Thanks to those of you who tuned in to my radio show Left of the Dial last night. I got a number of great requests and it was generally a really nice broadcast. The full playlist is below, along with a link to stream the available tracks via Spotify. Tune in again next Friday from 6 to 8 for another live broadcast.
- 1. Youth Lagoon - “Mute”
- 2. Beach Fossils - “Shallow”
- 3. The Men - “Half Angel Half Light”
- 4. Joyce Manor - “Call Out (Laundry)”
- 5. Somebody’s Basement - “860”
- 6. The La’s - “There She Goes”
- 7. Jens Lekman - “Black Cab”
- 8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - “Wide Lovely Eyes”
- 9. The Act Of Estimating As Worthless - “Algae”
- 10. Pill Friends - “Wearing My Dead Dog’s Skin”
- 11. Serengeti - “Seasons”
- 12. Flying Lotus - “See Through To U” (Feat. Erykah Badu)
- 13. Atoms For Peace - “Ingenue”
- 14. Kitty - “Hittin Lixxx”
- 15. College - “The Energy Story”
- 16. Kavinsky - “ProtoVision”
- 17. Owen- “Good Deeds” (Requested by withlugosi)
- 18. Single Mothers - “Baby”
- 19. Rivers Cuomo - “Let Me Wash At Your Sink”
- 20. Waxahatchee - “Whiskey & Math”
- 21. Infinity Crush - “Paper Dreams”
- 22. The Mountain Goats - “The Mess Inside”
- 23. Paul Baribeau - “Only Babies Cry”
- 24. Sufjan Stevens - “Give A Little Love”
- 25. SPOOK HOUSES - “Garden”
- 26. Pavement - “Stop Breathin’” (Requested by Malcolm)
- 27. Mark Kozelek - “I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was The Greatest Night Of My Life” (Live at Phoenix Public House Melbourne version)
- 28. Into It. Over It. - “Pontiac, MI”
- 29. Ricky Eat Acid - “I Can Hear The Heart Breaking As One”
- 30. Grouper - “The Man Who Died In His Boat”
Stream via Spotify:
Haha, I was at this show last night.
Lewis and his Blog January 2013 Mix
Congratulations! You made it through the first month of 2013. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it. Honestly, we both do. In celebration of your success at surviving this cruel and confusing world, give a listen to my first Monthly Mix of 2013. If you’re unfamiliar with my monthly mix series, the concept is fairly self-explanatory; every month, I publish a 10 track mix via 8tracks, featuring some of my favorite new music that I heard that month. You can find all of my monthly mixes HERE, at my “Monthly Mix” tag.
This month’s mix features tracks that came out in January, many of which are from forthcoming albums. Stream the entire think at the embedded link below, and read up on each track below that. Thanks for listening and reading!
Permanently-disaffected mumblecore rapper Milo (aka Rory Ferreira) kicked off his new EP Things That Happen At Day with an uncharacteristically hopeful cut that seems to promote self-acceptance even in the face of an unwelcoming world. On “Sweet Chin Music,” Milo waxes poetic about his love for pro wrestling, Delta Force 3, and “egg fried rice and fruits,” occasionally dipping out of his distinctive monotone and into a sumptuous half-sing. He reminds himself, rather soothingly, that he “[doesn’t] feel the need to be the best thing ever.” That self-awareness is not entirely anomalous within Milo’s body of work, but it does stand in stark contrast to the material on his darker accompanying EP, Things That Happen At Night. Pick up both of the records at the HellFyre Club bandcamp page.
2. A$AP Rocky - “Long Live A$AP”
Unlike the lyrically-focused and DIY-motivated Milo, Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky bases almost the entirety of his appeal on image and aesthetic. Frankly, the extremity of this image is what makes Rocky such an interesting figure; he is very much a mirror of rap’s fascinatingly narcissistic cutting edge. “Long Live A$AP” is the title track from his major label debut, a triumphantly hi-fi explosion of a record that manages to say absolutely nothing substantial in the best way possible. The song itself is representative of Long.Live.A$AP as a whole, presenting Rocky as the 2013’s greatest hip-hop paradox. He is, at once, a youthful legend, a geographically-transcendent New Yorker, an underground sellout, and a deeply insecure popular kid, both as self-conscious and self-obsessed as only a true narcissist can be. It’s not conceit if you’re right, and Rocky forces us to wonder just how right he may be. Pick up Long.Live.A$AP via iTunes.
3. Beach Fossils - “Generational Synthetic”
With their forthcoming LP Clash The Truth, Beach Fossils are poised to once again usurp the throne of Brooklyn’s guitar pop scene from their overrated labelmates DIIV, who are led by former Beach Fossils member Zachary Cole Smith. Beach Fossils might not have DIIV’s marketably nihilistic look or vague conceptual coherence, but they make up for it in song quality. “Generational Synthetic” toes the line between pop and punk, and although the singer doesn’t lyrically commit himself like a true punk frontman, there’s enough grit to rock out to. Clash The Truth is out February 19th via Captured Tracks.
