The Best Music of 2010 [Albums #15-#11]

Sorry for the slight delay in getting this post online. I’ve been mildly distracted by WordPress’ recent decision to abruptly take one of its most popular blogs offline because it was deemed “hateful” by some non-transparent, secretive tribunal. If ROTI ever vanishes from this space in a similarly mysterious fashion, you can find me at our Facebook page (open to non-Facebook users, FYI) and on Twitter (@alpinemcgregor). Rest assured that we would soon be born again on a different server.

So, where were we? Ah yes, the finest albums of the year. Let’s officially begin our countdown.

#15. Spoon – Transference

Spoon, led by singer/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Dan Eno, has been consistently awesome for a decade. I fondly remember the day that DJ Walls of Sound returned from an odyssey of New England college hangouts with a burned CD of Girls Can Tell and promptly dropped a rock-bomb on my dome. Every album since then has provided joy and delight, and Transference is no exception. While this might be my least favorite Spoon album, it’s still a choice selection of tracks that made a strong impression on our panel.

Transference is eminently Spoon material, but still an original departure from their earlier work. This album unfolds in a disjointed, almost dissociative style, but that just makes for a more challenging and compelling listen. Here’s one of the highlights, “Writing in Reverse.”

I believe that esteemed panelist J.J. Behoy’s thoughts on this album say it all:

“OK, let’s be honest – this is a really uneven offering, and not up to some of their past work – and I wasn’t that wild about Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga or whatever that last album was called.  Kill the Moonlight, Girls Can Tell – those taut offerings with great stories and terrific hooks, that was all me.  That being said, there are some bright lights here: “Got Nuffin'” recalls those days of old.  “Who Makes Your Money” shimmies in a way spoon rarely does, but it works well.  “Goodnight Laura” is so achingly beautiful that it can’t help but lift this whole album up.”

#14. Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer of the Void

I got into this band a couple years back, when they dropped the superb Furr with its standout track, “Black River Killer.” But their solid work really goes back to their Sub Pop debut, Wild Mountain Nation. Destroyer of the Void is another terrific set from the Portland-based band led by Eric Earley. It’s proggy, melodic, and sometimes guilty of trying too hard, but the passion and harmonies make any overreach eminently forgiveable.

It’s surprisingly difficult to find tracks online for your listening pleasure, and if I could I would have embedded the choice song “Laughing Lover,” with its deceptive shifts, harmonic dankness, and a tasty chorus that sneaks up on you. The album’s title song is a Queen-like epic, complete with various tempo changes, transitioning from one section to another with bombast. I’m also a big fan of “Evening Star,” the tale of a Hollywood party girl who’s fallen on bad times.

But fear not, I have acquired for you the following track, which is a fairly dank nugget:

Destroyer of the Void tails off towards the end, and “The Man Who Would Speak True” is an unworthy murder-ballad follow-up to “Black River Killer,” but all in all, this is an extremely enjoyable album. It might not be for everyone, but I certainly embrace Blitzen Trapper’s particular brand of harmonic country-rock.

#13. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Fresh off of dissolving the original lineup of The Shins, frontman James Mercer joined forces with Brian Burton (better known as DJ Danger Mouse) to record this highly listenable record as Broken Bells. I appreciate the fact that these fellows continue to push themselves in new directions, and a number of these songs are really excellent. In particular, it’s a big step forward for Mercer from the fairly dull third Shins album (Wincing the Night Away). Working with Danger Mouse seems to have invigorated him, and he’s exploring new musical terrain in an exciting way.

The best example of this is the standout track, “The Ghost Inside,” which sounds like it could be a lost track off Gorillaz’ Demon Days (which was skillfully produced by Burton). Mercer’s falsetto is employed to great effect, especially when combined with a rhythmic groove laid down by Burton and some tasteful hand claps. The unwitting listener won’t realize that this was recorded by the guy from The Shins until there are about 30 seconds left in the song.

Broken Bells received widespread support from our panel of musical minds, and it’s a must-listen for anyone who has enjoyed these musicians’ work in the past. Don’t expect another Chutes Too Narrow or Demon Days, but this record is delightful in its own right.

#12. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

Good God, y’all. I had never even heard of this band when C. Dave gave me the word that this was one of his favorite albums of the year. I’ll admit that I was skeptical, but within hours I was writing him an email to thank him for introducing me to this titanic record.

I envy all of you who have yet to hear this band. Check out this track, “Albatross.” It might seem forgettable at first, but sit back and relax as the goodness slowly kicks in. This is just one example of the “holy shit” moments that await you as you listen to this album.

The dense, driving, well-nigh-psychedelic sound crafted by The Besnard Lakes is a delight for anyone who enjoys great rock. The band’s husband and wife team (Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas) are perfect complements for each other — he spins wild narratives of espionage and intrigue, while her songs are more personal in nature. The album is astounding as a whole, but I especially enjoyed the two-part “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent,” the driving “And This is What We Call Progress,” and the awesome “Glass Printer.” Honestly, though, the whole record is damn good and deserves to be listened to in full.

After listening to this killer set, I feel like it might be a good idea to spend more time in Montreal. There some kind of awesomeness going on up there that I want to be a part of.

#11. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

An acclaimed tag-team of tastemakers, DJ Walls of Sound and CVD, both recommended this album to me. Thanks, dudes! I never thought I would enjoy a record made by a bunch of hipsters from Orange County, but I was wrong. Gorilla Manor is the work of a collective who are raising their game to a new level by jamming together and pushing each other. The record is named after their O.C. haunt (they’ve single relocated to Silver Lake, shocker) where the band’s sound was honed. I’ve heard Local Natives described as the west coast’s answer to Grizzly Bear, but on the whole, I like this record even better than Veckatimest.

CVD knew just how to hook me by recommending the band’s cover of the Talking Heads classic “Warning Sign.” That track (original here) has long been one of my favorite David Byrne compositions, driven by an awesome Tina Weymouth bassline and the sense of skittish paranoia that defined early Heads records. But Local Natives spin this song in an entirely different direction, adding harmonies to great effect, moving the bassline to guitars and adding a shouted chorus to go along with a complete sonic overhaul. THIS is why I often bemoan the lost art of interpreting songs written by others instead of singer-songwriting everything — Local Natives’ take on this 30-year-old number gives it new and invigorating life.

One of the really outstanding things about this album is the killer drumming and percussion, led by Matt Frazier with support from Kelcey Ayer. Every track throbs and rattles with the superb beatmaking of this combo. It gives the album a sound that’s distinctive from the other harmonic rockers to which Local Natives are often compared.

Although this record fell just outside our top 10, it’s every bit as enjoyable as the albums yet to come. Thus I’ve included a bonus track handpicked by DJ Walls of Sound, the refreshing “Who Knows Who Cares.”

NEXT POST: Albums #10-#6 on our countdown.

About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

2 Responses to The Best Music of 2010 [Albums #15-#11]

  1. Secret M says:

    Besnard Lakes blew my mind last night. I wasn’t listening to them “as the goodness slowly kick[ed] in” … but I’m sure that’s pretty awesome too. Eh hem … hippie. Feel like these dudes coulda, shoulda, woulda made it into the top 10. Just saying.

    • Well, they’re in my personal top 10 but they just flew too far under the radar to get more support from our panel. However, I have just been informed that in an alternate reality where you learned of them earlier and responded to my entreaties for comment, they ranked much higher on the ROTI countdown.

      And when I speak of goodness, you can picture me guzzling port wine straight out of the bottle.

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