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2010: Tobias Carroll

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Tobias Carroll examines his five favorite pairs of albums from 2010.

2010: Tobias Carroll

More often than not, I’m fond of using the phrase “old hardcore kid” to describe myself. It’s tongue-in-cheek, sure, and I do realize that there’s something slightly unbecoming or self-deprecating about a 34-year-old guy (neither all that old nor much of a kid) referring to himself as such. But fundamentally, hardcore provided me with a mindset through which I still view most music: a view that emphasizes passion and honesty and prompts a constant questioning of dogma. And given that I still self-identify as such, albums like the two listed above hold a particular sway over me. For Titus Andronicus, it’s the way that they can channel up societal critique, liberally quote Billy Bragg, and do so under the banner of gutpunch-worthy punk rock. For Fucked Up, it’s in their ability to write songs that unquestionably fall into a hardcore tradition while still clocking in at decidedly nontraditional 13-minute running times. There’s a sense of catharsis that emerges from hearing both bands, and they have the chops, the smarts, and — yep — the passion to pull it off.

Holed up in a Seattle hotel room at the end of April, I found myself listening to a song called “Relief,” played and sung beautifully by one Sam Amidon. Given its lyrics referencing angels and a war being over and its placement on an album by a musician with a fondness for delving deep into the folk tradition, I took it for some early-20th-century song inspired by the Angels of Mons. When I looked up the song in question, I realized just how wrong I was; in fact, “Relief” comes from the songbook of one R. Kelly. If Amidon’s strength is in finding common ground between disparate genres, Janelle Monáe’s is in making deeply personal music that incorporates idiosyncratic science-fictional imagery. “Dance or Die” and “Tightrope” make for two of the year’s catchiest pop songs; “Cold War,” which weds a frenetic beat and extensively layered production to lyrics that move from frustrated to heartbroken, may be the year’s best. And it’s nearly impossible to imagine these songs played as well by anyone else.

• Read the Dusted Review of Sam Amidon’s I See the Sign

Let’s talk departures and returns for a moment. There is Love in You is the fifth full-length made by Kieran Hebden under the name Four Tet. It has the feeling of a breakthrough for him, tapping deeply into both his fondness for homespun textures and dancefloor-friendly beats and suggesting some summation of his solo discography, even as it moves beyond it. And yet, listening to the magnificent “She Just Likes to Fight,” one can also hear echoes of Hebden’s work as a member of the postrock trio Fridge — specifically, its 2001 album Happiness. Scott Morgan’s work as Loscil has similarly touched on his other musical work — specifically, his role as drummer of Destroyer. (The 2006 EP Loscil’s Rubies found Morgan remixing — you guessed it — Destroyer’s Rubies.) And the high point of Endless Falls comes when Dan Bejar shows up to contribute a frustrated, sometimes bitterly monologue to “The Making of Grief Point,” his words amplifying and counterpointing the moods and momentum at Morgan’s command.

• Read the Dusted Review of Four Tet’s There is Love in You
• Read the Dusted Review of Loscil’s Endless Falls

In retrospect, this may have been the year in which I embraced my fondness for drone. I’m less confident, however, as to whether or not I have the ideal vocabulary to write about it – so apologies in advance if these words seem less nimble than the work that they describe. I’m terrifically fond of both of these records, and — on paper — each falls into the bliss-inducing side of the genre. Where Koen Holtkamp’s approach is intensely warm and ultimately optimistic, the pieces on Yellow Swans’ final album achieve their ecstatic moments via conflict, pitting melodic sections against booming chasms of noise. Each approach has its advantages, and both albums represent the complex execution of a seemingly simple idea.

• Read the Dusted Review of Koen Holtkamp’s Gravity/Bees
• Read the Dusted Review of Yellow Swans’ Going Places

For all intents and purposes, they bookended the year. Beach House made an album, its third, that took the intimate scope of its first two and opened it up, taking the band to larger stages and musically expansive spaces it hadn’t previously achieved. A song like “Take Care,” which I’ve been listening to to the point of obsession lately, retains that intimacy but brings it together with a grandeur that, ultimately, lends it an even more devastating sense of yearning. Sharon Van Etten’s second album is both a deeply personal album by a singer-songwriter and a work that goes to unexpected musical places, incorporating interesting uses of drone and vocal harmonies. Seven songs long, it nonetheless leaves you feeling exhausted as it draws to a close, each song feeling like a perfectly rendered piece of a life, their cumulative effect exhausting and, ultimately, exhilarating.

• Read the Dusted Review of Beach House’s Teen Dream
• Read the Dusted Review of Sharon Van Etten’s Epic

By Tobias Carroll

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