2010: Artists of my year

I put the emphasis on my because these aren’t going to appear on anyone else’s run-down of 2010. Or two out of three anyway – the artists of my year actually have a lot in common, but release dates aren’t one of them.

Not that there wasn’t enough good music out in 2010. It’s been a long-ass time since I made one of those numbered lists – I used to love doing it, but I think I might have taken it a little too seriously and they would always end up taking me so long to compile, it wasn’t worth posting them anymore by the time I was finished. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to mention really great albums by Mark Ronson, Hot Chip, She & Him, Tunng, Son Of Dave, Frightened Rabbit (especially Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks really stuck with me), and The Black Keys (always, always The Black Keys) – all of which got a lot of airplay on my iPod.

I’m thinking as I type this that a badass mix tape (the old school kind) could be made of some of my favorite singles of the year. If I did that, the tracklist would probably look a little something like this:

“The Arsonist”, Our Lost Infantry (thanks to Saam at Faded Glamour for letting us know about this one)
“Superfast Jellyfish”, Gorillaz
“Bang Bang Bang”, Mark Ronson (probably my single of the year, if I had to pick one)
“New York Is Killing Me”, Gil Scott-Heron
“Taos”, Menomena
“Best Friend”, The Drums
“The Opposite Of Adults”, Chiddy Bang
“The Cities That You Burn”, Adam Haworth Stephens
“King Of The Beach”, Wavves
“Kentucky Pill”, Johnny Flynn
“Ghost Train”, Summer Camp
“O.N.E.”, Yeasayer

Among others. Hmm, maybe I should make that mix.

Anyway, the point is that, although I loved all of this music dearly, they aren’t the artists I’m going to forever associate with 2010. It wasn’t really my best year ever and, I suppose I really latched on to the way Tom Petty, Langhorne Slim, and Mark Oliver Everett AKA Eels approach music.

Tom Petty?! Yeah, I know, I’m at least 20 years late and it’s not like I didn’t love Tom Petty before last year. But I got to see that amazing Peter Bogdanovich documentary earlier this year and then couldn’t get enough. Same with Langhorne Slim, whose eponymous 2008 album had been wasting away in my iTunes library until I finally remembered to check it out this summer. I snatched up everything else he’s recorded within weeks and at least one of his albums has been on my iPod ever since, no exaggeration. As for Eels – yeah, I listened to a lot of Eels last year too, but again – Mark Oliver Everett’s voice and songwriting just took hold me of me this year even more than before. I loved Tomorrow Morning but listened to everything I have as much as I could; Eels music is, for me, definitely something I love even more the more I listen.

All three play and sing from the bottom of their hearts, reaching deep, deep down for a level of true emotion (both happy and sad) that most other artists can’t dream of – but they all three also infuse their music and lyrics with the kind of hope that just refuses to give up. And I guess that’s just what spoke – or sang – to me in 2010.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers – Even The Losers
Langhorne Slim – Worries
Eels – Oh So Lovely

Album/Single Of The Month: April

Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

When We Were Dead … was first released, I read a few iffy reviews of it by people who seem to like one type of Modest Mouse sound but not another. I don’t get that. It seems to me that the variety – maybe even contradictions – in Modest Mouse is exactly what makes them so great. Summer anthems about our pointless lives, gritty yelping over cheerful woo-hoos, sad near-lullabies on the same album as maniacal violin stomps.

The themes haven’t changed all that much since Good News … – Isaac Brock is still concerned with our fleeting mortality, the absurdity of everyday life and human behavior, the futility of dealing with any of it. Which is exactly what makes Modest Mouse so fascinating – music about these kind of things would normally be depressing rainy day music, but I think of Modest Mouse as ideal for summer. It’s music that should be played loud on a sunny day, music that will get my heart pumping when I’m feeling down. What’s interesting about Isaac Brock’s lyrics is that he’s not exactly lamenting the crappy things about the world – they’re just facts that we just have to learn to live with. We don’t have to be happy about it, but life is what it is.

Musically, the greatness of Modest Mouse lies in the details. Songs that might normally just be good indie-pop are made classic by tiny bits and pieces that you barely even notice at first – it took me many listens before I heard it, but I can’t explain how happy that little offbeat bell in “Education” makes me now. I love that “Parting Of The Sensory” starts acoustic-y and gradually becomes a violent mess of handclaps and violins. “Fly Trapped In A Jar” sounds almost disco-y in that middle part. Those are the things that keep me addicted to Modest Mouse.

