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Massive Attack

Heligoland

(Virgin; US: 9 Feb 2010; UK: 8 Feb 2010)

Review [7.Feb.2010]

70



Massive Attack
Heligoland


Back when it was known as Weather Underground in the mid-‘00s, it almost seemed as though Massive Attack’s embattled fifth LP was in danger of becoming delayed into “lost album” territory. But after nearly five years of false starts, near misses and almost nevers, Ninja and Daddy G gave the project a new title (named after an archipelago in Germany), a more organic, guitar-heavy vibe and a wild array of guests ranging from Massive regular Horace Andy, TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimp, and Damon Albarn to Hope Sandoval, Elbow’s Guy Garvey, fellow trip-hop architects Martina Topley-Bird and Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley. Massive Attack wind up with their best pound-for-pound album since Protection. Ron Hart


 

 



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Robyn

Body Talk, Pt. 1

(Cherry Tree; US: 15 Jun 2010; UK: 14 Jun 2010)

Review [14.Jun.2010]

69



Robyn
Body Talk, Pt. 1


Album covers for 2010 releases from Christina Aguilera, Kelis, and Erykah Badu featured depictions of each artist as part woman, part machine. These Gaga-esque explorations of femininity are by no means new to the pop landscape, however digital culture and technology have added a sense of robot-like fluidity to gender and sexual identity, including that of our pop stars. Frequently left out of this conversation in the American musical landscape is Swedish singer/songwriter Robyn, who happened to release three stunning records this year. The first, titled Body Talk Pt. 1 is the standout—a flawless, compact pop record that deals with topics Lady Gaga only attempts to discuss. Robyn is as adept a songwriter as anyone charting the Top 40, yet her disinterest in American sex symbolism likely puts her out of the American market. Songs like “Dancing on My Own” and “Fembot” are not only brilliant, pop songs; they’re examples of Robyn’s enormously compelling 21st century version of the female pop iconic. Stefan Nickum


 

 



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Vijay Iyer

Solo

(ACT Music & Vision; US: 31 Aug 2010; UK: Import)

Review [19.Oct.2010]

68



Vijay Iyer
Solo


Vijay Iyer has made his career by turning jazz inside out. His quartet albums of the last six years have been aggressive, angry and hilarious, three adjectives that are rarely used to describe new jazz music. It comes as a surprise, then, that his first solo piano album is so sparse, lyrical and traditional. Of course, the things that make Iyer Iyer are still here: the jerky rhythms, the idiosyncratic lines, and the sense of humor. Iyer has most recently poised himself as a jazz revisionist, rewriting songs to fit his worldview, and his take on “Epistrophy”, an old Thelonoius Monk standard, sits between Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and the even older Jimmy Van Heusen tune “Darn that Dream”. His tinkering would be unwelcome if not successful, but I am happy to say that he is capable of making even the most seasoned listener hear jazz in a new light. Callum MacKenzine


 

 



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Oneohtrix Point Never

Returnal

(Editions Mego; US: 22 Jun 2010; UK: 14 Jun 2010)

Review [10.Sep.2010]

67



Oneohtrix Point Never
Returnal


One of the major stories in experimental circles this year was the rejuvenation of the Editions Mego label, an imprint which (as simply, Mego) helped popularize laptop-based electronic and drone in the early part of the ‘00s. It was their recent influx of synth-devouring progressives, however, who helped make inroads to curious ears less accustomed to the extremes of the underground. Emerging as the de-facto leader of the movement was Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, a Brooklyn-bred vintage synth enthusiast whose steadily growing discography culminated in this year’s expansive Returnal. Extending far beyond the magnetic, arpeggiated pinwheels of his more recent output, Returnal instead finds Lopatin looking to the extremes of both the ambient and noise spectrums to build an LP of drifting plateaus and shrill, galvanized peaks. Rare is the artist brave enough to try their hand at such diverse, beloved forms. Rarer still is the mind capable of stitching the results into one seamless, staggering whole. Jordan Cronk


 

 



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Cee-Lo Green

The Lady Killer

(Elektra/Asylum; US: 9 Nov 2010; UK: 8 Nov 2010)

Review [9.Nov.2010]

66



Cee-Lo Green
The Lady Killer


Cee-Lo Greene is arguably the most expressive contemporary male singer across all genres of popular music. His sensitivity is not expressed through whispery navel-gazing. He goes straight to the mountain top and bellows his emotions—unhinged, unashamed. Irrespective of the album title and the cool, bespectacled album cover pose, The Lady Killer contains hardly an ounce of macho posturing. Instead, Green vacillates between theatricality (“Love Gun”) and sincerity (“No One’s Gonna Love You”). The musicality here is truly exceptional, from the go-go beat of “Satisfied” to the synth-punctuated strut of “Bright Lights Bigger City” to the angelic backing vocals of Philip Bailey on “Fool For You”. Even if the arrangements occasionally veer towards overblown, Green never gets overwhelmed by his surroundings. Of course, the year’s most notorious single can be found here too (“Fuck You”). If that’s the bait you need, it pays in dividends. Christian John Wikane


 

 



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The Radio Dept.

