Every day, most of us rise with the alarm, take one shocking look at ourselves in the mirror, scrub the teeth, tie the tie, buckle the belt, pull up the tights, and head out for a day’s worth of work.
In my case, I don’t tie the tie; I do scrub the teeth, and sometimes I pull up the tights or buckle the buckle. But I can never do these things without some background noise to get me going. While the alarm pushes me out of bed, the experimental soundscapes, the driving punk, or the smooth rhymes is what pushes me out the door.
Music is a monumental thing in my life; the tights, they don’t get on the legs, the teeth, they don’t get brushed, without it.
And 2010 was no different.
In fact, like every other year before it, music inspired the banalities of my every day life. It made my alarm chime, my clock tick. It’s what got me out the door in the morning.
And unlike the teeth brushing, the tight pulling–it was surprising, unexpected, anything but mundane. 2010 boasted some really great records–from old favorites that have phased and weathered every trendy storm and more than 365 days of brushing (like No Age, Massive Attack) to brand new bands that begged me to stop getting up in the morning and live like a 19 year old (think The Drums, Sleigh Bells).
Messy hair, brushed teeth, tight tights or a tied tie, you know what I’m talking about. You came to love a whole bunch of new bands in 2010, you discovered you love to dance like nobody’s business to Robyn, and you realized that all of Kanye’s ego wasn’t overcompensating for a lack of something else, it was reiterating it, fuuulllyyy.
It’s quite the endeavor to sum up an entire year’s worth of obsessive listening into one tidy, 25s list. But here’s humble blogger’s list. It’s been a year of changes at P&C. We hope you stick around for another…
Be sure to enjoy our podcast, featuring 25 standout tracks from the records that made the list (available below or in itunes).
The Drums – The Drums (Moshi Moshi/Island)
Skeptical at first when the band said their main inspiration was our beloved post-punk outfit Joy Division and their tracks sounded just as much 80s glam pop as sparse melodica, the weariness dripped completely off the body when the Drums came to Boston and turned a dogged Monday night into a sweaty mess of throwback D.I.Y. ethos and plenty of pinwheels. Sometimes, a band totally transforms what seems like a pretty solid record into something for the ages after a live gig. The Drums are just the type of band, evoking memories of my teenage days of listening to punk in a friend’s basement or pogo-ing at a rundown former hotel to a local act which unfortunately never made it big but made me feel a part of something special.
Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Clearly one of the record’s that got the most buzz in the blogosphere this year, Beach House can be a polarizing act. You either love what they are trying to do or you think its overly hyped. Sitting in neither camp, I think much can be said about Teen Dream’s deliciously sweet, downright hazy, foggy as hell tracks (like “Lover of Mine” and “Norway) even if they at times lack a melodic edge. It’s as if you’re consumed by a great cloud of mist when you’re taking in this record. And if taking in a musical mist cloud is a bad thing, I don’t even want to be good.
Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam)
This record is heavy, but it still bounces. I love how large the sound is–just like Big Boi himself. Sometimes, its so large and dripping in funky synth, you forget to pay close attention to his lyrical foreplay–its witty, its tongue twisted, and god, if it isn’t addictive. I love how seamlessly this is all achieved through some boom bast and heavy guitar.
Toro y Moi – Causers of This (Carpark)
All those nights working in his bedroom prepared Chaz Bundick for a stunning debut record. The entire Causers of This album feels like you’ve downed a few drinks and headed straight for the ocean, a pool, something–placed a boombox (do people use those anymore?) at the shore, and plunged yourself under water. It’s completely drenched out, as if the waves have been hitting and soaking it with reverb and echo (think “Minors”) and the choppy beats don’t ruin the record’s finer points.
James Blake – Klavierwerke EP (R&S Records)
How has dubstep been turned on its head so brilliantly? Blake is taking the genre to a new level, as if he’s letting a giant roast simmer on the stove, and at the last minute, wowing his dinner guests by injecting the piece of meat with a drippings of pure soul. Influenced by the likes of Steview Wonder and Sly & the Family Stone, expect Blake to be at the forefront–actually, he’s already there–of a new genre in the London club scene. His debut LP is due out in the first half of 2011, but this little EP blows us to bits, full-length or not. Oh, and of course, there’s that Feist cover everyone drooled about, right?
