Gold Soundz’ favorite albums of 2010
I host Gold Soundz, one of the younger shows on KDHX. It features a healthy dose of new rock, pop, and folk with a splash of Americana, country, and other older forms of rock (90s alternative, new wave, post-punk, etc.). My first six months as a KDHX DJ have been an absolute pleasure and I look forward to being part of this music-loving community for a long time to come.
It was a great year for music and narrowing down my list of favorites to just ten was not easy. Additionally, there were a lot of great releases that didn’t make the list for one reason or another (I didn’t include EPs or 7″ singles, and a couple of local releases barely missed the top 10). I’ll be recounting some of these over the next week in the discussion section of the Gold Soundz show page. What follows is the list of my ten favorite full-length albums that were released in 2010, in alphabetical order. These picks will be spinning on my turntable for some time to come. If you like what you see then be sure to check out Gold Soundz at 3 a.m. on Thursdays, or anytime online.
Azure Ray - Drawing Down The Moon (Saddle Creek)
This album’s title conjures an image that is quite befitting of the music itself: the soft white glow of a full moon which is being carefully lowered from the sky with a rope by the beautiful songstresses Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink. The beauty of this album is the way in which its songs maintain the balance between darkness and light. The darkness comes from pensive lyrics and the slow addition of layers that create a spacious palate for Taylor and Fink’s ethereal vocals. The light comes from the ebb and flow of energy that in most cases ends in a surge of emotion and sonic bliss.
Listen to: “Make Your Heart” and “Don’t Leave My Mind”
Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love (Matador)
Most reviews of Write About Love will try to put it in context with the veteran band’s earlier releases, and if the reviewer is impressed she will likely compare it to their masterpiece If You’re Feeling Sinister. Such comparisons are not only unnecessary but they also take away from the enjoyment of what is a fantastic pop album full of warm melodies, smart arrangements, and the touchstone Belle and Sebastian sound that we’ve all come to love. I’m not going to say Write About Love is the band’s best album yet, but I’m also not going to say that it isn’t. I’m just going to listen to it, over and over and over.
Listen to: “I Didn’t See It Coming” and “I Want The World To Stop”
Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)
The widely loved Canadian rock collective put out what is probably its best record yet, and what has definitely been their most well-received record. And for good reason; it’s a damn fine record. It contains a wide range of songs that provide the perfect soundtrack to both your beer-soaked summer party (“Forced to Love”, “Texico Bitches”) and the sunburned haze of the day after (“World Sick”, “All to All”). What cemented this record in my top 10 list was seeing the band headline the first night of LouFest in Forest Park. Now, each time I listen I can’t help but recall their scorching set that peaked with the slowly building “Meet Me In the Basement” and Kevin Drew proclaiming, to a thunderous response, “That’s your city out there. Let them know you’re here!”
Listen to: “World Sick” and “Texico Bitches”
Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett (Secretly Canadian)
This is a thick, cloudy folk record: parlour ballads from your dreams, if you will. The songs are ghosts of emotions (loss, anxiety, regret) with only loosely sketched narratives. Each one is like walking into the middle of a silent black and white film (perhaps a romance, or maybe a tragedy) and trying to figure out the plot. What makes Saint Bartlett so engaging though is the marriage of Jurado’s sincerely delivered lyrics with the dense, yet simple instrumentation. Like a dream that lingers after waking, this album lingers in my mind long after each listening.
Listen to: “Cloudy Shoes” and “Kansas City”
The Love Language - Libraries (Merge)
The first album of note from the North Carolina band is alternately dramatic and whimsical. It often recalls mid-century bleeding heart pop from the likes of Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, and Frankie Avalon. But The Love Language re-imagines rather than recreates these melodies, with vocals buried in the mix and the tempo jacked up. The resulting sound is thick but not muddy. It is more like a ray of light that splits into a rainbow of radiant colors after being filtered through the prism of the listener’s ear.
