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2010’s Albums to LIVE for (w/ PLAYLISTS!)

I felt it appropriate this year to change the title of my annual best albums post by replacing the word KILL with LIVE.  It has the same effect I think, but with a positive slant. At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to do this post at all since, as some of you know, my Mom passed away last month from a 15+ year battle with congestive heart failure. My original intention was for the first time to actually write my own reviews (who would have thought, right?), but the events of the past couple months have had the bulk of my free time. So instead of not abandoning my yearly tradition (when there are so many great albums which must be heard by all of you!), I figured I would do it as I have in years past.  To compensate, however, I created a companion playlist you can stream at Grooveshark so that you can effortlessly listen to tracks from this year’s esteemed “winners”! I picked two tracks from each album, which was a tough call as there really aren’t any bad tracks on any of these albums.  For the album from Janelle Monáe I picked 3 songs to be fair, as the album is so incredibly long and every track is fantastic.

I believe in my heart of hearts these albums would be rewarding for each and every one of you to pick up and listen to, in full, and as loud as possible.  These are also in no particular order, except for the first album by Radio Dept, which is without any doubt the best of the year.  Enjoy, and drive with aloha …

The Radio Dept.
| Clinging to A Scheme | Labrador Records

“A wonderful new chapter in The Radio Dept.’s legacy of haze and melody, Clinging to a Scheme maximizes their talents in a minimal structure. Its ten tracks total up to just less than 35 minutes, though each one of those minutes is euphoria. The album finds the group exploring dance music even further, with more than a few tracks boasting some Balearic influence, not to mention a little Madchester bounce here and there. However, this is by no means an album of bassy club anthems or acid-fried neon bangers. There’s a sense of melancholy cast over the album that makes its brightest moments more bittersweet, and its softer sounds murkier and disoriented. In other words, it’s the best set of shoegazer songs not to require earplugs. Clinging to a Scheme is a pristine and stunning reward to those patient souls who awaited its every meticulous note. Once again, The Radio Dept. have delivered on the promise of their ever-evolving dream pop, delivering what may very well be their best album. The benefit of keeping scarce means minimizing the risk of becoming stale, but for the life of me, I can’t see an album like this wearing out its welcome.”Treble

Oriol | Night and Day | Planet Mu

“Oriol’s debut album is magnificent, plain and simple. True to the album’s title, he paints warm tropical soundscapes with the cool palette of night: late-album interlude ‘Fantasy’ sounds like some idealized tropical resort, letting the plumes of oppressive equatorial heat diffuse into the darkening sky as cooler temperatures take over and the listener is whisked into the humid reveries of ‘LW’. Oriol’s tunes tend to spiral out from the centre with luxurious, multi-layered synth lines, like the gentle lashings of fur-lined bliss on ‘Jam’ or the way the synth on ‘Flux’ sounds like it’s steadily sublimating around the track’s churning centre.”Factmag

“The vibe of ‘Night & Day’ is helplessly happy and warm, soaked with a spectrum of Bermuda-short colours and a halcyon dazed stupor that says, fuck it, lets boogie.”Boomkat

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
| Before Today | 4AD

“For the uninitiated, Pink’s vibe is all about a kaleidoscope of half-remembered music from his childhood, filtered through an LSD-drenched haze. Everything, from soft rock to post-punk to funk, is given equal importance, making for an oddly familiar yet totally alien sound. At times you kind of wish he’d settle down and just write a proper pop song, but the intoxicating mess of textures and ideas is too addictive and fascinating to complain about.”NOW Toronto

Sleigh Bells
| Treats | Mom & Pop/N.E.E.T.

