SOUNDSCAPES staff BEST OF 2010
These are the 25 favourite new releases and reissues of 2010 as chosen by the staff of Soundscapes. 12 staff members chose their own 15 most loved albums in each category. Each album was then weighted by points (i.e. 15 points for a #1 pick, 14 for #2, and so on) and the totals were added for this list.
Top 25 New Releases of 2010
1. BEACH HOUSE - Teen Dream
"Teen Dream completely eradicates the band's past timidness, while managing to retain the group's 'character actor' appeal. It's a feat that many before have tried, but few can claim to have pulled it off as suavely as this. The arrangements are bigger, but still stay simple and clean. Victoria Legrand's vocals remain woozy and hazy, but when required are now able to strike out with heartbreaking force." (originally published on January 28, 2010)
2. ZEUS - Say Us
"The fact that this group has three different singer-songwriters speaks volumes of their ability to work as one well-oiled cohesive unit. As their name implies, these aspiring gods of rock are getting their mythmaking off to a solid start." (originally published on February 24, 2010)
3. SPOON - Transference
"Transference steps sideways deep into a world of jagged panning, meticulously raw instrumentation and fiercely-applied effects. To truly understand its charms, you need to slap on a pair of headphones, stop asking questions, and just let it ride, which is exactly what this album so confidently does." (originally published on January 19, 2010)
4. OWEN PALLETT - Heartland
"Mark this as the moment that Owen Pallett truly stepped up to assume the mantle that was his. That may seem a naive—or even ignorant—thing to say given Pallett's considerable success to date. But I really can't think of another way to convey the stunningly confident triumph that is Heartland." (originally published on January 15, 2010)
5. FIELD MUSIC - Field Music (Measure)
"Ranging from barroom piano vignettes that would make Harry Nilsson blush to slices of meditative string-laden melancholy, and from found sound sketches to ecstatic bursts of left-turn pop that steal Andy Partridge's mojo right from his hands, (Measure) is one hell of a ride." (originally published on March 29, 2010)
6. ARIEL PINK'S HAUNTED GRAFFITI - Before Today
"Pink's a cunning and admirably unhinged songwriter. Whether his references points are Seventeen Seconds-era Cure ("Fright Night [Nevermore]"), weirdo soundtrack outtakes from an episode of Miami Vice ("Beverly Kills"), or a pop tune complete with moaning porno sounds snatched from the cutting room of Guns N' Roses' "Rocket Queen" ("Butt-House Blondies"), there's always some sweet hook cutting through the retro fetish." (originally published on June 24, 2010)
7. (tie) DEERHUNTER - Halcyon Digest
"Whether or not Halcyon Digest is the band's best album is up for debate, but one thing's for certain: they've thrown together an exceptional record that deserves that kind of consideration. Deerhunter have quickly gone from being contenders to standard bearers—one of the best bands of their ilk and moment." (originally published on September 28, 2010)
7. (tie) THE RADIO DEPT. - Clinging To A Scheme
"Clinging To A Scheme is a exceptional study in everything that makes delicate pop music such a pleasure to experience. It intelligently expands its own sonic palette continually—delving subtly into the worlds of hip hop and samples—without ever seeming contrived."(originally published on May 25, 2010)
9. AVI BUFFALO - S/T
He came to Toronto (three times, for four performances in all if you include an in-store he played solo here in our shop), we saw: we were wowed. Avi Zahner-Isenberg and band not only charmed in person, though, but also (and foremost) on record—this debut had us curious enough in early 2010, when word of these Sub Pop signees first got 'round; they had us thoroughly convinced of their brilliance as the year crept on.
10. (tie) MANTLER - Monody
Here, on his fourth album as Mantler, Toronto native Chris Cummings perfects the sound he's been developing the last ten years. Featuring contributions from musicians ranging from Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) to Owen Pallett, Mantler's tales of perseverance have never sounded as sad, upbeat, sparse, lush, melodic and playful. Though he still remains one of music's best-kept secrets, albums like Monody prove it's certainly not through any lack of talent.
