Some Stuff We Liked in 2010
2010 was one hell of a year if you're the kind of person who really loves reverb, but if you're like me, you might have had to put in a little effort to find new music you really liked instead of just walking into any warehouse in Brooklyn. Actually, given that one of the most talked-about records of the year ended up being pretty good, that's sort of bullshit. But, if you were someone who was really looking forward to new music with guitars and didn't like the Brooklyn sound, this year could've been a bit of a bummer. Yes, there were new albums by The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, but they didn't do much, at least for me. Luckily, this was a goddamn banner year for plenty of other music (even some guitar music), and because it's January, it's apparently my job to talk about it! -DFH (this is his page)
One of the things I did end up liking, trendwise, was this year's soul revival. Groups like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and Kings Go Forth managed to make waves playing authentic, throwback R&B. But for those of you interested in listening to music that doesn't sound like it was recorded while we were still fighting the Viet Cong, there were two albums that, while undeniably influenced by old-school soul, manage to be recognizable as music from the 21st century. The first (and better known) of these is Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid, a sci-fi-themed neo-soul concept album that's so well executed that it's surprising George Clinton wasn't involved. Regardless of whether all the praise heaped on it was deserved (eccentric black singer? New Prince!), the album is a great merger of ambition and talent; Monae finds a nice balance, not letting the narrative dominate the music, or vice versa.
The second, Jamie Lidell's Compass, continues Lidell's straddling of soul and electronic music, though it hangs out quite a bit more in the electronic category than its predecessor, Jim. Lidell manages to really broaden his approach on this album: Everything, from the instrumentation to the production, feels more like an artist working soul into his aesthetic and less like a talented mimic who just found a great stash of Motown and Stax records.
Oh, also, I don't know if you guys are aware, but people other than Kanye West released hip-hop albums last year. It shouldn't need much promotion, but if there are any readers out there who still think Big Boi was just the thug half of Outkast, you should go out and get his solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty, an album that surprisingly manages to be more incredible than its own title. It's less indulgent and better put-together than Kanye's ...Fantasy, though it didn't get the credit or press that the latter did. But hey, multi-million-dollar advertising budgets and annoyingly insistent public personas can earn you a lot these days, including 10.0s.
Speaking of, while I'm very glad Kanye West managed to put being a professional crazy person on the back burner long enough to make a good album, I'm not sure I can justify a perfect score for a record when the guy still can't rap. Don't get me wrong - the production on it is phenomenal, some of the guest features are inspired (then again, some are "As you run through my jungles / all you hear is rumbles," so...), but seriously, dude just released his fifth album, he should at least be able to afford to hire someone to write for him by now.
Last but not least, the above-promised guitar music. The first I discovered by complete chance - a friend turned me on to a band in August and, lo and behold, they released an album in November! That album is STNNNG's Smoke of My Will, the Minneapolis band's first since 2006's Fake Fake, and while that one was tons of noise-punk fun, this one... how do you continue that metaphor? This album weighs more? What I'm trying to say is I like it better, partly because they managed to keep a sense of humor, and partly because they started working melodic and harmonic structures into their music without losing the spastic, aggressive stuff that makes their music unpredictable and fun.
Finally, one of my old favorites, Dillinger Escape Plan, came out with Option Paralysis. I'll admit, I was a little disappointed that the album didn't represent a huge leap forward like Ire Works or the much-maligned Miss Machine (which I guess a lot of people would say was a big leap backward), but overall it was a pretty fucking solid album. If anything, I'd say the thing would've made more sense if it had come out before Ire Works; the songs are more rigidly structured and overall "poppier," much like Miss Machine, but Paralysis has a range that far exceeds that album's comparatively narrow scope. So yeah, you're still getting plenty of weird time signatures and start-stop riffs, but now it doesn't feel like it was arranged by putting sections of songs on a wall and having a blind guy throw darts at it.
So that's it! That's 2010, over and done with. A pretty good year, all-in-all, but I'm sure by now everyone is eagerly awaiting 2011's biggest release, Yanni's Truth of Touch.