The year of 2010 has been a very interesting year musically. There has been the continuing rise of Young Money with Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj. A lot of indie rockers dug up their old copies of Mazzy Star and Fleetwood Mac CDs to invoke new dream sounds. Women have been making their voices heard with force and new rappers have been coming out of nowhere, dropping crazy mixtapes and just showing pure productivity (while maybe not the best quality). As you might be able to sense, a lot of things happened in the music world this year. Over at Mission Creek, our job, on one level, is to keep track of what is coming out and what excites us. The following is a list of staff members’s five favorite albums. You’ll see some overlap. You’ll also see some things that are totally far out. In the end, these are albums that got us super jazzed as listeners. Without further delay, let’s get this started. On behalf of the Mission Creek staff, have a happy 2011 and we’ll see you then with a new installment of the Mission Creek Festival in the spring (Don’t worry about this second part. We’ll remind you when the time comes nearer.).
Sharon Van Etten – Epic: Sharon Van Etten dropped an old-school 7-track album that traded in the dead-weight of modern albums (um, Kanye) for absolute clarity. This is perhaps the most important singer-songwriter album to come out in years: it covers a wide range of styles from traditional, to rocking, to atmospheric and experimental, the lyrics are great, and her voice is singular. If Kanye’s record was a shotgun blast, Sharon’s was a poisonous dart.
Lower Dens – Twin Hand Movement: The most overlooked album this year is also Jana Hunter’s best. Elements of shoegaze, post-punk, and psychedelic rock unite under the sublime drawl of Hunter’s voice to make for one of the most assured and seemingly effortless debuts since Women hit the scene with their self-titled first record.
Yellow Swans – Going Places: Everyone needs a beautiful album from time to time and Beach House delivered it this year… then Yellow Swans killed it.
Black Milk – Album of the Year: There were some great rap albums this year — Big Boi, Kanye — but while Kanye was doing his kitchen-sink rap version of the Age of Adz and while Big Boi was finally releasing his Chinese Democracy, Black Milk was ahead of both of them: AotY‘s organic sounds are the best thing happening in hip-hop production because they not only evoke the spirit of Motown — they are the spirit of Motown revitalized in the new century. Furthermore, Milk’s increasingly nasty flow is built to last.
The Walkmen – Lisbon: The Walkmen refuse to be inconsistent. Lisbon, their quietest affair yet, is still, in turns, arresting, glacial, modern, and vintage.
Death in June – Peaceful Snow: A much more emotionally bare dispatch from the Di6 camp, featuring only the hollow baritone vocals of Douglas P. accompanied by pianist Miro Snejder. The song work hasn’t really shifted (thematically tied to the ruins of empirical military powers) but gone is the frantic pacing and the cacophony of percussion and strings. In its place are songs mournful in their beauty and sorrow. The first Death in June recording that I could listen to with my mother, if it didn’t boast song titles like The Scents of Genocide, My Company of Corpses, and Neutralize Decay.
Sun City Girls – Funeral Mariachi: A coherent and fitting fare well to one of undergrounds longest running and most prolific acts, specializing in cultural apery and geniuses in vulgar kabuki. Most accessible to a new generation of fans won over by Sir Richard Bishop’s solo output while still a most satisfying and ‘mature’ book-end for the long devoted base.
Forest Swords – Dagger Path: The record I found myself returning most to. Unfortunately lumped in with the hypnagogic movement that defined most of the year’s micro releases, solo member Matt Barnes waves away any faux-nostalgia. Rather trusting his own sonic palate, Barnes creates a landscape littered with the wreckage of past recording attempts, it’s topography he travels well. This record has more in common with the bleak dupstep of Burial and James Blake than it does with the syrup-dub styles of Sun Araw.
T Wehrle – Goodbye Oakville: Following up the breath-stealing intimacy of his Howler record, Wehrle continues to work the same musical vein, only making his music more direct and full and his lyricism more guarded in meaning and tender in delivery. ‘Haunting’ is over and often misused in describing other’s music, rather Wehrle’s voice haunts these skeletal song shapes. A note: though he is a native Iowan and sometimes Iowa City resident, Wehrle’s inclusion in this list is in no way an acquiescence to get a local in the list; this work belongs among the top 5% of the music produced this year, we’re just lucky to count him among our own.
Bill Orcutt – Way Down South: Harry Pussy guitarist’s resurfacing in the past couple years has ushered forth a welcomed wealth of live recordings featuring his delirious blues influenced improv. In the opposite direction of Fahey revivalists, the late Jack Rose and Glenn Jones, Orcutt tears apart his blues. His high, wordless wail, knuckle-crushing fret working, and string-snapping picking, Orcutt is eviscerating his blues with an often forgotten and much needed level of violence and anger.
How to Dress Well – Love Remains:HTDW satisfied my need for a new Bon Iver album. Justin Vernon-eque falsetto vocals mixed with retro R&B. Fantastic debut album.
