One of my all-time favorite bands releases a decent Wilco record. But, a decent Wilco record is good enough to be top 10 of the year for me.
9. DRAGONSLAYER by sunset rubdown
You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II) [LISTEN]
I was once a Wolf Parade fan and am now a fan of pretty much anything Spencer Krug does. This was a pleasant surprise for me.
8. I AND LOVE AND YOU by the avett brothers
I And Love And You [LISTEN]
Nothing I can really rock to like Emotionalism’s “Die, Die, Die”, but, the title track is great and this is a consistently good record all the way through.
7. WHY THERE ARE MOUNTAINS by cymbals eat guitars
Wind Phoenix (Proper Name) [LISTEN]
My favorite debut of the year and they’re only 20 years old. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for these guys.
6. BITTE ORCA by dirty projectors
Cannibal Resource [LISTEN]
Hadn’t even heard of them until this was released, and after seeing them live I will definitely be keeping my ear out for whatever else they have to offer.
5. MANNERS by passion pit
After hearing Manners for the first time I was sure Passion Pit would be the MGMT of 2009. I’m not sure if they’ve quite reached that point but there are some great dance party tunes on this one.
4. NOBLE BEAST by andrew bird
Oh No [LISTEN]
At this point I don’t believe Andrew Bird is capable of putting out a bad record.
3. WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX by phoenix
When an album begins with possibly 2 of the top 5 songs released all year (“Lisztomania”,”1901″) its pretty hard for it to be topped. Gets a little muddled down in the middle but finishes strong.
2. VECKATIMEST by grizzly bear
Two Weeks [LISTEN]
Grizzly Bear finally receives their critical due with Veckatimest. You may have to be in a certain mood to listen to this all the way through, but if you do you will be rewarded with a beautiful record.
1. MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION by animal collective
Summertime Clothes [LISTEN]
AC’s most accessible album to date, while still sticking to form. Named after a venue I have visited many times, MPP is proof that these guys from Baltimore may end up being one of the best of our generation.
So much more excited waiting for a follow-up to Writer’s Block than I was upon finally hearing it, but you know, there’s still hope. It doesn’t suck, but I wish they’d released the two albums in reverse order.
9. DEAD MAN’S BONES by dead man’s bones
My Body’s A Zombie for You [LISTEN]
This is a band/album few have even heard of, but this Halloween-inspired record from Ryan Gosling and friend Zach Shields, recorded with a children’s choir, is a bold and fresh first creative effort from the two, who describe their influences as Disney haunted mansion, doo wop and 60s girl groups…who can knock that?
8. NOBLE BEAST by andrew bird
Fitz And the Dizzyspells [LISTEN]
As a more recent Andrew Bird fan, I fell in love with Armchair Apocrypha and subsequently his earlier albums. While this one didn’t hit me like his previous, it’s still got Bird all over it, and that’s not bad at all.
7. DRAW THE LINE by david gray
For a hardcore Gray fan, It may not boast his best tracklisting to date, but it’s not too far off. His songwriting and piano-guitar combinations are still strong on this one.
6. WHITE WATER, WHITE BLOOM by sea wolf
Wicked Blood [LISTEN]
I was a little disappointed with what I see as a step back on this sophomore effort, but seeing as Sea Wolf is still a fairly new band that should be experienced by more listeners, it deserves a nod.
5. VECKATIMEST by grizzly bear
While You Wait for the Others [LISTEN]
Their second full-length album isn’t really a venture into anything new, but sounds close to what you’d expect from the increasingly popular group: bolder, louder and, dare I say happier?
4. FAR by regina spektor
The Calculation [LISTEN]
She’s back with the same great kinds of songs that have grown her popularity to where it is now: sad lullabies, poppy anthems, and everything in-between.
3. WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX by phoenix
Yes, there are arguably more talented musicians lower on this list than Phoenix, but damn it, if I don’t just love listening to some of this band’s songs more.
2. I AND LOVE AND YOU by the avett brothers
Laundry Room [LISTEN]
While longtime fans may not call it the brothers’ best album to date, it’s pretty undisputedly a great one, offering some of the best tunes I’ve heard come from the band.
1. RESERVOIR by fanfarlo
Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for A Very Long Time [LISTEN]
How could such a new (and largely unheard of) band produce the best album of 2009? I don’t know, but they did, and it’s because they’re so new and unheard of that they deserve the top spot.
Pitchfork: 9.0 Rolling Stone: 3.5/5 Metacritic: 82 Spin: 4/5
Released: January 2010
Walk in the Park
Used to Be
Lover of Mine
10 Mile Stereo
Are you ready for the next album to be crowned a top 10 album of the year before we even count down the new year? Like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear in latter ’08, the leak of Beach House’s Teen Dream is garnering incredible praise well before its intended release year has started, but after several listens it is hard to deny the possibility that this may very well be one of my favorite albums of “2010” just as Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear ended up being premature favorites of 2009.
Born and raised in (and/or near) Baltimore, I may be slightly biased heading into hearing the newest from an acclaimed Baltimore band, but to be honest I was not a huge fan of Beach House until listening to Teen Dream. I was impressed, but not incredibly so, after seeing them open for Grizzly Bear in Philadelphia. I enjoyed, but didn’t love, their first two records. And really, what could be so exciting about a duo featuring a guy and girl with most songs favoring heavy keyboard instrumentation? Apparently, a lot more than I expected, because I can not get enough of this album.
The opener, “Zebra” opens with a single guitar followed by harmonized “Ahhh’s” and a continuous thumping bass. As Victoria Legrand’s vocals kick in, along with the full drum kit, to the chorus, you can tell that Beach House has not abandoned the ambience they have become known for, but have added a constant sense of melody that will keep you coming back to every song Teen Dream has to offer.
