Tag Archives: Gotta Hear This Music

Rules for Shows #3: The Front of the Pit is Over-rated



Rule #3


The first strings have been strummed and the singer has claimed the mic. The shovers are staking their claim in the pit. There is a rush to the stage, a general movement: the show is starting. The young and foolish punk will rush forward so they can be closer to the sweat and angst flying off the stage. It seems rational. But if you’ve taken the time to push to the front-and-center position, standing in front of the fresh mosh pit is the worst way to claim that sweet spot. Not so much because the pit is unmanageable but because the task of managing it is in the opposite direction of the band. So you can turn your back on the show and push the pit kids. Or you can watch the show and get elbowed in the face. Thus what seems initially like the center of the action turns out to be a major distraction. Just when you think you can maybe take some time to actually watch the show you paid to see, you remember the crowd surfers. They like to remind you by kicking you in the head.

If this all still seems like a great plan, then you probably have a fierce abundance of ass-kicking energy. In that case, dive into the actual pit instead of turning your back to it. Now that’s a nice view.



30 Years of MTV: The MTV is dead, long live the MTV

August 1st marks 30 years since MTV went on the air. Many young people today may look at what the station has become and wonder, so what?
Every American I know who grew up in in the eighties has a little hole in their heart for what happened to MTV. It’s similar to the way one might remember a clever acquaintance who fell to addiction. They shake their heads, bite their knuckles and look wistful. Whether the thing MTV was hooked on was reality programming itself or the ratings boost it provided, I can’t say, but lost it is. I remember in my teens I would stay up late to record Matt Pinfield on 120 Minutes, because by the mid-nineties the only time they played music videos was in the middle of the night.
But in the heyday of MTV, you could watch videos any time, day or night. What was so great about it was probably all the things the executives behind the scenes hated. The VJs were unscripted; there was little product placement. I have an MTV t-shirt that my mom won from the station in the eighties, when they would do giveaways as if they were just another station on the radio. You could pick it up on your radio, too. Even as a tween I had an inkling that their slot in the TV Guide which said nothing but “Music Videos” for six hours couldn’t be a dream for the person who sells their advertising. But that authentic, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience was a fine fit for rock and roll: that ever changing, never planning, tumultuous beast. Rock and roll never sounded better followed by “We’ll be right back after these messages.”

The funny thing is, the way people watched MTV didn’t really change. The people who watch reality shows are the types to use the telly as background noise. MTV was perfect for that: no plot, no characters that would distract you for more than four minutes. Everything they were showing would show again in several hours. It was all that made cable wonderful and terrible. With MTV on, mom could balance her checkbook and I could do my homework. Hell, MTV probably invented the idea of using the idiot box for background noise.
Thus if you ask anyone over 25 they will say that the golden age for music video was the eighties. Not because the videos were better. No, they were low-budget and jakey as hell. CG wasn’t even a word then. It was a golden age because people actually watched them. Today’s youth may share Internet memes, but back in the day if you met a kid from the other coast you could bond of your shared memories of videos. There is a whole generation of people who can’t hear “Take On Me” without thinking of a cute girl caught in a comic strip. If you’re one of those people, you might think Rick Ocasek has the body of a fly. For better or for worse, Dire Straits is more than a band. They’re also a bunch of singing, animated blue collar workers bitching about rock stars and Sting’s voice harping I want my MTV was the voice of the nation. We all saw it, we all loved it. You could not disconnect the song from the video.


