Best of 2010: 20-11

20. Best Coast – Crazy For You

I don’t hold the fact that Bethany Cosentino is from Los Angeles against her. Best Coast is west coast, and that’s all that matters. Singles released in ‘09 bore favorable comparisons to fellow girl-group fuzzrockers Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, but for this full-length debut, Cosentino and bandmate Bobb Bruno channel the heyday of 60’s pop and give The Crystals and The Ronettes a long overdue look at the Pacific Ocean.  The album’s title track or “When I’m with You” are perfect time machines, but imagine furious rolled-out-of-bed hair instead of sprayed-tight up-dos. The songs stay passionate and unkempt, but like anything with a California influence (especially in 2010’s Year of Beach Music), three walls of sound get diffused by the calming proximity of sand betwixt your toes and grass fogging up the windshield. – MDG

19. The Black Angels – Phosphene Dream

You gotta be some kind of asshole not to love Nuggets, the compilation of obscure proto-punk garage rock singles originally released on mostly local record labels in the post-Beatlemania years of ’65 to ’68. Muddy production and primitive musical skill usually result in disaster, but damned if those kids didn’t make it work, even if they were something less than virtuosos. They were having a ball, and they inspired an entire sub-genre of rock music, exemplified in its modern incarnation by the Black Angels. Thudding tribal tom-toms, droning organ, and fuzzbox guitar slither and snarl under Alex Maas’ reverb-heavy vocals that declaim doom-laden lyrics in the best possible fake-Euro accent a Texas garage-rat can unleash. – MI

18. Shout Out Louds – Work

The Idle Time Swedepop obsession first surfaced in 2005 when the buzzing energy of Shout Out Louds’s debut album, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, met the irreverent enthusiasm of Suburban Kids With Biblical Names and within a year Team Sweden had mobilized for shenanigames with “The Comeback” as an anthem and Donno was covering “Wrent-A-Wreck” on a pair of keyboards in Weatherstone Cafe (almost a half-decade before Toyota ironically turned the chorus of that song into an attempt at selling their Prius line). Here we are in 2010, and an astonishing seven albums from that magical land have found their way into our Favorite Forty, captained by this third offering from Adam Olenius and the gang.  My own love affair with this country might well be rooted to some subconscious childhood interest in Norse mythology, or a passionate taste for meatballs, tart berries, and smoked fish; but I rather like to think that the Swedes, in all things, have an ability to make perfectly undiluted rediscoveries of the things we love.  Foremost among those loves, round these parts, is music. Whether a revival of garage rock via The Hives, summery 60’s pop courtesy of Acid House Kings, or the sublime folkcraft of Jens Lekman, Swedish musicians have made it their business to remind us why we love the songs we do. On Work, SOL strip down the instrumentation, elevate the keys, and invite us into one melodramatic singalong chorus after another.  In a way, the songs are a reminder of how much we enjoy sitcom theme music from the 80’s.  “1999” imagines Growing Pains in a land of sunless days and duskless nights and that crazy long-lost cousin from Easter Island is the most Perfect of Strangers. The shows may never hold up, but “show me that smile again…” and again. – MDG

17. Tokyo Police Club – Champ

Ever since Rivers Cuomo lost his mind, abandoned any sense of artistry he had, and started producing garbage with Weezer, there has been a hole in my heart. Sure, there are a lot of “garage” bands out there who build their careers dwelling on their awkward upbringing and tragic romances, but how many of them do the exact opposite and celebrate awkward first loves and growing pains with  upbeat engergy? Tokyo Police Club provides the same sense of adolescent romanticism  that made me fall in love with 90’s garage rock. Their sophomore release expands on their Lesson in Crime EP more succesfully than their  debut, Elephant Shell, maintaining a high level of energy throughout the album. TPC frontman Dave Monks featured his quality diction in Elephant Shell (Did anyone else look up the meaning to Tessellate?), but in Champ he favors simple, straight forward lyrics, which will please fans who don’t like to flip through a dictionary while listening to music.

16. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

Featuring eccentric vocal stylings and a cavernous ambience, Before Today is an endearing homage to 80’s goth rock (a la The Cure) or even to a kind of 1960’s basement-rock. I think if you liked the production quality of an album like Oh, Inverted World, then there is space in your heart for Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. This is nostalgia music: songs like “Bright Lit Blue Skies” and “L’estat” have psychedelic percussion and melodies that sound old, but they’re adapted for modern times. Specifically in “L’estat”, the yelps that sound like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo may just be an aesthetic that further generates this nostalgia for groovy music. Psychedelic music is not for everyone, and trying to make it accessible without the use of hard drugs is difficult; look at MGMT’s Congratulations, which people liked (or said they did), but really  is just a collection of intentionally strange sounds and ideas for the sake of strange sounds and ideas. Ariel Pink understands craftsmanship; he’s been recording his own music since the 90’s and his latest effort not only introduces new listeners to the whimsical noises of psychedelia, he and his Haunted Graffiti make it accessible while remaining faithful to its origins.- RF

15. Aloe Blacc – Good Things

Two years ago the Idle Timers began serious discussions for a project ranking the best songs of all time.  We pulled off our Decades endeavor fairly well, after all, ranking our favorite 400 albums over the last fifty years. How hard could this be? What followed were some of the most heated and toxic exchanges in our then seven-year history. The usual you’ve-got-shit-in-your-ears harangues were replaced by you-don’t-even-know-what-constitutes-a-song challenges and we started hearing timbers creak in concert with all the cracks in the foundation. Because this is more than a collective of pretentiousness, however, and truly a celebration of friendship, something amazing happened.  We worked it out.  And, I think it’s fair to say, more than on any other listening assignment — year-end lists, compilation-making, or Decades — we all actually gained something. For me, that profit was in the form of rediscovering Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”  Within a few days of saying to myself, “Wow. This song is amazing (and better than ‘Cupid,’ but I’ll never admit it),” I heard a cover of said song by new Stones Throw signee Aloe Blacc. The song was buried in an uneven debut album: a blend of hip hop influences, latin grooves, and classic R&B. Stick to the soul, and you’ve got something.  You’ve got Good Things, Blacc’s sophomore success story and source of his hit single “I Need a Dollar.” – MDG

14. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Can we get much higher? No one asked to know his dark fantasies, but Kanye West is not the type to wait for an invitation. After a short hiatus from the music scene, West emerges ready to give his ever-scrutinizing public something more to talk about. However, this time there is no backlash, no media frenzy, no nervous breakdowns, just the sound of the critics’ applause. All of the prophecies made about Kanye upon his debut with The College Dropout about saving the genre have come to fruition. As a producer, Kanye has received universal praise, even from his detractors here at IT, but MBDTF has more ambitious music: songs that are given texture through a choice selection of samples and a slew of guest performances from Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Raekwon, and many more, that further their  renown through their  association with the Kanye tracks.  Not known for his lyrical talent, Kanye’s rapping is more fit and wittier here than his previous albums. Just listen to the chorus of “Devil in a New Dress”  or any of the verses in “Power” and you can tell that he’s actually trying, that he’s working to accomplish something other than selling albums: Kanye is trying to make hip-hop high culture. His ego is his most debilitating flaw, but it also propels him to work toward a higher goal than the average hip-hop artist. Can an album where the artist consistently refers to his genitalia be considered high art? Well, probably not, but  let him try! Even if this album is ultimately accepted as mass culture, it is nonetheless exceptional. There isn’t another record out there right now that examines the fundamental fallacy of hip-hop – the need to be humble in origin, genuine, and a responsible community figure while exalting material wealth, sexual conquest, and self-flattery – while binding it to such beautifully orchestrated music. From it’s opening limerick to to the final spoken word by Gil Scott – Heron, the paradoxical nature of hip-hop, the need to rise like Horatio Algier and live like a Charles Foster Kane, is central to the album.  “Who Will Survive in America,” a clear attempt by Kanye to elevate his work above simple entertainment, asks us to look not only at Kanye’s career or the nature of the creative industry, but at the American dream.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it; a hip-hop record that’s more than entertainment – maybe that’s West’s darkest fantasy. Or his most beautiful. – RF

13. The Love Language – Libraries

Stuart McLamb takes his one man glee club out of the bedroom and into the studio on Libraries. His 4-track pop revivalism was charming, but his masterful melodies finally get the wide-screen treatment they deserve without losing any of that charm. He’s still banging the shit out of his instruments and rocking a full-throated attack on the microphone, but the more polished production this time around elevates these anthems and helps McLamb fully realize his ambitions. – WH

12. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

Subtle it ain’t, but the explosive choruses and widescreen sound of Surfer Blood provide a catharsis for a build-up that seems to have already happened before the songs start. In providing a release the listener didn’t even know s/he needed, Surfer Blood implant themselves with devious cunning, relentlessly tickling the ear’s subconscious pleasure centers, refusing to be dislodged. Everyone knows a crafty hook and a big singalong are what make a great pop record, but there’s something so uncalculated and unpolished about Surfer Blood that their pop savvy seems accidental and savant-like. There’s certainly no gloss or overproduction. In fact, their songs sound like deep cuts from the Who’s Sell Out being played from the bottom of an elevator shaft. In keeping with their moniker, there’s also some elements of surf music (particularly in the repeated nautical imagery and splashy echo) playing around the edges. This was the very first album I acquired in 2010, and I knew immediately it would be on the list at the finish line. – MI

11. The Black Keys – Brothers

Blues is not popular around the Institute of Idle Time, for two reasons. 1) Acute distaste for the direction the genre has taken in the last forty years, and 2) complaints regarding the limitations and repetitiveness of the genre itself. The second is maybe a matter of taste. I happen to revel in all the little sonic subtleties and emotional nuances that can be wrung from within the blues’ 12-bar constraints, much like the beauty that can be found in a sonnet or haiku. The first is a legitimate gripe. The blues’ African-American originators have mostly abandoned it in favor of more “sophisticated” R&B and rap, leaving the gauntlet to be picked up by well-meaning white musicians who clumsily love it to death like Lenny with the rabbits. I don’t want to get into issues of “authenticity,” but my Caucasian brothers seem to be missing a key something when they try their hands at the blues. OK, it’s authenticity. If the ham-handed psychedelic bludgeoning of the 60’s wasn’t bad enough, then latter-day artists sanitizing it into a sonic sleeping pill perfect for a Starbucks compilation almost justifies all the disgusted dismissals I hear around here every time I try to slip something onto the list that has a little bit of a blues influence. And that’s the crux – influence. It’s all that remains. The genre itself no longer exists in any meaningful way, so the Black Keys don’t really play the blues. Every note from their buzzing amps is steeped in it and informed by it, but they don’t fall into the trap of trying to re-create it (at least not anymore.) They take their influences — specifically Delta blues, the most primal and primitive kind (and my favorite) – break them down, and re-build them into something entirely their own, like an old cabinet TV set turned into a tropical aquarium. The form is still in place and visible (or audible), but it’s purpose has been entirely gutted and re-imagined. If it’s not too politically incorrect to say, the Black Keys seem to exist in a parallel universe where the blues was originated by basement-dwelling white kids in suburban Ohio, and therefore bypass thorny issues of authenticity.- MI

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