It might be too far into 2011 for this list to have any relevance, but this blog is new, I haven’t written anything in years, and I need content! By most accounts, 2010 was a pretty good year for Music and it definitely deserves bonus points for the strong follow-up to an incredible 2009. The year was marked by underwhelming efforts from old standbys (I’m looking at you Antony, Gorillaz, and Hot Chip), while a bevy of new artists released some fantastic music.
2009′s indie rock onslaught carried into the first few months of 2010 with great releases from Surfer Blood and Local Natives. A slew of awesome summer jams like “Fuck You” and Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot… soundtracked some great pool parties and vacations. The latter part of the year got dark and weird, but that made things all the better on albums by Kanye West and Deerhunter. Looking back on 2010, the best records of the year all contained a mix of ego, ambition, and just a touch of crazy.
1. Kanye West -My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
There’s not much that can be said about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that hasn’t already been said by just about everyone. Even without this album, Kanye was everywhere in 2010. Conveniently, there was no better time to drop a record than when his omnipresence as MTV villain, Twitter deity, fashion and style connoisseur, and dick-pic sexter virtually guaranteed that everyone was watching and listening. But Kanye is a special kind of egomaniac: one with ambition. He isn’t an attention whore — he genuinely wants to be the best at everything and dominate culture. That drive combined with a high level of artistry is what makes MBDTF the best album of the year. Only someone like Kanye could ever pull it off.
Where Kanye found the time to make an album is beyond me, but he didn’t just write a record, he also assembled a huge and varied cast of characters to help fulfill his vision and craft his masterpiece. Artists as diverse as Jay-Z and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon appear on “Monster” together, while eleven different vocalists including Rihanna, Elton John, and Kid Cudi turn in performances on “All of the Lights.” Kanye has always been a better beat-maker than a rapper, yet, while the production is flawless, it’s the lyrics that make good on the promise of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘s title. Hidden amongst the clever wordplay and typical rap bravado are deeply personal — and often dark and twisted — disclosures. What makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the best album of the year, however, is that listening to it is a revelatory and mind-expanding experience not just for fans of the hip-hop genre, but for all art lovers. This album alone will influence countless artists and could change the direction of this decade’s music the way OK Computer and Kid A did for the last. If public scrutiny and media over-saturation are the driving forces behind Kanye’s musical abilities, then let’s never keep him far from our minds.
2. Owen Pallett -- Heartland
Owen Pallett ditched his Final Fantasy moniker for the release of Heartland, but his role-playing game and high fantasy influences are still firmly intact. His last full-length, the under-appreciated He Poos Clouds, had a loose narrative concept involving the schools of magic found in Dungeons & Dragons. Pallett followed that release with the Spectrum, 14th Century EP — a collaboration with members of Beirut that introduced his listeners to a strange imaginary world called Spectrum. That world is revisited on Heartland, which chronicles the travails of protagonist Lewis as he leaves his farm to spread the word of his god, to whom he is devoted and has a mild homoerotic love for. The violent and shocking tale sees Lewis battle a cockatrice, commit uxoricide by throwing his wife off a mountain, and become drunk with power and conquer the land before ultimately climbing towards heaven to kill his creator. Oh, by the way, the cruel and indifferent god just happens to be named Owen Pallett.
While the real-life Pallett may sound a little nuts after that description, the lyrics actually reveal his own questions and struggles with faith and love as told through Lewis, the farmer. Rarely are any premises this high-concept and ambitious successful, and Pallett really nails it on Heartland. He’s helped along by stunning orchestration from members of Arcade Fire, Nico Muhly, and the Czech Symphony Strings, along with his own virtuosic strings and piano. Stylistically, the songs move between measured chamber pop pieces like “E is for Estranged” to the upbeat, electronic pulses of “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt.” Knowledge of the story behind the lyrics isn’t a prerequisite for enjoyment; the vocal melodies of Heartland are contagious and will stick with you for days. Although, you might distress others if you’re walking around singing “the stony hiss of cockatrice has cast us into serfdom / I close my eyes, and spur Imelda down the mountainside” under your breath.
