2010 Music Reviews

!!! (Chk-Chk-Chk), Strange Weather, Isn't It? (2010)   C
Easily the most flat I've heard this outfit in their existence (and trust me, I've heard most of their albums, met them, etc.) - I get a sense they're tiring of the disco aesthetic and want to break out and do something more adventurous. Remember what they did with the Magnetic Fields' "Take Ecstasy with Me?" Please ... more of that. Roll with the times, change up the rhythm, kick through the audience, sweat on your followers.

Adore, Distorted Minds (2010)   D
Techno-by-numbers, given away for free by Mr. Skramesto of Norway. It isn't painful to listen to, though the 90's did call and would like their samples back.

AFCGT, AFCGT (2010)   D
I don't think the Sunn O))) guys need any help detuning their guitars or playing around with pedals and switches, thanks all the same.

Die Antwoord, $O$ (2010)   D
"Aye aye aye I am your butterfly / I need your production / Yo, I'm a ninja." I can't tell if this hilariously cheesy "hip-hop" is intentionally awful or accidentally awful. If it wasn't getting perplexing critical raves, I'd say it was a novelty record.

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (2010)   B
Gauche target (the complacent "middle class" ... if such a thing still exists), but the band some accuse of extreme arrogance have actually crafted a nifty little rock record: not slim and not lean, but involving and confident, like they really started to re-listen to those Talking Heads albums that so inspired them in the first place. "The Neon Bible" was a huge step back from the majestic "Funeral," but they knew they couldn't go quite that theatrical again - this is a little dour though still accessible.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Before Today (2010)   C+
I can appreciate a healthy dose of silliness and abrasiveness now and then, but Mr. Pink's album is stylistically all-over-the-place - it certainly doesn't allow itself to ever grow dull, but there's also something to be said for sticking with one genre. There are pieces that really work - "Fright Night (Nevermore)" evokes 80's synth-pop with a horror influence - but it drifts so often between glam, punk, hard rock, noise, etc. it's like being trapped in the subconscious of an ADHD-riddled youngster.

Atlas Sound, Bedroom Databank Vol. 4 (2010)   B-
Self-release by Mr. Cox, who specializes in clock repair and honesty, as well as the ability to put out multiple quality records a year almost effortlessly. "Farmland Fantasy" is like a summer dream and the best song on here; the rest is Bradford noodling around (there are worse ways to spend your free time).

Beach House, Teen Dream (2010)   A
Gorgeous, ethereal pop from the Maryland-based duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand - her delivery is sorrowful and searching and the keyboard work reminds me ever so much of the Velvet Underground. The lyrics (by Legrand) are ambiguously minimal and thoughtful (on "Zebra," for example: "Don't I know you better than the rest / All deception, all deception from you") and add an extra layer of poetry to the haunting compositions. This album was built on nostalgia and regret.

The Birthday Party, Prayers on Fire (1981)   B+
Crazed early Cave - before his relatively more straight-forward work with the Bad Seeds - is crashing and unpredictable. The 'prayers' for Nick aren't what they might be for most: he's kneeling down for drugs, deviance and insanity ("Kathy's Kisses" has Cave yelping and growling over lounge music). "I'm drinking, I'm drinking, I'm drinking, I'm drunk."

The Black Angels, Phosphene Dream (2010)   D
"Is that it?" should (pretty much never) be the first think you think the very moment a record ends, and that's precisely the case with this innocuous, transitory release, which showcases that the band does, indeed, still know how to sound like Jefferson Airplane and can remember that there was a band once that was called the Velvet Underground. But it's all posturing.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Beat the Devil's Tattoo (2010)   C
There are some entrancing moments in this, but they're lost between a lot of stale hooks: after so many years and albums they still can't trim the proverbial fat like the Jesus and Mary Chain (though the masterful "Bad Blood" is their best track since "Love Burns"). If you're going to slit someone's throat, just make it a quick gesture; never deliberate.

The Books, The Way Out (2010)   C-
More often than not it feels like a random collection of odd vocal samples thrown in randomly and with little concern for placement; it isn't until a peaceful track like "Free Translator" - with its slow-strumming, horns and wind chimes - comes on to remind you that they know what harmony sounds like.

