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Off Key With Eric D. presents the Best of 2010!

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2010 at 3:26 pm

20. Clinic – “Bubblegum” (Domino)

For a time, it seemed as if British indie-punk-alternative band Clinic felt satisfied in releasing the same sort of album over and over again. Case in point: every record since 2002’s universally lauded “Walking With Thee” sounds relatively similar to the one before it, both musically and, at times, thematically. Thankfully, with the help of St. Vincent producer John Congleton, the perpetually-masked Liverpool lads burst their repetitive bubble with “Bubblegum,” their sixth album. Unlike its high-strung, faster-paced predecessors, “Bubblegum” is the band’s most down-tempo effort, focusing to gorgeous effect on slow, ’60s-esque chord progressions via lightly-chorused guitars. The end result is not too dissimilar from lounge music, in fact. When considering this album’s change in direction, it’s quite pleasant to hear a version of Clinic that’s free of distortionsKey tracks: “I’m Aware,” “Baby,” “Radiostory”

19. Twin Shadow – “Forget” (Terrible/4AD)

If you’ve pigeonholed Twin Shadow as another one of those indie rock-meets-electro bands that have permeated Pitchfork for the past few years, well, prepare to be pwned. The band, essentially a one-person project helmed by newcomer George Lewis, Jr., released its debut album with this year’s “Forget.” Meandering through an 11-song set of primarily mid-tempo synth- and bass-driven songs, the record sounds like a long lost piece of 1980s output from 4AD, coincidentally the label Twin Shadow is signed to overseas. One could liken it to a chilled-out, retro beach house party that’s not soundtracked by Beach House. Sonic suppositions aside, one thing is for certain: “Forget” is definitely something to remember.  Key tracks: “Tyrant Destroyed,” “When We’re Dancing,” “Castles In The Snow”

18. Beach House – “Teen Dream”/”Zebra EP” (Sub Pop)

Following on the Beach House reference from the last review, the band themselves have one of the better albums of this year. Their third foray into the LP format, “Teen Dream” is a great deal like its two predecessors, save the greater amount of hooks and the fact that lead singer Victoria Legrand‘s voice isn’t buried by the band’s signature layers of dreamy reverb this time around. It is appropriate that “dream” is in the title as the record is a perfect slice of dream pop, warm and ethereal, and perhaps even furry. Anyway, furthering the album’s greatness is the “Zebra EP,” a piece of 12” vinyl released exclusively for Record Store Day that includes new versions of two album tracks plus two blindingly brilliant new songs that should have honestly been on the album itself.  Key tracks: “Zebra,” “10 Mile Stereo,” “The Arrangement,” “Baby”

17. Broken Bells – “Broken Bells” [Japanese version] (Columbia)

Let’s face it, The Shins aren’t really getting back together. In fact, they weren’t that great in the first place. With Broken Bells though, frontman James Mercer actually makes good on the hype afforded his previous band, in turn coming across as one of the best vocalists of this or any generation. Teaming up with Brian Burton (or his office name, Danger Mouse), the songs on Broken Bells’ self-titled debut soar past all conceivable expectations, interweaving sharp vocals with excellent musicianship. Paired with the visuals projected alongside their live show, the band’s material is extraordinarily solid, with nowhere to go but up. Plus, as an added bonus, their debut’s Japanese release includes the fully recorded version of “An Easy Life,” a song that initially appeared as an instrumental b-side to “The High Road” single.  Key tracks: “The High Road,” “Vaporize,” “The Ghost Inside”

