Blitzen Trapper and more...
Destroyer of the Void
Given the major success they had earned with their previous two LPs, one might have imagined that all eyes would be on Blitzen Trapper as they put out their fifth album, released on Sub Pop. Perhaps the Portland sextet were considered too backwards-looking to be given the coverage they deserved for Destroyer of the Void, a more than solid folk-rock album nakedly influenced by—but never beholden to—the likes of Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and even Queen. This was a very “un-2010” album; rustic and spiritual, it began with a prog symphony of a title track but later featured veritable stand-outs like the serene, piano-led “Heaven and Earth” and Eric Earley’s duet with Alela Diane on the mystical “The Tree”. The result was a set of songs as strong as any strung together by a comparable outfit in 2010, and well worth seeking out. Andy Johnson
The Way Out
Five years past the brilliant Lost and Safe (with a score for a French ministry building elevator somewhere in between), the still unclassifiable duo of Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong is back to its usual tricks. And by “usual tricks” I clearly mean freely sampling Indian peace activists and homicidal children (see: the uncomfortably catchy “A Cold Freezin’ Night”), composing tributes to irrational numbers (“Beautiful People”) and Hip Hop (the, um, rabbit, not the genre), merging all of the above into a dizzying free-association collage more interested in human speech (its textures, its emotional triggers) than anything from the annals of pop music. Along the way are inspired excursions into funk (“I Didn’t Know That”) and trip-hop (“The Story of Hip Hop”), but what especially gives The Way Out its weirdly alluring thematic pull is a newfound interest in recordings of self-help meditation gurus (most notably on bookenders “Group Autogenics I” and “Group Autogenics II”, as well as “Chain of Missing Links”). And the cliché holds true: The Books sound like a lot, but nothing else quite sounds like the Books. Zach Schonfeld
Vancouver’s Brasstronaut gained recognition in Canada for their debut album, Mt. Chimera, when it made the list for that country’s Polaris Music Prize. The nomination was richly deserved. The album combines loose-limbed indie rock with jazz influences, and throws in a smorgasbord of other genres as well. With full-time trumpet and woodwind players as well as upright bass and piano, the band’s sound is unique. An upbeat rocker like “Lo Hi Hopes” gives way to the rolling klezmer stylings of “Six Toes”, which feeds into the chamber-pop of “Hearts Trompet”. Closer “Insects” manages to sound like three different songs in one, and actually makes it work. It’s all pulled together by Edo Van Breemen’s light, breezy singing style. The band tries a lot of different things on Mt. Chimaera, and pulls off every one. Groups that incorporate unusual instruments into an indie rock stew are pretty commonplace, but rarely do they sound as smooth as Brasstronaut. Chris Conaton
Forgiveness Rock Record
The lack of Forgiveness Rock Record‘s mention in several Top Ten lists reflects far less on the quality of the album and far more on what an amazing year 2010 was music-wise. In almost every year since their last album in 2005, Forgiveness Rock Record would have been an easy Top 10 candidate. The album kicks off with one of the best opening tracks of the year (“World Sick”) and unveils 13 other memorable tracks, some unforgettable (“Romance to the Grave”), some misplaced experiments (“Me and My Hand”, the too hip for its own good “Texico Bitches”). Forgiveness Rock Record proved that straightforward rock bands could still produce wildly original material. When the last decade drew to a close, several albums that were not included in many critics’ “best of 2000” list found a place on many “Best of the Decade” lists. Don’t be surprised if Forgiveness Rock Record follows a similar path as future listeners will no doubt continue to fall in love with this record. Sean McCarthy
Here Lies Love
Imelda Marcos loved to dance. In the late ‘70s, the former First Lady of the Philippines frequented Studio 54 when passing through New York. The music of that legendary club inspires much of the sonic backdrop on Here Lies Love, a 90-minute song cycle written and produced by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Conceived by Byrne, the songs trace the ascent of Imelda Marcos as a formidable political figure, as well as Marcos’ betrayal of her childhood caretaker Estrella Cumpas. Each song tells another part of the chronologically constructed story, with nearly two dozen artists embodying Marcos, Cumpas, or other important figures. Essential moments include the delectable “Don’t You Agree” (featuring Róisín Murphy), Santigold’s appearance on “Please Don’t”, the sprawling title track sung by Florence Welch, and Alice Russell’s searing performance on “Men Will Do Anything”. Don’t be intimidated by the two discs-worth of songs. Just dive in and submerge yourself in one of the most compelling musical experiences of 2010. Christian John Wikane
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// Notes from the Road
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