Tag: Frightened Rabbit
When compiling my best of 2010 list, I came to the slow realisation that it was a bit of an odd year in music. On paper, 2010 shaped up to be one of the best years in memory for music, at least of the type I listen to. Albums from the Arcade Fire, the Gaslight Anthem, the National, the Hold Steady, Cloud Cult and Spoon, all artists at the top of the pile when it comes to my favourite artists. Add in albums by other favourites such as the Fall, Micah P Hinson and Wolf Parade, and it should have been stellar. In ways it was, but given that list of phenomenal artists, it was also a bit underwhelming. The Hold Steady’s album fell flat. Instead of using keyboardist/live wire Franz Nicolai’s departure as a chance to recalibrate, they instead fell back on past tropes. It was still okay, but could have been so much more. Spoon likewise returned with a solid effort (damning praise, I realise), but one that failed to ignite like Gimme Fiction or Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. To a (much) lesser extent, even the National’s new one was great, but didn’t capture the lightning in a bottle that was Alligator and Boxer. It’s still near the top of my list, but the album was more classy than goosebump-inducing. In reality (and perhaps unfairly), I would have judged these albums much more positively if they came from an unknown, because after all, even a lesser National album is better than 95% of what’s out there (I know this for a fact. I did a large scale study). What all these cases, to greater or lesser extents, showed is how difficult it can be to follow up near perfection, where even great albums can disappoint a bit. Meanwhile, a few new artists surprised with excellent albums. Without further adieu, here’s my top ten of 2010.
Sure, they’re self serious, but they’re also very, very good. A concept album about, you guessed it, the Suburbs, the Arcade Fire’s third album sprawls like its titular living arrangement. It’s one of those rare albums that both has standout songs and holds together well as a whole.
These guys also just keep getting better and better. Musically, they’ve expanded their palettes since 2008’s The ’59 Sound, and where the Arcade Fire extend to breaking point, the Gaslight Anthem hit with surgical precision, with the whole album clocking in at little over half an hour. They pack a lot into that space, from jubilation to despair, in a way that’s catchy but doesn’t get old.
Even if it’s not quite up to Boxer standards, the National produce another excellent album with High Violet. It’s amazing the colours, textures and variety the band can milk out of the same basic formula. Eschewing the peaks and valleys of past releases, High Violet keeps to a mid-tempo, reflective pace, but in a way that remains interesting and continues to reveal new depth with each listen. As always, Matt Berninger’s lyrics are excellent, reflecting every day, common-man emotion, both ennui and joy, with neither being treated in a simplistic manner.
The first unknown surprise on my list, John Grant, formerly of the Czars, produced his debut solo LP in 2010, with Midlake as his backing band. The music is pleasant and captivating, but his wry, funny lyrics add an extra layer of depth.
I thought Simon Aldred and his band had disappeared after 2007’s Thirst for Romance, but they reappeared stronger than ever this year. Their second album feels like a lot more cohesive and collaborative effort, containing a nice mix of introspection, story songs and moody atmosphere. This could soundtrack a thoughtful road trip.
The second surprise on this list is Sleigh Bells, a band that goes Spinal Tap on the volume knobs. The entire CD is in the red, but for something this loud, it’s also surprisingly poppy.
This is, by far, the most batshit crazy entry on the list. Ostensibly a concept album about the American Civil War, complete with the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn playing Walt Whitman in a spoken-word bit, the album still feels excitingly contemporary, reflecting the uncertain future facing 20-somethings in this day and age. It all culminates in The Battle of Hampton Roads, a mad, 14-minute anthem complete with a bagpipe solo. Shockingly, it works.
After a few years of relative inactivity (for him at least) following the start of his 50 state series (and an odd multimedia production), Stevens takes a left turn and releases a challenging slab of dense, twisting songs full of electrical glitches and off-kilter rhythms. In a year full of excess (see the Arcade Fire for sprawl, Sleigh Bells for volume, and Titus Andronicus for ambition), Stevens takes the cake with a 25 and a half minute closing song that seemingly covers every single genre of music ever invented. This is a far cry from his pretty piano work on Michigan and Illinois, but if you give it time, you’ll be rewarded.
Wolf Parade has always been brilliant because of its symbiotic juxtaposition of Spencer Krug’s eccentric musical leanings and Dan Boeckner’s more straightforward (but still inventive and rewarding) ability with a tune. Whereas on their first two albums these elements didn’t so much combine as co-exist, Expo 86 feels like a true band effort. These two bring the best out of each other and produced a catchy but still unique take on rock and roll.
To wrap up our year of excess, Joanna Newsom released a 3 disc album after a few years of little activity. Have One on Me is background music in the most positive sense of the term. It seeps into your consciousness without being distracting, and her compositional ability keeps her beautiful harp playing interesting. Her voice, always a shrill love-it-or-leave-it proposition, has mellowed into a huskier tone, which is welcome in my books.
Honourable Mention and New Excitement: