15 Best Albums of 2010
An album that defines a generation from the most popular band of the millennium’s Indie wave, The Arcade Fire. The band’s first album, Funeral, seemed to be one of those unparalleled releases which most succeeding albums could not live up to. The Suburbs is a testament to the group’s snowballing range of musical styles. The Arcade Fire produce music from such an array of influences, which are not meant to be imitated, but assimilated. The words of The Suburbs speak to me in regards to my perception of social status, monetary living, and the effects of suburban sprawl. Do your soul a favor and listen to the vocals of husband and wife duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. Subtle hints of ambient electronica, male and female vocals, masterful instrumentation and a humble group of Canadians make for an infamous modern Rock ‘n Roll band.
What can be said regarding Tipper that Drift Dodgers and Dizzurt didn’t already address in LostinSound’s Interview and Album Review of Tipper’s most anticipated album to date, Broken Soul Jamboree. Well, when I think of masters of electronic production, it’s hard not to think of Tipper. Composition which is creative and precise enough for Frederic Chopin or J.S. Bach to enjoy- the robot reincarnations of course. Broken Soul Jamboree is one of those albums which, no matter how hard you may try, you cannot get completely used to it. Every listen there is a new way to hear it, a new layer of sound you may have overlooked. It wins my Best Music to Listen to While Riding Your Bike award. The natural and animalistic noises, the mechanic intonation and the power to cause the listener’s reality to sound like a dream. With this album, Tipper demonstrates his ability to create music that baffles the mind and strokes the soul.
“D”(Robert ‘3d’ Del Naja) and “G” (Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall) spent time off writing numerous scores to films and came back strong in 2010 with Heligoland– Massive Attack’s first album in seven years. The album is named after the German archipelago, Heligoland. There is no hiding the dark nature of this album, but I would say that darkness is Massive Attack’s forte. Daunting lyrics and mysterious sounds fill the album from start to finish. I envision sharply dressed detectives and underground occult rituals. Since the band’s start in 1988, they have proved to be masters of producing music that utilizes both organic and electronic elements. On Heligoland, Massive Attack has made an effort to pull back some of the overwhelming electronic parts and focus on the organic. There are a lot more orchestral strings and flamenco guitars present. An impressive list of guests vocalists (Horace Andy, Tunde Adebimpe, Guy Garvey, Martina Topley-Bird and Gorillaz/Blur frontman Damon Alburn) add so much more to each of the songs on this album. The track “Girl I Love You” has become one of my go to songs this year, sultry and heavy. Hell of a song to add to a downtempo mix. Be sure to check out the Massive Attack site to view some of the short films that fans made for the songs off Heligoland.
Simon Green has finished his first decade as Bonobo. His debut album, Animal Magic, was entirely self-produced and instrumented and he has been gaining recognition worldwide ever since. After eight years and two more albums, the Bonobo sound has entranced all who have listened. Bonobo has emerged from 2010 with a road tested Live Band, a sultry lead singer-Andreya Triana, and an American fan base that stretches from the venues of Williamsburg to the dusty grounds of a music festival. Black Sands is not a far off cry from Bonobo’s previous releases, but you can hear how his music had matured. There is more instrumentation than in the past, although Bonobo still holds it down with the electronic elements. “Kiara”, “All in Forms” and “1009 ” are the three glitchy tracks that get your rump moving. “Eyesdown” is one of the most accessible Bonobo tracks he has released. A driving, voluptuous beat and Triana singing “I’ve got my eyes facing down, shorty when the tears come down, slow down.” Each live show I have attended it has been a crowd favorite, leaving people wondering if they had ever seen such a soulful performance. “Black Sands” may be the most tranquil and compelling Bonobo composition to date, something that should just be stuck on repeat all over the world. Music like this can make you confront your fears, forgive your enemy and really contemplate what it all means. I know that this album and many of Bonobo’s music has helped me to do the same.
