Happy holidays everyone. Below are my Top 20 of 2010, chosen using a complex statistical formula and thousands of man-hours. Anyone who wants to party with the Klap for New Year’s 2011 should come to the wonderful, wholesome city of Las Vegas. See you all in the new year.
Simian Mobile Disco – Delicacies
Released: November 30
Outstanding food concept notwithstanding, Delicacies is a delicious tech-house treat, all weirded-out bleeps and ghostly bloops that are at times incredibly creepy and others strangely bouncy. I have no idea how this is going to translate live (probably with a healthy dose of psychedelics), but after last year’s weak pop outing, Simian is back on track here.
Delta Spirit – History From Below
Released: June 8
It’s always a pleasure to see a band grow, and combining that with one of my favorite genres in Americana makes History From Below one of the year’s most exciting releases. Much of the credit must go to singer Matthew Vasquez, whose growth into a true barroom singer is remarkable.
Four Tet – There Is Love In You
Released: January 26
There’s always bound to be some repetition in an IDM release, and it’s what usually turns me off on the genre, but Four Tet has truly created a masterpiece with his seventh album, one that has a definite organic quality to it that adds a vibrant layer to the discordant loops and drum samples that make up his work. It’s dense and challenging at times, but it never ceases to be enjoyable.
Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard
Released: August 24
Beating Vampire Weekend at their own game, Ra Ra Riot avoid the sophomore slump by slowing things down and bringing out the best in the band – Wes Miles’ brilliant vocals, the warm dimension the strings bring to their sound, and drummer Gabriel Duquette’s unheralded rhythm work that ties everything together.
Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy
Released: May 11
In an off year for alt-country Matt Houck stepped up to the plate and delivered a straightforward home run, all muscular slide guitar and folky twang. But the best part is Houck’s melodies, which are fleshed out and given new life with the colorful compositions offered by his expanded sound.
Serena Maneesh – No. 2: Abyss in B Minor
Released: March 23
Criminally overlooked shoegaze out of Norway, Serena Maneesh crafted some of the strangest, most endearing music of the year. This isn’t your older brother’s shoegaze; this plain rocks, with angular riffs and thudding bass lines seemingly more suited for prog than pop. But for all its oddness, it’s an album that refuses to be ignored, and I’d gladly take this over the Ambien most shoegaze bands proffer up nowadays.
Spoon – Transference
Released: January 19
It speaks to Spoon’s consistency that I consider a #14 finish an off year for them. Transference finds the band more comfortable with their own sound than ever before, relishing in the live environment the album was created in and even letting their ties loose a little bit, meandering about on songs like “Who Makes Your Money” and “Nobody Gets Me But You.” It’s not as consistent as previous releases, but it doesn’t have to be – Spoon like where they are, and they sound damn fine with it.
Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing
Released: May 4
Paul Sprangers sings about girls and summer love and absolutely nothing of higher import because, frankly, that’s all he wants to sing about. It’s unfortunate that Stuck on Nothing was released in the spring, because it’s a summer record through and through. Beach cruising, salty air and salty hair, bikinis, breezy car trips, pool parties, Slurpees that always seem too damn drippy, the smell of tanning lotion, sand that will stay in my car for way too many months, days and days of doing whatever the hell you want – Free Energy have made a soundtrack for all of these things, and made it seem effortless in the bargain.
Rogue Wave – Permalight
Released: March 2
Permalight came out at just the right time for me, lifting me out of the February doldrums with passionate, high-energy indie pop that seemed all too easy and potentially canned. But there was something about Permalight that made me look past its clichéd sentiments and sometimes drab choruses – this is a record that was positively sunny, one that bared all without shame or any sense of self-consciousness, and was the better for it. If I want to be happy, I listen to this.
Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Released: July 11
This was a banner year for big name rappers, and Big Boi was no exception – up until November The Son of Chico Dusty was the rap record of the year, and another bit of evidence to suggest that maybe Outkast wasn’t all Andre 3000’s show (where the hell has that guy been, anyway?). Southern rap has never been this enjoyable and innovative.
Steel Train – Steel Train
Released: June 29
Along with Free Energy, Steel Train showed me that sometimes, good rock ‘n roll can be just that; no gimmicks, no existentialist musings, no 20-minute-plus compositions swollen with strings and harps and timpani. Steel Train put their money down on ace melodies and that simple trifecta of rock: guitar, bass, drums. They only come out with some of the best songs of the year, sugary offerings that are no less potent because they revel in their hooks and sing-a-long capabilities. Not to mention a song of the year in the heartrending “Fall Asleep.”
The Black Keys – Brothers
Released: May 18
Speaking of good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll, The Black Keys are back to doing what they do best on Brothers. It’s hard-hitting, bluesy rock ‘n roll; bluesy like the delta, bluesy like the Sun Studio in the early ‘60s, and Brothers is nothing if not a painstakingly well made time capsule by two of the best musicians in the business. Few bands can sound like they come from another era, but the Black Keys pull it off with ease.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Released: November 22
I like to use Kanye West’s own Twitter to describe My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: “”This is rock and roll life my people . . . you can’t stop the truth you can’t stop the music and I have to be strong or ‘they’ win!!!;” “I can’t be everybody’s hero and villain savior and sinner Christian and anti Christ!;” “I have decided to become the best rapper of all time! I put it on my things to do in this lifetime list!” Besides an abundance of exclamation points, Kanye’s often hilarious Twitter is everything that made his newest album such a masterpiece, from his Christ complex to his feuding with the media to his undeniable artistic brilliance. Guy might be a little crazy, but weren’t all the best a bit off?
Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Released: June 29
Maybe Wolf Parade will never be able to recapture that spastic one-off brilliance that was their debut, but Expo 86 proves that maybe they don’t need to. It’s the band’s most cohesive collection of tracks to date, successfully ranging from Krug’s typically obtuse offerings to Boeckner’s more pop-oriented rock tunes. Most of all, it proves that Wolf Parade are still the visionary songwriters we thought we lost with At Mount Zoomer, and that’s a relief.
The National – High Violet
Released: May 11
My road to finally realizing High Violet was right up there with Boxer and Alligator was a long one, and it took me until a long road trip six months after its release to see it for what it was: what I initially saw as boring and uninspired was actually a more mellow National, one less prone to emotional outbursts and not quite as energetic, but a wiser National, one who had a firmer grip on life’s realities and even more questions about it. It’s a fascinating listen, built around Matt Berninger’s wry observations and Bryan Devendorf’s continually amazing drumming, and a more confident record than anything the National have done to date.
Noisia – Split the Atom
Indie Europe/Zoom (Import)
Released: November 30 (USA)
Noisia’s first proper LP is a shining example of everything good that can happen when a groundbreaking trio mashes all their influences together and produces something truly original. Split the Atom has it all: breaks, electro, drum n bass, funk, house, et cetera. It’s a mishmash of styles that never seems like it’s about to collapse – the Dutch group have collected everything they admire about electronica and make it their own. Noisia are not afraid to take some risks, and Split the Atom promises to be the first in a long line of relentless, heart-stopping party starters.
The Walkmen – Lisbon
Released: September 14
“I am a good man by any count / and I see better things to come” Hamilton Leithauser sings on opener “Juveniles,” and if there’s a better mission statement for Lisbon I haven’t found it. This is the sound of the Walkmen settling into a sweet spot, building on the rich palette of sounds they cooked up on 2008’s You & Me and imbuing it with a sense of warmth and a pleasant glow that pervades all the material here and lies in stark contrast to the band’s earlier material, which was as fiery and tense as their hometown of New York City. The National might get all the hype for being the next great American rock band, but the Walkmen would have something to say about that.
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Released: April 13
With a voice that only a Billy Corgan could love (at least at first), Sweden’s Kristian Matsson’s sophomore record was an unlikely album of the year contender. Built almost entirely on whispery guitar licks and Matsson’s screechy vocals was a complicated web of melodies and deeply personal lyrics. The Wild Hunt is a triumph not because it polishes everything that made Shallow Grave great but because of the mood it sets. From “You’re Going Back” to “Trouble Will Be Gone” to, most noticeably, “King of Spain,” The Wild Hunt is an unbridled expression of joy, made all the more powerful by its sparse instrumentation and Matsson’s cheerfully abrasive vocals.
Jonsi – Go
Released: April 6
What I love about Go is it’s like Jonsi took all those nine-minute-plus Hopelandic epics and compressed them into the perfect four-minute pop song. Like Jonsi himself, everything about Go screams outsized; from Nico Muhly’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production to the hooks, which scream rainbows and unicorns and sweet, sweet honey. But it’s Jonsi and his angelic voice that really holds everything together, connecting on an almost primal level as its own instrument of unadulterated happiness. Go is a transparent record in its gaiety, with no hidden meanings or any subtext beyond a celebration of life. That’s what makes it great.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Released: September 28
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Halcyon Digest was just how warm everything sounded. Whereas Bradford Cox and company’s earlier work tended to be unwieldy messes of noise thrown loosely under the shoegaze label, Halcyon Digest continued what 2008’s Microcastle begun: transforming Deerhunter into a full-fledged rock band, feet firmly planted in pop territory and beckoning us to just relax and enjoy. When I first heard “Revival” I was astonished at just how straightforward everything was, how easy it was to connect to a band I previously had regarded as somewhat cold. But things aren’t just direct; there’s a depth to these songs that, coming from Cox, is not much of a surprise, but makes Halcyon Digest something more than just a really good rock album.
Songs like the self-destructing “Desire Lines” and the gorgeous dream of “Helicopter” seem like the new classic rock, all substance and style without a tipping of the scales one way or the other. “Coronado” is the best Strokes song since Is This It. “He Would Have Laughed” might be the most tragic song of the year, but it’s spindly buildup and cathartic ending seem positively joyful. Halcyon Digest is a record that seems destined to stand the test of time, constructed as it is out of the timeless building blocks of music: guitar, bass, vocals and drums, all done so effortlessly that it’s hard to believe Deerhunter have been doing this for years. In a way, of course, they have, but never so refined, so at ease. For Cox, someone who’s constantly fidgeting around with demos and side projects, hearing him buckle down and produce a whole album’s worth of immediately arresting music is a relief. Halcyon Digest is Deerhunter’s most deft accomplishment yet, and they’ve done it not with bells or whistles or 20-minute-plus compositions but by writing perfect rock ‘n roll, pure and simple.