ENS contributor John Crowell (@terriblesounds) did some great work for us in 2010. John was at several live music events for us and did a large amount of excellent interviews as well. Today, he picks his favorite albums of 2010.
1) Fang Island: S/T: Everyone’s already heard the bit about this album sounding like “everyone high-fiving everyone.” But the level to which Fang Island brings the high-flying guitar heroics without succumbing to self-indulgent wankery shouldn’t be ignored. Somehow, they managed to write songs composed solely of guitar solos and made those songs catchy as hell. Fang Island was most certainly one of the most positive-sounding albums released this year, and the feel-good vibes combined with the head-expanding melodies made it my personal favorite.
2) Yellow Swans: Going Places: I’m incredibly bummed that Yellow Swans broke up, but I also feel blessed as a fan that they left this album as their going-away present. On Going Places, the now-defunct Portland duo was able to convey wistfulness, nostalgia, reverence, and hope better than any noise/drone/ambient record I’ve heard recently (maybe ever). This record is proof that noise as a genre is capable of lifting listeners’ spirits as well as blowing out their eardrums.
3) Best Coast: Crazy For You: Say what you want about her blog hype; Bethany Cosentino showed up for her debut album with a suitcase full of great songs. The music on Crazy For You is competent and catchy, and Cosentino’s lyrics manage to maintain a constant theme over the course of an album without ever making her sound like she’s repeating herself. It’ll be interesting to see whether Best Coast have the legs to follow up this record with a great sophomore album and a full-fledged career. But even if they don’t, they graced us in 2010 with a fantastic collection of surf pop indie rock that doesn’t have to be enjoyed only during summer.
4) Fennesz Daniell Buck : Knoxville : I grew up Knoxville, so I probably brought a lot of my own memories and feelings into my listening of this record, which was recorded live at the city’s Big Ears Festival in 2009. An improvisational collaboration between three great experimental artists, the record moves and shifts like a suite of classical music pieces, except with guitar feedback and noisy climaxes instead of oboes and violins. The end result reminds me of the scruffy, lonesome feeling I felt living on the outskirts of Knoxville, surrounded by abandoned shopping center parking lots and a spiderweb of back-country roads, although such a literal connection was probably never intended by the artists involved. Even if you don’t have these personal experiences to equate with the record’s sounds, Knoxville is a great example of mood synthesized with experimental music.
5) Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: You have to give the guy his due – no matter how crazy Kanye West gets, he still makes amazing music. Pitchfork famously gave this album the first “10.0” since Radiohead’s Kid A, and I would say that it mostly lives up to the hype. With amazing guest features by the likes of Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Raekwon, and Bon Iver (?!), as well as his own blend of soulful sonic sheen and unapologetic brutality, West has legitimately produced one of the best albums of the year, and arguably the very best of his career.
6) Deerhunter : Halcyon Digest : Bradford Cox must have some kind of crazy work ethic, hyper productivity, or a lot of time on his hands. He released two records apiece for Deerhunter and his own Atlas Sound solo project between 2008 and 2009. This fall, he managed to release four full-length volumes of bedroom recordings online only weeks after Deerhunter dropped this excellent album. He’s like the new Robert Pollard, only his overall batting average for song quality is even higher.
7) Male Bonding : Nothing Hurts : This may be the most honestly “rocking” album of the year. After clawing their way back from the brink of Melt Banana-esque nihilistic harshness with their old band, PRE, the three members of Male Bonding approached quick-paced noise-punk with the exuberance of a high school garage rock band and the competency of, well, that same high school garage rock band after weathering a couple long tours together in an Econovan. More than any other album I heard this year, the musicians on Nothing Hurts sound like they’re truly just happy to be here.
8 ) Emeralds: Does it Look Like I’m Here: This album gave me the longest journey between hating and loving what I heard since the Breeders’ Title TK. Mostly because of expectations born from Emeralds’ 2008 mish-mash electronic offering What Happened, the initial comforting synth notes of Does It Look Like I’m Here confused me at first. However, after a full listen or two, I realized that Emeralds accomplished an impressive artistic vision here: constructing blissful ambient soundscapes with layers of simple melody instead of formless tonal noise. Ultimately, it’s an enveloping and satisfying listen if old fans and new admirers give themselves the chance to ease into it.
9) Sleigh Bells : Treats : Treats is the party-starting record of the year. The infectiously engaging beats and hooks are undeniable, but what’s more interesting is the pair’s willingness to blend stadium-rock anthems with red line-pushing overdriven guitars, beats, and screams. I’m sure the royalties from the dozens of athletic shoe and credit card commercials soundtracked by “Infinity Guitars” and “Rill Rill” will keep Sleigh Bells well fed and clothed in Brooklyn while they work hard on a follow-up.
10) Wavves: King of the Beach : There really isn’t much to say about King of the Beach that hasn’t already been said a million times on a million blogs. It’s a solid record, and I hear Nathan Williams tries to avoid mixing alcohol and ecstasy now. Good for Wavves.
Beach House: Teen Dream
Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record
Holy Fuck : Latin
Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal
No Age: Everything in Between