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The Year In Review

#top 75 International Albums 2010, part II: from 50 to 26

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The Year In Review | PlayGround | Music Features
The Year In Review

The list of the best international albums continues on its way, counting down inexorably. In this second part, we look at numbers 50 to 26.

50. Gonjasufi: “A Sufi And A Killer” (Warp)


One can only begin to describe Gonjasufi by comparison. The first person who comes to mind is Tom Waits: a vagabond, a recreation of the myth of the urban nomad, the whipped, solitary dog; his voice is also ground-up, having been punished by life. “A Sufi and a Killer” finds most of its value in the surprise factor. The rest, in his favour, is the solidity of a project that’s so eccentric, and the way that from this stand for oddity emerges a course exploration that is unheard-of for psychedelics –replacing the megaliths of Stonehenge with the cacti of the Joshua Tree park– and what we tend to call “singer-songwriter music.” JB



49. Toro Y Moi: “Causers Of This” (Carpark)


Chaz Bundick pivots on that thin line that separates “being cool” from “being a freak.” Nevertheless, he has found a way to put a ton of influences into a cocktail mixer: indietronica, 60s pop, R&B, wonky, funk, psychedelics, and many glimmers of the subconscious for people who grew up in front of the television at the end of the 80s. It might be that the success of Toro Y Moi’s music lies in those glimmers of the subconscious in these electric shocks to the neurotransmitter that connect you to the summer of ‘97. Nothing in this album sounds really new, but it all leads you towards a place lost in your adolescence where you feel great, it is summer, it’s sunny, and we are all young and beautiful. MF



48. Deerhunter: “Halcyon Digest” (4AD)


Since we met Deerhunter, barely four years ago, everything has happened suddenly and inexplicably, as if by the divine work of the Holy Spirit. What’s the best thing about them no longer being the exciting band we discovered in “Cryptograms”? Well, they’ve become a much better band, sweet and clever. Since their masterpiece “Microcastle”, the Atlanta group’s quality has been more than proven. But that’s not enough for them, and their brand-new “Halcyon Digest” only reaffirms itself as a new step ahead in the stations of the cross that they have set for themselves on their way to becoming the new indie paradigm. Like Arcade Fire or Animal Collective, Deerhunter holds the magic formula for the best pop ever written. CR



47. Digital Mystikz: “Return II Space” (DMZ)


The six tracks of “Return II Space” –released exclusively on super heavyweight triple vinyl– are the best cuts dubstep has offered since it started to transform like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, and who knows if they’re the last such tracks, the end of the line. We don’t know that of course, but the open ending leaves this object –that floods the room at first contact with the needle like the explosion of a supernova– as the perfect ending of a cycle or as the last heroic act in the last instant of a fratricidal battle of life and death. There is purification, precision, perspective and loyalty to the traditional resources: the Jamaican-style cadence, the insistent arpeggio and cosmic detail, the toxic undercurrent. JB



46. Joanna Newsom: “Have One On Me” (Drag City)


Formally, this is a less complex work than its predecessor, with less oblique lyrics that attempt to depart from allegories, fables and assorted metaphors, to enhance the inherent candidness of the imagination of the composer. They incorporate love in all of its forms, and the family, understood as that home that’s never left behind, as their obsessions. The maturity and transparency of the instrumentation are also evident, and right away it is clear that Joanna’s league is another league. The quality of all of the compositions is so notable that the repertoire seems like a challenge aimed at calculating how much folk sensibility the listener can bear. CR



45. Flying Lotus: “Cosmogramma” (Warp)


“Cosmogramma” belongs to what we call “programmatic music”—it has a plot, it is a piece that tries to tell a story or communicate an idea (in this case, the abstract but real connection between outer space and the major genres of popular black music, starting with jazz and ending with the modern mutations of underground, instrumental hip-hop that has started to bubble up in Los Angeles). It wants to be today’s abstract hip-hop equivalent to what “Programmed” by Innerzone Orchestra was to Detroit’s techno. More or less it’s like this— willful, daring, respectful of ancestors, ambitious—but also imperfect. JB



