Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ten (Eleven) Albums of 2010 - Part 1

I know that I've done a lot of bitching about the last year.  It had a lot of downs for sure, but when prepping for this post it dawned on me that, if nothing else, 2010 had a helluva soundtrack.

It's becoming a bit of a ritual now to collect together in a new years post the ten albums of the last year.  2008 is here2009 is here.  And welcome to the 2010 post.  To give you quick orientation, these ten albums are (except for the album of the year (at the bottom)) in no particular order.  Albums don't necessarily have to be from 2010 (a few of them aren't).  I just have to have found them during 2010.

So before we get started here's some fun facts and numbers.  When gathering this list originally I was faced with 113 albums over 90 different artists.  When I subtracted all the artists and crap that crept in, and the stuff I got but didn't listen to, I was dealing with 48 albums across 36 artists.  The final list was of course 10 albums by 10 artists (and one honorable mention because I couldn't get rid of it no matter how hard I tried).  7 of the 11 albums came from 2010.  2 from 2009.  1 from 2005.  And 1 from 2002.  The list contains 159 songs, over 9.4 hours of music.  And with those fun facts.  Let's go.

The year started off with the February 14th release of Angels & Airwaves junior release, Love.  Being heralded by their frontman, Tom DeLonge (yes of Blink 182 infamy), as the band that would change the face of rock and roll for this generation (can't find the quote but it was on MTV somewhere), Angels and Airwaves has never been anything short of staggeringly ambitious.  A game changer it's not.  Featuring their pretty much standard simple progressions, layered and layered  with jam band drums U2-stolen guitar solos, and soaring galactic synths, Love is not the messianic delivery DeLonge promised.  Which makes it sound like I don't enjoy it.  It's far from the case.  What Love is, is over produced ambitious apocalyptic thematic soundtrack music.  Great for writing to.  Great for reading Marvel Comic's Annihilation miniseries, or the Green Lantern.  If you can get past DeLonge's whiny punk vocals, trying desperately to keep pace with the soaring, driving chords.  The album comes on strong, and then overstays its welcome.  Check out the Flight of the Apollo to get all you really need of it.

I've been listening to the Apples in Stereo since I was in middle school.  The band has been around since the 90s, making fun psychedelic pop music that's been the soundtrack to my springs and summers all through high school and college.  I got to see them for the first time back in 2007 while in Chicago when they were on tour supporting their album, New Magnetic Wonder.  This was the first real shift in their sound.  Coming out of the flowery sunshiney post-British Invasion sixties, and into the world of ELO, and the 70s, and really showing frontman, Robert Schneider's nerd side with his creation of a non-Pythagorean music scale.  In April they released their seventh studio venture, Travellers In Space and Time [sic].  Fully embracing their new disco sound, the album is steeped in synth and dance beats.  Dreaming about the future, and wearing flashy sparkly jumpsuits.  This is one of their strongest releases to date.  For the best experience, get your hands on Dance Floor.  The music video featuring everyone's favorite nine-fingered hobbit:

The next album emerged as something of a darkhorse late in the year. Evelyn Evelyn's self-titled freshman release, Evelyn Evelyn is one of those records that needs to be heard to really experience.  The story, as it's told by Neil Gaiman's new better-half, Amanda Palmer, goes something like:
"About a year ago Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls and Jason Webley received Myspace messages from the most unusual profile either of them had ever seen – conjoined twin sisters, both named Evelyn. Intrigued and charmed, they began corresponding with the twins hoping to lure them into the studio." (source)
The album tells the story of the twins as they go from their mother's death at their birth, to a traveling freakshow, to a freak brothel, to national fame thanks to Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley.  Yeah.  This is one of those ridiculous, concept albums.  It's also absolutely great.  Veering madly from cabaret to dustbowl freak circus jingles.  Theatric.  Over the top.  Darkly humorous.  To really get a feeling for the album, the second song, A Campaign of Shock and Awe.  And here for a taste is Elephant Elephant, their bizarre music video

It's interesting watching fame and music and the way it is handled over seas, in England, and Australia and other European countries.  How huge names over there are barely known at all here in the states.  A great example is Mark Owen of the English boy band, Take That.  After the band split in 96, Owen went on to have a successful solo career that stretched until Take That's reunion in 2005.  Coming out on the heels of the band's reunion was Owen's third and final solo album.  How the Mighty Fall came out to a little acclaim, opening at #78 on the  UK Album charts (far below his last venture).  Featuring beautifully constructed, poignant ruminations on love, on desire, How the Mighty Fall is one of those albums that's dug in with its tight wording, and soaring compositions.  Hit up Believe in the Boogie.

The oldest album on the list comes from the band the Squirrel Nut Zippers.  Coming from the 90s and the swing rebirth, SNZ offered a slight variation on the model championed by Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  Coming with a 30s, depression-era sound, SNZ features the sultry vocals of Katherine Whalen and "Jimbo" Mathus.  They rocked us with swinging ukulele sounds for almost a decade between 1993 and 2001, broke up, and reformed in 2006.  Shortly after their breakup, they released The Best of the Squirrel Nut Zippers as Chronicled by Shorty Brown.  Covering the six albums before their breakup (excluding their spectacular christmas album), this single disc'er is a great accompaniment to reading Raymond Chandler, or any other noir mystery.  The opening track, Good Enough For Grandad, is one to give a listen to.

The second half is on its way tomorrow.

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