As promised, here are my personal favorites for 2010. Hope you enjoy the list and thank you all so much for your support this year.
Letters From A Tapehead
25). Shining – Blackjazz
“With their new album, Blackjazz, Shining keeps their offerings confined to a certain aesthetic, which is basically that of its title. The album is a spiraling trauma, perfect for obsessive compulsives that hate being slaves to their own "ordered" environment. For how thick the acid flows throughout Blackjazz, the music is disciplined: allowed to run rampant for periods of time before being reeled back to its former gloriousness of synthesized rage and deadly sonic eruption.” — 1.10.10
24). The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards
“Though Sea Of Cowards benefits from its grime in some ways, especially in the way that White is clearly entertaining some new area of creative freedom, you do wonder if The Dead Weather rushed this one out, forgoing refinement in favor of being stripped down and loud. I do believe that Sea Of Cowards represents somewhat of a watermark for White in terms of his vision and the music he wants to make, but as White’s brag and Mosshart’s brash seem to overpower some of the album’s best moments, maybe persona is the problem.” — 5.28.10
23). Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain't No Grave
"I think it can be said that, in many cases, Johnny Cash improved the songs he’d chosen for his American Recordings series, and though American VI: Ain’t No Grave is his final act, I sort of wish these recordings had been used differently." — 11.9.10
22). Grinderman – Grinderman 2
“Nick Cave wrote 'No Pussy Blues.' It shouldn’t surprise me at all that a man of fifty-three years of age, even someone as literarily adept as Cave, could still be so preoccupied with his dick. After all, so much of a man’s identity, mortality and ego stems from keeping the member 'tamed,' 'charmed,' or 'wrangled' as the single Worm Tamer not so subtly suggests, and Cave’s 'Loch Ness monster,' ('Two great big humps and then I’m gone'), seems a little pent up.” — 12.2.10
21). Black Breath – Heavy Breathing
“While they don’t really score points for originality, Black Breath’s debut is still strong, loud and wonderfully relentless. Heavy Breathing should appease many a fan of anything generally loud, and potentially corrupt more impressionable youth into becoming a new statistic in an old debate. No point in playing this record backwards: It’s all there to dissect and condemn.” — 4.5.10
20). Maus Haus – Sea-Sides EP
“Though Sea-Sides is essentially a five-song enticement meant to carry you to the next release, it’s worth the attention. Still an eccentric and imaginative unit, Maus Haus continues to mesh modernism with rock n’ roll ancestry, offering new experiences in electronic-composition and giving us a glimpse at life with ‘skyward housing.’” — 5.25.10
19). Golden Triangle – Double Jointer
“To sum the band up perfectly, listen to 'Arson Wells.' If you can imagine The Cramps’ cover of 'Strychnine' by The Sonics, combined with The Count Five’s trail off during 'Psychotic Reaction,' you won’t find a better marriage of garage prowess and proto-punk vitality. Golden Triangle isn’t the second coming of anything in particular, but they at least know what they’re doing.” — 3.23.10
18). Locrian – Territories
“As constructors of their own brand of Avant noise metal, Locrian members André Foisy and Terence Hannum spend a lot of time fashioning aural dwellings, the amps kicking out less a form of music than a form of abstraction.” — 3.24.10
17). Screaming Females – Castle Talk
“Castle Talk caught me off guard. I don’t know what I was expecting from NJ rock trio Screaming Females, this newest album my introductory listen, but liked the album enough to have since been recommending it to rock fans. The name Screaming Females leads to questions about how the music sounds, and whether or not Castle Talk truly consists of real screaming females, which is both a lame joke and too obvious to be true.” — Kicking Against The Pricks, Issue #3
16). No Age – Everything In Between
“Whether or not you thought 2008’s Nouns was worth the hype, No Age play 'abrasive' in an interesting way, their trails of sonic carnage are thoughtfully at odds with the subtlest melodies, which seep into the mire and somehow transcend whatever is on the surface. With their new album Everything In Between, this aspect of No Age has not gone away, nor has it led to any real musical evolution. Whatever precedent Nouns established, the band seem content to remain on course, pondering and manipulating their instruments into poppy punk songs, or generating ambient fields that cross Eno with Sonic Youth.” — Kicking Against The Pricks, Issue #3