I say for better or for worse, because there was a downside. I’ve often wondered if I would have liked Van Halen’s “Right Here Right Now” if it didn’t have such a kick-ass video. We got this idea that the tiny movie was somehow the musician’s vision, when really the director’s vision usually had very little to do with the conception the artist had when they created the song. The nostalgia we have for music videos is the same we feel for any song, but it’s based on something false, that little three minute story. Wyclef’s “Gone Til November” came out after MTV had fallen to disgrace, so that song will always remind me of Spring Break at Siesta Key. It’s an association I share with only a handful of people but it’s an actual memory of my life. But when we were in love with Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” who can say for sure if it was the song we loved–or the fact that it had one of the most adorable videos of all time? Who can say what that song would mean to us, if it didn’t mean dancing bees? It seems to me to be a song about individuality, but that is the message of the video not the song.
I think we may be embarking upon, if not a Golden Age, than a yet-unnamed new era for music videos.  For me it began when the site I use for radio streaming started adding Youtube videos to its search. But I think for most people the preponderance of music video has come about slowly as we have faster Internet connections. Now that two gigs of RAM is a standard, our computers are finally fast enough to manage them. A second factor is the dropping price of hard drive space. While most of us aren’t downloading the videos to keep, cheap disc space means that more video and blogging sites are willing to let us park the videos on their servers. It is easier than ever before for bloggers to post them. If the dastardly censors haven’t gotten there yet, it is often as simple as pasting a YouTube url. Finally, because Youtube is the third most popular site in the world, often when people want to find a song they go to the video site to find it. Either way, more and more people are watching them these days. Big hits like Gaga’s “Telephone” are gaining the collective association the MTV videos of yesteryear commanded.
What’s different this time is that we control the remote on what videos we see. Not only have I seen more videos this year than in the last five combined, they’re videos I would never have dreamed even existed. I would never have thought that anti-establishment punks like The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Operation Ivy made videos. I have delved into the studio recording and music videos that came before MTV. Acts like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Nina Simone, that I have treasured for years now, have videos online just waiting for my discovery. And of course new bands are still using them to promote their new albums. It’s come full circle, as the indie bands of today are using the same low-budget filming techniques, some for budgetary reasons and others to hearken back to the same shared nostalgia of the MTV that is dead and gone. If there had never been an MTV, there wouldn’t be a generation of musicians who think setting their songs to tiny movies is a worthwhile marketing effort. After all, video wasn’t a new idea when MTV came around. It is only because these same musicians were watching MTV while they played with Transformers and ripped the heads off their Barbie dolls that the Britneys and Kanyes create videos costing a million dollars a pop.  And the bloggers posting the low-budget masterpieces to their little blogs are like the video jockeys of yesteryear: unpolished, unprofessional. We love them because they’re fans first, in it for the love of the music. So it is that while the zombie of MTV continues to ravish the flesh of washed out celebrities in a never-ceasing voyeurism, its spirit lives on. MTV is the Phoenix, rising from the ashes as Youtube and Vimeo. MTV is the Ouroboros. She has shed her mythical skin and we have emerged, with our own cameras and our own blogs and our own video channels. We no longer need the VJs, we have become the VJs. MTV is dead, long live MTV.




Some of the essential videos mentioned above after the jump. Next week I’ll be posting some of my favorite videos that I’ve discovered since the fall of MTV.

RIP Gil Scott-Heron


There was a time in my life when I only wanted to listen to political music. It was then that someone passed along to me a cassette of Gil Scott-Heron. This was around 1999; tape players were already hard to come by. But I managed to wear out that tape in several months.

He was more than a musician, he was a poet that happened to be a multi-instrumentalist. He was a radical agitator with piano and bongo to sweeten his message. He was a visionary, but then again, in some ways he wasn’t: It wasn’t his intention to foster the forthcoming genre of rap. He created poetry set to music, in the tradition of Bob Dylan. He created poetry infused with Jazz in the tradition of Amiri Baraka. His style was never pretensious but always bold. I couldn’t believe that this amazing and diverse poet was undiscovered by most of the people in my social circle. I tried to impose it on everyone with the fervor of a newfound love.

Well, time passes and new loves come to you.  I just found out that Gil died this week. I don’t know what to tell you except that I hope you can take some time out of your day to listen to some of his work.

I know he recently released an album but I want to share with you some of the songs that inspired me when I was a teenager. I’ve also included one of the recent songs that Kanye West sampled him on.








