Stuart's Albums of the Year 2010

As Chris is taking his time before we finally announce our album of the already ancient decade, it seems I can put this off no longer.

It's odd to look back at my year in music. I ended last year looking for anything immediate and new and fun, within a month I was swept away by musical forces I couldn't have predicted. Four months later, caught up in some new violence and romance I declared 2010 an important year, said if anything was going to happen it will happen now. Not that my declarations mean anything, the bands rule the state of the scene, I do not. The summer passed and I felt independent music had abandoned me, gone soft and complacent, one hundred bands releasing records described by the press as "hazy, nostalgic", so I took refuge in british beats and electronics. And now I wake up and the year is gone.

And so I find myself unable to turn any kind of objective view on the past twelve months, I was too much of a victim of the sounds to find any impartial distance. Not as much of what hit me stuck as had last year, but what did hit deep, and that's all I have to share. This is the personal list. This was the year to me.

1. Four Tet - There Is Love In You
(SB review)

It's July and I'm sitting in my friend Jackie's apartment in Oakland and me and Adrian are trying to convince her to drop her plans and to come see Baths tonight in San Francisco with us. She said I don't want to go because I don't like electronic music. Bull shit we called! We both used to have that position, but to think that the instrument has necessary stake on the content is crazy! Besides, it'll be fun! We'll dance. Look she said, electronic music doesn't touch my soul.

And at first I scoffed in my mind because that is generally a bull shit self indulgent statement. Doesn't touch my soul! Ha! but then I remembered that this was not some 14 year old on the internet, this is not someone who would just throw that around. This is my best friend who I respect, she wouldn't say that vainly. So then I was a bit shaken, me and Adrian scrambled for Something at least.

Adrian shrugged. Said It doesn't touch my soul either I guess, but its fun and its interesting and its exciting and that's all you can ask for sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes. I agreed with him but in my mind I faced a small crisis. Electronic music doesn't touch my soul. I realized. It doesn't touch my soul.

Except Four Tet.

And certainly my year was kick-started by his masterpiece, like Jackie's sentence, uncensored, not trying to look cool, not concerned with avoiding cheesiness, just concerned with telling it like it is, Unadulterated music about love. About beauty. Innovative, sure, Minimalistic, Experimental, Danceable even sometimes, but never takes it's eye off the prize. There Is Love In You. It swirls everywhere in my head, all the time, my background radiation. It became associated with my person. It's all I talk about.

There is no story. There is not initial seduction, or boy looses girl, boy gets girl back. There is just the emotion of love. There is just the high feeling. There is just 4/4 beats and swirling guitar lines.

She Just Likes To Fight closes the album, an explanation, Look, four tet seems to say, I Don't Want To Leave Her Now, You Know I Believe. Look, he seems to say, It's Ok. She Just Likes To Fight.

2. The National - High Violet
(SB review)

Baring Four Tet, all my favorite albums of the year fall together in terms of a certain mindset. desperation, abandon, bravery of emotion that does not stem from actual courage, but from the belief that the world is fucked. That nothing matters. That looking cool and removed is no longer important. That they are falling into a void. We all take this different ways.

For The National it goes "The World Is Fucked So There Is No Time For Avoidance." the world is fucked so we can only be direct. As Boxer was the screaming behind your eyes as you went about your daily tasks, High Violet is screaming. There is no time for restraint. What made you think I enjoy being left to the flood? Instead of crafting poetry for the feeling you get afterwords they just went ahead and said "I don't want to get over you" instead of metaphors about despair they wrote songs called "Sorrow", called "I'm Afraid Of Everyone" called "Terrible Love". High Violet was the sound of screaming as you fell down into the pit.

3. Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring
(SB review)

If anyone in the world is no longer concerned with trying to look good its Los Campesinos. You think they don't realize that they sound like young teens, strung out on minor social woes and mild narcissism? They realize it. And they don't think it's good, or mature, or alright for 7 grown people to be perpetuating, but they are feeling it, and so they believe they must commit it to music.

And so if We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was a cry out, realizing that the world doesn't love them, Romance Is Boring is the cry of realizing that there is no love, even on a personal level. Its the cry of giving up on the whole concept of romance, of empty beds, of playing straight chicken with gay girls (spoiler: it's never enough).

Los Campesinos have such a habit of churning out line after line, resonating with immature depth. Claims that he would take your heart, with ease, by any means necessary, just in order to crush it, just out of bitterness. Saying he'd rather be dead than spend his time being selflessly cared for by you. Demanding that romance is boring.