4. Bleeding Rainbow - “Pink Ruff”
One part shoegaze, one part noise pop, and one part sugary female vocals, Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow are a delectable duo with a lot of potential. Formerly called Reading Rainbow, the band had to change their name in lieu of a potential lawsuit from PBS, but the name change shouldn’t do much to stop them from winning over your heart. Fans of Dum Dum Girls should enjoy “Pink Ruff,” off their latest LP Yeah Right, for its subtle juxtaposition of garage-rocking minor key power chords and infectious pop melodies. Pick up Yeah Right via Kanine Records now.
5. Iceage - “Coalition”
Iceage’s sophomore LP You’re Nothing leaked well in advance of its release, but if you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon yet, now is the time. Lead single “Coalition” is probably poised to be the consensus standout track on the new record from these Danish, mostly teenage punks, and for good reason. In just over two minutes, the band reaches peak levels of catharsis, thrashing about with dualing guitars and cymbals blaring while frontman Elias Rønnenfelt drags himself out of his usual nihilistic apathy and lashes out in an impressively vigorous display of energy. Like the best moments of their last LP New Brigade, “Coalition” is also deceptively catchy, but this track manages to accomodate aggression and pop sensibility in nearly equal measure. You’re Nothing is out February 19th via Matador.
6. Comadre - “Hack”
The best description I’ve heard of Comadre’s aesthetic is that they “graduated from the Fucked Up school of yelling over what is essentially straight up indie rock.” It’s a true description, but the comparison to Fucked Up ends there; unlike their Canadian contemporaries, this Californian punk group doesn’t seem to take themselves so seriously. Their sound benefits from this looseness, allowing them to experiment with sounds and themes that are generally considered ‘outside’ of the realm of punk. On “Hack,” from their new self-titled record, the vocals are as throat-shreddingly aggressive as anything, but the instrumentals contrast starkly, blending shoegazy guitars with a theremin-reminiscent organ patch. Pick up Comadre via Vitriol Records.
7. Junip - “Line of Fire”
Although I’ve grown increasingly apprehensive about listening to sad singer/songwriters playing solo with acoustic guitars over the past few years, I think I’ll always appreciate the presence of a great songwriter singing over full band instrumentation. For this reason, I like Jose Gonzales’ group Junip more than his solo material, although I appreciate the precedent that he set on his own. Though a great song in its own right, “Line Of Fire” just benefits tremendously from the added texture and energy of the synths, drums, and backing harmonies; they actually make Gonzales’ signature Spanish guitar sound even better. Junip’s self-titled LP is out April 23rd via Mute.
8. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - “So Good At Being In Trouble”
This single from Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sophomore LP (creatively titled II) is deceptively, subtly infectious. Stripping away some of the more psychedelic aspects of their sound, the group took a decidedly low-key approach on “So Good At Being In Trouble,” an analog R&B jam that harks back to the more soothing, gentler side of 70’s Northern Soul. With an earworm chorus and an arsenal of effects pedals at their disposal, Unknown Mortal Orchestra could have easily turned this cut into an anthemic, festival-ready banger, but they didn’t; this restraint is admirable, even though part of me would like to hear them rock out on this track. II is out now on Jagjaguwar.
9. Yo La Tengo - “I’ll Be Around”
New Jersey stalwarts Yo La Tengo may be the most dependable band in indie rock. Until the release of their new LP Fade, I was hesitant to fully commit myself as a fan, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of their genre-sweeping aesthetic on this record. Fade veers, calmly and tactfully, from the psychedelic heft of “Ohm” to the horn-laden grace of closer “Before We Run,” stopping briefly to catch its breath on tracks like the lovely, gentle “I’ll Be Around.” It’s a mostly acoustic piece with subtle inflections of modulated keyboard — the perfect aesthetic for a great romantic mixtape. It’s a respite on the record, but a highlight in its own right as well. Pick up Fade via Matador Records.
10. Christopher Owens - “Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I actually like Christopher Owens debut solo album Lysandre quite a bit more than some of Girls’ material. Girls’ records had the ambition and aesthetic prescience, but Lysandre has the heart. As evidence, look no further than the highlight closing track “Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue),” a heartbreakingly bittersweet Dylanesque anthem that subverts the guitars and harmonica of “I Want You” into something entirely personal to Owens and yet entirely relatable to us. As a songwriter, Owens’ greatest strength has always been forging this balance, and that above all is what comes through on Lysandre.
Stream the whole mix HERE via 8track. Thanks for listening and reading, and have a great February!
Left of the Dial Radio Playlist - 1/4/13
My first radio broadcast of 2013 went off without a hitch. Thanks for everyone who tuned in and enjoyed some of my early pickings of great new music for the new year. January is a great time because there aren’t too many high-profile new records coming out, but I’ve found that the ones that do get released or leaked around this time are often very good. Last year we had that Cloud Nothings album, the Sharon Van Etten LP, and Perfume Genius all within the first month or so, and this year I’ve already heard solid-to-great new records from Low, Yo La Tengo, Christopher Owens, A$AP Rocky, and more. I’ve also gotten a chance to listen to some stuff that I missed in 2012, such as that terrific Bat For Lashes album.