British Sea Power, Zeus [EP] (2009)   B
Potent little teaser for the new upcoming LP - it isn't really a 'unified' effort - "Can We Do It?" evokes The Clash, "kW-h" overdoes the effects, "Cleaning Out the Closets" is their attempt at shoegazing - but for an EP it shows the band's incredible range. They remain one of the most powerful live acts I've ever seen ... staring contest, go go go.

Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record (2010)   C+
Just because there are a large number of contributors to this 'super group' doesn't necessarily mean their albums should be 'this' padded - it's clear with this one that they're trying to recapture the power of their admittedly stunning 2002 album "You Forgot It in People." Fitting, too, that this bloated exercise ends on the half-joking masturbatory ode "Me & My Hand."

Caribou, Swim (2010)   B
Opening track "Odessa" is probably the best single he's produced - it's about being fed up with an abusive partner - but the album suffers from dubious vocal 'styling': Mr. Snaith's instrumentation is top-notch but I'm a little mixed on the 'singing.' Then there are tracks like "Sun" and "Found Out" where I'm not sure what he was thinking.

Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles II (2010)   B+
Riveting follow up to their initial release mixes up the ghostly ("Celestica") with the harsh noise ("Doe Deer"): it's a little bi-polar, but you'd expect nothing less from a group this polarizing and eccentric (when I read somewhere that they have a publicist, I guffawed). Super bonus points for turning Sigur Rós into a club track (who cares what Jónsi's saying? Rolling Rocks are a buck!). And yes, there's still time for Alice Glass to writhe and purr....

Dangers, Messy, Isn't It? (2010)   D
Outstanding: these fellows know how to (a.) shout and (b.) hammer on the same chords ad nauseam. Now they just need some writing ability and decent songs and they're well on their way.

Das Racist, Shut Up, Dude (2010)   B+
Maddening pranksters rap about fast food, multiculturalism ("I am America / I'm a pick-up truck") and make weirdo hooks ("BROW-W-W-W-W-W-W-N") that are determined to burrow into your subconscious. There are some downright incredible lines in this ("tried to go to Amsterdam / they threw us in Guantánamo"), and I'm personally proud that a bunch of hyper-literate book-nerds crawled out of the library to name-drop obscure theorists (Spivak never thought she'd end up on an album like this). It's a silly, dorky testament to academia.

Deathspell Omega, Paracletus (2010)   C
Technically intriguing, but I wouldn't be surprised if these guys could growl out another two hours of this Neo-Satanic metal and have it sound exactly the same. There's something to be said for steadiness and assuredness, but they don't sound like they're challenging themselves at all.

Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (2010)   B
They're moving past the noise and discord that dominated their earlier releases and coasting into a dreamier mode bordering, at times, on some kind of alt. country vibe ("Sailing," "He Would Have Laughed"). It's admittedly quite a shift, as if Bradford is 'melding' his solo effort as Atlas Sound into his traditional band's mindset. It's sometimes so relaxed it threatens to stop ("Earthquake"), but they push on.

The Dillinger Escape Plan, Option Paralysis (2010)   D+
Soft/loud stopping/starting: don't fans of the genre expect more? I'm going with not, since this formula's been keeping an inordinate number of mediocre bands unfortunately active for years. "We can never get back what we choose to throw away" ... so very true; once I delete this from my hard drive I'll never find it again. No major loss.

Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home (1965)   A
Famously caused a fervor at the time of its release because Bob had the audacity to use electric guitars for some of the songs, which is clearly one of the more comically ridiculous 'outrages' of modern music. The track listing is basically a string of masterpieces, some minor, some timeless. The suggestions by a few people that he should be considered for the Nobel in Literature aren't so unrealistic ... you could argue Dylan has been one of the most important American poets of the last fifty years.

Emeralds, Does It Look Like I'm Here? (2010)   C-
I'm sure people who appreciate the technical side of music will find something to admire in here, but those actually looking for things like heart, emotion and energy will (most likely) only find various beeps and chords strumming. I don't want to know what you think about sound amplification or ProTools, I want to hear what you think of the Universe.

Brian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea (2010)   C
Can't fault Eno for not tooling around with different sounds over his career - his dedication to electronic music is unmistakable - but instead of the ambience he's usually so gifted at making this is a weird hybrid of tracks that never quite gel. A few of the softer pieces are nice but seem like fleeting thoughts with no follow-through; the more cluttered tracks belong on a different disc. If the whole record had the crispness of the last two songs, this might have been impressive.

