Or: Why Best-Albums Lists Are Bullshit
There are so many songs on this album that force me to utter, “I loooooooooove this,” the words are as compulsive as a cat’s purr. No matter how many times I’ve heard II I like it more than I remembered. There’s a huge diversity of genres touched on here: lush dreamwave, volatile dance punk, electro —it doesn’t hurt that these are some of my favorite genres. While the songs are vastly different from one another they’re all distinctly Crystal Castles, a hard feat that only Janelle Monae’s album achieves to an equal extent. Perhaps most importantly, when I ask myself which band of 2010 is doing something interesting and original, I can’t deny Crystal Castles tops my list.
Check out: Crystal Castles – Suffocation
No sense repeating myself: here’s a full review from back in August.
Also see: Like A Pixie in A Blender
2.Sleigh Bells –Treats
Sleigh Bells’ “Treats” is the biggest surprise of my list. First, they deliberately overdrive their sound, which I expected would get tired by the third song. I can’t imagine they’ll be able to pull that off for four more albums, but on Treats, it works. Moreover, the sound is somewhat formulaic: Heavy, dance-y bass, solid urgent guitar riffs and enthusiastic female vocals. Yes! It’s loud! Very loud! But that gets repetitive really quickly, right?
The faceless cheerleaders marketing Treats perfectly match their furiously upbeat rockage.
But the more I got into Treats, the more complexity I discovered. There’s the explosive sound effects on the title track and the drum-guitar combo that sounds like a machine gun on “Tell ‘Em.” There’s the long wind-up and scream before the refrain on “Kids.” There’s the constant underlying siren under “Run the Heart.” They have taken that formula and pushed it’s boundaries. The lyrics to their slow number, “Ring Ring (Rill Rill),” are charming and intriguing. Even the only song I usually skip, “Straight As,” is full of win because it takes the noisy aspect of their sound to the max as the album reaches its climax. The album has its peaks and slow downs and each song flows comfortably into the next so that no matter how much I love the song before, I am excited about the next one. There’s never been a time Sleigh Bells came up on my radio stream that I felt the urge to skip them.
I can’t imagine where they’ll go after Treats because I don’t think they can push this particular sound in too many more directions. Then again, they said that about AC/DC too.
Check out: Sleigh Bells – Treats
3.Wolf Parade – Expo 86
I wanted there to be a new Sunset Rubdown album this year but Spencer Krug was busy releasing another album with Wolf Parade. I’ve always liked Wolf Parade’s previous stuff and I like Dan Boeckner’s other project Handsome Furs too but even still this album was surprisingly great. What everyone else has said about Expo 86 is true: it combines the two gents’ skills in a true collaboration.I’m usually drawn to Krug’s delicious build-ups and captivating lyrics (see: “Cloud Shadow on The Mountain” or “Oh, You Old Thing”) but Boeckner’s songs are also among my favorites. His “Little Golden Age” and “Pobody’s Nerfect” bring a bit more rock and roll, a bit more bang and grrrr, adding the perfect spice to Expo 86‘s sound. Lyrics like I am a wall of sand and stone / and you, you’re some kind of ivy I’m trying to hold/ as best as I can will draw you into the song’s winding journeys with serious guitars, rising synths and toe-tapping rhythms . Though there is certainly enough rockage to generate a visceral response upon the first listen, Expo 86‘s the kind of album that will only get richer and more rewarding the more you play it.
Check out: Wolf Parade – Pobody’s Perfect
4.Menomena – Mines
Menomena reminds me of Modest Mouse and TV on the Radio, though they sound not a thing like these bands. The similarity is in that Menomena is a rock band that manages to do something new with the idea of the rock band. For one thing, they use horns in a way that sounds nothing like ska or reggae, and rock and roll doesn’t have much of a context for that. Honestly, I don’t know what all instruments they use. Somehow they make their guitars sound like a whole new animal (a rhino, perhaps?). There’s piano in the mix, but it usually pounds out percussion along with melody. You get beautiful harmonies and distinctive vocal solos. And the lyrics are intriguing and every song is a tiny symphony. . Just when you think a song has reached a climax the harmonies come in and that’s when you know it’s just getting started.
