The Best Albums of 2010: 40-31

The Walkmen – Lisbon

40. The Walkmen – Lisbon (Fat Possum Records)

The Walkmen’s sixth album is not a pick-me-up. It won’t accompany your morning jog or a make-out session with your favorite girl. The starkness of this band’s production and the desperate plea of singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice is best suited for late-night listening with a glass of whiskey and a rethinking of your path in life. Elements of classic folk and even rockabilly accompany the songs here, with bits of frenetic guitar (“Angela Surf City”) and horns (“Stranded”). But mostly, Lisbon is an album of stark contrasts – rich and soulful beauty (“Blue as Your Blood”), emphatic heights (“Victory”), and quiet moments of lush design (“Torch Song”). It’s a lovely piece of songwriting; just don’t expect it to lighten your mid-winter moods. ~ Jeff Marsh

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

39. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today (4AD)

A half a year out from the release of Before Today, and Ariel Pink’s transformation from lo-fi pop weirdo to full-fledged band leader doesn’t seem so strange anymore. It’s easier now to see how much his lo-fi recording techniques and questionable distribution process were partially a method of self-handicapping (both by him and his followers) against his weirdness and eclectic, out-of-time tastes. These new recordings show, at his core, a bizarre pop savant and imaginative songwriter who production by Glen Ballard or Quincy Jones (or in this case Quincy Jones’ grandson Sunny Levine) couldn’t fix. Pink sounds less lonely, more driven, and still willing to go anywhere, and his vocal talents are pretty much second to none if you value versatility over virtuosity. The band plays with muscle and flair in equal measures, and this full-band rebirth has allowed the Haunted Graffiti to become one the greatest live rock bands currently running the circuit. Mixing previously recorded songs, brand new tracks, and an old-school cover, Before Today is the sound of a musician taking advantage of his new situation, peeling away the metalayers and getting down to business. ~ Greg Argo

Four Tet – There Is Love in You

38. Four Tet – There Is Love in You (Domino Recordings)

As the kaleidoscopic album art might lead you to believe, Kieran Hebden’s sixth studio release under the Four Tet guise is an entrancing amalgamation of demure electronica and nocturnal atmosphere. Though he’s infused his music with everything from hip-hop to folk over the years, There Is Love in You is a work of calculated minimalism – an LP of deceptive complexity that only emerges once you’ve begun to peel back the layers.  Hebden goes into DJ mode on the suave yet propulsive “Love Cry,” but elsewhere his approach is far more sedate. “Circling” is a stunningly hypnotic collection of dulcet textures and orbiting rhythms, while “Plastic People” aligns an understated four-on-the-floor groove with haunting keyboard melodies and fidgety egg shaker timbres. The incipient title track takes a melancholic vocal sample and develops it with layers of twinkling mallet percussion tones that are as mollifying as a lullaby. Taking nods from titans of minimalism like Steve Reich and electronic pioneers such as Aphex Twin, Four Tet assembled a record that, while mostly danceable, feels better suited to the doe-eyed wonder of someone taking in the enchanting allure of a stroll on a starry night. ~ Adam Costa

Das Racist – Shut Up, Dude

37. Das Racist – Shut Up, Dude (Self-released)

In the age where self-awareness is the new thing, Das Racist took two mixtapes to make sure that going forward anything that is even close to as obnoxiously conscious will be cliché. Luckily, we don’t end up with novelty, but something that might actually be worth the bar it sets. In Shut Up, Dude, the first and undoubtedly more memorable release of the year, the group takes off by spraying lines all over the place across a yard sale of beats that come together way better than they should. On more than one occasion it is expected that you bury your forehead in your palm upon hearing the same word rhymed two or three times in a row, but secretly you know that they know that you are reacting that way, and they’re the ones having all the fun. This is what happens when smart people aren’t afraid of acting stupid. ~ Nick Bush

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36. Katzenjammer – Le Pop (Propeller/Nettwerk)

Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer is a Norwegian, all-female quartet that I discovered out-of-the-blue. I had just missed their swing through Philadelphia and after hearing Le Pop I couldn’t believe my poor judgment. Le Pop is an exciting entry into the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink (well, maybe that too) approach to rock music. I’ve heard Katzenjammer referenced as the female version of Gogol Bordello, but the application of folk-styles to more modern music doesn’t make them automatic contemporaries. This powerhouse definitely experiments with genres, but don’t mistake them as just a gypsy-punk hybrid. The four members of Katzenjammer all sing and all seem to play multiple instruments. While the main sounds heard here come from the usual instrumentation, the ladies mix it up with a number of unexpected things such as: melodica, organs, and even a balalaika with a cat’s face painted on it. The members create some really memorable harmonies and whether hammering through a polka, Balkan folk ditty, or sea shanty, there’s much to absorb from this raucous quartet. ~ Jenn O’Donnell

