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Avalanche: Best of 2010



Top 10 Releases of 2010

I generally find that the odd years are far better than the even years in music release quality. If you use the metric of a ‘good’ year, as I think most critics do, as the emergence of massively interesting break-through bands coming out from the ether (like say Fever Ray or The xx from last year), then you can say that 2010 is an off year in relation to 2009. 2010 largely featured the release of several good to great albums from veteran bands that are expected to do just that, and therefore, got roundly ignored for their good efforts as oceans of middling and often derivative upstarts get all of the year-end accolades. Every one of my top 10 here, except Candy Claws, I suspect are victims of being largely passed over due to past successes – but not here. What are included here are my favorite full length albums. Eps and singles, featuring the best work of the new bands that got my attention, are treated separately.

1.Killing Joke – Absolute Dissent
It is pretty shocking what little is out there these days that passes as a solid hard rock album. Outside of Grinderman, I can’t even think of anything that would remotely act as competition. Thankfully, Killing Joke don’t rely on competition for inspiration and remain peerless in putting out intelligent heavy guitar albums with paint peeling vocals.

2.OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark) – History of Modern
I admit that I might be placing OMD‘s return to the fray high on the list just as bait for them to tour the US. You see, OMD are a U2 sized band in popularity every where on the planet but here in the U.S. of A. and are not willing to lug their vintage keyboards oversees to play mid-size clubs. This album didn’t change things, but it certainly is a fine keyboard pop record from true masters. There are some phenomenal moments on this record, and yes, it would be on this list no matter what. OMD, if you are reading, Kylie Minogue finally deigned to play to this country of ingrates. I think she enjoyed herself. Think about it. [And, remember kiddies, if OMD do finally come to the US, you have TSOI largely to thank.]

3.Candy Claws – Hidden Lands
Candy Claws are very young and from an unlikely place, Colorado, but somehow have put together this beautiful slab of fuzzed psychedelic dream pop – like Mercury Rev playing from David Lynch‘s radiator with the steam screaming through the pipes.

4.Stars – The Five Ghosts
I have been on the fence about the Stars for quite awhile but damn, Amy Millan vocals are too good to ignore anymore and I think that Ghosts is a particularly strong effort.

5.Front Line Assembly – Improvised. Electronic. Device
FLA have little by way of competition in the Industrial genre, but like Killing Joke are nearly peerless in a sparse field. Every once in awhile Bill Leeb and Co. drops a record such as this one that probably inadvertently sends the message to any upstarts out there: “don’t waste your time kiddies, we got this area covered.”

6.Dean and Britta – 13 Most Beautiful…Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests
Dean Wareham‘s post Luna outfit, Dean and Britta has been a frequent flyer on my best-of lists. Dean and Britta have spun out another gem pairing songs with 13 of Andy Warhol’s silent portraits of his Factory crew who, for the most part, met a tragic and untimely end like Nico, Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, Billy Name, to name a few. Dean and Britta’s songs are perfect depictions of the glamor, the tragedy, and the cracked beauty of each of the subjects.

7.!!! – Strange Weather, Isn’t It?
I love the vocals. Fun album.

8.Jeremy Jay – Splash
This album was released with little fanfare and since there was no accompanying tour it seems to have been forgotten – just not by me. I find Jeremy Jay’s slightly off kilter pop ruminations really arresting and surprised that he hasn’t amassed a massive army of adherents by now.

9.Ruby Isle – Appetite for Destruction
I am pretty sure that this qualifies as the weirdest, or, at least, the most unexpected release of the year. Ruby Isle clearly have a soft spot for the GNR classic as being a fundamental part of their musical dna and give it a lovingly synth and machined rework. I have a bit of a gripe with some of the tempo changes, but the results are as fun and as charming as the album cover indicates. Be sure to read TSOI interview with Ruby Isle on the making of ‘Ruby Appetite’ and take a peek at the killer album cover.

