Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Best Albums of 2010 | Part Two

Artwork credit: Alyssa Shapkoff

Today, we continue on with paragraphical odes to our favorite albums of 2010. To see the entire list so far, go here!

Best Coast | Crazy For You (Mexican Summer) [buy]
Surf. Garage. Indie. Motown. '50s pop. Grunge. Lo-fi. Fuzz. Doo-wop. Roll up all of these genres together in equal portions, and you have Best Coast, a charming trio from Los Angeles, California, composed of Bethany Cosentino, Bobb Bruno, and Ali Koehler. Their exceptional debut LP, Crazy For You, is replete, from start to finish, with the commonly linked themes of love, longing, pining, wanting, missing, and desiring to just start over. Sprinkle in several references to smoking grass and Cosentino's cat (Snacks), and you've pretty much nailed the thematic elements to Crazy For You. The record is book-ended with a dead-on starter and closer that flaunt Best Coast's sound and lyrical themes. "Boyfriend" lays down straight forward riffs and harmonizing backing vocals as a pedestal for Cosentino's lament that a certain someone is seeing someone else: "The other girl is not like me/ she's prettier and skinnier/ she has a college degree/ I dropped out when I was seventeen." "When I'm With You," the concluding track of the record, is just aces. Grungy rhythm guitar, a surf rock solo, and Cosentino wailing: "I hate sleeping alone." After the success of Crazy For You, we bet that she may have a few more bed buddies from which to choose (aside from Snacks, of course).

Suckers | Wild Smile (Frenchkiss) [buy]
Brooklyn's Suckers, a quartet from Brooklyn, have a touch of weirdness to them... But what interesting and unique rock band from Brooklyn doesn't? Somewhat reminiscent of Yeasayer (but darker and more brooding), Suckers has crafted one of the year's best records, start to finish, in Wild Smile (incidentally their self-titled EP was produced by Yeasayer's Anand Wilder). At the record's center, there lies in wait one of the best one-two punches of rock tracks on any record this year. "A Mind I Knew" starts out with a steady pace and builds into a frenetic epic that gets down in it: "Your heart is like a crippled demon / semen on your clothes / kill everything I built around me / nervous I suppose." "Roman Candles" lightens the mood a bit ("Roman candles / and empty liquor handles / and a way with words has pulled you through") but continues to rock nonetheless as, again, the offering builds to a cacophonous end. Wild Smile's penultimate track, "2 Eyes 2 C" is also noteworthy. Hell, all of the songs on Wild Smile are pretty darn solid, hence the appearance on this list. We anxiously await to see what 2011 has in store for Suckers.

Sharon Van Etten |
Epic (Ba Da Bing) [buy]
“You were high while I was doomed,” Sharon Van Etten sings on the magnificent “Love More,” which closes out Epic. Somewhere along the way, some dude really messed with her. Note to future dudes who want to screw with Van Etten: she’ll write songs about you, and the subject matter won’t be pretty. It only takes six songs for Epic to convince us that Van Etten knows how to tug at the dark corners of our hearts. Sure, there’s a lot of regret in these songs; but here’s to also finding the lurking hope that exists. Van Etten is a rising star.

The Black Keys | Brothers (Nonesuch) [
buy]
For all intents and purposes, Brothers is the record we've always hoped The Black Keys would make. It's a soulful and tough-as-nails example of how contemporary blues still has a place, not only in the modern music world, but in pop culture itself. It's a record that speaks to the duo's faithfulness to those who have come before them but also gives major nods to those who have helped them move far beyond their previous works with a renewed fire and focus. "Next Girl" and "Everlasting Light" are brilliant examples of their blues-twinged songwriting skills, while "Tighten Up" illustrates just how important their previous work with Danger Mouse at the production helm has been. This LP points The Black Keys in a new direction, and if they keep things real one more time, the sky is the damn limit. This is for sure.

Clare Burson | Silver & Ash (Rounder) [buy]
Silver and Ash is Clare Burson’s album about the life of her grandmother, Helga Rabinowitsch, who fled from Germany before the Holocaust. Even though the underlying subject matter is dark, we’d argue this album shines because of the warmth and optimism it brings us, similar to Bruce Springsteen’s post-9/11 The Rising. This album is beautiful because of its depth and because Burson eliminates any idea of a comfort zone. “Remember for me,” she sings on “I Will/With You.” If you listen to Silver and Ash, you’ll never forget Clare Burson.

Yeasayer | Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian) [buy]
It's no secret that MGMT's 2010 album proved to be majorly divisive, earning just as many critics as avid fans. And if you were anything like us, mostly looking elsewhere for hot jams that implored us to get our asses on the dance floor, you turned to Yeasayer's Odd Blood. Mixing synth, catchy melodies, and oft-times, world beats, this year, the mighty Brooklyn group swooped in to save the dancehall day. From not-so-subtle '80s nods to prog-rock aberrations, Yeasayer fills our empty art-pop tanks and leaves us wanting more.

