The Suburbs suffers the same fate as its predecessor Neon Bible, and that is basically that it isn’t Funeral. But outside of its failure to live up to the unreasonably lofty expectations of the band’s debut, this is yet another triumph for Arcade Fire, a band that has basically stamped its name as one of the most important musical acts of our generation. The Suburbs fuse the band’s trademark grandiose nature with a sound that is geared more towards straight-up rock than it is indie, but the results of this album rest more within minor details than they do in Arcade Fire’s overall sound (which most of us have already become aware of and accustomed to). The subtle backing vocals of Régine Chassagne, the alternation in phrasing structures, the increased presence of synthesizers, and the surprisingly large role that the basslines play in establishing a groove all make The Suburbs an album worthy of high acclaim in its own right.
The Suburbs serves as something of a bridge between Neon Bible and Funeral. It shows momentary flashes of what made Funeral such a landmark album, but also maintains a great deal of the sleek, sometimes even Bruce Springsteen-like moments on Neon Bible. But if there is one thing that separates The Suburbs from anything else that Arcade Fire has done so far, it is the album’s crystal clear (sometimes even shocking) honesty. Where as past endeavors relied on metaphors that were sometimes too vague for their own good, The Suburbs is blunt. Win Butler delivers a bitter lyrical attack on his fans with lines like, “by the time the first bombs fell we were already bored” and “Let’s go downtown and watch the modern kids, they will eat right out of your hand, using big words that they don’t understand.” It is this brazen approach that gives The Suburbs the feel of an album representative of our generation, while simultaneously transcending this era with music that is absolutely timeless. – SowingSeason
I’ve given Enslaved as hard of a time as any band I can recall, but if I try to come up with something resoundingly negative to say about Axioma Ethica Odini I draw a blank. That’s just it though, because Enslaved have completely mastered what they set out to do on Vertebrae, and done so with a level of detail, aggression and purity that they may have had within them for years, but is finally unleashed in full force. The riffing is coherent, and the progressive elements prevalent but not overbearing; exactly the kind of attitude and approach Enslaved needed to work out the kinks in their sound. The throaty rasps work vigorously alongside the fare of non-traditional black metal riffing and dissonant atmospheres that is undoubtedly Enslaved. It’s hard to point out anything really new to the repertoire that made Axioma Ethica Odini as impressive as it is, instead it is the meticulous focus to remove the parts of their sound that weren’t getting along with each other, leaving a finished result that is smooth as silk but edged with shattered glass.
It is progression and black metal fused as well as it ever possibly could be, and I think that is all anyone could ask of Enslaved at this point. The riffs flow like the waters of a river, with their continuity unabated by their progressive nature; shifting from the aggression of tremolo black metal fare to the technicality that works its way up and down the frets without hesitation. Combine that with the diversity of acoustic rhythms and soft clean vocals that prove to be a stark contrast to the biting screams and you have all the makings for a truly progressive black metal album that has the potential to explode out of its set bounds- but Enslaved do no such thing. This is a black metal record through and through, and their incorporation of progressive tendencies throughout the entire running time is vast in scope but subtle in impact. Enslaved have proven that the best way to successfully take a genre that stubbornly refuses to evolve and lift it to the next level is to do it in a manner that makes the listener blissfully unaware that anything is amiss. Axioma Ethica Odini does that and more, and with that I can do nothing but tip my hat to Enslaved for proving my past criticisms to be utterly shattered. – Crysis
Though with each Deerhunter album they’ve managed to get poppier, it seems Deerhunter all the way up to their latest have always been quite the introverted group. The post-punk and poppy undertones in their earlier work were warped by hypnotic grooves and hazy guitar noise. Microcastle, while extremely clarified and well executed in the actual songwriting, seemed to revolve around the eerie textures and overall atmosphere that defined each track. Halcyon Digest succeeds in the sense that it retains the atmosphere of their previous works, yet maximizes extroversion. Tracks like ‘Don’t Cry’ and ‘Coronado’ have the fervor of full-fledged rock songs, with dense instrumentation that instead of drowning in all of its analog crackle and dust, forms a huge cloud only to be soared over by Cox’s soothing yet booming vocal lines. The instrumental work, while knowing when to calm and accompany, capitalizes on all the right moments to blossom, the outros to tracks such as ‘He Would Have Laughed’ and ‘Desire Lines’ brimming with life. Halcyon Digest is refreshing in all its fuzzy optimism, seeing Cox make the leap from a confused child to a confident adult, yet retaining his endearing personality. – Enotron
Call it “the bending of the unreliable nature of the human consciousness to its inevitable breaking point”, or call it another day at the office for Steven Ellison, but Cosmogramma is the work of a man at odds with the idea of where inspiration should stop and madness begins. It’s the sound of an artist tired of boundaries, and how far things can be pushed before straightjackets become more than an option, but a necessity. In that respect, this doesn’t play out like the definitive next chapter to his ground breaking and critically adored Los Angeles release; whereas before he was able to contain his restless persona with somewhat steady precision and a rhythmic heartbeat, here he goes for full overdose and loses the ability to stay still. His blend of trip hop/jazz fusion/idm is elevated higher here, let loose to form tangled and elaborate shapes and images that, at times, bear resemblance to something more closer to chaos. That isn’t to say that he gets lost in his own musings; he is, in fact, very much in control of these manic delusions.