“It’s filthy, audibly painful and it makes every wrong decision imaginable in the course of producing an album. It might also be the most delirious, joyful and defining album of 2010.” – Los Angeles Times

“Treats is just a whole goddamn lot of fun to listen to. It’s a supremely raw and visceral pop masterwork, one appropriate to rocking out with headphones on, windows-down bumping on car stereos, four-A.M. warehouse dance parties and countless other summer moments that’ll soon have soundtracks courtesy of Sleigh Bells.” Paste Magazine

The Birthday Massacre
| Pins and Needles | Metropolis Records

“Canadian synth-rockers The Birthday Massacre are back for a fourth round with ‘Pins and Needles’. Finding just the right balance between the heavy rock guitars and keyboard-driven grooves, if the band had emerged in the late 80’s to mid-90’s, they’d likely have been lumped somewhere into the vast “industrial” realm. Instead The Birthday Massacre was first revealed just over a decade ago, and has evolved into a force that creates a vivid soundscape that sounds ahead of it’s time, yet comfortingly (and hauntingly) familiar. Amidst the dark imagery of a twisted fairytale that comprises the album artwork and the first video from the album – ‘In the Dark’, there’s a sinister beauty that is present throughout the 11-song set. As ‘Pins and Needles’ continues, it’s hard not to hear a bit of early Madonna in Chibi’s voice – another tip of the hat to the 1980’s, firmly injected into what is certainly a talent to watch. If the kids in ‘The Breakfast Club’ had been pulled into the dark side, their soundtrack would be The Birthday Massacre.”Kik Axe Music

| The Waves | Mexican Summer

“Tamaryn’s vocals, husky and seductive, are as alluring as the guitars are blown-out and fractured, the two combining beautifully to create an aural haze, something akin to an early-morning mist floating serenely above a wind-whipped ocean. It’s not hard to see Tamaryn as the siren on the rocks, luring awestruck men to an early grave. The Waves may not be a particularly original album, but it is a startlingly well-executed one, a debut brimming with promise and an assurance that escapes many bands ten years their senior. It’s a statement of intent, an intriguing prologue for what’s surely to come later. It’s an album full of confidence, and one obviously made with care. It doesn’t escape its influences, sure, but who’d want to when the result is this promising? Originality is overrated anyway.”The Quietus

Crystal Castles
| Crystal Castles | Motown/Universal

The battlefield of ’00s electro-tantrum spazz-ravers is littered with the corpses of those who burned too brightly at the outset and, in the process, burned out any interest in a sustained career of noisemaking. After all, once you’ve shocked and awed the glowstick crowd with synth-stabs and video-game glitches that fry synapses and short-circuit the minds of casual fans, where is there to go? For their second, homonymous album, the stuttery Canuck duo Crystal Castles have replaced most of the non-stop screeching high jinks that made them (in)famous with a predeliction for yearning synth-pop. Having put aside the gimmicky Atari-melting antics of yore, the Castles have created a dense-yet-airy thicket of pure pop transcendence.” – The Phoenix

Electronic duo Crystal Castles generally operates in two distinct modes–its songs are either angry dancefloor scorchers built around videogame blips or expansive shoegaze numbers that sail off upon waves of synth lines. Although the group’s 2008 self-titled debut was furiously innovative in quick doses, its ideas tended to burn out during overlong songs or curious track sequences. Two years and an overabundance of hype later, producer Ethan Kath and singer Alice Glass return with another self-titled set that corrects all of their debut’s miscues and remains eye-popping from beginning to end.” – Billboard

These New Puritans
| Hidden | Angular/Domino

“Hidden is one of the most confounding, pretentious and self-consciously intellectual records I’ve heard in years. It’s also one of the most courageous, innovative and rebellious. Apparently inspired by Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’, Steve Reich, “and the plastic textures of modern US Pop”, it features 43 minutes of mournful woodwind and brass motifs, crunching dancehall-meets-marching-band percussion, drifting anti-song constructions and lyrics such as, “Wear fun death-suit/Tropical design/Blade grammar to the death/Everybody run”. If this is making you wonder what exactly was so wrong with three chords and Liam Gallagher rhyming “Soon-sheeeyine!” and “white line”, well, you know, I sympathise. But the way that ‘We Want War’ drags you into some spooky Essex woodland where ancient battle melodies hide in trees while the Wu-Tang Clan jam with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band in a fishing boat on the Thames Estuary is really, really… bracing.” Guardian UK

