Playing favorites, or resisting “best of”: 2010 edition

Every December, a personal dilemma arrives: The “best of 2010” music list. To make one or not? Such lists often feel stifling, sometimes bullying, and I don’t particularly feel justified in claiming the decidedly dubious title of “tastemaker.” Last year, I chose to, instead, create a mix honoring some of my favorite musical discoveries of 2009 and did not make my personal list public. This year, instead, I created a series of 8tracks mixes to accompany a brief essay here on the blog (while I still reserve the right to devote a blog to my favorite discoveries of ’10, too!) While this still feels weirdly preachy, I welcome you to indulge my selections for what they’re worth (not much!) and possibly even discover something you may have never heard before — the best part of being a music junkie, in my book.

My personal favorite albums of 2010:

1. Titus Andronicus – The Monitorlisten to the top 10
2. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
3. Twin Shadow – Forget
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
5. Jonsi – Go
6. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
7. Male Bonding – Nothing Hurts
8. Owen Pallett – Heartland
9. Glasser – Ring
10. Marnie Stern – s/t
11. Local Natives – Gorilla Manorlisten to #11-21
12. Lower Dens – Twin-Hand Movement
13. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
14. Robyn – Body Talk
15. Wild Nothing – Gemini
16. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
17. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
18. The National – High Violet
19. Menomena – Mines
20. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – I Learned the Hard Way
21. Dessa – A Badly Broken Code
22. Sharon Van Etten – Epiclisten to the rest
23. Matthew Dear – Black City
24. Beach Fossils – s/t
25. Diamond Rings – Special Affections
26. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
27. No Age – Everything In Between
28. Foals – Total Life Forever
29. S. Carey – All We Grow
**Girls – Broken Dreams Club
**Active Child – Curtis Lane
**Generationals – Trust

Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus

Honorable mentions: Salem – King Night, Warpaint – The Fool, PS I Love You – Meet Me at the Muster Station, Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), Eternal Summers – Silver

2010 was a great year for music, and as such, I must add one important caveat to this list: I was fortunate enough to see several of the acts listed below live in concert and those experiences surely colored my enjoyment of their recorded material ever since. LCD Soundsystem and Titus Andronicus at Pitchfork, Twin Shadow at Schubas, Jonsi at the Vic, Local Natives at the Metro and Owen Pallett at Lincoln Hall were all fan-freaking-tastic (if not brilliant, in the case of some) live shows that really spoke truth to the power of each of their albums released this year. On the flip side, I didn’t so much jive with either Sleigh Bells’ or Best Coast’s sets at Pitchfork this summer, and it soured me on their albums. I have a feeling that, were my economic situation different, had I seen a few of the other acts on this list in concert – namely Janelle Monae, Joanna Newsom and Sufjan Stevens – they likely would have been higher, but such is life.

Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom

What I really loved about albums like Titus, Jonsi and LCD’s releases were that they were able to take huge, grandiose things — in the case of Titus and LCD, some pretty epic songs; with Titus, a nerdy historical concept; with Jonsi, some pretty epic instrumentation — and made it work. They made it near-perfection, in my mind. Other albums – like Joanna’s and Sufjan’s – also had lofty ambitions and have some really glimmering moments, but on the whole, I think both suffered from their lack of editing.

Jonsi

The opposite extreme of the spectrum: Somewhat simple, often brief music, also really stood out to me this year. The Lower Dens’ debut album, as well as Carey and Van Etten’s, provided us with a much-needed break from the grandiose. Their voices are endearingly raw at times and it all adds up to so much more than the sum of each song’s parts.

All of these albums helped me through the difficult times this year and if you haven’t heard any of the above artists before, I’d highly recommend you check out the mixes and if you like what you hear, head out and buy their album, see their show the next time they’re in town and tell your friends about what you’re listening to. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

A Halloween tale, via Missed Connections

SBL0607 2 MILLS

It is no secret that I love, love, love reading Craigslist’s treasure trove of awkwardness, the Missed Connections section. So, of course, as we all continue from a weekend filled with makeup, witches’ brew and masked make-out sessions, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to round-up some of my favorite Chicago MC’s to tell a little tale of Halloween lure (in addition to sharing some tunes).