And as the music shifts between noise and catchy melodies, you find that he doesn't believe a word of it, and that really he just wants someone to lie around with, counting the moles on their back. But it doesn't matter. Because there is no love. There is no post-coital, there is just post rock. There is no love and he's not even getting off. That his saddest and most depressing break up doesn't even crack the top 100 list.

These are our immature cries.

4. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

So the National's nihilism amounts to unrestrained despair, and the Los Campesinos' fell on unrestrained lust and bitterness. Kanye's went two ways. The first states, to paraphrase one reviewer, "Let's party like the world is fucked because the world is fucked", and certainly he is good at that. Fuck everything, he says, I'm gonna marry a porn star, I'm gonna have a different girl every night. Fuck the haters, their screams are my theme music. Fuck the world because I win anyway, I have all the fucking power, I don't need you. And he does this brilliantly, with swagger, taking the stance of a wrathful god.

But he keeps rubber banding between this and the realization of what an awful person he's been to everyone around him. He snaps between everything is fucked so I will party, and everything is fucked and it's all my fault. He tells girls he love to run far away from him, confessing that he's never going to give them an ounce of anything honest. He confesses to his sins of flesh, his constant infidelity. He confesses how much he needs her, calling her at two AM, making a fool out of himself on record. He knows how much he's not worthy of it. And he fucking hates himself. And then he snaps back. So that's his life, fuck me, then fuck the world, then fuck me again. He can't get much higher.

5. These New Puritans - Hidden
At the beginning of this year These New Puritans swapped the dance floor for the battle field, giving up their "we are cool as fuck" fashion post-punk beats for war drums and violins, and in doing so they created what has to be the most original sounding album of the year. They still have their little insidious turns of words, "Without a doubt I don't believe the stars are symbols, but lets find out", but gone is the self conscious cleverness. Everything about this album screams business, and these screams sound fucking good.

6. Mount Kimbie - Crooks and Lovers

As the indie world seemed to crumble beneath my feet I stumbled upon the land of british dance music, with Mount Kimbie beginning their reign as the young kings. Their virtuosic blend IDM and sub-bass heavy dubstep is absolutely breathtaking, both immediate and staggeringly interesting, I would spend my whole life at clubs if they played stuff like this here.

7. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

Mostly Crystal Castles were assholes, and mostly that was fun. Occasionally it was much more than that, I wasn't the only one to find catharsis in the screams of "I live. As Alice - I die" but for the most part it was fun. It was dishonest, it was ironic, it was nihilistic, it was a great party album. Their second self titled is none of these things. Amazingly enough the two canadians released a slow churning gothic record. They didn't loose the four on the floor beat but ever ounce of this feels heavy with honest despair, and though its no longer catchy it only took a few listens for it to seep deep into my skin. Not to mention the non-album version of Not In Love where Robert Smith takes on the vocals - the absolute best track to be relieved this year. Because as long as it's true anyway, we might as well have a chorus of it to shout along to.

8. Baths - Cerulean

There was certainty too much talk of what the perfect summer record is this year. And really, I generally don't think "summer" records are that important to begin with, most things season specific tend to be awful. That being said, this is the perfect summer record. Nervous, stuttering beats over shimmering electronics. It's relaxing, it's beyond original and interesting, it's just fucking lovely. In mid July it's everything I had ever wanted.

9. Yellow Swans - Going Places

Yellow Swans broke up and left us the most beautiful noise album that has ever existed. Paradox. Almost coming at it from a post rock perspective, Going Places builds and tugs at you, focusing on subtle emotionality rather than the broader strokes the genre tends to aim for. And yet, it's still noise, still dense and impenetrable. Still the most inaccessible thing this side of Merzbow. Still beautiful.

10. Sleigh Bells - Treats

If you can take Crown On The Ground sitting down then fuck you. Fuck off. The most devastatingly original banger that's hit wax in ages, it can't be denied. And Sleigh Bell's blend of dance, hip hop, and noise rock just tears apart with energy, the first real feeling of violence to arrive on brookyn soil in years. Though the song writing doesn't always back it up, who cares? Get on the floor. Mosh. Shout. Amen.

Honerary Mention: James Blake and Joy Orbison - The Bells Sketch, CMYK, Klavierwerke, and The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow EPs

These two brillient innovators of the genre that's come to be known as post-dubstep (an awful title, anyone will admit, but simple and accurate) turned out some of the absolute best tracks of the year, both for the headphones and the dance floor. Neither came out with an album (though Blake is due for one this February) but it would be beyond a shame for these four EP's to go overlooked.