3. Joanna Newsom -- Have One on Me
Have One on Me can be exhausting. Its eighteen tracks span over two hours and Newsom quite often moves through multiple motifs in just a single track. It’s understandable why many critics missed this album at the end of the year or just stuck it haphazardly on a list because it seemed like the right thing to do. Have One on Me is a subdued affair, with lots of varied terrain but no real peaks or valleys; it’s assertive but not aggressive, diverse but not adventurous, and expansive but not overwrought. The triple-LP requires your time and will reward you for it, but only if you’re up for the journey.
Newsom’s voice has never sounded more confident and polished — gone are the Lisa Simpson comparisons — and she uses her instrument to great effect as she adds a distinct identity to each of the compositions. Though her harp still figures largely, the songs are less reliant on it as she seems to move to the piano more often. The instrumentation has been expanded to include full band elements with greater frequency, including drums, horns, banjo, strings, and even backing vocalists, all of which add new depth and character to the sound. Newsom delivers her take on several styles — often in the same song — such as jazz on “You and Me, Bess,” country rock on “Good Intentions Paving Co.,” chamber pop on “’81,” and folk on “Go Long.”
While the album can easily be enjoyed as a whole, I’ve found the best way to listen to Have One on Me is to start it in a different spot each time and immerse yourself in the music. There are new discoveries to be made on each listen, no matter how many times you’ve spun the three records around. Even though it was released in the earlier part of 2010, like a good book, this is one I couldn’t wait to get back to over and over again.
Honorable Mention: Big Boi -- Sir Luscious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty, Local Natives -- Gorilla Manor, Deerhunter -- Halcyon Digest, Girl Talk -- All Day
Lil’ Wayne -- Rebirth
I don’t think this one needs any explanation. Wayne is saying that The Carter IV will be released in the next couple months, so this will soon just be a hazy memory like Virtual Boy and Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.
Most Overrated Album
1. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti -- Before Today
At first I thought I just wasn’t cool enough to understand this album. I don’t mean that in some kind of hipster-bashing way; Before Today felt like a record that required prior knowledge of the artist which I didn’t have. I’ve seen a lot of indie press calling this album “accessible,” but even after doing my homework on Ariel Pink I have to disagree. There are some pretty great sounding moments on this album (the bass/keyboard breakdown in the middle of “Beverly Kills;” the familiar chorus melody of “Round and Round”), but they’re fleeting and unrewarding. The dark lyrics and obvious musicianship are undermined by pastiche and insincerity. Pink is clearly not an artist that is out to simply make deranged or damaged art-pop; he’s keenly aware of what he’s creating and his attention to detail is apparent. Whatever effect he was going for is completely lost on me, however, and I just can’t buy into something that sounds so artificial and disposable, no matter how deliberate.
2. Arcade Fire -- The Suburbs
Let me start off by saying that I like and respect Arcade Fire a lot. I remember when the “Neighborhood #1″ 7-inch came into KUCI in the summer of 2004 and within a week everyone who spun that record on a whim had their mind blown. The band and their cohorts are obviously very talented (I think I mention Owen Pallett somewhere in this piece) and I think they’ve influenced the sound of the last five years in positive ways. I only mention any of that because Arcade Fire really doesn’t deserve some dude on the internet shitting all over their album for no apparent reason (not that they care), but I feel like the problem is less with them and more with the music press.
The Suburbs stays true to the formula that Arcade Fire has utilized since their inception, but breaks no new ground. Are the songs good? Yes. Are they exciting? No. Will fans of the band and fans of rock music be happy with the album? Yes. Will anyone care about this album a year from now? No. The blogs and magazines who put this record near the top of their year-end lists are kidding themselves if they think The Suburbs has any longevity. The same thing happened a year ago with Animal Collective and Merriweather Post Pavilion and now bloggers seem to be mustering as much faux-interest as they can in the new Panda Bear, but it’s obviously half-assed. Here’s my point: Arcade Fire make good music not genre-defining music. I’m cool with that and you should be too.
Most Underrated Album
1. Julian Lynch -- Mare
I knew nothing about Julian Lynch when I picked up this album, but I immediately fell in love with its diverse sounds, eclectic instrumentation, and nontraditional song structures. Mare treads ground somewhere between folk and neo-psychedelia, but is so unique and well-crafted that it transcends definition. Having taken classes in ethnomusicology (Lynch is a graduate student in the field) and simply by loving all sound-making devices, I have to admit to getting geek chills when picking homemade wind instruments, tablas, and gamelan out of the intricately layered mix. I could gush about this record for days — I can’t recommend it enough.
