Patrick Wall’s Top Albums of 2010

Mr. Wall is a writer, editor and Doctor Zoidberg enthusiast from Columbia, S.C. He is the music editor of Free Times, contributes to Shuffle magazine and blogs infrequently at WeekendsOfSound. He is a founding member of the Meatsweats, whose sloppy post-punk has pleased nary a critic. Also, Mr. Wall is kind of an asshole.

KNEE MEETS JERK: In Which a Beleaguered Music Journalist Attempts — and Fails — to Identify Ten Records Released Between December 2009 and December 2010 That Were Better Than All Other Releases in the Same Time Period. Listed in alphabetical order. Results subject to change.

Jason Adasiewicz, Sun Rooms (Delmark)
A mainstay on the Chicago improv-jazz scene (see: Josh Berman’s Old Idea, The Lucky 7s, Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra), Jason Adasiewicz is single-handedly making an argument for the vibraphone as a crucial instrument in 21st century jazz. Sun Rooms, his third record as a leader, finds Adasiewicz paring his ensemble down to a trio reminiscent of the classic piano trios of Bill Evans or McCoy Tyner. That’s not to say Adasiewicz’s vibes-led trios are inherently romantic: The trio barrels through Sun Ra’s “Overtones of China” with amped-up ferociousness, and “Stake” swings hard with drummer Mike Reed chasing Adaciewicz’s skittering mallets. But that’s not to say Sun Rooms isn’t romantic, either: The balladic “Rose Garden,” with Adasiewicz’s cat’s-feet malleted notes softly cascading, is evocative of the linear, horn-like playing of underrated vibes great Bobby Hutcherson.

Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam)
You know what? Fuck Kanye West. Sir Lucious Left Foot, Big Boi’s long-delayed debut full-length, was overshadowed by the year by hip-hop’s biggest ego and his megalomaniacal Dark, Twisted Fantasy, but it’s nonetheless a frenzied album that finds Antwan Andre Patton in top form, spitting nimble and irreverent rhymes over robust, idea-crammed beats steeped in low-slung, anti-gravity Southern funk (“General Patton”; “Shutterbugg”; “Back Up Plan”) and strip-club booty-clap boom-bap (“Tangerine”; “You Ain’t No DJ”). Sir Lucious Left Foot is not without its stumbles — who the fuck invited Vonnegut? — but its rubbery funk and marvelously weird energy far outclass its few shortcomings. Big Boi’s on another planet; everyone else is, at most, merely fly. (And, as a bonus, Sir Lucious Left Foot’s skits are actually funny.)

James Blake, Klavierwerke EP (R&S)
I agree with Twit-crit Christopher Weingarten’s assertion that “post-dubstep” as a micro-genre is bullshit. But I like Klavierwerke for the same reason I liked The Field’s The Sound of Light and, ultimately, for the same reason I like Brian Eno’s Music for Airports: It’s at the same time entirely ignorable and eminently listenable. For the active listener, Klavierwerke is an oddly affecting — and at times really fucking creepy — listen, blending the austerity of minimalism with microhouse beats and dubstep’s haunting, distorted vocals.

The Books, The Way Out (Temporary Residence)
Collage artists as much as they are musicians, The Books’ Paul de Jong and Nick Zammuto on The Way Out are less concerned about fashioning their extensive sample-generated orchestra into abstract puzzles. (See: Thought for Food.) Rather, The Way Out finds The Books mining their source material — a series of fumbling answering-machine messages; ranting grammarians; guided meditation-style self-help recordings; a battle of increasingly violent threats between two children — for their innate emotional depth and humanity, but still done with The Books’ trademark wink-and-nod juxtaposition, pairing disorienting oddness with deeply relaxing Pinback-for-chillbros sonics. The inention for The Way Out, apparently, was for each song to be a self-contained rabbit hole; that each song seems to belong to the same, readily recognizable universe is a happy coincidence.

Double Negative, Daydreamnation (Sorry State)
Though it cribs its name from Sonic Youth’s first post-SST album, Daydreamnation finds Double Negative favoring a brand of brash, abrasive hardcore punk that was the hallmark of SST’s early years. Yet there’s more than a hint of the Triangle’s angular indie-rock in the Raleigh quintet’s roots (not surprising, given its members spent time in early Merge noisemakers Polvo and Erectus Monotone), and Double Negative’s expressive experiments with mood, texture and tempos — think Black Flag via Polvo — puts Daydreamnation among the finest forward-thinking hardcore records of recent memory.

Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma (Warp)
A twisting, shape-shifting mass of free jazz (doubtless derived from his Coltrane lineage), outer-space hip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, intergalactic funk and blaxploitation soundtrack orchestration, Cosmogramma finds Flying Lotus (nee Steve Ellison) taking J Dilla’s funky instrumental hip-hop and exploding it outward into a densely layered space opera. Incorporating live instrumentation into his laptop manipulations and splicing it together into lithe, liquid intellectual electro-funk, Ellison has cemented himself as one of the smartest, most forward-thinking producers in hip-hop.

Kylesa, Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist)
“Keep moving,” Philip Cope bellows during the chorus of “Don’t Look Back.” “Don’t look back.” Indeed, the Savannah, Ga., quintet has been pushing the boundaries of heavy metal since its inception at the dawn of the millennium, incorporating elements of raw hardcore punk, psychedelic stoner rock, technical speed metal and thick, swampy, Sabbath-y sludge into its hard rock core. Spiral Shadow finds Kylesa perfecting its art, adding a rhythmic intricacy and intensity without losing itself in indulgent prog-rock wank or Melvins-esque thud. Spiral Shadow is, perhaps, Kylesa’s most melodic record, with guitarists Cope and Laura Pleasants — who is perhaps the most underrated woman in rock — trading shouts, croons and incendiary guitar work back and forth in a majestic haze.

Maple Stave, Like Rain Freezing and Thawing Between Bricks Year After Year, This House Will Come Down (self-released)
A trio of unusual instrumentation — Evan Rowe plays drums, Andy Hull and Chris Williams both play hollow, aluminum baritone guitarts — Durham’s Maple Stave plays a brand of muscular and steadily tension-ratcheting math rock that’s a blistering mix of Shellac’s raw, acerbic noise-rock, Slint’s dynamism and June of 44’s intensely sloped tangents. Like Rain Freezing is an outstandingly nuanced document, pivoting between low drones and siren-call highs and bouncing between grand glory and anxious, breathless desperation.

The National, High Violet (4AD)
Cracks the shortlist almost on the strength of “Afraid of Everyone” — which nigh perfectly manages the rural book smarts of the band’s Ohio roots with the cosmopolitan groom of its Brooklyn home — alone, which, I think, says quite a bit about the relative merits of the music released in 2010. High Violet is a hit-and-miss record, but its highs (“Afraid of Everyone,” “Conversation 16,” “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”) soar higher than its lows sink.

Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge)
Call Majesty Shredding a return to form if you must, but that Superchunk sounds as fresh, after a near-decade absence, on Majesty Shredding as it did on Superchunk (or, more appropriately, No Pocky for Kitty), is a testament to its songs’ organic energy and the band’s maturity. Dear Sonic Youth: This is how you grow old gracefully.

Thank God, Ice/Age (Exotic Fever)
Several years in the making, Thank God’s debut full-length Ice/Age, released on Exotic Fever Records, is no mere punk record. Ice/Age is an animal unto itself, meandering through a volatile mix of mathy bursts of art-damaged hardcore, saxophone-driven free-jazz meditations, ballistic noise-rock freakouts and tension-building post-rock intermissions. It showcases the sinewy quintet at its absolute most refined, most mature, most brain-bending, most explosive, most dynamic best. Ice/Age is nothing short of a masterstroke, and its punishing aural assault doesn’t relent until the last screeches of feedback fade to silence.

Toe, For Long Tomorrow (Machupicchu Industrias)
Like Tortoise or Pele (and Collections of Colonies of Bees, which Pele evolved in to), Japanese quartet Toe follows the nontraditional-as-traditional math rock structures: nonrepeating sections; constantly evolving melodies; looping, loping, upwardly arcing guitar phrases; acute, angular left turns. But like Battles, the strength lies in the drumming, in this case the frantically tight stickwork of Kashikura Takashi, who’s adept at propelling chamleonic numbers like “After Image” as he is finding the pocket on groove-oriented, off-time builders like “Goodbye” and accenting nigh-beatless compositions like the vibes-driven “Two Moons.” And like Battles, Toe’s arrangements — a slick, seamless blend of glitchy, unpredictable beats and layered acoustic instruments — are first-rate and forward-thinking.