15). Black Angels – Phosphene Dream
“Phosphene Dream is the newest album by the neo-psychedelic quintet, free of the night air and obscuring sounds that fueled its predecessor. Inasmuch as they continue to build upon The Velvet Underground’s Warhol-ian art rock daze and the psychedelic blues of hometown heroes The 13th Floor Elevators, The Black Angels attempt clarity with Phosphene Dream, revelatory guitar playing that owes more of itself to the garage gems associated with The Kinks, The Monks, The Troggs and even The Doors. “ — 9.29.10
14). Floored By Floor – s/t
“Designed around the names of its contributors, Nels Cline (Wilco), Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto) and Dougie Bowne (The Lounge Lizards), Floored By Four follows Watt’s eccentric vision and well-established penchant for the avant-garde, (I mentioned this album to my brother over casual conversation and his response was, 'That’s SO Mike Watt.')” — 10.19.10
13). Menomena – Mines
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2010) — Less like the rock collages they’ve thrown together in the past, Menomena’s latest album, Mines, was more quiet and direct though still prone to bouts of sound exploration ('BOTE,' 'Five Little Rooms'). While not necessarily on par with I Am The Fun Blame Monster! or Friend And Foe, Mines ably showcases a band at one with subtlety and song craft, their melodies a defining characteristic that’s reliably engaging and beautifully married to their thick bass rhythms, sax exhalations and piano loops.
12). Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
“In Scott-Heron’s wake, hip-hop was birthed, raised and unceremoniously twisted into a commercialized and over-polished by-product of its former self. You get a sense that inasmuch as he allows modern beats and production to drive his poetry, as a hip-hop forefather, or 'godfather,' the genre only has relevance so long as he continues to thrive.” — 4.17.10
11). Bird By Snow – Common Wealth
“It’s not easy to make folk-flavored music different when singer/songwriters seem to emerge from obscurity as often as they fade back, but Tucker seems to simply know the notes and the words. This is music as natural as sunshine, rolling off his strings and keys like rain off a slick surface.” — 11.4.10
10). Ufomammut – Eve
“There are sections of Eve that owe themselves to the drawn out, sludgy ponderings of Sleep, or the attempted directionless ruts that The Mars Volta get so easily trapped into. But, somehow Ufomammut are capable of conceptualizing and committing something like this to tape without coming off as pretentious, gratuitously self-aggrandizing or boring. Instead we hear artists with an interesting perspective regarding the ramifications of humankind’s first sin. To be honest, something like Eve could not be tolerated if grey matter were dead sponge incapable of enrichment, inspiration or wisdom.” — 3.31.10
9). Roky Erickson w/ Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil
“Erickson’s tale has been mostly tragic, his dealings with law, mental health and drugs an ongoing battle since his days with The 13th Floor Elevators. Love Cast Out All Evil, his first recorded output in fourteen years, finds Erickson a victorious soul coming to grips, in as sincere a way possible, with his life. 'Electricity hammered me through my head/Till nothin’ at all is backward instead,' he sings in 'Ain’t Blues Too Sad,' addressing his days at Rusk and his regimen of electroshock therapy. He’s unapologetic and honest, his mind a healthier place and his baggage something to survey and consider.” — Kicking Against The Pricks, Issue #1
8). Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2010) — In 2010, Ariel Pink made it out of his bedroom and onto 4AD where he and his band, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, broke chillwave by making an off-kilter indie pop album called, Before Today. Reducing chillwave’s monotony in order to embark on an all-out pea soup murk rendition of past and present pop mutations, the Haunted Graffiti took bass-laden funk and R&B ('Beverly Kills,' 'Round and Round') and new wave and college rock ('L’estat (Acc. To the Widow’s Maid),' 'Little Wig') and essentially built a distinctive mix tape, providing evidence that even lo-fi can sound inspiring when it’s not too busy obscuring an obvious lack of musical skill or talent.
7). Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart
“Now, 'accessible' is synonymous with 'middle-of-the-road' in many cases, but with Wilderness Heart there’s enough thought and promise in singer/guitarist Stephen McBean’s songwriting to generate, at the very least, acceptability by any critical measure. In a perfect world, the Boston-flavored 'Old Fangs' and the hyper-driven 'Let Spirits Ride' would constitute flawless FM fodder. Amber Webber sings like some wonderful rock siren whose been kept quiet way too long and there’s just so much energy to embrace and enjoy you more or less dispense with any questions over 'lack of originality' or 'derivation.' Who cares? Sure, it’s derivative. An argument over Black Mountain’s credibility would be worth having if McBean’s interpretative use of classic rock’s best lessons lined Wilderness Heart like the stream of piss that won Ozzy exile from the Alamo.” — 8.31.10
6). Liars – Sisterworld
"Sisterworld, though, is claustrophobic and paranoid; the Liars' mocking ode to Los Angeles emulative of Brett Easton Ellis' bored complacency and Travis Bickle's urban plague. 'Scarecrows on a Killer Slant' perfectly illustrates their intent, the ease at which singer Angus Andrew questions ('Why'd you shoot the man with the gun?') and then answers ('Cuz he bothered you!') a perfect conveyance of apathy as a byproduct of privilege." — 9.20.10
5). The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
""The Besnard Lakes' ...Are The Roaring Night is dominated by swelling crescendos and pensive gaps of radiating atmosphere. 'Albatross' is easily one of 2010's best singles, a light and airy track with bass rhythm peddling jaggedly through its ambience. It just sounded so heartfelt the first time I heard it, and this unfeigned sensitivity continues as you get through ...Are The Roaring Night; some exceptional moments propagated by a desire to leave the physical plain for another more beautifully isolated." — 9.20.10
4). Marnie Stern – s/t
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2010) — With Marnie Stern’s self-titled third album, her usually high level of dazzling and technical six-string proficiency rides shotgun next to her emotional baggage. Though still composing her wildly dexterous guitar licks with beat machine, Zach Hill, Stern’s typically upbeat flavor takes an introspective turn, her first song a tribute to a deceased ex-boyfriend ('For Ash'), and another conveying a morose sense of self-reflection ('Transparency Is The New Mystery'). As Stern continues to prove her worth as a musician, songs like 'Risky Biz' and 'Female Guitar Players Are The New Black' continuing her grand tradition of unique pop music alterations and song structure, we’re happy this time to get a glimpse of her soul and respond without hesitation, 'You ARE enough.'
3). Mi Ami – Steal Your Face
“In the same way that era of underground inaccessibility eventually morphed into an opportunity for Pepsi to sponsor an anniversary-cloaked 90s version of Woodstock, which only further cultivated an already suffocating era of cynicism, Mi Ami’s new album, Steal Your Face, unapologetically tears up Bob Marley’s likeness and lifts its title from The Grateful Dead. As a comment on the fallacy of counterculture and the ease at which it can be perverted to suit ones agenda, (which they do themselves to some extent, but I guess that’s the point), Mi Ami embrace the tradition of those bands that birthed post-punk indie expression in the mid-80s by being so unmarketable, abrasive and critical of their environment.” — 5.11.10
2). AFCGT – AFCGT (LP)
“What I find most attractive about this album, other than AFCGT’s reveling in the good ol’ days of indie noise terror and creative post-punk expression, is that there’s a strong likelihood that this album will be dismissed as noise: loud, irritating noise. I like this idea, mostly because I want to believe that rock music can still generate negative responses, or put people off. I like that there’s a potential for rock music to unlearn, again, and also rediscover the absurd, the abstract and the abominable. AFCGT (LP) conjures up a lot of excitement and even declares its own war on the digital era.” — 1.18.10
1). Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2010) — Built from a legacy of experimental noise and industrial cacophony, Michael Gira’s no wave pioneers, Swans, returned after a thirteen-year hiatus with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, a solid and relatively accessible foray into the compositionally avant-garde. More of an event than an album, Gira’s catastrophic and, at times, beautiful vision leads to pulsing and intensified carousels of orchestrated dread ('No Words/No Thoughts,' 'My Birth,' 'Eden Prison'), or lonely folk ditties worthy of sunset ('Reeling the Liars In,' 'Little Mouth'). Devandra Banhart and Gira’s three year-old daughter Saoirse, provide the vocal for 'You Fucking People Make Me Sick,' a lovely enough introduction that abruptly collapses into an avalanche of piano keys and horn blasts. Theatrically charged and unstable, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky took a revivalist’s genre and upped the ante enough to make the charlatans cower.
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