2. Four Tet -- There Is Love In You
After half a decade of side-projects and mixtapes, Kieren Hebden’s most recent release under his Four Tet moniker is one of his best. It’s also one of the best compilations of electronic music in an era where awful, disposable dubstep, Eurodance, and house are dominating the genre (if there’s something else out there, by all means, please let me know). On There Is Love In You, Hebden demonstrates why his front-running peers don’t deserve to be called artists, let alone musicians. He imbues each song with such heart and musicality that it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a guy behind a laptop after just a few seconds.
Most Overrated Artist This Year and Every Year
∞. LCD Soundsystem
1. Cee-Lo Green -- “Fuck You!”
Cee-Lo has always been one of my favorite eccentrics in music, but in 2010 he aspired to and achieved pop culture dominance with his single “Fuck You!” The song first hit via a text-based YouTube video (that dropped on my birthday — what did I do?) and immediately went viral. The foul language-laden video isn’t what kept people talking about this song, however; it was the infectious 60′s soul sound, the lyrics about an awful break-up dealt with in the most joyous way, and the strong vocal turn by the dynamic Green. Oh yeah, and it was catchy as all hell.
2. Kanye West (ft. Pusha T) -- “Runaway”
MTV made this out to be Kanye’s redemption/apology for the Taylor Swift debacle when he debuted it at the VMAs — the “douchebag” chorus lends itself to their argument — but “Runaway” has nothing to do with Swift and is probably most self-effacing and confessional song that Kanye’s ever written. “Runaway” is all about Kanye’s weaknesses: women and himself. He realizes that he’s never learned how to properly love someone and that no matter how good his partner is for him and even though it’ll break him if he loses her, he’ll still ruin their relationship through his usual dalliances (e.g. “hoodrats”). In this admission, he also makes it clear that he doesn’t really know how to love himself either, so he keeps undermining his own happiness because he doesn’t know any better. That he lays his vulnerability out on the table (not a reference to the “picture of [his] dick”) is most of what makes this song and album truly remarkable. Pusha T, meanwhile, remains “young, rich, and tasteless” and the best rapper in the game.
3. Superchunk -- “My Gap Feels Weird”
Leave it to the genre’s elder statesman to deliver the finest indie rock song of the year. Mac McCaughan’s vocals are pitch-perfect with just enough grit to properly reflect the sarcastic tone of the lyrics. The palm-muted power chords and propulsive drums wouldn’t be feel out of place at any point in Superchunk’s 20-year career. In other words, this is a timeless classic and perhaps the anthem for the aging hipster population. It took me a bit to figure out that McCaughan’s titular gap was in fact the generation gap with the current scene, but don’t fret Mac, I don’t get the kids of today either.
4. The Body -- “Empty Hearth”
I won’t pretend to know anything about the mysterious duo known as The Body. I do know that they often appear onstage wearing canvas bags over their heads and nooses around their necks. I know that 32 people were credited with contributing everything from generic “noise” to sousaphone on their most recent release All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood. I also know that they put out the best heavy album of 2010 and “Empty Hearth” is the best song on that album. I’m also fairly ignorant of doom metal or whatever The Body should be described as, but that name seems appropriate as this music is genuinely frightening. “Empty Hearth” starts of with a sample of invocations chanted by the Church Universal & Triumphant (the cult co-founded by Elizabeth Clare Prophet) that, while ominous on its own, gets cut up and time-stretched over the course of the song. Meanwhile, one of the band members wails over an industrial drum beat and guitar feedback while something (maybe it’s the “noise” guy) drones in the background. Seemingly at random, the song will glitch, fluctuate in volume, or just stop altogether. The tension built is immense and each time something “goes wrong” it makes me jump just a little bit… okay, a lot.