Future Islands – In Evening Air

35. Future Islands – In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)

Sometimes a band’s music feels very calculated, either the sum of tasteful decisions made by technically gifted musicians or simply a play at sounding “of the times”. On In Evening Air, the self-styled “post-wave” trio Future Islands sound about as uncalculated as a group of musicians can. Their distinct musical voices seem inherent and essential – smooth Peter Hook -inspired melodic bass lines, gargantuan walls of nimble synth chords, sensitive and slightly deranged singing – and the music feels more powerful as a result of the unlikelihood of their successful and seamless unity. Frontman Samuel Herring takes the primary colors of defeat (vulnerability, rage, and anguish), and attenuates them with emotional shadings both grotesque and sublime, alternately sounding like a sphinx triumphantly risen from the ashes, a chain-smoking dowager passing down wisdom in oblique adages, and a demon-possessed victim mortifying itself to exorcise the scorn and shame. These guys take their music by the horns and direct it where they want it to go, and in the process the fact of music being played is forgotten and In Evening Air transforms from a listening experience into a pure and visceral drama. ~ Greg Argo

Tame Impala – Innerspeaker

34. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker (101 Distribution/Modular)

The first song I heard from Innerspeaker was “Bold Arrow of Time,” with its throwback guitar lead interrupted by old-school cymbal and bass stabs. What year is this? The muted, slow-phased guitar and distorted bass that occupy the first 45 seconds of the song, however, give onto a shimmering, otherwordly, and melodic soundscape that’s akin to watching a firework’s trail in a dark sky before its technicolor flash. The song continues to alternate between these modes, and mixes them simultaneously, and that’s the magic of Innerspeaker‘s appeal. The warm, analog tones of the recording, the psychedelic tropes, and the relaxed playing take you back to a time when Pink Floyd and the Beatles were pushing boundaries and introducing a new form. But Innerspeaker weaves in the fragile shoegaze of early Verve, the intangible charm of the first Shins record, and the energy of post-punk without succumbing to any of these exclusively. The singing is pure John Lennon (drenched in “Tomorrow Never Knows” reverb and echo) the first couple of times you hear it. After that, though, it’s just Tame Impala and it’s not a rip off. What Tame Impala shares with the Beatles is just an innate talent for melody. You can’t force the kind of hooks that Tame Impala comes up with. Yet every track on this record has a hook that works. Every song could be a single, including the instrumental “Jeremy’s Storm.” You know you’ve got a keeper album when every one of its tracks spends some time as your favorite track — the one you want your friends to hear immediately. That was Innerspeaker for me this year. ~ David Smith

Warpaint – The Fool

33. Warpaint – The Fool (Rough Trade)

Through every subtle modification and slight change, the fool is the ghostly soul in all of us. The music on The Fool is a fountain of thriving atmospherics that are blended with ethereal vocals and the influences of everyone from Sonic Youth to PJ Harvey. In a year where women rockers were killer, these ladies delivered a fascinating fusion of shoegaze and psychedelia.
The wistful lull of “Warpaint,” with its smooth, churning guitar reveals a charming proficiency. And on “Baby,” Emily Kokal reckons with her lover with only the back-drop of a flickering acoustic guitar in support. The magic around the album cycles through the bands undeniable chemistry: on “Shadows” beaming sounds, Theresa Wayman sings “I’m drunk and I’m tired. And the city I walk in feels like it swallows.” The guitars meld and merge within the walls of the female singers and together, it was a stunning new look into the psychedelic rock of ambience gleam. Everything just seems to fit so easy together – so meant for each other – on The Fool; Warpaint’s dense darkness left a mesmerizing impression for many to remember. ~ Bryan Sanchez

Stars – The Five Ghosts

32. Stars – The Five Ghosts (Vagrant Records)

Once a torchbearer of the evolution of shoegaze in modern music, Stars have evolved with each release. With The Five Ghosts, the band staked a place at the forefront of cinematic pop music. Not quite as lush and melodic as some of their earlier releases, The Five Ghosts is more of a synth-driven pop album, with tracks like “This Wasted Daylight” and “We Don’t Want Your Body” almost surprisingly poppy. There’s still moments of layered beauty, from synths and strings to the interplay of male/female vocals. “I Died So I Could Haunt You” gives me chills beyond just its intended theme, and the synths are arranged into a perfect arrangement on my favorite track, “Fixed.” This is a beautiful album, but also a more upbeat offering from a wonderful band. ~ Jeff Marsh


Tweak Bird - Tweak Bird

31. Tweak Bird – Tweak Bird (Volcom)

Tweak Bird’s first full-length album was definitely one of my most anticipated releases of 2010, especially after their debut EP Reservations, and definitely after watching this brotherly duo blow away a headliner at a show last year. There’s really only two things you absolutely need to know about this guitar and drums duo’s music: it’s bone-crushingly heavy and it has an uncanny sense of melody. Their vocals are unusual (often quite high pitched) and this collection of songs is coated with joie de vivre generally reserved for music of a much lighter nature. It’s hard not to feel happy and get tingly goose bumps while experiencing Tweak Bird. Caleb and Ashton show great expansion over their last release and explore some smoky jazz saxophone touches and more electronic flourishes. Experience the songs from Tweak Bird and you’ll be floored by the wall of sound and style nuances – experience Tweak Bird live and you’ll get your faith in rock n’ roll back. ~ Jenn O’Donnell

“Lights in Lines”

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