Toro Y Moi, Causers Of This (Carpark)
Columbia’s Chaz Bundick has come a long way from spinning four-track indie-folk yarns in his bedroom, as Toro Y Moi debuted in 2001. Causers of This is the product of a voraciously omnivorous musical diet: Daft Punk’s dayglo synths; J Dilla’s intellectual beats; Animal Collective’s woozy melodies; 10cc’s gauzy haze. Indeed, chillwave — or glo-fi, hypnagogic pop, et al — was almost solely and distinctly Bundick’s before the copycats came along, and, to wit, he still does it best, mostly because he remembers to connect to his audience. Causers of This is, at heart, a break-up record, one on par, in terms of emotional depth, with Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen or Jim O’Rourke’s Insignificance. Causers of This is an ode to a relationship gone sour, torn apart by distance (“Blessa”: “Come home for the summer / We’re the life that you missed”), indifference (“Thanks Vision”: “It doen’t matter, does it? / No”), desperation (“Talamak”: “When can we get together again? / Never mind, I’ve lost you”) and, ultimately, insecurity (“You Hid”: “I don’t think I’d work out / As your best friend / I don’t want to hold you down”). It’s remarkably human for an electronic record, and remarkably individualistic for a record that mines so much of pop music’s past.

Honorable Mention/Apologies To: Jason Ajemian & the High Life, Let Me Get That Digital; Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh; Baths, Cerulean; The Jeb Bishop Trio, 2009; The Black Keys, Brothers; Call Me Lightning, When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free; Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer; Coliseum, House With A Curse; Das Racist, Sit Down, Dude/Shut Up, Man; Deftones, Diamond Eyes; El-P, Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixx3; Envy, Recitation; Four Tet, There Is Love In You; Girl Talk, All Day; Grids, Kansas; Harvey Milk, A Small Turn of Human Kindness; It’s a King Thing, Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo; Land of Talk, Cloak and Cypher; LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening; Ted Leo And The Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks; Les Savy Fav, Roots for Ruin; Lost in the Trees, All Alone in an Empty House; Madlib, Madlib Medicine Show series; Maserati, Pyramid of the Sun; Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid; Pianos Become the Teeth, Old Pride; Pillars & Tongues, The Lay of Pilgrim Park; Robyn, Body Talk; Rick Ross, Teflon Don; The Rooftops, A Forest of Polarity; The Roots, How I Got Over; Aram Shelton Quartet, These Times; Shining, Blackjazz; Sleigh Bells, Treats; So Percussion + Matmos, Treasure State; Spoon, Transference; The Sword, Warp Riders; Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz; Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To the Sky; Sharon Van Etten, Epic; Venice is Sinking, Sand & Lines; The Walkmen, Lisbon; Warpaint, The Fool; Weye, Friends, Family & Others

Tug Baker’s Top Albums of 2010

Tug Baker is the proprietor of one of our more frequently referenced music blogs, About Today. He also has a loose definition of victuals, as evidenced by this cover piece he wrote for Free Times. He even made downloadable mixes out of his favorites this year because he loves you like that. Here are his Top Albums of 2010:

10. Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz & All Delighted People EP (Asthmatic Kitty)

9. Big Boi, Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)

8. Warpaint, The Fool (Rough Trade)

Warpaint “Undertow” from maudegone on Vimeo.

7. Toro Y Moi, Causers of This (Car Park)

Toro Y Moi – Low Shoulder from Chris Murdoch on Vimeo.

6. Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL)

5. Robyn, Body Talk (Konichiwa)

Robyn – Hang With Me official video from Robyn on Vimeo.

4. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella Records)

3. Ghost Animal, Summertime In Heaven (self-released)

Ghost Animal – Through Your Eyes from Tyler T Williams on Vimeo.

2. The National, High Violet (4AD)

1. Tame Impala, Innerspeaker (Univeral Import)

Tame Impala – Lucidity from Modular People on Vimeo.

K’s Top Albums of 2010

Looking back at my list from 2009, I find I still listen to the majority of those records to this day. To be quite honest, I seriously doubt I’ll be listening to the bulk of my Top 10 of 2010 come next year. That’s not to say I don’t love these records; I do. Many of them simply strike me as ephemeral, forever tied to 2010 in my mind.
Read more

Eric Greenwood’s Top Albums of 2010

1. Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Some songs are so good they make you pull over to the side of the road to let them sink in. “Helicopter” is one such song. I’m talking goose bumps on your arms good. And it speaks microcosmically to Halcyon Digest’s effect as a whole. As Carrie Brownstein wrote of this record for NPR: “How can chord progressions make me cry?” Exactly.

2. Janelle Monae, The Archandroid (Bad Boy/Wonadaland Arts Society)
I hate albums that everyone says you have to hear. I’m invariably let down. Not this time, though. This girl is amazing. And she’s a freak, albeit one with vision and ambition. There’s a reason Prince asked her to open up for him on his “Welcome 2 America” tour. You have to hear this album…

3. Sleigh Bells, Treats (Mom + Pop/N.E.E.T.)
Treats wouldn’t be the same record without the blown-out-in-the-red production, and when you add the throwback, 60’s girl-group hooks, Sleigh Bells sounded like no one else in 2010. I was sure I would tire of the schtick after a few listens, but I kept coming back for more. Infectious pop music that decimates your stereo.

