The best non-Duluth music of 2010 (a numbered list)Budgeteer editor Matthew R. Perrine introduces you to his favorite non-local music from the last year, including heavy hitters like Spoon and the Hold Steady to promising upstarts like Sleigh Bells and Magic Kids.
Similar to my list of the best Northland albums released in the past 12 months, this also comes with a disclaimer: This is all one jerk’s opinion. If I, Matthew R. Perrine, have inadvertently snubbed any of your beloved records, don’t take it personally; just e-mail your picks and I will add them to the “What the Mayor and Other Northlanders Liked in 2010” compendium (see attached link).
Now, let's talk about great music:
25. Uffie – “Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans” (Ed Banger/Because/Elektra)
I’ve noticed something about every self-respecting music geek: Each has exactly one pop weakness. For example, Superstar DJ Walt Dizzo goes gaga for Robyn. Since it’s acceptable to admit to liking one — and only one — mainstream-leaning artist each year, I’d like to own up to my favorite guilty pleasure: Uffie’s debut disc, which is an instant dance party, packed with should-be radio hits that are impossible to get out of your head. You’ve been warned.
A great place to start: “MCs Can Kiss”
24. Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore – “Dear Companion” (Sub Pop)
While 2010 wasn’t as kind to folk as it could’ve been (even the great folk duo Storyhill suffered, releasing the backsliding “Shade of the Trees"), this pairing of respected Kentucky musicians produced one of the year’s most timeless gems.
A great place to start: “Something, Somewhere, Sometime”
23. Admiral Radley – “I Heart California” (The Ship)
Having successfully gone the solo route with 2009’s “Yours Truly, The Commuter,” former Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle teams up with two members of Earlimart (Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray) and a former Grandaddy bandmate (Aaron Burtch) to create … exactly what you’d expect from something that’s half Grandaddy and half Earlimart. While there aren’t a lot of surprises, it’s still a great record to get lost to.
A great place to start: “Sunburn Kids”
22. The Winebirds – “Séance Hill” (Self-Released)
Three guys and two girls — all Portland, Ore., natives — crafting tunes that are A) as indie-tastic as Belle & Sebastian, B) as radio-friendly as Fleetwood Mac or Rilo Kiley and … C) inherently timeless.
A great place to start: “The Solution”
21. She & Him – “Volume Two” (Merge)
What a difference two years make. Actress Zooey Deschanel’s recording project with singer/songwriter M. Ward went from being the most buzzed-about thing on the planet to … just crickets. Seriously, why the sudden backlash? The songs are just as sunny and enjoyable as those on the 2008 debut. Do yourself a favor and stop listening to the all the faceless haters on the Internet.
A great place to start: “Gonna Get Along Without You Now”
20. Happy Birthday – “Happy Birthday” (Sub Pop)
Seemingly out of nowhere, this unheralded little group from Brattleboro, Vt., delivered one of the most consistent records of the year. The tastemakers at Sub Pop definitely have their ears to the streets.
A great place to start: “Girls FM”
19. Vampire Weekend – “Contra” (XL)
Above all else, “Contra” proved that Vampire Weekend is more than hype: These East Coast lads are in it for the long haul.
A great place to start: “Giving Up the Gun”
18. The Posies – “Blood/Candy” (Rykodisc)
It’s hard to believe that Washington state’s the Posies are coming up on 25 years together — and it’s even more hard to believe that more rock journalists weren’t praising this brilliant “comeback” record up and down.
A great place to start: “She’s Coming Down Again!”
17. Spoon – “Transference” (Merge)
Putting the pride of Austin, Texas, on a year-end list … how original, right? Just face it: Britt Daniel is at the top of his game as a songwriter, and there are few traditional rock ‘n’ roll bands as vital as Spoon in America these days.
A great place to start: “The Mystery Zone”
16. The Hold Steady – “Heaven is Whenever” (Vagrant)
Have you accepted that Lifter Puller is never coming back? Good, because Craig Finn — aka the second coming of Bruce Springsteen — still has stories worth hearing.
A great place to start: “Hurricane J”
15. Magic Kids – “Memphis” (True Panther Sounds)
Never heard of this group before? Neither had I. That’s the beauty of these best-music-of-the-year lists: If you’re looking through somebody’s selections and agree with at least 85 percent of them and come across an artist you don’t recognize, you check them out and, chances are, you too will also dig said “mystery artist” — which is exactly what happened with me and these sugar-high Memphis indie poppers. All in all just a fun record.
A great place to start: “Candy”
14. Mumford & Sons – “Sigh No More” (Glassnote)
Don’t let the VH1 “You Oughta Know: Artist on the Rise” stickers on new copies of this album fool you: This is vital folk rock. It’s not the lame stuff you’d normally hear on that struggling-for-an-identity cable channel.
A great place to start: “Little Lion Man”
13b. Drew Danburry – “Goodnight Gary” (Emergency Umbrella)
It was a busy year for the former Danburrys singer/songwriter, releasing both “Goodnight Gary” and ...
A great place to start: “Gas Masks at the Barbecue Beach Party Make-Out Session”
13a. Drew Danburry – “Goodnight Dannii” (Emergency Umbrella)
… its subsequent companion album, “Goodnight Dannii.” While those unfamiliar with the Utah musician’s body of work will undoubtedly get a kick out of his longstanding unique genre, “kickass kindergarten folk pop/sex rock,” and his penchant for longer-than-standard song titles, they’re missing out on this amazing musician’s serious side. It’s there, and it’s well worth seeking out.