Bonus list: the best movies of the year

1. Black Swan 2. Inception 3. Exit Through The Gift Shop 4. Enter The Void 5. Biutiful 6. Scott Pilgrim 7. 127 Hours 8. Never Let Me Go 9. The Kings Speach 10. The Kids Are Alright

string ourselves up for love


2. The Antlers - Hospice

I was in a state of emotional stagnation earlier on in the year, feeling bored and not particularly inclined to feel either happy or sad to any noticeable degree. If it's not too cliché to say so, I was numb. I then listened to Hospice and it all came back. I started feeling again simply because of this music. Hospice is so incredibly depressing and well executed that it becomes hard to listen to, despite being melodically and texturally flawless. It's evocative in the truest sense.

One of the reasons that The Antlers manage to be so emotionally striking is their undeniable authenticity. And truly, authenticty is such a vital part of their emotional impact because of how connected the music is to the songwriter and band. You can feel their personal emotions seeping through. Because The Antlers manage to make otherwise interesting and distinctive sound elements they use (i.e, shoegaze tones, pop melodies) as a secondary, instead of primary focus of their music, the listener can really focus on the songwriting and what the songs are actually trying to get across - the songwriting holds up the music, not vice-versa. The band tie in textural elements frequently found in post rock and shoegaze soundscaping, and integrates them with more conventional songwriting and vocal deliveries, in a way that doesn’t simply sound like an amalgamation of different influences. In other words, The Antlers define their own sound by having evolved far beyond the process of extracting elements from other bands and utilizing them for aesthetic appeal.

Hospice also seamlessly integrates the lyrical content and narrative with the instrumentation. Although there is no sampling used on the album, the sounds themselves is enough to evoke imagery directly correlated to the lyrical content. On the second track, Kettering, the melancholy is instantly established far before you hear any lyrics, starting with minimal upright piano playing, and whispery and strained singing fluctuating in and out of falsetto. Directly after the lines “And I didn't believe them when they told me that there was no saving you”, a cathartic burst of synthesizer drone, a marching band snare beat, and airy reverberated vocals permeate auditory space. Although Kettering is a common example of using pronounced instrumentation to accent a lyrical point, it’s to be noted that The Antlers are the absolute masters of this craft, and tonality is perfectly matched with entire songs, evoking the cold sterility of hospital rooms with synthesizer melodies that recall an electrocardiogram, background tones that sound like the hums of a ventilation system, and guitars and pianos that guide the more ambient elements into the catastrophic mental states that Hospice exemplifies.

This may sound like a limited critique of what we consider the number two album of the decade, but at the same time, with these two elements I’ve described of The Antlers, it’s hard to not realize how distinctively brilliant they are when compared to the rest of the music that has come out in the decade. Watching someone die and feeling a part of you die inside is something that can’t be described in text, and if it could, a musical form to convey such a thing wouldn’t be necessary. The Antlers do something strange to the listener that I can’t even place in words; it’s not merely depressing listening session, it’s almost a completely different experience.



3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven

Expanding and brightening the grim apocalyptic visions of their first album F#A (infinity), Lift Your Skinny Fists stretches out comfortably into what was once firmly prog rock turf—a double album consisting of only four songs (well, “suites,” more like)—and manages to make all eighty some odd minutes count.

After the heavily ironic and snarky pastiche of the ‘90s, Godspeed ushered in a once-promising new era with one of the most grandiose, emotionally resonant and dramatically ambitious pieces of ear cinema ever made. Regardless of what you think of this Canadian mini-orchestra’s anarcho/Marxist/anti-capitalist views, the main statement of this album is rejection of a cold and cynical modern world—taking the place of lyrics are audio snapshots of preachers at the height of religious fervor, an old man reminiscing about Coney Island’s lost grandeur, and schoolchildren singing in French framed by glorious sweeps of strings, guitar, and horns backed by thundering drums. From the opening fade-in of “Storm” to the cosmic choir of heavenly drones finishing the album, this is BIG music and totally unapologetic about that fact, with crescendos that will make you fall apart sobbing, shaking your fist at the sky and everything in between and if you’re not cranking this to volumes normally reserved for B-52’s on takeoff, you’re doing it wrong.

However, details are not lost in the volume or instrumental density and Godspeed know how to employ each and every instrument for maximum effect—take for example, the few sad, droning piano notes accompanying a distant squelched voice at the end of “Storm”; a swell of mournful violin underscoring a crazed preacher and the screaming guitar lead that takes the crescendo of “Static” to Olympic heights; the Krautrock-like drumming accompanying the guitar and string turmoil at the end of “Sleep”; the rustic, Floydian melody in the middle of “Antennas to Heaven”… I could go on and on, and the band pulls all this off without a hint of pretention, detractors be damned.