5. Big Boi -- “Shutterbugg”
If Sir Luscious Left Foot was released in any of the years it was supposed to come out in, it certainly would have dominated year-end lists and topped hip-hop lists. Instead, it got pushed all the way to the year of Kanye. Unlike Mr. West, however, Big Boi isn’t trying to make self-aware art, he’s simply concerned with getting the party started — and no song hit harder last summer than “Shutterbugg.” Scott Storch turns in the best beat of his career: gurgling vocal bass, funky talk box, slinky electric guitar, and crisp drum hits. But Big Boi is the one who brings it home with tight rhymes, a Soul II Soul reference, and the explicit instructions to “cut a rug” and wave to the paparazzi. “Shutterbugg” will make you forget just how long you’ve been pining away for that new OutKast album and that’s no small feat.
Honorable Mention: Surfer Blood -- “Floating Vibes,” Joanna Newsom -- “Good Intentions Paving Co.,” Owen Pallett -- “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” Jónsi -- “Animal Arithmetic,” Perfume Genius -- “Mr. Peterson,” Sleigh Bells -- “Infinity Guitars,” Sufjan Stevens -- “I Want To Be Well,” Dom -- “Burn Bridges”
Train -- “Hey, Soul Sister”
“Ubiquitous” doesn’t even begin to describe the endless reach of this awful, awful song that brought aural anguish to so many people over the last year. It was playing in every supermarket, every gas station, every movie theater, and every restaurant. Thanks to my DVR, I could fast-forward through all of the commercials the song was featured in (every single one), but even TiVo couldn’t save me from the sadistic television music supervisors that stuck it in the background of every show. Furthermore, this song does for the poor ukulele what Hitler did for toothbrush mustaches. If there was ever any hope for the YouTube-fueled uke renaissance, Train killed it in one fell swoop. Perhaps the only thing more depressing than this song’s success is the fact that it is one of only three “rock” songs in the 2010 Billboard Hot 100, along with the pathetic company of tunes by Paramore and Kings of Leon.
Best Björk Collaboration
1. Dirty Projectors and Björk -- Mount Wittenberg Orca
2. Antony and the Johnson (ft. Björk) -- “Flétta”
3. Untitled Michel Gondry and Björk IMAX 3-D “scientific musical” project
Best New Artist
1. Active Child
In just six songs, Active Child’s Curtis Lane EP encapsulates just about everything I love about music. The vocals melodies are soaring and dramatic without ever feeling over the top. The songs feel organic and sparse at their core despite electronic flourishes and dense layering. The lyrics are simple in a way that makes them very relatable; every song seems to leave you with a palpable sense of longing or heartbreak, like the description of being “somewhere between making love and being friends” in “When Your Love Is Safe.”
Custis Lane initially reminded of Joanna Newsom and Owen Pallett and the way that their music straddles the line between classical compositions and modern pop music. It made more sense when I learned that Active Child is the work of LA-based multi-instrumentalist Pat Grossi — a former member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir. Grossi’s background in choral and sacred music is apparent in the first seconds of his debut EP, but what makes him my favorite new artist of the year is the way he balances those influences with keen pop sensibility and deft storytelling.
Honorable Mention: Surfer Blood, Perfume Genius, Baths.
Best Live Band
1. The Books
I’ve been in love with the Books since I first heard them in 2002, when I was forced to import Thought for Food from Germany, even though they’re an American band. That album got a domestic release shortly thereafter, but I’d still go to the ends of the Earth to obtain their music. The same can be said for their live performances, which tend to be few and far between. I first caught them in 2005 at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood (R.I.P.) and was blown away by how polished and controlled their sound was — so accurate that the music synced flawlessly to the sampled visuals that played during the set. Somehow I missed their LA appearance in 2007, so when I heard they were going to be playing the Music Box last November, I immediately jumped on the tickets and patiently whiled away the days until the show.
The most noticeable change in their stage show was the addition of a third member, touring multi-instrumentalist Gene Back. He fit in with the band perfectly if simply for the fact that he is an insanely gifted musician. Before the band launched into “Tokyo,” Nick Zammuto mentioned to the crowd that they were never able to perform the song live before until Back came on board. It was immediately evident want Zammuto meant as Back worked his way flawlessly through the song’s intricate acoustic guitar part.
