2010: The year of music

For me, the new music landscape has been all but barren for many years. KROQ was my radio station from middle-school on (and actually KTWV - The Wave - was my station in elementary school. I still have a fondness for New Age to this day. A lot of it is insipid crap, but Vangelis? Ray Lynch? Mike Oldfield? all of them pure genius). KCRW resuscitated my interest in new bands around 2005, and ushered in a flurry of wonderful bands: from Sigur Ros to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Jesca Hoop, it was a wonderful thing. But that impact slowly faded away to another wasteland.

Hunting My DressAnd once again, in 2010, I've been lucky enough to get a second musical rennaissance. Jesca Hoop released her second album this year, and it was far better than I had any right to expect. "Murder of Birds" is in the top 5 tracks of all time. If I had written this 2 months ago, that would have been the major highlight. We'll get to that.

ActorSt. Vincent released an amazing album late last year, Actor, which I didn't discover until this summer - coincidentally on the same day Annie Clark was playing a show in San Diego (which I went to). Ironically the song that set me off was "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood" and it wasn't the strongest on the album, not by half. Annie is a brilliant songwriter with a wonderful ear for texture and contrast. Her first album, Marry Me, is just as good.

The Way OutThe real highlight of the year didn't happen until late in the year. In November, I think, The Books played a live set at KCRW. I thought "interesting, but no big deal". But then I heard their newest album, The Way Out, in it's entirety and instantly fell in love and planned to buy 10 copies to give to friends. I don't think I've felt this strongly about an album, ever.

The album is pure genius from beginning to end, with a lush, intelligent, unique sound. If Annie Clark is perfecting her linear contrast (it's most obvious on the track "Your Lips Are Red" on Actor), The Books have perfected the profound/absurd contrast simultaneously. By sampling esoteric self-help tapes and dubbing them in absurd ways, but playing this over an enormously complex, textured and agonizingly detailed and beautiful arrangement it's like The Books are consuming the swirl of modern day information, and responding with wordless insight, biting humor, and hope. More than any other band in existence, I feel like The Books are "my band".

Have One on MeIf this was "The Year of The Books", then along with St Vincent and Jesca Hoop there were two other really good albums released this year. Both artists have been around a few years but both are new to me. Joanna Newson's "Have One On Me" reminds me a lot of Kate Bush and JRR Tolkien. Kate because of the emotionality, visuals, and complex musicality, Tolkien because of the focus on the natural world. Even if she mostly sings of love, this is love on a farm, or in the mountains. She sings of the wind and the rain, and it's lovely. Particularly the track "In California".

This Is HappeningOn the lighter side was a wonderful release by LCD Soundsystem, "This is Happening" containing my favorite dance track in a long time, "I Can Change". Just try listening to that track without moving some part of your body. And of course the single "Drunk Girls" is hilarious (check out the video - it's insane & quite funny).

Oh, a few last things. I finally picked up my own copy of Joni Mitchell's "Ladies of the Canyon". It's still as good as when my parents used to play it, and it stands up really well to the test of time, too. Also, Arcade Fire did a decent job with their 2010 release, "The Suburbs". In all honesty I find Arcade Fire to be a bit mediocre, a bit boring, but nothing really objectionable. The New Pornographers released an album ("Together") that I was into for a while, but then realized that all those deep lyrics were really just free association nonsense and rapidly lost interest. Really good music, though. (I wish whoever writes the lyrics for them would get their shit together (or adopt The Books' method of overdubbing stuff that is obviously nonsense). The track "We End Up Together" should be a rousing anthem, but instead it's just nonsense. I felt betrayed when I realized I'd been duped!)

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