Cowboy Junkies | Renmin Park (Razor & Tie) [buy]
Forget what you already know about Cowboy Junkies, Renmin Park showed that even a band with 25 years under their belt can break new ground. Michael Timmins once again proves he’s one of the best Canadian songwriters not named Neil Young, penning songs that were inspired by a lengthy family trip to China. A few of the songs are even structured around field recordings Timmins captured on his trip, such as two men playing badminton in Renmin Park, which opens “Sir Francis Bacon at the Net.” Of course, Timmins’ sister, Margo, is still a star behind the microphone. Yeah, it’s true, she can still sing a little. But it’s her brother, Michael, who ultimately steals the show with his ability to create something out of nothing. Renmin Park shows that the Junkies can still blaze a few trails and are kicking with fervor.

Mumford and Sons | Sigh No More (Glass Note) [buy]
We can't lie - we've been listening to Mumford and Sons, a leader in the recent Brit-folk invasion, for a long time. Well before the London four-piece made its 2010 stateside debut with Sigh No More, we were knocked backward by its haunting harmonies, manic foot-stompin', and feverish desire. But, this album is just too perfect to not include on our year-end list of favorites. Mumford and Sons' brand of across-the-pond-Americana is an explosion of unbridled emotion. On "White Blank Page," lead singer, Marcus Mumford, requests, "Lead me to the truth, and I will follow you with my whole life..." Well, consider us disciples because we're never letting this band out of our sight.

Common Prayer | There Is A Mountain (Big Potato) [buy]
There Is A Mountain crept into our inbox over the summer and had its way with us. Common Prayer, the project of Jason Russo (of Hopewell) and Alexandra Marva (with John Anderson and Karen Codd joining live), gave us perhaps the biggest surprise of 2010. This music sounds earthy and feels free, stomping barefoot through frolicking guitar, organic percussion, and sing-around-the-campfire lyrics. "Sara G" quirkily skips back and forth among its various layers: random laughs, a female chorus, a cabasa that keeps the beat. On the gospel-driven "Everything & More," the duo poignantly harmonizes, "We may never pass this way again/ this could be the last time, my friend..." If ever there were music about living in the right here and now, this is it.

Lissie | Catching a Tiger (Fat Possum) [buy]
I'm tired of saying that I won't get lost ever again/ Who knows? Maybe I will..." These are the first two lines from "Record Collector," track one off Lissie's debut album, Catching a Tiger. We think there's a massive amount to be said about her opening statement, her cool confidence that immediately deflates the idea that one must have her head about her at all times. While heartland songs like "Bully" feel like recognizable extensions of Lissie's debut EP, Why You Runnin', our favorite Midwestern lass also tries the likes of unrestrained pop, '60s girl group bliss, and gritty soul on for size. After all, she's already told us she's comfortable meandering off the straight and narrow path.

Like Pioneers | Piecemeal (Abandoned Love) [buy]
Last winter, members of Chin Up Chin Up, Bound Stems, The Narrator, and Vacations got together over two weekends in Chicago to record some songs. The resulting LP, Piecemeal, was something you only get when a ton of like-minded musicians collaborate on a project that is impulsive and free in spirit. Piecemeal is something truly magical, an album that hit us completely by surprise. "English Garden" is the clear standout from a repeat listen standpoint, but other tracks like "Some People" and "Gift from a Holiday" are better than 90% of the songs we heard this year.

How To Dress Well | Love Remains (Lefse) [buy]
Love Remains is an album we would file in the "academic section" of our LP library. Not because the words are literary, or because the music is classical or grandiose, but because you actually have to do some homework in order to fully get it. You have to sit down with some notecards and study it before it finally clicks. But when it does - good lawd, it does. “You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’” and “My Body” offer up some glorious pop moments while “Walking This Dumb” and “Mr. By & By” offer beats suitable for da club. But Tom Krell, the sole member of the group, is an R&B tailor at best, somehow weaving ghostly chants into quiet, rain-ready slow jams. Just give it five spins and a few hours. It's well worth your time.

Big Boi | Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam) [buy]
You probably know that Big Boi (AKA General Patton AKA Sir Lucious Left Foot AKA Daddy Fat Sax AKA Sgt. Slaughter AKA Antwan Andre Patton) is one half of a little hip hop duo hailing from Atlanta known as Outkast. What you may not know is that with his debut solo LP, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (we don't count Speakerboxxx released with Andre 3000's The Love Below), Big Boi establishes himself as a rap juggernaut standing on his own, completely independent from Andre 3000. "Shine Blockas" and "Shutterbugg" may just be the two best rap songs of the year (sorry, Kanye). Both tracks highlight slick beats, Big Boi's signature southern drawl lyrical delivery, and quality rhymes ranging from the inspirational on "Shine Blockas": ("But we shall overcome and succeed, indeed/ But with success comes a great responsibility/ We chose to lead not follow/ It's a hard pill to swallow/ Better get prescriptions filled/ 'Cause there might not be tomorrow" to the gangsta on "Shutterbugg": "Not to flex but to protect my neck like the Wu-Tang / Self-preservation is the rule when you do aim/ Or get in something more sinister/ You gotta be the finisher / To make it sure the doctors, they can't replenish him." These are just a couple of the many superb highlights in a complete record that varies in pacing, mixes up the beats, and dabbles in all sorts of subject matter. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, simply put, is jam after jam after jam. 

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