Monthly Archive for December, 2010

Set Fire To A Blackberry Field – Best Of 2010 (the mix)

This is a 20-track mix of my favorite songs of 2010. Lots of artist overlap with my top-25 album countdown, naturally. But I was careful not to use any songs I’ve already shared here, and there’s some other stuff in there as well. (Apologies for the Eminem verse, he’s ridiculous, but Nicki Minaj is so cool and the beat on that song has hooked me.)

On to 2011!

- almostaghost

tokyo’s 2010 list(s)

I can’t begin to compete with the lovely and detailed postings of fellow Cyanide Breathmint contributor AlmostAGhost (although I totally agree with the #1 choice, right on), but I will be lazy and cross post something I compiled for a music discussion board that I actually took me a number of hours to drag up from the depths of my brain and the playlists on my media player.

This stream of conscious rambling of my musical tastes is a decent primer to sum up everything I’ve experienced musically this year.  To keep this fun, I will using a single sentence to describe each of the most important albums (to me) of this year.

Your musical tastes are as valid as anyone else’s.  In the times of Pitchfork I feel that it’s urgent to tell you that there is no objective scale to music, so have fun and listen to music that drives you.

That being said, making these lists is damned fun and I love seeing them from other people.

For summary purposes (and the tl;dr crowd), here are my top 5 from this year:

5. Beach House – Teen Dream
4. Eluvium – Similes / Eluivum – Static Nocturne
3. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II)
2. The National – High Violet
1. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Top tracks of the year in no order (not necessarily released this year):

Eluvium – The Motion Makes Me Last (listen here)
Darkstar – Need You (listen here)
Memoryhouse – Bonfire (listen here)
Crystal Castles – Baptism (listen here)
Best Coast – Something In The Way (listen here)
Bright Eyes & Neva Dinova – Tripped (listen here)
The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio (listen here)
Teen Daze – Gone For Summer (listen here)
Beach House – 10 Mile Stereo (listen here)
The Arcade Fire – Modern Man (listen here)
Real Estate – Out of Tune (listen here) – [if i had to pick a favorite track this year, this is it]

And here are the remainder of items which I discovered this year, along with musings on the aforementioned:

Releases That Came Out This Year That I Either Don’t Care For, Didn’t Crack The Top List, or I Was Too Busy To Listen To (In Alphabetical Order)

The Album Leaf – A chorus of Story Tellers: Probably the most boring Album Leaf album ever, please get your stuff together and do something interesting because I honestly love your work.
Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea: His ambient work is some of my favorite, just haven’t gotten around to this one.
Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record: BSS’s first album is bloody perfect and in my desert island discs, this one is kind of boring and I just really don’t care.
Dark Tranquillity – We Are the Void: OG melodic death metal band with way too much filler material.
Darkstar – North: Gave one listen and liked it, but pales in comparison to their single (mentioned later).
Dntel – After Parties (I and II): Such a huge fan of Jimmy Tamberello, just haven’t gotten around to this.
The Drums – The Drums: This is the 80’s, but so much fun.
Florence + The Machine – Lungs: The gf loves this, and the girl has some serious pipes.
Gayngs – Relayted: I’m all for super groups that include Justin Vernon.
Girl Talk – All Day: Don’t really care for this one, still consider him the gold standard of modern mashups (Dilla’s ‘Donuts’ and Shadow’s ‘Endtroducing’ still have my heart).
God is an Astronaut – Age of the Fifth Sun: This band makes the same album over and over, post-rock to listen to while you read Orson Scott Card.
Jonsi – Go: Haven’t gotten around to this, but the single was absolutely stunning.
Peter Wolf Crier – Inter-Be: Tumblr recommendation, just makes me want to listen to The Dodos (although this is pretty good).
Phillip Selway – Familial: Haven’t gotten around to this, but I’ve heard great things.
She & Him – Volume Two: I love Zooey and I love M. Ward, but I just didn’t get around to this.
Sleigh Bells – Treats: So hyped, but never got the chance to listen to it.
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Let it Sway: Heard a few on shuffle, and I certainly hope it’s better than I think it’s going to be once I sit to listen to it.

