Best Music Of 2010, 11 Through 15

December 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm (Uncategorized)

15. Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3, Northern Aggression

The first studio album of all new material from Wynn and The Miracle 3 (Wynn’s 2008 album, Crossing Dragon Bridge was a solo billing, and he spent 2009 recording and touring as the frontman of The Baseball Project) initially finds them in fine fettle. “Resolution” is as hard-rocking and contains as hooky a riff as Wynn’s ever written….but from there the album seems to grind the gears a bit through some mid-album lag–although let’s be serious: what comes off as “lagging” for Wynn are rockers that 99.99 percent of the rest of the rock world would give their eyeteeth for. Oddly, it is on two slower numbers, “Cloud Spitter” and “St. Millwood” that Wynn and the M3 take this album from the category of kind of good into true brilliance, and the closer “Ribbons And Chains” is as good as anything he’s recorded since “Amphetamine”. As always, The Miracle 3 reveal themselves to be one of the best backing bands in recent rock history.

“St. Millwood”
“Ribbons And Chains”

14. Broken Bells, S/T

What we’re supposed to do, us fans of The Shins (whose leader, James Mercer is one half of Broken Bells) and Danger Mouse (nee Brian Burton, of Gray Album, Beck, and Gnarls Barkley fame) is sit and analytically pick apart this album, apparently. We’re supposed to figure out which bits belong to Danger Mouse, and which parts Mercer brought to the table. We’re supposed to discuss whether Mercer sold out years ago by allowing McDonalds to use a Shins song in a TV ad, while wondering if Danger Mouse is still as relevant as he once was. At least, that’s the gist of most reviews I saw of this album before I ever listened to it (actually, if someone can decipher Heather Phares’ incomprehensible AllMusic review, I’m all ears.) Seems to me that everyone’s missed the forest for the trees. What we have here is a fantastically catchy, remarkably interesting record that manages to be multi-faceted and layered enough to reveal things about itself even after dozens of listens (to wit: the instantly-grabbing “The High Road” and “Vaporize” were my favorite tracks here over the summer, but now I’m fairly convinced that “Citizen” and “Trap Door” are the best songs here).

“The High Road”

13. Tame Impala, InnerSpeaker

I think it’s a natural thing to try to categorize and compare and pigeonhole the music we listen to into easily-identified sub-groups. This is grunge, that’s metal, that other thing is hip-hop, and that next bit is pop–that sort of thing. And so along comes Tame Impala, an Australian band that defies such categorization about as well as anyone on my list this year. Songs like “It’s Not Meant To Be” start off sounding like guitar soundscapes a la Caribou and then a beat that nearly has a hip-hop feel to it comes in, and then a glorious major-key chorus right out of the Lennon songbook comes roaring in like a jumbo jet. There are dangers in this approach, of course; frequently this album goes off the rails and meanders around lost in a forest of the band’s own creation….but when they get it right on songs like “Lucidity” and the glorious “Solitude Is Bliss”, Tame Impala make some of the freshest and most exciting music anyone on the planet is making right now.

“Solitude Is Bliss”
“It Is Not Meant To Be”

12. The Young Veins, Take A Vacation!

To hear females under the age of 16 tell it, Jon Walker and Ryan Ross are twin antichrists for having decided, at the end of 2009, to part ways from their band Panic! At the Disco (god I hate that  name.) Walker especially seemed to have an idea he wanted to try out–a more organic take on music, influenced by the ’60’s sounds that were capturing his attention. Ross was the perfect collaborator for the project, and they recruited a band. Now then. Say what you will about the pedigree of the band. Say what you will that this might be an elaborate prank or joke. Dismiss them as derivative and geeky. Whatever. On the song “Young Veins (Die Tonight)” Walker and Ross write the one of the best lyrics in recent memory about the headlong rush of youth and freedom and the exhiliration–and frankly the abject fear–that comes with being in your early twenties and seeing the world spread before you. When they sing “Is ‘young’ a word for ‘dumb’?/A word for ‘fun’?/We have the time of our lives every night/Like it’s our job to lose our minds”, they’re getting damn near “I Can’t Explain” territory, and that’s no joke or elaborate prank. Neither is the glorious way “The Other Girl” is constructed around a minor-key melody to sound like it could be somewhere on side 2 of Rubber Soul. Sadly, Walker tweeted earlier this month that the band was on “indefinite hiatus”, which probably means “no more.” The disillusioned PATD fans rushed to gleefully say “We told you so”. Here’s what I’m telling you: these guys had “it”, and if they weren’t breaking up this disc would be in my top ten. At any rate, I’ll sure be watching to see what Walker does next.

“Young Veins (Die Tonight)”
“The Other Girl”

11. An American Chinese, Utopian Tree

So rare these days to get an album that sounds as if it was sequenced and meant to be heard as a complete whole, but here’s one that does exactly that. AAC are a Philadelphia band who defy easy categorization. There are guitars, yes. And sometimes they’re acoustic, and sometimes they’re splashed with electronic noodling and the vocals sound sweet at times…and sound as if they were sung through a cell phone into a rickety answering machine the next. What I love about this album is that it manages to channel its own quirky charms into making for one of the more aurally-pleasing full-album listens of the year. Even when some of the songs don’t work, they never sound boring, and I mean that as a compliment. When AAC hit on all cylinders (“No No Like That”, which seriously sounds like The Violent Femmes paired up with Oh Ok, or “Metropolitan”, or “Panic Pilgrim, Quick Grab Your Suitcase”) they succeed so gloriously that the rush is almost giddy.

The very odd but charming video for “Panic Pilgrim”
Hear the entire album right here.

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