44. Terror Danjah: “Undeniable” (Hyperdub)


“Undeniable” is a record in three perfectly linked parts. It shows his enormous virtuosity when it comes to production, as a beatmaker for rappers. It’s Terror Danjah’s ability to make everything sound personal and coherent which adds to the album, which can be heard as a collection of dancefloor bangers, on pirate radio or an iPod, but also from start to finish as an awe-inspiring voyage to the depths of the underground. It connects the origins with a future that seems to still be open (and limited, certainly, because grime is a genre with hard to break laws, but still with an exciting horizon). JB



43. Swans: “My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky” (Young God)


Is “My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky”, the Swans’ first album in thirteen years, a return to their essence? Yes and no. Yes, because the emotional tension of the first recordings is back again, less polished than would be predictable at this stage of the game and especially because the pomposity of their last works now gives way to a crepuscular and wonderfully measured, grandiose when it needs to be. And no, because the Swans is an intelligent, evolving entity which is far from self-satisfied, and which continues to search for the register that best suits his concerns, pecking at country and folk in this case without sacrificing an inch of his abrasive personality. OR



42. Jónsi: “Go” (EMI)


Many of the songs included on “Go” were written for Sigur Rós, but none of them ended up finding their place in the group’s dynamic. Starting from an acoustic inspiration, they took on a life of their own and melodic explosiveness as the process of gestation advanced. Analysed as a whole, one can understand why these nine compositions didn’t find a place in the two latest albums from the Icelandic combo. In Sigur Rós the tone is ambivalent, very dependent on the crescendo and progressive development; “Go” is not subject to evolution, and the songs get straight to the point, almost all of them averaging four minutes in length, and the majority of them have a feeling of euphoria that gives a noticeably different air to the result. DB



41. Teebs: “Ardour” (Brainfeeder)


Magic, rainy and heady, “Ardour” lives in the emotional shadows and places its bets on a cutting-edge electronic music made of nostalgia. The twenty-something Mtendere Mandowa extracts electronic ectoplasm from his Victorian computer and moves us without resorting to cheap sentimentality. He x-rays a California with a toxic sky, empty beaches, gusts of radioactive wind, secret cults, and people watching the storm from the window, oil-lamps in hand. Taken under the wing of Flying Lotus, this young producer has known how to take the teachings of Dimlite to find an escape route in the purest Alice in Wonderland style. And he has forged his own bubble. OB



40. Sleigh Bells: “Treats” (N.E.E.T.)


The weight of composition and production falls on Derek Miller, an unrepentant hardcore head, but disappointed with a community that is sufficiently orthodox to call you a sell-out at the slightest opportunity. In fact, not many followers of Poison The Well will end up surrendering to the drums with flow and the intelligible, easy choruses of “Infinity Guitars” or “Run The Heart”. But those who thought it was good for Travis Barker to join forces with DJ AM –now replaced by A-Trak– will like it, because the formula is similar: bring together the best feelings of hardcore punk with the most saleable aspect of mainstream. MF



39. Shackleton: “Fabric 55” (Fabric)


This is an 80-minute journey that slides down spirals of darkness. It’s hyper-complex, dense and at many times asphyxiating. Turbulent and disorienting moods but very elegant, tribal drums which become more intense like a Lovecraftian invocation, dark voices turning into hollow and melodic canticles. The senses elevate and become polished, the delicacy residing in the twisted are tasted. It’s dubstep, it’s techno, it’s exotic jungle, fucked-up drum’n’bass, a bizarre mix of everything; but above all, it’s tribal. It is, possibly, the most beautiful electronic music heard this year. MHDM



38. LCD Soundsystem: “This Is Happening” (DFA-EMI)


But how can we be talking about hits and precision when the average duration of the songs is six minutes? That’s the magic. As is habitual for LCD Soundsystem, “This Is Happening” is a sound blender, a musical recycling plant that practices melodic patchwork with scraps of different genres (funk, disco, electro, synth-pop, post-punk, new wave) and illustrious references. James Murphy is the musical equivalent of Quentin Tarantino: an artist who swallows metres and metres of celluloid, kilos and kilos of vinyl, to create something totally new, an earthquake that expands in a thousand different directions from a granite epicentre. It doesn’t matter how long their songs last, because something new and surprising is always happening, something sublime that sticks. Raül De Tena