Albums That Weren’t Released This Year That I Was All About (In Alphabetical Order)

Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA (1984): Such an amazing record, been living by this vinyl ever since I got it in the mail from an awesome friend of mine.

Burial – Burial (2006)
Burial – Untrue (2007):
Did not appreciate this in 2007, but am absolutely in love with Burial this year and lord knows what changed, but I don’t care because this material is golden.
Darkstar – Need You / Squeeze My Lime (2008): On recommendation fell in love with these the tracks here that became my late night soundtrack.
Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992): Hands down the best black metal album I’ve ever heard.
Erik Satie (composer) – 3 Gymnopedies: From the movie ‘Man On Wire,’ not a huge classical piano fan, but this composer’s work is one the precursors to ambient music and I fell in love with these 3 songs.
Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (2008): Echoey, shoegazed, and lost in thought, this album is absolutely beautiful.
Jay Reatard – Blood Visions (2006)
Jay Reatard – Watch Me Fall (2009):
Seriously kicking myself for not seeing him play live in Orlando, but holy shit these albums rule.
JBM – Not Even in July (2008): Best opening act I’ve seen in years with some of the most heartfelt songs.
The Life and Times – Tragic Boogie (2009): Closing band at a hipster-as-fuck-post-rock-show who absolutely DESTROYED for the 15 remaining concert patrons and who’s work you need to pay attention to.
Lymbyc Systm – Love Your Abuser (2007): Beautifully complicated music.
Pajo – Scream With Me (2009): Pajo’s work with Aerial M means a whole lot to me, and him slaying with lo-fi covers of The Misfits is almost too much to take.
Scott Walker – Scott 3 (1969)
Scott Walker – Scott 4 (1969):
The best singer I had never heard of, this man is immensely under-appreciated.
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993): One of the best things to come out of the ’90s that I had never paid attention to.
Songs: Ohia – The Lioness (2000): I’ll never be bored of tortured souls and acoustic guitars.
Tim Hecker – Radio Amor (2003): Living proof that electronica is unique and means something, which somehow manages to move mountains in your brain.
Warpaint – Exquisite Corpse EP (2008): Dreamy, drifting passages with a cohesive drive.
Worriedaboutsatan – Arrivals (2009): Minimalist beats that are epic to listen to while programming.

Top List Of This Year Even Though My Opinion Doesn’t Matter And Everyone’s Tastes Are Valid So These Lists Are Stupid (In Alphabetical Order)

