prisonship bestuv 2010: top 10

10)Chris Leo’s Vague Angels, The Sunny Day I Caught Tintarella di Luna for a Picnic at the Cemetery

Sometimes we all need an inner Rumsfeld to remind us that our favorite artists don’t exist just to give us pleasure. So too, I have learned to love the work of the Chris Leo we have, and not the Chris Leo I’d’ve wanted were I stuck on the greatness and the would’ve-been-greatness of latter-day Van Pelt. While this is deceptively more of a band album than it might seem, given it’s foregrounding of poems/lyrics from Leo’s amazing book, Feathers Like Leather, this record announces a new era in which Leo’s less ping-ponging between rock and prose than seducing both forms into – what? – a working negative dialectic? Run DMC and Aerosmith aside, this is a place where urgent wordiness and rocking actually challenge themselves despite their artfully integrated coexistence. Plus, Leo’s guitar playing remains as otherworldly and interesting as it’s always been. Buy the book and rock this album and you’ll see how our man Chris, recognized or unrecognized, has continued and advanced his singular mission.

9)Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks

All hail the James Canty addition on gtr/synth! Between “Bottled Up in Cork” and a coupla-three other of the hookiest numbers yet amidst one of the punkest, hookiest careers 21st century showbiz will ever see… the bestuv inclusion is a no-brainer. Still punk as fuck, still bleeding melody, I cannot wait to hear if Ted Leo is still playing power stomps like this when he’s 50. Here’s hoping this drummer hangs on for that duration: ‘motherfucker, as has been said before, is fierce.

8)Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest

Okay, I take these guys fully seriously now. I mean, I already mostly did, and I enjoy Atlas Sound, but — side 2 of this motherfucker is as good a side as we got out of anybody in ’10. I think if you’re a big enuff Sonic Youth fan it’s easy to half-buy into these guys for the sake of their tendency towards one or two outward-ish-major-key-noise-drone-jams per alb — but now, and with the last alb, too, it’s clear they’re mining something deeper: namely, Bradford Cox’s memory chest of pisstery and imagination. A lotta ink has been spent on talking as if this alb was some kinda Proustian body cavity exam of memory and youth; however, I can hear that nostalgia in passing lyrics and riffs without wanting to make an essay out of it. This is a mature record by a band I expect consistent very goodness from, from now on. Nice digital/analog juxtaposition, as always,  and the Jay Reatard tribute is sweet.

7)Three-way-tie: Bottomless Pit, Blood Under the Bridge

Moreso even than the Truckers, this is my most viscerally-faved gtr tone alb of 2010, ringing bells from the sweetest spot between the Stones and the Shellacs. Also, the drum major from Seam’s performance is no small feat! While “Rhinelander” evokes Codeine, which ain’t nothing to burp at, closer “38 Souls” razes the greatness of the late, great Silkworm kinda like the Alien Sea World razes the surface of the sea at the end of the Abyss. This band has arrived at being its own thing, a godlike and huge thing.

6)Three-way-tie: Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Rush to Relax

Eddy Current deserves to inherit the art-rock earth, and prolly they will after one or two more alb’s of “growth.” It’s all here: scratchy riffs that aren’t reducible to Killed by Death, snotty/brainy vocs that are too earthy for easy Fall comparisons, and the ability to turn caveman (or cave-CAN) vamps into something entirely their own. While the a-side of their “Wet Cement” single is my song of the year, this alb also rates, merits and demands a lotta stiff claps. Recorded mostly live and in a short window, how can an alb be so greater than the sum of its parts-y? It just is. This is punk rock for people who still exist, and not for the historical re-enactment set. 

5) Three-way tie: Ty Segall, Melted

Nobody’s surprised-er than me at how this Segall record has hung around in my head and inside the disc-slit of my Ford Focus. The difference between this and so much other competent bubble-punk can be summed up by a) a Memphis-y, Grifters-y willingness to slow down for maximum rocking b) a less Ramones-y, more Breeders-y, pop maturity. This alb couldn’t’ve been made by anybody but this bird, and it rocks from wall to wall, and it’s weird.

4)Pernice Brothers, Goodbye, Killer

This man writes great songs and has the killer-est band. As a wannabe writer, I am far from a “lyrics person” when it comes to music-listening, cuz my tastes-nerves are so frayed and perpetually overcritical. This fucking guy, though…Jesus. Good words from this guy. And Walbourne’s guitar/Menck’s drumming all but guarantee that the rockers rock, sure, but the ballads themselves still shuffle. World class, brainy power pop from Pernice. And no cymbals whatsoever!

3)

Two-Way Tie: Superchunk, Majesty Shredding

Like a Dinosaur alb in which the slicing lead attacks are replaced with soaring chordal sentences, this alb features guitar-on-guitar sex that the superb rock drumming of Jon Wurster fills out with fluidity and power. (Like people say about Levon Helm, Wurster’s drumming is capable of making me cry.)  Every chorus hummable, every verse get-into-able. I hope we get a lot more activity outta this band. The universe that lacks an active Fugazi and Unwound needs them more than ever to carry the weight of what used to be “emo.”  [God, why did I listen to so much Braid in college? I should’ve been just absorbing all this ‘Chunk.]