An interesting change in direction for STS9, a part of their swinging pendulum of electronic production. I feel like there are still loads of fans who have yet to listen to Ad Explorata in its entirety. But i will tell you it is an amazing journey that is an exhibition of the progress and expansion of STS9’s collective creativity. It is a different sound than what fans are used to from their live sets, resulting in an epic studio album that plays like a book you read from start to finish. Road tested tracks like “Lion” and “EHM” are reworked into tightened, eerie versions. Like hearing a familiar voice through a megaphone. Other tracks like “Ad Explorata” and “Central” are not your standard Sound Tribe songs. They are a part of the strange concept associated with the album regarding a real life search the band embarked upon to discover the truth behind secret coded shortwave radio messages created during the Cold War. Ad Explorata was an album which allowed the members of STS9 to explore new ideas and create something not meant to be recreated and changed. In a scene where the fans expect the bands to create something special every night for them, STS9 has produced an album for themselves.
“Love Songs to the Source is an audio exploration of the spark of divine light that oscillates in the heart of every being.” That is how Evan Bluetech describes his 2010 release. Bluetech is one of those producers who seems to always make amazing music. I have never met anyone who has listened to his albums who had a negative thought to express regarding it. This is mostly because his style of Psybient almost indescribable music is all his own. It is uplifting, powerful and is a part of a global movement of higher consciousness (Bluetech will be a headlining act at this year’s Manifistation Celebration.) Love Songs to the Source is his most mature release to date, featuring amazing collaborations (Jamie Janover, Kilowatts and members of the march fourth marching band’s horn section) and vocal accompaniment (Dr. Israel, Katrina Blackstone, Mari Boine, Lady K, Tina Malia and Lynx.) Katrina Blackstone’s vocals on “Change” and “Lay your Sorrows” are soulful and a perfect match for Bluetech’s music and lyrics- much like Andreya Triana is to Bonobo. The album has a Dub foundation in which gorgeous horns, airy melodies and futuristic sounds build on. Allow yourself time to listen to this album with your eyes closed, deep meditation is encouraged on “Hanuman”, “Three Worlds” and “Escape.”
Gorillaz was started by Damon Albarn (Vocals and Instrumentals)and Jamie Hewlett (FX, Visuals, Illustrations)-a virtual band. Over the years the duo has worked an number of musicians-including Del The Funkee Homosapian to produce their three albums. Plastic Beach, the first album in five years, included a huge lineup of special guest vocalists and musicians (Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Gruff Rhys, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Kano, Bashy, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Sinfonia ViVA, and The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.) Gorillaz, the group that almost no one has ever gotten a chance to see live, has just finished their first Live Band (World) tour ever. Jamie Hewlett, the man behind the Gorillaz story and illustrated characters produced possibly the most impressive marketing and media campaign that I’ve ever seen for Plastic Beach. When I listen to many of the tracks on the album I also envision the sailor capped “Superfast Jellyfish” or the Bruce Willis car chase in the “Stylo” music video. All the while, the concept of the character’s Plastic Beach island refuge is present in the lyrics throughout the album. Things are quite a bit more poppy on this album as Albarn said in an interview with The Guardian, “I’m making this the biggest and most pop record I’ve ever made in many ways, but with all my experience to try and at least present something that has got depth.” Luckily for Albarn, the Gorillaz sound and message has made its way into the hearts and minds of listeners worldwide. The band and this album are unlike anything ever made before, unique. Plus, hearing Lou Reed tear it up on “Some Kind of Nature” is magical.
I have never had friends that I talked to about The National. Since 2007, when I could not overlook the frenzy amongst critics regarding their first album, The Boxer, I have been able to privately indulge. On the surface, High Violet represents that down and out depression represented by the dark side of the Taoist symbol. Baritone frontman Matt Beninger is slowly becoming an iconic voice for our time. Spilling his guts about lost love, financial debt and a dismal employment market. On the track “Blood Buzz Ohio,” Beninger admits “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe, I never thought about love when I thought about home” and in another pleads that “with my kid on my shoulders, I’ve tried not to hurt anybody I’ve loved. But I don’t have the drugs to sort it out.” He has the opposite effect of Emo rock singers, causing the listener to instantly relate and wallow with him- not to hold on to weakness- but to move on to something stronger. Reminds me of Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska. Sad distortion, dissonant piano and Muse style epic builds. It is as inspiring as it is wretched, modern blues.