The centerpiece of the Books live experience has always been the video screen and — since I’d seen them last — the visual aspect has only become more refined and integral. Each song performed had an accompanying video that wasn’t only syncopated to the music, but was often the source for many of the sampled elements. The effect of the video on the audience isn’t distracting from the music, it’s an essential piece of the performance — adding depth, meaning, and humor. When the video screen turned off and the lights came on at the end of the show, I didn’t immediately know what to do; the audience and I were transported somewhere special and witnessed something so unique that it can only be provided by one small group of musicians.
2. Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors have been the perennial “best live band” for me since the first time I saw them open for Xiu Xiu five or six years ago. Despite their recorded work being mostly “love it or hate it” experiences, just about everyone who’s accompanied me to one of their live shows has been blown away by this talented group of musicians. I had the chance to catch them three times last year, including a set at Coachella and a headlining show at the Glasshouse, but it was their show with Alarm Will Sound at the Walt Disney Concert Hall that was the most notable.
Dave Longstreth led the musicians through a reworking of his 2005 “glitch opera” The Getty Address. The audience was given a libretto featuring lyrics as well as notes on the convoluted narrative which is story of love and manifest destiny and features Don Henley (of the Eagles) as the protagonist. The updated instrumentation featured the vocal talents of the current Dirty Projectors line-up in addition to beer bottles, rolls of duct tape, and more traditional orchestra elements. Despite the flushed out arrangement, the material was still as rough as it was when originally released, but no less inventive and exciting in its new form. It’s the frequent moments of brilliance and the edge-of-your-seat anticipation that make Dirty Projectors such a fantastic live act year after year.
The Japandroids live experience can be summed up pretty succinctly: they destroy. Beyond that, it’s actually quite an impressive technical accomplishment that two guys can sound like a full five-piece band. As far as I can tell, guitarist Brian King splits his guitar through an assortment of effects pedals — that he never seemed to touch during the show — before routing the signal off to multiple guitar and bass amplifiers. King and drummer David Prowse share vocal duties as they blast through their high-energy setlist (that includes a righteous Mclusky cover). I had the opportunity to catch them twice this year, both in an opening slot for the Walkmen and a headlining set at Detroit Bar. I was sold after the first song and will definitely be in attendance at every area show in the future.
Honorable Mention: Coachella 2010 had the best line-up the festival has had in years. The highlights were Fever Ray, Jónsi, Owen Pallett, and the original line-up of Sunny Day Real Estate. Joanna Newsom and Robin Pecknold (of Fleet Foxes) put on an intimate and engaging show at the San Diego Women’s Club that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Worst Live Band
1. Sleigh Bells
Though Treats, the debut album from Sleigh Bells, has its detractors — I remember Arun comparing it to Toni Basil with electric guitars — I think it’s a lot of fun. I’ve never been the type to move or dance at concerts, but I’ve broken a sweat at Girl Talk and Coalesce shows, so I figured seeing Sleigh Bells would probably be a similar experience. I will give Sleigh Bells the benefit of the doubt in one regard: they had tough sledding (horrible pun intended) from the start as the show was taking place at Detroit Bar. Don’t get me wrong — Detroit Bar is an essential local venue that books quality acts. The problem is the performance space has horrible acoustics and the sound system always seems pushed to the limit to get the right mix (the vocals are never loud enough). When the roadies uncovered four Marshall full-stacks, I knew I was in for either a life of deafness or a technical disaster.
So, it came as no surprise when part way into the first song, the PA speakers started shorting out and failing. The real shock was when the speaks did die, there was barely any audible guitar coming from the 32 12-inch speakers on the stage. What’s the point of that much firepower if no one’s going to hear it? When the speakers kicked back in, it was clear that there was a guitar part built into the backing track as well, so it’s questionable why they bothered playing any of it live. Aside from the “guitar” and the average vocals, everything else was prerecorded. I understand that there are only two people in the band, but at least use your opening act or hire a couple guys on keys and drum machines to perform the songs. The whole thing came off as lazy and amateurish and I won’t be back to see them anytime soon.
Sleigh Bells are a young band and I’m sure they’ll improve their live show over time. When I tweeted my disapproval after the show, the band actually responded via Twitter by stating, “had to roll back amps to make room for the track. bummer. updating our tech rider to avoid this type of thing in the futuresz [sic].” Then they deleted the tweet shortly thereafter, probably not wanting to publicly admit to a disastrous show. I get that, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was the worst performance I saw all year.
