The Best Albums of 2010: 50-41

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

50. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City)

How do you summarize something in a few hundred words when it takes Joanna Newsom over a thousand? How can a few minutes read fulfill over two hours of precisely composed songs? Well, it can’t, and this is the tragedy of Joanna Newsom in today’s musical headspace. Ys kind of surprised everyone and earned their attention with amazing pseudo-prog-folk harpwork that rounded out everyone’s iTunes genre lists quite well, but when Joanna Newsom takes four years to craft an album with parts at least as good as their predecessor, it’s been done. A crying shame. We will, however, give everyone time to redeem themselves. They will need some time, at least, given Have One On Me‘s length. Maybe we can redeem another thing we’ve lost in the last few years while we’re at it: this is a truly epic work. ~ Nick Bush

Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid

49. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) (Bad Boy/Wondaland)

At the center of The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) is Janelle Monáe’s voice, excitingly commanding attention; whether she’s tip-toeing on the “Tightrope” with Left Foot or pedaling on the heels of an off-handed guitar/R&B swoon on “Oh, Maker” – where she earnestly proclaims “But you loved me and I really dared to love you too” – her voice is dynamically forceful and lush. She’s at her most subtle, her most endearingly absorbing and at her most directly gorgeous on moments like the stripped down chambers of “Say You’ll Go.” And she’s allowed to showcase her stunning voice through a sultry funnel of pensive chimes and beats as Monáe asks, “Let’s find forever and write our name in fire on each other’s hearts.”

The album’s eighteen songs demonstrate an uncanny ability to switch from genre to genre and style to style without the slightest uneasiness. There is spectacular fashion all over: a concept album about the robotic altered state, there is an inspiration and influence for every single sound. Monáe’s magnificent musicianship is an utter joy to behold because of it; listen to the belts of advice on “Cold War,” she knows exactly what she’s up against and still, is ready to conquer. ~ Bryan Sanchez

Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern

48. Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars)

Marnie Stern’s self-titled third album was my introduction to this thrilling guitarist. While Stern’s frenetic finger-tapping style will grab your attention, it’s her complex arrangements, sometimes hard to swallow shifts, and caterwauling vocals that will tug at your soul. Even for the uninitiated, you can tell that Marnie Stern is delivering the musical equivalent of slicing her own flesh open to give her listeners a look inside. On “Nothing Left” she sings, “I’m using a color they call night blue, I’m tracking a predator that’s near you. This does matter! You might think I’m crazy” against a sonic backdrop that lands somewhere in the math rock to progressive spectrum. Her style is superbly technical, but with so many shifts and time changes the music is often cacophonous, but quite cathartic. Maybe Marnie Stern is a whirling dervish of modern guitar – her instrument the meditative spinning between earth and sky. ~ Jenn O’Donnell

“For Ash”

Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

47. Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner (Ghostly International)

Starting your album with its best song? Bad idea. Starting your album with one of the year’s best songs? Not so bad. Gold Panda’s debut, with its first song, “You,” heralding a sample-filled almost-dance record, is in a rough spot. Its niche has been flooded in our post books world, and the cobbled-together aesthetic doesn’t have as much appeal as its name would suggest. Thankfully, Lucky Shiner should only use ‘cobbled-together aesthetic’ as a descriptor if it wants to sell some vinyl in a hip store, as it is a wonderfully structured set of tracks. It does exactly what you want, when you want it to, without you even knowing. No beat too off-kilter, no sample too drawn out, and they actually sound like songs. Songs that make you feel like you’re wandering lost through a busy market, and almost make you wish you were. Now that’s aesthetic. ~ Nick Bush

Munly and the Lupercalians – Petr and the Wulf

46. Munly and the Lupercalians – Petr and the Wulf (Alternative Tentacles)

From the opening drone and first notes you can tell this isn’t going to be like any rendering of Peter and the Wolf that you’ve heard before. Munly and the Lupercalians bring a darkness to Prokofiev’s tale that has been absent from other versions to date, and to great effect. Choosing to present the individual characters’ parts as songs (instead of leitmotifs where the characters have been represented each by a different instrument) gives a bit more depth to the story, and enables Munly and Co. to take the tale in a different direction; thereby allowing the telling of the “true story” of Petr and the Wulf. I, myself, have a number of different ideas as to what that “true story” really is, but I’ll leave it up to you listeners out there to digest this album and decide for yourselves. This is the first release by Munly and the Lupercalians, and is supposed to be the start of the telling of the lore of the Kinnery of Lupercalia. It should be an interesting tale. ~ Kyle O’Donnell