Adam Haworth Stephens – We Live On Cliffs: Singer from Two Gallants makes a solo record with pop hooks and succeeds valiantly.
After the Burial – In Dreams: Waited for so long for this thirty minute collection of lovely deathcore songs.
Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit: One of the most unheard names in metal who actually do something unique and meaningful release a sprawling epic unlike anything they’ve attempted previously.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs: Paints the most vivid and poignant picture of living in America in 2010 and is simply the best record of the year.
Avey Tare – Down There: Animal Collective is on vacation, and I can only get my fix this way until Panda Bear gets his next LP out.
Band of Horses – Infinite Arms: Solid tracks and someone who was clearly drunk when choosing the track order.
Beach House – Teen Dream: Even as a fan of their sleepy stuff, this self-actualized album is an absolutely perfect release from start to finish.
Best Coast – Crazy for You: One half of my favorite indie couple, I love Best Coast.
Blind Guardian – At the Edge of Time: Power metal from these German dudes will never be old to me.
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II): The death of guitar based music to the tune of Alice Glass screaming, this kicks all ass.
Daughters – Daughters: Suggestion of a friend and holy shit is it epic.
Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions: His first solid release since his debut, with a tear jerking re-take on ‘Christ Jesus’ sans-guitar.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest: The creepiest cover art with the best dreamy slow jams all year.
Deftones – Diamond Eyes: Thanks to some fessing up with friends, I am no longer ashamed of my love for the Deftones and this is a solid release to fan the flames.
The Delta Mirror – Machines That Listen: Apartment electronica with a personal feel that drove a good many of my programming sessions.
Eluvium – Similes
Eluvium – Static Nocturne:
One of my absolute favorite musicians releases an amazing record with his own vocals (for the first time since his start) and then releases the best white noise influenced ambient electronica record I’ve ever heard in the same year.
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma: Programming music strikes again, this makes my brain work in overdrive.
Forest Swords – Dagger Paths: The result of a pitchfork.com clicking fest which yielded some sparse and interesting electronica.
Freelance Whales – Weathervanes: This album needed to come out in 2000, because it’s the most lovely, idealistic, and naive indie rock record I’ve ever heard and today’s hipster just cannot accept it anymore.
Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks: Legit live show and great lyrics give me great reason to appreciate these guys.
Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner: Add to the heap of electronica this year, weird and dancey and everything in between.
Infinite Body – Carve Out the Face of My God: Almost in my top 5, this is dark, droned out, weird, and melodic all in one fell swoop.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Never listened to Kanye, but I’ll listen if you’re collaborating with Justin Vernon #everybodyknowsimamotherfuckingmonster.
Kid Ikarus – Kid Ikarus: Lovely post-rock, plain and simple.
The Last Felony – Too Many Humans: Face punching death metal, delivers exactly as promised.
Memoryhouse – Choir of Empty Rooms
Memoryhouse – Caregiver / Heirloom 7″
Memoryhouse – The Years EP
Memoryhouse – To The Lighthouse 7″:
“Chillwave” band with a heart and some shoegazy dream pop to boot, please listen to them and thank me when you find yourself day dreaming.
The National – High Violet: This didn’t make sense until I saw it live, but holy shit is the band alive with a damned good record to prove it.
Owen Pallett – Heartland: Close to my top 5, saw him twice this year live and just a wonderful collection of baroque pop songs.
Panda Bear – Tomboy EP
Panda Bear – You Can Count On Me:
My Animal Collective jones gets more or less filled with releases like these.
Quasi – American Gong: Pacific northwest rockers and Elliott smith friends, so by default I’m all ears
Real Estate – Out of Tune / Reservoir #3 7″: Best slacker rock, hands down.
Soilwork – The Panic Broadcast: My favorite Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal band released their first solid album in years.
Stars – The Five Ghosts: A forgettable but albeit solid release, a few awesome tracks keeping this in the top list.
Sun Kil Moon – Admiral Fell Promises:
Such a huge Mark Kozelek dork and what a gorgeous album.
Surfer Blood – Astro Coast: Best thing to come out of Florida, fun live, fun on vinyl, don’t screw up the record deal boys.
Teen Daze – Four More Years EP: Suggestion of an awesome friend, and what a great EP to fuel my late night work shifts.
[The] Slowest Runner [in All the World] – We, Burning Giraffes: Best and only baroque influenced post-rock I’ve heard.
This Will Destroy You – Moving On The Edges of Things: This band refuses a single classification and goes all drone on your ass just to say fuck you to the post-rock crowd.
Tokyo Police Club – Champ: Am still in love with ‘Elephant Shell,’ but I’m so happy to see these guys progressing.
Vampire Weekend – Contra: Who doesn’t love Vampire Weekend (seriously)?
Warpaint – The Fool: Dreamy and awesome, please listen to this.
Wavves – King of the Beach: The other half of my favorite indie couple, still love his sophomore release more (raising valid questions of my taste in recording quality) but am so happy to see that he’s letting his influences show with reckless abandon and trying out normal recording practices.
Worriedaboutsatan – Heart Monitor: Grabs you by the chest.

- tokyo

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #1. The National – High Violet

High Violet

yellow voices swallowing my soul

#1. The National – High Violet

The National’s High Violet works for a lot of reasons, but foremost as a demonstration of melody. Melody makes songs catchy, but catchy melodies can easily be annoying or too pop or cheesy. The National gets right in there and writes melodies that only make their songs more powerful. They wouldn’t work half as well if they were sung differently. The melodies sometimes build drama, sometimes jump out at you, and always add to the mood of what are already very moody songs.