“It’s no trite environmental message, though, but an exploration of the abstract tension between nature and culture, reflected in the record’s constant clash of organic orchestral poise and the industrial dissonance of beat music. It’s genuinely surprising, beautifully wrought and announces TNP as one of the most powerful artistic forces in Britain today.”NME

Toro Y Moi
| Causers of This | Carpark Records

“Chaz Bundick’s solo album debut as Toro Y Moi, Causers Of This, isn’t unique because of its definitive wash of nostalgia. Clearly a great number of modern artists find their inspiration in looking backwards. What’s most remarkable is its ability to access what feel like these lost sensory memories, with truncated snippets of well-worn and familiar analog sounds presented in quick succession like a blur of flash cards, snagging you on one memory before propelling you towards the next. Citing French house, R&B, indie rock and psychedelia as influences, Bundick collects them all into a kale. If anyone can mitigate the harsh reality of a bleak and icy winter, with an album that recalls the warmth of sun on skin, the heady flush of teenage romance, and the thrill of falling head-over-heels in love with music for the first time, then please make some room as I clamber aboard the already crowded bandwagon for Toro Y Moi.” – Resident Advisor

| Nobody’s Daughter | Mercury/Island Def Jam

“When Hole’s raging, ragged debut album appeared in 1991, few would have predicted that new records would still be appearing under that name 19 years later. But then, Courtney Love has often turned being misunderstood and underestimated into an art form. ‘Nobody’s Daughter’, despite its lengthy and troubled gestation, is a rich and emotionally searing addition to that canon, effortlessly besting her haphazard solo album. It’s said that living well is the best revenge, but that has never seemed an entirely realistic option for Love. Instead she will have to settle for proving her armies of detractors wrong with records as lingering, intelligent and unexpected as this.”BBC

“The naysayers will nitpick at Courtney every which way they can.  But the truth is, she’s held to higher standard than her male peers.  Somehow without the other original members of the band, she’s made a record that builds effectively on the band’s legacy. ‘Nobody’s Daughter’ may not be ‘Live Through This,’ but it builds nicely off of the sounds explored on ‘Celebrity Skin’. Give this record a listen.  Drop your preconceptions at the door.  You just might be surprised. After ‘America’s Sweetheart’, this record is strikingly redeeming. Will anyone bother to care?  That remains to be seen.  In any case, Love proves her worthiness, once again.” ABC News

Summer Camp
| Young EP | Moshi Moshi Records

“It’s hard not to imagine that these bedroom recordings have been put together in between repeat viewings of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Their association with John Hughes’s films is so heavy that you’d be disappointed if Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick didn’t teleport in live to complete the band. All of the references are present and correct, from Say Anything to Teen Wolf and Heathers. Production wise, the Young EP sounds fuzzy, a little bit shambolic, and scratchy as fuck, which is how you’d expect it to be. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the result is nostalgic to the point that it comes close to being a self-indulgent geek-fest. Fortunately, the songs more than stand up for themselves.”Muso’s Guide

Kristin Hersh
| Crooked | self-released

“Hersh is known for her expert guitar playing and the gut punch of her lyrics, and both are in sharp relief here. The album’s sonic texture is at the intersection of rock, blues and folk: acoustic guitar is laced with blistering bursts of electric; drums and bass weave in and out of the mix to enhance where needed; and Hersh’s raspy voice veers from world-weary to defiant while delivering lines like “You told me enough times you can’t give me enough rope to hang myself one time, but I can always hope.” There’s emotional truth in each of these 10 tracks, even when the narratives are not straightforward. Either way, it’s exactly what makes Hersh’s music so compelling.”Frontiers

| King Knight | IAMSOUND Records

“Over the course of their prolific singles and EPs, Holland, John Donoghue and Heather Marlatt shaped a sound that was as distinctive as it was improbable, fusing beats descended from juke and Southern hip-hop, electronics with a goth bent and shoegazing guitars into something deeply weird and trippy but also surprisingly natural, as if those elements had just been waiting to be combined. On the surface, goth and hip-hop may not have much in common, but they often share a bleak romanticism that Salem has in spades.”All Music

