Saturday, December 18, 2010

Year in Music: Marc's Favorites of 2010 (Part Two)

Although I like to tout that my Sunday show is eclectic, I’m well aware that the kind of music I like most is definitely pop-oriented.  Always looking for someone to add a creative twist, an indelible melody, a unique and interesting arrangement, etc. to work some magic with the ol’ diatonic scale.  Here are some of those extra efforts I was lucky enough to hear this year:

I’m only moderately familiar with Hot Chip, but the reviews say their newest CD One Life Stand is a little mellower, more midtempo stuff than normal, and I have to say, the midtempo stuff is perhaps not their forte.  But there are two especially danceable tracks that were just aces with me—“Take It In” and the title track “One Life Stand.”  They exhibit a nice mix of everyman vulnerability and sincerity with a giddy thump, especially the breakdown in “Life.” 

Been a fan of the Sunderland band Field Music ever since playing catch up with their first album in 2005.  They’re natural-born tunesmiths who are ambitious to boot, and I have to hand it to their label Memphis Industries for giving them the freedom to stretch out and release what is essentially a double album, “Field Music (Measure).”  It ranges from the meditative “Curves of the Needle,” which remembers that silence can be so effective to the drama of a song)  to the out-of-character dance-like track “Let’s Write a Book” to their seemingly effortless guitar pop.  It’s a lot to digest in one sitting, but a very worthwhile endeavor for fans of excellent music.  I cringed a little when I read that Peter and David Brewis (the core of the group) said they felt sympathy for the other members of the group, while intimating that they thought their musical ideas were difficult to grasp and execute.  My thought is, if it was, it’s very well worth it for what you get here. 

I need to immerse myself in Canadian band Zeus’s “Say Us” album a lot more in the coming weeks, because I think end-to-end it’s a solid musical effort, a loose and relaxed set of 70’s-influenced rock.  The music has a very comfy-cozy feel to it, but it moves and sways and rocks quite nicely, thank you.  “The Renegade” or some other track will definitely be heard on Sunday night.

“Boyfriend” by Best Coast, featuring those yearning, echoey vocals from Bethany Cosentino and those great lyrics about being jealous of the supposedly prettier and better-educated rival for her guy’s affections…It’s like a modern-day slacker version of a Ronettes tune.  So sweet.  The rest of the “Crazy For You” album follows in that lovelorn mold to a lesser degree, but this single’s a killer. 

Maps & Atlases’ debut full-length “Perch Patchwork” is a distinctive mix of folk and progressive-type music.  Led by the part yowl-part croon of Dave Davison (you have to hear him to know what I mean—it works), and it’s a low-fi gem, smart and compelling, with arrangements that pay attention to the up-close strum and chirp of guitars, a flute floating in here, a toy piano there, and the click and the tap the thump of percussion.   If there’s such a thing as a modern hippie vibe, this kinda has it (and they’re from Chicago!).   Wordless vocals and pleasingly angular beats and melodies all part of the mix at times, creating a consistently interesting musical landscape throughout.  There are even moments of dare I say, music you could dance or jerk spastically around to.  Love it. 

The New Pornographers are probably one of the most talented ‘collectives’ in pop music today, if you consider that most if not all of its members came together from other bands or projects, and still go back and forth between them.   The songwriting’s mainly done by A.C. Newman with a smattering of Dan Bejar.   “Together,” their 5th album since 2010 continues the trend from 2007’s “Challengers” of more balladry (though nontraditional) creeping in betwixt the uptempo hookmonsters.  For me, the album does bog down in the second half with these meditations, which I can take or leave.  But the opening trio of tunes are everything you could hope for from your shoulda-been popular music.  And, I love the wistful waltz “Daughters of Sorrow”—lots. 