2) Two-Way Tie: Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody, I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years

That the guy’s fourth alb in three years is his best, and not a hackish clump of b-sides; that the gtr-work is so under-overdubbed, but so lush; that his voice, were there a god, is the voice a wised-up human race should choose to raise to god; all of these reasons are reasons why those of us who particularly love our shoegaze and our Sonic Utes and our Velvets and our electric guitars en general should always be listening to what Mr. Franklin is doing.

1)Shipping News, One Less Heartless to Fear

Meet the champs. I’ll leave aside the inspiration I take from Jason Noble’s current endurance, only to mention how it’s interesting that, despite his singing most of the songs on this alb, the record for the first time evokes the early and mid-period work of Jeff Mueller’s June of 44 more than it quotes Rodan or, uh, Slint. [Actually, there’s a welcome Crain vibe here, too.] Gone are the fragile approaches and dynamic drop-outs; instead there’s brash throbbing everywhere: weird combinations of elemental rocking and sophisticated, idiosyncratic lurching and turnarounds. And it’s all recorded live? The band is “tight,” so “tight,” but so much more.  Again — in a decade haunted by the absence of Fugazi, Unwound and Slint, these are the people who will make the kind of music that saves my life everyday.  Their alb joins Pajo’s Scream With Me and O’Rourke’s The Visitor from 2009, in that heady Cloud City hi above the heads and shoulders of all the other worthy bestuvs I’ve enjoyed yesterday and today.

Bestuv 2010: Honorable Mentions

  • The Young, Voyagers of Legend At a time when the idea of indie rock sounding “fearless” seemed dihareah-ish, it seemed so contrived….well, these guys made this fuggin record. Fugazi and GBV and the non-Singles Soundtrack’s solo Westerberg have birthed their first true hybrid clone. And the guitar obliques are neither “math” nor “rockist.” I better plop down the $19 for this on vinyl before I remain tied to my Emusic version past the point of acceptability.
  • Parting Gifts, Strychnine DandelionGreg Cartwright’s Reigning Sound has rocketed to the top of my new, post-y’all’ternative cosmos:  but y’all know that already. ‘Point is, his work with female vocalists from the ‘Ettes here is solid, generic tabs of Vitamin Gum. Years aren’t complete without Greg Cartwright’s music, anymore.
  • Midlake, The Courage of Others this is what it sounds like when the blokes who’ve accidentally made a blog-b’loved album become the band that they always meant to be, and, as it turns out, that’s neither what les blogs or their early fans wanted. Fleetwood Mac and Shirley Collins and Pentangle and, still, Radiohead live in this weird druid garden. The playing is exquisite, but all the songs could be 30 seconds shorter(: but only if they really wanted to be.)
  • The Walkmen, Lisbon What’s to love about the good-but-not-great alb’s of great bands for which you have alarmingly real and alarmingly unreal expectations? I dunno. There are some standout tracks on this, particularly the ones that were built off of a rhythym guitar/snare drum thing. I still think Hamilton Whosis’ lyrics are among the few in the world that don’t give me buttpiss, but their overarching, yawning-not-yawping disposition is both a blessing and a curse, here.
  • Drive-by Truckers, The Big To-Do
    I wonder who sells-eth more records-eth, the Walkmen or the Truckers? As we move from the subtle and tasteful to the tacky and tasty, let’s understand that Patterson Hood knows what he wants to do and does it: Springsteen Gothic on Faces-y beds of present tense-y, situational “class” hog maws. The guitar tones on this alb are great and some of the hooks just hook you like a buttonhook should work on your coat, you coat-racked son of a fuck. Of course they went on tour with Tom Petty: who should, you?
  • Oneohtrix Point Never, Returnal I spend a lot of time reading/writing theory, so it’s only appropriate that every year I come to champion at least one purveyor of post-ambient digi-shards, right? Non? Oui! If you were floating in an isolated space capsule while being irregularly thudded by a giant, industrial-sized electric mixer simultaneously, in the manner of a Catholic saint…? Well sir, this cd could be your sonuvabitch. 
  • Thee Oh Sees, Warm Slime If it wasn’t reading/writing we were doing, and intead we were all having some kinda party and/or working on a shed together,this is the alb from this list that I’d most likely pin on the toynetable. The Mamas and the Papas and White Light/White Heat have once again been reconstituted to save our sonic lives. There was too much reverb in 2010, but Thee Oh Sees get a pass.
  • Personal and the Pizzas, Raw Pie So many godlike riffs, and the dude decided to spend ’em all on Fonzie/Ramones aesthetics and ‘zabra talk? I applaud that, and so doing I surprise even m’self.