   Modest Mouse – Parting Of The Sensory

(Update: Mp3 link is now fixed, I just realized that I never actually typed the name of the song. Oopsy. That’s what I get for posting in the middle of the night.)

Patrick Wolf, The Magic Position

The only way I can describe Patrick Wolf’s latest single, “The Magic Position”, is as an explosion of unadulterated joy. What’s not to love – layer upon layer of absolutely glorious sound. It’s fabulous. It’s my favorite track from an album I already gushed about, so there’s no way I wouldn’t have picked it for Single Of The Month (despite some very stiff competition from Pop Levi’s “Pick-Me-Up Uppercut”, also my favorite track from his album). God forbid Patrick Wolf release any more singles from The Magic Position or Single Of The Month will just turn into a monthly Patrick Wolf lovefest.

   Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position

Album / Single / EP Of The Month: March

Neon Bible

I thought it was going to be impossible to follow up an album that was lauded as much as Funeral was, but Arcade Fire pulled it off with Neon Bible. I can only imagine how intimidating it must have been to create something that would be compared to such an instant classic.

I love their massive, soul hugging sound so much. They manage to fill your ear to maximum capacity without ever going over the top. Choirs, church organs, orchestras, they use them all but they also know when to cherish the quiet moments. It’s daunting. Some bands make you want to start a band yourself and others make you feel like you shouldn’t even try, because you’ll never come close to even touching their level. Arcade Fire belongs to the latter category.

You can hear Neon Bible in full over on nme.com.

Here is an earlier version of “Intervention”, it’s not as orchestal and booming but its simplicity reveals a sweet vulnerability that is at least as impressive as the latest version.

   Arcade Fire – Intervention

The single of the month would have to be The Bees’ “Who Cares What The Question Is?”. I say that like the choice was an easy one, but it was a toss up between The Bees, The Rakes and the Kings Of Leon, to be honest. They’re very different but equally good, so I found it impossible to choose between these three lovely songs. It’s a bit weak, but the reason why The Bees became the lucky winners is simply because I haven’t read that much about this single and it more than deserves a mention on the odd blog. It’s a fun, silly but seriously good pop song with a twang and it happens to have a cool video too. Check it out:

And here’s the wonderfully melancholy but danceable “We Danced Together” by The Rakes:

You can still watch Kings Of Leon’s video for “On Call” here.

Four Winds

I’m gonna cheat even more on top of revealing the top three contenders for single of the month, I’m going to add an EP to my favorite picks of the month. Before you bask in my rebellion, I have to admit that I’ve already mentioned how much we love Bright Eyes’ Four Winds so that saves me having to explain why this is worthy of a top spot. Let’s say laziness is part of my charm. Here’s my attempt to tell you why Four Winds is one of the best things to have happened to my ears last month with a link to a song.

Albums / Singles Of The Month: January & February

Alright, it has taken me so long to get this out that I have to do two months worth at once. Phew – here goes …

Jamie T - Panic Prevention

Truth be told, I have no idea what to say about Jamie T and his debut, Panic Prevention. Comparisons to The Streets will no doubt follow him for the rest of his career, understandably, but he can’t just be brushed off as a Mike Skinner mimic. I think comparisons to Nelly are equally justified, in Jamie T’s combination of pop melodies and a more rap-influenced singing style (most obviously in “Pacemaker” and “Sheila”). And he shares more than a little with bands like The Fratellis and Arctic Monkeys, especially lyrically – these are stories about the seedy underbelly of regular people. There are some truly tragic people in these songs, but a lot of them are are ordinary people who find themselves in desperate situations. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot of different stuff going on in Jamie T’s music. Tam put it best when she said that this skinny white boy’s hybrid of pop, hip-hop, and indie should be “gimmicky”, but isn’t. He’s managed to make a genuinely unique album, one that’s completely of our time (Am I the only one who’s noticed that a lot of the best music of the last few years has been all about people like you or me and the reality of being like you or me – rather than sweeping songs about wonderful times with perfect friends and dreamy love? Not to mention the mixing of genres in recent years that has made music so much more interesting.), as well as a collection of songs perfect for getting some boogie on – I’d be shocked if some of these songs weren’t already staples in your favorite clubs.