Personally, Halloween has never been a holiday I associate with wild hook-ups, but maybe that’s because my costumes are usually not of the “Sexy (Fill-in-the-Blank)” variety. I’m usually in drag, covered in grotesque makeup with stubble poking through, and this year was no exception as I took on the role of Little Edie Beale from Grey Gardens. The below characters seem to have had some good luck knocking boots, even if they had a lot of explaining to do for their mother upon their return home. Here’s hoping the fates bring these lovers back together.

Missed my chance with Mr. Franzia – m4m (Belmont/Monroe)
Date: 2009-11-01, 11:33PM CST

“I had black paint smeared on my face. I admired the intricacy of your costume: Franzia boxed wine. We made some contact on the train before both getting off at Monroe. There we kissed at a street corner, where a passing driver yelled “FAGS!” at us (just in case you didn’t notice) … Sorry for not following, but, in all honesty, I was staying with my mom (who was visiting) in a hotel. That being said, I’d love to hear from you and maybe engage in some out-of-the-box conversation.”

ms wonderland left wondering? – w4m – 20 (in tinley)
Date: 2009-11-02, 2:40AM CST

“ok so i went 2 a halloween party with a gf and i was the sexy ms. wonderland girl. i was soooooooooooo wasted n u were so much fun and we ended up being naughty but i don’t remember most of it lol. u had on a dark costume not sure what it was though dah? well i have a bf so i guess it had 2 b a one time thing, just wanted 2 say if u ever read this i was the small blond who u helped have a really fun halloween!”

The outlaw Josey Wales – m4m (near loop)
Date: 2009-11-01, 6:47PM CST

“To the outlaw Josey Wales: it was so hot to watch you polishing your gun. A nice long gun, with a big thick barrel and a nice head to it. I can still taste that ammunition dripping into my mouth.”

Of course, since these are Missed Connections, after all, not all of these rendezvous were as successful. Lesson be learned: Be sure to carefully stow your beloved university-provided metro card when going home with handsome men in “dark costumes.”

Halloween Party then Your Apt – w4m (lincoln park area)
Date: 2009-11-02, 10:28AM CST

“Friday I was beligerent, I apologize. I dont remember practically anything when we got to your apt, let alone how we did till my friend filled me in. Uhh yah I lost my Upass at your place did you find it??? That would bloow if I have to find another one. Ps. “my buldge” seeing I was spider man is in your room too, white/pink soccer socks? Yeah, well I’m sorry for being a slob, im sure i was a huge one. But on the bright side I do think your adorable!”

Georgia at Halloween Church Party – m4w
Date: 2009-11-02, 5:15PM CST

“I was the Chaplin with whom you danced. I got swept up into an evening of events that now seem unreal. If you find this, please shoot me an email. I’d love to see you again and take you dancing.
Take Care

A Somewhat Silent Man”

oh, pinnochio – m4w (subterranean)
Date: 2009-11-01, 11:24AM CST

“that little boy look didn’t fool me, you were smoking hot. i never made it to the hideout, but i did spend a more than a few minutes thinking about what it would be like giving it to a puppet that wants to be a real boy, but is actually the hottest little girl in the room.”

But, I think the most important lesson from all of this is to watch out for each other. Halloween is a time for all of us to come together and bask in the ridiculousness of it all. And protect each other from violent religious leaders. Especially if you’re dressed as a pop diva.

Kid that got hit by the pope at Evil Olive – w4m – 21 (Evil Olive)
Date: 2009-11-01, 9:19AM CST

“Lady GaGa wants to make sure you’re ok.”

VAGUELY AUTUMNAL AUDIO MIX:

Download: Ramona Falls ‘I Say Fever’ (mp3) (+++)
Download: Florence and the Machine ‘Drumming’ (mp3)
(+++)
Download: Crystal Waters ‘Gypsy Woman’ (Sharps Remix) (mp3)
Download: Squirrel Nut Zippers ‘Hell’ (mp3)
Download: Silversun Pickups ‘Booksmart Devil’ (mp3)
Download: Kate Bush ‘Get Out of My House’ (mp3)
Download: My Gold Mask ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ (mp3)
Download: Cold Cave ‘Youth and Lust’ (mp3)
(+++)

(+++) denotes high levels of recommendation.