Gil_Scott_Heron_-_Whitey_on_the_Moon.mp3 Listen on Posterous

Gil_Scott_Heron_-_Whitey_on_the_Moon.mp3 Listen on Posterous

Kanye_West_-_lost_in_the_woods.mp3 Listen on Posterous

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Unexpected Songs for Your Rapture, End of the World Party Playlist

Fun with Jesus

I’m DJing an end-of-the-world party on Friday, so I’ve been looking for songs about the Rapture. I won’t use most of them, but I thought I’d share a bunch with you for your own playlists, mostly because I don’t want your set to consist of nothing but tired old Metallica, Black Sabbath and Dio (proudly, this site remains 100% Metallica free!).

Childish Gambino = Donald Glover = hot

The music bloggers are all excited about hippity-hopper Childish Gambino and the general consensus seems to be that he just “came out of nowhere.” Strange to me, because he is a well known actor on the hit NBC comedy Community. Sure, he goes by the name Donald Glover, but it’s not like this is all a secret. In his lyrics he talks about having a TV show and writing for 30 Rock when he was under 25. And Donald Glover is not a bit player on the show, he’s consistently the most charming and funny reason to watch Community.So what, he’s a rapper now. But here’s the thing: his rhymes are tight! Those same mad skills he uses writing and acting for NBC come out in the lyrics. It’s unapologetically middle class,with subjects like sex, race and hipster girls making frequent appearances. I’m not wild about his vocal style–it’s very fast, with a nervous energy. But the pop culture references keep me coming back. I was hooked first on the Jamie XX remix of Adele, where his “Freaks and Geeks is sampled, and he says, “Fuck Macaulay Culkin, I’m never going home alone.” All his songs have lines like that, ones that will jump out at you and make you smile for their clever turn of phrase.

Adele – Rolling in the Deep feat. Childish Gambino.mp3

Here’s the original track that Jamie of The XX samples above

Childish Gambino – Freaks and Geeks

The production on his mixtape isn’t top notch but you can certainly hear the promise. My favorite track from the mixtape has little to do with the lyrics and all to do with his choice to rap over Sleigh Bells. The gent has taste I tell you. Just the same it still has choice lyrics like “Only time I’m worried is when I’m the no-fly zone, ‘Cause I’m so fly…”

Childish Gambino – New Prince (Sleigh Bells – Crown On the Ground).mp3

Here’s a pretty one that shows he can sing

Childish Gambino – These Girls (ft. Garfunkel and Oates).mp3

Because of the low production values on his mixtape and the fact that he raps over low BPM indie rock half the time, I prefer remixes. Like I said, it’s about the rhymes not the beats anyway. Here’s two preferred remixes of “Let Me Dope You.” I especially like the first because that Body Language song (“You Can”) is another of my recent obsessions. The stand-out lyric for me is “I don’t fit in like–my penis in these tiny girls.” Tight indeed.

Childish Gambino – Let Me Dope You (Cheap Thrills Remix Feat. Body Language).mp3

Finally I can’t leave you without a little sample of some of his work on Community. So adorable!

Best of 2010: Best Dance songs of 2010

I moved these songs around quite a bit but the songs that ended up in the top ten stayed pretty consistent (for the rest, see Best of 2010 Dance Songs Top 25). Last year I focused strictly on remixes but this year I mixed it up, presenting my favorite dance tracks, regardless of whether they were remixes, mashups or original songs. I did this because there were some exceptional dance songs which didn’t fit the traditional “remix” that just had to make the list, starting with number one.
1. Fake Blood vs Richard Vission – I Think I Like That (Coda Collins Smash Up) (5:38)Reasons This is the best remix of 2010:

  • The opening line “My body rocks a rhythm. You beat my drum hard.”
  • At exactly one minute there’s this insanely awesome beat drop that chomps down on my body, chews my brain and spits me out as a dancing maniac
  • At exactly one minute and thirty seconds Fake Blood brings out synthesized violins that will make whatever is left of my sanity joyfully explode
  • Fake Blood’s song sounds like a the shattered glass of a disco ball. So disco, so modern.
  • The lyrics sound like a Japanese anime trying to do James Bond “You want a kiss now baby? Oh fucky-fucky you! You’re dressed to kill me-kill-me. And if I die tonight, at least you thrill me-thrill-me.Oooooh!”