10. (tie) WHITE FENCE - S/T
"Without a doubt, Tim Presley has absorbed the sounds of '60s psych merchants like Syd Barrett and The Electric Prunes, while throwing in a dollop or two of garage-punk aggression. But while many a musician has trod this nouveau-psychedelic path before, there aren't too many people these days delivering the goods with this much conviction and with so many melodic hooks." (originally published on July 7, 2010)
10. (tie) TY SEGALL - Melted
The current slew of San Francisco garage-psych bands yields plenty of reverb and snot; Melted, the third album from Ty Segall, has both in spades while possessing an underlying pop vibe that makes it stand out amongst the San Fran scene.
13. STORNOWAY - Beachcomber's Windowsill
"What is remarkable about this album is how incongruous it is, however unassuming it may seem at first. Where some contemporary bands slather on the overdubs to the disservice of the song, with Stornoway the majesty of the songs is never lost, even in the midst of their more obtuse sonic layering, thanks to the gift of subtlety." (originally published on November 18, 2010)
14. (tie) MGMT - Congratulations
"Hold on...what the hell? That's not dance-pop!! It sounds like...some weird scene in an Austin Powers film. And a little like that Yes record my dumbass younger brother played me over the summer. And was that last song really twelve minutes?!?! Who are those guys anyway? Oh no! NO!!! It's those two new Tri Lambs, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden!!" (originally published on April 15, 2010)
14. (tie) THE ALPS - Voyage
"Steering clear of the claustrophobic reverb flood of Animal Collective and the like, Alps paint their psychic landscapes the old-fashioned way: shimmering twelve-strings, cymbals so airy they must be transparent, and the old stand-by tambura—'70s secret code that things are about to get trippy." (originally published on June 7, 2010)
16. JOANNA NEWSOM - Have One On Me
"Instead of a record that one feels like they need to crack like some aural Rubik's Cube, Have One On Me becomes an absolutely fascinating and absorbing session." (originally published on March 7, 2010)
17. (tie) THE WALKMEN - Lisbon
"The Walkmen may have worked very hard making this record (by some accounts around 30 songs were considered for the LP), but it sounds anything but laboured. The patience and atmosphere they mastered on You & Me blossoms here into a wonderfully concise set that is immediately worth revisiting as soon as it concludes." (originally published on September 19, 2010)
17. (tie) BLACK MILK - Album Of The Year
The title of this record might come off as a lofty claim, but after first listen it is clear that Detroit’s Black Milk (aka Curtis Cross) has picked the right name for the right record. The new album is a reflection of Cross’ last year, describing a year filled with themes and emotions dispensed with both vulnerability and assurance. This wordplay is coupled with infectious instrumental interplay that pulls inspiration from the worlds of Detroit funk, rock and funk-rock. For this record Curtis worked with a live band which provides the warped guitar and tight drum fills on album favourites “Distortion”, “Keep Going” and “Round of Applause.”
17. (tie) SHE & HIM - Volume Two
"Not that She & Him eschew modern digital production, but the simplicity and directness of the songwriting and arrangements keeps things decidedly Brill Building and, at times, aims for the countrypolitan sound of '60s Nashville. Sweet stuff! " (originally published on April 1, 2010)
20. KELLEY STOLTZ - To Dreamers
It’s gratifying to discover that San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist Kelly Stoltz just keeps getting better with each album. Not that he was a slouch in writing and recording psych-pop gems before, but he’s surpassed himself here, throwing in the odd early-80s echo of the Bunnymen on this assortment of incessantly infectious homemade material.
21. (tie) RYAN DRIVER - Who's Breathing?
It comes as no surprise that Ryan Driver has a drink named after him at the Tranzac; The Rye & Driver, a unique take on the Screwdriver. The prolific player and songwriter has left an indelible mark on the Toronto music community through his work with The Silt, The Reveries, and solo-efforts. On "Who's Breathing?” his songwriting continues to cover many genres and moods - ranging from folk to free jazz, soulful highs and balladry. Top tracks include: “Everything Must Spin”, “Blue Skies Don’t Care”, “Dead End Street” and “Don’t Want to Leave You without You.”