Fang Island, Fang Island (2010)   C-
Adorable: a bunch of young rockers with severe attitudes (kind-of, sort-of) imitate arena rock, but without ever leaving their rec room! Listen to those chords they just threw out there ... great, huh, and how about that page they took from Vampire Weekend about getting those swirling keyboards in there, too ("Life Coach")? Be careful not to take too many sips of Dad's beer!

Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma (2010)   B
So it isn't "Los Angeles," but no one expected that. The Nintend-gimmicks find their due place next to the endless supply of sound effects - revving engines, a harp, handclaps, a tambourine, lasers firing. He has a few collaborators (Thom Yorke, Thundercat), but every track is distinctly his: he's a maximalist, but he makes it work.

Four Tet, There Is Love in You (2010)   C
The bookends are excellent - the glitched-up "Angel Echoes" and tranquil "She Just Likes to Fight" - but everything in between strikes me as thoughtless filler. Kieran did a fantastic two-single release with Burial last year ("Moth/Wolf Cub") that showed he works well when collaborating, but when left alone he doesn't sound like he's challenging himself.

Girls, Album (2009)   C+
I know his back story is great for journalists (parents in a cult, Mom-as-prostitute), but Chris Owens' whiny-voiced music strikes me as being disingenuous. Sometimes he gets it perfectly, though, which is what won this so many accolades: that sarcasm adds layers to something as simple as "Summertime" (the instrumental work on "Lauren Marie" is luscious).

Gonjasufi, A Sufi and a Killer (2010)   C
Fuzzy-headed hip-hop needs a volume adjustment - he races through his two-plus minute tracks, but when it comes to the longer 'songs' they tend to become boorish (and Commander Sufi tends to embellish his crackly delivery).

Hot Chip, One Life Stand (2010)   C-
As if the tacky synth dreck (the ugly "Thieves in the Night") or dance dreck ("Hand Me Down Your Love") weren't enough to force one to skip ahead several tracks, then there's that ... ballad that just hits you in the face. Closes on a sweet note ("Take It In"), but best of luck getting there.

How to Dress Well, Love Remains (2010)   D+
He pushes his voice past the point his voice can go and the volume past the point where it can go. Couple these two delightful aspects with some off-key instrumentation and enough echo to make the bros from Earth smirk for half a second. Perfect music for the tone deaf to jam to!

Interpol, Interpol (2010)   D+
At this point, the band who made the masterful "Turn on the Bright Lights" needs to have the plug pulled on their shiny guitars. Banks is still going on about misery (in love, in life, in goddamn everything), but the music isn't there to 'pick up the mood,' as if they're a band sick of putting on their suits and trying to find aural beauty in the mess. Just the other day my iPod, on random, skipped to "NYC" - which I swore I'd deleted from the device (because it's not one of those songs one wants to consistently revisit) - and got choked up again with just the first few chords. They'll never do that again.

Jaguar Love, Hologram Jams (2010)   B-
Screechy Johnny and the guys are, indeed, getting better at their genre-mashing aggression (thank you, Mr. Carlson), but they still aren't at the level of Blood Brothers - an unfortunate but necessary comparison. There is so much glumness in "serious music" makes one appreciate the skittering "Everything is Awesome" all the more (though keeping Mr. Whitney's voice from sounding like Alvin getting saved from a burning building is always advisable)....

Robert Johnson, Red Hot Blues (The Blues Collection Vol. 6) (1994)   A
I've apologized plenty of times for not caring much for B.B. King - sorry, Riley - and said I've always preferred the great Robert Johnson. Leaving that firestorm aside, this is an indispensible collection of Johnson's most important tracks, which have been covered numerous times by a variety of talent ... but have never been quite the same as Johnson's originals. It's music as catharsis: why does this horrible woman plague me so? why can't I get her out of my mind? why is my life so miserable? He knew he wasn't going to get answers, and there were (and are) no shortage of questions.

Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster (2009)   B
From Catholic School to Tisch to the Madonna School of Mock Whoredom: these are meticulously programmed radio tracks (earworms everywhere: try getting the Rah-Rah Shish-Boom-Bam of "Bad Romance" out of your head) aided by Germanotta's fearless theatrical tactics. It's better to think of her as a performance artist and fashion rebel than 'musician' (it's going to take some time to figure out the depths of her talent) but I sense a wounded young lady underneath the leather appliances, fake blood and bizarro interviews, and, I imagine, so do a lot of other people. Also, my Mom and Dad are fans, and they usually shy away from excessive weirdness (odd, considering they 'tolerate' me so well). Points deducted for the Beyoncé-infected "Telephone."

LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening (2010)   C+
What the hell happened? The equal amount of biting humor and pathos in his earlier albums is missing: this is filled with too many petty ("Pow Pow," "Drunk Girls") or downright gauche ("I Can Change," the U2-esque "All I Want") pieces. "Dance Yrself Clean" has a bit of the old form, but it isn't enough. Has Mr. DFA gone completely L.A. in the worst possible way?

Little Boots, Hands (2010)   B+
"New in Town" is Instant Top 40 Material - catchy, fun, painless - and so is "Stuck on Repeat," for that matter (and "Remedy" ... and "Mathematics"). I admit to being mixed on it before hearing it played on the overhead speaker at a Barnes and Noble - incidentally, while I was flipping through the latest Esquire - and found myself wondering why I didn't immediately fall for this disc the first time. Sometimes it takes listening to a record in an environment that isn't your bedroom - and one in which wearing pajamas and weeping profusely would be frowned upon - to truly appreciate it. This is a stellar pop album from a very young lady.

The Magnetic Fields, Realism (2010)   B-
Merritt and His Loyal Team start this one with the eviscerating "You Must Be Out of Your Mind," which is the exact opposite of what you'd have put on an "I Love You" mixtape (back when crazy romantics did such thing ... so 20th century). Yet that wit can be overbearing at times, and bouncy sarcasm should only be used sparingly ("We Are Having a Hootenanny").

Male Bonding, Nothing Hurts (2010)   D
Some English fellows do Williamsburg, fill every second with flat hooks and lyrics best left unsaid nonetheless repeated ad infinitum ("I see myself in color / I see myself in light"). It's a shallow album: the constant pessimism reveals a limited worldview. Have a few more PBRs and Parliaments and start looking for the good.

Massive Attack, Heligoland (2010)   D+
They're back to two of their original three members (Del Naja and Marshall) but they're still not making anything close to the brilliance of their early work, or even "Mezzanine." Even the dull Horace Andy collaboration "Splitting the Atom" would have been scrapped years ago. The closest to 'elegance' they achieve is with Hope Sandoval providing the lyrics for "Paradise Circus," with its cinematic strings and handclaps. Did someone lose Liz Fraser's phone number?

MGMT, Congratulations (2010)   C+
It's half a really good album. "It's Working" adds a modern twist on the kaleidoscopes, incense and peppermint of the late '60s/early '70s (for whatever reason, I can picture Peter Sellers dancing in the music video for it) and the glorious "I Found a Whistle" could theoretically put the duo back on "Yo Gabba Gabba" (art is everywhere, kids), though after the odd "Siberian Breaks" it just turns into effects ("Lady Dada's Nightmare") and half-hearted pop ("Congratulations").

M.I.A., Maya (2010)   C+
She's come a long way in terms of popularity since I saw her in Philly years ago - from young woman with a sore throat who demanded hot tea before performing to International Superstar. The music, however, is the same: her moderate gifts at production put her a cut-above, because the politics are still the same (dry, sarcastic, paranoid), her lyrics are unremarkable and her delivery hasn't changed.

The National, High Violet (2010)   C
See, there's a fine line between being slightly remorseful and tastefully sad but these guys are outright maudlin (and not even in that great Addison DeWitt way!), sometimes hitting hard (the endless declaration in "Sorrow" that "I don't want to get over you"), but then keeping on that same downbeat tone for the entire album. They're trying desperately to sock you emotionally, and the sweat stains are showing and growing. Your dog doesn't die every day. You didn't just wake up. You don't lose a lover every hour. At least Interpol turned up the reverb and sarcasm back in their early days....

