Thursday, December 23, 2010

50? Yes, 50! - Part 2 (#10 to #1)

For me, it never feels like Christmas until two things happen: seeing the video to Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and finishing up my Top Albums list. This is the day that both will happen. Last night, was part 1 and now, I finish up my über-geeky Top 50 Albums of 2010 list with the Big 10 of '10. Yeah, I'm still ok with calling it that.

First, a refresher course or in case you missed Part 1: #50 - #11

Now onto the show:

DJ Brian L.'s Top 50 Albums of 2010 (#10 - #1): The Big 10 of '10 

10. Expo 86 - Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade has become one of my favorite bands in a very short span of time. All it took was one listen to their first album, Apologies To The Queen Mary and they instantly became all I talked about to my friends. They balanced rock bombast with art-prog weirdness thanks to their two primary songwriters, Dan Boeckner (the scruffy rocker) and Spencer Krug (the one with the Bowie-like waver.) And just like its predecessors, Expo 86, the band's third album, finds the two splitting things down the middle. There are Boeckner's chugging guitar anthems ("Pobody's Nerfect") side-by-side with Krug's enigmatic keyboard romps ("What Did My Lover Say?") But even though they give in to their individual quirks, the two sound more united, as the lines separating them are blurred just enough resulting with the band's most cohesive album. It's just too bad that they recently announced a dreaded "indefinite hiatus." At least they left us with one last flash of greatness.

9. Barking - Underworld
Even though they got lumped in with the late 90's electronica scene, I always thought Underworld was a step above the rest. They weren't just a faceless set of DJs specializing in big beats and flashing lights. Underworld had actual songs. They had more in common with Depeche Mode or New Order than with most of their peers. On Barking, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith come up with their best album since the departure of Darren Emerson back in 2000. They get a little production help, turning over some songs to the likes of Paul Van Dyk and Dubfire but the bulk of the work is undoubtedly all Underworld, focused more on adding pop hooks to their swirling techno. Now their songs aren't just hypnotic, they're also memorable. 

8. Body Talk Pt. 1 - Robyn
There are some instances where I just can't resist pop music. I can't help but like it when it's done just right. Whether it's done with a little power like Cheap Trick or Fountains Of Wayne, or all glossy and electro like Kylie Minogue, I just can't say no. Falling for Robyn is a no-brainer. With her teen pop moment in the sun under her belt (1997's "Show Me Love"), she would practically reinvent herself as an icy synthpop diva convincingly singing about heartbreak as if she knows it all too well. To her, the dancefloor is the cure for everything and with each volume of Body Talk, Robyn would become stronger, perfecting her empowering pop anthems along the way. But it's on Body Talk Pt. 1 where she was defiant. One minute she's spouting off a laundry list of the things that are killing her (the pulsating "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do") and the next she's got ultracool swagger (the Royskopp collaboration, "None Of Dem.") Dance-pop didn't get better than this.

7. Everything In Between - No Age
In addition to pop divas, it turns out I have a thing for two-person bands. Especially, ones that incorporate drums and guitar. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that I wanted to be a drummer as a kid then a guitarist as a teen. I wasn't good at either. Anyway, everything about LA's No Age practically screamed for everyone's undivided attention with its unlikely mixture of punk and shoegaze but somehow they made it work. On their second proper album, Everything In Between, the band (now expanded to a trio in a live setting) even improves on their formula adding some new found urgency not wasting any time with noise-scape build-ups and jumping right into the pop-punk sugar rush of "Glitter" and "Fever Dreaming." They still find time to tinker with their effects pedals but now those noise interludes serve as a moment to catch one's breath rather than tension-builders.

6. Teen Dream - Beach House
Teen Dream was one of the first new albums I listened to at the start of 2010 and I have to say, I'm sort of surprised it stood up this well for an entire year. Sure, I would come across plenty of dream pop acts this year, but none of them had a singer like Victoria Legrand. The way she stretches out the word "Norway" well beyond its two syllables is damn near intoxicating. Beach House had always been dreamy, but on Teen Dream not only was Legrand's vocals pushed to the forefront, but songs were accentuated allowing everything to shine through the haze.

