A lot of friends and people in general have asked me over the past few years why I follow current music, saying music today is a shitshow compared to the sounds of the 1970's, 60's, and 50's. Some of these friends live on a strict classic rock/pop diet and, with sounds like chillwave and surfer rock growing in popularity, retro seems to be the cure against every I See Stars and Jeffree Star of today. But if I ever need/want to make a case for myself and my love for the modern times, 2010 would be my chief example of music done right. Personally, I found seven records that were released this year that I can say will stand all time favorite records of mine and even more that I'll listen to for years to come. This will also likely be the last year I give numerical places to records except for my top 2; this year was difficult to organize each amazing record in a specific order. I understand this post may be a tad lengthy with each mini-review, but I'll be grateful if you read every word, skim it, or even just jumped to my number one. Each record I wrote a review longer than a couple sentences for had a pretty profound effect on me and I'd like to give each of those records justice in return. 2010, I'll miss you dearly for so many reasons, but here's to this year and hopefully an equally good, if not better, 2011. -- Tim
You, Me, and Everyone We Know : Some Things Don’t Wash Out - Pretty fun debut record from one of the scene’s nicest/hardest working bands I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Definitely pick this up.
Gorillaz : Plastic Beach - Got a lot of play earlier in the year, but definitely not a record to overlook. Definitely some of the best musical arrangements of this year and is arguably the best rap/hip-hop record behind Kanye's.
I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody’s Business : The World We Know - It has its moments of flaws, but Ace Enders’ side project to his solo project away from The Early November sounds as focused and gorgeous as his "main projects". At times surreal and dreamlike, it’s fall rock/acoustic music at its finest.
Young The Giant : Self-Titled - This is mid-summer haze music at its finest, coupling surf rock, malt-shop pop, and lead singer Sameer Gadhia's swoon-worthy voice (is it socially acceptable to have a slight man-crush on this guy's voice...seriously, this is serenading music) to form some of the best chill out music of 2010.
The Naked and Famous : Passive Me, Aggressive You - I honestly just heard this album in full this week, but I already know if I caught onto it earlier this year, it would be way higher on the list. Great synth-pop (think Passion Pit with guy/girl vocals) with greater, darker lyrical undertones. If they release it stateside in 2011, you better believe this'll make an appearance on the list next year.
10. Taylor Swift - Speak Now :
Go ahead. Tell me whatever credibility I had has now been tarnished at the hands of America’s whiniest, boy-crazy singer/songwriter. I’ll gladly accept the downgrade. And continue by telling me I should at least preface this with this record being a “guilty pleasure” of mine. I will not. Why, you ask? Because Taylor Swift has penned an honestly honest and triumphant pop record in Speak Now. Yes, the misandry can get tiring at times (“Dear John” and “Better Than Revenge”...yikes) and the length is daunting for most pop radio listeners (clocking in a little over an hour long), but this record is a career-risking effort and a coming of age for the 20-year old country-pop star. The record avoids a “Love Story/You Belong With Me, Part 2” and makes its mark with tender ballads, anthems about love, age, girls “known for what they [do] on the mattress” (T-Swift sings about sex...wh-wh-what?!), her past and future. The lyrics put Swift a little past the high school dramatics she has claimed dominion over in the past, shining brightest on the longing “Back to December”, country call-out “Mean”, lullaby-like “Never Grow Up”, and album high point “Enchanted”. Even though it appears Swift gains as many haters as she does fans with each release, the truly ignorant would be blind to the fact that this is the most powerful and daring chart-topping pop record of 2010.
9. Ra Ra Riot - The Orchard :
The Orchard is a record that dominated the end of Summer/beginning of Fall for me, being that it is such a perfect mix of upbeat pop, semi angst-filled lyrics, and a stunning violin and cello section. “Boy” and “Too Dramatic” are two undeniably catchy songs right in the first half of the record that earn the band a somewhat reasonable comparison to Vampire Weekend, but with songs like the achingly beautiful “Foolish” that show off Wes Miles’ pitch-perfect vocals, upbeat “Shadowcasting”, and “Do You Remember” building an equally strong and memorable second half to the record, Ra Ra Riot have definitely solidified themselves as the indie-pop kings and (gorgeous) queens of this year.
8. Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt :
Late night driving has been a frequent practice of mine for roughly a year, taking my car to random late night restaurants known for their roast beef sandwiches, parks to have life discussions with close friends, and carnivals to...well, I’m not really sure why we went to the carnival. But every night drive demands a soundtrack and, until The Tallest Man On Earth made its way into my life, the soundtracks included the likes of Nick Drake and Band of Horses. The Wild Hunt is a record that, although does not deviate too far from the standard set on Tallest Man’s first record, made an impact on me during these night drives. Tallest Man’s Kristian Matsson has a voice that has evokes pieces of Bob Dylan with each of The Wild Hunt’s eleven raspy-voiced, guitar/banjo-plucked songs. The most lovable part of The Wild Hunt though is the amount of passion and soul that fills the record, painting Matsson as some kind of hopeful vagabond with lines like “I left my heart to the wild hunt a’comin, I live until the call / And I plan to be forgotten when I'm gone; yes I'll be leavin' in the fall...”. And for a kid wandering across New England with a failing transmission and the best friends in the world, The Wild Hunt is a night drive masterpiece.
7. Four Year Strong - Enemy of the World :
Growing up around acts like New Found Glory, Yellowcard, and the Worcester, MA pop punk scene of recent years, I’ve been born and bred into a music scene that expresses itself via mosh. I caught onto hometown pop-punk heroes Four Year Strong rather late though, buying their debut Rise Or Die Trying a little after their landmark single “Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die” reached nationwide status. Regardless,Enemy of the World is a record that makes me proud to be a Bay Stater and pop punk fan, as the record is whatever the opposite of a sophomore slump is. The faster songs hit harder and with upgrades in witty lyrics (“It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now”, “Wasting Time”, and “What The Hell Is A Gigawatt?” are the highlights here) and the band reveals deeper and more personal layers to their goofy pop-punk exterior. “Wasting Time” is an early allusion to this more mature FYS, detailing longing of past summers, while “Find My Way Back” is a response to the band’s fame and crowning as the new kings of the Warped Tour and “One Step At A Time” details singer Dan’s acceptance of his brother’s passing to leukemia.Enemy Of The World is, in every way, a depiction of a band that has, in every way, shape, and form, upgraded their music ten-fold and is definitively one of the strongest pop-punk releases of 2010.
6. The Wonder Years - The Upsides
If Enemy of the World is one of the best pop punk releases of 2010, then The Wonder Years’ The Upsidesclaims the crown for the absolute best of pop punk. The Upsides came to me during a time described by many as a proverbial “hell on earth”: the last semester of my high school Senior Year. Before I begin, I’m sure the standard dilemmas of not being socially accepted, girls, douchebag bros, “finding myself”, falling asleep in class and whatnot are expected from such an introduction. I really can’t deny that I didn’t go through any angsty, John Hughesian drama, but summing up my last six months of high school to cliches would be as vague as saying The Lord of The Rings trilogy was just about some short dudes taking a field trip to a volcano to drop off a ring. Senior Year was the culmination of my high school life, finally learning in full that I have the ability to change my last semester from months I’d regret to something worth noting. The song “My Last Semester” repeated a line that ran through the entire record: “I’m not sad anymore”. From there, I made that simple line as my personal mantra and goal to reach. And from that same line, The Wonder Years crafted a hyperspecific, thoughtful pop punk masterpiece, shying away from typical anti-girl, whiny topics tied to the genre and attacking their native New Jersey party scene (“This Party Sucks”, what should be their next single), leaving college (“Semester”), trying to survive tour and grow as a band (“New Years With Carl Weathers”), watching friends fall by the wayside (“All My Friends Are In Bar Bands”), and trying not to fall apart in the process (Uh...pretty much every song) Eventually, I graduated and left high school with very little to be sad about or regret, as did The Wonder Years with graduating to bigger tours, signing to Hopeless Records and universal acclaim from the scene. But The Wonder Years crafted a record so remarkably therapeutic and fun that anyone from the struggling soon-to-be high school graduate to the pop-punk rocker high school dropout can join together and be united in the fact that they’re truly not sad anymore.
5. Hellogoodbye - Would It Kill You?
Would It Kill You is a record I knew I’d love for over a year now...
“How could this be, wise sensai Tim? They put out the record in the Fall this year?!”, you’re probably asking. Well, grasshopper, it was the summer of 2009 when the band released their sickeningly sweet, catchy first single, “When We First Met”, to the internets. And, when I love a song, I usually listen to it a couple times in a row. The day it came out, I was surprised to find I had listened to “When We First Met” a grand total of 27 times. I firmly believe there’s something in the water system at Hellogoodbye’s house (assuming they live together in a crazy party house full of synths and good times) that gives them the power to write songs so sinfully catchy, it makes jaded little music nerds like myself geek out with joy, as the record’s eleven tracks are equally as catchy and irresistible. The winning factor of the band’s first release in four years is that it ditches the “Here (In Your Arms)” era cheesball synths for horns, strings, and Forrest Kline’s voice sans Cher-esque vocoder/Autotune, shining brightest on tracks like the massive “Betrayed By Bones”, intimate “The Thoughts That Give Me The Creeps”, and the gorgeous title track that aches and swoons with each interjection of strings. The band’s massive overhaul would not be complete without Kline’s upgrade in lyrical content, showing the word-manship of a twenty-something year old with an old soul and a nervous sense of love (“I could see our fingers all intertwined, with all your wrinkles perfectly suiting mine...Probably we'd run out of things to do, holding onto what's left of our fleeting youth...but what else can you do? // Driving home tonight, I didn't see the light / I was just watching you sleep in shotgun, I could have crashed the car...” - Finding Something To Do) rather than a twenty-something year old pretending to be a thirteen year old boy learning how to rhyme like on their last record (“Every night I see you standing on the corner / Shaking that thing like you're playing Pop Warner // Touchdown turnaround, play by play, keep the score / Would you turn me down if I'm not what you're looking for?” - Touchdown Turnaround) Sure, Zombies! was a record I would call/still call one of the biggest guilty pleasure records of all time, but there’s absolutely no shame in loving Hellogoodbye’s second full length, which is, in every way, a complete modern pop masterpiece.
