It’s so hard for me to make end of the year posts. I know (without a doubt) that I will forget something, that I will misremember my relationship with an album, that something I will absolutely fall in love with will come out as soon as I “publish” my list, etc. Last year I did a post with my 10 favorite songs, 5 favorite albums, and 5 favorite shows of 2009. This year I’m going to start things off with my 10 favorite albums (UNRANKED, I cannot rank things!) and see how things go from there.
Allo Darlin, s/t (Fortuna Pop) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD and vinyl)
Allo Darlin topped my list of favorite songs last year with their single “Henry Rollins Don’t Dance” and their full length album was probably one of my most anticipated albums of 2010. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint! In fact, it probably exceeded my expectations. I don’t know exactly what it is, but something about Allo Darlin just strikes a chord with me — their lyrics are thoughtful, but never pretentious, their songs are catchy, and each one leads seamlessly into the next. The songs on Allo Darlin work well as songs but they work even better as a whole, coming together to assemble an album that works its way deep into your heart and stays there, keeping you young and sentimental.
Song That Caught Me By Surprise? Normally I don’t like slow songs. In fact, I may or may not whine, “No slow songs!” any time Drew tries to listen to something slow in the car. Because of this, I didn’t expect to develop any deep affinity for “Let’s Go Swimming” & was more or less shocked when I found that it’s one of the songs from Allo Darlin that’s most likely to be stuck in my head at any given time.
(video for “My Heart is a Drummer”)
Best Coast, Crazy for You (Mexican Summer) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD and vinyl)
So, I really have to give April credit for getting me into Best Coast. I wasn’t a huge fan of Pocahaunted, so it’s very likely that Best Coast would have flown right under my radar if she hadn’t been actively championing their cause. Over the last year or so, I snapped up every Best Coast 7” I could find & fell in love with Bethany and Bobb’s brand of sun drenched power chord driven pop ballads. I was worried that Crazy for You would be almost like a Best Coast Best Of, collecting their out of print 7”s, so I was stunned & surprised when they released an album that was almost 100% new material! “Goodbye” and “I Want To” are perfect pop songs — they go as straight as an arrow right into the most teenage part of my heart, tapping into a sense of nostalgia that I didn’t even know I had.
My favorite thing about this album? That it motivated me to start playing the guitar again.
(video for “Boyfriend”)
Grass Widow, Past Time (Kill Rock Stars) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD, vinyl, and mp3)
Just like I owe April for Best Coast, I also owe her for Grass Widow. So much great music came out in 2010, but Grass Widow’s Past Time was one of the first albums I heard in a long time that made me catch my breath and say, “Who is that and what are they doing?” Grass Widow is art and science. Listening to their music is like watching something come to life — small sounds knit themselves together and unlikely words and phrases weave in and around each other and all of these elements come together in this beautiful, fragmented whole. Listening to a Grass Widow album is like getting the auditory equivalent of a micromosaic. I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and comforted by the mysteries of the universe.
Something weird that comes to mind when I listen to Past Time? About a million years ago, I remember seeing this animated show about kids who were enrolled in a mysterious academy where they were engaged in a series of duels that took place in an upside-down castle in the sky. The song that played as they were preparing to duel (an odd and frantic mix of pop, rock, and opera) comes to mind whenever I think of Grass Widow.
(video for “11 of Diamonds”)
jj, jj n°3 (Sincerely Yours and Secretly Canadian) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD and vinyl)
You know? I really wasn’t sure that I was going to put this album on this list, mainly because I was worried that people would think it was a bad pick. But you know what else? Nobody cares what I think, so why should I care what other people think? jj was one of the most disappointing live acts that Drew and I caught in 2010 & I know that experience totally ruined them for Drew, but I’m not gonna lie, I still really like jj. A lot of people panned this album when it came out & it does have a slow start, but there are some really, really gorgeous songs toward the middle/end of the album. Cleveland is literally enshrouded in snow today — you can’t see anything except this moving blanket of snow — and it’s perfect weather for listening to this album. I’m sitting at my desk with a mug of hot chocolate, a peppermint brownie, and “You Know” on the stereo and it just sounds/feels perfect.
If you still like jj in spite of their mega-bad live performances They have a new mixtape that will be dropping on Christmas eve!
(video for “Let Go”)
Marnie Stern, s/t (Kill Rock Stars) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD, vinyl, and mp3)
I first got into Marnie Stern during my senior year of college. I was working in a data entry job for a non-profit. The work was mind numbing and there were days when Marnie’s tapping was the only thing that could keep me going at my desk. I was so stoked when I heard that Marnie was going to have a new album and the more I heard about it, the better it sounded. Stylistically, this album is not a departure from Marnie’s previous work, but there’s something else happening here… There’s an emotional undercurrent, a sense of immediacy — I feel like on this album you get to hear Marnie as a person, not just as a guitarist. Maybe that’s why this one is self titled?