16. Holly Miranda – “The Magician’s Private Library” [iTunes version] (XL)

It seems to be normal practice nowadays to flag up-and-coming groups as the next so-and-so; Vampire Weekend is the next Police, A Place To Bury Strangers is the next Jesus And Mary Chain, and so on and so forth. The same can be said for Holly Miranda, who could conceivably be the next Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent). Both artists are indie rock singer-songwriters, both are essentially one-person bands, and both are signed to labels under Beggars Group. The difference with Holly Miranda’s label debut, “The Magician’s Private Library,” is its darker, more subdued nature, placing greater emphasis on slow saxophones and vocal flourishes than the guitar work for which St. Vincent is known. Produced by Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio and Katrina Ford from Celebration, the album balances being beautiful but beguilingly mellow, all the while staying far from boring. A six-minute bonus song supplements the iTunes version of the album and gives it a finale as grand as its overall delivery.  Key tracks: “Forest Green, Oh Forest Green,” “Everytime I Go To Sleep,” “Singular Acceptance”

15. Daft Punk – “Tron: Legacy – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Walt Disney)

Ah, Daft Punk. Their mere name conjures images of thumping beats, electro-hooks, and pyramidic laser light shows so awe-inspiring they’d cause just about anyone to go into seizure. Yet, in a truly daft move, these robotically-gilded heroes of house music, these same two brilliant persons who have spurred the genre of French electronic music adopted by the likes of Air and Phoenix, have gone and scored a Disney movie. Worry not though, as the film in question is not “Snow White and the Seven Cylons,” but in fact “Tron: Legacy,” the sequel to the 1982 cult classic from which our digitally-driven Daft daredevil DJs have taken inspiration for their attire and stage show. The soundtrack, entirely instrumental aside from an introduction by actor Jeff Bridges, actually comes across as a worthy follow-up to 2005’s “Human After All,” the duo’s last studio effort. Some fans may feel uneasy about the album’s status as a film score, especially one backed by a real wood-and-strings orchestra, but having Daft Punk bring their aerodynamic robot rock to the masses one more time is never a bad thing.  Key tracks: “The Grid,” “End Of Line,” “Solar Sailer”

14. Belle And Sebastian – “Belle And Sebastian Write About Love” (Matador)

Having an album called “Belle And Sebastian Write About Love” is like having a TV program entitled “Anderson Cooper Talks About The News.” It’s something that’s been so ingrained into society’s collective psyche that there’s no need for clarification. Belle And Sebastian use this to their advantage with “Write About Love,” releasing an album that breaks little new ground (aside from an extra touch of keyboards) but remains something quintessentially theirs. The album’s songs, bridging jumpy, twee indie pop with calm introspection, sound as if they could have easily appeared on the group’s last effort, 2006’s now legendary “The Life Pursuit.” Yet considering the four-and-a-half years it took to record and release “Write About Love,” the band’s return is a welcome event. In doing so, their latest album is a brilliantly self-indulgent affair, continuing to color our lives with the chaos of trouble, no matter the state that we are inKey tracks: “I Want The World To Stop,” “Write About Love,” “The Ghost of Rockschool”

13. Spoon – “Transference” [12” version] (Merge)

According to the work of Sigmund Freud, transference is the act of projecting the feelings and perceptions held towards one person, at times from one’s past, onto another person. By coincidence, Spoon perform a transference of their own with their fittingly-titled latest album. Instead of the large-scale, hit-machine follow-up expected for their previous, most mainstream album, 2007’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga,” not to mention 2005’s popular “Gimme Fiction” before it, this year’s “Transference” looks back to the indie-art rock that defined the band’s sophomore release, “A Series Of Sneaks,” back in 1998. Gone are the likes of “The Underdog” and “I Turn My Camera On,” transferred in favor of songs like the slow-burning “Before Destruction” and the frenetic “Trouble Comes Running.” Lack of radio hits aside, the album can be seen as a godsend for Spoon, an answer to the question of how they can keep their uniqueness and credibility in a world that wants to see them get more and more mainstream. That aside, the vinyl LP of “Transference” includes the full-length version of “The Mystery Zone,” the crown jewel of this recent collection of songs and a greatest hit if there ever was one.  Key tracks: “Is Love Forever?,” “The Mystery Zone,” “I Saw The Light”

