Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Favorite Albums Of 2010: Part Two

Ima Robot - Another Man's Treasure
After Alex Ebert's massively successful year with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, the singer decided to return to his former dance-punk band, Ima Robot.  The band's third album, Another Man's Treasure, strays from their distinct and distorted high energy sound.  Instead, the album sounds like the halfway point between Ima Robot and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes.  There are long stretches of instrumentals within the album, giving the band a more fleshed out sound.  At times, you may think you're listening to a Bowie album.  Another Man's Treasure somehow sounds fresh and classic at the same time.

Sufjan Stevens - The Age Of Adz
During the climax of "I Want To Be Well", Sufjan Stevens shouts "I'm not ****ing around".  He wasn't joking.  The Age Of Adz is a jumble of genres and noises that concludes with a massive 25 minute track.  It is in no way a casual album.  Through the mix of symphonic instrumentations and electronic bleeps, Sufjan's conceptual album leaves a lasting impression.  The final track, "Impossible Soul", attracts many listeners for its long duration, but in reality the track sounds like a handful of separate singles carefully sewn together.  It's a fascinating way to end the album.  The Age Of Adz is a modern electro-folk adventure.

Scissor Sisters - Night Work
The cover artwork on Night Work may have you wondering, "What were they thinking?".  After hearing the album, you'll know exactly what the Scissor Sisters were thinking.  Night Work sounds like a disco revival, but in a good way.  Every track on the record could fill the dance floor immediately.  While the lyrics are so obviously sexual that it's funny, the band manages to keep the party going.  The album ends with "Invisible Light", complete with a "Thriller-esque" voiceover by Sir Ian McKellen.  Night Work is easily one of my most loved pop albums of 2010.

The previous nine albums on this list have been in no particular order, but what fun is a "Best Of" list if I don't name the absolute best?  The next three albums on the list have managed to entertain me throughout the year and still continue to shine.  I present to you... my three favorite records of 2010.

3. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid
It's impossible to define The ArchAndroid within one genre.  The debut album from Janelle Monáe touches on classical, folk, R&B, pop, funk, and countless other genres.  As you follow the journey of the android creation, Cindi Mayweather, you learn that Monáe's style is unlike any other.  The record is separated into two suites.  Each half of the album starts with a cinematic introduction.  The radio friendly singles "Cold War" and "Tightrope" only show one side the singer's style.  The epic "BaBopBye Ya" ends the album with a bang and leaves you wanting more.  I'm eagerly awaiting the next part of Janelle Monáe's Metropolis story, but until then, The ArchAndroid is my third favorite album of 2010.

2. Robyn - Body Talk
2010 was Robyn's year.  She released three albums as the Body Talk series and became one of the leading pop artists for both indie and mainstream critics alike.  Body Talk collects the best of her three part series, all in one record.  The album is packed with, what should have been, 15 hit singles.  It's electronic, it's dance, but most of all, it's pop music.  As my favorite pop album of the year, Body Talk never gets boring.  From the spunky "Fembot" to the robotic "We Dance To The Beat", Robyn rose above the ranks of Katy Perry and Ke$ha with her fun and sophisticated Body Talk.  I predict that we'll continue to hear Robyn's distinct sound through the new year.

1. Vampire Weekend - Contra
This album was released all the way back in January.  I haven't stopped listening to it on a daily basis since then.  Vampire Weekend have a signature sound so unique that they're instantly recognizable.  Contra manages to surpass the band's outstanding self-titled 2008 debut.  Since that debut album, the band expanded their musical horizons into various new genres.  They even do the unthinkable by slathering "California English" in a puddle of auto-tune.  What starts as an airy yet bouncy record, Contra closes on a sporadic pair of tracks with "Diplomat's Son" and "I Think Ur A Contra".  Contra set the bar unbelievably high for every album this year and still holds the number one spot in my book.