21. (tie) JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD - Heavy
"Made up of Nashville natives Jake and Jamin Orrall on guitar and drums, Heavy Days possesses a certain playful charm that few hard-rocking duos have. They're a band that doesn't take themselves too seriously, but that doesn't mean they haven't got the chops." (originally published on March 28, 2010)
23. (tie) LCD SOUNDSYSTEM - This Is Happening
"No doubt many are gunning for This Is Happening to be the sound of Murphy finally choking on his own bitter bakery. But he's a slippery character and on this newest album, he manages to make some of his deftest escapes yet." (originally published on May 19, 2010)
23. (tie) BRIAN MCBRIDE - The Effective Disconnect
Composed for a documentary about Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, thankfully, there are no bees buzzing on this soundtrack, instead we are blessed with contemplative strings and piano, a collection of serene drones that stands on its own. Primarily known as a member of the masterful Stars Of The Lid, Brian McBride creates heartbreakingly beautiful late night listening for introspective souls.
25. (tie) NO AGE - Everything In Between
"No Age's guitar/drums/sampler template is as exhilarating as it is primed to one day expire, but maybe that's the point. It burns on a high octane brand of petrol, and for now, they sound like they’re living on anything but borrowed time." (originally published on October 1, 2010)
25. (tie) PHOSPHORESCENT - Here's To Taking It Easy
This is the first Phosphorescent album to be written collaboratively as a band (rather than composed by frontman Matthew Houck), and that really comes across. The raucous, full-band build-up sound of this recording is much more reflective of their current live performances than their earlier, more atmospheric, moodier albums. It's a comfy, partytime kind of vibe, one that makes you feel like maybe 'taking it easy' has become the group's general philosophy.
Top 25 Reissues of 2010
1. VA - Next Stop...Soweto: Township Sounds From The Golden Age Of Mbaqanga
"Next Stop…Soweto (the first of three volumes!) is a highly welcome return to Johannesburg. Tracks are drawn from the late '60s to the mid-'70s, and relentlessly show off the joyful exuberance so easily recognizable from South African musicians: the rich timbres of their choral singing, rhythm guitars that take giant leaps up the neck, 8/8 beats that will make you bounce uncontrollably, and some of the most infectious horn lines you’re likely to hear all year." (originally published on March 10, 2010)
2. VA - Deutsche Elektronische Musik: Experimental German Rock And Electronic Music 1972-83
"Aside from a bunch of outrageously-named collections from a few years ago (Kraut! Demons! Kraut!, for example), there has been a surprisingly small industry dedicated to this highly-fetishized era of German progressive rock and electronic music. Leave it to Soul Jazz, then, to not only do it with authority, but to have the nerve to stretch the timeline into the early '80s, when the genre had been largely abandoned by its diehard fans."
(originally published on May 13, 2010)
3. PASTOR T.L. BARRETT AND THE YOUTH FOR CHRIST CHOIR - Like A Ship (Without A Sail)
"A serious rarity on the vinyl market, Like A Ship (Without A Sail) is also a rare work of inspiration in every sense of the word: gospel music so rarely sounds this groovy, updating Ray Charles’ sacred soul-jazz to suit the times (“Blessed Quietness”), and at times also showing the influence [Donny] Hathaway had on Barrett (“Wonderful”)." (originally published on August 31, 2010)
4. BILL FOX - Shelter From The Smoke
"For all of the depth of his recordings, you’ll barely notice that most of the 23 songs here are recorded with only one or two acoustic guitars accompanying his lead vocal and occasional harmony. The few full-band recordings are rough-hewn, quite literally “garagey” and so damned exhilarating in their intent that you forgive the shortcomings in fidelity. Amazingly, what sounds like a overview of a lost songwriter from the '70s or early '80s comes from a Cleveland artist in 1998." (originally published on January 26, 2010)
5. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - The Promise
With bonafide hits (and live staples) "Because The Night" and "Fire" leading the singles charge, a solid core of tracks such as "One Way Street", the Phil Spector swoon of "Someday (We'll Be Together)", "Gotta Get That Feeling" and "Ain't Good Enough For You" form the heart of what would've been a very good record. Even better, all of these songs sound full, rich, and completely realized—it is only the presence of Darkness that makes them in any way incomplete or transitory. (originally published on November 21, 2010)
6. TED LUCAS - S/T (a.k.a. The Om Album)
This Yoga Records reissue could’ve easily fallen through the cracks this year had a co-worker not been intrigued by the trippy Journey-esque cover art and beguiling description on its sticker. From first listen, Lucas’ hypnotic vocals and memorable circular folk songwriting had us hooked. Side A of the album has six of Lucas’ gorgeously simple folk songs, while Side B features three slightly more experimental, mostly instrumental jams. This overlooked gem deserves to be heard and heralded for its beauty.
