With Part One all sealed off in Faronheit’s Top 50 Albums of 2010 list, I’m now proud to present a humbling Part Two, in which the game gets just a little more exciting and nothing is exactly what it seems. Just to take a moment to give you a brief insight as to exactly WHY I take 5 days to roll out a list of 50 albums instead of just throwing them at you in one fell swoop, the simplest explanation is that I think you need the slow burn rather than the fast cut in order to have a real appreciation for the year in music. You can scroll past these albums and not read any of the blurbs I’ve written in association with them, but the hope is that if you’ve only got ten at a time, you’ll be more inclined to stop for a minute in your day. Fifty at once, that’ll take you a good 10 minutes to sift through and do you really have that time to take in this “every second counts” world? Also, the slower roll out gives me moments to breathe and ponder these records more closely, rather than just listing them in plaintext. Thirdly, I get a little starved for content this time of year, so taking a week to unveil these choices is easier when it comes to creating content. That’s about as honest as I get. Anyways, there’s still three more parts to go, each one of increasing importance as I count down my favorite albums of the year. Please enjoy #40-31 and the associated mp3s. Perhaps you’ll discover something new. Also, I’m soliciting for comments on your favorite records of 2010, or just your thoughts on this list so far – feel free to leave a note below.
40. Glasser – Ring
Describing the sound of Glasser is a small challenge, but that’s a good thing considering how many artists fall plainly into certain genres. Cameron Mesirow’s early demos were very rough and unproduced, composed primarily in GarageBand and utilizing only a handful of instruments. With a label in True Panther Sounds and a producer in Foreign Born’s Ariel Rechtshaid, she worked for months to not only re-work a couple tracks from her initial “Apply” EP but also to craft a collection of songs that had deeper and fuller arrangements than ever before. The foundation of most Glasser tracks is electro-synth based, but thanks to things like tribal percussion and the presence of woodwinds it goes beyond mere pop music. Then there’s Mesirow’s voice. Smooth as silk, but prone to bits of oddities in that good sort of way. You’ll definitely remember the album once its over, but trying to select standout moments is like spending time analyzing a gigantic “Where’s Waldo?” poster – damn difficult. In today’s single-a-minute world where most everyone is looking for 3 minutes of pure sugary pop, Glasser is the warm glass of milk you typically drink before bed – exceptionally calming and effortlessly charming.
39. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
Upon reviewing “Big Echo” this past spring, I confessed to not understanding what all the hype was about. The band was getting praise from everyone and their mothers, but I found their purported “indie pop” to be sharply lacking beyond the first couple tracks of the album (“Excuses” turned out to be my second favorite song of 2010). Apparently I didn’t give it enough time to grow on me, which is why several months later and one live show later I’ve fully bought into The Morning Benders and this record. It’s effective, slower and atmospheric just where it needs to be, measured in equal time by some of the more upbeat, sunnier numbers. Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor produced the record and probably had a hand in tempering this back from a full-on sugar high of a pop album, moving in a more experimental and in some senses bigger (but less direct) direction. It actually winds up serving a twofold purpose – preventing The Morning Benders from being labeled (as I wanted to) as “yet another indie pop band” while also carving out several different paths they can develop their sound on for the future. Now I can honestly say I’m very interested to hear what they’re going to try next.
38. The New Pornographers – Together
Download: Your Hands (Together)
Coming off the somewhat disappointing slow player that was 2007’s “Challengers”, The New Pornographers appear to be feeling better these days, because the quicker and more upbeat tunes of their earlier albums came back on “Together”. Guitars still form the basis for their sound, but for the first time we really heard a full string section and/or horns present through most of the songs. They’ve dabbled in these sorts of arrangements before, just not with the breadth and depth they do here. Though the vocals have always been shared relatively equally between Newman, Bejar and Case, “Together” truly is the first record where every single band member seems like they’re on the exact same page. There’s a cohesiveness present that takes away the glaring differences between tracks written by the band’s three principal members. Largely helping to create this impression is that they all sing on virtually every song, whether that means taking on a verse or simply adding vocal harmonies. Looks like the band has truly turned a corner and taken the next important step in the development of their sound, and it makes for one of the best things 2010 had to offer.
37. Liars – Sisterworld
Liars bring a distinct intensity to the moments between notes on “Sisterworld,” and it turns the record into an atmospheric piece of art rock. Of course you can’t hold down such nail-biting tension without a release, and 40-some minutes of only buildup would make for a pretty unsatisfying album. Thankfully the band peppers their moments of threatening silence with fits of loud catharsis, as if they’re having sudden moments of white-hot clarity amid otherwise pitch-black skies. Check out how the dreamy “Drip” and how it transitions into the jagged buzzsaw of “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant” for a good idea of the odd dichotomy. It works though, to brilliant effect. “Sisterworld” pays out dividends the more time and attention you give to it. Like any great art rock record, you’re able to discover little nuances and allow for certain songs to work their way into your head and stay there. It may be exceptionally subtle, and the quiet-loud-quiet aspects of it can jar you in and out of a false sense of security, but at its core this marks one of the band’s best to date.
