On the second of January I left off with German classical composer Max Richter. Today I'll wrap up my musical journey through the year 2010, starting out in California and wrapping it up by going coast-to-coast with a jaunt to Sweden.
The Morning Benders - Cold War: This song doesn't carry the vocal heft of Promises, nor did it have the benefit of the virally Spectorian video that Excuses had. What Cold War had going for it was this perfect time capsule feeling to it, like it had been shrink-wrapped and flash frozen on some diffusely sunny California day in 1964 and unwrapped in the present.
The New Pornographers - Crash Years: If there was any doubt that Carl "AC" Newman was a modern day Canadian analog to Brian Wilson, it was erased with the release of the reluctant Canadian supergroup's Together. Lacking the crazed energy of their first two albums, and not as overtly poppy as the breakthrough Twin Cinema, this is nonetheless their strongest and most mature effort. This song seamlessly blends the voices and talents of their four very different vocalists - Newman, Neko Case, the enigmatic Dan Bejar and Newman's niece Kathryn Calder - into a sweet yet savory confection, smart and catchy. The video for the song also ranks among the year's best.
OK Go - Louisiana Land: The best song from the band that gave us not one, but two, of the year's most inspired videos for their song This Too Shall Pass didn't even make the cut on Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (it was a bonus track on some versions of the album). Instead, their smartest and most energetic new song led off the benefit album Dear New Orleans with homages to Antoinette K-Doe and Galactic drummer extraordinaire Stanton Moore. The other barrel of this sonic shotgun delivers a lyrical critique to government regulators and insurance companies who bailed out failing banks yet left many lower income New Orleanians in the lurch following Hurricane Katrina.
Sufjan Stevens - Impossible Soul: If someone had told me that a Sufjan Stevens concert would break out into a spontaneous dance party after the release of the "States" concept albums, I would have laughed at them...and then proceeded to eat my words 5 years later. Described as "indulgent" and the "Magnum Opus" of his live show, this twenty-five and a half minute long conglomeration starts off as a slightly electrified but not atypical Sufjan love song. The track then takes a left turn into an orchestrally tinged bridge featuring My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden. The song then segues into a silky but experimental Prince-like interlude that itself serves as a transition to the full-on dance coda of the song.
The Tallest Man on Earth - Little River: I'm often amused at how the best of what we might label "Americana" comes from outside our borders - 4 of the 5 members of The Band were Canadian. Swede Kristian Mattson strikes me as a young Bob Dylan who can actually sing, as well as a lyrically thoughtful but vocally superior successor to Conor Oberst.
Vampire Weekend - Diplomat's Son: Ezra Koenig and company's eponymous debut left me a little cold, wanting more from one of the most hyped indie bands of the last decade. Contra left me with the feeling that the band members had relaxed, taken a deep breath, and produced a sophomore effort that showed them stretching to realize more fully their vast potential. This track encapsulates perfectly why they jokingly refer to their music as "Upper West Side Soweto".
The Walkmen - Juveniles: The Walkmen have always inhabited a parallel universe to the rest of us, one of wan sunlight and a faded, derelict majesty. Listening to their albums, you feel like you're at least temporarily transported into their world. The opening track from their latest release, Lisbon, is as good a song (or an opening track) as they've produced. Their vintage instruments add an anachronistic feel to their music, with Hamilton Leithauser's soaring falsetto never sounding more shopworn or emotionally exhausted.
There you have it....21 songs that marked my journey through the year 2010.