Rants + Raves

Smells Like Pop’s editors and writers listen to hundreds of records every year–not because we have to, but because we need to. We need new music like sharks need surfers. Please take a look at our lists of best albums from 2010 below, and see some of favorites from years’ past here.

If you’re like me (David Bailey), you’re probably wondering what gave me pause to hit the “star ratings” button on iTunes this year. Well, wonder no more, my star-obsessed friend! Here’s a list of songs that were in heavy rotation on my office speakers this year, divided by genre for your perusal.

Of the rock-n-roll type (including pop rock):

  • Superchunk – Fractures in Plaster
  • MGMT – Brian Eno
  • Spoon – Written in Reverse
  • Grinderman – Heathen Child
  • The Apples in Stereo – Next Year at About the Same Time
  • Best Coast – The End
  • Beach House – Zebra
  • Clinic  – Orangutan
  • Los Campesinos – Romance is Boring
  • Fang Island – Life Coach
  • The Ruby Suns – Dusty Fruit
  • Arcade Fire – Empty Room
  • Queens of the Stoneage – Monsters in the Parasol
  • UNKLE (feat. Blank Angels) – Natural Selection
  • The National – Afraid of Everyone
  • New Pornographers – Silver Jenny Dollar
  • Broken Social Scene – Sentimental X’s
  • Black Keys – Everlasting Light
  • Ariel Pink – Menopause Man
  • Belle and Sebastian – I Want the World to Stop
  • Belle and Sebastian – I’m Not Living in the Real World
  • School of Seven Bells – Joviann
  • Le Savy Fav – Let’s Get of Here
  • Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon & Ros Stephen – What a Wonderful World
  • Spoon – Out Go the Lights

Of the danceable variety:

  • Crystal Castles – Year of Silence
  • Maximum Balloon – Tiger
  • !!! – Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks
  • Foals – After Glow
  • Delorian – Stay Close
  • LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls
  • Gorillaz – Superfast Jellyfish
  • Janell Monàe – Tightrope
  • Cee Lo Green – F@#k You!
  • Broken Bells – The Ghost Inside
  • Massive Attack (feat. Martina Topley-Bird) – Babel
  • Caribou – Odessa
  • Chromeo – I’m Not Contagious
  • Sleigh Bells – Riot Rhythm

Of the Country-rock style:

  • First Aid Kit – Hard Believer
  • Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Time of the Season

Of the Electronic / Ambient sound:

  • Four Tet – This Unfolds
  • Eluvium – Cease to Know
  • Brian Eno – Late Anthropocene
  • Eluvium – Similies

Undulating, padded guitars and hints of echoing percussion lull the listener into thinking that this may be another album in the mold of Eno’s Music for Films. Nice. Then abruptly the songs take on the seeming structures of rock and pop from his Here Come the Warm Jets period. Yes! But, that was just another feint in a different direction, as the “songs” take on a lovely and spaced-out electronic/trance shape. But, what’s this? Raw electric guitar slicing through on “2 Forms of Anger”. Yet, as one would expect from the man who brought African rhythms and song structure to pop music via the Talking Heads and his collaborations with David Byrne and others, it still doesn’t sound like traditional Western music. The rhythms are trance-inducing and the melody is almost completely ethereal.

Each subsequent track is like an exploratory scouting party, moving forward, and then just when you get comfortable, the tones and style shift direction. “Dust Shuffle” locks into a nice groove that is here and gone in just under two minutes! The remainder of the album is made up of soundscapes much like the beginning that sound like no place on this planet. Rumbling tones reverberate with a sense of loneliness, while muted piano and percussion treatments echo in-and-out of the Abstract Expressionist sound paintings — familiar to fans of Eno, yet welcome and beautiful as new works of art from a master of the form.

Smells like: 8/10

Midwest “neo-soul” shines at Portland venue

What’s the difference between folk music and the sounds that Bon Iver produced at Holocene recently? I pondered that as I reveled in the beautiful soundtrack to an introspective life that the band (whose name is a play off of what Francophiles and others know translates to “good winter”) reproduced.

I am not a big fan of the watered-down stuff that passes as folk (the stuff you hear in Starbucks, generally); Justin Vernon’s music captures the human experience as only recording in isolated places – like his father’s Wisconsin hunting cabin – can. But it is music also informed by modern anxieties. Vernon himself refers to his music as “neo-soul”.

So, it was no surprise to learn mid-set that Vernon has a punk-pop band called Michael Jordan, as well. Hearing the edge of Bon Iver’s music emphasized in their live set reminded me of when I saw Iron & Wine in town and witnessed Sam Beam and Co. growl, and not ironically cover New Order. It’s the stuff of early Dylan, where traditional sounds were often the shell of a more disturbing sonic narrative.

But it’s the heartache in Vernon’s voice which is the difference (which, especially live, reminded of a cross between Jeff Buckley’s falsetto and the aforementioned Beam’s raspy world-weariness). Bon Iver found new dynamics in its already subtle fledgling debut For Emma, Forever Ago. When Vernon asked the Holocene crowd to sing along to the refrain from “The Wolves (Act I and II)“, nervous looks abounded. The song ended up becoming a magic moment that somehow produced harmony from a group often more concerned with appearing to be coolly indifferent.

Though For Emma is not a perfect album, it is an early front-runner for my record of the year. In these troubled times, this album reflects my hope that a talented guy from the Midwest might bring a good winter.

DBD David Bailey Design