Give a listen to… Telefon Tel Aviv

It’s been a while since I’d featured a musical artist in this blog’s “Give a listen to…” series, and after previewing a track from the forthcoming album from Telefon Tel Aviv, a Chicago-based, New Orleans transplanted electro-pop duo, I knew that the feature was ready to make its triumphant return.

The track that did the trick is “Helen of Troy,” a lush, pastoral electronic track that is sweetly infectious (and available for download at the bottom of this post). I could listen to it on repeat for eons. The track seems to be on the brink –I’d give it two months — of remixes galore and probably a good six months from blogofame, particularly if the rest of Immolate Yourself, out on January 20, 2009, matches the level of this track.

The duo, comprised of Joshua Eustis and Charles Cooper, recently changed record labels to BPitch Control, have previously released two original albums, 2001’s Fahrenheit Fair Enough and 2004’s Map of What Is Effortless. The below track, from a live performance at the Kick It! Festival in Rome last year showcases, in admittedly low quality, their live presence:

The band have a handful of North American stops left on their tour this month, and will surely be on the road in the new year, so be sure to keep a look out for them. Meanwhile, enjoy the track below, and if you like what you hear, go and buy some new music.

Download: Telefon Tel Aviv ‘Helen of Troy’

Visit: Myspace | Official Site

Previously listened to on GALT: Kate Nash | Owen Pallett | Onili | Lykke Li

Give a listen to… Lykke Li

If you’re a close follower of music blogs, this introduction is coming at least a few weeks late, but if not, I would like you to say hello to the latest in a string of quirky, catchy, beautiful Swedish indie-poppers, Lykke Li. 22-year-old Li’s first album, Youth Novels, was released in Sweden on LL Recordings on February 4, and will shortly be released in the United States and more broadly in Europe. The album was produced by fellow Swede indie king Bjorn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn and John). Her sound has been described as “a mix of soul, electro and powdered-sugar pop” and is distinguished from similar artists with its raw, almost earthy quality, as showcased below in a late April performance of her latest single “Little Bit” on Later with Jools Holland:

Like what you hear/see? Check out three more downloads and links to Li’s Myspace, official site and purchase information for imports of Youth Novels below. If you’re waiting for the domestic release, also check out songs from 2007’s Little Bit EP available on iTunes, as of its May 6 U.S. release. Listen to her now before a laptop/cell phone/PDA company catches wind of these fresh tunes, and you can claim that you knew her “before all that”!

Download: Lykke Li ‘Tonight’
Download: Lykke Li ‘Dance Dance Dance’
Download: Lykke Li ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’
Visit: Myspace

Give a listen to… Onili

Onili smokin’ a… j-?

This week/month/whenever’s “Give a listen to…” feature is Onili, a fantastic Israeli band that is just beginning to get a tiny ounce of press… I actually stumbled across their stand-out track Sentimental thanks to a feature on the blog of KEXP, a college radio station out of Seattle. The band, led by Onili, has a fresh, organic feel, featuring drummer Barak Kram, guitarist Matthieu Imberty and bassist Yonatan Levy. Onili, who lived in Paris for ten years before settling in Israeli, lists Busta Rhymes, Prince and Outkast among her influences, and hopes to one day write an album for Madonna. Fierce, no?

Onili are playing their first four American shows later this month with Soulico, including a stop on Valentine’s Day in Chicago. Their latest release, Games EP, came out in December and is spectacular. Click here to check it out — available in MP3 format for just $4. Be on the lookout for more things from this group in the very near future, this is some legit, in-at-the-ground-level, serious talent that you’ll be able to brag to your friends about. Below, check out their first live performance of Sentimental in Tel Aviv and a download of their new single, Games.

Download: Onili ‘Games’ (Acapella)
Visit: Official Site
Visit: Myspace