4. Fang Island - Fang Island
After you read this paragraph, I want you to close your eyes and imagine your most epic childhood fantasy. Yes, ones involving dragons and space firetrucks and lightsabers and princes and damsels in distress and riding motorcycles over endless pits of flames shooting machine guns in the air as two fighter jets do barrel rolls over your head. Take in any childhood doodles of crazy cartoon characters, innocence and complete unrealism, close your eyes, and imagine all of it for a second.
Haven’t you always thought all of that needed a soundtrack?
Regardless of if you’ve ever wanted one or not, the guitar heroes of Fang Island may have made a record that fills every sense of the word “awesome”. Guitar shredding can usually be filed under the category of cheesy, owned primarily by the bros of Dragonforce, but Fang Island has made a sound in their self-titled first full length that gleefully shreds without making you feel like you need a Dungeons and Dragons board in front of you to fully rock out. The most accessible track, “Daisy”, is three minutes and nineteen seconds of over-the top guitar mastery, nonsensical chants, and pure fun that conjures up images of the introduction to The Simpsons and Bart causing hell on a skateboard throughout Springfield. The album hardly breathes from track to track, save the epic buildup on “Davey Crockett”, and screams through ten tracks of upbeat, mostly instrumental tracks...but the beauty in that is it doesn’t need to breathe. In fact, if words and more slower tracks were added, the effect of pure energy would be killed. Fang Island is a band that thrives on a lack of vocals, letting the music talk for itself and having a good ol’ time rocking out. And the feeling is two-way, as I haven’t listened to many records that have nearly as much fun as Fang Island, yet convey such unbelievable guitar chops in a non-cheesy way.
3. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
There is a scene in the film Batman: The Dark Knight that, in some circles, is taken as the pinnacle of the movie’s simultaneous insanity and genius. The scene, known as the “Interrogation Scene”, shows the breaking point of Batman as he smashes The Joker against the walls of a police interrogation room, demanding knowledge on where the captured Harvey Dent and his love Rachel are. “Don’t talk like one of [the police], you’re not”, heckles The Joker, “…you’re a freak, like me.” And, in that moment, Batman truly is caught between being a hero and a loose-cannon freak.
The name Kanye West brings about a similar image of a man teetering on the edge between bold rap hero and pompous freak and his new record, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is his “Interrogation Scene”. The album’s thirteen songs are the sounds of a man on the verge of losing his mind and making his magnum opus all at once. He had the odds stacked against him: we all hated him and called him a jackass, even down to our very own President of the US-of A. Now every damn music publication on earth is crowning his new record as the greatest of 2010 and rap music in the past few years in general. For a music fan with about as many rap records as Vampire Weekend has plain t-shirts and sweatpants, is adding Kanye’s record to my list yet another following of the crowd? Absolutely, 400% not. Kanye truly did achieve the magnum opus that transcends the rap genre and yes...it is very safe to say he is the biggest and best entertainer of our time.
Fantasy opens with “Dark Fantasy”, rolling out much like a fairytale complete with a British-voiced narrator, choir, and West taking us into his world of decadence and inflated ego. But with that introduction is a hint of loneliness underneath his Murcielago and girl-filled lifestyle. Fantasy is, indeed, a dark and twisted record from there in, from lead single “Power”, documenting Kanye handling his megafame and simultaneously teetering holding on to the attention of the music world, to “Monster”, exploring Kanye’s stage persona alongside his inner demons, coupled with a near-obnoxious, over-the-top beat that fits the song perfectly. The album’s most beautiful points come at Kanye’s most upbeat (“All of the Lights”), on-the-edge (“Gorgeous”) and sorrowful (“Runaway”) lyrical points, melding purely powerful lyrics (“I treat the cash the way the government treats AIDS: I won’t be satisfied ‘til all my n*ggas get it, get it?”) with the most impressive, bombastic beats of modern times. But it’s apparent when the more pop-oriented Rolling Stone, hipster-mecca Pitchfork, and average joes like me all get goosebumps listening to this record that Kanye truly has made something beautiful, dark, twisted, and, overall, timeless.