But listening to these songs is to find them quickly engrained in your mind. There’s one moment in particular that I think is indicative, both of their use of melody, as well as their songwriting in general. On “Conversation 16, Matt Berninger (the singer/lyricist) goes through a verse/chorus, semi-speaking, semi-singing. The band is burning behind him, and they repeat a couple of times. He seems to be describing a somewhat-perfect, romantic siutation: it’s a “Hollywood summer,” dinner with friends, “we belong in a movie,” “we should swim in a fountain.” But then, then The National hits on a short bridge: “I was afraid I’d eat your brains / ‘Cause I’m evil.” Now clearly, this isn’t a song about zombies. Nor is he actually evil. He is just worried, you’re not going to like me anymore, I’m going to ruin this soon. This line stands out, a bit of a shock, but once you find it and it works and makes sense to you… that’s when High Violet will start clicking. (There are many moments throughout which may trigger this, actually, but that’s my favorite.)

And once High Violet starts clicking, you find a pretty genius record. Throughout, it explores these kind of worries in various detail, via either wickedly funny or moody songs (often times, both). “Sorrow” rides along, finding him “living in a city sorrow built / it’s in my honey / it’s in my milk.” “Anyone’s Ghost” is about desolate isolation, having been left alone (“didn’t want to be anyone’s ghost”). He burns down blackberry fields, doesn’t think to make corrections, owes money to the money to the money he owes. His shortcomings are always right there, haunting and lurking under everything. The first song, the terrific “Terrible Love” is an analogy for life and all its worries: “it’s a terrible love / I’m walking with spiders / it’s quiet company.”

The way I decided which album was #1 was, in the end, pretty simple. I mean, really, there probably is not a lot of difference in quality between #1 and #3 or even #12. That is not what I am doing here, weighing this album versus that album versus all of recorded musical history. But looking back at 2010, what it came down to was that for about six months, I rarely stopped listening to High Violet. It never left the cd player in my car, and still remains right there ready to play. Many albums work as a full concept, others work as collections of individual songs… but the very best albums work as both. I can listen to High Violet straight through, or I can jump around, finding myself needing to hear a different song each different day. That’s what happened with High Violet. 2010 was the year The National drug their songs into my brain (because they’re evil).

The National “Conversation 16”

The National “Afraid Of Everyone”

The National “Terrible Love”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #2. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Have One On Me

like a bump on a bump on a log, baby

#2. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

I realize that Joanna Newsom can be a somewhat polarizing figure. People either love her, or can’t stand her. I’ve gone through both, honestly. In the end, I’ve liked her first few records, but her sometimes-too-cutesy voice and sometimes-too-cutesy songs are just…too cute. I have grown to appreciate her wordplay, her sparkly harp, and her tense high voice. She is an acquired taste, that I did eventually acquire.

However, Have One On Me blew all that out of the water. All that cutesy stuff seems now like an entirely different artist, from long ago. This is a mammoth record, in size, scope, and skill. Sure, many of the songs are long, but with patience you start to notice that these are razor sharp. Every verse is important. Every harp strum, every waver in her voice, every orchestral flourish, every light drumbeat. There’s no ramble here, which is incredible because it’s 2 hours long, over 3 discs. Of course, all this technical goodness would be irrelevant if it weren’t a joy to listen to.

And it is. Newsom leads us into her magical world, with lullabies and fairy tales and stories and love and hope and loss and puns and who knows what else is in there? “Easy” starts things off, and it is a good example of her new laidback warmth. Like I said, in the past her voice could sound tense. Now, she calmly floats through the songs, dropping all tension. “Easy” has similarly warm keyboards, inviting, calling you in. By the end of this first song, you’ll want to pull the blanket over your head, and listen, with no distractions. Next Newsom drops a few harp songs to remind you: this is what I do better than anyone else in the world. The harp, as always, enhances her stories perfectly, adding just the right drama at just the right times. By the end of disc one, with the genius “Baby Birch,” you should be completely sucked in.

Disc two seems to be me to be the emotional heart of the record. “In California” and “Jackrabbits” are a powerful combo, full of nostalgia and longing and yellow hearts and dry rot and even a “poultice made of fig.” Who sings about poultices? Joanna Newsom does, and it’s awesome. Disc Three is delicate, as she continues, ending things with contemplatively. Could this have been 4 discs? 5? 23? The mastery makes it feel endless, even when you get to the end.