But that’s exactly what forms this album, hyper kinetic and delirious daydreams, excursions into a realm slightly beyond what’s generally seen. Normality does return in small fragments, notably on the groove laden ‘Do The Astral Plane’, but for the most part Cosmogramma flies through thick fields of paranoia and toned down bursts of glitch hop. Call him a pioneer without a map, or a traveler caught somewhere between here and the next realm, but Cosmogramma is the album you can tell that Flylo has always wanted to make. Be it that he held back until he had built up enough experience to orchestrate the journey with enough confidence, or that this should mark the beginning of a completely new musical saga for Ellison, Flylo’s third outing marks the year’s greatest excursion into full blown psychedelia that is anything but. – Deviant
I’ve lost track of the number of people that told me towards the end of 2010 that the sheer quality of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came as a shock to them. I guess it makes sense if you don’t listen to his music, because if you had, you’d already have been well aware of West’s capacity to enthrall. But this is ultimately the point: if Fantasy is, as so many people have asserted, all about West as a person and inseparable from that undeniably controversial personality which fires and misfires in such an unpredictable fashion, then why is every single second of this record so brilliant? And I mean every single second, every beat, every nuance. I mean to include in that the outro of ‘Blame Game’ which is the most shamelessly self-indulgent thing in even West’s back catalogue, and the intro of ‘Runaway’ which almost dares the listener to wonder when it’s going to make its point. Sure, Fantasy is a reflection of West’s personality, but not in a pop-culture icon kind of way, just in an arrogance makes good TV but it also makes good music kind of way. Fantasy is simply gorgeous even when it’s crude, a fantastic representation of excess and impulse which doesn’t give less than 100% of itself for one word, one sample. In that sense, it resembles West, but the most incredible thing about Fantasy is that it drowns out the static of the man’s Twitter feed, and an album has to be pretty damn loud to achieve that. – Knott
Contrary to popular belief, Ire Works was not a terrible album; hell, it wasn’t even an average album. What it was though, was The Dillinger Escape Plan playing their trademark volatile insanity at a slightly lower extremity. You could almost get away with saying that they were, in fact, playing it safe (as much as that term will never really fit with this band). Option Paralysis however, is the pissed off brother to Ire Works, that sometimes so called “experimentation” of the former now fully incorporated into the hurricane of their sound, rather than swirling around it and only occasionally making contact with the epicenter. You could argue that Option Paralysis is the band fully comfortable with their brand of whatever-the-hell-you-call-them-these-days, and you’d ultimately be right. Despite being a group of musicians who play so far outside the sphere of anything resembling their peers, they do it with an unmeasurable amount of confidence and head strong integrity. And despite being a group constantly plagued by lineup changes, the sleekness with which they are able to gel together is more than a little awe inspiring, as is their increased maturity in the development of their sound.
