It’s Hump Day my friends, and it just so happens we’re also journeying over the proverbial hump of this Top 50 Albums list. Today tackles #30-21. If you’re just now stumbling across the countdown and have yet to see the other couple sets that go all the way back to #50, let me introduce you to them via the following links:
Top 50 Albums #50-41
Top 50 Albums #40-31
Great stuff so far, even greater stuff to come. Be sure to check back for the rest of the week until the #1 album is revealed on Friday. As usual, I do encourage commentary from you, letting me know your thoughts on what albums deserved placement other than what I’ve already thrown at you, or what might otherwise be regarded as “underrated”. If you’ve got your own list of Top Albums, by all means share that as well. So here we go, Faronheit’s Top 50 Albums of 2010: #30-21!
30. Male Bonding – Nothing Hurts
Download: Year’s Not Long
Male Bonding are, in essence, two elements colliding for a brief moment, a transfer of energy, and a resulting blowback before everything goes calm again. You wake up on the ground in a daze before you can figure out what hit you. And despite all this talk of forceful destruction, this band will thankfully only smack away your inhibitions and expectations. But it’s the manner in which they do it, with speedy punk-tinged lo-fi jams that leaves you feeling like you were violated, but in a good way. Husker Du and Nirvana are two great 90′s bands that Male Bonding have clearly been influenced by, because the songs on “Nothing Hurts” bear all their familiar markers. There’s a very distinctive punk rock ethos in these songs, mostly in the way each song powers straight through from start to finish in under 3 minutes without ever stopping to take a breath. To put it another way, nothing is wasted or lost in these songs, it’s all pure rock and hooks packed to the gills and arranged for maximum efficiency. Above all else, “Nothing Hurts” is one hell of a fun album to listen to, and if you’re limber enough, it may make you want to go skateboarding afterwards.
29. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Download: World Sick
Despite reforming after a brief “hiatus”, the Broken Social Scene of “Forgiveness Rock Record” is by no means the same Broken Social Scene of “You Forgot It In People”. The ladies of the band have officially left, on to bigger and better things, and honestly that’s discouraging for the future of this extensive collective. Still, in spite of whatever doubts I had, “Forgiveness Rock Record” turned out to be something special anyways. The band was still able to hit the necessary hallmarks while continuing to push their own boundaries at the same time. There’s also a distinctly refreshed energy that permeates the record as if they’re waking up from an extremely restful sleep. I think this marks the first time that the full-on excitement and world-conquering spirit of the collective’s live show has really come through on one of their recorded albums as well, and seeing them perform for the fourth time at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival only confirmed those suspicions. This may not be the album that people will remember Broken Social Scene for, but it is on the better side of their already-excellent catalogue.
28. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM
I really admire Charlotte Gainsbourg as an actress. Having seen a number of her films, she makes smart choices in roles and isn’t afraid to go down a sharply independent or controversial path (See the movie “Antichrist” for better evidence). As the daughter of the legendary Serge Gainsbourg and actress Jane Birkin, she’s also had a tough road living in the shadow of her parents. Her father pushed her into music at a young age, and the initial experience appeared to turn her off singing for awhile. Flash to 2006, when she finally put out a new album, a collaboration with French duo Air. It sounded like her dad’s stuff (unintentionally) and didn’t entirely win over critics. Near death experiences can do funny things to people though, so after some serious medical complications, Charlotte got together with Beck and they came up with “IRM”. It’s the best thing Beck has done in awhile, and the best thing Gainsbourg has done ever (musically). Every track is interesting and unique in its own way, whether its the title track, which predominantly features MRI noises, or an offbeat rhythmic pop song like “Trick Pony”. It’s experimental, diverse and finally places the spotlight firmly on Charlotte and away from her parents.
27. The Walkmen – Lisbon
Prior to hearing “Lisbon” for the first time, I saw The Walkmen perform a bunch of songs from it twice. Seeing their live show is a rich and rewarding experience in and of itself, but there was something about the new stuff, a spark that wasn’t so evident previously, that set the new stuff on a higher plane. Hamilton Leithauser’s whiskey-soaked voice stretched farther than it ever had before, and Matt Barrick’s drumming reached new heights as well. The Walkmen tend to play the lovable loser angle really well, and “Lisbon” has its fair share of songs devoted to a whole host of “didn’t quite win” moments. Songs like “Victory” and “Woe Is Me” strongly counter their depressing lyrics through with some seriously fun and/or exciting melodies, while “Angela Surf City” and “Torch Song” are just plain fun. But the somber, reflective and gorgeous moments of “While I Shovel the Snow” seem to define the band at their best – introspective and beautiful. “Lisbon” is the best thing The Walkmen have done in a few years, and that’s saying something considering their remarkably strong overall catalogue.
26. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
Challenging electronica is what Kieran Hebden makes under the Four Tet moniker, and the translation of that boils down to “music that’s difficult to like”. Indeed, Hebden’s rather quiet beats can easily go ignored as background music should you be easily distracted or simply have the attention span of a five year old. This is why he makes adult music for adult people, which is weird considering that this sort of genre is more regarded as skewing heavily towards youth culture. Efficiency and danceability aren’t priorities so much as the slow development and careful arrangement of various sounds are. “There Is Love In YOu” feels in many ways like an accumulation of the many things that Hebden has learned these past few years since his last full length. These are songs that radiate warmth despite their surface coldness, and fall in line better than almost anything he’s done before. I’ve never liked Four Tet that much before, but this record was what made me take a second glance and eventually won me over though it took awhile. If you’re struggling with this album, set aside some time and a quiet place to listen intensely with headphones. If it still fails to win you over, at least you gave it the ‘ol college try.