Janelle Monae – The Archandroid (Wonderland Arts Society/Bad Boy)
She killed it in 2010. No one could stop talking about her collaboration with Big Boi for “Tightrope”, which featured nothing short of tight as a rope beats. It’s got swagger like neo-soul glam, but its as serious as art rock. It’s a record filled with glamor and theatrics and it feels like you should be heading downtown for a fabulous night every time you check into Janelle’s tracks, rather than lazing about like a fool in your p.j.’s and glasses at 10 on a Saturday. The entire album feels big–filled with brassy funk, pummeling base, and tight-tricked vocals. Oh, there’s a cattle of a-list artists, too, for good measure. Act up, girl. It works.
Sun Airway – Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier (Dead Oceans)
Creating an incredible blend of sweet pop amidst a backdrop of atmospheric soundscapes is never the easiest of feats. Enter this Philly outfit, which exploded onto the radar with a little internet EP and remixes of Delorean, creates fuzzy synths and structured beats that highlight some gorgeous songwriting, evidences on tracks like “Waiting on You”. The entire record is made up of computer beats with delicious pop hooks layered over Jon Barthmus’ spot on vocals, at times showcased on their own merit and often drenched in echo to create a tripped out effect. The entire record is strength and more strength, something so often missed by attempts to push the musical bounds these days.
Delorean – Subiza (Mushroom Pillow)
I’ve never been to a live gig as mind bending as Delorean at the Middle East last month, and I swear, it’s not the whiskey talking, it’s these gorgeous soundscapes created in Barcelona and delivered to our pleading ears here in Boston. Ignore the fact the band is named after an all too referenced iconic 80s car and focus on the fact that you never quite know what the fuck you’re listening to when you pop on one of their tracks, and that’s what makes it so astounding. It’s “Real Love”, for sure, so dance alternatively.
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)
When does Fly-Lo not make my list? When he doesn’t make a record, that is, which hopefully doesn’t happen anytime soon because this kid is on fire. Creating some of the most gorgeous west coast electronica of the past decade (and more), Steven Ellison has often described his work as “surrealistic hip hop” which features doses of dubstepped synths and heavy doses of electro. Cosmogramma is an album of gorgeous orchestration which feels unflappable thanks to its movement.
Sleigh Bells – Treats (Mom + Pop/N.E.E.T.)
While their genre-bending braggadocio got a lot of blogosphere play in 2010, I still argue The Knife were doing a lot of this back in 2003. That has no bearing on how addicting this record is, however. Standout track “Tell ‘Em” is jarring at first, but give it an honest listen and you’ll be hooked on whatever the heck they are doing there. Noise pop, indeed. But, pop away.
Massive Attack – Heligoland (Virgin)
Massive, indeed. 7 years is a really long time to wait. On Heligoland, they seem earnestly pushing hard–evidenced right down to the guest vocalists. Where once they plucked brilliant–and well-known –singers like Sinead O’Connor, instead they advanced the careers of Martina Topley-Bird and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. But there are more well-known males; T.V. on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Gus Garvey. While many argue the relevancy of Massive Attack in 2010 and their ability (or lack thereof) to rest on their previous laurels and make some of the same musical attemps, this album impressed P&C because we’ve always relish in what they know exactly how to do with the sound. 100th Window tried much too hard, in m.h.o.; this is just good. And when is that a crime these days? To like something good? I’d say good is about all we can hope for now; to be good should be relevant, no?
Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Mute/ANTI)
Is there a Nick Cave driven project I haven’t liked? Obsessed as anyone with The Boys Next Door, The Bad Seeds, hell, I’m obsessed enough that I even read Nick Cave’s books and poetry, I can’t be unbiased in this space in his regard. Still, “Heathen Child” is remarkable; so is that Robert Fripp remix that made it onto one of our podcasts. You have to hand it to Mr. Cave; he knows how to shock, depress, and shock again. Woof.
No Age – Everything in Between (Sub Pop)
Years on the LA DIY scene have solidified No Age as one of the great noise rock outfits of our time. And Everything in Between is just that–it features tracks that might attract even more fans in their already loyal base, finding some common ground between pummeling punk, experimental corners, and let the air out slow warblers. There is plenty of feedback, pushing drum beats, reverb, and glorious tricks like the use of pedals to create a feeling that an entire orchestra has pushed into the studio with them. It really is Everything in Between–from lo-fi tracks to insane hooks and then, sonic explosion. Cover me in “Glitter”, will you?