Nite Jewel, Am I Real? [EP] (2010)   C
The cooing is quite lovely, but this evokes the 'wrong' side of 1980's pop, with the truly questionable 'funky' synthesizers and bass. The title track makes me cringe like a bunch of Cyndi Lauper fans are pelting me with aerosol cans.

No Age, Everything in Between (2010)   B+
It's just as good as "Nouns," I think: pounding with energy, the desire to make music and the desire to keep its audience alert. They can make the most odd screeches powerful hooks; it's still punk with a modern edge. It's also, thankfully, a lot of fun.

Augustus Pablo, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (1976)   A-
Beautifully tranquil and soothing headphone music from the late, great Pablo (many argue this is his masterpiece); Jamaica has given us so much in terms of music and rum and more rum (and the jerk chicken isn't bad) ... too bad when I was in Jamaica all they talked about was Bob Marley. Keeping with my habit of listening to 'summer music' in the winter, I'm going to keep this on the ready for frosty January.

Owen Pallett, Heartland (2010)   C-
He drops the "Final Fantasy" moniker because of legal issues and ramps up the theatrical in this apparent put-down of the United States ("I will not sing your praises") ... trouble is, this young-ish Canadian can't cut as deep as, oh, Randy Newman. Like Andrew Bird, his music still strikes me precious and preening - a musician quite taken with his own production skills (and not so much with his songwriting).

Pantha du Prince, Black Noise (2010)   C-
Not enough diversity to separate this from the rest of the minimal trance guys - The Field in particular does considerably more for the senses with considerably less, stripping away while Mr. Weber clutters with distractions. I'm sure we all know how innovative dropping silverware over a generic beat can be....

Ástor Piazzolla, Libertango (2010)   A-
Distinctive and unforgettable and a little spooky, like the vague memories of a long night of dancing, drinking and general carousing. Maybe it's the music itself - this is the first full Piazzolla album I've listened to - or maybe it's how it was used in films by Wong Kar-Wai and Terry Gilliam that makes it so memorable (that's the power of great cinema for you). Unlike polka, tango does not drive me to want to take a hatchet to my speakers.

Pharoah Sanders, Love in Us All (1974)   B+
"To John" is a little too scattered for me, but "Love Is Everywhere" is so unbelievably inspiring (... and slightly mad) I can't believe it took me this many years of listening to jazz to stumble upon it (via YouTube no less!).

S, I'm Not as Good at It as You (2010)   C-
From the Tori Amos/Polly Scattergood School of Women with Uncureable Problems comes this offering from Jenn Ghetto, who pleads with you to save her, insists she can save you and gets around to admitting she's being difficult. Maybe if you stopped dating alcoholics and cocaine addicts things would pick up for you. Then you can write an album about things other than your issues. You're quite welcome. Signed, Dr. Matt.

Gil Scott-Heron, I'm New Here (2010)   C
This might have been a catchy instrumental album if the production team turned up the music and only kept this Gil guy from spouting banal platitudes or trying to sing.

The Sight Below, It All Falls Apart (2010)   C+
If this was the first Album About Hissing and Humming I'd be all over the floor in ecstasy; when he finally puts in a danceable beat ("Through the Gaps in the Land") it's a (very, very, very minor) revelation. The DFA can do this blacked out.

Sightings, City of Straw (2010)   C
Clickety-clickety-fuzz-fuzz. Brooklyn-based three-piece try to revive memories of Albini's Big Black project crossed with Naked City crossed with DNA crossed with static-y static, but this is a rather paltry offering and quickly forgettable.

65daysofstatic, We Were Exploding Anyway (2010)   D
This is the exact order of what happened when I turned this album on: I graded a few papers, I lowered the volume to take a long awaited phone call from a friend who got back from school and had much to complain about, I raised the volume again, I graded more papers, I left the room to brew (another) pot of coffee, I returned and the album ended. This sort of 'math rock' triggers ADHD in me, apparently.

Sleepy Sun, Fever (2010)   C-
It's funny how most of the pictures I've seen of the band have them standing in fields of wheat or in the forest like they're some kind of 21st century Jefferson Airplane - these faux bohemians slog they way through their repertoire with stoned detachment. When they turn up the guitars and throw in a harmonica on an average track like "Desert God" they sound like they're trying to wake themselves up.