Bloc Party - The Prayer

January’s Single Of The Month was simple – there was no doubt it would be Bloc Party’s “The Prayer” from the first time I heard it. I’ve read that some people aren’t pleased that Bloc Party’s incredible percussion has taken a back seat to a more electronic sound on this single and the new album. I reckon that’s a valid point, but I’m a little more easy-going about that kind of stuff. It’s true that “The Prayer” has more synthesizer-y stuff going on than anything they’d previously released but it’s done well and keeps the same power that Bloc Party had before, which is pretty much all I ask for. Besides, nevermind the rest of the song – if you play “The Prayer” really loud and the stomps and chanty bits of the first 15 seconds don’t give you goosebumps, you were never going to like it anyway.

Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position

I had assumed that Bloc Party’s A Weekend In The City would be Album Of The Month for February, it’s more than worthy. But then I heard Pop Levi’s debut and loved it. And then I heard Patrick Wolf’s The Magic Position and it was all over. Sadly, I’d never gotten around to listening to any of Patrick Wolf’s other albums but I loved the title track from this one enough (after hearing it only once) that I bought the album immediately. I’ve seriously never heard anything like it. Like Jamie T, I love the mix of genres and musical influence, but this is on a whole other level: there’s bits of Nick Cave (Tam’s observation), Edwyn Collins, Motown, experimental electronica, classical, dance, indie, even hip-hop in this album. Some songs (“Magpie”, “Augustine”) are haunting, gut-wrenching, and too overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful to be described in words. Others (“The Magic Position”, “(Let’s Go) Get Lost”) are joyous, danceable celebrations. Every track is something new and Patrick Wolf proves that he’s not afraid of anything. I’d seriously lose all faith in the music world if The Magic Position isn’t at least nominated (if not the winner) of the Mercury Prize this year – even though it’s only March, I can’t imagine anything besting this album for originality, creativity, and quality.

The Killers - Read My Mind

Single Of The Month for February was trickier – it seems there was a little bit of a drought of single releases there. For pure pop enjoyment, I have to pick The Killers’ “Read My Mind”. Where The Killers usually rely on big, booming choruses, “Read My Mind” has a wonderful understated quality to it. It’s exactly what a great single should be and the video is incredibly charming. Go check it out if you need something to make you feel good about the world.

Album/Single Of The Month: Brakes & Cold War Kids

I had a terrible time picking an Of The Month album for November. I only bought three albums last month – Brakes’ The Beatific Visions, The Long Blondes’ Someone To Drive You Home, and The Magic Numbers’ Those The Brokes – and they’re all deserving in their own way. Many an indie dork waitied as long as two years for The Long Blondes debut, which could easily have been a disappointment after such anticipation. Of course it wasn’t. Even though most of us had heard some of these songs already, in some form or another, Someone To Drive You Home still sounds fresh and fabulous – like Blondie, Nancy Sinatra, and Franz Ferdinand cast in a 50s b-movie. On the other hand, The Magic Numbers (possibly one of my all-time favorite bands) released their (according to pop music mythology) “difficult” second album and succeeded. Even I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to their beautiful debut but they still know how to charm us and break our hearts.

Despite all my gushing, both The Long Blondes and The Magic Numbers definitely show their influences strongly. Both do what they do very well, but they build on existing sounds and styles. But Brakes? They just blow me away with their originality. They don’t fit tidily into any one genre so a clever comparison to other bands just won’t work here – which is a big part of what makes them so great. Their influences? Equal parts Johnny Cash and The Clash, maybe, but who knows what else went into the mix to make them sound the way they do. Brakes originally started as an odd sort of supergroup – members of existing bands who released a 26-second single on vinyl – who have have come to overshadow and outshine the bands they used to play with. They’re political without ever telling us what we should think. They write nonsense lyrics (“Spiky, Spiky – Youch!”) but manage to say more about the state of the world than nearly anyone else recording music right now (“Who won the war? What the fuck was it for?”). They sing sweet country songs about beautiful women and lost love. All this and much, much more in under 30 minutes. It’s bound to be high up on 100b’s end of the year lists – as well as most others’, I’m sure – and is more than worthy of Album Of The Month.

