Friday, December 31, 2010

The Best Albums of 2010: #50-26

The Top 50 Albums of 2010
Part 1: #50-26

50. Swans - My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky

In 1998, Michael Gira released his final album with his Swans collective, aptly titled Swans Are Dead. That was that, until this past January. Out of nowhere, the band’s MySpace sprung to life with a message reading, simply, “SWANS ARE NOT DEAD.” Indeed not, as the band’s melt-your-face post-rock hits just as hard twelve years later. Opener “No Words/No Thoughts” roars along for eight minutes before the words begin while Gira reveals an unexpectedly sensitive (but still loud) side on “Inside Madeline.”


Click to play "Inside Madeline"


49. She & Him - Volume Two

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s unlikely beach-pop combo hits a second home-run with this breezy summer soundtrack. Deschanel’s voice is nondescript enough to casually deliver these lite-rock ditties about sun, cars, and surf. M. Ward’s guitar churns along amicably behind.


Click to play "Lingering Still"


48. John Knox Sex Club - Blud Rins Cauld

Say that album title aloud and see if you can guess where this band is from. If you pronounced it right, it should sound unmistakably Scottish. These Glasgow punks use their thick brogues in the service of loud-soft rockers. Unexpected bits of free jazz and gospel worm in and out of this eight-song suite.


Click to play "William"


47. Yukon Blonde - Yukon Blonde

No one told the boys of Yukon Blonde that 1974 ended a while back and, hopefully, no one ever will. Their debut album updates the ‘70s folk-rock sound not a lick, copping tricks from CSN on “Wind Blows” and Crazy Horse on “Ghosts on Film.”


Click to play "Wind Blows"


46. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

The Gaslight Anthem tuned down the Springsteen references on their third album...lyrically, that is. Musically the band continues to meld the Boss with the Clash, unleashing instant rock anthems like “Boxer” and “Stay Lucky.” Rich production (by their standards, at least) can’t mask the punk snarl.


Click to play "Boxer"


45. Fredrik - Trilogi

What is it about Scandinavia? All their music seems so…arty. Sigur Rós aficionados, take note. This Swedish three-piece writes similarly quirky art-rock symphonies, blending unidentifiable instruments with indecipherable lyrics. The fact that their Wikipedia page needs seven genres to describe them says it all.


Click to play "Flax"


44. The Capitalist Youth - At the Campfire

At this summer’s Newport Folk Festival, the Capitalist Youth handed NPR All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen a burned demo. He played a track from the old-school folk collection on his radio show, giving unprecedented exposure to a Philly trio just out of a high school. Their tongue-in-cheek songs detail “summer camp, existential crises and gubernatorial indiscretions” (their words) and, in one case (“Arcade”), a creepily evangelical girlfriend.


Click to play "Arcade"


43. Chromeo - Business Casual

In 21st-century indie rock, there is perhaps no group less cool to emulate than Hall & Oates. So props to Chromeo for pulling it off with even a modicum of dignity. Business Casual’s unabashedly cheesy electrofunk finds Dave 1 and P-Thugg blending dumb lyrics and shameless guitar solos as tackily as ever. The talk box is back.


Click to play "Night By Night"


42. Dr. Frankenstein - In 4 Dimensions

Beach pop came back in a big way in 2010, but surf rock? Not so much. If more people heard Dr. Frankenstein though, it might stand a chance. Like the Ventures on speed, these eight tracks roar by in 21 minutes, leaving you panting and ready for another round.


Click to play "Sneaky Surf"


41. Diamond Rings - Special Affections

Don’t let the Perez Hilton getup fool you. In his dance moniker Diamond Ring’s debut full-length, John O’Regan sounds as pensive as he does camp. It’s music that says, “Come dance...but if you don’t want to, that’s okay too.”


Click to play "It's Not My Party"


40. Johnny Dowd - Wake Up the Snakes

You can tell a lot about certain albums by their track titles. “Howling Wolf Blues,” “Swamp Woman,” and “Organ Grinder” give you a good picture of Johnny Dowd’s latest. The less-interestingly-named “Yolanda” shines brightest though. The dark tale of love-through-patricide sounds like Tom Waits at his spookiest.


Click to play "Yolanda"


39. Chumbawamba - ABCDEFG

If you only know Chumbawamba from “Tubthumper,” you’re sadly uninformed. You’re also in the good company of, well, everyone. That inane/catchy hit represents about 1% of their style. Mostly, these Brits represent a vaguely anarchic strain of agit-folk. They deftly mix message with humor on this, their 372th album (note to self: double-check number). Bonus points for calling themselves out as one-hit wonders on “Torturing James Hetfield.”


Click to play "Wagner at the Opera"


38. Neil Young - Le Noise

"I said solo...They said acoustic." So read the t-shirts on Neil Young's latest tour, but the sentiment holds for this album. Originally slated for a solo acoustic record, Le Noise got seriously beefed up with producer Daniel Lanois' wall-of-effects. Young's electric guitar sounds like an atomic bomb hitting; Young's voice sounds like the lone survivor.


Click to play "Hitchhiker"


37. Erland and the Carnival - Erland and the Carnival

Four of the twelve songs on this promising debut are covers of traditional British folk songs, but you’d never know which four. Songs like “Tramps and Hawkers” (cover) and “The Derby Ram” (original) sway along jauntily in this old-new folk-rock pastiche. The Verve’s Simon Tong tackles instruments like harmonium and zither, but Erland Cooper’s indie-yodel vocals lend a certain authenticity even to the most hammed-up bops.


