Archive for December, 2010

2010 Album of the Year

I don’t have time right this instant to write the full review but I want to get it published before Pitchfork publishes THEIR Album of the Year. I’ll come back a bit later and share my exact thoughts on what I feel was the year’s top album. An album that goes by the name of…

BIG BOI’s
SIR LUCIOUS LEFT FOOT: THE SON OF CHICO DUSTY

Album of the Year: The Runner Up

Beach House
Teen Dream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will be honest, I was aware of Beach House before Teen Dream but not necessarily familiar with their music. It wasn’t until this album came out that I went back and checked out the band’s previous two albums.

I have to say it was nice not to have any expectations whatsoever and to go into this album with an untainted perspective. What was immediately apparent after only the first two listens or so was that this band knew exactly what they were doing.  Teen Dream is the sound of a band not simply hitting all the right notes but being fully aware of the fact that they are. It isn’t cockiness because that’s not really what Beach House is about, it’s simply pure unadulterated artistic confidence. It’s often a very exciting moment to music lovers when that happens. When you can literally hear a band discovering themselves right before your very ears. Two years ago, the Walkmen underwent a similar moment on their still pitch-perfect You & Me. To hear a band knowing exactly how much of themselves to give away and how much to hold back is a sweet treat. Beach House has found that place. It’s scary how easily that seems to have come to them, but they seem to be right comfortable in their skin.

Teen Dream, first and foremost, is a very beautiful album to behold. It is often quiet and reserved but never the least bit timid. It’s an album by a band that knows it will probably break your heart but won’t rip your heart completely out. At least not all at once. I think another stark contrast between the band’s previous efforts and this one is a very important one. Singer Victoria Legrand’s voice. It’s the same smoky, seductive voice of before but this time around it sounds a bit more muscular. Again, they seem to have recognized that they have this amazing weapon and rather than keep it on “stun” they set the sucker to “kill.”

While Teen Dream may never blow you away, it’s not intended to. Beach House have no need for bombast. Their modus operandi is using a very rich, textured, melodic and hypnotic form of song craft to capture the various ups, downs and in-betweens of people trying to figure out each other while trying to figure out themselves. I, think, perhaps if more people listened to Beach House, the answers would be more apparent.

I don’t even feel that this review does the album justice. I’m hoping that the high placement, though, makes up for what I haven’t really been able to say. Here’s another suggestion, listen to the record. It may not change your life but it will make you feel better.

If you ask me, that is a pretty awesome reward.

Album of the Year #3

Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest

Rather than write about something about which I’ve already written I’ll just make it brief. Deerhunter’s magnificent Halcyon Digest is my third favorite album of the year. Want to read more of my comments on it? Then, my friends, just click here.

In the meantime, here’s a cool video of some kids playing Deerhunter’s “Nothing Ever Happened” off their previous album Microcastle, just because I think it’s cool. Enjoy!

Album of the Year #4

Sleigh Bells

Treats

What I love about Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats is that they take a relatively simple formula for making music [take hip-hop beats, metal guitars and bubblegum pop vocals with a touch of electronica throw it in a blender and then turn it up really effing loud] and not only do they get away with it, they make just about everyone else look stupid for not thinking of it first.

One could very easily dismiss Sleigh Bells as a couple of one-trick ponies. It probably won’t be until about album number two before we know if that’s the case. Nevertheless, my gut says there’s more to this duo than meets the eye. Why do I feel that way? I think that what they’ve done is pretty genius. They’ve boiled modern pop music to its bare essentials and melded the various elements together in a collage of supersonic ear candy. Andy Warhol may have created pop art but what Sleigh Bells make is art pop. It’s loud, obnoxious and most of the songs don’t actually seem to be about anything. That is, about anything other than their own existence.

I love “Crown on the Ground” but I couldn’t begin to tell you what the heck it’s even about. I mean the album is called Treats for chrissakes, that should be a very obvious sign that Sleigh Bells are very much about giving us just the good parts. All at once.

