Monday, November 29, 2010

Best of 2010

Well, so it's time for Eternal Otter Records' picks for the best albums of 2010. I know there is still a month left to go in the year, but perhaps you'll find some good gift ideas here. I'll be covering national albums today, and covering local releases tomorrow.

1. Brothers - Black Keys

Destined to become a Rock 'n' Roll Classic. The album that convinced me that Black Keys are more than just a pretty good garage rock band. The most startling revelation on this album is Dan Auerbach's voice, which shows previously unknown range, shifting from the Marc Bolan-esque falsetto of "Everlasting Light" to the clipped aggression of "Ten Cent Pistol". It goes without saying that the music rocks, and "Everlasting First", "Next Girl", and "Tighten Up" are an unstoppable opening trifecta. I used to think the album was a little too long, but I always end up going all the way to the end. It helps that the first track on Side 4 is "Unknown Brother", one of the most moving ballads ever put to wax.

2. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire

I think this album underwhelmed a lot of people, but I'll defend it as one of the best albums of the year. I recommend listening to it on vinyl, which allows you to digest the album in 4-song bites - I could imagine that the album could start to sound a little overlong and same-y without the occasional break to flip the record. That being said, The Suburbs is full of great songs, and if even if it doesn't have a "Wake Up" or "No Cars Go" on it, it does have "Rococco", "We Used to Wait", and "The Sprawl (Part II)". Also, every time I listen to the record it reminds me of the book "The Girl Who Owned A City", which was about an epidemic that kills everybody on Earth over the age of 13. I read it in 5th grade, and it's the first book I remember really liking.

3. Homeland - Laurie Anderson

This is one of the most interesting, diverse, and dark albums of the year. It starts with the beautiful "Transitory Life" assisted by Tuvan Throat Singers, then goes into the caustic "Only An Expert" (with Lou Reed on guitar), and ends with a violin solo. The centerpiece is the 11 minute "Another Day in America", Anderson's harrowing and hilarious state of the nation address, which she delivers in a ridiculous baritone through tape manipulation. A sample lyric:

"And another way to look at time is this: There was an old married couple and they had
always hated each other. Never been able to stand the sight of each other really.
And when they were in their nineties they finally got divorced and people said: Why did
you wait so long? Why didn't you do this a whole lot earlier?
And they said: Well, we wanted to wait until the children died."

Laurie Anderson's best album since Big Science.

4. I Learned the Hard Way - Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings have a formula down - they make funky music with a lot of soul, and they do it well, probably as good as anybody in the last 20 years. So, it's no surprise that they open their fourth album with two instant classics, "The Game Gets Old" and "I Learned the Hardway". However, the closing track "Mama Don't Like My Man" is one of their best tracks, and showcases a more stripped-down style that I really dig. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings also gave one of the best concert performances I saw in 2010, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again in 2011.

5. Bright Bright Bright (EP) / Wild Go - Dark Dark Dark

One of the best finds of 2010. Hearing the 5-song Bright Bright Bright EP is like being shocked out of an afternoon nap into a strange day of setting suns and rising tides. Although the full-length Wild Go is stylistically very similar, built around Nona Marie's brightly melancholy voice and the band's sparse but evocative instrumentation, it has the opposite effect of the EP - luring the listener into a sad but hopeful reverie. The best song from either album is the summer jam "Make Time", in which the bands other songwriter, Marshall LaCount steps up to steal the show. Dark Dark Dark also treated Portland to two memorable concerts this year

6. Have One On Me - Joanna Newsom

I'm curious what the reaction to this album would have been if it had been released as three separate albums over the last three years, instead of as one big magnum opus. But I guess grand ambition is kind of the point. In any event, each of the 3 LPs is great and I still can't bring myself to pick a favorite, although the song "Good Intentions Paving Co." is an obvious highlight, as are "In California", and "Esme". The album also proves that Joanna Newsom is nearly as interesting on the piano as she is on the harp. My one complaint is that in an album this sprawling, I wish she would have included a few more off-kilter pop songs in the vein of such Milk-Eyed Mender gems as "Sprout and the Bean" and "Bridges and Balloons".

7. Rough Travel for a Rare Thing - Bill Callahan

I didn't discover Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle until this year, but in retrospect it should have been near the top of my 2009 list. Rough Travel for a Rare Thing, a vinyl and digital only release, is a live album that captures Bill Callahan playing songs mostly from his late-period Smog era. As would be expected, Callahan is low-key throughout, but each song is so beautifully crafted and skillfully arranged ("Diamond Dancer", "Held", and "The Well" are just a few of the great songs played) that the album is fully engaging from start to end.

8. Made the Harbor - Mountain Man

A short little folk album by a trio of young women. I don't have much to say about it, except that it sounds timeless in the best way - it would sound great to human ears at any point in our history. Best of all, it never tries too hard, just nice harmonies, an easy going charm, and simple songs. The track "How'm I Doing?" sums it up well: "Now I'm not braggin' but it's understood, that everything I do I sure do good."