5. Go - Jónsi
I'm not exactly what one would call a "Sigur Ros Fan." As a matter of fact, I went into listening to Jónsi's solo material with the intent of making fun of it. But after hearing "Go Do" I was completely won over. It was upbeat, uplifting, and most surprisingly, it was sung in English (mostly, I think.) His voice is full of child-like curiosity and the songs were packed with layer upon layer of sonic texture that it felt like it could all come to life. One of the most gorgeous and vibrant sounding albums of the year.

  Go Do by Jónsi

4. High Violet - The National
If 2007's Boxer was their breakthrough, then High Violet is The National's masterpiece. With this one album they went from "next big thing" to actual big thing. And it's a well-deserved place for them as nearly every song on High Violet is worth geeking out over. Simply put, it's brooding indie rock with a dark romantic twist, but they do it so well that it sounds like they invented the sound. For me, I lean towards "Bloodbuzz Ohio" because whenever I sing along to it, I feel like I sound exactly like Matt Berninger. 

3. Treats - Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells are loud. So loud, in fact, that they make my insides vibrate. On paper, they shouldn't even be as good as they are: Derek E. Miller, formerly of Poison The Well is the musical half of the duo, and Alexis Krauss sings, coos, chirps, shrieks, and screams her way through these short, sassy pop songs cranked all the way up to 11. The beats are set to pummel and Miller's metal guitar riffs are so distorted they turn into static. In spite of all that, or maybe because of it all, Treats ends up being the most addictive album of the year.

2. This Is Happening - LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem is a force to be reckoned with. Not only has he helped set the standard for cool, post-millennial dance music but he also gave it a heart. He still gives in to his snarky side in the form of the winking party jam, "Drunk Girls," and the self-aware 9-minute opus, "You Wanted A Hit." But it's when his tough exterior softens up that songs like "Home" and "I Can Change" transform into heartfelt dancefloor confessionals.

1. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
No big surprises here. Arcade Fire has always been good at making grand gestures seem intimate. Here, they aim for the heavens, armed with soaring, arena-ready anthems full of sweeping string arrangements and choruses made for huge sing-along moments. They even pull a couple of unexpected turns with the punk romp of "Month Of May" and the surprising New Wave swirl of the excellent "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)." A perfectly stunning album, The Suburbs  proves that all that high praise is warranted.

There you go. All done. I didn't think I could pull off a comprehensive Top 50 list of music that I had been obsessed about over the last year, but I did it. I'm sure there are some omissions and I'm sure that some of those will be worth bringing up in the next day or so. But right now, I'm sticking to these 50 as being the soundtrack for my 2010.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

50? Yes, 50! - Part 1 (#50 to #11)

So I openly admit, I can be a bit excessive. Case in point, I was pretty sick all day Saturday but I still went out and DJ'ed. Not the best idea ever since I spent all day Sunday in a NyQuil coma. It led to some pretty weird dreams, the best of which involved me being at a NIN concert then going up to who I thought was David Bowie only to find out it was really Daryl Hall. We ended up talking and essentially admiring each others good hair. He then mentioned not being a fan of either Peaches or Young MC, I'm not sure which one, but either way it upset me. But I woke up before I got to the bottom of that.

So here goes, my over-the-top list of my favorite albums of 2010. Usually I'd only do a Top 10 but this has been a great year for music. Enough records came out that got some significant time on BriPod that deserve to get a nod. Let's get to it. The first of what is now a two-parter:

DJ Brian L.'s Top 50 Albums of 2010 (#50 to #11)

50. Latin - Holy Fuck
I'm not usually a fan of instrumental rock but Holy Fuck is one of two bands that do it right (the other being Explosions In The Sky.) Latin was almost a guilty pleasure for me since I thought their previous album, LP was a bit better, but seeing these guys live really won me over in spite of the surprising amount of hippies who were at the show. 

49. How To Destroy Angels - How To Destroy Angels
It should come as no surprise that I'd be into this EP. Here, Trent Reznor is joined by his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, and longtime NIN collaborator, Atticus Ross on a project named after a single by the infinitely influential industrial/experimental act, Coil. To be honest, it's exactly what one might expect from Reznor, except instead of his angry snarl, it's Mariqueen's hiss that takes center stage. At times, it sounds like Portishead for the S&M sect. 

And of course, as has been customary of Trent these past couple of years, this EP is available as a free download courtesy of the HTDA website. Grab it here:

48. Romance Is Boring - Los Campesinos!
These Welsh indie poppers are as energetic as ever on their third album. Even when they explore slightly darker themes, they can't help but sound giddy and upbeat.

