2010: Daniel Levin Becker
This year, and not for the first time, I’ve kept an uninventively titled iTunes playlist ("2010") and let it fill up gradually with songs that, at one point or another over repeated listens, reminded me that time was passing, and that it was only a matter of it before I’d be compiling a year-end feature and then starting a new playlist. Sound morbid? Sure, I guess, although the operative premise was just that I’d do the sorting and evaluation come late November, and that before then I’d get around to listening to all the other stuff I should be informed about. That this didn’t happen – of course it never happens – doesn’t really bum me out; it just means coming to terms with the relative myopia of my own listenership this year, same as every year. Same as every year, said feature constitutes what interested me most out of what I stuck with out of what I managed to get to, those cases where the repeated listens were for pleasure, not duty.
But more and more, I’ve noticed, those repeated listens were for security too. Extrapolating whole albums from the playlist, ones I can honestly say I spent quality time with rather than wishing I had, is the trickiest part nowadays. If there’s an affinity among the ones below, though, it’s that they would have been ahead of their time ten years ago. Now they’re thrillingly comforting, challenging mostly in easy ways. Whatever there is to be said for doing something old and doing it well is what I have to say for the albums I listened to most this year. And not for the first time.
Four Chicago dudes who get points first for their integrally misleading band name, then for their music: parched, precise radio rock, like post-punk without any of the abandon. Given a month or so more, this would surely have trickled down to a comfortable mid-list spot, but it’s still rattling around all prim and debonair in my head.
I started off the year waxing first-person about how this band offered me honest, unsophisticated satisfaction. If I don’t listen to it quite so religiously as I did in the early months, I haven’t changed my mind, either.
Fabolous, a medium-convincing thug but a dazzling rhetorician, is in top form here – the form being the top-heavy, excess-laden, drop-splattered free mixtape. Watch the video for "I’m Raw" and tell me he doesn’t know how to milk an extended metaphor.
Bethany Cosentino’s hazy, lazy, earnestly-rhymes-hazy-with-lazy post-grunge shtick is plenty winning, but the sheer brutal efficiency of this album. The "torch songs rendered with the bare-minimum expressiveness of an IM conversation," to quote myself Jay Bennett-style, is what kept me fixated into the fall.
Sweet Jesus, the exuberance! Why can’t all bands sound this excited to be doing their thing two decades in?
Someone I’ve never heard of, with an annoying-to-type moniker to boot, co-opts 10 prime Wu-Tang dynasty beats and reprises the clique’s peak-era demeanor, minus the characters and drama and mythology – but also minus all the chaff that comes with the Wu brand these days. For a fundamentally parasitic project, this is how it should be done.
In typical (Chris) Tignorian fashion, this probably holds together too well as an album, in that there’s more logic and soul here than I can be bothered to parse – that’s what happens when you make albums for a classical audience and market them to a pop audience. But the last song (see it creepily envisioned here) is worth the price of admission in itself. Also, it’s in 9/8 time.
Mike Sniper sure knows how to pick ‘em: in his image. Except replace Brooklyn with the Mojave Desert.
For the next time it rains just before dusk.
And some songs I listened to far more than the albums encompassing them, a larger selection of which is streamable here.
• Boduf Songs - "Decapitation Blues"
You always knew it was going to come to this, like a sublimely sludgy sword of Damocles hanging above Mat Sweet’s fortress of whispery gloom. And now it has.
• Curren$y f. Mos Def & Jay Electronica - "The Day"
istory from all the angles: concise verses from two New Orleans MCs whose respective stars are quite deservedly on the rise, a wonderfully propulsive track from the resurgent Reasonable Doubt co-producer Ski Beatz, and a mealymouthed chorus from Mos, who’s been coasting on being cool since like 2000.
• Vampire Weekend - "Giving Up The Gun"
Boat shoes, schmoat shoes. This is a beautifully assembled song.
• Courtship - "Ride"
Ciara’s lascivious original has nothing on the studied perversity of this little-league-coach slowcore cover, which somehow does even better justice to the sleazy music-as-metaphor-for-sex-as-metaphor-for-music sleight of hand.
• Glasser - "Home"
Went to see her a month or two ago with high hopes, but her show turned out to be pretty wack – finicky, particulate – in ways that the album courts at its worst. Meanwhile, PVT, formerly Pivot, whose new album sounded pretty wack, totally killed it. This is emblematic of something, though I’m not sure I care to know what.
• The Pains of Being Pure At Heart - "Say No To Love"
In a perfect Borgesian universe, just listening this song conjures some obscure but intentionally hilarious early-’90s Hugh Grant romantic comedy – the crate-digger’s So I Married an Axe Murderer – into existence.
• The National - "Bloodbuzz, Ohio"
This band played its cards right, righter perhaps than it intended to: High Violet in the abstract, and this song in particular, is more or less the highest potential for dignity in a situation where the expectations for aging-hipster-demographic posterchildhood are basically insurmountable.
• LCD Soundsystem - "Dance Yrself Clean"
Speaking of posterchildhood. This song’s pacing illustrates, in longer form, what I like to call "the Hrvåtski principle."
• Altar Eagle - "Honey"
Domestic warmth as conveyed by an 80 percent-broken answering machine.
Happy holidays. Here’s to one last year before all hell breaks loose.
By Daniel Levin Becker