37. Moon Wiring Club: “A Spare Tabby At The Cat’s Wedding” (Gecophonic Audio Systems)


Moon Wiring Club searches in more noble and attractive past periods: conceptually, they are the dynasty of Tudor and Queen Victoria, and is littered with titles referring to monarchies and periods of great imperial splendour. These allusions to spaces of happiness and plenitude and of regression should in theory be towards childhood, as with Boards Of Canada and with so many others from the new young chill-wave crowd. But you have to take into account that Hodgson’s kingdom isn’t that of pop, although his music can be listened to with fluidity, in a state somewhere between alertness, hypnosis and dismay. There is an abundant wellspring of references and a desire to squeeze the most from a production technique that is within the reach of few musicians who work in his same field, that of the sampledelic cut-up. RE



36. Autechre: “Oversteps” (Warp)


“Oversteps” is the resurrection of the season. What people were requesting of Autechre, from various fanatic platforms, was a return to humanity. They seemed like men with wires and aluminium prostheses for their extremities; they tried to smile and a grotesque grimace came out. But “Oversteps” is human, it is fluid, it’s exciting within its apparent coldness, and it is an interesting hybrid of the Autechre that originally placed its bets on ambiental music –the “Amber” period– and the latest Autechre of impossible sounds, intricate rhythms that disorient, making you feel that they are making fun of you, as they take advantage to show off their amazing technical mastery of the mouse and computer programming. JB



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35. Ariel Pink Haunted Graffiti: “Before Today” (4AD)


“Before Today” proposes an unclassifiable blend of genres and styles, but it condenses them like never before. And the thing is that, until now, the group’s stars had never aligned themselves in these conditions. Dilapidated and schizo from the outset, it has other incentives too, and in particular shows two key aspects of the Rosenberg file. Firstly, it makes it clear who is really the behind-the-scenes originator of the brand-new chill-wave; that is to say, who has been leaking it out like nobody else since well before the hypnagogic fever broke loose. And secondly, it certifies who the award should go to for the most genuinely indie launch of the season. That one went to his travelling buddy Christopher Owens’ band Girl in 2009. CR



34. Shed: “The Traveller” (Ostgut Ton)


René Pawlowitz occupies a one-of-a-kind space in modern techno. Under his production as Shed, he’s shown deep reverence for the past without clinging to the overly nostalgic or derivative. On “The Traveller”, he continues what he started on 2008’s “Shedding The Past”, isolating and deconstructing elements of vintage techno and reassembling them into terse, future-looking arrangements of immense depth. This time, Shed’s focus is on breakbeat shuffles and proto-rave euphoria of early 90s UK techno. Despite the retrospection, the 14 tracks on the album sound somehow, indisputably, now. Patrick Burns



33. Roc Marciano: “Marcberg” (Fat Beats)


This recording should motivate and spur a new revivalist wave that will recover the keys of the maximum expression of the New York sound. In ten years, no one’s heard a more New York hip hop sound. The roughness of the beats; the dirtiness of the loops; the melodic minimalism; the lyrical and emotional evocation of any corner in Brooklyn or Queens; the characteristic musical quality of the hustler, of the street routine; the rough flow, without flourishes; sure rhymes, brilliant and stripped of all artifice; and the hyperrealism of the proposal as a whole all work the miracle. DB



32. Best Coast: “Crazy For You” (Mexican Summer)


This is a treatise of waits by the telephone (for example, the album’s unbeatable start-up, “Boyfriend”, a song where Bethany Cosentino wonders whether the guy in question is waiting next to the phone, like she is, and when she concludes that he probably isn’t, she exclaims, “I wish she was my boyfriend”), delicious postcards of love (loud yellow ones with Snacks, her cat, in the background like on the cover of the album) lasting barely a minute and a half and adorable fits of grunge (lo-fi ingenuity and the relationship with Joanie Sommers of “Johnny Get Angry” and the Angels of “My Boyfriend’s Back” make the lazy “Summer Mood” or the very Spector and very She & Him “Our Deal” into real gems). Laura Fernández