10.Shriekback – Life in the Loading Bay
This was just released late in 2010 and is precisely why we wait for the year to end before we start shooting our mouth off about the best of the year, unlike (ahem) every other knucklehead publication and blog out there.

Here is a list of releases that are honorable mentions but were eeked out of the top 10 slots. Most are from established artists that are worthy and notable but whose albums seemed either as a bit too ‘color by numbers’ to generate a sustained interest or are slow growers and the clock ran out for them to blossom to make the final cut for the top 10 slots. Some, may, over time, if given a few more listens, will end up in heavy rotation for years to come while, others just might be middling outings that don’t hold up to better recent releases. Right now, it is too early to tell. In the case, of Retribution Gospel Choir (Low gone electric), I love some of the tracks but the album isn’t as consistent as I like – a great near miss. Beach Fossils and Beach House are young-ish bands with some great and interesting moments. I will be looking forward to their future releases.

Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Belle and Sebastian – Write Love Songs
Tindersticks – Falling Down a Mountain
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
The Fall – Our Clutter, Our Future
Walkmen – Lisbon
Retribution Gospel Choir – 2
Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope
Apples in Stereo – Travelers In Space and Time
Vaselines – Sex with an X
Beach Fossils – Beach Fossils
Beach House – Beach House
Mathew Dear – Black City
Radio Dept – Clinging to a Scheme

Young bands these days tend to release a few eps or singles before delving into a full album. Since they are not full albums, these ‘mini-releases’ don’t get considered in my top ten of the year. Each of the following are outstanding and I hope are just precursors to full albums to be released in 2011. As such, here are bands that I feel pretty good about landing in my top 10 for 2011, so take note. Some of these bands released eps (Holy Ghost!) or singles (TPoBPH, Alex Winston, FHR) or aired new material at live shows (Celebration). If these 2010 releases are any indication of the 2011 album, then mark my words, keep your peepers on the following bands in the new year:

1.French Horn Rebellion – “Beaches and Friends” + Savoir Adore remix French Horn Rebellion are the new masters of blood rushing synth pop tunes that I was hoping more of from Hot Chip. They put out a few singles as well a face melting remix for Savoir Adore. If Brooklyn based bands have any sense, they will have FHR produce any and all future releases.
2.The Pains of Being Pure of Heart – “Say No to Love” single This single sounds goooooood.
3.Celebration
4.Holy Ghost!“Static on the Wire” ep If for whatever reason Cut Copy falters, these guys are there to pick up their crown. Based on what I have heard, these guys are very similar to Cut Copy but an early era Shriekback vibe rather than the New Order rework of the Cutters. I will be keeping an eye on these guys.
5.Alex Winston“Choice Cuts” single

As a feature that will like show up in my future ‘Best Of’ lists, here are some albums that I discovered this year that would have made past Best-Of lists if I were paying better attention:
Wooden Birds – Magnolia
Bossanova – Sugar


Top 10 Concerts of 2010


As in 2009, the best of 2010 is once again filled with veteran bands. If you are a new band, for the love of god, go see some of the bands on this list and see how it is done…or click on the links to at least hear how it is done.

1. Wooden Birds – Rock Shop (see Sept 28 TSOI post)
2. Octant – Southpaw (see Dec 14 TSOI post)
3. Chapterhouse – Bell House(see Oct 14 TSOI post)
4. Unrest, Bossanova, Rondelles – Bell House (see Unrest and Rondelles, etc – Teenbeat Week pt 2)
5. Atari Teenage Riot – Gramercy Theater (see Dec 21 TSOI post)
6. Public Image Ltd. – Terminal 5 (see May 27 TSOI post)
7. Thao and Mirah – Music Hall of Williamsburg (see June 29 TSOI post)
8. Castiotone for the Painfully Alone – Monster Island Basement (see July 22 TSOI post)
9. Faster Pussycat – Europa (see Aug 20 TSOI post
10.Guided by Voices – Mercury Lounge (see Nov 11 TSOI post)

Kevin: Best of 2010


A quick rundown of my favorite records and shows of 2010. Once again, my top records don’t seem to overlap with most of the other lists I’ve read. In fact, I only bought 1 record on Pitchfork’s Top 50 and 2 on Stereogum’s list this year. Once again proof I would never make a good A&R man.