Loving this album in spite of that bizarre Marnie Stern/Best Coast “feud.”
(video for “Nothing Left”)
No Joy, Ghost Blonde (Mexican Summer) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD, vinyl, and mp3)
There’s a lot to love about No Joy’s debut album. The first track, “Mediumship,” is one of my favorite first songs on an album this year. I loved No Joy’s first 7” on Mexican Summer and had been looking forward to their album for the last couple of months. Ghost Blonde is a dense swirl of guitars — the albums ebbs and flows in terms of intensity, but it never stops being engaging. No Joy is definitely a band that I would love to have the opportunity to see live.
(video for “You Girls Smoke Cigarettes”)
Robyn, Body Talk (Konichiwa) BUY IT HERE! (CD only)
The first CD single I ever owned was Robyn’s “Show Me Love.” The video was in heavy rotation when I was in the 5th grade and I vividly remember hanging out at my neighbor’s house & watching video countdown shows so that I could hear & see Robyn. Much, much later, I saw the movie Fucking Åmål (notable not just for being a good movie, but for reminding me that “Show Me Love” existed), and even later, Robyn reinvented herself, ditching RCA & starting her own label. I feel like Body Talk seems almost out of place on this list, but seriously? It is so good! I mean, there are a dozen amazing songs on this album & I love it because listening to this record is like having my musical interests come full circle. Now, the kid I was like 15 years ago can connect with the person that I am now.
The only letdown? Robyn is coming to Cleveland and I would totally go, except she’s playing at the House of Blues and I have a strict policy about not supporting chain venues in Cleveland. It’s one of the few areas in my life where I can afford to “vote with my dollars.” BUMMER.
(video for “Hang with Me”)
Sleigh Bells, Treats (N.E.E.T.) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD and vinyl)
I spent a big portion of time (here on this blog) trying to decide whether or not I should write about the Sleigh Bells album. I mean, calling it “polarizing” makes it seem like a really big deal, but seriously? I feel like I spent a ton of time this year watching people bicker about whether or not the Sleigh Bells album was “good” or “interesting” or “gimmicky” or whatever. You know what? I really don’t care. This album is full of jams! You know that Sweet Valley High book where Jessica Wakefield decides that she is sick of being a goody two shoes (which is sort of weird because it’s not like Jessica was ever a particularly “good” person) and she dies her hair black and starts acting really bitchy? This album is that book! (Without a French accent.) Seriously, Sleigh Bells is the band that could have happened if Jessica Wakefield decided she wanted to adopt an edgy “musical” persona and stole the guitarist from The Droids (Sweet Valley’s most popular and only band.)
What makes this album is The riffs! The riffs on this album fucking rule. Sometimes they’re lifted from Funkadelic songs, sometimes they sound like they could have come from a lost Waitresses demo, sometimes you wonder if someone has replaced the lead guitar with some weird space guitar gun. RIFFS, PEOPLE. RIFFS.
(video for “Tell Em”)
Surfer Blood, Astrocoast (Kanine) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD, vinyl, and mp3)
Astrocoast came out way back when in January — it’s almost like a distant memory. The songs still sound just as fresh, though. Surfer Blood came out of nowhere for me — Drew mentioned offhand that he had heard something about them and that he wanted to hear their album & the next thing I knew, I was gushing all over the place about how good Astrocoast is. If jj was my surprise live act disappointment of 2010, Surfer Blood was my surprise live act “hey, they turned out quite well, didn’t they?” They had a dynamic stage presence & seemed to honestly be having a great time playing their songs for an audience which is something that I feel like I sometimes don’t see a whole lot of. I was shocked to hear that they’d signed to a major label (Warner Brothers), but it will be interesting to hear whatever comes from them next.
It was weird (but cool) to hear “Fast Jabroni” on last year’s season finale of Community.
(video for “Swim”)
Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge) BUY IT HERE! (available on CD, vinyl, FLAC, and mp3)
It’s no secret that I love Superchunk. I would probably put any old Superchunk album on my top ten list, whether or not I even liked it all that much, just out of solidarity with my love for Superchunk. In fact, I actually listened to Majesty Shredding twice before writing this just to make sure it’s actually good & I’m not just looking at the world through Superchunk colored glasses. Fortunately, I am not delusional and Majesty Shredding really is an awesome album. Superchunk has been a constant for me for something like the past ten years & Majesty Shredding was a particularly exciting album for me because it was more or less the first “new” Superchunk album since I started listening to them.
In case you were wondering, the best thing about a new Superchunk album is that it’s just as strong/good as an old Superchunk album.
(video for “My Gap Feels Weird” here — embedding disabled)
A sampling of additional albums that could have been on this list…
Dum Dum Girls, I Will Be
Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kevin Greenspon and Cloud Nothings, split CD
Let’s Wrestle, In the Court of Wrestling Let’s
Los Campesinos!, Romance is Boring
Tender Trap, Dansette Dansette
Wavves, King of the Beach
Wild Nothing, Gemini