I mean, I won’t lie. This is a challenging record. It is hard to swallow whole, and even individual tracks are so rich and long, it’s impossible to gather all the subtleties. But at the same time, the songs are too fascinating and beautiful to just put on in the background. What would be the point in that? The first time I really connected to this album, I was listening on a sunny afternoon in the fall. I put it on, and basically lost all sense in time. I was reading the lyrics, listening, looked up, and thought, wait, why is the sun shining? What time is it? Where am I? Have One On Me is something to really experience–it can shake you, move you, make you daydream. It is one of the best musical experiences of 2010, if you let it be.

Joanna Newsom “Easy”

Joanna Newsom “Jackrabbits”

WordPress has a size limit on their mp3s, so even when I scaled the quality down, some of these songs were still too long to share. I really wanted to share “Baby Birch” so here’s a Youtube video of it:

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #3. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Here's To Taking It Easy

Hej, I am light

#3. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy

Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck) has made a number of albums, each one embracing lo-fi storytelling and recording. He could go from jaunty country, to Americana ambience, to covering The Beatles, Willie Nelson or Nick Cave. All this practice built up Houck’s skills, and leads directly to Here’s To Taking It Easy. This album approaches many of the same areas as his earlier works, but does so with a growing ease. Where some of his other albums and songs had a ramshackle fragility to them, Here’s To Taking It Easy is full-blooded and shimmering with confidence.

The songs here are quite often road-weary, with a lot of far-off cities, and wishing to be somewhere other than the place you are. Over upbeat soul horns, long slide guitar breaks, barroom piano, Houck sings of travelling, of everywhere starting to look the same, blurred together. “We’ll Be Here Soon” and “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” explore further the struggles of the road: “Oh I wish I was in heaven, sittin’ down / I wish the road we were taking / Wasn’t made for breaking down.”

Naturally, being on the road means leaving someone behind. In “Heaven, Sittin’ Down” he even tries to call her on an “old foreign telephone.” On “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly),” he is wistful: “Well I wake in the morning and I dress / I hang that charm of gold around my neck / And I haul to her window and I look / And I crawl on inside and wake her up / Singing love me foolishly / Love me foolish-like.” Clearly, a dream, a hopeful wish that carries him through. Will he ever get back to her? There’s lots of doubts about that. The brilliant “The Mermaid Parade” is a story of a man missing a flight to LA, where he could have met up with his love, Amanda. Instead, he’s left in New York, and their “two years of marriage in two short weeks” is but a memory, a gigantic loss over his head. When he ends the song, “God damn it, Amanda, oh God damn it all,” it explains everything.

Whether these subtle and simple stories, fun lyrics like “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing,” or tapping into gospel, country, or whatever is necessary for the song, Houck’s confidence has kicked Phosphorescent into another level entirely. After his last album, which was entirely covers of Willie Nelson songs–pleasant, but whatever–this turn is stunning. Maybe exploring Willie Nelson pulled something out of Houck, I don’t know. But whatever happened, Here’s To Taking It Easy is as perfect an album I have heard this year.

Phosphorescent “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing”

Phosphorescent “The Mermaid Parade”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #4. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here

I'm New Here

the ghetto was a haven for the meanest preacher ever known

#4. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here

When you think of the blues, there are generally not too many variations out there. You’ve got acoustic Delta blues with mysterious and spooky legends like Robert Johnson or Skip James. Or you might think of more electric bluesmen, bigger-than-life and creating rock and roll, like Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. But the one thing that connects these bluesmen, and makes them eternal, is their wisdom. They all have lived–struggled, fought, lost, made it out alive. That’s the blues in a nutshell.

Gil Scott-Heron, by all accounts, has lived. He is becoming more and more recognized as a legend, one of the pioneers of hiphop, with his ’70s spoken-word jazz recordings. He might not have been the first rapper, but he was a leading black poet, focused on urban social issues. I’ll cut his bio short, but by the ’80s and ’90s, he had more or less quit recording, and the ’00s found him in prison for drug possession. This all leads to I’m New Here, Scott-Heron’s first album in 16 years (and only second since 1982).