What were your favorite albums of 2010? Leave a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Albums Of 2010: Part One

Neon Trees - Habits
My first taste of Neon Trees came from their single, "Animal".  I instantly fell in love with that song and soon after bought their debut album, Habits.  The album is my favorite debut from a band this year.  Every song comes complete with a massive sing-along chorus.  Tyler Glenn is a vocalist that gives his all, and you can hear it on the album.  My only complaint about this album is that it isn't longer.

Spoon - Transference
Transference is musically amazing.  Unlike some of the other albums on this list, it doesn't rely on any outlandish style or image.  Spoon's seventh album gets the award for best use of bass.  For full impact, you need to hear this album on a good set of speakers.  The groove of the bass adds so much to Transference.  The highlight of the album is the sequence of "The Mystery Zone", "Who Makes Your Money", and "Written In Reverse".

Semi Precious Weapons - You Love You
They promote their own "Filthy Glamour" form of music.  Their singer wears bigger heels than most female singers in their genre.  The opening line of You Love You is "I can't pay my rent, but I'm ****ing gorgeous".  Semi Precious Weapons released their second album while touring with Lady Gaga.  The band's vain lyrics and fabulous sense of style has helped them gain a devoted fan base, and make You Love You one of my favorite albums of 2010.

My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys
The album from the future, Danger Day: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys, is exciting from start to finish.  Narrated by Steve, Righ? (or Dr. Death Defying) the band takes on alter-egos in their musical story.  The lead single, "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)", is a good example of the album's explosive energy.  Danger Days is the complete opposite of what I expected from the band after their last album, The Black Parade.  They've gone from black and white to full, neon, and epic color.

Brandon Flowers - Flamingo
Leaving The Killers on a hiatus to release a solo album may have seemed like a terrible idea at first, but Brandon Flowers' Flamingo managed to avoid the curse of the failed solo career.  The album differs in style from The Killers, it's more acoustic at times which allows it to be vocally impressive.  Almost every melody on this album sounds like a possible track for the singer's former band.  Flamingo shows that Flowers can hold his own and release a pretty solid album while he's at it.  The album tends to shine the most during the pop centered singles, "Only The Young" and "Crossfire".

Sleigh Bells - Treats
Treats, another debut album, is loud and annoying in the best possible way.  Starting with the first blast of "Tell 'Em", Sleigh Bells have put together an album of marching beats, heavy metal guitars, and child-like vocals.  The entire album is a wild mess of fun.  If you don't sing along to Alexis Krauss' "oohs" and "uhs" on "Run The Heart", then you don't have the volume loud enough.  The constant stream of full power energy is extremely overwhelming, but that's what makes Treats so amazing.

Check back tomorrow for part two...

Friday, December 24, 2010

What's December Without Christmas Eve?

It's Christmas Eve, (or Christmas depending on your time zone), and whether you're relaxing with some hot chocolate and a Charlie Brown Christmas Special, dancing at a Christmas party, or doing last minute shopping, some holiday music can really get you in the festive mood.  The classics are great, but why not throw in some modern interpretations or even a newly penned Christmas tune.  This year I enjoyed some holiday efforts ranging in genres from electronic to folk.  Maybe they'll cheer up your Christmas Day playlist a little bit.

Neon Trees - Wish List
Neon Trees quickly became one of 2010's most exciting new band's when their breakout single "Animal" took over pop radio.  "Wish List" is the band's first Christmas song and it's filled with enough sleigh bells to satisfy any Christmas enthusiast.  The great thing about it is that while it's still a holiday themed song, "Wish List" isn't unbearably cheesy like many other modern Christmas songs.

Owl City - Peppermint Winter
Owl City seems like the perfect candidate for a Christmas song.  Owl City's Adam Young is known for his peppy singles such as the massively popular "Fireflies".  "Peppermint Winter" manages to keep Young's overly optimistic electronic beats while adding a story of snow and unfortunate Christmas presents.

