2010 has been a pretty solid year for music. A lot of great acts coming back to put new records out and a lot of great new music from bands just springing up at the turn of the decade. Usually I try to rank my favs but I think this time I'm just gonna chat about each record that I've enjoyed thus far.
Goldfrapp - Head First - The great thing about Head First is that it's the most accessible and closest to pop music Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory has gotten yet. This may seem like a detraction for those looking for the moody, synth noir of Felt Mountain or the Marc Bolan infused glam of Supernature. Quite the contrary. Even if Head First sounds like an unearthed album of Olivia Newton John from 1982, it's still a damn good record. It's a tad top heavy with the one-two-three punch of "Rocket", "Believer" and "Alive" soaring high above the rest, but it's still an album worthy to do aerobics to, even if you are a goth guy.
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach - Ok here's the thing...those looking for "Feel Good, Inc." or "19-2000".... don't bother. For those looking for a concept record on the excesses of humanity, the plasticine nature of our world culture and some killer hooks and countless guest spots, welcome to the world of the Plastic Beach. Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlitt get everyone from Mos Def to Bobby Womack to Little Dragon to add a little taste of brilliance to a record that some will hate and some will love. There is no in between with Plastic Beach. It comes off as an excessive mess on first glance with so many different sounds and shifting themes, but let it settle and you'll get the point. And if you are looking for good tracks to take away from it, look to "Stylo" it fill you future funk needs, "Empire Ants" for your space travels and "Sweepstakes" for your complex hip-hop infused with a brass section and a constantly building sound. It's a daunting listen, but it gets better every time.
Broken Bells - My initial review sounded a tad harsh. Danger Mouse and James Mercer's team up may not be anything transcendent but good pop music is good pop music. And what it boils down to is two great minds think alike and together they create some magical moments. "Vaporize" or "The High Road" provide plenty of high floating hooks to keep you company on a lazy day or on a drive to the shore. Tracks like "Mongrel Heart" and "The Ghost Inside" are groovy enough to dance to or trippy enough to zone out to. My only beef with the record is that it doesn't have a solid unique sound to its own rather than a back and forth between what The Shins or Gnarls Barkley sound like. But since when has sounding more like either of those bands been a bad thing?
Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM - If there is one thing to know, it's that Charlotte Gainsbourg is one of the best muses around. Her airy voice and alluring coo were enough to call in the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Air to collaborate on her first record but this time, we get Beck. And can I say something being a huge Beck nerd.... this record is better than anything Beck has released since Sea Change. Seriously. It's that good. After being put through an MRI (in French it's IRM) due to blood in her brain, Charlotte's life flashed before her eyes and the fragility of existence is what IRM is all about. The titular track has all the clicking and clanking and other worldly sounds of an MRI as a back bone for the music. It's utterly captivating and rather transcendent live. "Time of the Assassins" is a beautiful, melancholy number filled with all the usual Beck arrangements. Every song is beautiful be it the catchier tunes like "Heaven Can Wait" or the brooding and slow moving tracks like "Vanities." Wonderful lyrics and arrangements with Charlotte carrying them to new heights. It doesn't get much better than this.
The Black Keys - Brothers - Muscle Shoals has done nothing but wonders for The Black Keys. Sure, Brothers is the most un-Black Keys album to date. Gone are the grimy blues riffs and lo-fi buzz and stomp and in it's stead is an R&B soul and multi-layered tracks with multiple guitar parts, harpsichords and synthesizers. To me, this is the Black Keys best effort yet. I may be alone in this camp, but the album is sumptuous and heartbreaking and catchy as hell. Whether it's the Gary Glitteresque stomp of "Howlin' For You" or the heartbreaking ballad of "Unknown Brother", Brothers is delightfully tight and varied in it's sound.
Tame Impala - Innerspeaker - Just when I thought my days of discovering more psych rock that fits the bill of what I love about music, Tame Impala had to come galloping up from nowhere (Australia to be exact) to create one of the best records I've heard all year. Lead singer Kevin Parker is going to get a lot of comparisons to John Lennon in the Revolver era and if you ask me, how the hell can that be bad? Opening stunner "It Is Not Meant To Be" is the perfect trance like psych garage rock that will immediately thrust you into Tame Impala's universe. "Lucidity" is the stand out here which is this years "Chemtrails" in it's perfect encapsulation of all things 60's psychedelia in a single track. Whatever your take is on bands taking older sounds and making them their own is, Tame Impala's Innerspeaker has the craftsmanship and the catchiness to keep you wanting more.
Surfer Blood - Astro Coast - When Weezer died after Matt Sharp left, there was a void in my life for good, catchy power pop. Sure, bands like Teenage Fanclub (whose album Shadows is a solid entry into the Power Pop catalog) are still around, but nothing stood out until this year. Surfer Blood comes out of nowhere and what do I get? What Weezer should be sounding like. Catchy riffs, interesting song structures and just damn good summertime music. From the initial guitar riff in "Floating Vibes" we know we're in store for some catchy rock tunes. One good thing is that the tracks are never formulaic. The single "Swim" is very intriguing with shifts in sound, tempo and all together catchiness. The vocals are supremely fun, if not a little hard to hear amidst the cacophony of reverb, but it enhances the experience. Overall, Astro Coast is the best pop rock record of the year.
Other notable albums that I have yet to fully soak in but like what I hear:
Teenage Fanclub - Shadows
Ratatat - LP4
School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire
Albums I am feverishly anticipating:
Autolux - Transit Transit
Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart
Panda Bear - Tomboy
And Im sure there is more. 2010 thus far has been really great.