Killing Joke and more...
It’s not as if Killing Joke made a miraculous comeback after years of inactivity. In fact, they’ve put out a pair of very strong, vital albums this past decade. If anything, when the original 1980 lineup decided to reunite in the wake of the death of bassist Paul Raven, it led some of us to wonder if they could equal the visceral intensity of Killing Joke and Hosannas From the Basements of Hell. Absolute Dissent, however, sees the post-punk veterans rediscovering the magic of their ‘80s incarnation in a way that few had expected. Geordie Walker’s riff still slice away savagely and Jaz Coleman is still carrying on with his political rants and conspiracy theories, but those mid-‘80s hooks have returned with a vengeance, ranging from the dub of “Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove” to the brilliant Brighter than a Thousand Suns knock-off “European Super State”. And if you thought these old guys forgot to mercilessly throttle their audience, “The Great Cull” and “This World hell” swiftly erases any doubt. Adrien Begrand
Lake Street Dive
I have a confession to make. I was going to vote for Lake Street Dive’s third album when submitting my Best of 2010 nominations, but something held me back. Part of it was that the record was released in November, and I felt that it was too “new” to look at it objectively. A larger reason though was that I felt I would be wasting a vote on a band that’s, well, obscure and that nobody else had heard of, let alone voted for. (That might sound like peer pressure forcing me to cave in, but there it is.) I have had my share of regrets because I’ve returned many times to the wonderful Lake Street Dive, and it magically holds up on repeated listens. Lake Street Dive have a soulful, jazzy sound that honestly just doesn’t get made anymore, and the fact that the band members appear to be in their 20s just adds to the charm, as though they’ve honed their sound simply by raiding their parents’ record collections. That’s not to speak of Rachael Price’s awe-inspiring singing as the cherry on top of the cake. I could do it all over again, Lake Street Dive would come very close to the top of my Best of 2010 list. This is music for people who love music, and there is much joy, infectiousness and wonderful beauty to be found here. Zachary Houle
There’s nothing like a good collaboration to get one excited about the state of music. In the grand tradition of such historic power jams from Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway to Beck, Bogert and Appice, new school R&B great John Legend, inspired by the hope and positive vibes emanating from the U.S. in the advent of Barack Obama’s groundbreaking presidential campaign in 2008, got together with his homies the Roots to deliver a gritty, organic collection of old soul covers that plays out like the days of Auto-Tune, iced grills and booty claps never even existed. And when you dig into the conviction by which this winning combination transforms such deep catalog black American anthems like Baby Huey and the Babysitters’ Curtis Mayfield-penned classic “Hard Times”, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ “Wake Up Everybody”, Bill Withers’ “I Can’t Write Left Handed” and Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy” among several others into their own funky performances, the parallels they draw between yesterday and today without changing a word is nothing short of eye-opening—hitting the listener exactly the way a great covers album should. Ron Hart
Liars reside on the more experimental side of indie rock and the more mainstream side of experimental music. Sisterworld represents that split-identity perfectly. A song like “Scarecrows on Killer Slant” hits hard, featuring top-volume distorted guitars and screamed vocals. But then a tune like “Proud Evolution” comes on—with a bass line that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Talking Heads song—and it’s clear that they’re just as capable of carrying a solid groove. All the parts come together to form an album that unites the band’s different sounds and is enthralling throughout. Liars wear their heavier tendencies on their sleeve, but they have just enough of a pop sensibility to take this album from niche record to plain outstanding. Tomas Hachard