The first single, “Norway”, proves just how powerful Beach House can be with just a few instruments and a single word, “Norway”, as the chorus. The next song, “Walk in the Park”, may be one of the catchiest (if you can call a Beach House song catchy) that I have heard from this band. The piano rhythm recalls that of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks”, which Legrand lent backing vocals to. She sings, “In a matter of time/It would slip from my mind/In and out of my life”, each line followed by effect-laden tremolo guitar picking. Continuing the desolation theme of past albums, Legrand lets go of a past lover, or friend, in impressive fashion.
You know an album is a great complete piece of work when you can listen straight through without leaving any songs behind, and I have now heard Teen Dream over 15 times without ever feeling the need to skip a single tune. Beach House basically keep the same formula throughout the album as they have in their first two, but they have done so almost to perfection this time around. They haven’t tried to thoroughly expand their sound, but have simply honed in on the craft they have chosen. Being a huge fan of live music, and having seen Beach House (in an opening slot) before, I’m not sure I would recommend dropping a huge lump of cash if you’re looking for an exciting live show, but as far as records go, Teen Dream far surpassed my expectations of this band.
It may be a little early to start predicting the best albums of 2010, but I am excited to see how people react to the next big thing to come out of Baltimore. It feels great to live in a city that can be seen as more than just a dramatic yet depressing setting for one of the best television shows of all time (The Wire), the murder capital of the world, or home to one of the most pathetic baseball teams of the new millennium. I have Animal Collective, Dan Deacon, and now, Beach House, to give me hope for a future of inspiring music to come out of my hometown.
Pitchfork: 7.9 Rolling Stone: 3/5 Metacritic: 81 Spin: N/A
Released: April 2005
Looking for Astronauts
Daughters of the SoHo Riots
Baby, We’ll Be Fine
Friend of Mine
All The Wine [LISTEN]
The Geese of Beverly Road
The National first started to get national recognition with the release of 2007’s Boxer. I was introduced to them with Alligator, one of the best unknown records of 2005. It took awhile for me to get used to Matt Berninger’s scruffy baritone vocals along with melodies lacking quick-hitting hooks, but I can honestly say that after listening to these two releases The National is one of the best bands in America today.
I knew that I wanted to write about the National but I needed to be in a certain frame of mind to do so . With a few shots of whiskey and a somewhat obstructed view of nighttime city streets, I think I am there. Alligator offers a variety of songs that can appeal to almost any mood possible. My preference is dark, cold, and buzzed, but don’t let that deter you from enjoying at any time. Berninger’s often quirky lyrics deal with lost friendships, lost love, and yearning to keep those relationships from spiralling into distant memories. He is apologetic, paranoid, and (maybe sarcastically) narcissistic. This may just make Alligator sound like another sad bastard record, but in actuality, it is not.
Alligator begins with a simultaneous strike of a snare and cymbal crash followed by the simple yet unmistakable riff of “Secret Meeting”. Berninger sings, “I think this place is full of spies/I think they’re on to me/Didn’t anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room?… And now I’m sorry I’ve missed you/I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain”. The first track climaxes with Berninger singing, “It went the dull and wicked ordinary way” while his bandmates chant an indecipherable phrase over and over, which Berninger himself has said he would never reveal. Some have suggested “Just drop the dice and roll it” or “Never draw an ace and fold it”. Either of these would suggest a lyrical dichotomy that many could relate to. The carpe diem mindset, or lack thereof, oftentimes ends in a “dull and wicked ordinary way” no matter how the cards are played.
(I have now switched from whiskey to gin. I’m right back to where I was two years ago in College Park, MD, when I fell in love with this band. This is good. Well…maybe not.)
Alligator’s centerpiece and perhaps one of The National’s best songs is “All the Wine”. This song is a perfect example of how beautiful and melodic this band can sound with two interwoven electric guitars and a simple but unorthodox drumbeat. The aforementioned narcissistic lyrics are on full display in this song. It opens, “I’m put together beautifully/big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth/I’m a perfect piece of ass, like every Californian”, and continues with lines like, “I’m a birthday candle in a circle of black girls” and “I’m so sorry but the motorcade can go around me this time”. Berninger is not afraid to dive into sensitive subjects to get his points across, but after reading a few of his interviews it’s easy to see that these aren’t his actual views of himself or the band. However, even as he puts himself on top of the world he is still concerned about those he cares about, singing, “All safe and sound, I won’t let the psychos around…I’m in a state where nothing can touch us, my love”. Because, shit, what’s the fun in feeling power and perfection if it can’t be used to share with and help those we love?
I’d like to shortly address some of the critics that call The National “soft” or “dull” by calling attention to the songs “Abel” and “Mr. November”. I’m not usually the type that gets off by hearing grown men scream in songs but I’ll be damned if Matt Berninger screaming “My mind’s not RIGHT!” in “Abel”, and “I won’t fuck us over/I’m Mr. November” doesn’t make me a little moist in the pants. This band can rock the fuck out with the best of them when they want, and if you’re one of these critics, at least give these two songs a listen.
I could probably write a twenty page paper on this album, describing the brilliance of every song, but that would bore 99% of the readers, and I’m not sure I have enough patience (or liquor) to do that. If you’ve only heard a few songs or brushed off The National due to the (actually not so) “monotone” vocals of Matt Berninger, or some other lame excuse, I beg you to give Alligator at least a few more complete listens. I promise you will connect with much more then you initially expected, both musically and emotionally. This album, and this band, is the real deal.