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Das Racist

Sit Down, Man

(Mishka, Made Decent, Greedhead; US: 14 Sep 2010; UK: 14 Sep 2010)

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Das Racist
Sit Down, Man


This year, world finally tuned into Das Racist when the hip-hop duo dropped Sit Down, Man in September. Last year, the Brooklyn rappers were considered nothing more than a cute meme thanks to the hilarious and catchy “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”. This year, they’re seen as vanguards because of the 37 songs the group released in the form of two free mixtapes. Not everyone knew how to react to their first release, Shut Up, Dude, but music critics and fans greeted Sit Down, Man with celebratory flair. Though the album is packed with guest drops and collaborations from the likes of Jay-Z, Diplo, El-P and a host of other eye-grabbing pop names, it’s Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez who really shine. The duo hit their stride with Sit Down, Man, and their flair for mind-bending wordplay and their lyrical chemistry have hit their peak. Leor Galil


 

 



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Sufjan Stevens

The Age of Adz

(Asthmatic Kitty; US: 12 Oct 2010; UK: 11 Oct 2010)

Review [11.Oct.2010]

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Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz


Over the last five years, the way we consume music has changed, so should we not expect the artists who make it to have done the same? Illinoise was always going to be tough act to follow and with the official quashing of his much hinted 50 states project, the anticipation for indie poster boy Sufjan Steven’s follow-up was high. With that in mind, it’s possible The Age of Adz could have collapsed under the weight of our collective expectation, but ever the wolf in folk’s clothing, Steven’s has created something defiantly his own, yet refreshingly different from what many may have expected. Sonically overwhelming on first listen, skittering electronica collides with sweeping orchestral arrangements, while enchanting choral vocals intertwine with Auto-tune. It is these grand and often unusual soundscapes which form the backbone for a series of deeply personal meditations on love, sex and death. Brimming with ideas both musically and lyrically, Stevens is no longer reducing the grand to the intimate. Instead he is exploring his own emotions with a new rawness, making the personal seem epic and in turn, challenging what we expect from him as an artist. Tom Fenwick


 

 



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Best Coast

Crazy for You

(Mexican Summer; US: 27 Jul 2010; UK: 2 Aug 2010)

Review [25.Jul.2010]

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Best Coast
Crazy for You


Reverb-hazy, sing-song lo-fi pop certainly isn’t underrepresented in the American indie rock scene these days, so it’s understandable if you are inclined to dismiss the California-based trio Best Coast as yet another group of dewy-eyed, underachieving C86 revivalists. Despite its admittedly limited nature, what makes the band’s debut album so indelible is the feeling that permeates it—that wide-eyed, sun-kissed yearning exemplified by cuts like “Boyfriend”, “Crazy for You”, and “Our Deal”. Every word frontwoman Bethany Cosentino sings conjures up sensations that evoke some fondly-remembered endless summer, aching for fleeting love and good days long gone. The musical template the record is based on may be easy for others to replicate, but it’s the emotional center of Crazy for You that really demands Best Coast converts. AJ Ramirez


 

 



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The Black Keys

Brothers

(Nonesuch; US: 18 May 2010; UK: 17 May 2010)

Review [19.May.2010]

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The Black Keys
Brothers


Full of distressed and fuzzed-out racket, the Black Keys’ delivered their highest charting album in 2010, sparing themselves much pomp and circumstance, as one can tell from the cover alone, and grinding through 15 tracks of Rubber City falsettos, blues, and rusted love song. They made great use of their barricaded studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, retaining greater use yet of part-producer Danger Mouse. Brothers is a tinged album, one spattered with cold, fervor, and down-home substance. Had the brothers gone in a different direction, individually, they may have faltered with their now trailer-worthy garage formula. But this release was a consistent, and its single, “Tighten Up”, is such a song. Encapsulate of the album, Auerbach and Carney defy the new-classic sound of artists like Jack White and Mark Ronson, sounding ever old, ever scorched with whisky and heart. Jason Cook


 

 



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Mavis Staples

You Are Not Alone

(Anti-; US: 14 Sep 2010; UK: 13 Sep 2010)

Review [22.Sep.2010]

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Mavis Staples
You Are Not Alone


You Are Not Alone is a testament to the power of veteran musical minds joyfully collaborating. Chicagoans Mavis Staples, undisputed soul and gospel legend, and Jeff Tweedy, frontman for Wilco, consistently deliver the goods on this musically diverse record. The tunes range from the inspiring, Wilco-tinged title track, a Tweedy original, to a cover of John Fogarty (“Wrote a Song for Everyone”) to traditional gospel tunes from the Civil Rights era (“In Christ There Is No East or West”). On “Downward Road”, Staples’ band finds a gospel groove so miraculously loose that it feels like it could fall apart at any moment. Staples is backed not only by Tweedy, but also by many of her regular touring musicians. The result is an effort that sounds simultaneously comfortable and innovative. Despite the refreshingly varied song choices and creative arrangements, it is Mavis’ vocal delivery that makes this record a thing of beauty. Her low voice carries the sound of experience and profound spirituality. No matter what your faith may be, You Are Not Alone is sure to remind you that music is almost better with two. Jacob Adams


 

 



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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Before Today

(4AD; US: 8 Jun 2010; UK: 7 Jun 2010)

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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Before Today