7. JANE BIRKIN - Di Doo Dah
This writer may have been far better acquainted with Histoire De Melody Nelson before hearing this reissue, but let it be argued that Di Doo Dah's strangely smoky Southern (France) slide licks, slinky bass (check The Alps' Le Voyage, rated above, for a modern nod to those tones), door-knocking tom-toms and killer Vannier strings place it well within in the ranks of prime Serge-related sessions.
8. VA - Local Customs: Lone Star Lowlands
"Known for producing the Winter brothers, Barbara Lynn, and a lot of oil, Beaumont, Texas, from the sounds of this collection, had quite a lively and diverse scene. Local bands with their eyes on the big-time demoed material at the Lowland studios during the classic-rock era. Numero, in typical fashion, listened to every single tape in the studio’s archive, and after two years they assembled this impressive set of could-have-beens." (originally published on August 30, 2010)
9. VA - Califia: The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood
"The late great Lee Hazlewood was one hell of an ornery contrarian. And, bless his soul, he also happened to be one multi-talented musical tour-de-force: eccentric singer, songwriter, record label owner, and producer. We’ve seen several sterling Hazlewood reissues crop up over the years, but Califia is a compilation with a twist, amassing twenty-five tantalizing tracks he wrote and produced for himself and others between 1956 and ’70." (originally published on September 14, 2010)
10. THE UNIQUES - Absolutely Rocksteady
Reggae harmony does not come much sweeter than this. Led by Slim Smith’s unmistakable falsetto voice, the Uniques, along with The Techniques and the Heptones recorded many of the hallmark singles of the Rocksteady era. This Pressure Sounds release contains most of the remaining songs not contained on their first Uniques retrospective, Watch This Sound.
11. LO BORGES - S/T
"With 14 songs over 27 minutes, many songs are fragmentary yet fully realized, densely packed with quirkily muscular musicianship and atmosphere that could have only been produced in the '70s. This is a wonderfully odd, shape-shifting album that will have you scratching your head for years to come." (originally published on August 11, 2010)
12. GEORGE JACKSON - George Jackson In Memphis 1972-77
"A talented southern soul songwriter, George Jackson hit paydirt when his “One Bad Apple” was turned down as a single by the Jackson 5 but turned into a monster hit for The Osmonds. His own material had little in common with that high-energy pop confection; instead, Jackson’s classic period, captured here, is pure laidback Memphis." (originally published on February 7, 2010)
13. PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS - Band On The Run (remaster)
The announcement that the entirety of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles output would be reissued was greeted with enthusiasm by this writer, tinged with some cynicism; do I need another version of McCartney’s classics? Yep, I do. The first release of the series, the commercially and critically successful Band On The Run, overrode my cynicism with beautiful packaging, thoughtful liner notes and neat DVD extras like the entire One Hand Clapping BBC special from 1974. Oh yeah, and the album itself is still a thrill to listen to, with Paul reaching rollicking, charm-filled heights.
14. MICHAEL HURLEY - Hi-Fi Snock Uptown
Hi-Fi Snock Uptown is Michael Hurley at his catchiest. Despite his reputation as an outsider, this collection of ramblin' folk tunes from '72 (reissued on vinyl only) comprises some of the nicest, most charming songwriting I can think of. But lest that discourage fans of Hurley's idiosyncrasies, never fear; there's plenty of mouth-trumpet and bird cawing to keep you interested.