Sleeping At Last - Christmas Collection
I discovered this band after hearing their Storyboards album.  The album was covered in soft layers of strings and acoustic based instruments.  The vocals are emotional, yet calming.  They're a band to check out if you've never heard their music.  When I found out that they were giving away a free holiday EP, I downloaded it immediately.  The eight song album contains classics such as "Silver Bells" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas".  Sleeping At Last managed to make these songs their own and give the holiday standards a new face.  You can download the EP free of charge for a limited time, here.

Hopefully, you decide to brighten up your holiday season with these outstanding tracks from some great artists.  I'll be back to posting after Christmas.  Until then, Merry Christmas to all of my readers.  I hope you unwrap that shiny new record tomorrow morning.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flyleaf - Remember To Live

Years ago, under the name "Passerby", Flyleaf wrote and recorded a group of songs and rough demos.  Throughout the years these songs were either never released, or they were leaked for not-so-legal downloading.  Some of these tracks found a home during live shows, as they were heard exclusively at random live performances.  Finally, after years of waiting, Flyleaf re-recorded and officially released a handful of those songs.

The album starts off with the "Violent Love" version of "Justice & Mercy" from the band's Much Like Falling EP.  The previously released version was filled with distortion and Lacey Sturm's startling screams.  This version is the complete opposite.  It's soft and mostly acoustic.  I actually prefer it over the original recording.

The next five songs, the core of the album, are the main attraction of the EP.  These tracks are new to many Flyleaf followers, while others have heard them either through leaks or live shows.  The first of the five is "Okay".  It features backup vocals from Flyleaf's bassist, Pat Seals.  "Okay" is still softer than most of the band's usual material.  It's slightly similar to the tracks on their sophomore album, or Memento Mori's, second disk.  The next track is "Amy Says".  With the highlight of a soaring chorus, "Amy Says" is another solid song.  The vocal levels are a little low during some parts of the song, but it isn't too distracting.

Track four, "Dear My Closest Friend", is my favorite from the album.  It's gentle and sincere.  The song is an open letter of apologies and memories.  The melody stands out from all of the other choruses and riffs.  A close runner-up would be the descending melody after the climax on "Light In Your Eyes".  "Believe In Dreams", which comes after "Light In Your Eyes", has a certain familiarity to it and is a great ending to the newly released tracks.

Unfortunately, the biggest flaw with Remember To Live is the final single.  Ben Moody's remix of "Arise", originally from Memento Mori, feels out of place.  The mix is chaotic and leaves you longing for the non-mixed version.  The amazing lyrics are overshadowed by the deep shattering drums and added effects.

Overall, Remember To Live is a satisfying collection of rarities.  Longtime fans of the band will enjoy hearing the previously unreleased material.  New listeners will most likely want to start with one of Flyleaf's full length releases.  This EP is much lighter than Flyleaf's well known singles, it's completely void of Lacey's screams.  Remember To Live, minus the disappointing remixed "Arise", is just enough to satisfy fans until their next full length album.

Flyleaf is also set to digitally release a cover of John Mark McMillan's "How He Loves" on December 21.  Download it for an extra bonus track.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Vendor Defender - Golden Shivers

Vendor Defender is a band that wish I had discovered sooner.  They have fresh distinct sound and their single "Golden Shivers" is one of the catchiest pieces of indie pop I've heard this year.  This Glasgow band mixes up the indie sounds of the UK with humming synths.  The result is infectious and most definitely worth checking out.

Upon first listen, the beginning thirty seconds of the song gives you the impression that you're about to hear a mostly dance oriented track, but the verse that follows changes everything.  "Golden Shivers" switches gears and takes the form of a hi-hat dominated single, not too dissimilar from the Arctic Monkeys or even Franz Ferdinand.  It's great fun and would probably succeed on the alternative charts here in the US.  The vocals match the style of music perfectly.  It really leaves a good impression on the audience.

You can check out Vendor Defender's Myspace to stream "Golden Shivers" along with their other tracks.  The band is also available for downloading on iTunes.  Give Vendor Defender a listen if you like rock music with a poppy side that makes you want to get up and dance.