Wovenhand – The Threshingfloor

45. Wovenhand – The Threshingfloor (Sounds Familyre)

David Eugene Edwards, frontman of Wovenhand (previously of 16 Horsepower), is nothing if not a spiritual man. Although I don’t find myself generally drawn to religious music, Edwards’ Christ-driven approach to his work is not about proselytizing or praise, it’s about exploring his faith – especially the doubt, moments of weakness, anxiety, and confusion that most human beings experience on a regular basis. The music itself is often dark, drawing from folk, country, and murder ballads that David Eugene Edwards shrouds in an intense fervor with his voice and lyrics. The Threshingfloor’s title track, just second in on the album, sweeps into such a frenzy of rock and subtle Middle Eastern sounds, that you may hear Edwards’ chorus “bara devlam, davlam bara, devlam bara, istenem” as a channeling of the spirit(s) or speaking in tongues. Instead, Eugene is referencing his ‘mighty god’ and asks, ‘bless me!’. The tribal chanting on “Raise Her Hands” brings yet another dimension to the album and there lies the crux of Wovenhand. While the songs all build on a solid foundation of style and substance, David Eugene Edwards continues to explore his religion through his art and the result is many faceted and deeply moving. You may not share Edwards’ faith – or that of any religion for that matter – but you’d have to be completely unfeeling to not be profoundly affected. ~ Jenn O’Donnell

Wild Nothing – Gemini

44. Wild Nothing – Gemini (Captured Tracks)

I’ve been spinning Gemini regularly since its release, so I figured it’d been hanging in the air long enough for my usually indifferent girlfriend to have formed an opinion about it. When I recently asked if she liked it, she said “yeah” which made sense, but then followed with “it’s upbeat,” which initially struck me as odd. I’d been focusing mostly on the maudlin and gauzy elements, the comforting balm of it all, but she was right. This is a mopey you can live in and even celebrate, one that sustains a playful romanticism instead of augmenting a pity party. Not one big glob of blur, Gemini finds Wild Nothing mastermind Jack Tatum laying out, track-by-track, a debut as impressive as most greatest hits compilations. It would be tough to miss the melancholy in his approach, but still, what was I thinking? You can’t cop the best parts of The Cure, The Go-Betweens, The Stone Roses, The Clean, and The Smiths and end up with something that isn’t a toe-tapping, head-bobbing, fatalistic good time. And with a list of influences like that, it looks like Tatum’s only mistake was omitting “The” from the beginning of his band name. ~ Greg Argo

ceo – White Magic

43. ceo – White Magic (Sincerely Yours/Modular)

Through The Tough Alliance, Eric Berglund has already established himself as one Sweden’s leading musicians. In the past years, the country has presented a great collection of its finest artists and with his new side-project, ceo, Berglund simply adds to the esteemed list. On “Come with Me” Berglund sings, “Come with me, we can sacrifice this life to make it real,” before a striving set of strings and synth-heavy beats. As ceo, Berglund infuses his music with stark melodies, sweeping 80s influences and orchestral compositions for White Magic’s illustrious back-drop. With music that is impeccably crafted – pop sensibilities, creative and illuminating counter-harmonies and soaring songcraft – ceo’s music comes and goes in just under thirty minutes. As you’d expect, the songs individually stand out for various reasons (“Love and Do What You Will” features driving drums with a thick bass and Berglund’s pleading vocals) but it’s ceo’s overall scope that shines the most. White Magic ends up as one of the easiest and quickest albums to get lost in; the kind of lilting pull that leaves a lasting impact long after it ends. ~ Bryan Sanchez

Wavves – King of the Beach

42. Wavves – King of the Beach (Fat Possum)

The ever derisive, irreverent, polarizing Nathan Williams makes it hard to be a fan. When everyone thinks you’re a prick, it’s easier for them to pick apart and even mock your music. But ultimately, it’s hard to find many bands that are making more fun music than Wavves is right now. Wavvves was true noise-punk, buried beneath layers and layers of fuzz, yet Williams’ tunefulness still shown through. King of the Beach found Williams relying less of fuzzy production and more on his songwriting ability. Each track is catchy as hell, yet his diversity getting further revealed is just as interesting. His wordless harmonies and sunshine keyboards are among the things he wisely uses to supplement his punk rock roots. No matter how many negative headlines Williams may end up making, or whatever his music will become, you’d be foolish not to appreciate the energetic punk joy bursting from him on King of the Beach. ~ Bradley Hartsell

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

41. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)

Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson (as opposed Robert Wadlow. . . okay, bad joke) does not have a pretty voice. He sings with gritty howls and hoarse croons, his voice cracking in the throes of his oft-indistinguishable lyrics. Within his skillful musicianship that, admittedly, often sounds straight out of ‘60s folk revival, he crafts landscapes rich in the guise of quiet ruminations, his voice the aridity breathing such life as to make Matsson’s sophomore debut, The Wild Hunt, a visceral experience. Armed with his guitar and, occasionally, a sparse piano or banjo to color the backdrop, his American South stylings on guitar are just as strong on their own an addition to the music as his voice. If extracted from the music, Matsson’s lyrics prove an assorted jumble of half-thoughts (“and I will sleep out in the glade just by the giant tree / Just to be closer when my spirit’s pulled away / I left a nervous little boy out on the trail today / He’s just a mortal to the shoutin’ cavalcade”) that successfully stir your emotions when returned to the song’s musical subtext. ~ Emily Graham

“Like the Wheel”

Continue reading #40-31>