12. Vampire Weekend – “Contra” [iTunes pre-order version] (XL)

Vampire Weekend commit two faux pas with “Contra,” their sophomore effort released at the start of the year. First, they further society’s craze for everything vampiric via their name, and second, they further society’s craze for everything ’80s by naming their album after a 1988 Nintendo video game. Besides that, said album is pretty darn good, balancing the light indie rock and Afrobeat for which the band has become known and injecting a few more electronic elements than appeared on their eponymous debut in 2008. In being the first major album of the year, “Contra” landed a number one spot on the Billboard charts upon its release, the 12th independently-distributed album to ever do so. For this reason, the band must have thought it a good idea to issue six singles off the record, in turn affording them the chance to permeate nearly every facet of radio and TV commercial imaginable, thus driving the collective masses into being Vampire Weekend-loving zombies or just completely insane. I guess that makes three faux pas against them now.  Key tracks: “White Sky,” “California English,” “I Think Ur A Contra”

11. The National – “High Violet” [Expanded Edition] (4AD)

It’s hard to believe The National would ever find a way to surpass the excellence of their last record, 2007’s “Boxer,” yet somehow they did just that with this year’s “High Violet.” Undoubtedly their most accessible effort to date, the album takes the outstanding musicianship and songwriting of the brothers Dessner and frontman Matt Berninger and places it into an 11-song set that simply fails to fall short. The latter half of the year saw an expanded version of the album, with an 8-song bonus disc of b-sides, unreleased songs, live sessions, and a new version of the album’s stellar opener, “Terrible Love,” in turn making the overall release even more perfect than it already was. Laudatory commentary aside, “High Violet” has certainly made The National an international presence, one whose output will be enjoyed for many years to come.  Key tracks: “Sorrow,” “Anyone’s Ghost,” “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

10. Blonde Redhead – “Penny Sparkle” [Japanese version] (4AD)

Sometimes having a signature sound can be both a blessing and a curse for a band. Blonde Redhead knows this as a fact. For a decade, the band has been sonically reminiscent of early Lush and Cocteau Twins, minus the latter’s unintelligibility (all three bands are signed to 4AD, coincidentally). While this has worked to magnificent effect on 2004’s legendary “Misery Is A Butterfly” and 2007’s even better “23,” with their latest, “Penny Sparkle,” the impression is given that the Blonde Redhead’s light and ethereal sound has gone as far as it can. Of course, compared to the stratospheric bar set by “23,” anything would fall short, but the relatively pedestrian nature of the new album makes it shine a bit less brilliantly than its predecessors. Concurrently, the version of the album issued in lead singer Kazu Makino’s native Japan is accentuated by an instrumental titled “Untitled” and a remix of album highlight “Love Or Prison.”  Key tracks: “Not Getting There,” “Will There Be Stars,” “Love Or Prison”

9. Interpol – “Interpol” [Japanese version] (Matador)

With their last album, 2007’s “Our Love To Admire,” Interpol got too grandiose for their own good. Based off the widespread success of 2004’s “Antics,” they saw fit to move from Matador Records to a major label, Capitol, for their follow-up effort. The result was an unfocused album that was panned by critics, received only moderate airplay, and failed to sell to the degree of its forebears. For those reasons, Interpol returned to the very beginning with their appropriately-titled fourth album, re-signing with Matador and producing that latest LP themselves. More so, they moved back to the dark, Joy Division-esque sound of their first album, 2002’s “Turn On The Bright Lights,” arguably the finest full-length of the ’00s. As a bonus for the Japanese release of their self-titled album, Interpol included “Gavilan,” a song that has been floating around their catalogue in various forms since their earliest days.  Key tracks: “Success,” “Summer Well,” “Always Malaise (The Man I Am)”