Top 10 Releases of 2010

 

1. Kisses – The Heart Of The Nightlife
I’ve been a Kanye fan from waaaay back in the day and I think this is his best record yet. Wait, hold on, I just assumed from reading nearly every other indie Top 10 that Kanye would be #1. Oh, Kisses, that’s right! My most listened to record of 2010 by far. Starting with the 2 7”s that came out before the full length late this year, the only way it could get any better would be to ditch some of the cheesy lyrics: “I would like to take you out. For a nice steak dinner…”, yeah, no.

2. Alex Winston – Choice Notes 7”
Technically not a “full” record, but the 2 songs on the 7” are probably the two best songs I heard all year. Definitely my summer jam.

3. Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
I thought I would see this on a lot more Top 10 lists, but I guess it wasn’t to be. I thought it was a stellar record.

4. oOoOO – oOoOO/NoSummer4U EPs
I’m counting both oOoOO EPs as one record here, but the NoSummer4U EP was the one I preferred.

5. Eux Autres – Broken Bow
I really enjoyed Eux Autres new record and was pretty upset when I found out I missed their only performance in LA this year. I was looking forward to hearing the new tracks live.

6. Keepaway – Baby Style EP
This was a great debut from this Brooklyn band.

7. Mystery Pills – Demos
Jason from The Weather Machines goes in a little different direction. You didn’t hear the tracks, so do yourself a favor and go listen to them here.

8. Undersea Poem – Undersea Poem
My love for bossa nova runs deep and Undersea Poem definitely tapped into it.

9. Tender Forever – No Snare
Melanie put out yet another superb record.

10. Abe Vigoda – Crush
A little love for the locals.

Top 10 Concerts of 2010

 

1. Bear In Heaven – The Echo (see August 2 TSOI post)
When thinking about the top show there was absolutely no question what it was. Bear In Heaven put on the most memorable show all year.

2. Phantogram – Bordello (see March 8 TSOI post)
I though I was one of the only people “in the know” when Phantogram came through earlier this year. When we showed up, the bar was packed and everyone knew all the lyrics. An awesome show to a very appreciative crowd.

3. The Bird And The Bee – Mondrain
Any set that ends with the singer doing a swan dive into a pool only 3 feet away from a powerstrip full of plugged in electronics gets serious kudos. Note to new bands, death defying encores rank high with most crowds.

4. Belle & Sebastian – Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The rain cleared up just about the same time Belle & Sebastian started their set with Suki in the Graveyard, of course.

5. Dappled Cities – The Echo (see March 15 TSOI post)
Even though they were stuck on a bill with 7 other bands and played at 2:30 in the afternoon, with no soundcheck, they still put on a great show. Their record “Zounds” was my favorite of last year, so it was a thrill to see the songs performed live.

6. Love Of Diagrams/Beaches – The Smell (see March 29 TSOI post)
Love Of Diagrams is always a live favorite of mine, though a little longer set would have been appreciated. I was very jealous of NYC that saw them play 3 (or was it 4) shows on this tour, where LA only got one.

7. The Wedding Present – Troubadour
Bizzaro played in its entirety, enough said.

8. Jens Lekman – Mondrain
Jens playing an intimate show. This show was far better than his previous outing at The Echo earlier in the year.

