M.I.A. and more...
Given the amount of bands that garner a sizable amount of buzz/hype via blogs (deserving or otherwise) in any given year, its truly bewildering when a group so deserving of said love goes almost completely ignored. Of course, this raises a lot of questions about the importance of label, location, dumb luck, etc., but I won’t get into that. Here are the facts: Librarians are a young quartet from West Virginia that previously dabbled in dance-punk. Neither of these are particularly attractive truths, but Librarians has since blossomed into something unrecognizable: a band that effortlessly weaves psych, new-wave and post-punk into stellar jams that feel destined for mixtape immortality. Granted, Librarians do channel a handful of fashionable influences (Animal Collective, the Zombies and Modest Mouse), but that hasn’t done them any favors yet. Above all, what made Present Passed one of my favorite albums of 2010 was its consistently compelling and quotable lyrics. Whether they’re dishing out surreal imagery (“Lucifer’s jumping up and down / Watching reruns of history”) or sensual come-ons (“I want to be the drink in your shot glass / I want to see how long we can make this sip last”), Librarians exhibits a casual brilliance for tapping into the universal human condition via their own personal experiences. Ben Schumer
Tin Can Trust
Los Lobos occupy a rich spot between cultures, so their music has a wealth of traditions to draw from. What makes their sound work so well, though, is that they don’t seem to care where the boundaries are supposed to lie. They’re just as likely to record a traditional cumbia as they are a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll rave-up, but you’ll also find them bringing all of their influences together into a savory blend. Like its predecessor, 2002’s The Town and the City, Tin Can Trust is full of understated snapshots of daily life full of warmth and heart. It doesn’t hurt that Tin Can Trust has about as much tasty guitar work as you can fit into an album, but what sets it apart is the humanity. When it seems like more and more voices are yelling at us to create fault lines from our differences, the quiet voice of this album reminds us of the rewards to be gained from coming together. This is the sound of daily life being lived through good and bad, and ultimately celebrated. Andrew Gilstrap
Julian Lynch’s hazy, ambient yet largely acoustic-based album came out in a perfect storm: all the elements—his hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey shared with other breakout groups, the buzzy genre mix of chillwave/hypnagogic or just plain bedroom pop, the flurry of interesting releases by his label, Olde English Spelling Bee—coincided to back up his second “proper” release. Lucky for Lynch, the ethnomusicologist in training, that this album can actually back up the buzz. It’s a solid, well thought out piece of work. Mare is pastiche; each track has a central idea, whether it’s an acoustic guitar line, a bass rumble, a horn part, around which Lynch pins contributions from other instruments. His mumbly vocals work more like another musical layer than as a provision for lyrics. What makes this album superior to many other “bedroom” projects is its looseness, the non-synthesized aspect that lets you know there actually is someone there playing the instrument: the hand beaten drums loses a beat on the island swing of “Ears”, or the two acoustic guitar tracks on “Still Racing” step on each other’s rhythm a bit. It may not be a band playing, but it sounds real. Scott Branson
Oh, how easy it is to miss a point when the speaker refuses to filter! For her third LP, Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) drafted her notion of the Age of Enlightenment’s inalienable rights and uploaded it for the Information Age, and scored it with jack hammers, distortion, and industrialized pop, rock, rap, and reggae. Here, the social contract involves the Internet’s instant delivery and deluge of data, signifying possibilities and limitations. Massively paranoid and musically daring, Maya (stylized in net-speak as /\/\ /\ Y /\) is synonymous with its maker, a personal statement living in the moment as much as any Tweet. This is M.I.A. reporting live from The Machine, as equal parts freedom crusader and weblog cruiser (“Teqkilla” = “Tech Killa”, see? It’s “hactivism”). The struggle resides in surfing the built-in complacency, finding meaning among chaos, and logging off with your identity intact. The only mistake was reserving the four tracks that round out the album’s philosophy (“Internet Connection”, “Illy Girl”, “Believer”, and “Caps Lock”) for the deluxe edition. Quentin B. Huff
While the kids in 2010 were railing against the suburbs or shaping the path where popular music would go, the adults in the Magnetic Fields’ Realism took a folksy (albeit brief) stroll through the past. Songs like “We Are Having a Hootenanny” and “The Dada Polka” sound like they could have formed at the turn of the last century. Going back even further, “Interlude” and “The Dolls’ Tea Party” sound like they could have been penned during the Renaissance. Stephin Merritt still has one of the sharpest tongues in rock, and on Realism, he created an excellent companion piece to the experimental Distortion. On “Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree”, Merritt declares “If they don’t like you, screw them.” On Realism, Merritt gives his own, beguiling version of the middle finger to modern music conventional wisdom. Sean McCarthy