“It’s a sound that towers above the listener, moves in semi-ponderous lurches, frightens the living hell out of anyone in its proximity and yet, despite all this, is somehow willing and brave enough to show us tiny glimpses of its nearly-human soul. King Night belongs where it was made: either festering in the disturbed minds of its creators or, once awakened, lurking in the dank, lightless graveyards of an urban wasteland. By creating a world so comic-book vivid, each track stands and walks in its own desolate, saturnine world. But it’s a world where the dead want to be alive and the alive would rather be dead. The creation of warped minds, Salem just made a monster.”Music OMH

Janelle Monáe
| The Archandroid (Suites II and III) | Bad Boy Records

“The ArchAndroid is a fully immersive, theatrical experience. It’s a near-perfect R&B album; hell, it’s a fantastic hip-hop, psychedelic, neo-soul, dance and orchestral album too. It’s hard to classify but harder to ignore, matching Monáe’s massive stylistic scope and ambition with endless melodies, can’t-help-but-smile jams and an all-star cast of guest artists, including Big Boi, Saul Williams, Deep Cotton and Of Montreal. The 18-track epic brings to mind Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life; its stunning, sophisticated tunes spanning styles, speeds and sentiments, all tied together by a smorgasbord of artistic personalities.”Paste Magazine

“Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid immediately dazzles you with its ambition. The songs zip gleefully from genre to genre, mostly grounded in R&B and funk, but spinning out into rap, pastoral British folk, psychedelic rock, disco, cabaret, cinematic scores, and whatever else strikes her fancy. It’s about as bold as mainstream music gets, marrying the world-building possibilities of the concept album to the big tent genre-mutating pop of Michael Jackson and Prince in their prime. Monáe describes The ArchAndroid as an “emotion picture,” an album with a story arc intended to be experienced in one sitting, like a movie. It most certainly works in this way, but at first blush, it’s almost too much to take in all at once. The first listen is mostly about being wowed by the very existence of this fabulously talented young singer and her over-the-top record; every subsequent spin reveals the depths of her achievement.”Pitchfork Media



These are all really, really good albums and if they are your “bag” or they peaked your curiosity when reading about them, I would strongly recommend them.  They just weren’t prestigious enough to be simply the best for me.  As an added “bonus”, here is a playlist of highlights from all these albums.  The playlist begins with more upbeat dance tracks, then to more rock stuff, and back to dance-y stuff.  Ok.

Miami Horror | Illumination
Warpaint | The Fool
Chromeo | Business Casual
I Love You Airlines | Horizon EP
Vampire Weekend | Contra
Beach House | Teen Dream
Deerhunter | Halcyon Digest
Pantha du Prince | Black Noise
Giant Drag | Swan Song EP
Holly Miranda | The Magician’s Private Library
O. Children | O. Children
Jonsi | Go
Twin Shadow | Forget
Interpol | Interpol
Maximum Balloon | Maximum Balloon


Well, that title says it all.  These I say do not waste your money on.

Hurts | Happiness
Their first and wonderful song, appropriately called ‘Wonderful Life’, is so good and seemed to be a sign of great things to come.  The first video for the song was great, and then the record label video was sleeker yet still nice.  Then the album comes out, and just one word can sum it up perfectly.  Schmaltz.   Watch those videos, but avoid this album at all costs.

!!! | Strange Weather, Isn’t It?
For their new album, !!! seemed to have really lost a majority of their inspiration and “called it in”.  It’s ok I ‘spose, as everything they’ve done up until now has been fantastic, but this one may mark the end of their legacy …  or a kick in the pants if they carry on.  I hope for the latter.  In the meantime, this one’s a snooze.


love ALLways,

Andrew W. Bush
43rd President of the United States of America




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