9. Red Sparowes – Echoplex
You can never go wrong with Red Sparowes live.

10. Abe Vigoda – The Smell
More love for the Los Angeles locals.

Mark: Best of 2010


2010 was a great year for shows. I got to see several bands that I had been waiting a long time to see, new bands that I just discovered, as well as classic bands that I can’t enough of. Living in NYC, there were a lot of special anniversary, farewell, and one-off shows that I got to catch, many of which made it onto my list. So without further ado, here’s my top 10 shows of 2010:

1. Faith No More – Williamsburg Waterfront: July 2 and 5 (see August 16 TSOI post)
After playing shows on every continent except for North America, my favorite band from back in the day finally played a handful of shows in the US, 2 of which took place in Brooklyn. They may look older, but FNM kicked out the jams like it was 1995 all over again, playing 2 drastically different setlists over 2 nights. The band recently declared that they were finished after playing a couple final shows in early December, so if you missed it, you won’t be getting to see it again. Sucks to be you.

2. a-ha – Nokia Theater: May 6, 7, and 8 (see June 18 TSOI post)
Completely ignored over here in North America, a-ha included the US on the itinerary of their farewell tour. Playing NY for the first time in 26 years, the band came out and rocked the house for 3 sold out nights in Times Square. Greatly underrated band.

3. Rammstein – Madison Square Garden: Dec 11
This one I had been waiting 10 years for. Rammstein’s stage show = FIRE. Lots of it. People came from all over the country to see Rammstein do a one-off US show at MSG. I still can’t believe that it sold out in an hour. Hopefully, this is a sign that the band will make the trek over here more often than once every ten years.

4. Robyn – Terminal 5: Nov 10
I was a little apprehensive about this show, being that I usually avoid acts that are unabashedly mainstream pop, but Robyn’s different. Her 3-part Body Talk album that was released this year is a fantastic slab of electro-pop goodness. I was expecting costume changes and lame choreographed dances, but I got a band with a charismatic lead singer who left it all on stage. And the songs sound way better remixed live than on the album!

5. Dragonette – Bowery Ballroom: Aug 13 (see December 23 TSOI post)
Another criminally underrated band, I discovered Dragonette by complete accident. 2009′s “Fixin to Thrill” is one of my favorite albums of the last couple years. Top to bottom, every track on the album is a banger. Every song sounded unbelievably awesome live, and the band was definitely feeling the love from the crowd.

6. Killing Joke – Irving Plaza: Dec 3
The post-punk legends came out to NYC touring in support of their fantastic new record “Absolute Dissent” after canceling shows earlier in the year to further work on the album. It was worth the wait. The setlist consisted of songs from the first 2 albums and the new one, with some random songs sprinkled in for good measure. One of the only times I’ve gone to see an old school band and was upset they didn’t play more new songs. But at least I got Jaz and Geordie to autograph my homework after the show!

7. Bad Religion – Irving Plaza: Oct 20
Bad Religion treated NYC to a 3-night stand, each setlist devoted to one of the 3 decades of their career. The first night focused on their 80s material. By far the best of the 3 nights, this show was chock full of songs the band hadn’t played in 25+ years. They even included “Billy Gnosis” from their much maligned and ignored prog-rock record, 1983′s “Into the Unknown”.

8. Scissor Sisters – Terminal 5: Aug 25
I was never a huge fan of the Sisters’ first two albums, but the new one “Night Work” is great. I love the bands’ new dancier sound, and live they sounded epic, especially with those thunderous drums! And it’s funny I can’t really put my finger on why, but I have a sneaking suspicion that several members of the Scissor Sisters and/or their fans might be gay.

9. Jello Biafra – Rocks Off Concert Cruise: May 28
This was a surreal night spent on a boat with Jello Biafra just hanging out like a normal dude, autographing everything given to him and posing for pictures with everyone. The set consisted of a bunch of DK classics and well as his Guantanamo School of Medicine project.

10. Cut Copy – Williamsburg Waterfront: Aug 8 (see January 5 TSOI post)
This was a one-off show the band played after playing Lollapalooza a couple days beforehand, while the set was shortened, it was still a fun show. They focused mostly on songs from 2008s “In Ghost Colors” as well as some new songs. Definitely looking forward to the new album.