8. LCD Soundsystem – “This Is Happening” (DFA/Virgin)

LCD Soundsystem is an oddity when it comes to the indie-electro scene. Fronted by James Murphy, the co-founder of venerable electronic label DFA, one could initially arrive at the assumption that the group is nothing but the pet project of a label boss with too much time on his hands. However, just the opposite is true; LCD Soundsystem is Murphy’s primary occupation, and by happenstance, they are at the forefront of their genre, or several for that matter. When the group releases an album, everyone listens, and some even try to follow suit with lesser results. Their third album, “This Is Happening,” is as its title says: a happening set of songs, all over five minutes in length (save the hilarious hit “Drunk Girls”), and all indicative of the finest indie-electro-dance-punk that mankind has to offer. Rumor has it this will be LCD Soundsystem’s last album, so enjoy them before something great is goneKey tracks: “Dance Yrself Clean,” “Drunk Girls,” “I Can Change”

7. Deerhunter – “Halcyon Digest” (4AD)

In all likelihood, Bradford Cox is the most prolific person in indie rock today. After all, the overtly friendly Deerhunter and Atlas Sound frontman has released an album every year since 2007, with three albums seeing the light of day in 2008 alone. In fact, around Thanksgiving of this year, he gave away four full albums of Atlas Sound demos via his blog, a practice he has done before with EPs and will undoubtedly do again. Yet, when it comes to officially released material, the absolute pinnacle up to this point is Deerhunter’s latest, “Halcyon Digest.” Cox and his bandmates crafted an enigmatic 11 songs for the album, some projecting a dark and experimental sound, others a jangly and melodic one. In doing so, the album stays cogent, coherent, and more intriguing than 2008’s universally lauded “Microcastle.” While casual listeners may say nothing ever happened to their sound, the band has grown exponentially with their latest album, furthering the ever-spreading revelation that Deerhunter makes killer music.  Key tracks: “Memory Boy,” “Desire Lines,” “Helicopter”

6. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Before Today” (4AD)

Chances are before today you may not have heard of “Before Today,” the studio quality debut of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Despite having a plethora of lo-fi recordings dating as far back as 1996, people outside the Los Angeles music scene have only noticed Ariel Pink and his Haunted Graffiti in recent years. Whilst displaying highly attuned psychedelic pop sensibilities, the band’s latest album focuses on ’70s-era songwriting played in an avant-garde manner: included on “Before Today” are the sounds of a helicopter, an airplane taking off, a ringing telephone, a police car, and an escort at work, and that’s not even half of what goes on during the record’s 45 minutes. Weirdness aside, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti succeeded in putting out a truly unique, nigh perfect album in 2010, including the bonafide single of the year with their song “Round and Round.”  Key tracks: “Fright Night (Nevermore),” “Round and Round,” “Butt-House Blondies”

5. Charlotte Gainsbourg – “IRM” (Because)

Aside from the long since mended cerebral hemorrhage that gave “IRM” its name (that’s French for MRI), there’s one other thing that undoubtedly went through Charlotte Gainsbourg’s head before commencing her second album. That is, how does one follow up a debut that’s been written by both Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon, featuring backing music by Air, and produced by Nigel Godrich? By calling Beck, that’s how. The enchanting wizard of rhythm not only produced the entire album but also wrote 13 of its 14 tracks. His special mix of off-kilter sounds-meet-sophisticated orchestration essentially make the record a sort of “Mutations” as fronted, quite beautifully by the way, by Mme. Gainsbourg. While one of the album’s songs asserts that heaven can wait, its soundtrack is already here.  Key tracks: “Me and Jane Doe,” “Time Of The Assassins,” “Trick Pony”