Listen to: “Anthophobia” and “Pedals”
Menomena – Mines (Barsuk)
The lush drama of Mines is a huge step forward for the Portland trio. Compared to their previous release Friend or Foe, Mines demonstrates dramatically better production and songwriting. The songs are modal, or piecemeal, and tones and colors come and go. It all fits together beautifully like a patchwork quilt. Lyrics range from vague fantasies (explicit references to the “rabbit’s hole” make this obvious) to thoughtful reflections on childhood to wrangling with one’s inner demons. While the songs are dark, they are cathartic rather than depressing or haunting.
The band also recorded a phenomenal in-studio session for Gold Soundz when they came through town in October. Give it a listen.
Listen to: “Killemall” and “Dirty Cartoons”
The New Pornographers – Together (Matador)
I fully expected to be underwhelmed by this album, the fifth from the power pop collective. Of their first four I was most enchanted by 2007’s Challengers, which saw the band maturing greatly from the previous three. Its arrangements were smart and varied, its lyrics were as smart and pensive as ever, and most of all it showed one of my favorite bands embarking on new territory. So when the early reviews of Together described it as a throwback to the band’s earlier style I was disheartened.
But I think all of those early reviewers had it completely wrong. Yes, Together has plenty of big fuzzy guitar hooks, but this is a superficial observation. It also displays the band’s best arrangements and most effective instrumentation to date (including cello, horns, and wider use of acoustic guitar). Lyrically the album is also perhaps their strongest yet. Whereas Dan Bejar’s songs were often the weakest on previous albums, they are some of this album’s best. If early New Pornographers albums had any fault it was that they were too syrupy sweet. Together is the crème brûlée to their custard.
Listen to: “Crash Years” and “A Bite Out Of My Bed”
Spoon – Transference (Merge)
When a band has been so consistently good it’s easy to overlook them. But this is not just another Spoon album. It’s grittier and smarter than anything they’ve done in a while. Transference is a ridiculously addicting concoction of rhythmically-driven, richly-textured rock songs that have been constructed with excruciating attention to detail. Every last synthesizer beat and guitar tone was labored over, and not for naught. Spoon is a band that over the years has formed its own musical logic and Transference is the finest example of that logic that they have yet produced.
Listen to: “The Mystery Zone” and “Who Makes Your Money”
Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)
I’ll let you in on a secret. Superchunk’s Majesty Shredding is the first album from the storied pop punk band that I have ever given the time of day. There’s no particular reason that I never listened to the highly lauded Foolish or Here’s Where The Strings Come In, or any of the others for that matter. Actually, it’s probably the same reason that I haven’t listened to more than three albums by Guided By Voices or every album by R.E.M. There has been a lot of great music released in my lifetime and much of it came out before I graduated from high school. It’s going to take me a while to catch up.
Majesty Shredding is a gripping album though, and would not be ignored until it was convenient for me to listen. It demanded to be heard; its lessons and reflections demand to be heeded. After 20 years of making music, Superchunk has shown us that not only is punk not dead (even though it’s primitive form may be) but also that it’s not just for the kids.
Listen to: “Learned to Surf” and “Digging for Something”
Tired Pony – The Place We Ran From (Mom + Pop)
This album is probably the dark horse (er, dark pony) in this list, but it is also one of my favorites. (If I had to order my picks, which you couldn’t pay me enough to do, it would easily make the top three.) Tired Pony is led by Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody. In early 2010 he assembled a stellar cast including Peter Buck (R.E.M), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5), and Richard Colburn (Belle and Sebastian) to record a country album. That’s not exactly what he ended up with but you shouldn’t hold that against the album. It’s a strikingly beautiful work that uses Americana instrumentation (mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, fiddle) in the midst of slow, spacious, reverb-laden songscapes. The lyrics are equally rich, dealing with mangled relationships, self-questioning, and resignation. Upon first listen these songs felt instantly familiar even though I’ve never heard anything quite like them. My attraction to the album is as enigmatic as it is magnetic.
Listen to: “Northwestern Skies” and “Point Me At Lost Islands”