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2010: Talya Cooper

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Dusted contributor Talya Cooper heralds a future lost masterpiece and runs down eight other records that made her 2010.

2010: Talya Cooper

Label: Kill Rock Stars | Release Date: August 24

The consummate sum-of-parts band, Grass Widow play and sing clean, deft lines combined precisely into furiously complex and outrageously beautiful songs. The three members are skillful, for sure, but more than that, an ever-present, indescribable energy holds each song together, exploding into big (but brief) catharses and diffusing into heart-tugging, plainspoken moments. They resist easy classification: too pretty to be punk, too ’60s to be ’90s, too punk to be surf-rock or whatever else people say they are. Simply, they don’t sound like other bands. Past Time is this year’s best record, and I hope kids in 20 years claim it as a lost masterpiece and try to rip it off.

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Label: Slumberland | Reissue Date: March 30

This year’s most relevant reissue. Black Tambourine demonstrated that the best way to deal with boy problems may be to write mean, sulky song lyrics and bury them under a near-impenetrable sheet of feedback in case he’s listening and changes his mind. Like Grass Widow, though, Black Tambourine’s inimitability results largely from the feeling a listener has that they’re trying really hard to figure out how to make their sound work and, at the same moment, succeeding. So many stray tom hits and abrupt guitar tone shifts; such a simple concept executed time and again, but done here first and best. Disregard the extras on the CD and instead check out the outrageously good alternate mixes at blacktambourine.bandcamp.com.

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Label: Sub Pop | Release Date: March 30

A massive drum sound drives I Will Be, coated in echo on “Rest of Our Lives” and popping brightly, high in the mix on “Yours Alone.” It’s perfect for training to dart elegantly toward your guys or girls when you meet them at the airport after a long absence. It’s also thought-through as hell, like every faux-teenage lyric on this record, which nonetheless is outrageously catchy and surprisingly memorable.

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Label: Deranged | Release Date: August 23

With killer riffs channeling Drive Like Jehu-era John Reis picking at double-speed and shouted vocals like Corin Tucker on a bad day, White Lung bring back the best sentiments of the grunge ’90s: a petulant but totally justifiable anger channeled into music at once catchy and full of rage. If 120 Minutes still existed, the video for “Atlanta,” an all-caps JAM also released as a single this year, would find its way into heavy rotation.

Label: Nominal | Release Date: May 18

Nü Sensae play exhilaratingly ugly, Flipper-addled bass/drums punk that sounds like it’s never left the creepy basement that spawned it. Duos like this can tend toward the noodly or the art-school. These, however, are direct riff-driven songs, made distinct by the surprising versatility of Andrea Lukic’s screams and growls and Daniel Pitout’s inventive fills that complement the bass without being mere accompaniment. Somehow, this adds up to music that’s genuinely enjoyable.

Label: Ba Da Bing | Release Date: September 21

Epic in the colloquial sense of an adventurous, overlong run to the bodega rather than, say, Homeric, Van Etten’s songs limn a particular age: old enough to know better, but young enough to repeat the same mistakes. She arranges her songs modestly, her clean guitar tone, the sparse drums, and the occasional harmonium ornamentation recalling mid-’90s ex-punk singer-songwriters like Retsin or even Elliott Smith as much as any ’70s folk-rock. Epic succeeds in its modest ambitions, lovely enough for NPR dads but relevant enough for a bleary end-of-the-night.

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Label: Night-People | Release Date: March 10

For those so inclined, different moments on this record elicit nostalgia for almost every stage of Unwound’s career, from the early screamier records to the sprawling Leaves Turn Inside You soundscapes. But for everyone else, it’s surprising to remember that it takes only three people to sound as big as Broken Water on this spacious recording, with tons of crunch applied to the bass and guitar as they churn out long drones for “Spore” and turn sprightly in the catchy “Web.” Between their straightforward lyrics, their painstaking reconstruction of a bygone sound, and just the way they all take turns doing vocals, Broken Water give off a rare, appealing earnestness.

Label: Burn Books | Release Date: August 7

I wish describing music as “rock” sufficed for music like this: full-speed, uncomplicated, tremendously fun. It draws from the non-ponderous side of early ’90s San Diego and the Stooges and you know, guitar rock -- honestly, there is a riff on this record that sounds like something hard to pinpoint but also weirdly like “My Generation — with enough quirks (surprising chord changes, the occasional well-timed ah-ah backing vocal) to keep it engaging throughout its brief running time.

Label: Autumn | Release Date: January 4

Nothing about Rendezvous With Rama complies with one’s expectations of a singer-songwriter record: not the way Ruth Garbus phrases her singing within her guitar lines, not the complicated twists these guitar parts take, not the moments when she abruptly reaches her voice into a falsetto or holds a note, not the chord changes, not the eerie echo in the home-recording that belies the major-key beauty of her songs, not her weird lyrics. It can seem merely pretty on a half-listen, but demands, and rewards, real focus.

By Talya Cooper

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