Beach House- Teen Dream: In my eyes, Beach House can do no wrong. Dream pop is everywhere, but few do it better.
Sharon Van Etten – Epic: The new album shows growth and maturity from her debut Because I Was in Love. In my opinion, she is one of the best new singer-songwriters.
Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt: In my attempt to relive his May concert at The Mill, this album has been in frequent rotation.
Woods – At Echo Lake: One of the best albums of 2010? Probably not. Still, this album got the most play. A very solid, accessible album with some fantastic tracks.
Women – Public Strain: These canadian rockers and brothers created a very dissonent, detuned guitar vintage rock sound that eventually comes together and you find yourself listening to the album over and over. This sophmore album is different from their debut, Women by incorporating more put together melodic lines and hooks in both the guitars and vocals in nearly every song making it not so sporadic and creepy as their past recordings.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest: Bradford Cox and his gang create their best album to date. All of the members are making better sounds and accessible indie rock songs with still the ambient Deerhunter vibe that comes along with it. Desire Lines, Helicopter, and He Would Have Laughed are some of the years best songs.
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma: Flying Lotus is bringing back Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) with this album. After hearing the first couple of songs, I became so excited it was hard for me to sit straight. Many of the songs move at crazy speeds encoporating jazz with many futuristic sounding beats to the mix. This is one you have to listen straight through.
Walkmen – Lisbon: Its hard to surpass the belting vocals vocalist/guitarist Hamilton Leithauser puts out in this band and album. Making this, the group recorded nearly 30 songs and kept only 11 of them. By doing so, Lisbon can be poppy at times with a New York rocky twist yet still stands to be a beautiful piece with arrangements invovling a small brass section that promeneintly jumps in and out, creating an even whimsical and elegant album at times.
Andrew Cedermark – Moon Deluxe: This not within my top 5 albums of the year, but completely suprised me. Andrew Cedermark was the guitarist in Titus Andronicus and this is his first full length after splitting with the group. This has a great DIY, bedroom rock recording feel to it with small remeninces of pacific northwest pioneer Phil Eleverum’s (Microphones, Mount Eerie) earlier sounds.
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt: This is just a classic case of a great artist evolving into his own sound, and blowing minds as he does so.
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor: This is the best album about holding onto your last shred of dignity in a very long time.
Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues: One of the best folk artists out right now showing his range, from rockabilly to ballad.
Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid: The female James Brown, what else do you need to know?
The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards: I just can’t get enough of Jack White, and he gets weirder and more awesome with time.
Tamaryn – The Waves: With this as their full length album debut after some excellent EPs, this bicoastal band put themselves at the vanguard of the slowly burgeoning American shoegaze movement. The sound is hypnotic, the vocals of Tamaryn are lovely, and the album avoids the traps of sameness that befall a number of shoegaze records while still calling upon that particular sound/style.
Odd Future – Radical / Mellowhype – BLACKENEDWHITE: Aside from the pleasure that it brings me to see other Black punk kids who are thoroughly versed in hip-hop, Odd Future made a hard splash in the Internet, and now-more-increasingly real, hip-hop world this year. While they have the macabre sensibilities of an early Enimem or Gravediggaz and the existential angst of other teenagers (they are all younger than 19), Odd Future is a group of teenagers that can split really hot verses and give really good visuals. Radical is the sampler pack for the crew, featuring all of the MCs, while the Mellowhype CD features some of the more accessible (read: there are no rapes or dismemberments) tracks in the crew, showing that these are just a bunch of teen kids that are still in high school having fun.
Frankie Rose & The Outs – Frankie Rose & The Outs: For some reason, everyone thought it would be a good idea to release girl groups that channeled AM California through modern technology. Whoever did gets my appreciation as I love this kind of stuff. Frankie Rose’s band put out the best album of the movement. The Best Coast album would have gone here, but pop albums work on a simple basis: how many of the songs you end up muttering to yourself when you’re just kicking around during the day. All the songs are good on both, so this was the tiebreaker. For Best Coast, that was one of thirteen possible tracks. For Frankie Rose & The Outs, that was four of eleven. Nuff said.
Beach House – Teen Dream: From the first time that I heard it last winter, I knew that this album would end up here. Lo and behold. The most solid of the Beach House albums, it is absolutely gorgeous from beginning to end. I’m completely captivated every time I listen to it. The other Beach House albums haven’t left my general rotation. This one won’t either.
Serena-Maneesh – S-M 2: Abyss in B Minor: S-M 2 might be the album that says shoegaze has actually moved past Loveless. Certainly, its presence can be felt on this album (it is a shoegaze album after all), but its parts are much more than that album’s. They refused to stick to that sonic model, integrating psychedelic, classical, and ambient sounds into the overall mix. It shows that shoegaze still has more windows to open sonically while being a powerful statement of its own.