Ok, so it’s a little unfair to put a mashup at number one, but it really was my favorite of the year. I suppose if you must, you could put the emphasis on the Fake Blood song. But it’s a fine mash! This mashup combines these two songs seamlessly, producing something much better than either work alone. The beats for the original Richard Vission song are not bad, but they’re no match for Fake Blood. And Fake Blood’s beats, tight as they are, have a cold, clinical quality without any lyrics. Luciana’s vocal styling are as motivational as a Jane Fonda workout video. Finally, it’s a perfect mashup in that there’s such an overlap of themes other DJs must say, “I wish I’d thought of that!” Here’s the two songs separately, to decide for yourself:

Fake Blood – I think I Like It

Richard Vission & Static Revenger Starring Luciana – I Like That

2. Uffie feat. Pharrel Williams – Add Suv (Armand Van Helden Club Remix) (4:44)

I’ve been waiting for a great Uffie remix since I first heard Uffie. When Ke$ha first came on the scene, the blogosphere spat that she was just a copy of Uffie. The problem with this assessment is that though Uffie’s rhymes are solid, her beats are lacking. And along comes Armand Van Helden with what sounds to me like the second best remix of 2010.
If there’s one thing Armand Van Helden knows how to do, it’s a build up. The problem with a long build up is you need something at the end to justify all that fuss. You can always tell the kids on drugs at the club when the relish the build up more than the base drop. For everyone else, the build-up is just a sweet misery that makes the bass hit you that much harder. When those sirens rise, they better have a hell of a beat to land on. There’s bravado in such a buildup. A long tease is only satisfying if the DJ puts out. It’s a ballsy move that Helden makes even ballsier by having the word “banger” announced in that rest before he gives it to you. And he hits it hard.

3. Lemâitre – The Friendly Sound (3:54)

You’re going to think this is the new Royksopp single, but it’s better than any of what Royksopp has put out recently…at least from what I’ve heard. I’m not a huge Royksopp fan. Anyway, it’s a very new group from Oslo, Norway. They don’t even have a Myspace or recording contract yet. “The Friendly Sound” begins with beach noise in the background, then that “Eple”-like melody, then the beat. It’s glitchy with sounds of breaking glass and bleeps and bloops, like 16-bit Mario dropping a deuce. Lovely harmonies round out this oh-so friendly sound. It gets even better around 2:36.
4. Lost Valentinos – “Nightmoves” (Aston Shuffle Remix) (5:54)I like the vocal stylings on the original track. He has a deep booming voice that pitches high in the refrain. But the original track sounds too much like something you might have heard on Sprockets. It’s not bad, but the Aston Shuffle remix keeps what’s great about it and takes it to the level of ultra sickdom. When “Nightmoves” starts with the deep voice and low build up you think it’s going to be a deeply sexy slow jam. Just when you’re pondering how that deep-voiced singer can hit such a high note there’s that same long build up and righteous harmonies, now thick with the Aston Shuffle ambiance. It’s beautiful but not so beautiful that you fail to realize how wrong you were: Aw fuuuck it’s a stomper. There’s always a late addition to the list and this one crept up and up, stomping it’s way past many a fine remix to land at number four. Still not sure if it shouldn’t have been higher on the list.

I heard this in a shop in Japantown and new tracking it down would be a top priority when I got home. I was pleased that Black Eyed Peas had taken the time to rerecord the vocals from the original Dirty Dancing hit, rather then just sampling them. But to my surprise the version I’d heard in Japantown wasn’t the original but a remix. Such a shame because now is as good a time as any to get a retro treatment of everyone’s favorite Swayze flick. Unfortunately, the original Black Eyed Peas version is, well, awful. Guetta’s mix is scratchy and glitchy in all the right places: the echo on her voice before that sweet beat drop, the occasional sick vocal distortion of her voice—you can just see this blowing up the greatest summer beach party of your life.

