Best of 2010, Numbers 10 and 9!

January 4, 2011 at 7:24 am (Best-of lists)

10. Octubre, Todo Se Lo Lleva El Viento

One of the connections I feel like I have to have with a record or band is lyrical; even when the words to songs don’t make sense, the images they evoke can be as important to me as the music they’re set to. So here we are with a band singing in a language where my vocabulary is limited to a $20,000 Pyramid Category of “Things you might ask for in a busy restaurant kitchen”. Since I doubt highly that Murcia-based Octubre have many songs about lemons, lobster, or dish machines, I’m totally at sea here.

The thing is, while I don’t know exactly what Octubre frontman Jose Esteban is singing about…I know what he’s singing about. There’s an earnestness and longing in his voice on “Nada Que Perder” (“Nothing To Lose”) or “Expreso De Media Noche” (“Midnight Express”) that is universal. In other words, I dunno exactly what John Lennon’s singing on the chorus of “Across The Universe” either, but does it matter?

Octubre is well-aided in this fantastic record by a guy who sort of is the guiding light behind the vibrant Murcia rock scene, a fellow who you ought to know named Juan Antonio Ross. Ross had a band of that name with a few records out here in the States back in the day, and a 2-disc retrospective he put out last year in Europe is one of the best guitar-pop listens you’ll ever have. Ross knows shimmery-but-punchy rock guitar pop production like Bo knows football, and his studio touch can’t help but evoke the best moments from Teenage Fanclub’s career. (And I mean really, “Nada Es Imposible” is so Gerry Love it almost hurts.)

In the end analysis, the triumph of Todo So Lo Lleva El Viento (“Everything Is Gone With The Wind”) all belongs to Octubre. Sure, you could have a field day picking out this Oasis riff or that Big Star chord progression…but to the band’s credit they carry off the entire venture with such uninhibited and palpable joy that they soar beyond the sum of such parts ten seconds into the title track that leads off the record. One of the happiest discoveries of 2010 for me, this is. (Oh, and despite the rather exotic nature of it all, surprisingly this wonderful disc can be had digitally from Amazon and iTunes. Huh.)

“Expreso De Media Noche”
“Nada Es Imposible”
Amazing HD live clip of Octubre onstage doing “Nada Que Perder”

9. The Walkmen, Lisbon

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with The Walkmen. I’ve always appreciated their indie ethos, and when they go minimalist and noisy I’ve been greatly affected by their gorgeous and stark melodies. Sadly, when they try to throw on the layers is when they tend to lose me; Hamilton Leithauser’s earnest and always up-front-in-the-mix vocals work so well in the former context, but in the latter he can sound like nothing so much as Bono’s just as insufferable American cousin.

Imagine my surprise at realizing that Lisbon has some of the best uptempo and un-somber rock songs The Walkmen have ever recorded, and that they totally work for my own personal self. Perhaps it’s the way the bright guitar work on songs like “Juveniles” or “Woe Is Me” recalls my favorite moments of Vampire Weekend (indie kid rake fight: which band uses that clean and bright guitar sound first and/or to better effect?), but even when the sound is echo-muted like on “Blue As Your Blood”, it carries The Walkmen into some of the loveliest and most exciting music they’ve ever written.

And Lisbon is by no means a cheerful end-to-end romp. The horns that open “Stranded” give it the feel of an Irish wake as done on Bourbon Street. “While I Shovel The Snow” is even more stark and brittle, a gorgeous little miracle of a song powered by a deceptively simple guitar and Leithauser’s engaging vocal. The album’s closer, the title track, is the Walkmen playing their final ace. “Lisbon” is a 6-minute cinematic and epic closer that builds off both the brighter and accessible feel of the album as a whole, but weds it to some of the most evocative and longing lyrics the Walkmen have written to date.

“Woe Is Me”

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