Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010

I'm only make limited comments (trying for a one-sentence overview of my personal feelings on each album). Also, because I love you, a stream per album via grooveshark.

Salem - King Night

Dark, weird, haunting, and surprisingly heavy - plus they have the additional advantage of being a "witch-house" band whose song titles don't look like windows character map vomited them up.

Salem - King Night

19. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

It's just as sprawling as their other albums. As a result, I didn't know what to think about it at first, but it grew on me with every listen.

Gorillaz - Superfast Jellyfish (feat. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul)

18. Jambo Reign - Blinded By the Bright Lights EP

It's only a three song EP, but all three of those songs are hooky pop-rock the likes of which doesn't get made often enough anymore. Shame they're so unknown that they have no US presence, so I can't get a physical copy of the CD.

No direct music link, hit their MySpace up for additional info.

17. The New Pornographers - Together

They're never going to beat Twin Cinema, but that's not really the point. The highs ("Crash Years", "Your Hands", etc) are higher than the highs on Challengers, and the lows aren't as low as the ones on that album. They might not ever make an album that's awesome front to back, but this one is pretty good.

The New Pornographers - Your Hands (Together)

16. Best Coast - Crazy For You

Yeah, her lyrics are juvenile and way overdependent on weed, boys, and talking cats (wait... what?), but this whole CD just feels like a ocean-view summer, and in the middle of a Minnesota winter, that's never a negative thing.

Best Coast - When I'm With You

15. Vampire Weekend - Contra

A lot of people hate this CD. I'm not entirely certain why. I mean, it's not as straight through solid as their first, but that would have been a tall order. Instead, they served up another great pop CD while branching out a little bit - can't fault them for their results. Forget the haters.

Vampire Weekend - Giving Up the Gun

14. Children 18:3 - Rain's 'a Comin'

Not quite the "stand up and pay attention" notice that their debut was, Rain's a Comin' nonetheless is pleasing from beginning to end. Plus, "Lost So Long" is just epic.

Children 18:3 - Lost So Long

13. Memoryhouse - The Years EP

So, this is "chillwave", then. I like it. Denise Nouvion has the perfect sort of dreamy (but never sleepy) voice that makes this type of music work. Plus the backing music is so hazy and lush that you wish that this could be the soundtrack to every daydream for the rest of your life.

Memoryhouse - Sleep Patterns

12. Spoon - Transference

It's a lot more stripped back than Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (but has a much better album title). It takes a little time to get used to the fact that there are songs ending mid-sentence, as well as sentences being seemingly randomly cut off. Once you get used to the album, though, it's got a lot to give.

Spoon - Who Makes Your Money

11. Dessa - A Badly Broken Code
Add this CD to the list of things I wish would get more popular. Dessa knows when to be vulnerable (as on "Into the Spin"), when to simmer ("Dixon's Girl"), and - most importantly - when to just lay all the cards on the table and be who she is (any of several songs). This girl sits in the underground, while Ke$ha make millions? Absurd.

Dessa - Dixon's Girl

10. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II)

It's a lot more "tuneful" than their debut, while easing off the abrasion a bit. I don't think that's a bad thing, it might not have the thrill of newness that the first record had, but the songs are stronger.

Crystal Castles - Celestica

9. Jónsi - Go

Sigur Rós sort of toyed with more pop-music sounds at the end of their last CD, so it's not surprising that their lead singer went in that direction. What is surprising is how consistently great it is. It would have been so easy to make this a silly, saccharine album; instead, Jónsi gives the songs depth and life - while still making them undeniably Jónsi.

Jónsi - Animal Arithmetic

8. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

I was lukewarm on Titus Andronicus' first CD. Patrick Stickles voice rubbed me the wrong way too often. In anything, on The Monitor his voice sounds even more abrasive. Yet through better (and certainly more focused) songwriting, this CD is miles past that one. This album contains all the pissed off anthems a malcontent could ever want.

Titus Andronicus - Four Score And Seven

7. Sleigh Bells - Treats

These folks aren't interested in things like subtlety or gentle foreplay... only bass thumping, guitar flashing, "put on some massive headphones and let's fuck shit up" jamming. Most albums quietly wait for you to unlock their secrets... this album kicks down your front door, downs an unmarked bottle of alcohol and starts setting your furniture on fire.

Sleigh Bells - Infinity Guitars

6. Yeasayer - Odd Blood
God, what awful cover art. I'm glad I hadn't seen it before I heard a stream of the album, or else I might have passed over one of the most enjoyable pop albums of the last couple of years. This album has somehow gotten a bad rep, but for the life of me I can't tell why. People hating catchy music these days?