Jbird: Best of 2010


2010 was a strange year for me and music.  It seemed like every other week (especially in the first half of the year), yet another of my old favorite bands was releasing a brand-new album: The Hold Steady, Wintersleep, The New Pornographers, Shout Out Louds, Les Savy Fav, Wolf Parade, Apples in Stereo, and on and on… The number one casualty of this situation was my ability to keep up with anything relatively newer bands were doing: Best Coast? Waaves? Frightened Rabbit? School of Seven Bells?  Florence and the Machine?

Who were these guys?  Were they even worth paying attention to?  And what about legendary old bands I always regretted not getting into before, like Swans?  In the end, I have to plead the Fifth on a lot of their releases this year.  On the other hand, when I did catch the new bands (on the Dutch radio station VPRO’s awesome website, for example, or in posts on The Sound of Indie), I found very little to be impressed by.  Reports from equally thirty-something music fans lead me to believe I am not alone in identifying 2010 as a good year for music, but a lousy one for debuts…with precisely one exception:


1. Sarah Jaffe – Suburban Nature

I never would have heard of Sarah Jaffe had she not opened for the otherwise-forgettable Midlake at Spanish Moon in February.  I caught the last half of her performance and was transfixed by bittersweet country songs with a grown-old-too-fast perspective on love and loss — aching is precisely the word one wants here.  Her voice is all her own, the lyrics a little naive — but properly so.  Her delivery and melodies are reminiscent of the reigning queen (in my opinion) of alt-country chanteusery, Jolie Holland.  Big winners are “Clementine” (not a cover of the classic), “Better than Nothing,” and “Summer Begs.”  Buy Sarah’s album — this is non-negotiable.  She deserves stardom.

2. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
As I said, on the other hand…someone needs to show the other new guys how it’s done, and who better than the power-pop overlords of the ’90′s, Superchunk?  Majesty Shredding, their first album in almost a decade, is the perfect one for aging pseudo-hipsters (like me), who can relate to the out-of-touch feeling embodied by “My Gap Feels Weird” — ostensibly it’s a song of unrequited love, but it seems to me more like a description of watching the music scene evolve and maybe getting left behind by it.  Lots of high-energy songs with sing-along choruses here, like “Crossed Wires.”

3. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Bear with me here: The Hold Steady used to be incapable of doing wrong in my eyes — Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America will forever be two of my all-time top albums.  They’ve suffered some mis-steps, though: 2008′s Stay Positive was beset with problems from composition to production, while this year’s outing, Heaven is Whenever did have its moments, but was nowhere near as strong as their earlier work.  It looks increasingly likely, therefore, that Titus Andronicus is going to assume the mantle of being the super-literate, powerful, versatile, shout-singing, straight-up rock band we need in these hard times.

The irony is that The Hold Steady’s leader, Craig Finn, actually appears on this album, reading — yes, reading — as Walt Whitman, in support of the conceit that the album somehow documents/commemorates the Civil War (when it’s really all about the suburbs of New Jersey).  There’s an enormous range in this record, from the rocking (and Springsteen-upending) opener to low-key heartfelt ballads.  Patrick Stickles’ vocals present a more-tolerable (to me, at least) version of Conor Oberst’s nasal whine.

4. Walkmen – Lisbon
The Walkmen keep chugging along with their twangy, spare guitars, thumping drums, and wailing vocals — as if they were the Ennio Morricones of urban loneliness.  “Blue as Your Blood” typifies their
cinematic m.o.  These songs aren’t hummable, but they are beautiful.

5. Menomena – Mines
There was no album I was awaiting with greater anticipation this year than Mines.  2007′s Friend and Foe was a classic, and this album is rock-solid, too.  Fuzzy bass;  beautiful, carefully arranged tunes mixing strong rhythms and soaring horns and guitars; and intricate wordplay, all showing a band more dedicated than just about any to the total package.