The amazing thing about I’m New Here is the way it takes old parts, yet sounds so new, so modern. The slide guitar and handclaps of “New York Is Killing Me” are skeletal blues, but the production includes electronic buzzes which make it feel current. The ghostly ambience of “The Crutch,” the fluttery beat of “Your Soul And Mine”: they may be distantly related to Skip James but could only have been made in modern times. The opening track, “Me And The Devil Blues” reworks the old Robert Johnson song into something almost triphop. This makes I’m New Here a rarity, an actual twist on one of the oldest and most familiar genres.

But what makes that twist special is that Scott-Heron is old enough to know. Throughout the album, there are number of short snippets of him speaking, offering thoughts (“certain bad things that happen…make you realize you’ve been here a whole lot longer than people thought you would”). There are no dirt crossroads in Gil Scott-Heron’s blues, but it is clear he has met the devil a few times. But as he sings on the title track (ironically, a cover of a recent Smog song), “no matter how far wrong you’ve gone / you can always turn around.” Gil Scott-Heron was pretty far gone, but I’m New Here hopefully is an announcement that’s he’s come back around. The world needs his voice.

Gil Scott-Heron “New York Is Killing Me”

Gil Scott-Heron “Me And The Devil”

and PS. check out this video for a remix of “New York Is Killing Me”… I think it gets to exactly what I wrote here earlier. It’s not the dirt road blues, it’s the subway blues. Watch him here.

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #5. The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

Sea Of Cowards

I can smell the gasoline

#5. The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

The Dead Weather were the best live band I saw this year. I saw them twice, and each time, one thought was left with me: damn, they are rock stars. Just bad-ass, don’t-mess-with-us rock stars, full of charisma and intensity. But this isn’t a countdown of who had the most killer stage presence of the year. I mention it because their new album, Sea Of Cowards, is a bad-ass, don’t-mess-with-us album, full of charisma and intensity.

Sea Of Cowards is relatively short, but the compactness does nothing but make The Dead Weather’s nasty streak nastier. The nastiness is relentless, breathless. All good rock stars take no prisoners, and that’s what they tap into. On “Blue Blood Blues,” Jack White starts the madness off (“All the neighbors get pissed when I come home / I make ’em nervous / All the white girls trip / When I sing at Sunday service”). From there, Alison Mosshart takes over. She’s an amazing singer, versatile, and always with intensity. The band follows her, basically. Jack Lawrence’s bass often kicks off the songs, his spazzy rhythms climbing out of the crashing embers of the prior song. (The album is more or less set up like a long medley of songs, loosely connected by theme.) The keyboard/guitar riffs by Dean Fertita (and White sometimes) are at times thrilling (“Gasoline,” “The Difference Between Us”).

I feel like I may be making this sound more extreme than it is. It is intense and relentless, but like good rock stars, The Dead Weather know how to make it listenable. That charisma is what makes them special, and what kicks their songs up another notch. Any one of these four could be stars of any band. Together, they are a real force. If you like your rock dirty and bluesy and not watered down, Sea Of Cowards is the first place to start.

The Dead Weather “Blue Blood Blues”

The Dead Weather “I’m Mad”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #6. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty

boi stop

I live for today, plan for the future, pack a lunch and haul ass

#6. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty

My countdown, I noticed today, is short on rap. I do listen to it a fair bit, but sometimes I find rap albums are all relatively formulaic. They all do the same things, and can be difficult to distinguish from each other. There are quite a few artists who come at it with intelligence (like, The Roots), skills (Wu-Tang), or creativity (Outkast), but even good albums can sound similar. Big Boi is of course part of Outkast, and yet another Artist Going Solo who made my countdown. What did he do on this album that other rappers could not?

It took me quite a lot of thinking to realize this album. I knew I liked it a lot, and what it came down to was simple. The beats are awesome. Roughly half the song are hot rap beats (like “Daddy Fat Sax”), but the other half display a crazy creativity that is rare in rap. I know that André 3000 gets the credit for a lot of creativity in Outkast, and I won’t deny that, but Big Boi has always been overlooked in this department. (Big Boi is the one trying to collaborate with Kate Bush, for instance.) (Please happen.) Big Boi brings his creativity to a fairly typical hiphop world, showing a mastery that very few have.