Simply put, a more epic album does not exist in this decade, or most others for that matter. This is music for the last concert hall on Earth.


4. Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

If there’s a worse thing to be than a teenager in love I couldn’t possibly fathom what it might be. You have nothing to compare this with. This is the first time this is happening and nobody is quite sure what to do. Your girlfriend doesn’t understand you, she might not even like you that much, and even the most sage adults are so far removed from the situation that they might as well be trying to tell a raccoon how to adjust brake rotors if God forbid you come to one with a legitimate problem.

This is the case for most people: You’re dropped into the deep end of the pool and told to swim or drown in self-importance. Some will be lucky. Some will have a partner that is attracted to them, and that attraction may even be mutual. They might legitimately care about what’s happening with you and you may have an investment in their problems. You may be surrounded by wise friends who have nothing but the best interests in mind for the both of you, and who like both of you, and would go to the ends of the earth for you if they thought they could help something in the relationship in anyway.

You’ll fuck this all up anyway because you’ll still think you’re doing something wrong. There’s no getting around that. Whatever you do it’s wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. You could care for this person more than anyone has ever cared about anything but you won’t want to show it, and if you do it’ll come out as anger or maybe some weird form of lust because this isn’t something that has come out of you before and it’s not something the other person has experienced before from a firsthand basis, and it will kill them, it may only kill them for a moment but there will come a time when you have to show what you really think and whether those feelings are positive or negative your favorite person in the whole wide world will be dead by the end of the night.

Drugs won’t help too much, alcohol less so. They might for a minute but it’ll come back a hundred times worse. Of course you know this now, but you didn’t know it then, and even though you watched all the same movies that everyone else did you think it’ll be different for you, you think you’ll have some ace up your sleeve that’ll allow you to get over all this garbage with whiskey and a keenly adjusted sense of humor. And when the puke hits the wall for the first time that’ll be when you realize it, that you’re no better than anyone else, there’s nothing special about your heartbreak or your precious little feelings and there’s nobody who can help you. The only person who can help you now is you and you can’t even hold your liquor. You can’t even hold onto a simple feeling without it spilling out all over the place and the absolute last person on earth you want to be around is yourself. He’d help if you’d just talk to him, but you won’t. That guy’s a real prick.

And the worst part is that you think you’ll be ready for this when it happens again, and again, and again. You’re wearing chainmail and they’re flying bombers, you’ve got a stake in the race and they own the stadium. Somewhere, buried deep in the back of your head, you understand that everyone’s heart is bigger than everyone else’s and that self-cannibalization is the only sure path to understanding that nothing went wrong because nothing was right in the first place, but she smells nice and looks soft and just like you, she cannot fathom all the calculations she never made, and just like you she will not realize that her problems are universal, and that if there is one thing true about a universal problem it is undoubtedly and unstoppably unsolvable.

If you’re a regular person, all of this takes about six years from the ages of thirteen through nineteen to figure out and experience. If you’re Los Campesinos, it takes about thirty two minutes and ten seconds.



5. Radiohead - In Rainbows

How come I end up where I started? To say Radiohead was a band with something to say would be to make a fine understatement. These five fine men were obsessed with it. They fought the world. They planted their standard in the ground and lashed out against consumerism. Against alienation, against coldness. They stood for moving mountains, they stood for pushing things forward. They raised flag against the news, against the false sense of order, against the yuppies networking. Against everything that is broken. Their metaphors grew with their scope, their conviction. They crafted car crashes, sinking ships, ice ages. Aliens hoping to get out, star crossed lovers climbing out the window. Math equations that didn't add up. They predicted the apocalypse.

And the sun rose. And the sun set. And its on again, off again. And years passed. And they're still here. And every day they get out of bed and take a crap and hope to find something to eat. They did not understand what it is they did wrong. And the world is still the world. Ten years after the car crash and begging to be pulled out alive. Ten years with computers and coldness and #1 records and legions of hipster devotees and the world was still the world. Despite everything they had to say. How come I end up where I started?

And I guess they're stuck. And so what is there big to say anymore? How come they ended up where they started? The same. They don't know what to say anymore. They don't know if there was anything to say in the first place. This goes around, it's on again, off again. In Rainbows is simple. In rainbows is circular, it begs for climax, for crescendo, and it doesn't come, because as far as Radiohead can tell - it just doesn't come. So fuck it. So give it away for free. So they look at their lives and they look at their wives and girlfriends and say, look, the world hasn't changed, my life hasn't changed from it. But you can change my life. You're all I need. You're all I need. They wrote love songs because love had more to say than car crashes. Because your eyes move me. Because I do not want to be your friend, I JUST WANT TO BE your lover. And thats the truth of the matter. Thats more true than any grandiose metaphor. Because the beat just goes round and round, so you might as well come on and let it out. Because they thought they had it in them, but no. They're stuck. We're stuck. I am stuck. And there's no real reason.