Check out: Menomena – Taos
5.Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
I know, there’s a great pop rock record every year. I know, I know, there’s probably ten great pop rock records every year. Two Door Cinema Club isn’t doing anything that’s never been done before. But damn if they aren’t doing it right.
What struck me about the addictive nature of Two Door Cinema Club’s songs is what they lack: a keyboard. I’m a sucker for pianos and their bratty cousin, they synth (and pipe organs? Delish!). Guitars are necessary to bring the rockage, but they can’t get out in front and dick around if they want to make my list. I’m a child of the eighties and it was part of my upbringing to rebel against the Led Zeppelin guitar wankery my parents so relish. But it is the guitar hooks that make me think these songs should come with a warning label. So. Damn. Catchy.
I didn’t expect the whole album to make my list, rather I figured the finer tunes were likely to end up on a list of singles. But when you find there are eight songs out of ten that must go on such a list of singles, truly the whole album deserves celebration. If you like The Black Kids, Tokyo Police Club, or any rock band with catchy hooks, pick this one up.
Check out: Two Door Cinema Club – What You Know
6.Yeasayer – Odd Blood
First, there’s “Ambling Alp” which is easily one of the best songs of 2010. I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t like it immediately. I’ve probably played it more than any other song this year, except maybe some of the tracks from Sleigh Bell’s debut. I keep thinking I’ll get tired of it but return to it with delight over and over.
Part of the fun is the variety of their sound. It’s hard to classify “Odd Blood.” It’s electronic and easy to dance to, but it’s not dance music. The lack of guitars bars the classification of electro. O.N.E. Is vaguely calypso. “I Remember” sounds like the love song from a lost eighties movie. “Mondegreen” with it’s handclaps and saxophone could be the latest pop song if it weren’t for the odd childlike vocal sections. The only thing the songs have in common is a love of synth and harmony. Yet Yeasayer isn’t the last in the long line of eighties retro revisionists either. The keyboards on “Rome” meander like a vocal improvisationist played in fast forward. “Love My Girl” sounds like Of Montreal covering Duran Duran. The music isn’t deep, soul-searching poetry, but it is a unique sound that’s going to influence their peers for years to come.
Check out: Yeasayer – Rome
7.Parlovr – Parlovr
Really, it’s Parlovr’s fault that The Arcade Fire didn’t make this list. I was listening to that long album over and over, taking the time to get to know the lyrics and contemplate the value of the many reprises when I finally gave Parlovr a spin. Without a clue what the hell he was singing about or any familiarity I instantly responded to the songs on a visceral level that The Arcade Fire just wasn’t hitting me on. Think of the first time you heard Modest Mouse or Nirvana or The Pixies (fans of The Pixies and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah should particularly check this one out). I’m not saying that Parlovr is a match of these legendary bands, I’m only saying that they know how to rock out.
I love how they take a rest to harmonize sweetly on the refrain of “On the Phone.” I love the shouted opening of “Hiccup,” or the fast build-up at the front of “Sever My Ties.” After delightful “Oh-ooh-oooh-oohs he shouts, “What would you say to a dead man with no face!” and I admit that I have no clue what the fuck he is talking about but I am solidly on board. After five hearty servings of rocking out, “Speech Bubble/Thought Cloud” starts of as slow and alluring as the aforementioned Arcade Fire and takes it’s time reaching that leaping off point where shouting and guitars reign. Parlovr is a rollicking reminder that rock n’ roll is something to get excited about.
Check out: Parlovr – Sandwalking
8.Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
I’m going to be frank with you: I intensely dislike R&B. That Janelle Monáe made the Best-Of list of a chick who listens to electro and new wave should tell you something of Monáe’s mastery of the genre. I say R&B but The ArchAndroid touches on so many genres it’s like a sampler of female vocal styles for the last sixty years. Many of these songs will blow you away right from the first listen.