Sleigh Bells, Treats (2010)   B
Has much more in common with Top 40 radio than anyone would probably be willing to admit (it released rather high on the Billboard charts): the heavy production, the hooks, Alexis Krauss' sweet voice. Dumb bunny lyrics can be ignored when the instruments are jacked up to 12 and your teeth are clenched ("Crown on the Ground").

Spoon, Transference (2010)   B-
Hallelujah, it's their best since 2001's "Girls Can Tell," I think. Britt Daniel spits out clumps of thoughts while his trusty bandmates hammer out the catchy backgrounds. They can get repetitious and tedious (the interminable "Mystery Zone," "Who Makes Your Money?"), however, but that's the price you pay for the good stuff ("Before Destruction," "Nobody Gets Me But You").

Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern (2010)   C
It's well established that she knows how to wield a guitar and do all sorts of tricks, and I'm sure that impresses many, but technical proficiency and heart and soul don't always go together (see: Battles). Those heaping praise on this are probably more intrigued by Stern's aggressive attitude than the songs themselves, which range from passable to vapid.

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz (2010)   C+
Does Mr. Stevens realize how ironic it is that an almost unlistenable track with too much nonsense going on in it is also called "Too Much?" He's never convinced me he's a fantastic songwriter (ironic, too, considering the degree in creative writing), but he has convinced me he can overwork his tracks (the vapid but 'pretty' "Now That I'm Older"), occasionally wrapping a touching sentiment in a dazzling package like with the theatrical and completely schizophrenic title track (which is inarguably a masterpiece). I just don't always believe him ... at least not as much as I'd like to.

The Strange Boys, Be Brave (2010)   B-
Creaky voiced lead singer Ryan Sambol mopes over '60s jangle pop ... and it's pretty frickin' good. Takes multiple listens to get around the whiny vocal stylings, which are best described as a drunk mocking Caleb Followill during karaoke hour - what remains are solid songs and some smart lyrics: when he's advising everyone to be strong, he's really trying to convince himself. I can get behind that.

Sun Airway, Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier (2010)   B+
Are these guys from Killadelph the dreamier part of The Helio Sequence operating under a different name? Inspired and dreamy pop is a pleasant surprise from the opening track onwards - "Infinity" glides on the poetry of its lyrics and soaring soundscape and it's a nice touch to have "Five Years" morph back into its first track (the band has to be influenced by multiple forms of literature ... bookends!). I wake up a rebel every morning.

Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (2010)   B-
Took Michael Gira a couple years to put the Swans back together - this version of the 'band' is glum, grim and darkly monotonous (though Gira tossing his daughter in to sing with Devendra is really silly). It's the kind of record a guy makes when he spent so many years being mad and angry and all that's left is fatigue: this is the closest any of this years' records that I've heard gets to the resigned desperation of someone like Charles Bukowski. Hide your smiles.

The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt (2010)   B+
Is it just me or is 2010 the year for polarizing lead singers? Swede Kristian Matsson's Dylan-inspired voice is his second best instrument, actually: these are ten wonderfully written and deeply contemplated folk songs. If you're telling me how messed up you are inside, you better be smart about it.

Thee Oh Sees, Warm Slime (2010)   C-
The title track outstays its welcome - it's strictly festival fare, where playing the same thing for fourteen minutes can be tolerated because everyone's bodies are already filled with a tanker truck full of chemicals - before slip-sliding into six comparably briefer but equally lazy jams.

These New Puritans, Hidden (2010)   C+
They claim to be making music that's "dancehall meets Steve Reich" ... so in other words they're trying for Underworld? I guess the influence is there, but the result is half-baked: they think repeating things over and over again make the songs more memorable, but they're end up just being obnoxious ("Attack Music," "We Want War"). Underworld wanted to replicate the feeling of being high and happy and alive; these songs drag to their droll conclusion (with the exception of the glorious, druggy "White Chords").

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (2010)   B
The best band in existence named after a work by Shakespeare! Has the feel and spunk of a bar band, but there's an artistry that they have tucked in there: there are references to America's wartime troubles, but it's also about drinking and drinking and drinking to forget. Now if only someone would have cut off their hands before they allowed "The Battle of Hampton Roads" to go over fourteen minutes....