2. Jimmy Eat World - Invented
I think one of the advantages of trying to follow current music so heavily is finding a truly special new record that ends up defining a time and place in your life. A record of this special class feels like it bounces up against every bone in your body, sings alongside every feeling you felt, and plays in the background of every good or bad memory you had at that time. Jimmy Eat World is, by no means, an overlooked band, amassing several Gold records and numerous hits along their decade plus career, but Invented is a rare record that, although deep in the band’s career, is so perfectly emotion-based and simultaneously beautiful sounding, it sounds like an eager, wide eyed new band on the scene with the skills of a seasoned one. A highlight and key example of this lies in album opener “Heart Is Hard To Find”, opening with such a subtle force and lost view on life (“I can't compete with the clear eyes of strangers / I'm more and more replaced by my friends each night / I can't compete, just can't recover / How many years it's been, it's day one in my mind...that's the first step each time...”) that it’s genuinely hard to believe men hitting 40 years old could write such angsty, yet believable words. The record is filled with these shock and awe moments and themed around the college age of growing up, paving the way with songs of exploration (“Littlething”), anger (the bitter, yet seductive “Stop”), breaking up (“Cut” and the breathtaking closer “Mixtape”), moving on (“Movielike”), and painfully falling back in love (“Evidence” and the title track) The beauty in this record, though, is the lyrical content doesn’t try to capture these scenarios of college days gone by, but just expresses them based on feeling in such a universal, yet completely relatable way. Maybe this is merely a record that tries to resonate with the college coming-of-age crowd like myself, leaving behind JEW’s aging, older portion of their fanbase behind, but any band that can still conjure up complete awe and emotional connection seven albums deep into their career is worthy of note. And, in this case, Jimmy Eat World sounds more alive than ever.
1. Freelance Whales - Weathervanes
Freelance Whales have been a band that have kept me captivated since I got a hold of their debut record, Weathervanes, around February. I almost immediately wrote a review for AbsolutePunk around that same time, and I’ve known for certain since March of this year that Weathervanes would go down in my book as a truly special record. But it wasn’t until this past Thursday night that I realized that it would become one of my all-time favorites.
I had interviewed the band at their Boston stop on their tour with Miniature Tigers, had dinner with them, and saw their two opening acts. Promising my friend I’d meet her at the Subway by midnight, I had about 15 minutes to watch Freelance Whales’s late night headlining set. In any other situation, I naturally would have been pissed to miss one of my new favorite bands’ full sets, but all I needed to hear was one song. The band opened with a new introduction song, jumped into “Kilojoules”, then the moment came...Judah Dedone plucked the introduction to “Generator (1st Floor)” and the entire crowd began to swoon like a cult under some hypnotic worship spell. The song kept building, then burst open with the band chanting “ah ah ah ah’s” and the entire crowd singing along like a ragtag choir. It was in that moment when the band, every man, woman, pretentious looking kid texting the whole show, quiet girl that had hardly moved the whole show, and anyone within a earshot radius of the basement venue sang the opening lines, “We get up early just to start cranking the generator / our limbs have been asleep, we need to get the blood back in ‘em / we’re finding everyday several ways that we could be friends...”. I’ve been to plenty of shows in my life where singalongs broke out multiple times during a set, but this was a rare moment where the song came alive to me as if I was hearing it for the first time again. The band shifted from just a bunch of guys I had dinner with earlier in the evening to some sort of surreal, otherworldly marching band, singing their happiest tune possible and hearing the equally bright echo of the crowd singing back almost as passionately as the band. It was a brief, yet lasting moment where everyone shed their age and reservations, sang from the heart, and grinned like children again. Walking out with the opening sounds of “Hannah” ringing in my ears and street noise greeting me outside, it was as if my backpack was dragging me down and begging me not to leave, but the songs I had seen undeniably satisfying to watch for the time I got.
In all honesty, I’m not the biggest fan of assembling music at the end of every year into a specific order of “which one’s the best”, as there are usually a handful of records that affect me on an equal scale. Weathervanes, however, is a rare and timeless record that has stood out and hasn’t tired for me at all in 2010. Yes, musicianship plays a part into my love for this record, and the lyrics are indeed special, but it is that feeling of pure happiness and passion that seeps out from the songs that inspires me to write these words and for all the people of all walks of life to go to their shows and sing the words with such passion. Freelance Whales is a band built on joy and, if Weathervanes is any indication, they’ll be brightening up the music world for years to come.