The single of the month was also tricky, but I managed to get it narrowed down to two over a week ago. But then I got stuck and didn’t know what to do. The Noisettes’ “Don’t Give Up” is exactly the thing singles were meant for – it gets you all riled up and is perfect for crazy dancing – it’s all set to be an anthem. (You can listen to it over on their myspace page, free of charge.) I very nearly picked it as the single of the month, but I changed my mind at the last minute. I am quite obsessively in love with Cold War Kids and I just couldn’t pick something else for a month when they released a single of their own. “We Used To Vacation” is kind of funky, very sad, and perfectly shows off their incredibly original sound. If you don’t have Robbers & Cowards (Cold War Kids’ debut album) yet, check out this single and you’ll be hooked, I promise.

Album/Single Of The Month: The Decemberists/Larrikin Love

The Decemberists

I’m scared to write about The Decemberists, because they are important in the world of 100b. I’m scared that I’ll just fall into total ridiculous hyperbolic praise, which can be quite off-putting. All I can say is that The Crane Wife is yet again a total gem. It hasn’t kicked Picaresque off the top of the list yet, but everytime I listen to it it comes closer and closer. They’re the kind of band I don’t really want to share with people, because it’s so nice to pretend that I’m the only one who knows about something this special. But then you feel guilty because it’s wrong to keep something so beautiful to yourself. Ok, that was exactly why I was hesitant to write about them. Like I said, there’s no way I should be allowed to explain how much we love them. But luckily I don’t have to because Bean pointed out that the folks of Tiny Mix Tapes have done it for me. I’m a lazy cow, I know, but they totally nailed it.

The first song that caught my ear was “Yankee Bayonet”. Colin Meloy and Laura Veirs’ voices are beautiful together. – I have to admit that I thought that it was Jenny Conlee’s voice, but the ever astute Bean pointed out that it was in fact miss Veirs’. – The way they can turn a song into a tragedy is truly amazing. I don’t know how they do it, but with a few lines they can transport you to a long forgotten time. I can’t imagine myself ever getting tired of their timeless stories.

And now it’s time for the amazing Single Of The Month. The sun is not the only thing that comes up for free, you can download the new Larrikin Love song, “Cucumber”, for FREE too! I said it before but damn, I do love me some free stuff. It’s a one time free download from 7digital.com, the new online music store. It’s a great deal and the song is so much fun. I promise I didn’t pick them because of my love for everything gratis. Larrikin Love has this amazing abillity to make you wish you were at that crazy party with them when they recorded the song. And it’s free.

Download it here, you have to subscribe to 7digital first but it only takes a minute and it’s totally worth it.

In other news, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin have re-released their incredible debut album Broom on Polyvynil on october 24th. I wish I could Jedi Mind Trick everybody into buying it, because every song has a moment in it that feels like a beautiful secret.

Here’s “House Fire” via their official site. This song is amazing, the lyrics are slightly disturbing, but the vocals make it sound sad and funny at the same time.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – House Fire

Album/Single Of The Month: The Black Keys & The Blood Arm

Ok, so I’m a week late with my picks for September. Just pretend it’s last Sunday. It’s like time travel but without all the expensive machinery.

I had hoped to have a less predictable choice for Album Of The Month, but it’s really got to be The Black Keys’ Magic Potion. I admit I wasn’t sure about it at first, it didn’t knock my socks off on the first listen the way that Rubber Factory did. But its greatness is subtle and after a few listens, I knew it had to be my pick for September. It’s a shame, too, because there were some pretty interesting releases in September (Larrikin Love’s The Freedom Spark and The Rapture’s Pieces Of The People We Love, for example), but it’s not even a fair fight. Tam already wrote a really great post about The Black Keys and I can’t add much to it, except to say that we were lucky enough to see them live again this week and it was the best night I’ve had in a very long time. Their albums are great but, as a live band, they blow your ass away.

As for the Single Of The Month, I had no idea what to pick until earlier today. Actually, I haven’t heard most of the singles released in the last month but this is so good that it doesn’t even matter what else came out. It may even be up there at the top on the Singles Of The Year list. (You know, if we actually do one.)

   The Blood Arm – Suspicious Character

It’s so awesome I don’t even know what to say. It’s danceable like Franz Ferdinand, but sleazier. If this doesn’t get the indie kids on the dancefloor then there’s no hope left in the world. I don’t know how they do it, but every single The Blood Arm releases is even better than the last one, so I’m anxiously awaiting their debut (label-released) album, Lie Lover Lie (out in the UK on October 16th). Maybe it’ll end up being the Album Of Next Month.