Clinging to a Scheme

(Labrador; US: 20 Apr 2010; UK: 19 Apr 2010)

Review [19.Apr.2010]

65



The Radio Dept.
Clinging to a Scheme


What the Swedish indie-pop group the Radio Dept achieves on their third LP isn’t just refining the romantic, bittersweet sweep of their music, keeping it fresh by both streamlining their sound and filling it with new tricks that emphasize the flexibility of pop music. They also wed a personal sense of disappointment with a global one. These songs reflect a progressive wish for a world where freedom and equality are valued, while emphasizing the way that dream is continually crushed. They’re moving “against the tide” (a phrase from their first LP that returns here), amidst the increasing waves of charlatans, hypocrites and corporate control. At the same time these are mainly sad songs about the ways people fail to connect with each other. The broken promises, “Memory Loss” and inability to “make sense” that they sing about represent self-criticism and disappointment in friends and lovers. It’s also pointed social commentary. Dave Heaton


 

 



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The Nels Cline Singers

Initiate

(Cryptogramophone; US: 13 Apr 2010; UK: Import)

Review [13.Apr.2010]

64



The Nels Cline Singers
Initiate


Initiate shouldn’t be a classic. It’s scattered and manic and—with one studio disc, one live disc, and over two hours of music—probably too large. Both disc overflow with genres, ideas, and idea-less pandemonium. What should be a messy surfeit actually turns out to be rollicking fun. By this point, the virtuosity of the trio (guitarist Nels Cline, percussionist Scott Amendola, and bassist Devin Hoff) isn’t in question, and by now they’ve merged that skill with great imagination. The albums have moments ranging from traditional jazz (maybe not quite Charlie Christian) to spacey electronics to noise-rock. The challenge with this sort of record should be to make it cohere, but the Singers forego that approach, choosing a wildness in their explorations. It hangs together because each piece is enjoyable, the sequencing works within the chaos, and the group has energy and creativity to spare. Anything more proper just wouldn’t have been proper. Justin Cober-Lake


 

 



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Agalloch

Marrow of the Spirits

(Profound Lore; US: 23 Nov 2010; UK: 29 Nov 2010)

63



Agalloch
Marrow of the Spirits


Every Agalloch album over the past 11 years has been a noteworthy achievement, whether 1999’s Pale Folklore, 2002’s The Mantle, or 2006’s Ashes Against the Grain, but the Portland, Oregon foursome’s fourth full-length is another story entirely. The sumptuous blend of folk, post rock, and black metal they’re known for is still present, but Marrow of the Spirit is far more challenging, as it subtly expands their sound further. Striking cello melodies reminiscent of Kronos Quartet bookend the album in cinematic fashion, the intense yet beautiful “Into the Painted Grey” takes listeners into far darker territory than ever before, and the gorgeous “Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires” incorporates the Cure’s melancholy tones into metal as well as anyone has. Best of all is the 17-minute centerpiece “Black Lake Nidstång”, a progressive metal epic that is almost Krautrock-like in its form and willingness to experiment. When it comes to forward-thinking, poetic, life-affirming metal music in 2010, it doesn’t get any better than this. Adrien Begrand


 

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Roky Erickson with Okkervil River

True Love Cast Out All Evil

(Anti-; US: 20 Apr 2010; UK: 19 Apr 2010)

Review [18.Apr.2010]

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Roky Erickson with Okkervil River
True Love Cast Out All Evil


It was a tough year to be a music fan. We lost talents like Vic Chesnutt (in December 2009), Mark Linkous, and Jay Reatard all too soon, and said goodbye to Solomon Burke, Lena Horn and countless others over the course of the last 12 months. But here’s an album to find solace in, because isn’t Roky’s story the best one of 2010? For all he’s been through—trouble with the law, mental institutions, living with mental illness, custody fights within his family—shouldn’t he be resigned to bitterness? Should he even be able to give us True Love Cast Out All Evil? For anyone, really, the generosity of spirit on this record is staggering. Erickson isn’t casting out the past—the tracks recorded during his hospitalization are grainy and harrowing—but his weathered voice mines the spare, dusty churn of these songs for glimmers of hope in the wake of all his trials. And, on heartbreakingly sweet songs like “Two Birds’d Crashed” or “Be and Bring Me Home”, he finds them. As his band, Okkervil River tones down its rock-show grandiosity and plays humble, sturdy second fiddle to Erickson. Because this is his show, and his story—its major loss and ultimate redemption—is one worth hearing, over and over again. Especially when it’s being told with this much heart. Matt Fiander


 

 



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Bilal

Airtight’s Revenge

(Plug Research; US: 14 Sep 2010; UK: )

61



Bilal
Airtight’s Revenge


This was actually a very good year for unconventional black artists. But Bilal Oliver—making a welcome return to the scene after nearly a decade—outdid all the competition with his wildly inventive, wildly enjoyable album, Airtight’s Revenge. It’s the work of an artist in full control of his skills, redefining his relationship to his audience because the music has simply taken him somewhere we didn’t expect. When you hear “Robots” or “Cake and Eat It Too”, you are listening to Bilal articulate the familiar in unfamiliar ways that invigorate. And ultimately, if loved the latest work by Janelle Monáe and Kanye West, you’ll love Airtight’s Revenge more. Tyler Lewis


 
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