6. Stars – The Five Ghosts
The first proper pop album in the list.  LCD Soundsystem screwed everything up when they followed up their initial hit, “Dance Yrself Clean” (almost the song of the year; see below) with the eight worst, most repetitive, stupidest songs to emerge this year.  Hot Chip pulled a similar trick, unfortunately.   But Stars, at least, seems to have taken over The Cardigans’ old role of turning out an album that is catchy, pithy, and perfectly produced with our beloved dueling male-female vocals.  No duds here.

7. Laura Veirs – July Flame
Laura Veirs has carved out a role as a Pacific Northwest singer-songwriter with a few absolutely killer folk-rock tunes to her name (“Galaxies” and “Pink Light” spring to mind — and I thank Ed Smith for bring them to my attention a few years ago).  Her new album, named for a kind of peach and recorded just before the birth of her first child, carries through on the theme without being maudlin; the second half of this album is as delicious as anything else that came out this year.  “Carol Kaye” is like Simon and Garfunkel resurrected.

8. Spoon – Transference
This seems to be the year when forgotten Spoon gets re-evaluated — I’ve seen it coming already on Pitchfork and The AV Club.  I’m not sure what about this record has re-awakened people to the pop perfection that this band has always offered — maybe it just seems somehow less contrived this time, even though I’m sure the whole thing is as carefully planned as it could possibly be, swaggery and
too-cool-for-school.  Just as Spoon has always been.

9. The Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years
“The Tool” — what Corin Tucker’s bandmates in Sleater-Kinney used to call her voice — is back.  After the last S-K album, The Woods, one might expect more overwhelming, crunching, overdriven rock, but that’s largely missing here (“Doubt” is probably the closest this record comes, but even it’s not at all as deliberately off-putting).  It’s been replaced by a broad range of styles — sometimes stripped-down staccato guitar work (“Half a World Away”), sometimes softer vocals over waves of guitar and keyboard (“Handed Love”).  Fans may yearn for S-K to get back together, but if all the members’ forthcoming side projects, like Carrie Brownstein’s collaboration with Helium’s Mary Timony as The Spells, are as successful as 1,000 Years, they can probably live with it.

10.  Arcade Fire — The Suburbs
Last year, the guilty pleasure was Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; this year it’s the Arcade Fire.  When you take on a universal modern theme like suburbia as the concept behind your art, you ought to have something new and unusual to say, which isn’t really the case here.  The lyrics and posturing here are lame, inauthentic, or teenager-obvious compared to Titus Andronicus, but in the end this album needs to be mentioned on this list because dammit, it is hard (embarrassingly hard!) to stop listening to these songs.  Call me a self-aware sucker.  If you haven’t checked out their collaboration with Google on the video for “We Used to Wait,” you should.

Honorable mentions: Wolf Parade, Expo 86, and Apples in Stereo, Travellers in Space and Time

Song of the Year: My cousin Orlagh sent me this link a few weeks ago from Dublin.  It’s a pair of comedians from Limerick called The Rubberbandits singing their song, “Horse Outside.”  If it’s not the number one song in Ireland right now, it will be shortly.  I’m not saying it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever heard, but Carlie and I couldn’t stop watching it. Whatever — it’s fun, so it’s as good a pick for this award as any.

Post 1,000!


Crack open the Boones because this is The Sound of Indie’s 1,000th post!

Long before iPhones, and Androids, and Twitter, there was my simple idea for a daily mp3 blog that would feature rare music that I had collected over the years. Along the way, I started featuring videos, then added a writer, then started featuring entire concerts, then added a few more writers, and here we are nearly 5 years later. And although I personally think that TSOI should be one of the most read sites out there, the people that do stumble across our little corner of the net are extremely appreciative, often even sending in contributions of their own. All I can say is I owe an extreme debt of gratitude to the 4 people who have joined me in posting over the past couple of years. Frankly, if it wasn’t for them taking on such a huge part of the load and contributing such great content, this site would have never seen it’s 1,000th post. I also wanted to thank the readers who have consistently come back, commented and provided me with some amazing music that I would have never gotten otherwise (I’m looking at you James and Steve).

Here’s to the next 1,000.