Is ‘Gold Teeth On A Bum’ a song they could have pulled off so convincingly on any of their other albums? No; and the same can be said for ‘Farewell, Mona Lisa’s’ descent into something resembling sanity. Option Paralysis is an album that The Dillinger Escape Plan wouldn’t have dared making any earlier in their career, nor would it have been accepted by their fans at the time. But they’ve proved that when it comes to batshit insanity there’s literally no one who can touch them, now they’ve actually earned the right to be just a little methodical, a little more diabolical in their approach. And really, don’t they sound just a little more insane when they’re not playing to our expectations? – Deviant
Diamond Eyes is by far the sexiest album of the year. It has everything you could possibly want – from the angry, senseless plowing of ‘CMND/CTRL’ to the sensual, velvet touch of ‘Beauty School’; hell it even gets downright kinky at times (anyone see the music video for ‘Sextape’?). Speaking of that, ‘Sextape’ is easily one of the best rock songs of 2010, with moments of slow, euphoric instrumental waves and eruptions into one of the most addicting choruses of the year, “Take me one more time, take me one more way, tonight.” The song seems to inhale and exhale, reaching absolutely blissful climaxes before settling back into its gentle caress. Everything about the album is tangible – you can taste it, smell it, feel it…and of course, you can hear it. Deftones prove throughout Diamond Eyes that they are back on top (just in case anyone thought they ever weren’t).
Stylistically, Diamond Eyes is just another Deftones album. It has the harmonious qualities and smooth flow of Saturday Night Wrist and the naked aggression of Adrenaline. As we saw with White Pony, this band is at its best when they combine their raw, nu-metal sound with atmospheric layers and melodies – and that is just what they do here. While Diamond Eyes may not be as experimental or groundbreaking as White Pony was in its time, it is probably still the best thing Deftones could have made. The sheer emotion that gushes out of every single minute is enough in itself to prove that Deftones aren’t simply going through the motions. The band clearly has fresh ideas and they bring them all to the table here in a record that belongs nowhere other than the top five albums of 2010. – SowingSeason
The last few lines of ‘The Battle Of Hampton Roads’ are absolutely everything. Until Patrick Stickles exclaims, “I’d be nothing without you, my darling; please don’t ever leave”, The Monitor is a mess. It remains a mess even as bagpipes cascade and the dust begins to settle, but for the first time, the desperation and doubts have form and colour. So many artists are praised for their restraint but few are praised for their lacking it. Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor is a distillation of everything unrestrained, of the uncaged idealism and friction inside fucked up people, and for that it deserves all the acclaim that it receives.
It’s a grand narrative which pulls very few punches – the majority of which are aimed inwards – and which never claims to have the answers, but at least states the questions properly. It’s messy. It’s raw, it’s drunk and it’s reckless, so it makes mistakes and it sometimes goes off the rails. But it is and does all of these things so perfectly, with such impulse and visceral emotion, that it is undoubtedly one of the most unifying records ever. The Monitor is at once both a rallying call and the sound of defeat, a defiant reflection of the shattered parts of everyone who ever asked themselves if there’s a soul on this earth that isn’t too frightened to move. – Knott
It’s curious that a name so infused with hyperbole is, behind the misnomer, simply a man and his guitar. A Scandinavian intent on winning us over with his endearingly quivering voice and rich, pastoral soundscapes, Matsson’s 2010 output is a record for the ages. His followup to 2008’s Shallow Grave is as aggressive as ever, and yet contains a paradoxical carefree quality. Musically, his fingerpicking is still dangerous and ragged– like a train near unhinging from its tracks. Where some listeners (near everyone I tried to introduce The Wild Hunt to) found a grating cacophony in Matsson’s unique drawl, others found solace in the tender creaking of his stretched voice. Whether it’s pushed to its limits like on the romping ‘King of Spain’ where he prolongs the last “I wanna be the,” line with no end in sight, or when Matsson’s warble is only a few decibels above whisper on “Love Is All,” there’s an intangibly affecting poignancy that his voice lends to The Wild Hunt. And for a man from far across the ocean, The Tallest Man on Earth has an uncanny ability to sound like he’s singing about my rural, American backyard. He rambles on about, “a house made from spider webs and the clouds rolling in” and “the hollow month of march now sweeping in,”– all snippets of a bigger picture that’s overflowing with immediacy, making The Wild Hunt my go-to listen of the year.
