2010 has turned out to be a banner year in music. Many of the big indie names turned in exceptional releases this year, and some other artists have made some of the finest music that will stand the tests of time for years, nay decades to come – though likely won’t get the recognition they deserve. Here is a quick recap (please note: in no particular order) to-date as of October:
- Arcade Fire, The Suburbs – I admired Funeral but it didn’t ring my chimes as the best album of 2004 – much less the decade as some publications declared. Since I hadn’t gotten swept up in Arcade Fire fever I missed Neon Bible completely (an oversight I will rectify). But my daughter passed along a copy of “The Suburbs” and it is a great album. There is a maturity of singing and musicianship that has appeared since Funeral, and the collection of songs on The Suburbs is truly great. The band deserved the buzz following Funeral and the buzz around The Suburbs is also entirely warranted.
- Four Tet, There Is Love In You – Intelligent, beautiful, artistic, and compelling, the music collage compositions that create the pieces on There Is Love In You are melodic, rich, and warm. Electronic, post-modern music that wouldn’t be out of place on contemporary FM radio (if it still existed).
- The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang – The ’59 Sound IS one of the best releases of the decade, so it is unfair to expect American Slang to equal or best that; not many artists ever hit such a peak much less do it again on the next release. But if The ’59 Sound had not been their prior release, The Gaslight Anthem’s American Slang would have been considered a masterpiece. It is a great, straight, uncomplicated, pure rock album with literate lyrics and great hooks. It doesn’t quite have the highs of The ’59 Sound‘s best cuts, but it is more consistent and shows more mature musicianship than the former release. The Gaslight Anthem are turning out to be an important rock band, and their last two releases are must-haves for pure rock fans.
- Jack Rose, Luck In The Valley – I wish I had heard of Jack Rose before this release; now I won’t ever get to see him play (he is deceased). A guitarists’ album, Luck In The Valley is ostensibly a folk/Americana/roots album – but listen to this guy play! All one needs is a love of musicianship and an appreciation of acoustic playing – and this becomes a necessary release to own.
- Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics, Lloyd Miller / The Heliocentrics – The Heliocentrics may be one of the most innovative, important jazz bands to be performing today. Their collaboration with Mulatu Astatke last year with Inspiration Information 3 was brilliant – among the best of that year. This collaboration with Lloyd Miller may be even more haunting and beautiful, as it is focused on oriental jazz. The spiritual inheritors of Weather Report, this is jazz world fusion at its finest. One of the best releases of the year.
- The National, High Violet – 2007’s Boxer took time to grow on me, but grow it did. I remember being somewhat surprised and bemused sometime in 2008 about how often I put it on to listen to it. High Violet is following the same impression – I liked it very much on first listen, but find myself drawn to it more and more. Unlike what some critics said, the first half is the more rich and interesting; the second is much like Boxer – not a bad thing by no means, but The National reach and explore with the first few cuts, and they reward repeated, focused listening. It is not a come down from Boxer in the slightest, and The National are going to be a band to pay attention to on any release. (They were even great streamed live from Bonnaroo this year!)
- Spoon, Transference – Another release following a band’s best, their Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga in 2007. Sadly, Transference has been short-changed by following that release; it is a great collection, showing Spoon again pushing themselves into new and really interesting directions. I personally think it is better than Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but then I go for that edgy, more experimental touch. Still, these are songs that would/should be played by mainstream media – if they had any sense.
- Stephen Crump with Rosetta Trio, Reclamation – My candidate for best album of the year so far; Reclamation is a gorgeous, delicate, rich, elegant, beautiful, intelligent, stunning release. Crump is the bass player for the Vijay Iver Trio, and the Rosetta Trio is himself with two guitarists, one acoustic and one electric. If that sounds eclectic, it is, but the resultant music is breathtaking. The three can funk it up or create gossamer compositions that seem to shimmer. This is music that doesn’t overpower or push itself, proving that introspective, delicate music can be as rewarding as any full-on, wall-of-sound piece can be. Oh, and I guess I should mention that it is a jazz album, too. Very, very highly recommended.
- Vampire Weekend, Contra – This album cements Vampire Weekend as expert practitioners of intelligent pop rock songs. The songs on Contra are as concise, pristine, and catchy as those on their debut, Vampire Weekend. No sophomore slouch for these guys. These guys are true masters of their craft; they are just as perfect in concert as they are on their releases.
It being only mid-October, here’s keeping our fingers crossed for more great music this year. But if there wasn’t another release this year I’d be happy with the above releases on a desert island for quite a long time.