on, but he's got swagger to go along with it. He also has the ability to make rock and roll that will push any individual to the edge of the cliff, and there's a wordy quality to it that makes the literature major in me swoon. There's a lot of reveling going on here, and it all seems to take place in a hotel room that no one knows about. It takes a creepy turn at times, as the lady love referenced in these songs seems to be on the very young side of things but in the end the uneasiness that the subject matter conjures up only adds to the danger and excitement of the record. It may be wrong to love this so, but it makes for a damn good time. (Writer's Note: This music is what helps birth the short stories that get rattled off here every once in awhile. Forewarning, there will be many more of those in the coming year.)
4. Beach House - Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
This album was released way back in January, and by my own admission was treated unfairly as a result. It was played repeatedly up until about mid March, and then got lost amidst a pile of other records and personal problems. It made scant appearances after that, until finally resurfacing when the leaves began to fall off the trees. A gorgeous record that should have never been forgotten in the first place. This music is downright pleasing, and possesses a gentle caress capable of guiding a tired man through many dark nights. Big time speakers or small personal ones, the sounds that leap forth from this record are lush and close to perfect. "10 Mile Stereo", "Silver Soul", "Used to Be", and "Better Times" number among the personal favorites. "Walk in the Park", "Lover of Mine", and "Real Love" are standouts as well. Really, truly, sincerely an incredible piece of music.
3. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (Sub Pop)
Far and away, the most spun album of the year. Played it everywhere and anywhere. For reasons somewhat beyond comprehension, dug this more than just about anything else. It's a straight forward formula, to boot. Four women in all black armed with guitars, bass, and drums play rock and roll music. Super catchy, and a sheer delight to hear. Garage pop is a term to approach with caution, but it works here. These days, pop may mean that radio shit but in yesteryears the Beatles were considered pop. This isn't to suggest that the two are on the same level, but this is very rad. This is also the album that pours out of my headphones while riding the subway home at night.
2. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor (XL Recordings)
The lyrical theme on The Monitor is one that hammers home the point that me and you and our actual friends are on our own. "It's us against them" It's the unshakable fact that things probably aren't going to work out and that we are probably going to fuck up along the way. It'll continue to get worse, and may never get better. Accept this, and try mightily to move forward. When all hope is truly lost is when the fun can start. Surrender, and revel in your own despair. Dance as close to the edge as you want because it doesn't matter nearly as much as you think it does. Just don't completely abandon all hope. As uttered on "A Pot In Which To Piss", "I know it won't do much good, getting drunk and sad and singing, but I'm at the end of my rope, and I feel like swinging." Resistance and perseverance are essential for surviving, and survival is necessary because otherwise they win.
This is hard to wrap the head around, but the key to it all is the fact that its delivered with supreme confidence. Regular people of the mainstream wouldn't accept any of the proclamations on this album, and would dismiss them the first chance they get, but this album isn't for them. They see themselves as pious, but they've never been virgins. They were fucked from the start, they just don't know it. We're losers, misfits, and miscreants, but knowing this is what makes us dangerous. We are not going to stop because there is no reward for quitting. We aren't going to get what we want, but at the end of the day we are going to find something and love it all the same. Contemporary society sees us as dogs and wants us to die accordingly, but at the end of the day we are men. We will rally and band together. Whatever is thrown our way may knock us down, but after a slug of whiskey we will be back on our feet. It's probably worth mentioning at this point that this record is more or less a concept album about the Civil War set in modern times. Also, some of the more colorful phrases contained in these paragraphs were lifted from the album.
1. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Simply put, this is a tremendous achievement. There are many notebooks in my bag, but there is a pocket sized one that is used only in desperate situations. On the first page, on the first line, there is a note that says Microcastle is an the most important album and that it will be instrumental in setting my shit straight. That is dated January 1, 2009 and at the time it was true. However, that was written without knowing that Halcyon Digest would ever exist. This record literally floored me upon first listen. It's no secret what my feelings are for Bradford Cox's music, but this latest effort exceeded everything. This band has always held a special place in my heart, but now that bond is even more concrete.
With each listen, the record becomes more than just music. It takes the shape of a cavalcade of emotions that can only register in musical form. These guys have always been able to do the ambient thing along with the more guitar driven melody stuff, but on this album the swell of it all is way more massive. The two Lockett Pundt led tracks immediately jump out and indicate that something new and refined is in store, but its the record as a whole that knocks me over on a daily basis. Album opener, "Earthquake", is jarring in the sense that it consists of all these sudden stops and go forwards. Honestly, on first listen in my mind it seemed like they weren't deviating from form all that much. The rest of the songs make it clear that something else is happening. This is another one where the album comes across as an actual record with a side A and a side B. Side A features brilliant possible folk pop in the form of "Don't Cry", "Revival", "Sailing", "Memory Boy" and then comes to a close with a Lockett Pundt joint, "Desire Lines". If those songs alone were an EP, they would be raved about.
Side B goes even further. "Basement Scene" makes me smile for reasons unbeknownst to me. "Helicopter" follows, and is the heartbreaker. The liner notes include an article about a young boy living in Russia who leaves home to follow his dreams of becoming a fashion designer. He lives with various men, and in exchange for sex is able to go to school and inch closer to his true desire. Things inevitably go south, and he seems to disappear. It is widely believed that the mob got involved, and threw him out of a helicopter hence the song title. That base summary doesn't do the original Dennis Cooper article justice, and it probably does the song no favors as well. The second Pundt, "Fountain Stairs", follows to lift you up. "Coronado" is next and is a pure rollicking good time. It has prominent saxophone, and will make even the most ardent Springsteen supporter fall over themselves.
The closer is "He Would Have Laughed", dedicated to the memory of Jay Reatard. It's over seven and a half minutes long, but its the latter half that gets me every time. Without actually saying it, Bradford asks where your friends are. This resonates so much more deeply than any other song about the status of 'friends'. This is just one man making music in remembrance of a close confidant. In just a few lines, making and maintaining 'friends' is demonstrated in a pain-staking manner. All the uncertainty that goes into making new ones coupled with the constructed trust that the old and new are there for you. Again, not to get all emotional but it's difficult for me to listen to those lines without thinking a little bit. "I know that my friends would.../I know where my friends are now" I understand that my friends are still around, but they don't live in my neighborhood or my area code for that matter. For all intents and purposes, I have to soldier on assuming that they are still around but truthfully I have no way of knowing. In the words of Bruce Springsteen, "It takes a leap of faith, you gotta show some guts." I abide by that, but it doesn't actually solidify anything beyond the constructs in my mind. While this may not be admitted by anyone else, the longer I'm not around and the more parties I miss, the more I disappear. And again, not to get soft since I deliberately chose to move away because thats what I wanted; when I listen to that song that is what I think about. It's unavoidable, and its a part of a rawness that I actively seek out. (Writer's Note: I also realize that it is bad form to use "I" when reviewing a record, but for this one its the only way to express my actual thoughts.)
To say that I have strong feelings about this record would be the understatement of the year. It's a big deal to me for reasons that I don't completely understand. It's the type of music that I dig so I understand that, but there seems to be something else at foot that goes way beyond music.

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