15. SYL JOHNSON - Complete Mythology (6LP + 4CD box set)
"Not only have Numero delivered the goods on Syl Johnson's Twinight material, but they've gone far beyond what any soul fan could have hoped for and put together a package that also gathers the rest of his pre-Hi material in a gorgeous 4CD and 6LP box!" (originally published on November 25, 2010)
16. THE CURE - Disintegration (Deluxe Edition)
From the first day I started at Soundscapes, I have been wondering when Disintegration was going to get the same reissue treatment that all of the earlier Cure albums did. “How can they stop with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me?”, I’d enquire. “If and when they do put it out, Disintegration will be my reissue of the year!”, I’d boldly proclaim. BAM.
17. JIM GUTHRIE - Now, More Than Ever (Expanded Edition)
"Where does the time go? Has it already been seven years since we last heard from Jim Guthrie? Of course, we haven't been completely devoid of his music. However, the world has been waiting for another solo album proper, and though this isn't it, the expanded reissue of Now, More Than Ever still deserves our attention." (originally published on October 25, 2010)
18. DAVID BOWIE - Station To Station (Special Edition)
Besides an ace live show from '76, there aren't any bonus tracks added to this Special Edition of Bowie's mid-'70s transitional album (you'll need to shell out a bit more for the Deluxe Edition if you want B-sides and rarities), but leaving the album as-is gives it the respect it deserves. Only six tracks long, Station To Station is the sound of an artist switching rails on his way to the height of his career.
19. D.O. MISIANI & SHIRATI JAZZ - The King Of History: Classic 1970s Benga Beats From Kenya
Finding the right tracks to pick from this comp for our listening-post mix was tricky, not only because the whole disc is a great intro to this Kenyan bandleader's work, with its infectious blend of floppy tremolo-bar leads, elastic-band basslines and Congol-esque vocal harmonies, but because these are long, two-part songs whose structures veer towards either rumba or highlife in feel. We're glad to have discovered Misiani through this Sterns set, whose oeuvre's up there with the likes of such other African originals as Franco or Mapfumo.
20. VA – R’N’B Hipshakers Vol.1: Teach Me How To Monkey
You’ll find it impossible not to, ahem, go ape to this irresistible collection of upbeat singles originally cut for the King and Federal labels. Rhythm ‘n’ blues greats like Little Willie John, Hank Ballard, and eighteen other purveyors of early-'60s soul join forces with only one goal in mind: making your backbone slip until you’re just too pooped to pop. Mission accomplished!
21. DION - Wonder Where I'm Bound
Doo wop singer extraordinaire Dion DiMucci unleashed his inner folkie and bluesman on this revelatory reissue of obscure mid-'60s recordings. Plumbing the depths of his soul and adding previously unsuspected layers of sensitivity to the swagger of his earlier teen idol persona, this is powerful and beautiful stuff.
22. JOE TEX - Singles A's & B's Vol. 2: 1967-1968
Joe Tex’s amazing Dial Records singles have been released before, but never in such a comprehensive and satisfying package. All of his classic songs are featured, and even if you have the older dial collections RPM released, there are more than enough extra nuggets to make this a repurchase worth your consideration. My personal favourite soul singer of all time!
23. ALICE CLARK - The Studio Recordings
"What makes this album such a unique thrill—much tighter and jazzier than typical soul, from a singer too Lyn Collins-raw for jazz—is what made it so unmarketable when it came out. It's a shame; she should have been bigger than this." (originally published on July 13, 2010)
24. BILL WITHERS - +'Justments
Reel Music has been on a real roll this year, digitizing lost classic soul by the likes of O.V. Wright, Gwen McCrae and Sisters Love among many others, but this overlooked album, originally released in 1974 and containing a recent interview with Withers within its newly-written liners, was a cut above in an already top-notch reissue roster, and we just couldn't get enough of Still Bill's coolly cutting handiwork (could "Heartbreak Road" be anymore simultaneously urgent and laidback?).
25. BOB DYLAN - Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964
"At 47 songs, it is frankly easy to get a little lost in, but its pleasures are many. For starters, it's startling to hear Dylan on the edge of what would soon be. Throughout the many tracks, he pushes and pulls at the folk form like Play-Doh, searching for and imploring his own unique voice to emerge." (originally published on November 21, 2010)