4. Weekend – Sports (Slumberland)
A friend of mine texted me out of the blue a few weeks ago that I might like the new Weekend record. Indeed. Ever since, I’ve been borderline obsessed with the opener “Coma Summer.” Harkening back to the dark feedback terror of Psychocandy, Weekend apes its influences with middle fingers blazing, just daring you to call them out on it.

5. Crystal Castles, II (Fiction)
My favorite song of the year is Crystal Castles’ “Not In Love,” featuring vocals by The Cure’s Robert Smith. As I’ve said before, it’s the best thing The Cure hasn’t done in 20 years. Sadly, the album version of that song is nowhere near as good, as Alice Glass’ vocals are buried to the point of being unintelligible. However, the album broadens the scope of Crystal Castles 8-bit assault into a clearer pop vision, still mired in enough anger and dissonance to please early fans.

6. Land of Talk, Cloak & Cipher (Saddle Creek)
Lizzy Powell’s voice slays me enough as it is, so it’s just a bonus that her band writes such sullen, engrossing music. Seriously, Powell has one of those “sing the dictionary” voices; it’s that good. Cuts you to the core. Cloak & Cipher doesn’t match the immediacy of 2008’s Some Are Lakes, but once it sinks its hooks in you’re staying a while.

7. The Magnetic Fields, Realism, Nonesuch
The many (solemn) faces of Stephin Merritt pop up on my shuffling playlist far to often to ignore. Having not been blown away by the past few Magnetic Fields records, I must say Realism reminded my why I adore this gay old misanthrope and his endless bag of bon mots.

8. Laetitia Sadier, The Trip (Drag City)
Lateitia Sadier’s first proper solo album is not too dissimilar from a Monade or Stereolab album, though there are subtle differences. One thing you can’t mistake is Sadier’s voice; it’s a constant comfort. And where this darkly elegiac album succeeds is in showcasing the strength of that voice. No longer is it competing with an onslaught of moogs and noisemakers, straying away from the monochromatic detachment inherent to her tone and emphasizing its empathetic nature.

9. Gauntlet Hair, “Out, Don’t…” 7” (Mexican Summer)
This is the band I’m most excited about from the past year, despite the ridiculously dadaist name. “Out, Don’t…” is a reverb-soaked racket with soaring vocals, shimmering, early 80’s guitars, and explosive, unpredictable percussion that sounds like it was recorded in a cathedral and a bedroom all at once.

10. Zola Jesus, Stridulum EP (Sacred Bones)
Zola Jesus is the Siouxsie and the Banshees that the Swans would listen to. That is to say, the music would scare the shit out of the boys and girls smoking cloves in black drapes and white face paint. Nika Danilova’s voice is the centerpiece of this, the group’s most polished work. And yet, despite the slightly more accessible production, Zola Jesus compromises nothing in terms of its disquieting effect on the listener.

Close calls: No Age, Everything in Between; The Walkmen, Lisbon; Superpitcher, Kilimanjaro; LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening; Gorillaz, Plastic Beach ; Shit Robot, From the Cradle to the Rave; Murder By Death, Good Morning Magpie

STREAM: New Music from The Cars

So, not only have The Cars reunited with Ric Ocasek, but the newly reformed group (minus bassist Benjamin Orr, who died of pancreatic cancer back in 2000) has even posted clips of a few new tunes. I’m somewhat surprised given the debacle that was The New Cars, a lame attempt by three remaining Cars to cash in on fans that didn’t care who sang the songs, even if it was Todd Rundgren. But that ill-advised tour was four years ago. Might as well have been a lifetime ago by today’s standards. In any case, Ocasek has obviously gotten over it. I’m not sure why he’s decided to make nice with his bandmates after all this time. It would have meant more a decade or so ago back when Orr was still around to make it legitimate. The cynical take is, of course, that it’s about the money. Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, are the tunes any good? Well, the example above, entitled “Sad Song,” certainly sounds like vintage Cars, even down to the handclaps and Ocasek’s robotic inflection. The band has been characteristically oblique in its plans, announcing its reunion with only a photograph on Facebook. When a record does surface it will be the band’s first since 1987’s dismal Door to Door. Outdoing that stinker should be a cakewalk, even if it is two decades too late. [via Slicing Up Eyeballs]