47. Plastic Beach - Gorillaz
Damon Albarn recruits a diverse cast of All Stars that includes Snoop, The Fall's Mark E. Smith, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, The Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, Mos Def, and more. In spite of its wide range of collaborators, Albarn maintains an overall focus that ends up somehow outdoing Demon Days.

46. S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor - Serena Maneesh
Norway's Serena Maneesh resembles a band of gypsies but sonically they give droning shoegaze a psychedelic twist. Even quieter moments are laced with a healthy dose of feedback and reverb. 

45. Root For Ruin - Les Savy Fav
I have to admit, I'm a bit late on the Les Savy Fav bandwagon. Reason being, I saw them back in 1997 when they opened for Pavement. I now have to admit, that after that show I realized that I dislike Pavement. I know, it's blasphemy, but they just didn't seem like they were trying. Anyway, poor Les Savy Fav because I felt they were guilty by association. Anyway, this album completely won me over with its jumpy, insanely catchy post punk. Sorry I didn't pay attention sooner, but I blame Pavement.

44. /\/\/\Y/\ - M.I.A.
Easily M.I.A.'s most challenging album as she jumps from grinding industrial ("Steppin' Up") to straightforward pop ("XXXO") to Diplo-assisted reggae/dub ("It Takes A Muscle.") It's a tough listen at first, but it does reward patience.

43. Forgiveness Rock Record  - Broken Social Scene
There's something about Broken Social Scene that will always win me over. I think it has to do with Kevin Drew giving into his every whim jumping from straight-ahead guitar chugging indie rock to electro-pop to instrumental jams. In someone else's hands it would be seen as lack of focus but for BSS it's their willingness to be everything all at once.

42. Wilderness Heart - Black Mountain
Swampy, shaggy-haired, 70's-indebted rock that's all about the power of the guitar riff. They borrow from Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Floyd earning devil horns along the way. Plus they've got the best album cover of the year.

41. Settings - Tanlines
From the ashes of Brooklyn dance-punks, Professor Murder, comes Tanlines. They fuse dance, pop, and a touch of world music rhythms and come up with some infectious stuff from the tropical beats of "Real Life" and the slight Depeche Mode-referencing "Policy Of Trust." They may not be a household name yet, but if things go right, they won't be a secret for long. 

40. Clinging To A Scheme - The Radio Dept.
Speaking of secrets, it's a mystery to me how Sweden's The Radio Dept. has remained under the radar for so long. Hazy dream pop at its finest. They'll soon be releasing a career-spanning singles collection right before touring the States, so now's as good as a time as any to get familiar with them. 

39. Olympia - Bryan Ferry
Right at the onset of Olympia's opening track, "You Can Dance," Bryan Ferry unleashes the line "Do you come here often? Do you want to play?" It's the kind of pickup line that few people can get away with. Luckily, he's one of those people. The Roxy Music frontman is as dapper as ever and so perpetually suave that he can make even heartache sound sexy.

38. Brothers - The Black Keys
Another contender for album cover of the year, Akron's The Black Keys may have made their career defining album with Brothers. And apparently, everyone loves them for it. Truth be told, it's hard not to like the album's dusty, blues-inflected rock but personally if they had shaved off a song or two, it would be damn near perfect...but that's just me.

37. The Drums - The Drums
The unlikely marriage of surf rock and post punk. Don't be fooled by their upbeat melodies. Their lyrics are a bit darker than expected sounding like a bunch of goths who aren't afraid of sunlight.

36. Ghost Blonde - No Joy
A late contender for debut album of the year, Canadian shoegazers No Joy switches on the effects pedals and pays homage to 90's alt rock without sounding like a throwback.

35. Astrocoast - Surfer Blood
Florida's Surfer Blood are about as straightforward as it gets. Indie rock with just enough fuzz at times reminiscent of Superchunk or Spoon. But really, they're just good at writing catchy songs without all the bells and whistles. 

34. The Lady Killer - Cee Lo Green
Cee Lo has got a lot of swagger. The Lady Killer proves it. It's so much more than just a collection of songs based around his awesome single, "Fuck You." He jumps from pop, R&B, and even a touch of New Wave borrowing some moves from Michael Jackson, Prince, and even covering a Band Of Horses song along the way. Undeniably good.

