Intro from Fense. It’s hard to believe I’ve known Nate for about a decade. We first met, if I were to make an honest guess, in the fall of 2001. I don’t believe either of our musical inclinations had yet been established, mine for writing and critiquing and his for DJing and working at Seattle’s only truly great radio station — KEXP. Ultimately we found comfort in the KZUU crowd, which led to where we are today. After posting my best-of list for 2010, Nate hit me up expressing interest in passing along his. And while he was at it, dropped a list of best shows as well. Check ’em out!
1. Teen Dream by Beach House
Teen Dream came out early in the year, and I spent a lot of time with it — especially enchanted by Victoria Legrand’s voice — until they came to town in April. I still listened to the album pretty often after that, but seeing them (her) somehow freed me to pursue other music.
2. Fields by Junip
José González’s solo music has never grabbed me much one way or another, but — good gravy! — Junip’s first full album has me going back for another listen. Organ and drums mightily compliment González’s calm voice and guitar–I have a hard time describing it all: groovy, shifting, understated. No one thing is particularly outstanding, but the beautiful songs and well-blended musicians result in exponential synergy.
3. Go by Jónsi
Listening to Jónsi’s debut solo album is like listening to much of his band Sigur Rós’s music: intensely emotional (mostly joy and optimism), often spiritual, and always inspirational. Having one of the best voices in music is also helpful. And he put on my favorite live concert this year.
4. Snakes For The Divine by High On Fire
For some reason I just heard of the power trio this year. Good thing, because this album is really good. Bludgeoning, heavy riffs give way to improbable solos complimented by a ridiculously awesome rhythm section. Plus, Matt Pike’s voice sounds kinda like Lemmy’s. (Ironically, arguably the best HOF song this year is not on Snakes For The Divine, but was released as part of Adult Swim’s 8 Singles in 8 Weeks.
5. One Life Stand by Hot Chip
This album accompanied me in car cd players more than any other, whether driving around Seattle or the Big Island of Hawaii with my brother (luckily it was smart enough to stowaway in my laptop when I went on vacation). The dancy beats and singable melodies make it a good one for the car, and the sentiments of favorite songs “Take It In”, “One Life Stand”, and “Brothers” make it a good one for the human spirit.
6. All Day by Girl Talk
I don’t dance easily, and my simplest criterion for great music is that if I cannot stop dancing, it’s great. All Day qualifies easily — it’s a party waiting to happen. My favorite moments are when Girl Talk throws a beat over 80s synth-nostalgia pieces…and the ending is just fantastic: not to give too much away if you haven’t heard it, but he mashes up an iconic, untouchable song and makes it work well. Download here.
7. Plastic Beach by Gorillaz
When this first came out I was mostly underwhelmed, with the exception of a few highlights (“White Flag” is especially great). Their last full-length Demon Days is one of my favorite albums, so I wanted to give this one a fair chance, but after a few listens I shelved if for several months. Actually, I didn’t listen fully again until making this list, and it’s the only one of these 10 I had written off as “probably not worthy” until I finally came back to it. What’s the difference? Time, plus one of the best concert experiences of my life. I still skip the Lou Reed song, though.
8. Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son Of Chico Dusty by Big Boi
The variety of great beats on Big Boi’s solo debut is staggering, and the verbal whirlwind effortlessly unfurled is awe inspiring and rewards on repeated listens. It’s also pretty cool that OutKast partner André 3000 produced my favorite song (“You Ain’t No DJ”), which features a couple crazy-good verses by Yelawolf.
9. Sit Down, Man by Das Racist
Another rap album containing great beats and production at every turn, though their playful-sounding raps are generally delivered in a more follow-able cadence, which allows one to absorb the sarcasm and satire that much better. Don’t be mistaken though: their flows are as creative as anyone on the scene.
10. Scratch My Back by Peter Gabriel
He’s long been one of my favorite songwriters, but this covers album reminded me of Gabriel’s great voice, which each unique rearrangement displays well. Highlights include songs by Arcade Fire, Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Magnetic Fields, and Radiohead.
Honorable mention: The Fall by Gorillaz
This is the album I’ve been listening to the most at the end of 2010/beginning of 2011. Not sure if it would have made my top 10 had it come out earlier in the year, but I’m pretty sure it’s the best free second album from anyone this year.