6. The National - Boxer

It’s extraordinarily rare to hear a melancholy album that can be described as “likable”. In doing so The National made Boxer one of the defining albums of the decade and created something that’s close to impossible to argue with.

Many have compared Matt Berringer to Ian Curtis, vocally, and the same have made the observation that the album’s ethos is similar to that of many in the drearier strand of college-rock from the ‘80s. But what these distinctions miss is that Boxer is an album that could not have been made in any other decade. It wouldn’t have made sense in any other context. Isolation, now more than it’s ever been, is as much of a cultural staple as Mom and apple pie, and while many artists and albums have touched on this, none of them have so thoroughly committed themselves to the idea as The National.

Certainly, the key is less in the delivery than in the engine that runs the music itself. James Murphy and Arcade Fire have built their careers trying to make loneliness seem fashionable. The main difference is that with The National, that suave, pleading heartbreak isn’t the point, but merely a side effect. Berringer never takes his eye off the ball. He presents these feelings as being sexy and cool not because they are, but because as long as they’re going to be around anyway they might as well sound nice. It makes for a crushing dichotomy: What you hear on Boxer are fountains of rage and confusion being explained but never quite understood, controlled but never comforted. As quiet as it may be, it proves to be the perfect album to lose one’s mind to.

None of these thematic elements would amount to anything if the music itself sounded like garbage. Without question, half of this album’s success lies in the orchestration and drums. There’s no grandeur to the backing orchestra-it is there simply because the music could not be communicated any other way. Likewise, Brian Devendorf’s drumming is commanding but never overblown, only taking center stage when it’s necessary for the music. For all its moving parts, Boxer is an album of musical utilitarianism. It is dark and it is lush, but less as an expression of emotion and more as a statement of fact.

Boxer, then, is the Great American Tragedy for the modern age. It is a cocktail party where everyone is carrying a loaded gun, a series of paradoxes raised as questions but never answered, leaving you to wonder why the more you look at your problems the less you understand them and how trust can really be possible if you never really know anyone, ever. These canyons between us exist, and The National makes no pretenses about trying to build bridges between them. But they might stop you before you fall in.



7. Electric Wizard - Dopethone

In ways the front cover of Electric Wizard's third album gives exactly the correct impression of it's continents. Black and white, loosely rendered, a devil smoking from a bong. The cover does not beat around the bush, it's blunt, in every scene of the word. The music found within delivers on all the promises. Electric Wizard craft some of the heaviest, swirling dark doom metal ever created, and they focus themselves mostly on the subjects of death, destruction, and heavy heavy pot smoking. If there was ever an album to get baked and destroyed to, this is it.

On the other hand there is something about this album that almost makes you want to scrap the cover all together. Call it a red herring. As every repeating riff makes you see red you think the cover should have been darker. As Jus Oborn's voice distorts further and further into violence you think the whole cover should have been covered in black, it should have been much much angrier.

And there in lies what must be the miracle of Dopethrone - it is full of contradictions that are simultaneously true. It is a fun album and it is a violently powerful album. It is an album with an incredibly singular sound, yet it is instantly accessible. It's an album to bang your head along with but it will also drown you.

Perhaps I just love it so much because it borders on so many other things that peak my interest. It's the most passionately angry thing around without devolving into noise, and by god it must be the most destructively repetitive thing this side of the minimal spectrum. Perhaps its the sound, so unique and direct that even friends of mine who seek only abstract beauty demand right away to know who made these sounds tearing up my speakers. But I don't suspect that's it. I think it's because - contrary to most metal music where I'm just in it for the fun, the epicness - when Jus Oborn shouts "I. Don't Care. The World. Means Nothing." my god I believe him. I feel every ounce of his words. This is not a game for these people, it's not fun. And through everything else that has to be why this album has such a hold on Everyone who hears it.

It makes you want to tear the world down.