33. Gemini - Wild Nothing
Virginia isn't really known as being the home for dream pop. But for Jack Tatum, the man behind Wild Nothing, it isn't about physical location. One listen to Gemini proves that his heart belongs to indie touchstones like C86, The Smiths, and early New Order. While his peers may focus on volume, he aims for a more melodic side to his lo-fi pop.

32. Crush - Abe Vigoda
Named after the actor who played Fish on Barney Miller, this LA band trades in their noisy shrieks for a darker shade of post punk; drum machines and eyeliner included.

31. Fire Like This - Blood Red Shoes
Still relatively unknown on these shores, UK's Blood Red Shoes make a lot of noise for just two people. But the duo have done their homework crafting insanely catchy guitar-driven, indie rock with plenty of emphasis on rock; sort of like a grittier and scuffed-up Yeah Yeah Yeahs without all the fashionista tendencies.

30. Disconnect From Desire - School Of Seven Bells
Electro-dreampop may not be a proper genre tag just yet but School Of Seven Bells makes a worthy argument as to why it should be. On Disconnect, they sound like the female counterpoint to The Big Pink and they're just as addictive.

29. The Family Jewels - Marina & The Diamonds
Quirky pop music will win me over. Marina splits the difference between the much beloved, Florence & The Machine (though I openly admit to being perhaps the only person I know who doesn't like Florence) and the art-school-gone-wild leanings of Amanda Palmer. I'd call this album a guilty pleasure if I didn't find it so engrossing.

28. Transference - Spoon
Spoon has become one of the great success stories of indie rock. Some may still consider them underdogs but their last three albums have really solidified them as a band that others should strive to be. Scrappy with a touch of soul, Transference doesn't stray too far from what's expected of Spoon but then again, they shouldn't have to prove themselves anymore. They're just good at being what they are.

27. O. Children - O. Children
Fine, I'll admit it. I'm still a goth at heart and this debut album by UK's O. Children is proof of that. Taking their name from a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song, this young band brings shadowy post punk back from the (un)dead with a singer who sounds like the love-child of  Cave, Andrew Eldritch (The Sisters Of Mercy), and Ian McCulloch (Echo & The Bunnymen.)

26. Sleep Forever - Crocodiles
Crocodiles 2009 debut, Summer Of Hate was a promising slab of noise pop. But with Sleep Forever they would go and smooth things out just enough delving further into Jesus And Mary Chain territory. It works wonders for them, as producer, James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco) helps the duo find some fuzzed-out bliss.

25. Crystal Castles II - Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles aren't exactly known for crafting elegant pop songs. They're more notorious for their combustible live shows and the anything-can-happen aura of lead singer/shrieker, Alice Glass. But on their self-titled sophomore album, they find their focus making dark synthpop that can stir up a goth/industrial dancefloor just as easily as it could make bodies move at a rave set at the end of the world.

24. Curtis Lane - Active Child
Pat Grossi, the man behind Active Child has an angelic falsetto. And he uses it to his advantage on his debut EP, Curtis Lane. Haunting yet fluttering synthpop with a slight majestic feel given a boost thanks to Grossi's choirboy-like voice.

23. Stuck On Nothing - Free Energy
Philly-based Minnesota transplants, Free Energy might as well have been transported from a time and place where it's always sunny and Cheap Trick is blasting from every passing convertible. They know their way around a catchy chorus and they find time to throw in a few dual guitar solos just for kicks. Sometimes simple power pop is just the way to go.

22. The Winter Of Mixed Drinks - Frightened Rabbit
On their third album, Scotland's Frightened Rabbit goes for it all. The shuffling folkiness of 2008's The Midnight Organ Fight is fully grown here reaching for the rafters while never seeming out of place in doing so. The Scottish accents probably help a bit.

21. The Hundred In The Hands - The Hundred In The Hands
There's something mysterious about New York's The Hundred In The Hands. The duo's self-titled debut sort of just appeared out of the ether without much hype or fanfare. That's fine since their songs feel like intimate secrets shared in the privacy of one's bedroom. Their seductive synthpop is practically the sound of sexy.

20. Sports - Weekend
San Francisco noise-pop trio with a nearly impossible to Google name has all the right influences borrowing some post punk from Joy Division here, some Jesus And Mary Chain fuzz there, and covering it in layers of distortion while letting some of their natural West Coast surf-rock tendencies creep in. It's surprisingly upbeat if you can get through the feedback.

