It came yesterday: my e-mail invitation to participate in this year’s Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll. It comes at this time every year, and every year it means that I have to stop thinking about what will comprise my list of the year’s 10 best albums and finally make that list, commit to that list. It’s the commitment I have a problem with. I listened to a lot of records this year, and found a whole bunch of new music to love. So, with two weeks to go till my Best of 2010 is officially released, I’m using what’s left of the year to cover the albums that didn’t make it into my Top 10. I’ll cover 10 this week, 10 next, and these will be presented in no particular order. (When we get to 10 through 1, I’ll put numbers on these things.) And even in this fashion, I’ll be leaving out something. Lots of things. Just like every year.
Ke$ha—Animal (RCA) There were a lot of great pop singles this year, but Animal was an album full of them. Ke$ha was packaged as a low-concept Lady Gaga, but packaging aside, Ke$ha actually has better songs than Gaga: songs that are more honest in their ambitions, more successful in their delivery, more exciting and more memorable.
Watain—Lawless Darkness (Season of Mist) In a year where extreme metal broke countless new boundaries—where bands like Agalloch, Kylesa, Castevet and Nachtmystium reshaped the genre in countless ways—no band did purist-style flesh-ripping, skull-crushing, Satan-loving black metal as well as the mighty Watain. Lawless Darkness has the makings of a stone classic: meticulous songcraft married with ferocious performances.
Against Me!—White Crosses (Sire) Remember when Against Me! were a punk band? I don’t, actually, which is probably why I’m able to enjoy their music so much now. White Crosses is a pure pop record, every bit as worthy a crossover as Born in the USA was in its time, with the same tattered, blue-collar heart and subversive spirit built into its gold-plated hooks.
Shearwater—The Golden Archipelago (Matador) I don’t know to what specific indie subgenre Shearwater exactly belong—maybe slow-core or post-rock or something similarly limiting and lame—but whatever it is, they are better than that. The Golden Archipelago is a deliberate, delicate work showcasing a mastery of texture, negative space and construction. Still, for all its finely wrought details and layered intricacies, this is bold music, calling to mind the lush, late-night atmospherics of Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis and David Sylvian, but with a sense of anthemry sometimes lacking in those (great) artists.
Man’s Gin—Smiling Dogs (Profound Lore) Erik Wunder is the instrumental genius behind the brilliant American black-metal masters Cobalt, but with Man’s Gin, he proved himself a pretty impressive frontman, too. Smiling Dogs captures Cobalt’s violent spirit while stepping away from that band’s searing assault—instead, it’s black-as-coal Americana: murder ballads, Appalachian folk tunes and heavy-drinking sing-alongs with indelible melodies and twisted lyrics.
Twin Sister—Color Your Life (Infinite Best) Twin Sister are originally from Long Island, though like half the band moved to Brooklyn (of course). Still, I’m going to continue saying they’re a Long Island band, because they are from Long Island, and I want Long Island to get some credit here—people know us for Billy Joel and Eddie Money and Taking Back Sunday. Horrible. Twin Sister make ambient-noise-pop that is lush, jagged, hypnotic, gauzy, arresting and sweet, and which recalls, like, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Stereolab. This is beautiful, intoxicating music. Why wouldn’t Long Island want to boast of this, take some ownership of this, be proud of this?
Marah—Life Is a Problem (Valley Farm Songs) On their seventh full-length studio album, Pennsylvania-via-Brooklyn-via-Pennsylvania roots-rockers Marah barely resemble the Marah that excited critics, WFUV listeners and Stephen King at the turn of the millennium, but gypsy-frontman (and sole remaining original member) Dave Bielanko has never crafted finer melodies than he has here, and his Westerberg-ian vocals sound especially shredded, sad and glorious.
Torche—Songs for Singles (Hydra Head) Following 2008’s outstanding Meanderthal, Florida quartet Torche lost a member, but as the now-trio’s new extended EP proves, they’ve lost none of their psychotic energy or sheer power. Songs for Singles is even catchier than the very catchy Meanderthal and it rocks just as hard—like Queens of the Stone Age banging out Mudhoney classics (and it’s every bit as joyous, magnificent and weird as that comparison would imply).
Les Discrets – Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées (Prophecy) Outside of America, no country is producing more forward-thinking new black metal than France, from Alcest to Peste Noire to Deathspell Omega to Lantlos and more. Les Discrets have some artistic ties to the aforementioned Alcest—frontman Fursey has worked with Alcest frontman Neige in numerous incarnations—but both bands have distinct styles. Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées is shoegaze-y darkwave—think Katatonia, Catherine Wheel, early Red House Painters—nuanced, powerful and grand.
Beach House—Teen Dream (Sub Pop) By now, I assume everyone has either forgotten Beach House’s sublime and heartbreaking Teen Dream or written it off as being something less than sublime and heartbreaking—a full year has passed since it first leaked, and during that time, this fragile music has been discovered, loved, overplayed, dismissed, buried and lost. But listening to it now, as winter falls upon us again, Teen Dream’s hazy, shimmering grace still reflects the bleak sadness of the season, the gentle beauty that surrounds us always.