Best Cover Song
1. Dirty Projectors -- “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” “As I Went Out One Morning,” & “Dark Eyes” (Bob Dylan)
Those who know me don’t need the full disclosure, but Dirty Projectors is one of my favorite bands and I’m partial to their idiosyncratic song stylings. Bob Dylan covers are pretty ubiquitous — Blitzen Trapper have made a career of them — but what is remarkable about Dave Longstreth and company’s reworkings is that they don’t make the effort to turn them into Dirty Projectors songs. The best counterpoint is their Black Flag cover album, Rise Above, where the original songs are virtually unidentifiable behind Longstreth’s crooning and angular guitar. These Dylan covers remain faithful to the originals and add just enough new elements to make them feel fresh.
Longstreth — who himself has a strange voice — does his best impression of Dylan on “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” but it’s Angel Deradoorian’s harmony that provides a much needed low end and balance to the verses. The song moves gently along without changing much, using sparse guitar and drums in a similar manner as the original, but it’s simplicity is what makes it the best of this group of covers. “As I Went Out One Morning” is the most “Dirty Projectors”-sounding of the three songs. The original melody and plodding rhythm are still intact, but the trademark vocal stabs of the three female Projectors are added to great effect. They played this version on their last tour and it fit in nicely with the rest of the set. “Dark Eyes” is the only one of the three that didn’t appear on Dylan’s John Wesley Harding and it’s the least adorned of the bunch. Longstreth delivers the most straightforward vocal and guitar performance he’s ever done, accompanied only by Deradoorian, Amber Coffman, and Haley Dekle’s gorgeous three-part harmonies.
2. Cee-Lo Green -- “No One’s Gonna Love You” (Band of Horses)
Despite Band of Horses’ lackluster 2010 album Infinite Arms, they should be raking in some pretty good royalties off the high-riding Cee-Lo Green. Cee-Lo improved upon their indie rock make-out jam by tweaking the pacing and melody and adding some dramatic strings, turning it into a soulful pop gem. This one should be popping up in the background on Grey’s Anatomy and Skins in no time. Also of note: much like Violent Femmes rebutted Gnarls Barkley’s “Gone Daddy Gone” cover with one their own, Band of Horses returned fire with a great take on Green’s “Georgia.”
3. Jimmy Fallon (ft. Bruce Springsteen) -- “Whip My Hair” (Willow Smith)
It truly hurts my soul to positively acknowledge the terminally awkward and unfunny Jimmy Fallon, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Before I get to the performance, however, I have to mention the epic source material. In retrospect, Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” turned out to be a flash in the pan, but for a while the song and its technicolor A.D.D. nightmare of a video seemed to embody the tween zeitgeist of 2010. Fallon, in a moment of unheralded genius, recognized the hilarity of Smith’s song and made it even funnier with his spot-on Neil Young impersonation. Add in Bruce Springsteen doing his best impression of Darkness on the Edge of Town-era Bruce Springsteen and you’ve got an incredible TV moment and outstanding cover song.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Mangum -- “Sign the Dotted Lines” (Tall Dwarfs), Horse Feathers -- “Drain You” (Nirvana), Mates of State -- “Sleep the Clock Around” (Belle & Sebastian), Bon Iver -- “Come Talk to Me” (Peter Gabriel), Josiah Wolf & Liz Hodson -- “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me” (Mississippi John Hurt), Sun Kil Moon -- “I’ll Be There” (Jackson 5)
Best Music-Related Thing Made By a Friend
1. May McDonough -- Spilt Milk
It was no secret that May was working on an album and had been for quite a while, but despite my numerous requests, she never let me hear any of it. In fact, I didn’t hear a single note until her record release show. Ultimately, it wouldn’t have mattered either way because if I did have expectations, they would have been shattered. May’s voice is smoky, brooding, and — I hate to say it because she’s like a sister — sexy as she weaves her way effortlessly through blues, ragtime, jazz, and rock influences. The lyrics are dark and clearly inspired by personal tragedy, but the mood is never grim and is more akin to New Orleans funeral dirges; it’s whiskey for the soul. As good as the record is, her current live show the best way to hear the songs, so be sure to follow her on Facebook find out when she and her band will be playing next.
