Monday, January 3, 2011
Top ten! Truthfully, I long ago dismissed as fantasy any notion of having this all done by January 1st. It just wasn't going to happen. Having embraced this realpolitik, I found I actually slept more soundly, enjoyed food more, and treasured human connections to an even greater degree. It was liberating. That said, maybe we can wrap this up by week's end? No promises, of course. Onward...
10. Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks
The endless cavalcade of priceless Scottish pop continues unabated. The title alone makes this one worthy of mention. The band have tightened up their sound since their last (TiOM-listed) effort, which has them sounding like... what? I'm looking for one of those handy comparisons I'm so fond of employing. How about: Aztec Camera by way of Orange Juice?
9. Vampire Weekend, Contra
Remember when the debut dropped, and these popped-collar prep boys seemed bent on proving themselves the coolest of all the '80s-quoting hipsters? Ha, turns out we had them wrong! Instead of wanting to be the coolest, they were actually pretty serious about being the best. There was a mini-boom in world music-aping indie pop a few years back, but realistically VW are the only band we'll remember from that micro-movement. Justifiably so. The vocal refrain on "White Sky" is a trick that Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo would have killed to have dreamt up first. World/indie/whatever -- this is pop, and it is good.
8. Exploding Star Orchestra, Stars Have Shapes
Sun Ra is dead. Long live Rob Mazurek! Without him we might no longer have avant-big band music with a disdain for boundaries and an equal love for both melody and squall. This continues the streak of records that makes me think that Mazurek will one day be the subject of one doozie of a Mosaic box set.
7. Bruce Springsteen, The Promise
Because this is my list, and because I make the rules, newly-released troves of decades-old material count. Read about Bruuuce's triumph right here.
6. The National, High Violet
During lost weekends and holiday family barbeques I can often be heard to remark, loud, proud and sloppy, that the National employ a secret weapon which contributes to their awesomery. "Matt Berninger's voice" some yob invariably calls. "Nah," I belch, "it's the drums, man. The drums!" By that I mean Bryan Devendorf's shifting-sand percussion work, which can make a double-time high hat sound like the softest brush, and vice versa. The man is a machine. Of course, without all the rest of it -- that voice, the lyrics, the knotty guitar, the feeling that you're listening to rock music that doesn't take you for an idiot and your wife/girlfriend/sister for a faceless pair of breasts -- it wouldn't much matter. But put it all together, and High Violet bellies up to the bar alongside both Boxer and Alligator as essential slices of post-millennial life.