Check out the full playlist below and stream it via Spotify at the embedded link at the bottom. Unfortunately, since much of the material was new, unreleased, and/or rare, not many of these tracks were available in the Spotify database.
- 1. By Surprise - “Who’s To Say This Year Will Be Any Different?”
- 2. P.S. Eliot - “Mood Ring”
- 3. Aye Nako - “Molasses”
- 4. Beach Fossils - “Generational Synthetic”
- 5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - “From The Sun”
- 6. Tame Impala - “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”
- 7. Yo La Tengo - “Ohm”
- 8. Bomb The Music Industry! - “Big Kisses”
- 9. Into It. Over It. - “A Curse Worth Believing”
- 10. Jake Shaker - “Hard To Find”
- 11. Christopher Owens - “Everywhere You Knew”
- 12. Milo - “Sweet Chin Music (The Fisher King’s Anthem)”
- 13. Big Boi - “Higher Res” (feat. Jai Paul & Little Dragon)
- 14. jj - “From Africa To Malaga”
- 15. Junip - “Rope & Summit”
- 16. Crayon - “Snow Globe” (Requested by fistfuckthesky)
- 17. Crystal Castles - “Sad Eyes”
- 18. Grimes - “Vowels = Space and Time”
- 19. cLOUDDEAD - “Rifle Eyes”
- 20. Burial - “Truant”
- 21. Teen Suicide - “xxxxxxx”
- 22. Jens Lekman - “Silvia”
- 23. Bat For Lashes - “Laura”
- 24. Low - “On My Own”
- 25. Christopher Owens - “Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)”
Stream via Spotify:
Listening To: Beach Fossils - Clash The Truth (2013)
Starting off my 2013 new music listening with this. Into it so far. I can’t help but like these guys, and the slight change in style and increase in energy on this release really benefits their sound.
DIIV - Oshin (2012)
DIIV is a Brooklyn indie rock band. They used to be called “Dive” before they changed their name. Their new album is called Oshin, pronounced like “Ocean.” The frontman, Zachary Cole Smith, has a swoopy haircut and wears oversized clothes onstage. He also plays guitar in Beach Fossils.
I’ve said this before in reference to other bands, but if you’re anything like me, you should already know what this band sounds like based on that description. Like many other bands of similar origins, DIIV’s sonic palette is made up of delay-affected guitar melodies, punchy new wave drums, occasional, unobtrusive synths, and vocals masked in reverb. Is the Brooklyn scene really so predictable now that all the buzz bands look, act, and sound essentially the same?
At any rate, DIIV is being billed as a saving grace for this kind of music, which has experienced a dramatic revival in recent years. They’ve paid their dues on the buzz cycle and made all the right PR moves, and now they’re set to release their debut album Oshin, a grandiose, 40 minute celebration of their revivalist sound.
A quick glance at Oshin's tracklist reveals that many of the singles that the band has released throughout the past year are present on here — and I do mean many. A red flag should go up in the listener’s mind whenever this happens. It hints at a lack of new ideas and an inability or unwillingness to evolve. DIIV’s big singles are undoubtedly good, but that’s just the problem. If you’ve been following DIIV at all lately, you’ve already heard the best material that Oshin has to offer. Although a few new tracks, like the rollicking “Past Lives,” offer up some of the invigorating sparkle that made tracks like the single “How Long Have You Known?” so infectious, most of them pale in comparison to the heights reached by that track. Furthermore, although the excellent single and album track “Doused” hinted at something bigger with its propulsive post-punk bass line and heavier guitars, DIIV spends most of their time on Oshin meddling around in mid-tempo jangle pop territory instead.
Because of DIIV’s relationship with fellow Brooklyn band Beach Fossils, Oshin will inevitably be lauded as the consummation of Beach Fossils’ musical potential. This is quite a stretch, since DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith never actually recorded on any Beach Fossils material, but it also overlooks what was attractive about that band in the first place. Beach Fossils self-titled LP, and, to a lesser extent, the followup EP What A Pleasure, were riddled with charming flaws and innocuous lo-fi production errors that actually helped their appeal rather than hurt it. DIIV’s Oshin is better than both, in a strictly technical sense, but lacks all of that former band’s charm. Without charm — without anything notable, really — what is there to distinguish Oshin from the numerous other records that sound just like it? This album could have been genuinely adventurous, but it just unequivocally isn’t.
I get it though — This is what sounds good at Brooklyn roof top parties and shows at 285 Kent. This is what girls these days like to dance to. Apparently people have stopped caring about what was really special about The Cure — Robert Smith’s persona and lyrics — and have settled for bands that openly ape their musical aesthetic instead. It’s pleasant to listen to in the background, but pleasantries fall flat with repeated, intentful listens. It certainly doesn’t help that a number of these tracks (“Druun” and “Druun, Pt. II in particular) are aimless, yawn-inducing instrumentals. Others, such as the incomprehensible “Earthboy,” might as well be. I’m having a hard time finding either emotion or character in these songs, and it’s making me like it less and less with each successive listen.
Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’m just bitter that I didn’t get invited to whatever party DIIV is playing at. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that the internet is at least in part at fault for the way this album turned out. The pressure that this band must have felt to appeal to their hype comes through audibly on this record, and they would have probably been better off ignoring it. They tried, admirably, to make the consummate Brooklyn dream pop record, but it’s clear that they tried too hard and in the wrong ways. Simply put, Oshin is the sound of a band without enough ideas being urged on by a system that expects just as much.
Pitchork has a funny little account of Titus Andronicus’ CMJ showcase with Wild Flag, Light Asylum and Dive, an offshoot of Beach Fossils. Click through to read it and check out photographs. I can’t wait until I’m old enough and independent enough to go to CMJ.
Left of the Dial Radio Playlist - 10/14/11
Sorry for posting this a day late. Yesterday I went up to Providence for Brown University’s homecoming and hung out with Mary. I left early and got back late, so I wasn’t able to do any posting yesterday. I had a great time though, so it was worth it. Anyway, here’s the full playlist from Friday’s Left of the Dial radio broadcast on WNHU. Click the song titles to listen to them. Thanks for listening to my show to everyone who did! Tune in next Friday for another live broadcast!
- 1. Neutral Milk Hotel - "Gardenhead / Leave Me Alone"
- 2. A Tribe Called Quest - "Excursions"
- 3. Washed Out - "Eyes Be Closed"
- 4. James Blake - “Once We All Agree”
- 5. Youth Lagoon - "Afternoon"
- 6. House of Wolves - "Follow Me"
- 7. Perfume Genius - "Mr Peterson"
- 8. The Middle East - "Black Death 1349"
- 9. Modest Mouse - "Gravity Rides Everything" (Requested by Blueshadedays)
- 10. Real Estate - “Green Aisles”
- 11. Beach Fossils - "Out In The Way" (feat. Wild Nothing)
- 12. YRRS - "YRRS"
- 13. By Surprise - "Terra Cotta Army"
- 14. iwishididntexistrightnow - “Twinkle Twinkle Death Star”
- 15. Man Man - "Dark Arts"
- 16. Man Man - "Rabbit Habits"
- 17. Man Man - "Banana Ghost"
- 18. Radiohead - "Lotus Flower"
- 19. The Rapture - “How Deep Is Your Love?”
- 20. Astronautalis - "Midday Moon"
- 21. WHY? - "Ferriswheel"
- 22. The Cranberries - "Dreams"
- 23. Destroyer - "Savage Night At The Opera"
- 24. Have A Nice Life - "Waiting For Black Metal Records To Come In The Mail"
- 25. Elliott Smith - "Somebody That I Used To Know"
- 26. The Antlers - "Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing" (The Magnetic Fields cover) (feat. Sharon Van Etten)
Left of the Dial Radio Playlist - 7/29/11
Here’s the playlist from last night’s Left of the Dial radio show on WNHU, complete with a youtube link to each song.
- 1. Sufjan Stevens - "Age of Adz"
- 2. Broken Social Scene - "Forced To Love"
- 3. The Format - "I’m Actual"
- 4. Arcade Fire - "Culture War"
- 5. Cymbals Eat Guitars - "Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)"
- 6. Make Wave - “Love Song”
- 7. Bomb the Music Industry! - "Hurricane Waves"
- 8. Beach Fossils - "Out In The Way (feat. Wild Nothing)”
- 9. Real Estate - "Barely Legal" (The Strokes cover)
- 10. Jonny Wanser - “Question 5 - My Departure From Burlington”
- 11. The Mountain Goats - "New Monster Avenue"
- 12. Girls - "Vomit"
- 13. Amy Winehouse - "Back To Black"
- 14. Bomb the Music Industry! - "Vocal Coach"
- 15. High Pop - “drip from the sea”
- 16. Fucked Up - "Under My Nose"
- 17. Titus Andronicus - "Upon Viewing Brueghel’s "Landscape With The Fall of Icarus""
- 18. Sufjan Stevens - "Heirloom"
- 19. Elliott Smith - "Bled White"
- 20. American Football - "Honestly"
- 21. The Antlers - "The Universe Is Going To Catch You"
- 22. The Mountain Goats - “Up The Wolves” (Come, Come To The Sunset Tree version)
- 23. Nana Grizol - "Voices Echo Down Thee Halls"
- 24. The Antlers - "Corsicana"
- 25. Washed Out - "A Dedication"
Tune in next Friday at 6 PM Eastern time for another broadcast!
2010 Albums of the Year, part 1 (#50-21)
50. The Books - The Way Out
Folk, Electronic, Sample-based
The Books return after a painful five year break with a record that finds their folk/electronic formula beginning to grow stale. Unlike their cold and disorienting masterpiece Thought for Food, The Way Out is warm and soulful, and features samples from motown and pop records in addition to their traditional offbeat vocal samples. The resulting album is frustratingly familiar yet characteristically well made. It is clear that with The Way Out, The Books have retained their meticulous ability to create collages of sound, but may have lost some of their creativity along the way.
