Musical Offerings from the End of Another Decade
Written by Meaghan Zabinsky
It seems that they say this at the end of every year, but 2010 really was a big year for music. We understand if you got swept up in new releases from Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Tokyo Police Club, Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses, Dead Weather, etc etc etc. If you’re like me, you forgot all other music existed while you listened to Black Keys’ Brothers for six months straight. However, that being said, the indie music scene, especially in Canada, was equally as prolific in delivering great album after album (and a few rotten eggs, but we’ll get there) in 2010. If you couldn’t see the ads for Caribou’s Swim from behind that Pink Friday billboard, don’t fret: take one more kick at the can with the five best indie releases of 2010.
Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
This year, Local Natives’ debut album generated the kind of music blogosphere buzz which usually indicates that the album itself will be incredibly underwhelming. However, three minutes into Gorilla Manor, you’ll want to add another five-star rating to their enormous collection. Expect sweeping vocals, looser guitar, primal drums that ring like bongos, and the occasional keyboard, but with a two-bowls-in California cool. Frontman Taylor Rice’s voice is like a triumphant chorus of Bon Iver, but balmy, and frequent all-hands-in choruses make Gorilla Manor sound like a family affair. This record is simple, joyful, the perfect blend of delicate and full-bodied, and my favourite indie release of 2010.
Best Track: Sun Hands
I’ve always thought of Caribou to be the warmer side of electronic – where it can sometimes be alienating, Caribou’s previous Polaris-winning Andorra was welcoming, but fresh and effortless. Swim, the third full-length from London, Ontario native Dan Snaith, is like Andorra’s cool, older cousin. Swim is electronic done exactly right – no cheesy effects, or ridiculous trying-too-hard arrangements. In a day when everyone and their second cousin is a part-time DJ, it’s a pleasant surprise to hear a competent musician play with synthesizers and make them work perfectly with violins, harpsichords and Tibetan bowls. Swim is a lesson in dreaming, and a perfect reminder that not all electro is, well, garbage.
Best Track: Sun
The Drums, The Drums
So, this album has “Let’s Go Surfing,” the ridiculously catchy indie anthem that received mainstream play with a charming, DIY video and is also one of my favourite songs of the year. The Drums are a hybrid of Empire of the Sun and Coconut Records, dipped in Edward Sharpe. Quick drums, lots of tambourines and whistling, and plucky guitar, with cotton-candy keyboards keep even the saddest songs on this album hopeful. And there are some sad songs – a real look at the lyrics in Book of Stories or We Tried reveals pretty grim subject matter. This is an album for those starting 2010 a little worse for the wear, who want to lick their wounds to the tune of optimism.
Best Track: Let’s Go Surfing
Beach House, Teen Dream
Teen Dream sounds like the haze of late summer. The two-man Baltimore group blends plucky guitar with frontwoman Victoria Legrand’s lilting vocals and some gentle keyboard – the recipe for an album perfect for both background and foreground. It’s lo-fi dream pop steeped in sunlight, and the appeal seems pretty universal – Beyonce and Jay-Z have both been spotted at Beach House shows. Teen Dream never fails to melt the stress knots in my shoulders, so put it on those afternoons you purposefully leave open to eat peanut butter sandwiches on your couch. You can thank me later.
Best Track: Silver Soul
The National, High Violet
The National exists in a weird middle-ground between mainstream success and the undertow that drags down every established band about to plateau. Their albums are consistently panned by critics but hailed by listeners, and High Violet is no exception – including the fact that it’s really, really good. They’re almost Band of Horses-esque, but a little less sharp and with a pack-a-day smoker as the lead singer. High Violet is the denim jacket of music – stiff at first, but gets more comfortable with each play. While my own friend maintains that he “just can’t listen to it,” I insist that if you give The National a good, solid and honest listen, their unaggressive and melodic and beautifully sad songs will take you places.
Best Track: Afraid of Everyone
Honorable Mentions: Best Coast – Crazy For You, Matt and Kim – Sidewalks, Shad – TSOL, Chromeo – Business Casual, Freelance Whales – Weathervanes, and Wildlife – Strike Hard, Young Diamond.
Biggest Disappointment: Born Ruffians, Say It.
The thing about Born Ruffians is this: I love them. They’re totally nice in real life, really solid live, and they’re from Midland. Midland! Adorable, right? Also, their first album Red, Yellow and Blue was pretty great; Hummingbird remains one of my favourite songs of all time. At their best, the Ruffians are a spinning top – whirling vocals and jumpy guitars that seem constantly at risk of derailing, but never do. You can hear the ghost of their previous sound in What to Say, easily the best song on Say It (the album comes with a great remix of this song) but Retard Canard and the Ballad of Moose Bruce sink this album in ways I never thought possible. It’s a gelatinous mess of their previously-delightful unrehearsed style, and a depressing reminder of how real the sophomore-album-curse can be.
Best Track: What to Say
Worst Track: Higher and Higher