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL Recordings)
I referenced this record many a times in 2010, particularly for its gorgeous concept around the American Civil War (quick trivia! Who knows when it began?! The war, that is?). Reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel’s staggering and beloved 1998 record In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the band clearly matured from their stripped lo-fi garage sound, bringing in a plethora of instruments (think bagpipes, fiddles, and trombone, among others) to create some seriously lush soundscapes, classical references to other bands (Billy Bragg, The Pogues), and plenty of historical references to boot. This album is gorgeous as hell and it pummels, too. So remember that.
Oh, and 1861, too.
How to Dress Well – Love Remains (Lefse)
Clearly, r&b influence on electronic music reigned supreme this year, and How to Dress Well is the beacon of this amalgamation. It’s fractured, falsetto vocals remind me of laying in my bedroom during 7th grade, listening to classic Shai records (yes, I liked Shai….a lot). Tom Krell uses his voice like no other artist I’ve heard in a decade; it cuts you to the core and opens you up, laying all of your shit bare, and its all set behind a gorgeous, melodic backdrop of electronic beats. Brooklyn never sounded so rhythmic and soulful.
Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (Cash Money)
What hasn’t Nicki Minaj done in 2010? Remember when she spit on Kanye West’s track “Monster”–“So let me get this straight wait I’m the rookie/But my features and my shows ten times your pay/50k for a verse no album out!”? Well, no one’s arguing that she’ll be receiving even more paydirt now that her debut LP has dropped, for sure. What’s so curious about the record is how pop driven it actually is, covered in Nicki’s brilliant rhyming and even more brilliant personae. It’s at times volatile, boastful, frosty as an iced cake, and then sweet as sticky candy.
Deerhunder – Halcyon Digest (Kranky/4AD)
While I’ve often expressed my unapologetic and totally unfounded annoyance with Deerhunter, I have to say the tides, they’ve turned with Halcyon Digest. Bradford Cox is known for his inability to write anything ahead of time; the music sort of bleeds from him organically and Halcyon Digest is no stranger to the shifting sands of emotion. The entire record is all over the place (from Strokes’ influenced saxophone track “Coronado” to the seemingly stuck in Atlas Sound “Helicopter), its as if you don’t know where to look. But instead of dissolving into a mess of “what the fuck?”, this album’s main attraction is its seemingly good/bad bipolarity. It is, quite simply put, still a pop record. But, like the tracks on the record, I’m fuzzy about the rest of it.
The Books – The Way Out (Temporary Residence)
First introduced to the whacked out sounds of The Books thanks to my obsession with David Byrne Radio, I was immediately humored and then thrown for a loop at the brilliant beyond belief use of odd vocal samples to elevate their music in cheeky new ways. On standout track “Cold Freezin’ Night”, they exploit the sounds of children making threats at one another, which gives the entire adventure an eerie, Jack Nicholson’s kid in The Shining feeling. It’s as if this track has transported me onto Danny Torrence’s three wheeler as he’s maniacally pedaling through the halls of that old hotel, hitting hardwood floor with his wheels, then the silence of carpet, before falling upon those dead twins and all the rushing blood. You have to look, but all you want to do is cower and cover your eyes.
I can’t stop looking back at this record, pedaling forward through its tracks like a maniac.
Maximum Balloon – Maximum Balloon (DGC/Interscope)
Dave Sitek, the multi-instrumentalist and producer best known for his work with T.V. on the Radio, showed us who really is the air in the balloon this year with his brilliant debut LP Maximum Balloon. Featuring a cattle of musicians he’s worked with in the past (think Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone, and Aku) Sitek and company channel dance rock a la David Byrne, thrown in a few slippery synths and even find Karen O’s inner diva on track “Communion”. I can only imagine Sitek arriving at the studio with a light up dancefloor to lay the dizzy pop groundwork. Fortunately for us, Karen O responded.
Mount Kimbie – Crooks and Lovers (Hotflush Recordings)
One of the greatest things about Mount Kimbie is their ability to absolutely crush any stereotyping of their music. Crooks and Liars is the perfect example of achieving just that, creating a 36-minute dubstep record that doesn’t feature nary a track more than 4 minutes is defying the odds, for sure. It also makes this particular album completely addicting–every track is easy to digest, like warm milk. What’s more, while their tracks are circling in ambiance, the beat is headed toward the middle–which houses a pop lock and hook unexpected. It’s what makes this record so stunning, really, because it doesn’t pander to any genre or idea of what dance tracks should be–featuring post-rock chugs, twangy indie guitars, synth, low beats, and a zinger of r&b and drone.
