On Christmas Eve I kicked off my my musical review of 2010 and left off with Rio, the catchy, handclap-punctuated tune from Seattle chamber pop ensemble Hey Marseilles. Today I'll pick up with the next 7 selections of some of my favorite and most notable songs of the year, starting with a little Charm City love.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business - Brave Man's Death. Residing in the slightly seedy but charming corner of the neighborhood more famously occupied by My Morning Jacket and The Avett Brothers, JRWATB craft hard-edged, piano-driven Southern rock and roll. Know that their impossibly high energy level simply can't be captured by any recording method currently in existence; you can't really know this band until you experience them live. They give Grace Potter and her Nocturnals and the Avetts a run for the title of Highest Energy Rock Band. Do bring earplugs.
Jon Thor Birgisson - Go Do: Better known artistically as Jonsi, the driving force behind Iceland's Sigur Ros. This isn't my favorite track from Go, but it's the one that to me best showcases how Birgisson employs his soaring falsetto as yet another instrument. This is an immeasurably joyful track, as well as a logical and spiritual successor to Sigur Ros' 2008 masterpiece Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.
Kanye West's - All of the Lights: Featuring a lineup of artists seemingly longer than the Polyphonic Spree roster, this is the standout track of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the high water mark of Kanye's artistic vision. Alternately a tribute to Michael Jackson as well as a warning to aspiring MCs wanting to dethrone Kanye, this song serves as another coming out party for Barbadian chanteuse Rihanna and a vehicle for Kanye's charmingly awful singing voice.
Kathryn Calder - All It Is: One of the darker corners of Calder's breezy yet moody debut Are You My Mother?, this songs builds slowly into a crescendo of self-doubt and fuzzy guitars. Recorded around Calder's schedule of caring for her late mother, this album doesn't coax any of the virtuoso vocal performances that Calder's uncle Carl Newman seems to elicit from her on New Pornographers albums. AYMM? is haunting and beautiful and worthwhile in its own right as a young artist finds her vision amidst tragedy.
The Magnetic Fields - You Must Be out of Your Mind: The opening track of Realism, the final entry in the Fields' "no-synth" trilogy, and another prime example of the brilliant and acerbic wit of Stephin Merritt. Spiritually, I see this song as another stage of the grieving romantic evidenced by the blindly optimistic bargaining of I Don't Really Love You Anymore and the self-immolating depression of I Don't Want To Get Over You. I don't love the rest of this album, but it's tough to argue with the Capote-esque bite of lines like "I no longer drink enough to think you're witty".
matt pond PA - First Song: I'll freely admit to not reading a lot of other music journalists' reviews, or even necessarily artist interviews about the inspirations for their songs. I come from an old school that sees music as a deeply personal experience, and I hope that in some way I can capture in words how these songs make me feel. I like a little mystery in my music; I enjoy lyrics that tend towards the abstruse, and I gravitate towards songs that are sonically understated. These are all the reasons I enjoy matt pond PA, and among the many reasons blogs like Pitchfork do not. This slow-build track is a perfect mpPA track, polite and unassuming as a New England spring day, and a return to the more string laden sound of past albums.
Max Richter - infra 5: The longest track from Infra, the most recent album from the experimental composer dubbed "The Ring Tone Maestro" by the NY Times magazine, and a song well worth the journey. Slowly unfolding over the course of nearly five and a third minutes, this track features the classical instrumentation overlaid with electronic "interference" that have been a hallmark of Richter's recent work and a reason behind his crossover success.
Another post, another third of the journey behind us. Soon enough I'll unveil the final tracks in my travels through 2010.