Nearly a decade ago, there was a little unknown duo from Detroit known as the White Stripes that many people also tossed off as gimmicky one-trick ponies but they’ve gone on to become one of the most critically acclaimed bands (and still stubbornly relevant.) I don’t think Sleigh Bells will become as big as the White Stripes but I think the bands share DNA. The secret to the Stripes’ success comes from not just a gimmicky color-scheme but rather an adamant adherence to a musical philosophy: stick to a few simple elements but re-arrange them and constantly push them in as many opposing directions as you can. Sleigh Bells, I think, are the next logical version of the White Stripes. Where the Stripes are decidedly retro-looking, Sleigh Bells are unabashedly products of the here and now. They’re digital in all the areas where the Stripes are analog.

What Sleigh Bells have done with Treats is deconstructed and then reconstructed pop so that it simultaneously sounds like everything we’ve heard before and nothing we’ve heard before. Their music is a commentary about itself and, more importantly, about us. It’s a commentary on why we listen to what we do, HOW we listen to what we do. Maybe a more apt categorization would be post-pop. It is an album somehow designed for both individual as well as mass consumption, a headphone masterpiece and the ultimate party soundtrack all in one. That the album even works AS an album is perhaps its neatest trick.

Time will tell if Sleigh Bells ever develop the song-writing chops to actually give their songs a bit of emotional depth. Time will also tell whether or not doing so would even be good thing. I am not sure it would be. I tend to think their experiments in awesomeness will be best served by remaining unsullied by the volatile variable known as human emotion.

Just bring the noise guys, leave that sentimental stuff to some other band.

AoTY: #5

Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


 

 

 

 

 

 

There has been so much electronic ink spilled over the genius of the latest (and greatest) album from Mr. Kanye West. I admit, no less than two weeks into the album’s public existence and even I am having a bit of backlash to the mega-ginormous-super-über-hype of how this album, apparently, is more or less the greatest thing since bread came sliced.

It’s not.

It is, however, pretty freaking great. That much I wouldn’t dream of denying. Kanye West thinks big, he always has. And this album shoots for the stars and hits with regular accuracy. The production, as usual with Mr. West is quite stellar. Nearly every track is packed with big sounds, big beats, big boasts…the sucker’s just big. The two things that have defined Kanye West’s career are his ambition and his talent and with each recording that he produces or releases those two ingredients make their presence undeniable.

At this point, there’s really not a whole lot I feel I need to add the ongoing canonization of Yeezy’s latest opus. Sonically it is extremely progressive, expansive and bombastic. These particular qualities are, to me, the albums positives and negatives.

A couple of the tracks run a bit too long, in my opinion. Even the album’s highlight, “Runaway” goes on unnecessarily for about two or three minutes after the song SHOULD end. Really ‘Ye, do we need to hear you babbling in autotune for three minutes? Does it add anything to the song? Not at all. The other nitpick I have is that while from a pure listening standpoint, MBDTF is quite a compelling and often thrilling listen. It’s just not all that much fun. There’s no problem at all with an extremely talented artist giving in to his own id. But Kanye has a proven track record of making music, whether its for himself or another artist, that is FUN.

These are small complaints, though. What does really matter is that Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the most remarkable personal statements any hip-hop artist has made since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

2010 Album of the Year: the Nominees…or Rather the Runners-Up

Okay, after much deliberation I think I’ve boiled it down to what I feel were the five best albums I heard all year.

Before revealing THAT list (which I’m not sure I really want to do right now) I suppose I should reveal albums that just missed the cut. So here are #’s 6-10.

Oh, I have to admit I messed up a bit. There’s an album on here that wasn’t on the original “Contendahs” list. My bad.

10) Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone

9) Das Racist – Sit Down, Man

8) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

7) The Roots – How I Got Over

6) LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

Yeah, you know I think I’ll stop right there. Probably reveal the remaining five gradually over the next couple of weeks. The fact of the matter is I’m actually still trying to figure out which of the remaining five is my absolute number one favoritest album of the entire year.

Which do you think? Perhaps you might dare to leave your guesses in the comments?