49. Defiance, Ohio - Midwestern Minutes
Folk Punk, Indie Rock
After 2006’s The Great Depression, which I regard as one of the very best folk punk albums, and the worthy 2007 follow up The Fear, The Fear, The Fear, folk punkers Defiance, Ohio seem to have lost some of their edge. It is a rare moment on Midwestern Minutes that I am filled with that great feeling of youthful heart-fluttering that envelops me every time I listen to “Oh, Susquehanna!” While rare on this album, those moments are great. “The White Shore” is an angry yet uplifting punk song, and the subsequent track “A Lot to Do” is a great singalong anthem. Unfortunately, Midwestern Minutes lacks the consistency and immediacy needed to make music of this kind great.
48. Suckers - Wild Smile
Psychedelic Pop, Indie Pop
Despite coming directly from the overcrowded and increasingly boring Brooklyn indie rock scene, Wild Smile by Suckers is a refreshingly original sounding album. From the opening line of “Save Your Love For Me”, desperately sincere yet bordering on sounding pathetic, the listener is brought to attention. “Save Your Love For Me” is a monstrous track which builds and builds upon itself to create an undeniably great psychedelic pop anthem. Unfortunately, the band fails to maintain this level of brilliance throughout the remaining ten tracks, and the album suffers from its length and lack of consistency.
47. Girl Talk - All Day
Hip-hop, Electronic, Mashup
Girl Talk is admirably good at what he does. Using hip-hop vocal tracks and idiosyncratic beats, he creates fun and hip mashups to play at parties. Unfortunately, that’s it; All Day is, by nature, void of any depth whatsoever. At its best, it is clever and well-made, and at its worst, it is only slightly above a novelty.
46. Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs - God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise
Contemporary Folk, Folk Rock, Country
Improving upon his last two albums Till the Sun Turns Back and Gossip in the Grain, Lewiston, Maine singer/songwriter Ray Lamontagne harnesses a fuller new sound on God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise. This change can largely be attributed to the Pariah Dogs, a remarkably capable folk rock band that adds a degree of thickness and push to the overall sound. The dirty roots rock instrumentation compliments Lamontagne’s gravelly voice, but the best moment on the album occurs when the band decides to tone it down a bit on “Beg, Steal, or Borrow”
45. Foxy Shazam - Foxy Shazam
Glam Rock, Pop/Rock
Queen's iconic frontman Freddie Mercury has been reincarnated as an equally flamboyant hipster who currently sings for the band Foxy Shazam. Foxy Shazam makes music that sounds a lot like Queen’s Jazz, but without all the cringeworthy “experiments”. Very obvious Queen comparisons aside, Foxy Shazam have truly crafted an album as wonderfully anthemic and soaring as nearly any of Queen’s greatest hits. This album blatantly and unashamedly rips off the aforementioned band, but it does a damn good job at it.
44. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Dream Pop, Psychedelic Pop
Deerhunter disappointingly continue on the logical path from Microcastle with Halcyon Digest, a dream pop album that lacks much of what made Deerhunter cool in the first place. Instead of the noisy passive aggression of Cryptograms or the dense shoegazing sound of Microcastle, they have delivered a fairly ordinary sounding dream pop album. While songs like the lead single “Revival” are catchy and quite good, they lack that unmistakable Deerhunter sound. On Halcyon Digest, that sound is only truly displayed on the epic closing track “He Would Have Laughed”, which is fantastic. Nevertheless, this album is pretty good if only because it’s a Deerhunter record.
43. Weekend - Sports
Shoegaze, Noise Rock
With Sports, Needle Drop favorites Weekend face the opposite of Deerhunter’s problem. Sports is an undeniable landmark in the ability of a record to shred one’s ears and somehow maintain an interesting 90s slacker vibe while doing so, but lacks almost any melodic sensibilities whatsoever. If My Bloody Valentine's Loveless was the perfect balance of beauty and noise, Sports is a very imperfect balance of, well, ugliness and noise. Thankfully, these imperfections tend to fade away when being blasted through your ears at full volume.
42. Girls - Broken Dreams Club
Power Pop, Indie Pop, Alt-Country
Girls’ new EP Broken Dreams Club is an exercise in self exploration. With a little extra money and some more experience, Girls have made a record that sounds far removed from the lo-fi bedroom pop stylings of Album. Though it retains some of that charm, Broken Dreams Club is comparatively hi-fi. With horns, pedal steel guitar, and other unique instruments, it certainly sounds fantastic. Often it feels like such instrumental and production embellishments are being used to cover up mediocre songwriting, such as on the title track and the forgettable “Substance”. However, on “Thee Oh So Protective One” and the magnificent “Carolina”, the complex instrumentation and high production values only corroborate the simple brilliance of the songs.
41. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Forgiveness Rock Record, the newest release from ‘aughts indie supergroup Broken Social Scene lacks both the frenetic immediacy of You Forgot it In People, and the epic grandeur of 2005’s Broken Social Scene. On the first few listens, it feels both like a tired cash-in and a back-to-basics do over. And yet in the five years since this Canadian band released an album, the indie scene has changed dramatically. Neither of the sounds that those two records captured and helped to create would be welcome in 2010, and it is admirable that Broken Social Scene have evolved. This straight up indie rock style may seem played out, but when was the last time you heard such an album? 2007? 2006? Not in 2010, and not like this. If all of these songs had been as good as “World Sick”, this would be a top ten album for sure.
40. Beach House - Teen Dream
Dream Pop, Indie Pop
Beach House's Teen Dream is probably destined to be a modern indie classic, but all the press that it gets will never make it more than just summer record. Sure, it’s a damn good summer record, and maybe among the best of its kind, but it lacks the versatility needed to sustain my interest well into the fall and now the winter. These days, Victoria Legrand’s unbelievably sexy voice can still warm me up, but the music never seems to make sense.
Sidenote: I have like 10 2k10 bands with “Beach” in their name…chillwaves.
39. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Instrumental Hip-Hop, IDM, Electronic
Flying Lotus' album Cosmogramma is one of the most sonically impressive electronic albums in years. Cosmogramma whirs, beeps, and reverberates through one’s skull with pulsing beats and odd samples, the most interesting of which comes from a life support machine used by FlyLo’s aunt Alice Coltrane and recorded while she was in the hospital. It has hip hop tracks, Aphex Twin-like IDM experiments, and even a guest vocal performance from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, but with all this ambition, the resulting album needs to be brilliant to work. Cosmogramma is an example of style over substance; FlyLo tries to do so much with it, but rarely does he follow through with a brilliant piece of music.
38. The New Pornographers - Together
Power Pop, Indie Pop
Vancouver indie poppers The New Pornographers return with their best album since 2005’s Twin Cinema. Lacking the charming fuzziness of that album, Together sounds more like their previous album Challengers, but it has better tunes and catchier melodies. The vocals of Neko Case and Carl Newman are placed front and center, and ring clearly over the lush instrumentation. Together also features guest appearances from Beirut’s Zach Condon, Annie Clark, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff. Together proves that The New Pornographers are still better than many of the countless Canadian pop bands they inspired, but at times, Together's excess seems less like a triumphant confirmation of legendary status and more like a grasp for fleeting relevance.
37. Menomena - Mines
Indie Rock, Art Rock
Mines is the Portland trio Menomena's most straightforward album to date. Although it doesn't have the experimental instrumental squalls and entertainingly harsh dissonance of The Fun Blame Monster, their debut, it makes up for that lack with great songs. Menomena have clearly gotten much better at writing songs and jamming less, as displayed on the restrained “Taos” and “Tithe”, and Mines is an admirable and impressive forward step in their evolution, hopefully not into ‘just another indie band’.
36. The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Formlessness
Emo, Indie Rock, Math Rock
Willimantic, CT band (take a breath) The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die released one of the most surprisingly brilliant EPs of the year. I downloaded it in anticipation for their upcoming December 30th show with Castevet and Snowing, and was struck by how good it was. Formlessness is beautiful but aggressive, and atmospheric but grounded. It initially seems like a familiar sounding album, yet it’s also unique. Synthesizing the atmospheric qualities of American Football with an original and nostalgic tone, Formlessness is a wonderful record. I only wish it were longer.
35. The Tallest Man on Earth - Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird
Contemporary Folk, Indie Folk
2010 was a great year for EPs, and Swedish folk singer The Tallest Man on Earth's Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird is no exception. Riding on the success of his LP The Wild Hunt, which was also released this year, Sometimes the Blues… feels like both an experiment and also an affirmation of Kristian Matsson’s great talents. On the experimental side, it features a sharp electric guitar on one track. This song, “The Dreamer” is a midtempo lo-fi ballad, the chorus of which contains the EP’s title. In addition, the EP features more of Matsson’s signature folk music, which is nearly as good as anything on The Wild Hunt or 2008’s Shallow Grave.
34. sadnes - Fill My Head
Chiptune, Indie Rock, Shoegaze
Three EPs in a row? I must be crazy. Regardless, the debut EP from solo artist sadnes, aka OxygenStar, aka Carl Peczynski, is the highest ranking record from a local Connecticut artist on this list. Improving on his OxygenStar project, which I wrote a little about here, Peczynski adds vocals and guitars to his 8-bit beats and rhythms. The result sounds like a brilliant mix of Smashing Pumpkins and Anamanaguchi, owing more to the aforementioned 90s shoegazers than the chiptune-influenced power pop band. The vocals are amazing, and the self-deprecating and ironic lyrics fit the icy tone of the music perfectly. sadnes may seem as dark as his stagename suggests, but maybe he just wants a hug.