2. The Black Keys -- “Tighten Up” video
I have to admit to being woefully ignorant of the Black Keys despite all the acclaim that’s been thrown their way over the last year. They were brought to my attention by way of the “Tighten Up” video which was directed by a creative and talented guy I went to high school with named Chris Marrs Piliero. As it turns out, this cute and clever video won Chris the MTV Video Music Award for Best Breakthrough Video. Congrats to Chris and the Black Keys!
Best Album Downloaded From Facebook
1. Doctor Bird -- Meet Doctor Bird
A rad dude I used to work with at KUCI posted this album on Facebook with a note that mentioned it was new to the station and he really liked. I didn’t know anything else about the band, but decided to check it out anyway because Sam has interesting tastes and, knowing me, I probably had absolutely nothing better to do. As it turns out, Doctor Bird is a San Diego band that makes quirky, fun, and rough around the edges pop-punk. The songs are highly infectious and often pop into my head days after listening. My friend Debra apparently knows the singer for Doctor Bird and said he also plays under the name Jehovas Fitness. If anyone has more details, please share.
Best Music Video
1. Kanye West -- “Runaway”
There is so much wrong with this video that it shouldn’t work at all. First, it’s essentially a glorified album sampler or EPK — snippets of the record appear in sequence, anchored by the full-length song “Runaway.” Then there’s the “story,” which is ostensibly about Kanye falling in love with a phoenix that has fallen to Earth, yet — despite teaching her to appreciate fine dining and mid-century modern furniture — all of his white-clad friends disapprove of her because she’s a bird. In one of the worst-acted scenes I’ve seen in awhile, the phoenix (presumably sick of Kanye’s narcissism) explains that her immolation is imminent as she has to return to her world, Kanye protests, and an auto-tuned Justin Vernon croons in the background. Oh, and let’s not forget the 8-minute ballet scene, the domesticated farm animals, and the giant paper-mâché Michael Jackson bust. Despite all that nonsense and more, “Runaway” is shot beautifully and each scene has striking color palettes and meticulous design. It’s basically a 35-minute primer to the world of Kanye West and call it art, trash, vanity, whatever… it’s fantastic and incomparable.
2. Hot Chip -- “I Feel Better”
While I love their older work, I wasn’t really feeling the poppier songs Hot Chip presented on their 2010 album “One Life Stand.” Whatever edge the music might have lost, the band definitely hasn’t deviated from its near-perfect track record of producing outstanding music videos. “I Feel Better” addresses and embraces the pop criticism head-on before taking a hilarious and horrifying turn. The surprise is better left intact, but I must say, any video featuring the disembodied head of Carl Winslow is a winner in my book.
3. Earl Sweatshirt -- “Earl”
There is perhaps no better song or video to sum up the entire OFWGKTA collective than the eponymous track from the gang’s currently “incarcerated” member Earl. In fact, this is allegedly what got Earl locked up — his mom saw the video and sent him to boarding school. Whether they’re just a bunch of disaffected teenagers fucking around on the weekend or the great new hope for hip-hop (or both) has yet to be seen, but there’s no doubt that the Odd Future kids are talented and entertaining. The video plays like a 2010 version of the movie “Kids” and while most of the antics seem obviously staged, it’s not hard to imagine these guys actually living like this. I think the highest rated comment on YouTube sums it up pretty well: “If it’s real, they’re fucking crazy. If it’s fake, they’re fucking crazy.” Fuck Steve Harvey.
There were a lot of artists that put out excellent music in 2010 who I didn’t mention anywhere above because, honestly, 6000 words is already pretty excessive for something no one is going to read. I’m just going to rattle off a list of them here for posterity’s sake: Dan Sartain, The Diamond Rings, Flying Lotus, Girls, Harlem, J. Tillman, Janelle Monáe, Jonah Matranga, The New Pornographers, Robyn, The Roots, Trash Talk, and Xiu Xiu.
Most Disappointing Musical Experience
Oh, Sufjan! You didn’t think I’d make it through this whole post and then just let you off the hook, did you? Guess what, buddy? You get your own post!