The National -“Bloodbuzz Ohio”
In a time where music fans crave massive sounds and multi layered music to keep their attention, The Black Keys are a refreshing reminder of the old way. Brothers is the duo’s sixth full length album in eight years, and it has taken them that long to finally fully break out. The band has been nominated for six Grammys this year, had their songs featured in multiple television commercials, reached their highest point on the Billboard charts (#3) and headlined some of the biggest music festivals in the world. Their set at Wakarusa this summer still remains my most memorable set of the year. Drummer Patrick Karney and guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach make loud and moving Blues/Rock music that is as unique as their own personal style. In the beginning the duo feared the razor, as their beards and hair would stay unkempt. Today, they rock the intellectual clean cut look- which they admit is causing more women to flock to the rock nerds than ever. The album is purposefully underproduced to create a minimalist rock effect, modern blues. This naked nature makes every subtlety pronounced, and makes room for Auerbach’s brokenhearted sentiment and wild voice. Their moody twang brings out the rhinestone cowboy in me and makes me want to swig a Lone Star.
First off let me say that Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma Augmented Reality App is one of the cooler extras to an album that i’ve ever sean. He is freaking nuts when it comes to album artwork, music videos and extras. Clearly more than just a producer, an art enthusiast as well. Cosmogramma, named after a lecture given by Alice Coltrane, is seventeen tracks and nearly indescribable at points. Glitch, Trip-Hop, mild insanity all through the mind of Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus.) Southern California native and great-nephew of musical genius John Coltrane, Flying Lotus has shown his unwavering dedication to producing intelligent and bonkers beats. Like the Wizard of Oz meets Lost in Space. Production on the album included lots of string arrangements, a heavenly harp on half of the tracks and some soulful brass. I fucking love “And the World Laughs with You (ft. Thom Yorke).” (Flying Lotus blew the roof off opera halls around the country as he opened on tour for Thom Yorke’s live band in 2010.) This guy is a fucking living legend! Cosmogramma really opened me up to Flying Lotus and I am hungry for more.
Since 1200 Micrograms’ start in 1999, they have released an seven Psychedelic Trance albums, including their groundbreaking self-titled first album. Gramology is their first release from the infamous quartet in three years. 1200 Mics is the synthesis of Ibiza residents, Bansi and Riktam who are Dutch, Chicago who is American and Raja Ram who is an English resident by way of Australia. “C of Tranquility” begins with Raja Ram’s iconic tribal flute and reminds me of their classic track, “Ayahuasca.” Mysterious and tightly woven even in its natural chaotic musical state. The track “Cling On” is an industrial space tronce track with lots of Star Trek samples that exclaim, “our gravitational sensors are going crazy” and “Repeat, could this be Klingon?” How could I not dig that?! “The Japanese Experiment” includes some badass House elements that compliment the Psy-Trance nicely, lots of letting off of the steam. The valley that begins at (5:15) is my favorite part, looniness ensues. “Ecstasy Part 2″ is a continuation of the classic track, the staccato flute and hand percussion make for very beautiful valleys and this one bumps at its peaks as hard as the original. TIP Records and 1200 Micrograms may not be for everyone’s listening pallet but Gramology is one of the most accessible releases I’ve heard from this genre.
The Disco Biscuits have built a massive following on their live act and their Tronce-Electro Jam sound. Fans and touring followers have always had a bone to pick with the band’s studio work, as many Jam fanatics tend to do. If it isn’t raw and improv then its second rate. After 15 years of writing songs and countless variations, the Biscuits have decided to do something for themselves. Not only does Planet Anthem satisfy the band’s thirst for a pop record, but it undeniably appeals to a wider audience. Prepare to get more defensive than ever, Biscuits fans, because it is happening. Potential club hits like the auto-tuned, robotic “On Time” and quite possibly the catchiest, sexiest track the Philly boys have ever produced are breaking into the dreaded popular realm . At first, a lot of these songs were criticized by the Bisco following but they have found their place in the modern Biscuits setlist. Versions of road tested favorites “The City” and “Uber Glue” sound cleaner and more intriguing than ever. I even think some of these songs (such as”Vacation”) have been overlooked. Barber, Magner and even Brownstein‘s vocals don’t sound tour tired, but almost great. There are guest vocalists taking the reigns on Planet Anthem, which is a nice change. It is easy to over think the pop components of this record, but don’t forget this quartet is still some of the best instrumentalists playing music today and they live up to it on this studio release. Produced by Twisted Records , and meticulously mulled over by the Biscuits, this album is unlike anything the Jam scene has ever heard. Every Grateful Dead album didn’t sound like Workingman’s Dead and every Pink Floyd album didn’t sound like Dark Side of the Moon.