33. The Morning Benders - Big Echo
Lo-fi Indie Pop, Surf Pop
Accuse The Morning Benders of being trend hoppers as much as you want, but that doesn’t take away from their ability to craft fun, stimulating California pop songs. With surprisingly intellectual lyrics, instrumentation derived from 1960s sunshine pop, and some of the most playful harmonies this side of Merriweather Post Pavilion, nearly every song on Big Echo manages to stick in the listener’s head for weeks. Like Beach House's Teen Dream, Big Echo will probably never transcend “summer album” status, but if this was the postcard from the summer of 2010, I’d be entirely okay with that.
32. Beach Fossils - Beach Fossils
Lo-fi Indie Rock, Surf Pop, Dream Pop
Beach Fossils' self-titled debut album sounds exactly like you would expect an album from a Brooklyn band called “Beach Fossils” to sound like. It's lo-fi, jangly, reverb'ed, and uniformly white-washed, just like the wall on the album cover. All of these attributes are well and good in moderation, but the scene has already been saturated with music like that for years. Beach Fossils' saving grace is their overwhelming laziness, manifested as some sort of hazy 90s slacker sound. This general “I-don't-give-a-shit” attitude sets them apart. Beach Fossils are the punkest chillwavers around.
31. Jaill - That’s How We Burn
Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Power Pop
I saw Jaill play at a bar in Milford CT in October, but nobody else did. Yes, you read that correctly. Nobody else came to see them. These Wisconsin garage rockers have come a long way from home since their album That’s How We Burn was released on Sub Pop earlier this year, and frankly it is just plain unfair that they have not gotten the widespread recognition they deserve. This band plays some of the smartest and sharpest indie rock I’ve heard all year. Reminiscent of the punkish early stylings of Elvis Costello, and despite the ludicrous album cover of a girl with a dolphin hat hanging out at the beach, this album is void of all irony and filled to the brim with catchy and self-aware garage rock. That’s How We Burn is one of the great overlooked albums of 2010.
30. The Black Keys - Brothers
Blues Rock, Garage Rock, Soul
As if the no-bullshit album cover didn’t make it clear enough, The Black Keys play it straight. They don’t give a shit about relevance, hipness, or culture, and their new album Brothers is a great example of why this is a great thing. Just because the cool kids don’t like Led Zeppelin anymore doesn’t mean they don’t still rock. Taking influence from those guys and more, Brothers is soulful and tender, but never loses the edge that The Black Keys became underground famous for. It may seem odd that Brothers was the album that brought them into pseudo-mainstream territory, but in a lot of ways it makes sense. Though it’s not actually anything new, it realy feels like it. In this way, Brothers is refreshing.
29. Baths - Cerulean
Chillwave, Electronic, Glitch Pop
2010 saw the absurdly-titled and loosely-defined “chillwave” movement rise to mainstream popularity and then slowly fizzle out as hipsters moved away from the entry-level and on to the equally bizarre and then-underground genre “witch house”. ‘09 chillwavers like Neon Indian and Washed Out played shows and gained acceptance in 2010, but while they were partying, Baths was hard at work meticulously constructing Cerulean, which is to be known from here on as the best chillwave album ever. Trading in the stereotypically lazy production value and samples of chillwave for glitchy beats and gorgeous vocal harmonies, Baths created a record that was incredibly intricate and engaging, but at the same time remarkably chill. Yes, Cerulean is the best chillwave album ever, and one of the best electronic albums of 2010.
28. of Montreal - False Priest
Soul, Indie Pop, R&B, Funk
In response to a negative Pitchfork review of False Priest, the new album by of Montreal, frontman Kevin Barnes wondered -
Why does pitchfork always assign my albums to flaccid puritanical sex hating half humans?
Why indeed. As he himself goes on to confirm, Kevin Barnes is not tired of sex. Unfortunately for him, it seems like a lot of people are. In the context of the band’s past few albums, it would seem that False Priest offers nothing new thematically. However once one removes the album from that harsh context, you find a wonderful album filled with too-bizarre-to-make-up (yet somehow relatable) sexual anecdotes set to a funky beat and sung by a crazy bisexual dude who wears a lot of make up and sometimes decides not to wear clothes on stage. In addition, False Priest features Janelle Monae and Solange Knowles, two of indie R&B’s greatest upstarts (the former of which I hope will take on mainstream R&B with the speed and precision that she has taken over the blogs in 2011). From beginning to end, this album is fun. Pure, ridiculous, intelligent, self-deprecating fun. What’s wrong with that?
27. Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring
Indie Pop, Twee Pop
"Let’s talk about you for a minute"
These were not words I ever expected the self-obsessed Gareth Campesinos! to utter, and yet so begins “In Medias Res”, the opening track from the new Los Campesinos! album Romance is Boring. As the frontman for the Welsh indie band Los Campesinos!, Gareth has spent the past two years either bemoaning or praising himself, but never focusing on anyone else. He’s acknowledged that he has screwed people over and that people have screwed him over, but we’ll never know anything else about them.
