2010 not only had it’s share of amazing material, there were many an admirable failure as well as solid continuations of artist’s prior creative arcs and a few old school eccentrics re-entered the game with cool but uneven work deserving some notoriety.

2010 Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically):

Beach House – Teen Dream (SubPop)
Beach House’s third album, Teen Dream, isn’t exactly more of the same, per say, but it’s a cleaner, with more hi-fi sheen. The elements are still in place, Victoria Legrand’s voice is still the star, with Alex Scally’s spare guitar spires accompanying minimal percussion and flowing synth lines.

“Zebra”

Bilal – Airtight’s Revenge
Working somewhat in the vein of Erykah Badu’s 2008 masterstroke, The New Amerykah Pt. I: 4th World War, Bilal’s long-embattled third album is trying to be neo-soul’s What’s Going On [1971]. However, Badu beet Bilal to it. That doesn’t mean that Airtight’s Revenge isn’t good, it is, but Badu’s 4th World War wasn’t only something of a culmination for the politically-minded singer, but it was also so challenging yet so dance-able and funky that following in a similar mode is nearly impossible without garnering comparisons. Airtight’s Revenge is still all those things, challenging, funky, groovy, but toned down and a little less revolutionary. If Badu was whipping Molotov cocktails, Bilal is waiving picket signs and chanting.

“Move On”

Boris & Ian Asbury – BXI (Southern Lord)
On paper, the combination of Japan, noise-metal gurus Boris and Ian Astbury (lead singer of The Cult), is intriguing and oddly promising. However, when the needle hits the groove, it’s a little less than the sum of it’s parts. BXI sounds like it was supposed to be one of the first times hard rock could have made an argument for being an art form instead of a repository for mediocre musicianship and untapped testosterone. When it works, like “Teeth and Claws” below, BXI really is dense and moving while still mining conventions of hard rock without veering into metal. But most of the time it’s warmed over folkish mysticism, big guitars, big drums but the big instrumentation doesn’t seem to have much emotion or conviction behind it.

“Teeth and Claws”

Broken Water – Whet & Broken Water (Night-People Records)
Olympia, Washington has itself a wonderful little band in Broken Water. The group is heavily steeped in the gauzey guitar work of the late 80’s and early 90’s indie greats (My Bloody Valentine), plus a healthy shot of post-rock art-punk ala Sonic Youth. There’s nothing revelatory here, but it’s damn good anyway. (Bonus points for putting out a great full-length and a really good cassette in the same year.)

“Heal”

Camu Tao – King of Hearts (Definitive Jux)
Like Bilal above, Camu Tao’s album sat around a bit too long. Granted, Bilal’s label difficulties pale in comparison to the young Tao’s death from lung cancer back in 2008. The MC’s passing left Definitive Jux with an incomplete record which probably would have come out at the tail end of ’08 and knocked some skulls, but in 2010, the sketches of songs between complete and near-complete jams is more of a reminder of what could have been that what the world lost. One only needs look as far as the second track, “Bird Flu,” clocking in over three and a half minutes, yet the song is only a hook and a cool beat. There are no verses from the adept MC, just a cool Atari keyboard line over a big old boombox stomp of a back beat.  It would be a hell of a place for any number of MCs to start, but that’s all it is, a start. After so many false starts, King of Hearts starts to feel like one hell of a cock tease and the releases are too far and few between to be as good as all the promise of tracks like “Fonny Valentine,” “Plot a Little,” “Death,” and “Ind of the Worl” show. (But the EP this could be pruned down to would absolutely KILL.)

“Ind of the Worl”

Cee-Lo Green – The Lady Killer (Elektra)
Oh Cee-Lo, you’re biggest leap as a solo artist may have been the downfall of your latest album. Despite Green’s heightened profile since “Crazy” (done with DJ Dangermouse as Gnarles Barkley) lit up the radio landscape back in 2006, Cee-Lo Green has been poised to re-emerge on the scene as a solo artists and this summer he did, in a big way, with “Fuck You.” “Fuck You” is a surprisingly joyful sounding kiss-off to an ex, replete with a chorus that’ll have almost all your mutual friends on your side and a middle-finger wagging swagger that may get you in trouble in traffic…if you get a bit too into it. However, in the face of all the attention Green netted with the song (pretty lame controversy, honestly), the album from whence the single sprung, The Lady Killer, is pretty weak. There are some great songs, in fact, there really aren’t any bad ones. But when one tune comes out the door so forcefully, even with out the added media hype, it makes the rest of the album feel so much more calculated and uninspired. The album may have actually been better without having that lightning in a bottle called “Fuck You” sitting at it’s heart.

“Fuck You”

Fennesz Daniell Buck – Knoxville (Thrill Jockey)
The album named for the location of this live performance from three of experimental music’s finest: Christian Fennesz (guitar), David Daniell (guitar) and Tony Buck (drums). The nature of the recording, being live, may be both it’s greatest strength and weakness. I can’t say what would happen if these three got together in a studio, but when things work on Knoxville, it’s awe-inspiring, and when they don’t, it’s yawn-inducing. Knoxville has these moments in equal measure, it’s more than worth it for the moments of brilliance.