Four Tet – There is Love in You (Domino)
If you’ve been a fan of Kieran Hebden’s work, then this is the record for you. It’s a delicate journey through much of what has made him a household name in the blogosphere for years–without a single bit of an impasse. “Love Cry” is the epitome of that journey–showcasing much of Hebden’s skill set through the epic 9-minute track that builds from this shakey, warbly, repeated vocal beginning into this stunning soundscape. It’s as if you’ve gone through death, rebirth, and enlightenment in under a 10. The entire record is a jarringly brilliant mix of lo-fi electronic and absolutely cinematic production (think “She Just Likes to Fight”). There’s nothing left to say; just let out the love cry.
Villagers – Becoming a Jackal (Domino)
That allergy to bands never treated one man so well. It’s hard to believe the at times gigantic, cinematic sounds coming out of this debut record is the work of one man: Conor O’Brien. Without the use of trickery, overly basted turkey, and all the fixings, O’Brien creates stunning soundscapes (think “Home”) between pop-driven ditties like “The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever” and stripped down ambiance (“Twenty-Seven Strangers”); the result is an album with breadth, depth, and at times, remarkable height. Everything feels as if its been created with strategic ease whilst maintaining a sort of whimsy, organic, un-overworked edge, as if Conor were sitting around bare footed in his room with the acoustic on his lap, writing short little bits for an unassuming audience of his friends. His intimacy is stunning, as evidenced on the album, and at his gig in Boston this summer (read our review here) and we weep for more. You’re becoming, Conor. For sure.
Black Milk – Album of the Year (Fat Beats)
Close. Not quite the whole cigar, but close. Even if Curtis Cross’ record title isn’t even meant as a foreshadowing of his spitting skills in 2010, we certainly wanted to puff on this one the entire second half of the year. Cross exhibits some brilliant storytelling ability; and at a mere 27 years old, we can only imagine what’s to come for this young producer. The entire album is an homage to the “hardest year in my lifeline” (evidenced on opener”365″)–2009, when he lost a dear friend and another comatose to a debilitating stroke. While the tracks don’t exude despair and destruction, a melancholy swagger develops out of some gorgeous sonic explosions and loopy soundscapes married to hip hop–think funk, hazy guitars, and plenty of heavy, throwback r&b.
Robyn – Body Talk Part 1 (Konichiwa)
Trotting out the gate like the Swedish bomb(shell) she is, Robyn stunned in 2010 with her brilliant beyond belief three-part record, Body Talk. But its first entry, Part 1, laid the groundwork for the following and featured show stopping pop tracks like “Fembot”, “With Every Heartbeat”, and “Don’t F***ing Tell Me What To Do” that were as undeniable as her tourmate Kelis’ body in a catsuit (see P&C’s review of Robyn from last summer for the reference point). But the absolutely anthemic “Dancing on my Own” was the britches on the year–every girl, boy, girl-boy who had heartbreak in 2010, or say, ever, was down on their knees licking every Robyn toe. None of us has every felt so sexy dancing on our own.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam/Rock-a-Fella)
It was as if Kanye had turned into his own worst nightmare–an overexposed monster who managed talk show rumbles, whiskey tumbles, and assorted dick stumbles this year. And while we could all focus on his tantrums and antics, rightfully so we’d rather focus on a record that elevated and morphed the hip hop landscape, pummeling it swiftly into the 21st century with all of accouterments essential to a mind-blowing record: “power”, “dark fantasy”, and a “hell of a life”. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was, the runway, “all of the lights” and then some; it was the whole fucking wardrobe, too.
In all seriousness, Kanye West (with a cattle of impressive artists like Rick Ross, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj to name a few) showed us he’s an absolute monster on vocals, delivering his most technically proficient rhymes to date. It’d be unfair to even mention Nicki Minaj’s verses on “Monster”, because well, she outshines everyone, obviously, in those quick 2 minutes. As I said when P&C wrote about the record in November, it’s overall rating could merely be summed up as: “holy fucking shit, aw hell, I have to listen to this nonstop, I want to have your babies flash your package again” rating.