4. Manic Street Preachers – “Postcards From A Young Man” (Columbia)

If it wasn’t enough that Manic Street Preachers had the best album of 2009 with their awe-inspiringly brilliant “Journal For Plague Lovers,” they decided to expedite the release of the album’s follow up to this year. That makes three records in the span of three-and-a-half years; not too bad for a band that once took that long to release a single album. Entitled “Postcards From A Young Man,” their tenth masterwork is an unabashed pop-rock record, devoid of the outspoken political references and songs of fear and alienation that permeated their last album (and just about every album before it). No, comrades, this new bird aims solely for mainstream airplay and the success that comes with it, all the while not actually selling out. Make no mistake, the Manics have done pop-rock before (check 1998’s “This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, as well as 2004’s “Lifeblood”), but never has it been so complete and, strangely enough, consistently good. That’s a long way for a band that once sung of living in urban hell and destroying rock and rollKey tracks: “Some Kind Of Nothingness,” “I Think I’ve Found It,” “The Future Has Been Here 4Ever”

3. The Radio Dept. – “Clinging To A Scheme” [Japanese version] (Labrador)

Fifteen years since their humble beginnings in their native Sweden, The Radio Dept. are finally getting the recognition they deserve with their third album, “Clinging To A Scheme.” Despite having been lauded for their fantastic debut, “Lesser Matters,” in 2004 and having three of their songs included on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” two years later, outright success for the band has remained relatively elusive until their new record. It took four years of writing and recording several albums worth of material, clinging to their own scheme if you will, before The Radio Dept. emerged with the perfect mix of synth-based indie pop that is “Clinging To A Scheme.” The Japanese version manages a more perfect mix through the inclusion of the band’s 2008 single “Freddie And The Trojan Horse,” as well as “All About Our Love,” a b-side to this year’s “Heaven’s On Fire” single.  Key tracks: “This Time Around,” “Never Follow Suit,” “You Stopped Making Sense”

2. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs” (Merge)

You don’t see very many good concept albums anymore, at least none that are as staggeringly splendid as “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire. The album’s concept is as its title suggests: living in the suburbs of a major city. According to frontman Win Butler, the album neither promotes nor detracts life in the suburbs, but is instead “a letter from the suburbs.” Its 16 songs spread across 64 minutes make it quite a long letter. But more so, “The Suburbs” stands out as a pitch-perfect indie rock effort that is highly enjoyable through its hour-plus track time, in turn giving a complete picture of Arcade Fire at the peak of their potential. Nine years into their career, the band has fulfilled the promise of their first two albums and given us a true masterpiece that, given time, could prove generation-defining.  Key tracks: “The Suburbs,” “City With No Children,” “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”

1. Frightened Rabbit – “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks” (FatCat)

Frightened Rabbit released the greatest breakup album of all time with 2008’s “The Midnight Organ Fight.” An intimate look into frontman Scott Hutchison’s seemingly unending sadness and regret after having been cast aside by a one time girlfriend, the album garnered the applause of music magazines and “best of” countdowns the world over (it made number four on this very countdown in ’08). The band’s fanbase grew exponentially following on the extensive touring they did for the album, all of which undoubtedly assisted Hutchison’s healing process and fed a positive energy into the songs that would encompass their next record. That follow-up in question came into fruition with the release of this year’s “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks,” the direct sequel to the venerable “Midnight Organ Fight.” Songs like “Nothing Like You” and “Living In Colour” are driven, quite frenetically, with an unending sense of hope, and sound joyously upon the protagonist’s realization that they’ve found someone new who is far more caring and wonderful than the nonchalant girl of a few years before. Balancing these uplifting songs are ones of a more cautious nature, like “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” and “Foot Shooter,” which reflect upon the damage done during the events portrayed on the last album. Culminating this album’s journey is “Yes, I Would,” a beautiful, indeed sentimental song that pulls together the protagonist’s lessons learned, both past and present, while gazing towards their future. Set to a repeatedly appearing nautical theme, “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks” is Frightened Rabbit’s finest album to date, not to mention the best album released this year, and one that certainly rocks with hopes and fearKey tracks: Every song on the album, but if you want to get specific – “The Wrestle,” “Nothing Like You,” “Living In Colour,” “Yes, I Would”

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