Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Year in Music Vol. 2 - The Not Top Ten

I thought 2009 was a pretty damn good year for music. I actually had a fairly difficult time putting together a CD for friends because I felt like there was a lot of great stuff I had to leave off. I was pretty sure 2010 was going to be a bit of step back. I was wrong. 2010 featured a ton of great music, so much that I'm about to list a bunch of albums that I would have almost guaranteed top 10 status before the year started. But in the end, these albums didn't quite entertain me as much as the top 10, to be revealed in the next week or two.

Good, but not quite top 10 - High Expectations Division:
I could pick ten albums from that list, present it as my top 10, and no one would be surprised. They're all bands I love, all bands I'd seen before this year (except Vampire Weekend and Blitzen Trapper, both of whom I saw this year), and all albums that I was really looking forward to. There's not a bad album in the bunch, and my only regret is that my top 10 list is limited to 10.

Apples in Stereo, Spoon, Broken Social Scene, New Pornographers, Los Campesinos!, Vampire Weekend, and Ted Leo were probably victims of their own success. I had really high expectations for all of those albums, maybe too high. And while all had songs that I really love, none of them were good enough start to finish to rank higher.

Admittedly, the Whigs, Interpol, and Blitzen Trapper fell a little flat for me this year, though Blitzen Trapper did put on a really great show in August.

Albums I never really gave a chance to:
I really enjoyed Wolf Parade's set at Pitchfork. I love the first few tracks from Teen Dream. And while I really want to like the National, I'm just missing something that everyone else is getting. Like their first two albums, High Violet has some stuff I like, but just doesn't grab me enough to make me want to listen to the whole thing.

Broken Bells, like Teen Dream, starts out really great, and then I just kind of get lost in the rest, and sometime after I stop paying attention, the record ends. I supposed that's my fault, but hey, this is my list. As for Wolf Parade, I had the misfortune to get their album around a time where I had a bunch of shows coming up, and I usually spend that time listening to the bands I'm going to see. It was a problem of timing for them. I need to get back and listen to that album a few more times.


Unexpected Returns and Side Projects who released great albums in 2010:
Teenage Fanclub returned after a fairly long absence with more jangly power-pop, and this album fits perfectly into their repertoire. They put on two great shows in October. It was my first time seeing them, and they didn't disappoint.

The Posies just missed making my list, and indeed they were included on various versions. I really love the Ken Stringfellow songs on this record, and I think it's their best since Frosting on the Beater was released 17 years or so ago. Their show with Brendan Benson in November was terrific.

Blue Giant is the alt-country version of Viva Voce, one of my favorite bands. It's not my favorite musical style, but they pull it off well, and anything that includes lead guitar from Anita Robinson is worth listening to.

Admiral Radley is the fusion of Earlimart and Grandaddy, and the album sounds like, well, what you'd expect if you combined Earlimart with Grandaddy.

EWITFR,N is the side project of Eddie Argos (Art Brut) and Dyan Valdes (the Blood Arm). It's a response record, in which they respond to other pop-songs. The live show is part concert, part comedy routine.

Stuff that wasn't on my radar when 2010 began:
Surfer Blood were good enough for me to want to see a couple times, but ultimately the album, while good, didn't force me to listen over and over again. The Happy Hollows are a band I missed in November, but I'm still hoping to see them live sometime soon. Avi Buffalo really bring a lot of energy to their live sets, and for a bunch of kids who can barely get in to the bars that they play (they're mostly under 21), they released a great album.

Sleigh Bells, as mentioned yesterday, put out an album I really like a lot, but their live show was underwhelming. Still, I love the album, and in another year it probably could have made the top 10.

The 1900s suffered only from a late release. Their album is excellent, but their live show (last Friday) was absolutely phenomenal. One of the best translations of an album to a live show that I've ever seen. They sound like Belle and Sebastian, but on stage, they really crank up the energy. They're local to Chicago, so I really hope we get a lot of opportunities to see them play.

Finally, I can't think of a category for the Thermals, who I didn't discover until 2010 even though I'd heard of them before. I started listening to their 2009 album "Now We Can See" before the new album came out, and I fell in love with it. I like it a lot more than I like their 2010 album "Personal Life", which has some great tracks, though I don't like it much start to finish as NWCS.

Tomorrow: Day 1 of the main event.

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