19. Crazy For You - Best Coast
Best Coast sounds exactly how you'd expect a band with that name to sound like. Sunny indie pop with feet planted in California beaches. All the lo-fi 60's girl group influences are here, but its frontwoman, Bethany Cosentino and her hazy swoon that makes these songs sound charmingly lovesick.

18. Hidden - These New Puritans
Probably the most adventurous of the young crop of post punks, These New Puritans followed up their equally awesome 2008 debut, Beat Pyramid by leaning into their more art rock tendencies, incorporating Japanese Taiko drums, a brass and woodwind ensemble, and a children's choir while ditching traditional rock structures. They dabble with tribal and hip hop beats along the way while finding a dark industrial edge. It's uneasy listening in the best possible way.

17. There Is Love In You - Four Tet
This is an album I didn't expect to like as much as I did. In the last few years I feel like I might've outgrown a lot of the more abstract electronic music I was once into. That's right, I admit it: my Autechre albums have gone virtually untouched for quite some time (though I have gone back to some Aphex Twin every now and again.) Four Tet (a.k.a. Kieren Hebden) may not have gotten me back into all that blippy IDM stuff, but with There Is Love,  Hebden's laptop pop has plenty of warmth making songs like "Angel Echoes" pulse rather than tick. 

16. History Of Modern - OMD (Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark)
I'm definitely playing favoritism here but this album took me off-guard. Especially considering the fact that OMD will forever be linked to Pretty In Pink thanks to "If You Leave." But with History Of Modern, they make a surprisingly triumphant return as the band's original lineup comes up with arguably their best material in decades without sounding like a shell of their former selves. Sublime pop music that can shift from soaring synth ballads (the awesome, "If You Want It") to Moroder-indebted disco ("The Future, The Past, and Forever After.")

15. All Day - Girl Talk
By now, we all know what to expect from Girl Talk. Greg Gillis isn't out to change the world but he is out to create the perfect soundtrack to the best party ever. He does it again with All Day showing zero regard for genre boundaries. No one is untouchable here, not even Fugazi as "Waiting Room" supplies some backbone to Rihanna's "Rude Boy." Everyone from The Boss, to Willow Smith, to Young MC is on the guest list to this party.

Grab All Day as a free download courtesy of Illegal Art by clicking here

14. The Fool - Warpaint
It would be easy to classify Warpaint as a dream pop act. The hard part is describing who they sound like. The closest one might get is the Cocteau Twins but there's an insistent quality about The Fool that separates this LA band. It's those quirky rhythm shifts and the intertwining guitars and voices and how gorgeously it all gets tangled that makes Warpaint like no other. Mesmerizing and hauntingly pretty, all at once.

13. Grinderman 2 - Grinderman
Depraved and dirty garage rock courtesy of Nick Cave and three of the Bad Seeds. Cave is at his crazed best, howling sleazy cat calls one moment and maniacally preaching an ungodly sermon the next. The band surprisingly adds a touch of subtlety to some songs, but for them it's still about the raw power.

12. Stridulum / Stridulum II - Zola Jesus
Striking cover art will always grab me. But this time the visual was completely overshadowed by that voice. Niki Danilova, a.k.a. Zola Jesus, is downright other-worldly, making her brooding goth-pop sound simultaneously dark, uplifting, and heart-wrenching. With Stridulum (expanded as Stridulum II in Europe) the arrangements are kept minimal serving as a platform for Danilova's powerful wail to soar above everything else. On the piano ballad, "Lightstick," she proves that she has the kind of voice that can make time stand still if she wanted.

11. Together - The New Pornographers
In about a decade's time, The New Pornographers have become one of the most beloved indie bands around. Not bad for what some consider a supergroup of sorts. When they're apart, Neko Case is usually off getting her twang on, while Dan Bejar lets his freak flag fly as Destroyer, and Carl Newman does his best Ray Davies (recording as A.C. Newman.) But when they come together they transform into one of the best power pop combos of the past few years. The aptly titled, Together continues to prove that point. They show that it's those simple pop music tricks that still work best, whether it's handclaps, la-la's ("Silver Jenny Dollar") or even some good ol' whistling ("Crash Years.")

OK, so there you go. The first part of my Top 50 Albums of 2010. Tomorrow night, we tackle the Big 10 of '10. Yeah, I just went there and said that.