“Antonia”

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp Records)
An album I should have enjoyed more, I think. However, Flying Lotus’ latest, lauded opus just never took over as a soundtrack for anything the way it probably should have. It’s not nimble and bouncy enough to work out to, it’s a bit to cool and funky to get much reading done, it just doesn’t fit in to my life really. That being said, it’s worth finding space to fit it in. Cosmogramma is really cool, it’s like the craziest, coolest record Madlib hasn’t made. That’s giving it short shrift, admittedly, but I’m stuck for comparisons for this spacey, trancey, dubby mix of just about any electronic style that’s been done or was planned in the near future. Flying Lotus’ reach and scope is nothing short of mind-boggling. Dude must be like the Indiana Jones of crate-diggers. Even though no sound on this record seems as otherworldly as some would like to say (like listening to Girl Talk, I can place just about every noise), the daft combinations and deep understanding of sound palettes is something few “producers” have, if any, in common with Flying Lotus.

“Computer Face/Pure Being”

Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here (4AD Records)
After 16 years away from the studio, spent on and off drugs and in and out of prison, the father of rap, Gil Scott-Heron returns with I’m New Here. Scott-Heron’s comeback isn’t triumphant or celebratory, it almost feels like a summation. He doesn’t seem to be laying ground for further introspection or reflection, but laying most of his life bare and offering up final thanks and thoughts on a life lived. Scott-Heron has put together a claustrophobic little record, one that occasionally wavers and hangs a bit too long in it’s creator’s mind.

“New York is Killing Me”

Guilty Simpson – OJ Simpson (Stones Throw)
Oh Guilty Simpson, you’re just not MF Doom. It sucks. Guilty’s collaboration with Madlib sounds like it wants to be a sonic sequel to 2004’s Madvillainy–Madlib produced a pot-smoke-clouded sound collage for MF Doom to smother his syrupy drawl upon, but it just can’t measure up to the stars which aligned six years ago. Guilty is certainly a gifted MC who has worked with his fair share of idiosyncratic producers. Madlib is one of the pre-eminent idiosyncratic producers of the day. Somewhere the two just didn’t meet. There are moments where it comes together, but the charming filler which aided the lore and built a story in Madvilliany is absent here on OJ Simpson. There’s too much production trickery which seems to serve little else than sounding novel.

“O.J. Simpson”

Les Savy Fav – Root For Ruin (Frenchkiss)
Did you want more Les Savy Fav? Did you like Let’s Stay Friends [2007]? Ask and ye shall receive. Yet another strong, smart, angular piece of power pop from this quartet. Root For Ruin is fun and well composed but only a few songs really rise above the fray. The slippery, almost Modest Mousey low-key jam, “Sleepless in Silverlake” and the loud awkwardness of “Excess Energies” are two of only a handful to make a lasting impact from the 11 new cuts from LSF.

“Sleepless in Silverlake”

Nachtmystium – Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II (Century Media)
The fifth release from Blake Judd’s metal outfit, Nachtmystium is a radical departure, even for a band that has bucked easy classification since about five minutes after their first release. Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II sits somewhere between the band’s forays into psychedelic-tinged metal and European House. While the two, seemingly, disparate genres have had fleeting contact with one another (there’s always Industrial metal for example), it’s often been elements of electronica (deep, heavy beats and creepy electronic noises) in service of the metal aesthetic, on Addicts, Nachtmystium looks to wed the two to serve one another and it’s only sporadically successful. However, when it all comes together, it’s exhilarating. Like watching a student work through math, it comes in fits and starts, two steps forward, one step back, but each step is somehow triumphant. Hoping this is a stepping stone, not a minor diversion.

“No Funeral”

Swans – My Father Will Guide me up a Rope to the Sky (Young God Records)
I was late to the party on this. The more I spin the latest from these no-wave legends, the more I’m convinced this had a place on my best of list (top 20 at least). Michael Gira and Co (a roving, rotating crew of musicians over the years) have come back after 11 years of silence with a really cohesive slab. While almost every individual detail about the album (the performances, track lengths, subject matter) seems intimidating, My Father Will Guide me up a Rope to the Sky is a surprisingly cohesive and listenable record. There are challenging moments and Gira’s brooding voice isn’t for all, but the rewards are almost instantaneous and frequent. I can almost bet a revision of this list in a year has this record breathing down My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘s neck.

“Eden Prison”

The Walkmen – Lisbon (Fat Possum)
The Walkmen’s latest release was their first since 2004’s Bows + Arrows that I’ve enjoyed. This is because, since 2004, I feel that a lot of their rougher edges have been gradually polished off, and now that a cooler, more mature band has emerged, sounding almost like their channeling Frank Sinatra. Lisbon is cool, without trying too hard, it also can be very affecting, without sounding treacly or saccharin. It’s a nice balance that, alone, warrants inclusion with the honorable mentions.

“While I Shovel the Snow”

The Wandering Bears – The Wandering Bears (self-released)
Pop songs are hard to write. As much as classicists would like to malign bubble gum or little ditties, constructing earworms is serious business (opera’s aren’t exactly cake, mind you). Even though this collaboration between Western Front and The Vagabonds have show, in their other bands, their capable of inducing foot-tapping and head-nodding, this is still a feat. Beyond the strong compositions filling this debut, there are several stand out gems of songs (“Take Care, Kiddo” below is possibly the strongest example) which do more than speak to the promise of these talents joining forces, but deliver on them.

“Take Care, Kiddo”

Advertisements