36. She & Him – Volume Two
In essence, She & Him’s “Volume Two” feels like a true sequel to their “Volume One,” because you get the same types of songs, both originals and covers that, with the assistance of some bouncy melodies, overdubbed vocal harmonies and the occasional “do dos,” “la las” and “ba bas”, hold that moden-day classic edge to them. This time you get covers of songs by artists Skeeter Davis and NRBQ, but this time there’s just a little more reliance on Deschanel’s writing and Ward’s compositions. Both are great by the way, with Deschanel continuing to play the role of the girl struggling to understand love and men in general while Ward crafts exquisite instrumentals around her that range from sunny beach pop to alt-country. Everything works together in an extremely pleasant and heartfelt way that only endears She & Him to you more. If you can’t find the upbeat delight and respectful homage in this album I understand; not everybody likes a plucky throwback record. But between the increased confidence in Deschanel’s vocals and the surprisingly fluid and smart compositions that Ward puts together, I found plenty to love here and hope you did too.
35. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
One of the most criminally under-recognized and under-appreciated bands making music today, in my opinion, are The Besnard Lakes. Their sound is something of an acquired taste and I can understand how some might be turned off by its constant revelry in darkness, but at its core this is beautiful, brilliantly composed music. Their sound tends to focus on gigantic melodies, sometimes epic to the point where they can feel completely enveloping in walls of noise and composition. Though big guitar riffs awash in distortion dominate many of their songs, along with drum and cymbal crashes, the band has also proven to be masters at the slow build, starting with the quietest of melodies and building to a loud roar (as the album title suggests) that’s heavy and overtly dominant. With an album such as this one, the biggest favor you can give yourself is to listen from start to finish. “…Are the Roaring Night” is excellent and slightly better than its predecessor, and if you’re a fan of psychedelic post-rock, I sincerely hope you’ll check it out if you didn’t do so earlier in the year. This is a high functioning rock and roll album that’s often dark and disturbing, but equal parts startlingly beautiful too.
34. Caribou – Swim
You can never say that Dan Snaith is not committed. Committed to what exactly, well, that’s a whole other topic. Across the records he’s released under the Caribou (ex-Manitoba) name, he’s taken a vastly different approach to each while maintaining a singular vision within the individual constructs. In other words, you never know what you’re going to get on a Caribou record, you just know it’ll be something different than the album before. “Swim” sees Snaith taking his sonic palette in a much more danceable direction, and while there’s always been a strong electronic influence in his music, there wasn’t much you could consider “club-worthy”. And though the beats come hot and heavy and push you to get moving, there’s still plenty of backwards-leaning references to previous records, with a touch of shoegaze here, a hint of psychedelia there, and of course plenty of left field instrument choices that you’d never think would work until you hear them on the record. Ultimately, “Swim” is a tough album to digest, especially with little in the way of pop-friendly singles, but the more time you spend with it, the more you get out of it.
33. Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern
Download: For Ash
Download: Transparency Is the New Mystery
On her self-titled third album, Marnie Stern is in full confessional mode. That means a lot of plainspoken and direct lyrics that present a vulnerability she hasn’t ever put on display before. The emotion has always been there, this is just the first time it’s fully risen to the surface for all to see. Those darker lyrics actually end up as great evidence of her growth as an artist, revealing more layers than we’ve come to expect from someone of her caliber. Here she is, operating at a level beyond that which labels her as one of the few finger-tapping guitarists out there today. Even so, every single song on the album stays afloat no matter what emotions or non-emotions are behind them thanks to that exceptional guitar work and some incredible drumming courtesy of the always-amazing Zach Hill. The speed and heft at which they drive each melody forwards brings a life and energy that gratifies at every turn. It may take a few listens to fully comprehend what Stern is aiming for, but once it finally sinks in you’re virtually guaranteed to fall in love with this record.
32. Wavves – King of the Beach
Download: King of the Beach
Nathan Williams’ 2009 was packed with drug-fueled meltdowns, broken limbs, and physical altercations with other bands. He became a magnet for controversy – the Lindsay Lohan of indie rock, if you will. Stability started to come his way thanks in large part to Jay Reatard’s former backing band joining forces with him and turning Wavves into a three-piece. That’s just one of the big things that made his second album “King of the Beach” that much more special and exciting compared to his debut. The first and most noticeable thing about “King of the Beach” is the quality of the production. Straight from the opening title track, everything sounds markedly clearer than before, either due to the shift away from lo-fi popularity or just a generally higher recording budget. This album has more sonic variety than ever, full of jangly guitar pop that actually focuses on verse-chorus-verse structures and tempos that range from speed punk to death metal dirge. For a guy that many thought would just be a one-trick pony with nothing left to offer, Nathan Williams has proven that he’s a far more brilliant musician than anybody ever gave him credit for, and riding on what he’s revealed to us on “King of the Beach”, it seems he can stay viable and weather whatever storm or controversy that might come his way.
31. Delorean – Subiza
Download: Real Love
Download: Stay Close
Starting out as your traditional guitar and drums indie band, Delorean began to incorporate more electronic beats and keyboards into their songs and noticed they had a particular knack for it. Naturally then, their sound has been shifting further and further in that direction, to the point where it very much blurs the lines between dance, pop and rock music. There are elements of each, and even a little bit of hip hop, on “Subiza”, wrapped in a mixture of electronica styles that keep the tempo upbeat and fun. It’s that inability to place Delorean in an easily definable box that makers them so unique and worthwhile to listen to. Above all else, fun is the name of the game on “Subiza”. Many will view it as a simple club record that will benefit most from being blasted on the dance floor. Yet the album goes so much deeper than so many realize, and the verse-chorus-verse structure on many of the songs deceptively turn them into pop hits without much prodding. It takes strong musical talent and knowledge to pull off a record this well proportioned, but Delorean manages to do it quite well.