6. Katy B – Louder (4:36)

Rumor has it Katy B is going to be the one to bring dubstep to the mainstream. Let’s hope so, as dubstep is a genre that is delivering way too many trite remixes lately. Here layered vocals and 8-bit inspired trills open up the song til a subtle loop of her British accent saying “louder” teases the beat drop. What’s unusual to me about this one is the way the the deepest, bassiest part of the song is the melody. It’s as if the bass taking over what the melody usually does, driving the song forward. It’s a fresh take on an overplayed style that has me turning the nob to the max.

7. Kid Cudi – Pursuit Of Happiness – Steve Aoki Dance Remix Intro – Dirty (6:14)

This Cudi mix doesn’t start out too exciting but at around the one minute mark you get a taste of the beast Aoki has birthed: Fuzzy rising sirens that introduce fuzzy heavy beats. The vocal sections are lovely and melodic, a nice respite from the assault of Aoki’s monster beats. It’s an onslaught of sick banging bass tempered by Cudi’s soft and friendly stoner rap. Within this there are small tweaks, like the trill that reintroduces the melody at 1:17, the delicious quarter rest at 1:39, and the laser at 2:51 that give this remix a polish that sets it apart from the other bangers 0f 2010.

Technically, this track is both too old and too new for this list. I first discovered it on AWMusic where it was posted on the last day of 2009 (worse release date ever). Which should, unfairly, make it a song of 2009. As this was before Lady Gaga was huge and Brittany was still the name on everyone’s lips, I could see this chick was going to blow up. And she did, to gargantuan sizes that have us all cowering in fear that a giant-sized Ke$ha is going to rampage Los Angeles Godzilla-style, shedding hail-sized pieces of glitter in her wake.
I kept waiting to hear this one on the radio, appropriately bleeped. Or at least in the clubs. Because it’s so mega hot and what DJ wouldn’t want to play this song? I like “Tik-Tok” but this one is waaaaay better. And I think we can all agree that the rest of Ke$ha’s hits have been no match for “Tik-Tok.” So I did my homework to make sure the song was indeed released in 2010 and I couldn’t find it on Amazon, iTunes or the album itself. What gives?
Yeah, so it’s an unreleased track by Ke$ha. An unreleased track that’s twice as hot as anything from her you’ve ever heard. Even if you don’t like Ke$ha, give this one a listen. It has the mighty power to turn your party into a filming of Girls Gone Wild (hopefully without the nasty anti-feminist camera guys!).

Often a great remix will surpass the original to the extent that the song it is based on can sound hollow in comparison. That happened to me when listening to “Night By Night” recently. Where  was the epic synth? Where was the back-and-forth vocals after the climax (“she says I’m—I say she’s—She says I’m”)? They perfectly capture the drama of an argument in a way the original never did. Chromeo is best known as one among many 80s revisionist bands, and this remix keeps that spirit while creating a darker, fuller sound that is unmistakably 21st century.

10. Metric-Twilight-Galaxy-Death-to-the-Throne-Remix (5:37)

I’m a sucker for Metric and this is hands down Death to the Throne’s finest mix to date. Frankly his mixes can be too sick for my taste but here he adds lasers and synth to take Twilight Galaxy to a positively astral dimension. He shows off his skills without demolishintg too much of Emily Haine’s lyrics. The original song is not even remotely a dance number, DttT essentially produced entirely new music to back up the song. As a Metric fan, I hate to say it but the remix is a much better song than the original. True to Death-to-the-Throne form, there is a very sick section to the song, as well there should be leading into the climax of a great remix.