I was pleased to see that other people think Sara Lucas, lead singer of Callers sounds like Phoebe Snow (hello, WNYC).  That wonderful voice is a perfect match for this frankly lovely music, mellow and slightly inscrutable (who knows what “You are an Arc” means?).   No matter.  Intimate music with moments of sudden aggressiveness/assertiveness.   Mellow, but watch it.   I love how “Glow” seamlessly transforms from one song into another, two different moods.  With its spare, elegant settings for these songs, it’s a refreshing switch from a lot of the overstuffed & cranked up music that gets a lot of airplay. 

I won’t lie; legacy artist they may be, but I was not disappointed in Devo’s return this year.  Their “Something for Everybody” continues their sly way of both celebrating and critiquing modern ‘devolution’ with tuneful and clever songs (they show their hand on “No Place Like Home,” I suppose.  I don’t detect much irony on that one).  And the guys seem in good voice, too!  It’s like it’s 1980 all over again.  Contemporary hitmaker producers keep the band ‘up to date,’ but it’s nothing so radical that old fans will protest. 

The Soft Pack has a debut that blazes through 10 slices of garage/surf rock.  Most enjoyable.  Direct and immediate.  And it rocks.  Simple as that.    

Guards is Richie James Follin, basically, sometimes his sister, too, and a few other guests.  He calls his 2010 EP’s sound as “pop wave doom.”  I don’t know about that as a whole (though I’ve said “Sail it Slow” is a pretty melodically pleasing dirge with a great lumbering guitar riff as its spine).   It’s kind of low-fi pop, otherwise.  It has that sort of subdued, echoey feel about it.  That churchy organ can’t help but add to the austerity of it all.  Also, Guards is on Bandcamp, a great website for independent music.  Check it out!

The Books, and their album “The Way Out.”  Collage artists, I guess.  Raiding thrift stores for choice bits of people’s discarded answering machine tapes and whatnot, looking for a narrative or bits of interesting stuff they can sample and wedge into their (mostly) laid-back musical tapestries.  Helps remind us that the human voice is an important part of ‘music,’ even if we’re not singing.  (“A Cold Freezin’ Night” was the first track that caught my attention.  I can’t help but be reminded of my duties at my ‘new’ job associated with that song.  Listened to it while in a studio monitoring a baseball broadcast.)  Probably unlike most other music you’ve probably heard, it’s more of an aural experience than aimed at any pop sensibility, though it’s by no means difficult listening.

And…Miniature Tigers.  Their album “Fortress” I would recommend to those who were perhaps disappointed in Vampire Weekend’s 2nd album.  Sounds great, and won’t insult your intelligence.   I could write more, but I’m tired (aw).  But it’s great stuff all around. 

Choice tracks:  “Heart That’s Pounding” by Sally Seltmann, “Every Little Bit Hurts” by Title Tracks, “On the Sly” by The Bamboos, “I Learned the Hard Way” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, “Buster Keaton” by Quadron, “My Time” by Minus the Bear, “Lewis Takes Action” by Owen Pallett, “Bootstraps” by Drew Grow & the Pastors’ Wives, “Whatever You Like” by Joan as Police Woman, “Ungrateful Little Father” by Broken Social Scene, “Burn it Down” by Los Lobos, “All Around and Away We Go” by Twin Sister, “They Don’t Want” by Electric Wire Hustle, “Aminals” by Baths, “It is Not Meant to Me” by Tame Impala, “China Steps” by Women, “Stylo” by Gorillaz, “MCs Can Kiss” by Uffie, “Who Makes Your Money” by Spoon, “Lover of Mine” (Roman Ruins remix) by Beach House, “Logic” by Operator Please, “Numbers Don’t Lie” by The Mynabirds, assorted tracks by Das Racist

Um, thanks for reading!

Some of these songs’ll be featured on Sunday night’s hybrid Sunday Sampler/Gonzo’s Music-o-Rama show, beginning at 9:00 PM eastern, and of course Dr. G will be there with me as we profile our Best of 2010 picks.

Join us, won’t you? 

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