8. Wolf Parade - Apologies to Queen Mary

Although the bands that spawned from the Canadian indie explosion of the early 2000’s didn’t intentionally set their focus on how quirky or odd their overall sound turned out, it ended up being one of the trademarks of the movement. That being said, Wolf Parade stood out because of their ability to combine their own eccentricity with actual substance. Loosely overdriven guitar and synth lines, chugging rhythms, and passionate yet hardened vocal deliveries yield an aural and thematic sound rooted deeply in reality. Completely relevant to the observation and failures of both personal and social struggles, Apologies contains nothing ethereal or otherworldly to diminish the directness and purity of Wolf Parades delivery. In conjunction, their instrumentation and timbre is formulated around incredible pop songwriting that generates another level of depth along with the more immediately noticeable stylistic flairs.

Every song on this album is substantial contribution to the album as a whole, and every song has enough diversity to really capture the interest of the listener. ‘You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son’ opens the album, instantly showcases the style that Wolf Parade is known for: a thumping rhythmic pattern starts the song off, complemented by carnivalistic piano playing after a few measures. Vocals that recall some twisted variation of the yodel, and the snarls of a drunken man, sound out in perfect harmony. Eventually, dirty guitar chords permeate the mix, which eventually bursts into noise and segues into the next song seamlessly. Already, the obvious trademarks to their distinctive sound display themselves within the first few minutes.

The distinction between Wolf Parade and other odd & quirky indie bands is not only their ability to showcase such a style but to fortify it with genuinely strong base songwriting (songs that could still display a formidable structure even when played with just an acoustic guitar or piano), and thematically consistent lyrical content, despite there being two lyricists. Because of their fundamentally solid songwriting, the songs manage to be incredibly direct and cohesive despite the frenzied nature of their sound.

The feelings are dark, and the deliveries imply impassioned individuals on the brink of admitting defeat- but Krug and Boeckner march forward regardless, not because there is hope, but because there just might be something worth marching forward for. In ‘Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts’, Krug belts the lines ‘So I got a plan / It's the best that I can do / Now we'll say it's in God's hands / But God doesn't always have the best goddamn plans, does he?’, only to be followed by ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’ where Krugs unrelenting delivery once again exemplifies a lack of control with passionate desperation, despite understanding the limitations of his own actions. ‘This Heart’s on Fire’, ends the album, appropriately titled and delivered.

The only comparison I’d like to make to another band is to Modest Mouse, and only a philosophical one at that: Apologies contains a practically unrivaled directness, unhinged and borderline-maniacal vocal delivery, songs that are incredible on their own yet enhanced by the order the album, and unmistakable and distinctive instrumentation. Sound wise, despite Isaac Brock producing most of the album, they are dissimilar- Wolf Parade sounds like Wolf Parade, and their madness and genius are their own. Disregard comparisons to Wolf Parades contemporaries such as The Arcade Fire, or Frog Eyes. Dynamic, brutal, passionate and dark, Apologies to the Queen Mary takes baroque pop and morphs it into their own incredibly eloquent yet crazed form.



9. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

It's not lost on many people that the first line of Arctic Monkeys' first album begins "Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment" and though of course the song goes on to describe the projected outlook for a crazy evening - ending up with you drunk texting fluid love poetry to an unwitting and unreceptive girl - the line has also always stood for Arctic Monkeys' view on what had happened to them thus far. You see by January of 2006 Arctic Monkeys' were the biggest band in England.

A bit odd for a band writing tales about a normal guy, drunk, alone in a bar at 3 0'clock, professing his love via the most impersonal and desolate of mediums? They thought so too. And with serving up the quickest selling debut in English history and being called by more than one source the next Beatles, Alex Turner and co found themselves increasingly uncomfortable.

You see, Arctic Monkeys' main premise is that they hate people. They hate people. They hate your lies and your scorn, your cynicism and your callousness, your advanced capacity for flat out faking. They hate you to levels that would normally stick them in with Elliott Smith level recluses, Minor Threat level moralists, or even Nirvana level violent outcasts - and yet. And yet Alex Turner didn't want to have to live those lifestyles, alone in his room. People are awful, he thinks, this is not going to change. This is not going to change. Not with all the angry bedroom sitting I could ever do. So I might as well get drunk, I might as well go out and dance, you know, fuck all this shit I intend to get laid.

Most of Whatever People Say I Am is spent in the back of clubs, angry at the rubbish band, furious at the large white wine drinking crowd pretending this band is the peak of art, worried blind about the girl he's trying to pull and the quantity of fluid he's consumed and WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE PUT ON SOMETHING WITH A DESCENT FUCKING BEAT SO WE CAN DANCE?