25. How to Dress Well – Love Remains
Download: You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’
Download: Ready For The World
When reading most anything about How to Dress Well, you’ll catch references to “strong R&B influences”. If you have listened to a lot of R&B, most specifically from the 80s and 90s, you can definitely hear pieces of it on “Love Remains”. Where How to Dress Well differs is primarily in the use of general electronic textures and overdubs to create music that’s less rhythmically inclined and more adrift in the ether. Songs flow in an almost organic way, and when it comes to beats, the mixture of computers and handclaps stays static no matter how fast or slow everything else might be going. It creates a few moments of what feels like imbalance, but the reality is actually a bit brilliant, throwing you just off the mark enough to take notice but never enough to ruin what’s already going. For a home-recorded, very limited range record, “Love Remains” does an incredible amount of things with an incredibly small number of tools. Tom Krell’s ability to manipulate just a couple of sparse sounds on a song any given song into something that feels fully formed is fascinating to hear and really establishes him as a talent. This isn’t for everyone, but hopefully it provides inspiration to those people sitting at home right now wondering if they can find a way to get the amazing album they’ve written recorded and out there for the rest of the world to hear.
24. Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
Download: Romance Is Boring
If the first EP and album from Los Campesinos! were like their childhood, and their second record was like puberty, their third “Romance Is Boring” represents their development into full adulthood. It may have been only 2 years since these young upstarts first showed up on our doorsteps, but there’s a world of difference between the material they put out then and what they’re doing today. Depending on where you stand with this band, that can be either a good or bad thing. What bothered me most about their debut album “Hold On Now, Youngster,” was that it felt like all sugar rush and no gradual comedown. You were bouncing off the walls one minute, racing towards the album’s inevitable conclusion where you’re quickly met with silence. Thankfully “Romance Is Boring” offers no such drop off. Instead, it deals in waves – pensive, quiet and beautiful one minute and loud, angry and depressed the next. It’s diversity and range and it’s damn impressive to see how well they’ve played it. Plus, even in the record’s darkest moments, there’s always some solace thanks to Gareth’s snarky wordplay. Unlike the album’s title, Los Campesinos! continue to make music that is anything but boring. Hopefully they’ll continue to do so for a long time coming.
23. Owen Pallett – Heartland
Describing the sound of “Heartland” is actually something of a challenge, because the mixture of widescreen symphonic compositions mixed occasionally with piano and electro beats can be considered unique. It’s a sound that’s certainly accessible, in that it doesn’t alienate listeners, but it’s also neither pop-driven nor overtly beautiful. To put it another way, you don’t really have many songs that follow a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure and stick in your head. You also realize that most of these songs are gorgeously crafted, but not every single one of them uses the violins, horns and woodwinds to knock you out with inspiration. The reason “Heartland” works so well I think is because it manages to straddle the orchestral and the pop sides so evenly. This is Owen Pallett going bigger, better and stronger than he ever did under the Final Fantasy moniker with a collection of tracks that are as engaging as they are beautiful. The more listens you give to this album the more you’ll discover from it. The concept behind the whole thing may be a little far-reaching and obscure, but I’d go see the musical version of it if this album were the soundtrack.
22. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Download: Ambling Alp
“Odd Blood” marked something of a sonic directional detour for Yeasayer compared to their first record, relying less on percussive elements and yelped backing vocals and more on synths and giant drums. The sleigh bells, hand claps, tin cans and whatever else they used to bang on “All Hour Cymbals” got toned down a little, as did the guitars, to gently place the band in the realm of 80’s pop music. They even recruited Peter Gabriel’s drummer to play on parts of this album just to give it some serious stadium boom. It’s decidedly less tribal and freak folk-y in nature, but when matched with the synth squeals, the result is pretty close to a lighter, far more experimental version of Depeche Mode. “Odd Blood” may not quite be of the same cloth a similar band like Animal Collective typically set, but this is the sort of album that makes you wonder exactly how they’re going to top it. They’re one of the few bands today that made significant strides forward on their second album without sacrificing much if any of their accessibility.
21. Matthew Dear – Black City
Download: Little People (Black City)
“Black City” is something of a radical departure for Matthew Dear. He’s been releasing music since about 2003, but until 2007′s “Asa Breed” he worked with a pretty standard electronica sound. On that last album, Dear finally made the decision to add vocals to the mix, and take his rather formless dance compositions in a much more direct, lighthearted pop direction. Maintaining that pop side but completely axing the lighthearted side of it, “Black City” is dark and brooding and best experienced in the most run-down and scariest areas of whatever large urban environment you live closest to. Despite this turn towards the seedy, the move is brilliant mostly thanks to the inventive way he puts these tracks together with rough edges and odd sound combinations. If you don’t like “Black City”, don’t feel bad. The hyper-sexuality and general sliminess of this record can be a sharp turnoff too, especially if you like high energy build-ups and breakdowns. There’s not much on here that moves out of the darkness and into the light, but as things move closer and closer to the inevitable finish there does seem to be a more upbeat tone that takes hold to suggest hope. Sometimes you need to hit bottom before you can start climbing back to the top. In Matthew Dear’s case, diving headfirst into the gutter has been a revealing and exceptionally creative outlet for him, turning out his best record to date.