Before Today is a breakthrough for Ariel Pink in more ways than one. It marks what may be the definitive turn in a story of frustrated ambition that includes over a decade’s worth of bedroom recordings, self-promotion and auspicious but always inadequate recognition. The album is his first for established alternative label 4AD, his first with a full-time backing band and—most importantly—his first to bear openly the marks of an up-to-now capricious talent. With Before Today, Pink made his music more professional and more accessible without sacrificing any of its radical, confrontational charm. It was the soulful, irresistible lead single “Round and Round” that won Pink and his band, the Haunted Graffiti, widespread attention and indie accolades, but the album plays from start to finish like the impossible, bastard brainchild of practiced inspiration and off-the-wall eclecticism. Dylan Nelson


 

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Galactic

Ya-Ka-May

(Anti-; US: 9 Feb 2010)

Review [11.Feb.2010]

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Galactic
Ya-Ka-May


The kings of modern New Orleans funk and acid jazz have always been a stellar live band, but they’ve been searching to find their way in the studio. Galactic went in a more instrumental direction after “The Houseman” left in 2004, then experimented with hip-hop flavors on 2007’s From the Corner to the Block. The band continues with a variety of guest vocalists here, but without limiting themselves to any one genre. The result is a classic disc that exudes instrumental prowess but also contains a slew of well-crafted and memorable vocal songs. The diverse sound shows off everything that makes the New Orleans music scene so unique and special. Tunes like “Bacchus”, “Dark Water”  and “Speaks His Mind” create specific moods that gives the album a compelling ebb and flow, while “Heart of Steel”, “You Don’t Know” and “Cineramascope” all became staples in the band’s repertoire. This hopefully leads to a full album with frequent 2010 band member Cyril Neville, absent from Ya-Ka-May but the perfect singer for Galactic. Greg Schwartz


 

 



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Joanna Newsom

Have One on Me

(Drag City; US: 23 Feb 2010)

Review [22.Feb.2010]

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Joanna Newsom
Have One on Me


A quick note first, since it comes up in the comments every year: yes, PopMatters’ review awarded Have One on Me a 4/10 rating; yes, this same magazine is now heralding it among the year’s best; no, this is not an irreconcilable inconsistency. That review reflects one critic’s opinion; this feature, an aggregate of PM staff consensus. Let it be a credit to Ms. Newsom: hardly anyone‘s on the fence. I’m certainly not. Nine months later, and I’m still humbled by the startling richness, emotional depth, and beauty of this record. Gone—for good, I’ll assume—are the screeching vocalisms of Milk-Eyed Mender (Newsom’s voice has grown wonderfully) and exhausting orchestral gymnastics of Ys. In their place are, well, songs—two hours worth of the most earnest, personal songwriting of Newsom’s career, smartly split into three easily digestible 40-minute discs, and running the gamut from sparse, harp-driven balladry (the haunting “Baby Birch” and “Jackrabbits”) to fiercely confident excursions into jazz- and piano-pop territory (“Easy”, “Good Intentions Paving Company”). The result feels to me like her own Blood on the Tracks of sorts: like Dylan in ‘75, she has scaled back the most polarizing features of past works without sacrificing artistic integrity and come up with her most complete, emotionally direct work yet—a densely woven song cycle loosely linked by themes of love, loss, and moving on. I’m just not ready to move on from Have One on Me quite yet. Zach Schonfeld


 

 



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Deerhunter

Halcyon Digest

(4AD; US: 28 Sep 2010; UK: 27 Sep 2010)

Review [27.Sep.2010]

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Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest


At the outset, Bradford Cox’s two bands, Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, pulled in separate, nearly opposite directions. However, as Cox has narrowed his focus, the two projects have begun to converge on a single point, an atmospheric indie-pop aesthetic that employs ambient noise and tunefulness in equal measure. On Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter’s fourth full-length in just five years, Cox and his bandmates continue to refine this sound, with often stunning results. “Revival” offers a kaleidoscopic take on ‘60s psych-pop, while “Desire Lines” closes with a groove-heavy outro that’s already become a live favorite. “Helicopter”, meanwhile, pairs crystalline guitars with aqueous electronics, as Cox revisits a few long-running obsessions (death, faith, loneliness) with surprising candor. And “He Would Have Laughed” caps off the album with a restless tribute to the late Jay Reatard that, fittingly enough, cuts off abruptly, just shy of the eight-minute mark. Few songwriters are lucky enough to enjoy the kind of hot streak that Cox is currently on and if Halcyon Digest offers any indication, he’s just getting warmed up. Mehan Jayasuriya


 

 



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Sleigh Bells

Treats

(Mom & Pop / N.E.E.T.; US: 1 Jun 2010; UK: Import; Internet Release Date: 11 May 2010)

Review [23.May.2010]

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Sleigh Bells
Treats


Sure, Sleigh Bells hit like a ton of bricks when Treats came out in May, but we were left wondering if their first full-length was only a summertime fling. We now have our answer: Treats has staying power, packing as much of a wallop even after the novelty factor has worn off and you know what’s coming. Neither the hype nor the backlash could dull the visceral impact that Sleigh Bells conjure up on Treats. The towering riffs, red-alert keyboards, and rapid-fire beats on the opener “Tell ‘Em” are as alarming and thrilling as ever, while “Crown on the Ground” and “A/B Machines” have yet to lose any force or intensity more than a year after they were first leaked. And when you hear where they’re headed, literally putting the power in power pop on “Rill Rill” and “Riot Rhythm” (the last track recorded for Treats), the question to ask isn’t whether Sleigh Bells will find a place in indie’s current pantheon, but what they have in store for an encore to their one-of-a-kind debut. Arnold Pan


 
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