Surly this did a lot for a fifteen year-old newly faced with an unfair and unconcerned social system. It became my bible. I was angry. Surly it becomes even more relevant as I get older, as I emerge into a world of clubs and concert halls and alcohol. As my libido slowly begins to override my principals. I am angry. At fourteen Arctic Monkeys asked for instruments for their birthdays, five years before. At nineteen, five years later, Arctic Monkeys were the biggest band in England. So at fourteen me and my friends asked for instruments for our birthdays, at nineteen we have no money, with every ounce in our bodies dedicated to music. All Arctic Monkeys to blame and thank.

In January of 2006 England exploded, heralding a new age of anger and guitars that never actually came about. Alex Turner always looked incredibly off put when on stage. He could not believe the amount of people shouting lyrics he wrote. They stood and played their instruments and did not put on a show. Don't believe they hype, they seemed to say. Whatever people think I am, that's what I'm not.



10. Battles - Mirrored

A quirky pop sensibility, electronic experimentation, and brainy math rock all collide in unique and interesting ways in this, Battles’ first full-length record. Which is about what’d you expect of a supergroup made up of personnel from Don Caballero, Helmet and Lynx loosely fronted by an avante-garde electronic composer from Boston, but from that starting point shit just goes wild—outside of John Stanier’s trademark metronomic precision behind the drumkit and Tyondai Braxton’s oddly endearing Chipmunks-on-acid vox, it’s almost impossible to discern who is playing what. Guitars sound like keyboards, keyboards sound like guitars, samples pop in and out of the mix and all of them loop and pulse and bounce within the framework of a bizarre yet muscular robot funk that recalls King Crimson and Talking Heads filtered through Kraftwerk and modern IDM.

The chirpy, winding instrumentation of the first track “Race: In” serves as a nice intro before laying into the epic stomp of “Atlas,” an instant anthem that is as infectious as it weird with a bizarre Tyondai warble for a chorus (“Sing this hook”) and Stanier setting up the gradually evolving groove that drives the whole machine, the whole band tight as a fist. After the short “Ddiamondd” follows “Tonto,” a track that is as guarded and reflective as “Altas” was bouncy—a spiraling electronic melody intercut with dissonant yet spare guitar and a seemingly static, robotic swing that again mutates and shifts underfoot. As it slowly stretches out, ending on one sustained note fading into silence after seven minutes you’d wish it last longer so you could figure out its sublime intricacies.

And the palette only gets more varied from there. “Leyendecker” features more electronic chortling over a somewhat more ominous soundscape of moody bass and beefy industrial drums, worlds away from the giddy clockwork of “Rainbow” (which oddly features the only vocals on the album that don’t sound filtered); the atmospheric oddity of “Bad Trails” that sounds like Brian Eno circa-Another Green World stepped into the studio for a little while; and the jumpy math rock mania of “Tij.”

Regardless of the labels you slap on Battles, this is some of the most vivid and engaging rock you will hear in the ‘00s, the sound of innovation with a sense of fun and none of the clueless SRS BUSINESS vibe that grounds most things deemed “progressive.” And you can even dance to it. Sorta. That alone makes it worth more than a stack of Mars Volta albums.


Drafting your Lineup.

Being "one of those finicky assholes who spends a lot of time and money on headphones," I've spent a lot of time and money on headphones over the past couple of years. I've collected my fair share of cans, swapped them out and had them stolen from me, and I've finally and definitively selected what I believe to be the best headphones in the "Portable" "Midsize" and "Fullsize" headphone classes; it's a given, of course, that every headphone aficionado should own at least one pair of cans in each class. Here are my three choices, for you.

In the Portable Class:

Apple Earbuds

Apple Earbuds. That's right. I don't care that you don't have an Apple MP3 player, you should still own these earbuds; here's why: for one thing, I don't want to hear your shit about Bose in-ear headphones and their ilk / price-class. Fuck you. You spent too much on them. Right now, you can pick up a pair of Apple's buds for like five bucks on eBay. Let's consider the basics here: in my experience, these things have a life span of about 8 months given just the basic amount of care. I've got a pair now that's sounded fine for over a year, and they've taken a beating. I've spent more than 5 bucks on earbuds that stopped working within a month, and it makes me mad every time I think about it.

It's not just the price and disposability that makes Apple Earbuds pretty awesome though, it's also the sound quality. Yeah, I said it. The sound quality. No, they don't sound "good," but if you want to find buds that match Apple's in terms of sound quality, you're going to be spending $20+ and if you're spending $20+ on pair of portable headphones, smh, you're making your biggest mistake. Portable headphones are good for one thing: short walks with an MP3 player, and, newsflash: MP3 players sound like shit. They don't drive headphones the way they're meant to be driven, and don't deserve or need anything better than Apple earbuds. If you're looking for a pair of nice sounding headphones for something like the library or an airplane, you shouldn't be looking for earbuds anyway. If you care about how your music sounds then don't spend stupid amounts of cash on speakers that are smaller than your pinky, buy the Apple buds for short walks, and invest in some mid-size cans for chilling in public places.