I’ll try to go into more detail. A few albums ago, I wrote about how Corinne Bailey Rae scaled back her voice, which ended up enhancing the emotion of her album. A lot of Big Boi’s beats here are skeletal, scaled back, which in the end makes them extremely funky. You don’t have to go big to be big. The music at times is claustrophobic and tight. “You Ain’t No DJ” is tense, riding a percussive electro beat, produced by André 3000. A few other tracks highlight Big Boi’s really fast flow above all (like “Night Night”). Big Boi could have easily put out an album full of great tracks like these.

But he didn’t stop there. He showed off his creativity with songs like “Turns Me On,” where a skittery scat vocal loop slowly develops into one of the lushest beats of the year. “General Patton” combines horns with an opera chorus. Opera! It took me awhile to get into “General Patton,” it’s the most aggressive song on here. But once you hear it, you cannot unhear it. The drama is undeniable, and that opera loop is wild. “Fo Yo Sorrows” has all sorts of stuff you don’t hear on usual rap tracks (and some you do, like George Clinton).

Sir Lucious went through years of label politics to get released. (That’s why the 3 songs with André 3000 rapping on it were left off; fortunately Big Boi leaked 2 of them to the web.) There are times Big Boi can be ridiculous, like the over-the-top title, or the not-funny raunchy skits between songs. But this album is an impressive work by one of the masters of the rap genre.

Big Boi – “General Patton”

Big Boi – “Be Still (feat. Janelle Monáe)”

Big Boi – “Fo Yo Sorrows (feat. George Clinton, Too Short & Sam Chris)”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #7. Jónsi – Go

Go

climb endless trees

#7. Jónsi – Go

Jónsi, of course, is the lead singer of Sigur Rós, and the mix of natural instruments with his other-worldly voice remains the key for the music on his new album, Go. Jónsi’s other side project, Riceboy Sleeps, basically makes ambient music. Go, however, is the polar opposite of ambient, where everything just sparkles and breathes. (Sigur Rós, I guess, mixes both aspects.)

Go begins with the glorious and triumphant “Go Do,” though it sometimes recalls a Nike commercial (could just be the title). “Animal Arithmetic” has a relentless pulse, from the opening junkyard percussion, to the upbeat vocals, to the swirling keyboards. Not a moment is wasted, not a moment drags. Glacial Sigur Rós movements are nowhere to be found here (well, maybe a tiny bit, the final track “Hengilás” is familiar). Despite the parts being the same (strings, Iceland, drama, that voice), and being just as uplifting, Jónsi is taking a different path from Sigur Rós. It remains stunning. Nobody makes music like this.

One difference is that, instead of Icelandic (or Hopelandic), Jónsi actually sings (most of) the lyrics in English. I was stunned to discover this. I didn’t realize it until months after I started listening to it! His voice does that to you, his unique phrasing and sound. And the lyrics are fascinating too. From the gorgeous “Sinking Friendships,” he writes “we’re swimming in the blue / nigh misfortune / unlively like glue / my eyes are soaked the way through / our sinking friendships / we drown them all.”

There is a lot of lines about growth and movement, which matches the music, and seems to be Jónsi’s theme (hence the album title). For instance, on “Around Us,” “I see a forest / a treasure chest full of labyrinth / I see a door, holes in the floor / We’ll break seeds, we’ll grow!” “Boy Lillikoi” seems to be about a boy, courageous and adventurous: “I want to be a lilikoi / Boy lillikoi / you grind your claws / you howl, you growl unafraid / you run, you’re free / you climb endless trees.” Jónsi’s song could not be more life-affirming, but never in a new agey sort of way.

Jónsi sings on “Animal Arithmetic,” “every time, everyone, everything’s full of life / every day, everywhere, people are so alive” and that’s a perfect description. Every moment of Go is full of life, no album from 2010 is more alive.

Jónsi “Animal Arithmetic”

Jónsi “Sinking Friendships”

- almostaghost

cyanide breathmint – official top 10 records of 2010 [coming soon]

Hello,

I hope you’ve been enjoying almostaghost’s run down of his favorite selections from the past year as much as I have. Just in case any of you were wondering (I hope at least some of you were), my top 10 list is nearly done and I’ll be sharing it here before year’s end. Happy holidays, and here’s to hoping for a 2011 as great for music as 2010 was!

breathmint

- breathmint