Beats Antique’s new album Blind Threshold, mastered by legendary producer Tipper, is their third full release since their genesis in 2007. They’ve achieved quite the discography already. A few months after its release, I can easily say that it ages like fine wine. The album flexes electronic production with their ability to create old-fashioned classical compositions (“Prelude”). Most tracks are around four to five minutes long, making for a lengthy and well-produced album from the infamous group. The second half of the album is much less about the low end, replacing bass heavy knee shakers with more intricate instrumentals. The seventeen guest musicians included on the album really exhibit how much of a force the band is in the studio. It reminds me of the band’s special New Years show that Dizzurt and I attended at The Independent in San Francisco. Throughout the show there were too many musicians (Lynx and Eva Salina) and dancers performing on and off the stage to count. Is there any instrument that this band doesn’t use?! My favorite being the antique, laser-guided harmonica provided by Blues Traveler frontman John Popper.
It wasn’t long ago when I first got my hands on Big Gigantic’s first full length album, Fire it Up. Jeremy Salken(Drums) and Dom Lalli (Producer/Sax) have spent the past few years tightening up their sound, learning when to let loose and when to hold back. A Place Behind the Moon is a testament to how far they have come. From the album’s first track, “Looking Back” until the final track, “Breaking Point”, Big G takes the listener through one of the most impressive exhibitions of electronic production and live instrumentals of the year. Fatty drops fueled by Lalli’s long-winded saxophone, swirling reverb meets high pitched disco Bernie Worrell-like synthwork. I think a lot of credit is due to fellow Colorado OG, Alex B, who mixed and mastered the album. Although there are no vocals, there is a melodic quality to many of these tracks. I find myself singing along to some of the synth and sax progressions. Tracks like “Limelight” and “High and Rising” are an exciting take on modern funk and jazz. But Big G can still bring the heavy electronic heat on raging tracks like “Cloud Nine” and “Step Back.”
Listening to the beginning of this album, it sounds as though Sufjan Stevens has created another mellow, wordy instrumental gem. I remember how amazed I was by his voice, lyrics and chill vibes when I first heard Seven Swans as a senior in High School. As I listen closer to the first track off of The Age of Adz, “Futile Devices,” it becomes hypnotic and ends with the line “words are futile devices.” It seems as though after years of perfecting his folk songwriter style, Stevens has decided to mix it up- literally. He has abandoned his banjo and started twisting knobs. He is not being soft spoken in the chapel, but has decided to scream into a megaphone at an NFL football game. Heavy, blunt electronic production is his new direction. I didn’t know Sufjan could get so unrestrained and glitchy! There are times in these songs where it sounds like futuristic worlds are under attack and scores to classic Disney films have been altered (“Two Much”). Other songs sound like a beautiful mechanical love song sung while two robots do some naughty touching (“I Walked”). I know that Stevens cannot help but write music that is an extension of his hopes, fears and his heart. He has obviously been doing a lot of thinking regarding science fiction and the modern world. The Age of Adz is a reference to a revered paranoid schizophrenic artist, Royal Robertson, and his dark inspirations. Robertson’s vision is sort of a mix of an old robot B-movie with a violent melodrama of marital betrayal. What happened to Sufjan’s obsession with grace and love? He steps outside of his comfort zone by altering his voice in many ways, unlike anything I have heard from him before. One classic component that remains is the choral backup vocals he wields- sing along freaks rejoice! If I had to listen to traditional Indie rock, “hipster” musicians go Electronic, I would trust Sufjan Stevens over most. Stevens has been a master at many components of Electro Pop for years, just without the Electro or the Pop. He is able to remain original, odd and purposefully over the top. Watch out for the twenty-five minute long opus of insanity that Stevens ends the album with. He is a creative genius on many levels.
Top 5 Newcomer Albums of 2010
It isn’t easy to get ahold of this album. I lucked out when Brock Butler hooked me up with a copy outside of a Perpetual Groove show and have been moved by it ever since. Lately Here Though is a musical memoir or sorts for the P Groove frontman and an opportunity to focus on his poetry and acoustic guitar. There are also a couple of mostly instrumental acts that show off Brock’s pickin’ skills. It is one of the more genuine albums that I’ve ever heard. From my first listen, I felt that energy and love in each song.