Perhaps what makes it so satisfying, too, is The Wild Hunt’s consistency. Even the biggest fans of The Tallest Man are quick to put his barren-landscape-adorned album behind the blue skies of Shallow Grave in his discography. And while it may have one of the most impeccable songs written in “The Gardener,” one aspect about The Wild Hunt that delights me is that it doesn’t have a ‘The Gardener’. Not that The Tallest Man hasn’t provided any highlights here (‘King of Spain’ and ‘You’re Going Back come to mind most quickly), but rather that each song turns into a highlight in its own time. The Wild Hunt has its shares of hills and valleys, but the landscape is rich and intriguing throughout. As listens ravel off, ‘The Drying of The Lawns’ reveals its somber delectability, ‘Kids on the Run’ reveals Matsson proving his ability to to play a piano to death, and ‘The Wild Hunt’ becomes everything an opener should be. In the end, we love The Tallest Man because he reminds us of Bob Dylan, but not so much that he tarnishes neither Dylan’s nor his own name. We love The Tallest Man because his simple ability to craft a tune and complement it with his croon. In retrospect, the hyperbolic title is pretty fitting for the lovable Scandinavian; and as far as 2010 is concerned, Kristian Matsson is the tallest man in my eyes, babe. – SeaAnemone
Looking back at 2010, a year absolutely filled with outstanding music, it seems imperative to bestow the crown of album of the year upon a record that was more than just an excellent release among other excellent releases. We could award it to the album that was most widely acclaimed, that would probably go to Kanye. We could give it to Titus Andronicus, who improved faster than anyone expected to create a timeless piece in The Monitor; or maybe we should honor Kristian Matsson, whose album The Wild Hunt truly makes him seem like The Tallest Man on Earth. But what about the band that, in the face of the highest expectations, still managed to triumph with their third straight masterpiece? After all, that is an extremely difficult feat to accomplish, as even the best artists of all time have periodically stumbled over their own ambitions. One band in particular has shown us in the past year that sustained success is always within reach. Not only have they proven themselves to be one of the most important groups currently playing, but they also show us that it doesn’t necessarily take an off-the-wall approach to reach that pinnacle. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The National – who have prevailed by being, well…The National. For those of you who aren’t familiar with exactly what that means, there may be no better descriptor than the gorgeously melancholic album of 2010 – High Violet.
High Violet buzzes with a low-key energy – a sort of reverb-tinged anxiety that perfectly captures the crises of ordinary people. Rather fittingly, the musical approach this time is a bit more mature and restrained, painting a picture of adulthood: desk jobs, troubled marriages, taxes…in essence, High Violet is these ordinary themes eloquently expressed by extraordinarily talented musicians. How many times has the line “I don’t wanna get over you” been haphazardly slapped on a page and passed off as lyrics? Yet when Matt Berninger sings that exact line during ‘Sorrow’, a slide show of everyone you unwillingly let go will play through your mind, allowing you to revisiting every haunting memory. Or how about the way he makes the line “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, ‘cause I’m evil” seem poignant and intelligent amidst the spacey guitars/drumming of ‘Conversation 16?’ The same type of phenomenon occurs all throughout High Violet, as each song’s tone accentuates the music instead of it just being the other way around.
And it’s not that the technical backing to the record isn’t brilliant, because it is. Emotion tiredly unravels through the instrumental work, which is propelled by Bryan Devendorf’s phenomenal drumming. The guitars have a light-as-air feel to them at times, but The National also show that they aren’t afraid to amp it up with climaxes such as the ones found in ‘Terrible Love’, ‘Lemonworld’, and ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio.’ For the most part, however, High Violet isn’t about impressive displays of instrumental capability. Instead, it is about creating a world with their ideas and Berninger’s baritone vocals, then maintaining the vividness of that world. The National prove on this album that they are the best at doing just that – from the wave-like progression of momentum to token subtleties such as the magisterial horns that highlight ‘England.’ High Violet is a triumph in every sense: guitars, drumming, vocals, lyrics, and the dynamics between each one of those aspects. Not only is this album easy to identify as one of 2010’s overarching achievements, it also solidifies The National as one of the best bands of our time. Boxer, Alligator, and now High Violet – they are all arguably classics of the modern era, and if their consistent top-of-the-line output offers a glimpse into the future, it is a safe bet that The National will continue to amaze us for years to come. – SowingSeason
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