A great place to start: “Optimus Prime is Dead”
12. Les Savy Fav – “Root for Ruin” (Frenchkiss)
While New York City art rock bands are mainly known for their “hip factor” and not necessarily their material's staying power, this frenetic group’s songwriting just keeps blowing away all expectations with each album. “Root for Ruin” is their best yet.
A great place to start: “Let’s Get Out of Here”
11. Miles Kurosky – “The Desert of Shallow Effects” (Majordomo)
A triumphant, highly literate solo effort from the frontman of San Francisco’s late, great Beulah (Elephant 6’s most "normal" rock band).
A great place to start: “An Apple for an Apple”
10c. Psalm One – “Woman at Work, Vol. 3” (Self-Released)
Rhymesayers emcee Psalm One (in my humble opinion, the artist of the year) spent 2010 releasing a series of free mix tapes on her Bandcamp site, http://psalmone.bandcamp.com, that were as genuinely entertaining as they were wildly creative. This one came out in August.
A great place to start: “Psalm, Pass the Dutch”
10b. Psalm One – “Woman at Work, Vol. 1” (Self-Released)
The one that started it all (from April).
A great place to start: “My Bucket Song”
10a. Psalm One – “Woman at Work, Vol. 2: 500 Bars” (Self-Released)
While the first and third “Woman at Work” installments were traditional mix tapes with proper songs, “500 Bars” is just that: “Psalmie” rapping for 500 bars. The Chicago emcee wanted to best Game, who went for 400 bars after a series of back-and-forth freestyles with another rapper. The result? A 27-minute track with a fascinating backing track (thanks to DJ Jay Illa) and unparalleled wordplay. Psalm One strikes again.
A great place to start: N/A (this is basically just one long song)
9. Toadies – “Feeler” (Kirtland)
After the Toadies rocketed onto the scene in ’94 with “Rubberneck” (and the single “Possum Kingdom”), the group fell on hard times. That album’s follow-up, “Feeler,” was rejected by the band’s label, Interscope. The group wouldn’t resurface until 2001, with the immaculate “Hell Below/Stars Above,” but many fans were upset that most of the “Feeler” material had been scrapped. Until this year, that is. Vaden Todd Lewis and his fellow Texans re-recorded a bulk of the lost material — quite literally lost, too, as Interscope reportedly deleted the original “Feeler” master tapes — and finally unleashed it on the masses.
A great place to start: “Waterfall”
8. Of Montreal – “False Priest” (Polyvinyl)
Kevin Barnes, a card-carrying member of the genius Elephant 6 collective, continues to redefine Prince-inspired quirkiness.
A great place to start: “Famine Affair”
7. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs” (Merge)
Against all odds, “The Suburbs” wasn’t a huge disappointment in the shadow of Arcade Fire’s dark masterpiece “Neon Bible,” the 2007 record that redefined how “big” indie rock could get.
A great place to start: “Rococo”
6. LCD Soundsystem – “This is Happening” (DFA/Virgin)
When Brooklyn’s James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem’s primary creative force) was putting together “This is Happening,” he firmly believed the music industry was collapsing; he was going for broke with this record. It paid off: The dance-punk genre has never had such a complete record — as in, there are actually songs here and not just potential iPod commercials — to qualify its existence on.
A great place to start: “Drunk Girls”
5. Bad Books – “Bad Books” (Razor & Tie)
Here’s an equation everyone should be able to get on board with: Kevin Devine + Manchester Orchestra = Bad Books. What happens when a little-known singer/songwriter teams up with one of the most exhilarating rock bands on the planet? Pure magic.
A great place to start: “You Wouldn’t Have to Ask”
4. Blitzen Trapper – “Destroyer of the Void” (Sub Pop)
If the Beatles had spent some time in and around Portland, Ore., before recording “Revolver” — and had George Harrison been the album’s chief songwriter — they might’ve had something like “Destroyer of the Void” on their hands. This masterful album pulls in genres from all over the place, but its end result and “voice” is undeniably its own (and, clearly, hard to nail down in a sentence or two).
A great place to start: “Laughing Lover”
3. Girl Talk – “All Day” (Illegal Art)
Pittsburgh’s Gregg Gillis makes records out of other people’s song snippets. For example, in one particularly inspired segment, B.o.B.’s “Bet I” bleeds into an immaculate mash-up of rapper Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in da Paint” and electronica maestro Mr. Oizo’s unrelenting “Flat Beat.” Of course, this lasts only about 40 seconds before the next section moves in with Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” Birdman’s “Money to Blow” and Ginuwine’s “Pony.” It’s exhausting just writing about it; I can’t fathom how many late nights went into crafting this masterpiece of truly illegal art.
A great place to start: N/A (album is meant to be listened to as a whole)
2. Lazerbeak – “Legend Recognize Legend” (Doomtree)
Twin Cities resident Aaron Mader, Doomtree’s resident super-producer, eschews his crew’s good-as-gold beat formula for a free-floating cerebral sound more reminiscent of the records his buddies in Valet used to make. That said, the former Plastic Constellations frontman incorporates enough tasty electronic flourishes to keep his hip-hop fans at bay (and perhaps enough to attract some of the Beta Band’s still-without-a-home followers).
A great place to start: “Cannon Falls”
1. Sleigh Bells – “Treats” (Mom+Pop)
The only thing more difficult than describing Sleigh Bells’ sound is explaining why — or, rather, how — it works. This duo whips up fits of sonic assaults so violent and distorted that they come across as hard and as heavy as anything Black Sabbath ever attempted. Yet it’s completely listenable, which begs the question: So … how does it work? It just does. You'll have to trust me.
A great place to start: “Crown on the Ground”
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