Top 25 Albums of 2010: 20-16
20. Avey Tare – Down There
Everyone (meaning a small minority) was gearing up to hear how Avey Tare would sound on his own. Skeptics had their guns loaded ready to put him down in comparison to Panda Bear. If you ask me, this was all bullshit. From what I can tell, there appears to be no rivalry among the AC brothers, and anyone looking to make Panda Bear vs. Avey Tare comparisons is really missing the point. I think a lot of people were expecting this to be Avey Tare’s grand “I’m going solo” event, and when they realized that the music wasn’t really as catchy as stuff on MPP or Panda Bear’s solo stuff, they were quick to condemn it. It caused the album to kind of disappear from the conversation. The fact is that Down There is a somber outlet of Avey Tare blues that is an essential album for diehard AC fans.
People expecting a very different sounding album from Animal Collective works were disappointed, after all he is the major contributor to Animal Collective (writing 75% of the material for MPP). Musically, it’s pretty similar to Animal Collective, despite a few changes (he does some dubstep in “Oliver Twist”).
This is very much an emotional album, maybe the most emotional we’ll ever hear Avey Tare, which is saying something because he can be quite emotional as seen in previous work. In Down There he’s singing about his sister’s fight with cancer in “Heather in the Hospital.” The song “Cemeteries” is a song of similar subject matter, using reverberated piano chords to create a captivating effect; it may be the most sobering moment on the album and one of its highpoints. “Lucky 1”, the single released before the album, kind of turned off people expecting a drastic change from Animal Collective while also expecting “Summertime Clothes” type catchiness, as it was neither. I admit that I too was a little let down when I first heard the single, hoping that there would be stronger songs on the album, but hearing this song with the finished product really puts it into perspective. It serves as a highpoint for the album and really shows you that this is very much an album experience, best listened to as a whole.
With Down There, Avey Tare produces something truly unique and deeply moving.
Favorite Songs: “Lucky 1”, “Oliver Twist”, “Cemeteries”, “Laughing Hieroglyphic”.
- Michael Kertez
19. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
Local Natives, a five-piece band from Los Angeles, have built their sound on impeccable rhythm, extraordinary songwriting, and a knack for being all around stunning. Their debut album, Gorilla Manor, was a monumental piece. Their sound is comparable to bands like Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, and what Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen claims, “A West Coast Grizzly Bear” (Did you hear that? That was the sound of Ed Droste sighing… loudly).
Gorilla Manor is a musical and lyrical accomplishment not typical of debuts. Local Natives ground their instrumentation in folk and indie-rock but extend their arms to pull in other influences as well. For example, the standout track “Sun Hands” builds into an all-out headbanger near the last quarter of the song. Local Natives seem to never be comfortable with their sound, which works to their advantage; they create songs that are so familiar to each other, but remain absolutely unique. In addition, their sound is utterly huge. Despite being a five-piece band, there are plenty of moments in the album where I seriously thought there were 20 members of Local Natives playing five feet in front me.
Taylor Rice and Kelcey Ayer take the main vocal duties in Gorilla Manor, but there are a myriad of instances where every member in the band is howling at the microphone. This is best exemplified in “World News”, where the harmonization at the end becomes all-out tribal (as suggested by the ‘Natives’ in their name).
The thing I admire the most about Gorilla Manor is the spectacular song writing. These songs were written directly from the heart, no bullshit, whatsoever. “Cubism Dream” is an utterly heartbreaking track. In it, Kelcey Ayers digs to the pits of his soul to whimper, “I will never know what had rot my heart/ It just came and went in the dark/ I had changed into the certain kind of man/ That could break your heart with his own hands.”
Gorilla Manor excels in ways that one wouldn’t expect. It takes a sound that is normally reserved for coffee houses and turns it into a truly enjoyable adventure. Local Natives are never redundant, despite their name. They’re not out to be perfect; they’re out to be human.
Favorite songs: “Wide Eyes”, “World News”, “Shape Shifter”, “Cubism Dream.”