Romance is Boring is different. The entire album, a noisy and loud 48 minutes composed almost entirely of fist pumping twee-punk anthems, reads like the transcript of a breakup written by Gareth himself. This formula is very interesting, but causes Romance is Boring to feel like a bit of a transition album. If this is the direction in which the band is headed, I’m incredibly excited to hear what they do next.
"Is this something that would interest you? Would this interest you at all?"
26. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks
Pop/Punk, Punk Rock, Indie Rock
Over the past ten years or so, Ted Leo's output has been incredibly consistent. On The Brutalist Bricks, the latest installment in his already storied career, he and his band rock out harder than ever. Leo, now 40, has managed to maintain that Rivers Cuomo-like appearance of eternal youth and tracks like “The Mighty Sparrow” and “Gimme the Wire” show that it is not only a facade. These are energetic and youthful punk rock songs that never sound try-hard or fake. Despite a couple songs that seem to misfire, and a production style that verges on sounding overdone, the straight up great songs on The Brutalist Bricks make it just too good to pass up.
And just as a reminder, Ted Leo’s playing a solo show at The Space in January! More info here! (via Manic Productions)
25. The National - High Violet
Indie Rock, Chamber Pop
Coming in at number 25 is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2010. The National's High Violet builds on the band’s previous two albums, and features everything one might expect from a National album: sad songs, deep vocals, and heavy drums. Still, High Violet feels a lot more subdued than Alligator and Boxer. Suffice to say that there are no songs as aggressive and angular as Boxer's ”Mistaken For Strangers” on this album. However, The National have clearly gotten better at writing slower songs, as evidenced by the gorgeous High Violet opener “Terrible Love”. There is not much else to be said about this album that hasn’t already been said. While it may not live up to all the hype it gets, High Violet is a very good record by a very accomplished band.
24. Castevet - The Echo & The Light
Emo, Post-Rock, Post-Hardcore
Though largely flawed, Castevet's 2009 album Summer Fences helped revitalize the emo scene which had stagnated over a period of roughly seven years with remarkable new energy and post-rock sensibilities. While fascinating and refreshing, Summer Fences always felt to me like there was something missing. After a hard year of touring, Castevet have come back with plenty of experience. Their new album The Echo and the Light improves on their original formula. The post-rock is still present, but the crescendoing interludes don’t feel like they come out of nowhere anymore. On The Echo & the Light, everything feels organic. The clean math rock guitars contrast with the relatively low screamed vocals, but the drums make it all come together. These drums sound fantastic, and wouldn’t feel out of place on an Explosions in the Sky record. The drums, which occasionally give way to ear-blasting walls of sound and noise, add that post-rock element to Castevet’s mix, and make The Echo & the Light much more than just another emo album.
23. Belle and Sebastian - Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
Indie Pop, Chamber Pop, Twee Pop
Belle and Sebastian's new album Belle and Sebastian Write About Love features a despondent looking girl gazing out her window on the cover. Combined with the overly self-aware album title (which from me will always provoke the response “duh”), this almost seems like a play on the band itself. Though I’m sure Stuart Murdoch has long been aware of the fact that Belle and Sebastian has always primarily been a band for somewhat disaffected indie girls, it seems that he has finally accepted it. Belle and Sebastian Write About Love,and that’s okay. Perhaps it was coming to terms with this that allowed Stuart to write the songs contained on this album. Stuart comes off as more open and more accessible than he has ever seemed. He’s not the fragile boy who mused about whether he could ever be loved on Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, but instead he is a grown man teaching the future Stuarts of the world the truth. Girls think it’s okay for a boy to be sensitive. Being sad is good sometimes. Being happy can be a choice. Everyone take notes.
22. The Love Language - Libraries
Indie Pop, Chamber Pop
If there was ever a band that Write About Love was written for, it’s The Love Language. Stuart (!!) McLamb, a young, black haired upstart and the chief songwriter for The Love Language may even be Stuart Murdoch’s protege. Having studied Dear Catastrophe Waitress and The Life Pursuit, McLamb and his band have it in their power to craft indelibly catchy and life affirming pop songs so perfect that they will make you want to sing, dance, and write songs of your own. McLamb draws lyrical motifs straight from the aforementioned Belle and Sebastian albums, but crafts them in his own very personal style. If you are sad, see this band live, they will make you want to live.
21. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Indie Rock, Power Pop, Surf Rock
Surfer Blood's Astro Coast can be described thusly: if your favorite Weezer song ever is “Surf Wax America” from their self titled 1995 debut record, you will love this album. Actually, if you love any of the other tracks on Weezer, you will also love this album. Astro Coast is filled with that same glorious, harmonious power pop that was so brilliantly perfected by Weezer that it almost feels like they created it. In the fifteen years since that record was released, nobody has managed to get that sound or that feeling of lively and youthful energy down without feeling cheap or unoriginal. Surfer Blood have done it, and Astro Coast is the gleaming, surf-inflected product that all people who were ever in a Weezer cover band should aspire to.
Check back here tomorrow for my official top 20 albums of 2010! I hope you enjoyed this list. Let me know if you want a link to any of these albums.