Yeasayer - Ambling Alp

5. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
It's almost a little embarrassing that I hadn't really given this band a try until a lot of their music got featured on "Chuck". I'd been missing out on some great raw emotional rock. While this one is a little less raw and confessional than their last (no "Keep Yourself Warm" to be found here), it still has that lyrical edge like only Frightened Rabbit can.

Frightened Rabbit - Nothing Like You

4. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The instant Kanye put "Power" up on his blog, everyone knew that this album was going to be epic. Then the hits kept coming (for free!): "Runaway", "Monster", etc... and the rest of the tracks on the album have no trouble living up to those expectations. The only question is: "How is he going to top this one?"

Kanye West - All of the Lights

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

The first time I listened to The Suburbs, I was disappointed. Here was an album that had neither the exuberance of Funeral, nor the bombast of Neon Bible. Needless to say, the disappointment didn't last long. The album picks up strength as it goes, and by the time "The Sprawl II" comes, the sound starts to feel very much like home.

Arcade Fire - We Used to Wait

2. The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

Best cover art besides that awesome Klaxons album cover. Also, more great rock music by Craig Finn and company.

The Hold Steady - The Sweet Part of the City

1. The National - High Violet

This album is in equal parts depressing ("Sorrow"), creepy ("Conversation 16"), and defeated-sounding ("Bloodbuzz Ohio").

It's also by a wide margin the most affecting and re-listenable album I've heard all year - and it's not all that close a call. Every song on this album strikes me in some way. I don't remember the last time I could say that about a CD. This list is "My Favorite 20 Albums of the Year", not "The Best 20 Albums of the Year", because how could I really say something like that? I've heard a lot of music this year, but I couldn't possibly even scratch the surface of even the genres that I like. I will say this, though, while I can't say what the other nineteen of the twenty best albums of the year are, High Violet is the best album to come out in 2010.

It just is.

The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 20 Songs of 2010

No comments, because I'm dumb like that. However, because I love you, I've made a playlist out of these great songs and shared said playlist on Grooveshark. Go listen - these songs are worth it.

20. Caribou - Odessa

19. Children 18:3 - Lost So Long

18. Foals - Spanish Sahara

17. Yeasayer - O.N.E.

16. The Hold Steady - Hurricane J

15. Crystal Castles - Celestica

14. Cee-Lo - Fuck You!

13. Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union

12. Gorillaz - On Melancholy Hill

11. The National - Sorrow

10. Crystal Castles - Not in Love (feat. Robert Smith)

9. Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em

8. Arcade Fire - The Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains

7. Frightened Rabbit - Swim Until You Can't See Land

6. Yeasayer - Madder Red

5. Japandroids - Younger Us

4. The National - Conversation 16

3. Arcade Fire - Ready to Start

2. Kanye West - Monster

1. The Hold Steady - The Weekenders

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 20 Moments in Music: 2010

20. Sufjan Stevens - "I Want to Be Well"
Sufjan Stevens is not fucking around...

Sufjan Stevens is generally known for lush compositions and tender (some might even say "wussy"), frail singing. From here on out, he'll be known for not fucking around. The first time he said it, I couldn't tell if I had heard correctly. That anyone can still shock with profanity in this day and age is startling. That Sufjan is the one to be doing it is downright shocking.

19. Deerhunter - "Desire Lines"
Fade out

I sort of slept on this song (and CD, sadly). It's too bad, because this song is very reminiscent of my favorite Deerhunter song, "Nothing Ever Happened". It's got a downright catchy chorus, melody everywhere, and the 3 minute breakdown to carry out the song which hits just as you'd be expecting the hook again. This one doesn't have anything quite as rapturous as the synth lines in "Nothing Ever Happened", but it is the very definition of chill, and leaves you ready to play the song over and over again.

18. Brandon Flowers - "Crossfire"
"Lay your body down"

Mr. Flowers probably needs a break, as the last Killers album sucked, as does his new solo attempt. "Crossfire" is actually a pretty good song, though. The chorus is big in that classic Killers way, punctuated by Flowers begging the object of the song to "lay your body down". His voice sells it in a way that he hasn't been able to for at least 4 or 5 years now. Please, Brandon, take a break and come back to music when you're able to make an album with a little more of this, and a little less of... everything else you've been making lately.

17. James Blake - "Limit to Your Love"
That bass

This song is a Feist cover, Feist's fingerprints linger on the song, with the melody essentially unchanged, and a lot of the vocal inflections still exist in James Blake's version, as well. A lone piano backs Blake's soulful voice, and the whole thing feels very minimal - almost skeletal.

