Bests

Favorite Albums of 2010

13 Comments 03 January 2011

While 2009 felt a little “skimpy” on the album front, 2010 seemed absolutely bursting with great albums. As if the decade flip sparked something major and spawned some wild, un-bridled recordings.

Here’s an un-numbered list, save for #1 which is detailed at the bottom. Be sure to read all the way through to find out how you can win a copy of this year’s #1 on vinyl!

The List!

ConcernCaesarean / Truth & Distance Two excellent LPs from Portland, OR sound artist Gordon Wilson Ashworth came forth in the latter half of 2010. Diverging from much of the drone/ambient records released this year by utilizing actual instruments (shocking!) instead of synthesizers, these albums represent creative uses of tape loops, live playing and sound assemblages. At this point it’s difficult to choose which is album is “better”, so check out both and get inspired!

EmeraldsDoes it Look Like I’m Here?. This monolith of a recording represents the Ohio trio’s best recording to date. Emeralds has their own language which splays across this double LP. The lines between guitar and synth sounds blur and cross curing an intricate muscle fiber which carries the songs. Someone please make movies for these songs.

BalmorheaConstellations. This record could scare you upon first listen. A very specific entrance of a very specific musical part might just make you jump out of your skin, but, no spoilers here. This instrumental music is just simply alive, aware and breathing due much in part by the gorgeous piano sound. Worth the price of admission alone. Like a few of the other groups represented here, this most recent album is heads above the band’s other albums.

Cuddle MagicPicture. This behemoth of a musical outfit is represented well here in this second full-length album release. Cyclical motifs, kitchen sink instrumentation and double entendre-style lyrical turns are signifying features on Picture. Cuddle Magic’s strengths lie in their musical entrances and exits; deep headphone listens and analysis reveal clever, but highly advanced composition ideas.

Will StrattonNew Vanguard Blues. Will’s prolific previous recorded output showcases his talent for orchestration and arrangement. New Vanguard Blues strips away all production to push Will’s nimble guitar playing to the forefront. This is an inspiring collection of beautiful songs presented in their most intimate of settings.

Mountain ManMade the Harbor. The music that the three lovely women who make up Mountain Man is far from the burl that their moniker suggests. Made the Harbor is simply three voices singing their own songs or traditional songs with at most a spare acoustic guitar as backdrop. Although the album is infinitely pleasing, it feels as if Mountain Man is just getting started. Like their collaboration was a welcome surprise and there is much more to discover. What will be next?

Jefre Cantu-LedesmaLove is a Stream. This album is a “game-changer”. Waterfalls of thick, melodious guitar tones rush through speakers while disparate vocal lines meander in the background. It’s out of control, with restraint. It’s searing without pain. And of course it comes on another one of Type Records‘ excellent slabs of elegantly pressed vinyl. An instant classic.

• #1: Benoît PioulardLasted. This record answers so many questions: How can one balance gorgeous field recordings with songs without either sounding out of place? How can home recording sound fussed-over yet still human? What version of Earth does Benoît Pioulard (Thomas Meluch) actually hail from?

Lasted is a rich album which surpasses Meluch’s previous output, at least in spirit if not craft. It’s moments of brilliance such as when the second verse of “Sault” kicks in that listeners are revealed to be deep in a world created by one man. The brief hiss and crackle that kicks off “Shouting Distance” never distracts, but provides depth and context to the song.

The album is a complete picture filled with peaks and valleys, surprises and highly memorable moments. It’s perfect for the winter season and driving around at night, so make sure to get to it before the days are long again.

WIN A VINYL COPY OF LASTED!!!!

GIVEAWAY: 1 new/sealed (vinyl) LP copy of Benoît PioulardLasted.

To enter the contest, one must name a favorite album (or song) from 2010 and a brief explanation on what made that recording special. One entry per person must be entered into the comments section below.

Contest runs from Monday, January 3rd, 2011 through Monday, January 10th, 2011 at midnight.

( This contest in no way insinuates any endorsement of Benoît Pioulard or Kranky Records to this website or my work. I simply ordered an extra copy of the LP which I thought would be nice to share with someone. Cheers! Good luck! )

1/10/11 — COMMENTS NOW CLOSED! WINNER TO BE ANNOUNCED BY THE END OF THE WEEK! THANKS Y’ALL – SOME GREAT PICKS IN HERE!

Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. Alex says:

    I didn’t publish a list this year but my #1 album For the year was Andrew Graham’s Good Word by Andrew Graham & the Swarming Branch (http://www.mexicansummer.com/shop/andrew-graham-swarming-branch-andrew-grahams-good-word/)

    Andrew Graham is a sort of midwestern lo-fi david bowie with songs that are immediately catchy that tell stories by stringing together sometimes nonsensical but vivid images that leave an impression. The standout track (imho) is Take it Easy on Kathy, at Least She Can Dance. So good.

    -Alex

  2. Mr. Craig says:

    The Walkmen’s Lisbon joined me on many trips between Moscow, ID, and Portland, OR (making a long distance relationship work). It was one of those rare albums that kept getting better with each listen. At first, it was easy to fade the hypnotic music into the background, the consistency and repetition of the songs, and listen to the road and the rigs and watch the length of the Columbia River trail me along Route 84, and the road and the river and the rigs and watch the skyline along the river and that expansive tree line, the tree farm in the Columbia Basin, the rows and rows of trees, the six hour trip blurring. But then the music would flash into focus again, and each time I peered through that aperture I began to connect the songs with a Portland girl. It’s a tired story of boy meets girl and around him he always sees images of her. But I like those stories.

  3. Todd LaMondie says:

    I have been trying to compile a “Best of” for 2010 and for me, I felt like this year was not highlighted by amazing albums. I’ve been diving into the past for blues and something pure.

    However, I did find some happiness in albums by Bad Books, Rocky Votolato, Sun Kil Moon, Tim Kasher, Blunt Mechanic and Ray LaMontagne.

    But, for my number one, I’m going to go a little more commercial (unfortunately), The band that has blown my mind over the past year or two “The Black Keys” I’ve had fun evolving through Black Keys Albums. And while many people probably think they’re a new band. I’ve loved everything they’ve done.

    When the hype of the Brothers album reached it’s peak (if it has yet) I found myself tired out by all the awards and nominations, all the new fans and people that just like the new album. But, Music is for the people. How can I be upset that a band is getting out there. They’ve always had a huge following and 2010 has propelled them to even larger stages and audiences.

    The Song From Brothers that has had me since day one is “Next Girl” I dig on the Fuzz/Organ openings and into the pounding Verses and Chorus. It’s just a great Jam. Regardless of if you’ve never had that horrible Ex. You can somehow relate.

    For me, This song is timeless. It’s a song to turn to when you get dumped. You stand on your bed and scream out your window at the world to let them know you’re hurt. Or, just drive around in your car with your windows down.

    Regardless of use, The Black keys are awesome. Plain and simple. Brothers takes them in a direction they started with the BlacRoc project. And continues into a place I didn’t imagine them going.

  4. eric says:

    Nice list Matthew! Also really enjoyed the Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. One of the discs I loved this year was Pimmon’s “Dimension P” cdr release. Incredibly warm and deep sonic environments that balance organic/analog sounds and digital glitchery in ways that are beautiful. It’s a great listen. Others you might like include Sparkling Wide Pressure’s “Eventually I am Free”, a 2-tape masterwork on Rotifer Cassettes. It’s the solo project of Frank Baugh from Tennessee, and just an astounding collection of music. Inner dream worlds, outer sound worlds, merging and collapsing with melodies that will lodge in your brain for days. So good!

  5. Josh says:

    The way one feels could be likened to an opening or a slamming or a grieving heart. All of them I’ve seen inside my mouth have grown and flown south.

  6. Tim Miller says:

    There were so many great records this past year, and i’m still finding out about some of the more obscure gems. I didn’t start listening to the new Yellow Swans record until December 31st, for instance. And it’s amazing. And i’m just now getting into that Emeralds LP, which i’m enjoying a lot as well. Reminds me of Klaus Schulze’s stuff from the 70′s, actually.

    I listened to the Joanna Newsom record a lot. And new records from Deerhunter and the Walkmen and the National and Sun Kil Moon and Swans and Dungen. Those are all artists that i’ve known for years and i knew i would enjoy. So many great records. Jesus.

    New artists that i discovered this year included Beach House (wow!) and Wild Nothing (are you sure this wasn’t recorded in 1988??), and then all of these obscure pseudo-ambient / avant-garde artists that i seem to find out about 365 days after everyone else does. Like Yellow Swans and Emeralds and Zs.