Lastly, there's the whole "style" thing. I know, this isn't important, it's the music that counts, blah blah blah. But it should be noted that stylistically, these things do one thing right, and it's just about the only thing that earbuds SHOULD do right. They stay out of the way. They're small, white, and so ubiquitous that most of the time I don't even notice people wearing them. The same can't be said for those hideously bulky "Skull Candy" buds that probably cost you more and definitely sound worse.

So here's what I'm saying to you: Apple's earbuds are dirt cheap and they're better than most of the earbuds out there that are less than $20. Hell, they're better than most buds in the <$40 range. So do yourself a favor, and make your portable cans Apple earbuds.

In the Midsize Class:

Apple Earbuds

I think the concept of Midsize headphones is lost on a lot of people, which is a shame, because they're key players in my opinion. Often looked down upon as "earbuds for people who care too much," which is, er, sort of the true, Midsize cans actually excel in a lot of areas that that reasonably priced earbuds don't touch, like sound quality for example. Midsizers do, however, come with their share of limitations: for one thing, they're bigger than Portable cans. Is that obvious? Maybe not: they're actually relatively small, which might give your average mogul the impression that they're good for, oh say, short walks with an mp3 player. Which they're not. I have a pair of Koss Porta Pros which run for about thirty bucks, and I can't stand carrying them around with me in my pocket or around my neck. And yet, I never leave them behind for plane-rides, trips to the library, and other occasions which allow for extended "chilling," which, as we all know, is best served with good music. The reason? I don't want to actually listen to music on earbuds, and when portability isn't a factor, I'll opt for something bigger and better. And the Porta Pros are fantastic by the way.

In terms of comfort, it doesn't get a whole lot better- the Sennheiser PX 100s are actually just a tad bit more comfy, but they're thirty dollars more... and feel about five dollars better. In terms of sound quality, the Porta Pros blow the Senns away; don't take my word for it, check them out online, they're unanimously loved for a good reason. I don't think much more needs to be said for Midrange cans. If you're going in for a pair, and you should, go in for the Koss Porta Pros, with their hilariously dorky 80s aesthetic, nice, round bass, shockingly open-sounding L/R soundstage, and general unreasonable value.

In the Fullsize Class:


Here we have the Audio-Technica M50s. I just picked up a pair of these babys and I'm still working on burning them in, but after a good 10 hours of listening, I can already say that they're leaps and bounds better than the Sennheiser HD280s which were my go to cans for mixing and at-home listening... before they were stolen out of my bag on the subway. So there's a great example of why you should have three pairs of cans: if you get stuck with a single, expensive pair of headphones, you just might try and bring them along, and then they just might get stolen. Or broken. And then you just might cry yourself to sleep (not that I cried myself to sleep after I lost my 280s or anything.)

Good fullsize cans are useful for two things: studio work, and listening to music at home. Generally, they're going to be responsive enough that you'll be able to distinguish between high and low bitrate music, so they're no good mated with an MP3 player, unless you keep a small collection of high bitrate music on your mp3 player... you weirdo. Another factor that has to be taken into consideration when looking for Fullsize cans is amplification- some headphones, like the above-mentioned M50s and Grado's selection sound fine with on-board amplification from iPods and computers, but some cans with higher impedance require an external headphone amp, a nice soundcard or a good receiver to really shine. Bored yet? My point is, Fullsize cans are best left at home, where they sound the best, stay out of your way, and probably wont get messed up or stolen.

I've tested the M50s against my old Sennheiser HD280s, a pair of Senn HD595s, and AKG K-240s, and the M50s are clear winners- they've got a cleaner bass and treble response, smoother mids, they're more comfortable, and their frequency response is just flat-out flatter. I've yet to find a pair of Fullsize cans I like better, but then, I work in the >$200 price range... still, I can't imagine a pair of phones sounding $100 better. Feel free to let me know if you're interested in more A/B tests.

In Conclusion:

If you're here on this site, reading this, you really ought to have three pairs of headphones. My choices? The Apple Earbud, the Koss Porta Pro, and the ATH-M50. I strongly recommend the first two, but remember, there are TONS of great fullsize cans out there, I just prefer the M50s. Regardless of which headphones suit you, make sure that you've got a solid lineup that'll keep you groovin' regardless of where you are and what you're doin'.