Then that bass hits. If you have the song turned up, it literally shakes you. At first listen, it almost seems tacked on and unnecessary. Each subsequent listen has you waiting on pins and needles for it.

16. Das Racist - "Rainbow in the Dark"
" everything plus everything that is not me"

One could be forgiven for thinking that the guys behind "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" might not have very much in the way of a substantial music career ahead of them. Surprisingly enough, both (free) mixtapes they released this year proved them to be excellent wordsmiths and very clever lyricists. My favorite line happens about 3 minutes into Shut Up, Dude standout "Rainbow in the Dark".

"You, you are not me. Me, I am possibly everything plus everything that is not me."

I have no idea why this particular line is the one that stands out, but it does. The flow (which I wouldn't have even thought to give them credit for after Pizza Hut/Taco Bell) is just so right.

15. Sleigh Bells - "Tell 'Em"
Opening salvo

Toward the end of last year, I heard a couple of songs from a new band called Sleigh Bells. They lived in the red end of the EQ spectrum. They featured super-overdriven guitars, and were generally pretty fun to listen to. All the same, I wasn't breathlessly anticipating a full length album full of that particular sound. At least, I wasn't right up until I heard the first 15 seconds of the opening track. A wall of gloriously pumped up bass blasted from the speakers and let me know that, yes, the next thirty minutes were going to be a LOT of fun...

14. Los Campesinos! - "In Medias Res"
"Would this interest you at all?"

Los Campesinos! make their trade in being miserable. There are relatively few songs that are particularly cheerful, and most of those come from their first CD. Toward the end of the opening track of their new CD, the lead singer asks:

"If you were given the option
Of dying painlessly in peace at 45
With a lover at your side
After a full and happy life

Is this something that would interest you?
Would this interest you at all?"

It all becomes a little clearer. Conflict and angst is so ingrained into the lead singer's life that even if given the option to have a life without, he would balk at the opportunity. No wonder the CD is entitled Romance is Boring.

13. Dessa - "Alibi"
99 Problems...

Of course it's a reference to the Jay-Z song, but what really sells it is how she seems so exasperated and disgusted with the concept of the line that she can't even finish it.

"Sometimes it's the plain truth, 99 problem.... rrrrrgh..."

12. The Hold Steady - We Can Get Together
"Heaven is whenever"

"Heaven is whenever we can get together, sit on your floor, and listen to your records."

On the record that line seems decent, when The Hold Steady played this song live at First Avenue, it seemed almost spiritual.

11. Jambo Reign - "Radio Low"
"E-X-E-R-C-I-S-E some restraint"

I have a weakness for singers and rappers who spell things out. It seems lame in theory, and in practice, I'm sure it's not really all that much better, but I still like it. The almost completely unknown Jambo Reign's "Radio Low" seems like a normal entry into the "list of performers who randomly spell out words during songs", until the very end of the song, by which point lead singer is practically shouting the phrase. A great way to end a surprisingly good song.

10. The National - "Afraid of Everyone"
"You're the voices swallowing my soul"

I love The National and all, but they bring up a rather silly dilemma. You see, when a person puts a song quote up on Facebook, it's generally either:

a) a party anthem - i.e. "Got a couple bottles, but a couple ain't enough" or...
b) a horrific and depressing breakup anthem

However, if you were to put up "You're the voices swallowing my soul", you've immediately got some explaining to do (which is sad, because a lot more people should be listening to The National). It does no good to mention the unbelievable drumming that accompanies the line, or the fact that "Afraid of Everyone" evokes a feeling of paranoid despair better than any song in recent memory. Seriously, though... that drumming... Forget Facebook. This is too good for a mere status update, anyway.

9. Children 18:3 - "Lost So Long"
"Rain's comin'"

Children 18:3 goes epic. Who would have figured? They make the album title sound like a foreboding threat and a hopeful promise at the same time. And again, the voices of David and Lee Marie Hostetter blend together in that fantastic male/female harmony they do so well (but never better than they do in the coda of this song). They may never top this, and that wouldn't be a failure.

8. Arcade Fire - "Suburban War"
"All my old friends, they don't know me now"

The Suburbs has been described by the band as "neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs". Nowhere does that statement feel more true than the last minute of "Suburban War". A blast of noise (which reminded one of my good friends of a tornado drill siren) cuts the rest of the song off, then a driving drumbeat starts in as Win Butler sings "All my old friends - they don't know me now...". A sighing look back at the fact that things have changed, and they're not changing back, and it's time to move on.