A controversial release. Artwork, Benga and Skream announced that they would be combining forces as a super trio of Dubstep producers signed to Columbia Records. The tracks on their self titled debut album are created through combining their superhuman producing forces. Three laptops- one of them plays drum samples, one plays basses and the third plays leads and samples. Nearly half of the tracks are accompanied by passionate vocalists laying down some catchy melodies- most notably the British sensation, Katy B. Magnetic Man is a chance for the trio to show off their poetic sides. The result is a less in-your-face Dubstep sound, and for some that is not what they expected. However, being someone who embraces a multitude of musical genres, I see the beauty in this “pop” side of the album. In fact, I become more impressed. It is undeniable that the trio has real resolve in upholding traditional Dubstep, always respecting their roots and fellow producers-Coki, Hatcha, etc. “Going Nowhere”, a soulful collaboration with John Legend is a testament to how far Dubstep has come. Ms Dynamite collab”Fire” is tearing up England’s clubs, and is what Benga describes as something”you can take your top off and rave to in your house.” Songs like the industrial “K Dance” are xylophone and string flooded. “Flying into Tokyo” and the righteous “Ping Pong” are unlike anything I’ve heard from all of these producers as soloists. And when they decide to exhibit that massive Dubstep style we know so well, “Mad”, “Karma Crazy” and “Crossover” deliver. They are not running the filthy, nasty, grimy sounds into the ground. Instead, they are continuing to experiment with the original rhythms this genre was based upon. In this case, three heads are fresher than one.
D.V.S*’s (Derek Vanscoten) debut album, Before I Sing, is the single best example of how amazing the fusion of Trip-Hop and Soul can be. Amon Tobin and Nina Simone would be proud to embrace his style as their own. D.V.S* has a versatility which enables him to choose thought-provoking R&B and Soul lyrics to pair up with his hypnotic and funky mash-ups. Where many other talented trip-hop artists such as Pretty Lights tend to sample various rap vocals, D.V.S* is already the master of the Soul sample. He showcases his unique sound by mixing charming vocal samples into repeating, often stuttering choruses. When layered atop various percussion beats and funk guitar riffs, it produces a really dope effect that any head or square can get down to. During the track “Crying,” he slows the tempo down on Diana Ross and The Supreme’s classic,“Come See About Me,” while dropping trippy glitch noises all over the place. Being as much of a vocal freak as I am, it’s refreshing to be able to groove to dirty beats and hear lyrics sung beautifully behind them. On the track, “Being Near You,” Derek’s vocalist wife, Chantel Mead, offers up her skills by singing a long series of notes for D.V.S* to do his thing with. Before starting this solo electronic project, Derek Vanscoten toured as a guitarist/multi-instrumentalist for groups like The Motet, Devotchka and DJ Logic. Today, his live act is impressive and always fresh, as D.V.S* continues to produce new tracks, remixes and covers. He has moved his act from Boulder to Brooklyn, and is consistently releasing new and impressive music.
Michal Menert uses some of the coolest vintage music and television samples that I’ve heard mashed up into tracks. Paired with his soul thumping trip-hop/glitch production, it is a match made in Colorado. As co-producer of Pretty Lights’ first album, Taking Up Your Precious Time, it is only right that Menert and his music are the first act to be released under the growing Pretty Lights Music label. On Dreaming of a Bigger Life, Menert isn’t hesitant to pull back the electronic production from time to time to lay down some magnificent instrumental samples. This music is still very much under the radar, but its one of those albums for free download by a musician that you would be fortunate to have stored in your iTunes. At times, the crackling recordings of vocals that he includes in his tracks are emotional and intoxicating. Would probably make for a pretty dope sunrise set. Menert is just getting started.
Supersillyus‘ Grampaspaceshuttle is an independent release impeccably produced by one of the most unique and hardest working producers emerging from the East Coast. Creative DIY promotions and marketing has found folks from all different backgrounds downloading his album for free online. Call it IDM, Psybient, Trip-Hop or just plain silly. His live show has evolved over 2010 and at the end of the month he will be opening for one of his biggest influences, Hallucinogen (Simon Posford.) His second album, Tessalations, is a two disc epic that will be released early in the new year.