- Adrian Rojas
18. Wavves – King of The Beach
Nathan Williams is always one to raise eyebrows. No one likes him. And that includes himself (according to his many self-loathing remarks on either his all-caps twitter or on the album). Yet, with all this negativity surrounding him, he really did position himself as King of the
Weed Beach with this album. Perfect release timing and a pop revival that outdoes his bff/gf Bethany of Best Coast really put this over the top for me. Not to mention all the massive amount of visceral fun in here.
With the help of Jay Reatard’s old backing band, Nathan goes from noise to a more concise sound. Now that we’re deep in winter, and with a few inches of snow outside, this album sounds even warmer and more forlorn.
Favorite songs: “Linus Spacehead”, “Mickey Mouse”, “Baseball Cards”.
- Bill Neidhardt
17. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
Touring with Grizzly Bear last year did The Morning Benders very well. Big Echo is Morning Bender’s earlier tight and melodic heavy San Francisco pop meeting with Chris Taylor’s mixing. The combination is reminiscent of the chamber-like ambience and harmonies of Grizzly Bear.
Chris Taylor does have a large part in how great this sounds by subliminally massaging Grizzly Bear into listeners’ heads, but Chris Chu really carries the day in Big Echo with bright vocals throughout. This is most notably characterized in Excuses, a definite standout with a great music video to boot.
Favorite songs: “Excuses”, “Hand Me Downs”, “Promises”.
- Bill Neidhardt
16. Spoon – Transference
Spoon unfortunately has become associated with the commercial indie-pop, related to some kind of hipster backlash that they’ve received. The idea is that commercial indie-pop is filled with artists that have no real depth and just rely on dumb hooks to grab the masses or use these vacuous aesthetic choices in their music that kind of go with a “trendy” style at the time and end up in Volvo commercials. I guess Spoon’s previous album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is somewhat to blame for this reputation. It’s a great album and it was filled with very accessible songs (“You got Yr Cherry Bomb,” “The Underdog”) that got overplayed on “indie” radio stations (XRT) and got put in car commercials or “Juno 2” type movies. The pressure of the hipster backlash made it hard for people (myself) to call themselves Spoon fans or cite them as one of their favorite bands. The shame of it is, this pressure is bringing people away from one of the most interesting and best albums, not only released this year, but also of Spoon’s catalogue.
The first time I heard Transference all the way through, I was kind of put off. There was nothing that really grabbed me, none of the Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga hooks that I was expecting (“Trouble Comes Running” being the only immediate song). It also had Spoon’s signature minimalist rock approach that initially seemed to me like they were no longer expanding, that they had begun the process that veteran artists do of fading away. However, I knew Spoon as an interesting and uncompromising band, so I figured that I was probably missing something. I listened to the album again and found many moments that I missed/overlooked that helped me go down the fascinating rabbit hole that is this album. For me to talk about each moment individually would take too much effort and make this review too long so I’ll just list a few of them in hopes that you can get into this album too:
1. 3:28 – 3: 50 in “The Mystery Zone”
2. 1: 10 – 1: 35 in “Is Love Forever?”
3. The outro on “Out Go the Lights” beginning on 2:47
4. The change occurring at 2:17 in “I Saw the Light” and that whole rest of the song.
*Don’t fast forward to these points; you have to listen to the song for the whole effect
Spoon recorded this album live in the studio, which makes it a fascinating look at how they work the live recording with their meticulous studio crafting. This is combined to great effect in songs like “Goodnight Laura” where the live recording creates this intimacy that is really fitting for the song. “Trouble Comes Running” uses the live recording and startling contrasting studio elements that create great dynamics within it. People calling this album a straightforward rock album aren’t paying attention. I wouldn’t call this Spoon’s crowning achievement (their stellar record is hard to top), but I certainly have enjoyed this album as much as the best of their previous works. Transference may take some work to fully appreciate, but believe me: you will fully appreciate it.
Favorite Songs: “Out Go The Lights” “Goodnight Laura” “Trouble Comes Running” “Nobody Gets Me But You” “Before Destruction”
- Michael Kertez