7. Titus Andronicus - "A More Perfect Union"
"Tramps like us... baby, we were born to die"

Lead singer Patrick Stickles has a unique voice. It could be politely described as a "caterwaul". On the band's first album, his shouting occasionally came off as a little over the top. It still does, only now he's given it a purpose. Nowhere is that more evident than in the first verse of the opening track to the excellent The Monitor. The tension manages to build up the very first verse, until it all spills over with Stickles screaming "tramps like us... baby we were born to die!" as a huge squall of guitar and drums rushes over everything. The result is pure rock and roll awesomeness.

6. Salem - "King Night"
Wait... is that "O Holy Night"!?

The first time I heard this song, I was already creeped out by the slowed down and pitched "I love you" snippet in the beginning, and that was before the huge wave of bass cast its impressive shadow over everything. Most creepy, though, was that damned choir providing the backbone of the song. For a moment, it sounded like something familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. Then suddenly, it hit me. It was "O Holy Night". Salem made "O Holy Night" sound like the creepiest song ever. That's an accomplishment.

5. Yeasayer - "Madder Red"
"Please don't ask me why"

Really, most of this song could be included here. From the "Ooo-oo-ooo-oo-oooh"s in the beginning, to the awesome way the chorus comes in, everything is so spot on. The best part, though, is the ending, where the singer just sort of fades away while singing "please don't ask me why".

4. The Hold Steady - "The Weekenders"
"The theme of this party's the industrial age, and you came in dressed like a trainwreck"

This is the one-liner of the year, from the song of the year.

3. Kanye West - "Monster"
Nicky Minaj's verse

This is sort of an obvious choice, but before this verse I didn't understand what the big deal with Nicky Minaj was. Sure. she was weird, but I hadn't heard anything that made me pay any further attention to her. Then she outshowed Kanye West and Jay-Z in their own song - only she didn't just outshow them, she blew them out of the water. In retrospect, in feels kind of obvious that she's actually the forefront of the song (she gets about twice as much mic time as either Kanye or Jay-Z do), but that doesn't take anything away from her verse. It's an all-over-the-place pillar of "shut the fuck up and listen to me". It succeeds wildly.

2. The National - "Conversation 16"
"Cause I'm evil."

This entire song is ominous, with lines like "[i'll] tell you miserable things when you are asleep" and "you'd never believe the shitty thoughts I think". But things really come to a boil during the bridge: "I was afraid I'd eat your brains..." then "cause I-i-i'm eeeeevil". It doesn't like much on paper, but with the voice of Matt Berninger, and the drumming of Bryan Devendorf backing it up, it feels like something of a self-admission you could make to yourself. It soars even as it admits terrifying things.

1. Japandroids - "Younger Us"
"Remember that night you were already in bed"

For a song about wanting to be brought back to bygone days, "Younger Us" feels alive. It's all about feeling alive and vital like you did when you were younger, so I guess that makes sense. In the midst of the nostalgic mayhem, the lead singer shouts:

"Give me that night - you were already in bed. Said "fuck it" got up and drank with me instead."

The radio edit cuts this line. I can't fathom why they would even bother playing the song at all with the line removed. The song's life beats through the line; it's where the point lies. Namely - "live life to the fullest right now, because now is the time that you'll be reminiscing about later".

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm Not Being Fair...

...I've barely blogged enough this year to push last year's year end music lists off the front page. I know this. We can't do anything about the past, let's move on.

This summer was taken up mostly with Spookymilk Survivor (I finished in third place out of 21, so woot for me!), and absurd pile of work, and various different outdoor endeavors. I know it's not an excuse, I watched a lot of Twins games, I suppose I could have been mentioning those (then again, most of my Twins discussion took place over at the WGoM). I'm not doing a very good job of justifying the continued existence of Nibbishment, but bear with me.

Putting all of that behind us, we're going to move forward. Starting December 26th, I'm putting forth my week-long "year end music list extravaganza", just like I've been doing for years now. I've put a helpful schedule beneath, so that you can pretend to care about this. I'll be doing full write-ups on everything, as always. So if nothing else, it's a good excuse to come and laugh at the fact that I'm not a very good music critic.

Dec 29 - Top 20 Moments in Music: 2010
Dec 30 - Top 20 Songs of the Year
Dec 31 - Top 20 Albums of the Year
Jan 1 - Top 30 Most Listened to Songs of 2010

Okay, so it's less "week long extravaganza", more "desperate bid for attention", but I hope you'll read it anyway. Especially Jester, if only so that he can mock me mercilessly when Lady Gaga inevitably shows up in my "Best Song About Vengeful Sex" category.