Monday, 27 December 2010

Albums of the Year 2010: 15-6

The Soft Pack: Instantly likeable and eminently listenable

Part two of the best albums of 2010, as chosen by the Popscener...

15. Vampire Weekend - Contra (XL)
Still in thrall to Paul Simon and his adventures in Afrobeat, the unashamedly preppy New York quartet nonetheless put their Columbia book-smarts to more considered effect than on the carefree frolic of their debut. The result: a series of laments on the uncomfortable post-college disquiet in realising that youth is transitory, all held together by Ezra Koenig’s bittersweet lilt.

14. Happy Birthday - Happy Birthday (Sub Pop)
Initially coming across like a Sub Pop surf-craze cash-in, breeding Wavves’ devil-may-care insouciance and Magic Kids’ ‘60s pastiche, repeated exposure revealed Happy Birthday to be a far more formidable beast. The melodies were too thrillingly warped and the musical palette – switching from 90s alternative rock (‘Pink Strawberry Shake’) to synth-psyche ballads (‘Subliminal Message’) – too varied to be rooted in artifice. Their next could be very special.

13. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today (4AD)
Resident oddball Ariel Pink had, until this year, spent his time barely-coordinating a stream of lo-fi oddities (such as 2008’s Oddities Sodomies Vol.1, no less). Before Today fine-tuned Pink’s musical schizophrenia and streamlined his half-formed ideas, creating something no less weirdly eclectic, but more compact and coherent. The rewards were deliciously decadent, frequently inspired – and manifold.

12. Les Savy Fav - Root For Ruin (French Kiss)
Following up 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends – a career zenith unlikely to be matched – was always going to be a thankless task, so the under-appreciated New Yorkers could be forgiven for talking several years to carefully devise their next move. They chose a sidestep rather than a great leap-forward, retaining Let’s Stay Friends’ masterful manipulation of rhythmic fluctuation, but filling more of the dry open spaces with visceral guitar shapes. And the post-hardcore pop song (‘Dear Crutches’) was a delight.

11. Laura Veirs - July Flame (Bella Union)
Seven albums and eleven years into a still-burgeoning career, July Flame found the alt-folk singer at her shrewdest ebb yet. She played to strengths, negating the thin reediness of her voice by double-tracking her vocal and embellishing her choruses with the kind of ornate harmonies (often beefed up by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James) which did justice to her sumptuous grasp of melodic resonance. The words were pensive, even forlorn, but never maudlin.

10. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks (Matador)
After the disappointment of 2007’s sprawling misfire Living With The Living, sprightly 30-something social-idealist punk Ted Leo went back to basics on his Matador debut, firing out a succession of curt, bristling punk-rock tirades which soldered instantly claimable hooks to intricate guitar stabs. As usual, the political moments (‘The Stick’, ‘Ativan Eyes’) brimmed with passion and conscience; as usual, the personal as political cuts (‘Bottled Up In Cork’, ‘Even Heroes Have To Die’) jumpstarted head and heart with cracked-macho displays of vulnerability.

9. The Wave Pictures - Susan Rode the Cyclone (Self-released)
The midlands trio further cemented their cult status with this limited edition LP, which appeared only to be released in infuriatingly small numbers on the continent. A missed opportunity perhaps, as David Tattersall’s blend of off-kilter indie-pop, psyche-folk and unique inside-out tremolo-arm soloing emphasised enough ingĂ©nue and songcraft to prompt a broader following. The hooks were reined in by the usual heady lyrical mix of misanthropy, romance and tongue-in cheek violent imagery. Always peculiar; often brilliant.

8. Medications - Completely Removed (Dischord)
Vying with Outrageous Cherry [see below] for the most underrated record of 2010, Completely Removed was bafflingly overlooked outside of a brief flurry of interest stateside. A first record in 5 years from the instrument swapping DC duo of Devin Ocampo and Chad Molter saw them move beyond the exhilarating post-hardcore of 2005’s Your Favourite People All In One Place, exploring styles as diverse as bossa-nova (‘Brazil 2007’) and prog-rock (‘Country Air’) with enviable chops and airtight synchronicity.

7. Outrageous Cherry - Seemingly Solid Reality (Alive Records)
Amidst a plethora of contemporary upstarts peddling hazy, stumbling '60s pop with surf-textures and '80s baritone vocals, Outrageous Cherry’s 9th full-length record since their 1992 inception should have provided closure for their long-suffering commitment to the cause. However, despite a deftness to their arrangements and open-hearted gutter-romanticism placing them streets ahead of the competition, Seemingly Solid Reality was not so much overlooked as completely ignored. Lucky they know just how to articulate life not being fair.

6. The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack (Heavenly)
In a year where many pre-eminent acts took their lead the lush, overloaded arrangements of Pet Sounds or the claustrophobic saturation of 80s wall-of-sound guitars, The Soft Pack's dryer, rhythm-heavy sound counterbalanced their snaking surf-guitar licks with the heart-racing recklessness of The Replacements and The Barracudas’ sense of fun. The result was instantly likeable and eminently listenable; lighter perhaps than contemporaries, but never flimsy – singer Matt Lamkin’s thinly-veiled reverence for Jonathan Richmann’s lyrical clout made sure of that.

Try the Spotify playlist for some of the best tracks from Albums of the Year 2010: 15-6

Don't forget to check out the Albums of the Year 2010: 25-16 and the Albums of the Year 2010: Honourable Mentions.

Take a look at the Songs of the Year 2010


stevenpatrickmoz said...

finally someone picks wave pictures in their list! totally underrated album.

some interesting choices here, beyond the same old records (arcade fire, national) that everyone else has made. I will listen to Outrageous Cherry, they sound good

The Popscener said...

@stevenpatrickmoz wave pictures was an odd one - no-one seemed to know anything about it and it got virtually no coverage. keep an eye out for my top 5 which will be posted tomorrow and let me know what you reckon

Post a Comment

Blog Directory Music Art Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory Music Top Blogs Business Directory for Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire British Blogs