(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Top albums of 2010 - Jester Jay edition

Top Albums of 2010
I rarely choose to review something I don't like. So, now, at the end of the year, I'm realizing the downside of having listened to so much music. It's difficult to pick ten albums. I have to leave off great bands, like Kaiser Cartel, Deluka, Kraddy, Tumbledown, Gigi -- see, I could easily pick a top 20.

Buckle up and let me share my absolute favorites.

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This
Manic energy infuses Fire Like This. Blood Red Shoes erase the lines between post punk, indie rock, and modern hard rock. Despite being a drum/guitar duo, they wallop with a full sound that doesn't disguise their musical complexity. while the songs tend to split into post punk choruses and indie rock verses, they avoid becoming formulaic by throwing in contrasting bridges that careen off in a new direction. At a surface level, their indie rock sound evokes the Arctic Monkeys, but Blood Red Shoes have a deeper bag of tools to draw upon. Standout track: Count It Out. (original review)

Alain Johannes - Spark
Alain Johannes presents us with a rich, multi course meal of an album. Spark is a loosely connected concept album that deals with his loss of life partner/collaborator Natasha Schneider. The songs shuttle from mood to mood, jumping from style to style. It's held together by the strange attractor of Johannes' loss. Layered with looped guitars, intricate parts, and polyrhythms, the album develops a flow as wild as grief, as fickle as memory. Standout track: Make Gods Jealous. (original review)

Red Sparowes - The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer
Post rock/post metal, Red Sparowes are creating a type of modern classical music. There's a strong element of psychedelia, reminiscent of Pink Floyd, but the band uses that genre as a tool for exploring and expressing some quite interesting musical themes. Movement by movement, the songs create elaborate sonic mindscapes. Introspectively moving. Standout track: In Illusions of Order. (original review)

El Boy Die - The Black Hawk Ladies & Tambourins
It was fate. I almost didn't get to this in time, but El Boy Die made it to my ears just in time. The moody experimental folk that permeates this album underlies a wild sonic journey. The songs are usually centered on a simple guitar line and straightforward vocal arrangement. But then other elements are layered in to take the songs into a deeper space: tribal chanting, musique concrète, tatters of psychedelia. Taken as a whole, and that's how the album deserves to be heard, The Black Hawk Ladies & Tambourins is a strange ritual waiting for us to witness. Standout track: Moona Luna Tears. (original review)

Glitch Mob - Drink the Sea
Drink the Sea, appropriately enough, has a tidal feel: the arrangements are full of hard hitting hooks and retreating breakdowns. The Glitch Mob's electronic sound is very visual and evocative. Unlike some of their contemporaries, they capture an organic energy that adds depth. Glitchy artifacts mesh with sensual bass and organ lines. Each song offers its own mini-story, subject to the listener's discretion. Standout track: Starve the Ego, Feed the Soul. (original review)

Earl Greyhound - Suspicious Package
Earl Greyhound offers a serious power trio line up. Like the classic trios of the past (Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience), they are all virtuoso musicians who drive their hard rocking songs with an elegant economy. That focus doesn't mean that any of these songs are simple, though. The band mixes together Latin beats, psychedelic jams, and retro rock grinds to create a heady mix. You can hear influences from Led Zeppelin and Motorhead to the Doobie Brothers. Standout tracks: Oye Vaya and Shotgun. (original review)

Daft Punk - film score from Tron: Legacy
Daft Punk deserve full credit for creating such a strong film score. Their work for TRON: Legacy stays true to their electronic/house musical roots, yet sets up the recurring motifs and themes to accompany the story. The integration of the orchestra with electronic sounds is the key to their success. These short pieces may not fully resonate with Daft Punk's fan base, but they do mesh well with the film, creating the kind of updated sound that director Joseph Kosinski was looking for. Standout tracks: Derezzed and Adagio for Tron. (original review)

Lazerbeak - Legend Recognize Legend
Looping and layering from a beatmaster: Lazerbeak from Minneapolis' Doomtree hip hop collective. Let go of any preconceptions, because Legend Recognize Legend is more of an alt rock album without direct connection to hip hop. There is a strong electronic influence, but it's tied to a full palette of other instruments. It's tightly engineered, with some Peter Gabriel style rhythm touches. Standout track: Foothills. (original review)

Pas Chic Chic - 12"
My biggest problem with 12" is that it's a mere two or three songs (depending on how you count it. Still, that's 26 minutes of driven trippiness from Montreal's Pas Chic Chic. The opener is a krautrock groove while the closer (Premier Souffle) is an electronic tinged psychedelic journey. This latter song slowly unfolds and builds in an early Pink Floyd mode. Beautifully introspective. (original review)

Shadow Shadow Shade - Shadow Shadow Shade
Shadow Shadow Shade offer a grab bag of sounds, from post rock to psychedelic to retro rock. It's hard to pin down, but the mix is consistently interesting. The thick vocal harmony mix and intriguing drum arrangements are stellar as these songs shift gears and expose yet another unexpected twist. Despite this, the album is not in the least chaotic. Stand out track: Line 'Em Up. (original review)

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