9. Contra - Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend writes terrible lyrics, but that makes them even more fun, as you can just make up your own words as you dance along to their catchy tunes. I can't help but smile and shimmy across the floor every time I flip the record over to "Cousins", and that is reason enough for this album to be considered for the list. Throw in an M.I.A. sample, a few more summer jams, and a great album cover (even if it got them sued), and I'm sold.

10. The Happy (EP) - Bearkat

A wonderful new EP from the Austin-based Katy Pearson, who performs as Bearkat. I first heard Bearkat when Katy was briefly living in Maine during the summer of '09, and ended up totally crushing on her debut LP Suitcase Swimmers (highly recommended!). This EP doesn't have many stylistic changes from that album, but why change a winning formula? Wonderful instrumentation, which includes banjo and ukulele among other delights, mixes with a voice brimming with personality to create perfect little love songs. "Girl with the Broken Heart" also has a nice section near the end that flirts with some Tom Waits-esque darkness. My main complaint with most EPs is that they are too damn short, but The Happy is beautifully sequenced with 3 charming interludes that give you time to digest the song you just heard - the physical copy of the album even ends with a little surprise. But as great as this EP is, I am still waiting in great anticipation for Bearkat's next full-length! The Happy is available to listen to on bandcamp, so go do that now.

Ten Songs Great Songs from Albums that didn't make the list:
1. "Real Live Flesh" - Tune-Yards (Tune-Yards performed one of the best concerts I've seen this year, and Bird Brains should have topped my 2009 Best of List. This song was released as a single, and is as good as anything from her debut album. Can't wait to hear what she comes up with next.)
2. "Dance Yrself Clean" - LCD Soundsystem (LCD Soundsystem albums usually bore me by the end, but the highlights always turnout to be among the best songs of the year. I love how this opening track from This Is Happening starts super catchy and then gets super big.)
3. "Ambling Alp" - Yeasayer (Odd Blood was a little hit-and-miss overall, but this song is dynamite. "O.N.E." was pretty excellent, too. Looking forward to these guys releasing a killer singles collection.)
4. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" - The National (Everything good about The National in one song.)
5. "Right On" - The Roots (Have One on Me is great, but the best Joanna Newsom song this year was actually by The Roots, who sampled "The Book of Right-On" for this track.)
6. "Some Kind of Nature" - The Gorillaz (In 2010, Lou Reed turned in a great guitar part on Laurie Anderson's "Only An Expert" and a great guest vocal on "Some Kind of Nature". I'll take these two stellar contributions over an album about Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven anyday.)
7. "Ain't No Grave" - Johnny Cash (The Man in Black singing from beyond the grave. Even in death, no one can compete with Johnny Cash.)
8. "Black Vessel" - Pearl & the Beard (One of Brooklyn's finest bands, and friends to Portland released a nice little EP this year. The title track is a little slower than my favorite Pearl & the Beard songs, but I'm always game for a song about pirates).
9. "Got Nuffin'" - Spoon (Spoon's Transference was probably the biggest disappointment of 2010 after MGMT's Congratulations, but this song almost rises to the heights of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.)
10. "American Troglodyte" - David Byrne (Unfortunately, David Bryne and Fatboy Slim's too long album about Imelda Marcos is mostly a waste of time, but Byrne manages to pull off at least one great spazzy social critique.)

Looking over my Best of 2009 list, I realized that I discovered enough albums from that year in 2010 that it is due for a revision.

Best of 2009 (Revised):

1. Bird Brains - Tune-Yards
2. Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle - Bill Callahan
3. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
4. What Will We Be - Devendra Banhart
5. Down with Liberty ... Up with Chains - Chain & the Gang
6. Preliminaires - Iggy Pop
7. Sunset/Sunrise - The Dutchess & the Duke
8. Actor - St. Vincent
9. Merriweather Post Pavillion - Animal Collective
10. Embryonic - Flaming Lips

10 Great Songs from Albums that Didn't Make the List-
1. "Stillness Is the Move" - Dirty Projectors
2. "Crane Wife 3" - Marianne Faithfull (amazing Decemberist's cover)
3. "Another Reason to Go" - Vetiver
4. "Home" - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes
5. "Further Complications" - Jarvis Cocker
6. "Out of the Blue" - Julian Casablancas
7. "The Fear" - Lily Allen
8. "Oh, Death!" - Pearl & the Beard
9. (tie) "Well-Alright" - Spoon / "Tightrope" - Yeasayer (both from the Dark Was the Night compilation)
10. "The Butcher" - Larkin Grimm

1 comment:

  1. brothers & the suburbs are both in my top ten for this year too! great picks here.

    Chris (@cbracco)