The only reason this album didn’t rank higher on my list is that the lyrics were disappointing. The Arch Android is a concept album built around the 1908 dystopic epic Metropolis (Which—Whoah! Is reason enough to check it out). Thus I was expecting sci-fi visions on par with David Bowie or Kevin Barnes (in fact, Of Montreal backs her on a track). But the rhymes and the lyrics were all cliché and prosaic. Which is fine—you’ll be singing along with her regardless.
Not only can she sing, her technique has style. And that voice! “Cold War” is a good example of her vocal skills. By the time she finishes off that high note, you’ll have forgotten Cat Power ever existed. Then she has the brilliant audacity to finish the note with a growl. It’s exquisite. My advice to you (and to me): see this woman in concert soon. She is going to be very famous and even the nosebleed seats are going to be expensive.
Check out: Janelle Monáe – BeBopByeYa
9.She & Him – Volume Two
I had a lot of trouble deciding between this and Freelance Whales album Weathervanes. The latter even averaged one point higher in the ratings I gave the album’s songs. But it was the She & Him album that I played over and over until I learned the words to the songs, even though Zooey Deschanel doesn’t sing in my range. It was *her songs that got stuck in my head over and over; it was her songs I sang in the shower. Ultimately ratings are no match for the sheer desire to listen to the same album on repeat. Volume Two is full of heavenly harmonies, adorable lyrics (“Why do I always want to sock it to you hard? She sulks at the opening of “Over and Over Again.”), and catchy refrains.
My personal favorite on the album is “Home,” a song that gets me all teary and happy at the same time. Can’t ask for much more out of a song than that. Other excellent stand-outs are “Thieves,” “Lingering Still,” and the mythological metaphor “Don’t Look Back.”
Check out: She & Him – Home
10.The Limousines – Get Sharp
It was the year after MGMT released their instant classic, “Time to Pretend.” Having overplayed that song to death, I was on the hunt for a new song that captured the American experience with the same wit, charm and melody . I had Los Campesinos! And NPSH but my life needed a new dance anthem. Then I was at a music festival with my pal @WorkerBee when he lured me to the tent where The Limousines were tearing it up. Their as yet un-signed song “Very Busy People” filled that lack and became an instant obsession.
Like all their songs, the first thing you notice about “Very Busy People” is probably the fantastic melody and head-bopping pace. You may notice that they aren’t lazy on the trills and DJ effects. But it won’t be long before you catch a taste of the lyrics. And that’s it, you’re done for: these lyrics are so clever that no matter which line you come in on you’re going to be hooked. Do I exaggerate? From the very first line, We’ll end up numb from playing video games and we’ll get sick of having sex, The Limousines follow the rules of good writing drilled into undergrads by their poetry teachers: Be specific. Be succinct. Be personal.
Their lyrics aren’t the lofty philosophical themes of Nick Cave or the strange but brilliant metaphors of Tori Amos or the sharp political observations of Ani Difranco. No, The Limousines sing about the same things your average pop band sings about: getting drunk, getting lucky, seizing the day. In fact, the biggest turn off about them is probably the lead singer’s voice. It’s not that Eric Victorino can’t sing, it’s that his voice sharply resembles the kind of teeny-bopper heartthrob sound indie rockers shrink away from, for its associations with didactic cliches. But if you just let yourself be seduced by the catchy pop rhythms, you’ll discover that they bring a fresh perspective to these tired themes. These are the kinds of songs you are not only going to want to learn the lyrics to, you are going to want to sing them with your friends at the top of your lungs while drunk at three a.m.
Check out: The Limousines – Flaskaboozendancingshoes
*I know that M. Ward was a successful musician before collaborating with actress Zooey Deschanel but since she wrote the songs and their lyrics, She & Him is properly her band first and foremost. There are two songs not written by Deschanel, and they are the two weakest songs on the album. Partially due to the brainless babes that dominate pop music and partially due to sexism, woman’s contributions to their own bands tend to be marginalized. Thus, it is always worth mentioning when a front woman really leads the band, despite the fact that with a male singer this is assumed.