Shugo Tokumaru, Port Entropy (2010)   B-
I don't have a translated lyrics sheet handy, but I'm pretty sure Mr. Tokumaru's words are the equivalent of a Hallmark card. But unlike a Hallmark card, he accompanies his vacant observations with positively lovely bubblegum pop. When you make music this buoyant and infectious, you can recite to me the side effects sheet on a prescription bottle and I'll bounce along. River low, river low, river low....

Torche, Songs for Singles [EP] (2010)   D+
Power rock bros power rock through a slew of two minute tracks before settling down near the end of the EP to power out some slightly longer numbers. Is it just me, or are they significantly better when they shut up and just ride the sound wave through to the end ("Out Again")?

Vampire Weekend, Contra (2010)   B-
It isn't nearly up to the standard of their masterful debut, but it's not like these Columbia kids don't know that. It plays it safe, rehashing Paul Simonisms and dragging out what would have been B-sides on their first LP ("Horchata," "Cousins") before concluding on a beautifully mixed-up note (the cutting "I Think Ur a Contra") that gives hint of what they're capable of ... once they strip their songs down and climb out of their post-collegiate malaise.

The Walkmen, Lisbon (2010)   A-
They still sound like the kind of band you'd love to get completely shit-faced with because you know they have a good story or three; this release - after their impressive last record ("You & Me") is a caring ode to the history-rich Portuguese capital. They sound like they stumbled out of a cantina into the recording studio of your mind - they can do melancholy ("Torch Song"), they can do defiant ("Victory"), they can do defeated ("While I Shovel the Snow").

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)   B
The trouble with West is that he's so bloated with hubris that it's sometimes tough to hear his talent - all that often comes through is the stomping of his Dior Homme shoes all over the press, the runaway, 5th Avenue and Taylor Swift's forehead. But this is a justifiably praised release - "Runaway" is the centerpiece, a nine minute epic that really brings the album together (a little like the Dude's Rug). I don't think it's 'streamlined' enough to be his masterpiece, but there are chunks of this that are jaw-dropping (and the collaborations are completely crazy). He says he's a monster, though I'm not sure he believes it (egomaniacs aren't exactly capable of self-reflection).

Wild Nothing, Gemini (2010)   B+
Somebody's been studying his Cocteau Twins discography ... and I can only say praise the heavens. There's so much from the 80's that's been rehashed that it's nice to see Mr. Tatum - a one man show - has picked the best of the decade to piece together: this is reverent without resorting to clichés and incisive without being too detached. "Bored Games" might even make Kevin Shields and Robert Smith want to dance (a little).

The xx, xx (2009)   B
When they say 'minimal' they mean it: when the guitar sneaks in on the excellent "Basic Space" it comes as a surprise ... and elevates that song to another wistful level. Not everything else is as finely balanced as "Basic Space," however, and the album has some dead spots ... before the desperate sultriness seeps back into it.

Yellow Swans, Going Places (2010)   D+
They turn out the fuzz and static until their neighbors threaten to call the cops; they'd put more thought into it, but thinking is for people "inside the box," dude. I have "heard" Merzbow, good sirs, and neither of you are Merzbow.

Singles of the Year: The Arcade Fire: "We Used to Wait," Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: "Fright Night (Nevermore)," Beach House: "Walk in the Park," Best Coast: "Boyfriend," Big Boi (Featuring Janelle Monáe): "Be Still," Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: "Bad Blood," The Books: "Free Translator," British Sea Power: "Can We Do It?," Caribou: "Odessa," Four Tet: "She Just Likes to Fight," Cee-Lo Green: "Fuck You," LCD Soundsystem: "Dance Yrself Clean," Little Boots: "New in Town," The Magnetic Fields: "You Must Be Out of Your Mind," S: "Wait," Shamantis: “USMILEAMBIENT,” Sleigh Bells: "Rill Rill," Willow Smith: "Whip My Hair," Spoon: "Written in Reverse," Sufjan Stevens: "Age of Adz," Sun Airway: "Waiting on You," Strange Boys: "You Can't Only Love When You Want To," These New Puritans: "White Chords," The Tallest Man on Earth: "You're Going Back," Vampire Weekend: "I Think Ur a Contra," Rufus Wainwright: "Who Are You New York?," Kanye West: "Lost in the World," Wild Nothing: "Bored Games"