31. Teengirl Fantasy: “7 AM” (Merok)


“7 AM” creates anxiety: from the start, it announces an orientation towards house, of songs articulated by the skeleton of a kick drum, but really it’s a hide-and-seek game because they also announce the complete opposite. Teengirl Fantasy could also play the 80s card, nostalgia and the smudged memory of memories they never really had and have been created through their YouTube pages. There is a very beneficial indecision between trance and hypnagogia, between the uncontrolled dancing –which here is always strictly domesticated– and melancholy embodied in images of blurry thoughts. JB



30. Hans Zimmer: “Inception (Music From The Motion Picture)” (Reprise)


It is clear listening to the “Inception” soundtrack that the association with Christopher Nolan has been a key part of Zimmer’s evolution. “The Dark Knight” already set out guidelines to follow, with the use of claustrophobic orchestration, melodies at a thriller rhythm, dark ambient resources, and guidelines not often used in contemporary commercial cinema. But here there is a considerable improvement over the filmmaker’s previous work. It helps that “Inception” is possibly the most innovative, modern, fascinating visual, emotional, and narrative exercise that’s appeared in cinema lately. High-quality inspirational material for Zimmer, who has continued to delve into his more turbulent, anxious side. DB



29. Pantha Du Prince: “Black Noise” (Rough Trade)


In the same way that “This Bliss” was an album about the eternal moment of ecstasy, “Black Noise” is an album about the eternal moment that precedes the liberation of forces beyond the human scale. And that moment is always one of peace. This translates into an album that is almost identical to the previous one, but with a more introspective, even sombre nuances, without entering into gruesome episodes. There is a logical melancholy implicit in the music. The central song here is the inaugural “Lay in a Shimmer”: the shaking of the bells, the tech-house drum, and synthesisers that act as a containing wall for the whole piece never tickle you, but rather they send a chill up your spine. JB



28. Julian Lynch: “Mare” (Olde English Spelling Bee)


His voice disguises itself under almost incomprehensible murmurs so that the lyrics (his weak point, he says) can barely be understood. Finally he cradles it all in the rhythm of a waltz and an ambient that would gladly accept adjectives like “Southern.” The results are aquatic psychedelics based on wild textures. A timid spell that seems to escape time and space and evade getting caught between day and night, that then suddenly needs to be rescued by our listening. Songs like “Stomper” sound like a massage with a happy ending, like a phase that is completed. It could even be said that in ‘music refracted through the memory of a memory,’ Lynch goes a step further. Did I hear someone say post-hypnagogic? CR



27. Caribou: “Swim” (City Slang)


It’s not fair to talk about intelligent dance music or trance electro-pop, or minimal-psych-dance, or cubist post-synth, or downshifting acid rave here. “Swim” flees from absolutes and throws its songs against the walls separating genres as if it were an ultrasound bulldozer. In fact, if there is one intention that runs through the album like a silver thread sewn to the epidermis of each and every one of the songs, it is more a concept than a genre: in the words of Snaith himself, his intention was to compose music that was liquid and flowed forwards and backwards. Dance music that would sound as if it were made of water, rather than the typical metal of other dance music. So, has Caribou inaugurated the era of Water Dance Music? WDM doesn’t sound bad, to tell the truth. RDT



26. Emeralds: “Does It Look Like I’m Here?” (Editions Mego)


Emeralds continue to refine their formula, one that still drinks from the fountains of the kosmische, but which decidedly places bets on a purer, more articulate sound, replacing chaos with precision, drone with harmonic luxury, and refurbishing its synthetic trips with the archaic flavour of a moderately futuristic sound that, in a certain manner, justifies its incorporation into the Mego ranks. Their tactics are still conventional, but their product sounds more sophisticated, complex, and gratifying than ever before. LMR





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