This Year in Music, 2010

So as always I don’t care what year the albums were released, what matters is they’re new to me and for me they defined the year of 2010. Sad to say this isn’t a Top 10 list, but a Top 8. I felt a sense of musical lethargy this year and really have no right to be tacking music on to the list that was decent, but not anything I would recommend purchasing. Most of these albums were released this year. But there are some albums that were released previously that still deserve to be talked about. What? You only see 9 listed? Well take a closer look, cuz there’re 13 there.

1) Sleeping in the Aviary – Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel (2008), Great Vacation! (2010), Oh This Old Thing? (2007)
I fell hard onto this band. The night I went to see Sleeping in the Aviary perform live I was complaining that I had such a small connection to music this year. That there was simultaneously nothing interesting and an overload of awful music coming out this year. I was paralyzed by my lack of desire to listen to the next hot recycled sound. That very night, Sleeping in the Aviary opened my eyes. The nice part about this band is their song writing skills are extraordinary, but each album progresses through a different sound. “Oh This Old Thing?” is a garage punk assault, “Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel” is more boozy folk, and their newest release is closer to indie folk pop. Their lyrics switch between fun and catchy to introspective and painful—and sometimes all of that together in one song—as he tries so unsuccessfully to navigate the complex realities of unworking relationships. He shouts off the pain in “Maureen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore,” shrugs it off in “Gas Mask Blues” and croons it off in the dreamscapes of “I Want You Back, I Want You Dead.” He almost acts as an anti hero, where his lyrics are so poetic you want him to succeed, but so misogynistic that it doesn’t surprise you that he’s failing. I’ve collected all three of their albums into the top slot because they’re all so good (and a Top Ten list with 30% of the list taken up by the same artist is kinda lame). Subsequently I’ve ordered them by which you should buy first (if you can’t get them all at once).

2) Little Dragon – Machine Dreams (2009)
A Swedish electro pop band with a Japanese-born female lead with album art by her accomplished Illustrator dad, Yusuke Nagano. Sounds like a recipe for a good time. Little Dragon plays understated dance music that is more personal and less flashy than what you’d see in the clubs. It’s not really shoe gaze, but it wouldn’t be such a lie to lump it in with the genre.

3) First Aid Kit – The Big Black and the Blue (2010)
I first heard these of these Swedish girls while watching them do a cover of the Fleet Foxes Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. Now I’m no fan of the Fleet Foxes, but these girls took their song and improved upon it so much that I believe Fleet Foxes should just stop singing it. It’s not their song anymore. First Aid Kit’s first full length album follows suit, keeping up with the beautiful harmonies and melodies and proving they have songwriting chops beyond covers.

4) The Scarring Party – Losing Teeth (2010)
I am good friends with the guys and girl in The Scarring Party, so it is a coincidence that this album made the list. They combine the vaudeville sounds that your grandmother would love but give it a punk attitude by mixing in lyrics that tread the line between eerie, funny, bizarre, pointed and clever. It is a sound that you can’t find anywhere else. Their latest album takes the best elements of their last two albums and mixes them together into a coherent package that I’ve been waiting for for the last 5 years. Their previous releases were good, but “Losing Teeth” gives me what I want.

5) Bomb the Music Industry! – Adults!!!… Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited By Nothing!!!!!!! (2010) & Everybody That You Love (2010)
It’s cheating to include EPs, right? Well, I’ll tack on the two tracks from the “Everybody That You Love” 45 that got screwed up and was never released on vinyl. I never have anything exciting to say about Bomb the Music Industry! because they are constantly putting out the same kind of in-your-face catchy pop punk songs that just don’t quit. I say it over and over. I love it. With this kind of consistency I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving it. On ETYL Rosenstock tries out a little My Bloody Valentine with middling results. At this point his voice may not be subtle enough to pull off that kind of dreamy reverb, but the potential there does excite me.

6) Various – Yo! MKE Raps (2010)
My knowledge of hip hop and rap is so microscopically small that I couldn’t tell you the difference between Kanye West, Will Smith and Eminem. I didn’t grow up with it and I never found its subject matter appealing, mostly because the only people I ever heard talk on the subject were people who chose to remain ignorant about it. “It’ just black people talking about getting drunk and treating women badly.” Well no more! I’m getting in, though perhaps through the basement window. I don’t mean this as a dis to Milwaukee artists, but it’s not exactly the most forward way of learning more about the genre. Nevertheless, “Yo! MKE Raps” is an expertly compiled compilation that runs the gamut of storytelling tropes, from love to violence, from hope to dispair, and sometimes even a dash of comedy. It was also released free to download.

7) Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs – Medicine County (2010)
This third release from Holly Golightly and her husband promised to be better than her second because they spent more time writing and recording. I was in for a treat then, I thought, as I really liked “Dirt Don’t Hurt.” The results were…less than I’d hoped, but the album seems to be more of a grower. After a little fuel and a few more plays I started to see that it wasn’t outwardly as humorous, but was more personal in an understated way.

8) Murder by Death – Good Morning, Magpie (2010)
When I found out that lead singer Adam Turla was penning the latest tunes for Murder by Death in a cabin in the middle of the woods I thought “Oh god, not another one.” Thankfully the album turned out to be more classically folk than, other cabin-in-the-middle-of-the-woods writers. I have mixed feelings about this album. The pacing on it is weird, causing it to act more like two EPs than a cohesive album. A few of the tracks also diverge into an early 1900s commercial jingle territory but they don’t quite work as placed (or produced?). Overall it feels like a serious of brainstorms, contemplating in which direction the band should head next.

9) The 1900s – Return of the Century (2010) & Medium High (2009)
The 1900s return with a paired down lineup that still attempts to project a sound that is as full bodied as its previous releases and it mostly succeeds. But the album feels a little more disjointed than before, where songs written by leads Edward Anderson and Jeanine O’Toole feel as though they’ve been written in a universe apart from each other. The songs themselves seem a little more personal, though. It’s a little weird to go backwards directly after you’ve heard their new direction, but their previously released EP, “Medium High” felt a little more familiar with rerecorded tracks from earlier records mixed in with some previously unreleased tunes.