Click to play "My Name Is Carnival"


36. Alejandro Escovedo - Street Songs of Love

Most artists would be more than happy to rope Bruce Springsteen onto their album, but Alejandro Escovedo has more than just an enviable Rolodex. He pushes the Boss duet (“Faith”) down to track twelve, one-upping it with eleven stronger tracks before. A concept album about love may be something of a nonstarter, but tracks like “Anchor” and “This Bed Is Getting Crowded” show that, 31 years after he started, Escovedo rocks as hard as ever.


Click to play "This Bed Is Getting Crowded"


35. Eminem - Recovery

Everyone likes a good comeback story, and no one epitomized left-for-dead success in 2010 like Eminem. Unlike cinematic comebacks though, real returns prove a little messier. Technically, Em released his so-called “comeback” album, Relapse, last year. As he admits now though, it didn’t count (“Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing ‘em out”). The aptly-titled Recovery shows a whole new side of Eminem, comprising personal struggles (“Talkin’ 2 Myself”) and feel-good anthems (“Not Afraid”).


Click to play "Talkin' 2 Myself"


34. Azure Ray - Drawing Down the Moon

Fans of this Georgia duo had to wait seven years for this one, but the dreamy folk harmonies return stronger than ever. Track after track on Drawing Down the Moon, released on Conor Oberst’s label Saddle Creek, melts your heart and warms your soul. Whiffs of electronics lend an unexpected kick to the acoustic splendor.


Click to play "Larraine"


33. Screaming Females - Castle Talk

Never was a band so aptly named. Yes, technically there’s only one screaming female here (along with two not-screaming males), but this tiny tyrant hollers loud enough for a dozen banshees. As always thought, her guitar shredding impresses even more. Jimi Hendrix, reincarnated as a 4’6” girl with a bob haircut.


Click to play "A New Kid"


32. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

Titus Andronicus rep the other side of the Jersey Shore, the dirty working-class grit that makes a bunch of punk kids die to escape the basement. Somehow, they do so on a concept album about the Civil War. Whatever works. With shout-along put-downs like “You will always be a loser,” The Monitor roars for underdogs everywhere.


Click to play "A More Perfect Union"


31. Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness

Loud and fast, fast and loud. You don’t realize how closely you associate the two into you hear an album like this. It’s really, really loud and really, really slow. Sounding like Metallica played at 3 beats-per-minute, Creston Spiers roars over the molasses-slow sludge. In its own way, this sleepy-stoner metal as brutal as anything Slayer ever recorded.


Click to play "I Just Want to Go Home Now"


30. Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra - Honker

This past March, Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra opened the National’s first show of the year. The Brooklyn hipsters that comprised much of the crowd looked bemused, unsure what to make of the mustached man backed by double bass, hollow-body guitar, and sax (sometimes flute). Lipton’s Newman-esq lyrical humor opens your mind enough to accept this unapologetic lounge act, but the serious musicianship keeps you coming back even after the LOLs wear thin.


Click to play "Poor Old Whitey"


29. The Magnetic Fields - Realism

Realism, the quieter companion piece to 2008’s Distortion, finds Stephin Merritt at his most droll. Though humor abounds, most notably in an elaborate dig at Scientologies (“We Are Having a Hootenany”), brutal kiss-off songs like “You Must Be Out of Your Mind” show Meritt doesn't need much volume to pack a wallop.


Click to play "You Must Be out of Your Mind"


28. Gogol Bordello - Trans-Continental Hustle

Gogol Bordello only do one thing, but they do it better than anyone else. It helps that no one else even tries to compete. Rick Rubin produced thirteen more tracks of rollicking gypsy-punk, letting the band do what they do best: go nuts. Accordion and fiddle wail on “My Companjera” while “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)” features the band’s best shout-along chorus yet.


Click to play "My Companjera"


27. Francis and the Lights - It'll Be Better

Francis Farewell Starlite spent much of the year opening for Drake and, by all accounts, left mixed impressions. This midtempo synth-pop may not be ideal for huge halls, but in its own laid-back way it rocks the house. The songs constantly threaten to burst open, but the band’s restraint holds them back.


Click to play "In a Limousine"


26. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

That Arcade Fire’s third album blew critics away should surprise no one. That it topped the Billboard charts, on the other hand, shows just how far this band has come. The Suburbs finds a comfortable middle ground between the bombast of Funeral and the anxiety of Neon Bible. Sixteen tracks honor the highs, lows, and, most often, middles of suburbia at its most mundane.


Click to play "City with No Children"


See #25-1 here.

1 comment:

eric said...

Ray,

Eric from The Capitalist Youth here! We very much appreciate you including us on your best albums list. Though I do just want to clarify a few points:

-It's wasn't a demo we gave Bob! It was our debut full-length release, At The Campfire! Granted, it was self-released, and the packaging was screenprinted by hand... but the CD was professionally recorded, mixed, mastered and pressed! Nothing demo about it.
-We're actually long out of high school! And in fact, a few years out of college, too.

But I would agree, it was unprecedented exposure for us, and we're glad that you got exposed to our music and liked it!

Thanks,
Eric
The Capitalist Youth