    But there are two records that i’ve felt absolutely fucking spiritual about this past year. Maybe it was just the mood when i was in when i first listened to them.

    The first is Similes, by Eluvium. It was touted as a departure from Mr. Cooper’s earlier work, and it certainly is. This record includes vocals and some semblance of melody, albeit minimal. There a very subtle and glacial Brian Eno vibe throughout. Not to mention that he sounds like the man, also. This was my record for laying on the couch. Staring at the ceiling. Chilling out. Or trying to. It has such a peaceful, redemptive vibe to it.

    And then there is the new Women record, “Public Strain”. Holy shit. I know that very few people will ‘get’ this record. It is full of ambient dissonance, feedback edges, angularity. And also clanging guitar chords, obtuse rhythms, reverb-hewn vocals that seem double-tracked from another dimension. It has never been truer that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The opening track “Can’t You See” is just a bass line and vocals, with a bunch of noise shoveled into it. “Heat Distraction” is full of 77.7 degree angles. “Narrow with the Hall” might be the most bite-sized summation of what Women are like. The band, i mean. Ha. “Penal Colony” is sad and far away. And then things start getting chock full of anxiety. “China Steps” is a dance-able prelude to a nervous breakdown, with dueling slashing guitar chords, and vocals that have completely lost their mind. The bass drum pedal squeaks throughout. “Untogether” has become my current favorite track. Building angular nihilistic tensions for a couple minutes and then completely blowing it away with a bleary-eyed groove. “Drag Open” is the all-out nervous breakdown that had been alluded to in the last few tracks. Just a completely out of control attack built around a catchy bass guitar line. The lyrics are even more indiscernible here than anywhere else. The song completely falls apart and then is turned into something completely different, where the guitars are finally harnessed into a hypnotizing loop. “Locust Valley” is probably the most crisp track, full of arpeggiated guitar lines and recuperating the mood. “Venice Lockjaw” is brief, easily the most beautiful song on the record. Which finally leads into “Eyesore”. Which is unable to be described.

    Thanks for your list, Matthew! I am already looking into procuring some things i seem to have missed.

  7. Scott says:

    Junip – Fields

    Maybe it’s just because closely tied to the biggest two events of 2010 for me, but this is the one album I picked up from 2010 that I can see myself going back to time and time again. Wonderful space, lovely repetitive songs, and just enough production let it be what it is. This is my new AAS ”Know by Heart”.

  8. Julia T. says:

    Beach House – Teen Dream. It was so hard to choose a song from this album for our 2010 mix this year!

  9. Bobby says:

    the fun years – god was like, no

    Perfection achieved in 2010. god was like, no is somewhat of a collage of the creme de la creme of sonic textures and shoegazey haze in 2010. To me, the band somehow upstaged their 2008 masterpiece, baby, it’s cold inside, and perfected their mix of William Basinski, Tim Hecker, and Philip Jeck and forward-thinking postrock. Absolute beauty.

  10. Matt says:

    1958 – 2009, II, Side B

    Have been enjoying this Michael Jackson tribute-via-guitar/synth-drone project, but the second side of the second tape was just a towering, cascading giant. Kind of strikes me dumb / still with it’s magnitude when I listen. Deeply felt, troubled unreal life departing.

  11. Brian Boyce says:

    Yui Onodera & Celer – Generic city
    track 4: A renewed sense of home.

    It’s clever use of instrumentation and mixing board to create drones to glue a project of hardcore field sampling which reveals the beauty of the everyday.

  12. Bobby B says:

    Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs was my fave of the
    year. Pedal steel that hasn’t torn at my heart since the Bonnie
    Prince Billy “Greatest Palace Music” record. Full of the chord
    turns I’ve always been in love with, and Ray kills the tunes with
    top-notch vocals. Never enjoyed him as a singer before this record.
    The whole thing just sounds effortless. Give it a listen if you
    haven’t already.

  13. lindsey says:

    Dave Rawlings Machine “Friend of a Friend” is my ablum of
    the year. The favorite recording would have to be the last track
    “Bells of Harlem” because it ends the album on an uplifting,
    lucious note. I was living abroad in Scotland when this came out
    and the album always brought me back to my American roots when I
    needed to feel them. I learned a number of the songs and a friend
    and I sang versions in pub sessions throughout Scotland to much
    approval. In this way the album helped me connect not just with
    Dave Rawlings, Gillian and the other musicians on the album, but
    with people in a foreign land…


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