Kid Koala at the Noise Pop Culture Fest


Noise Pop has added a DIY festival this year. It's a little undeveloped now but I imagine in a few years it will be the place to be. (And a few years after that it will be bloated with movers and shakers with something to sell and a few years after that it will be yesterdays news. [I've noticed lately that I seem to be getting out of hand with the parenthesis. You think? {Question is rhetorical, dammit!}])

Kid Koala's space was a DJ set that explicitly stated no dancing. It was chill music, and by that I don't mean dubstep and trance, I mean like Radiohead and ambient chirping. The space was designed as a contemplative drawing session. There were barely any seats to be had, as we sprawled about with crayons and pencils and such. As much as I love to dance, I wish there were more spaces like this, ones where spontaneous communities are borne out of a creative drive. Or at least, spaces that center around something other than drinking and smoking. And did I mention the free hot chocolate?

Here's a Kid Koala video so you can feel the Noise Pop chill too.

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Best of 2010 Dance Songs Top 25

Image Thanks to Barnaby Ward

Baby even the losers get lucky sometimes. Here’s 25 great dance tracks from 2010 not quite epic enough to make my Best Dance Music of 2010 list.

11. Atypicals – Love Electric Soul (5:04)
12. Diamond Rings – All Yr Songs (GOBBLE GOBBLE’s Wings for Eyeliner) (2:30)
13. Party and Bullshit In the U.S.A. (Miley Cyrus vs Notorious B.I.G.) (3:15)
14. Drink-Up-Buttercup-Even-Think-Andrew-W.K.-Remix (5:18)
15. Loo & Placido – Californication (Tupac vs. Roger Troutman vs. Plump DJs vs. Zero Cash) (4:35)

(I wrote a post about this one: The Drop )

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes have a new song, Helplessness Blues. I’m not excited about it yet, but it’s as good an excuse as any to share some Fleet Foxes themed material.

(OK, really I’m testing my Posterous connection to Tumblr, but isn’t that excuse enough?)

The New Fleet Foxes track, Helplessness Blues

My favorite thing about Fleet Foxes is the harmonies, which this Oh Land cover of White Winter Hymnal lacks, but it has a lovely girl singing. And everyone likes that.

Here’s Fleet Foxes covering Bob Dylan.

There are several new Fleet Foxes remixes, but I think this one from the Twelves is still the best around. Maybe the new album will deliver the DJs some better material.

OK, more best of 2010 stuff on the way!

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The Best Albums of 2010!

Or: Why Best-Albums Lists Are Bullshit

I am never doing this again. No fucking really: if I start talking about Best-albums lists next year, someone give me a solid slapping and point me back to this page. Best-of lists are bull shit of course, but Best Albums lists are shit of the rankest kind. There’s just no conceivable way that any one person can listen to that many albums and also have some kind of a life. I basically disappeared from blogging from November-January, and here I still didn’t get it done by the ever-critical Dec. 31st deadline. My loved ones have actually told me I’m no longer allowed to utter the words “Best of” and “2010” in the same sentence anymore. They try to convince me that no one takes these lists seriously, that everyone assumes these are just your favorites, not the actual best albums.
But if you look at the comments for any of these lists, you’ll see that it’s just the opposite. Everyone responds with fury and indignation: you mean “The Muppets Sing Fight Club didn’t make your list? I’m never visiting this site again!” News flash: the person writing the list was on a deadline, and probably never even heard your cherished album. The albums they did include were based on whims and hype.
Think about it: when you want to compare two songs, it’s easy: just play one right after the other and decide which is better. But if you want to compare albums, you can’t exactly play all hour-and-a-half of each one, because you will be in a totally different mood by the time they’re both done. Moreover, it’s very rare for an album to not have one stinker song. Even the Beatles classic albums had such bombs as “Wild Honey Pie” and “The Tax Man.” So which do you rank higher? An album with 7 classics, and two losers? Or an album with ten pretty great songs and one classic? And do you give more credit to albums like The Suburbs because they have more tracks in total? It takes a long time to get to know an entire album and then there’s the whole issue of whether the songs move from one to the next in a pleasing, well-thought out way.
Anyway, after spending much more time contemplating this list than I should have, here are my picks for Best of 2010. For what it’s worth.
1.Crystal Castles – II

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?images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ9ZiBIUlKIZWbDjRcSNubDZxFHp15qeyiOiH11crt5rZ1rKaGGvg

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.

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