2010: Evan Hanlon
The following records are presented in no particular order besides alphabetical. Despite what most people say, I thought 2010 was a pretty good year for music, and out of the dozens of records that I’ve truly enjoyed, these were the ones with which I spent the most time. They represent the best at what they did, which was make me want to listen to them again.
I’ve written and rewritten what I wanted to say about this album at least a dozen times now, trying every permutation of biblical metaphor and hyperbolic adjective choice, but I’m realizing now that it’s best to just stick with a cliché and say you really have to experience All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood to believe it. The Body took six years to record these songs, and expanded the line-up from two to 32. In that time, and in those numbers, they found a way to make an album that was louder, more destructive, and even more terrifyingly awesome than anything I’ve ever come across (there we go into the hyperbole).
Standout Single: “A Body”
Live albums aren’t my thing for the most part. But when I do find one I like, I tend to cling to it tighter than most of a band’s studio output (e.g. Nirvana Unplugged). In the case of Bill Callahan, Rough Travel for a Rare Thing not only collects some of the best songs from his time as Smog, it also updates them to reflect his new recording ethos under his Christian name. More than that, though, is the chance to hear such despairingly intimate songs in a clearly intimate environment. Recorded live, Callahan’s voice stretches deeper than any ocean I could think of.
Standout Single: “Rock Bottom Riser”
Early on in Pilot Talk, Spitta talks about “some of the good things that weed can do.” But it’s not until later that you realize this whole album is about those things. With both a Dame Dash co-sign and Ski Beatz production, Curren$y makes a very convincing case for all of them. Every track is strong, emphasizing a real gift for specifically locating minute, peculiar truths in life that make you think, or smile at the least. Curren$y once explained that the reason he smokes so much was to alleviate a certain disgust with just how fucked up the world can be sometimes. I’ve never smoked a day in my life, but sometimes when I’m listening to this in the car, I start thinking, “Why not?”
Standout Single: “Roasted”
In his review for this site, Michael Crumsho wrote “Rush to Relax is that rare record, asking nothing up front, but yielding more and more rewards with each passing listen.” I can’t think of a better way to describe the time I’ve spent with this record. It’s so fundamental and straightforward, there’s something that just gets me going. And not just musically either; these Aussies do such a good job of capturing my every state of being, from “Anxiety” to “I Can Be a Jerk.” Even when it’s tackling the more stressful side of things, though, these songs remain the definition of "feel good" music for me.
Standout Single: “Rush to Relax”
I’ve spent the second half of 2010 listening to Past Time a handful of times every week, and there are still times I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. In reductive pseudo-critical (oxy)moronic terms, each song is filled with so many “simple complexities” that you can’t help but find new ones lurking inside the impossibly tight rhythms. Anyone who says rock ‘n roll is getting lazy clearly hasn’t been looking in the right places.
Standout Single: “Submarine”
Gun Outfit’s debut Dim Light was a good record because it so easily slipped into the college radio music spectrum alongside Smog, Sebadoh, the Silver Jews, and Dinosaur Jr. Possession Sound is a great record because it pushes past those foundational pillars into an uncharted corner of the still-recognizable Pacific Northwest sound. The main difference between the two is how strong the call-and-return between Dylan Sharp and Carrie Keith has become. Just one of them is more than capable of carrying the melody, but with both of them playing off each other, it’s something else entirely: timeless.
Standout Single: “Last Chants”
It’s been a long time since punk rock “belonged to the kids,” a la National Book Award winner Patti Smith, but there’s a couple of bands that give me hope. Knight School is one of them, a slightly darker flip side to the antics of their Queens neighbors The Beets. These songs are definitely for misfits, not cool kids: simple, honest and universally relatable for anyone who didn’t fit in against their own will. If you could turn all those escapist doodles in the margins of your notebook, Revenger and its world of half-fantastic, half-horrifying characters is what you’d end up with. And finally a table at lunch to eat some pizza in peace.
Standout Single: “Hold My Hand”
This is the first LCD Soundsystem album I don’t actively dislike. At first I thought my hater status might have just worn off, but I tried to listen to Sound of Silver again, and I just skipped ahead to “New York, I Love You” and then went straight back to the beginning of This is Happening. I can’t quite place what it is that makes these songs so much better to me, or why a Bruce Vilanch call-out is hilarious this time and not insufferable. But as far as sentiment goes, it feels like James Murphy has exchanged a lot of hipster posturing for some unguarded, unfiltered honesty. When he says, “sometimes friends are mean,” it doesn’t sound sarcastic. It sounds kind of insecure. That’s enough for me.
Standout Single: “Dance Yrself Clean”
Kanye West seems to have been crowned King of the Posse Cut, but I’m still partial to Mark Ronson and his dance party-in-a-bottle. The mark of a great producer is his ability to craft songs that sound singular to each artist. The thing about Record Collection is that they also sound singular to the amorphous entity that is The Business Intl. This may not seem like such a great feat at first, but then you look at the line-up: Q-Tip, Spank Rock, Boy George, the London Gay Men’s Choir, D’Angelo, Ghostface Killah and Pill. How you make everyone play nice is beyond me.
Standout Single: “Glass Mountain Trust (ft. D’Angelo)”
The Georgia Sea Islands, Appalachia, and inner city Chicago are all stripped to the essentials and built back up on I See the Sign. Much ado has been made about Amidon’s self-described method of recomposing everyone from Bessie Jones to R. Kelly, and how he can make archival material live and breathe again, and rightly so. But at the same time, what’s most impressive to me is how I never even consider the source material. It’s a complete mastery of each song that transcends any kind of postmodern authorship discussion. On a record like this, who really cares?
Standout Single: “You Better Mind”
In terms of no bullshit, four-on-the-floor, get up and go rock ‘n roll, I stand by the assertion that in 2010, The Soft Pack did it better than anyone else. Irreverent, fun, cutting and varied, this is an album in a classic sense, spanning all of The Soft Pack’s many talents that make their sound suitable for a basement show, a beach party, or a support role on tour with Phoenix. Cool songs from a cool band that has largely stayed out of the buzzband rat race that seems to swallow so many promising souls.
Standout Single: “Parasites”
Unstable lo-fi indie hitmakers manage to not only flesh out their sound but also take it into a more savage corner of Detroit rock history. The excavation of new-old Death records has been good news for hardcore fans, but getting a 2010 take on stalled-out emotions and the economy is a real pleasure. But as loud and rude as they get, Tyvek still brings plenty of nuance and a real knack for pulling killer melodies from abstractly absurd situations. Nothing Fits is maybe the best post-Election Day soundtrack that we’ve got right now.
Standout Single: “Potatoes”
I’ve always been a fan of the lazy Walkmen songs, the ones that settle over you like a blanket in winter. Not that any of them are particularly over the top in the energy department, but the first song I ever heard by them was “We’ve Been Had,” and I’d say it’s still my favorite thing they’ve recorded. Which is why Lisbon is so appealing to me: The whole album is pretty much walking pace. Sure, there are small moments of acceleration, but on the whole, there’s plenty of time for Hamilton Leithauser to unpack all sorts of melancholy and pensive thoughts. And now that the winter is here, this record is only getting stronger.
Standout Single: “All My Great Designs”
By Evan Hanlon