Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members' top albums of 2010. The next list is from CHIRP Radio DJ and Tech Director Kumar McMillan.
(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members' picks.)
Reading Rainbow – Prism Eyes (HoZac) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This album started when husband and wife duo Reading Rainbow recorded three songs in one day for Shaking Through studios. It's raw, simple, and full of emotion. It might get overlooked if you're already sick of the beach / garage sound that hit new levels of hype in 2010 but don't miss out on this. Seriously. Every moment perfectly follows the last and the combination of Rob and Sarah's voice is exquisite. They belt out some killer, blissed out minor-key harmonies and the song writing is full of subtle nuance. The layered vocal harmonies are actually pretty complex and intricate at times (e.g. the way it climbs on I See The Light). It's the kind of album you might hear in the background at a clothing shop, not really paying attention, until about halfway through where you drop everything and ask the clerk what that beautiful sound coming out of the speakers is. As with most full length LPs deemed worthy enough for release on HoZac, this is truly a start to finish labor of love. By the way, they have the coolest myspace username evar. Look it up.
Jed and Lucia – Superhuman Heart (Ubiquity) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This album gets referred to a lot as California sunshine pop but it's not a 60s revival album. It's more like what The Free Design might produce today if Boards of Canada loaned them some of their synths and drum machines. It has the same playful melodies and free spirit and is often backed by acoustic guitar for sunshine pop authenticity. The subtle electronic sounds are warm and inviting, while all songs are rooted in these lovely, mystical folk vocals. After listening start to finish you get this feeling that you've just woken up from an epic dream where you can't remember every last detail but you remember how vivid and strange everything was. It has an atmosphere to it -- an openness -- like one might experience after a vision quest deep in the desert. I come back to this album again and again for that feeling.
Quadron – Quadron (Plug Research) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This duo from Copenhagen captured my heart the moment I heard the angelic vocal inflections of front woman Coco O. She could easily be mistaken for an ebony diva from Philly with her range and depth. It was released in March but I still put it on time and time again -- the secret to its success is how silky smooth it sounds. The production pulls from the soft electronics of 90s R&B to soul dripping 60s horn arrangements, and then there are those amazing breathy vocal harmonies. Songs like Day, as it opens with a majestic baritone clarinet before Coco O begs, "Day, treat me bright / Treat me warm;" it just melts my heart. This is a phenomenal listen start to finish, melancholy at times but always sincere.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I'm a sucker for shoegaze / dream pop but this album will reach deep into your consciousness and change you. Right about halfway through, something clicks and the rest just falls into place. As with most things Bradford Cox has a hand in, it swirls and floats and lifts you up, lets you down easy. This album is, in its entirety, an impressive work of art. Its shimmering melodic texture ebbs and flows and the structure of each song builds on the last. Each wall of gorgeous harmonic sound and each progression feels so perfect, so well crafted. At the end you are rewarded by a majestic, shining prize in the epic piece, He Would Have Laughed. However, it's an ending that wouldn't be near as effective without every leading minute.
Reds and Blue – Son of The Stars (Addenda) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
As co-owner of the Addenda label I'd be in the wrong business if one of the releases I had worked tirelessly to put out didn't make my best of the year list. Son of the Stars gripped me right from the beginning in the way it shifts and progresses in mysterious ways. The drums dance around negative space and completely mess with your head if you try to follow each stab and shuffle. The vocals are in a new wave style yet are completely submerged in a murky abyss of harmonic soup. The album has been in the works for years and it shows; it's a monumental cathedral of collaboration between a talented trio of musicians and outside collaborators from all corners of the Chicago scene. The sound crosses over from post rock to dub and even simmers down into a heavy Black Sabbath pace at times. I honestly can't stop listening to this album.
Bird Show Band – Bird Show Band (Amish) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
This sounds like a lost Bruce Ditmas live album as Moog destroyer Ben Vida improvised with a crew of Chicago all-stars one day in the legendary Shape Shoppe studio. It bubbles and squeaks and twists your brain into a pulp. But it's not alienating like some free jazz -- it's controlled and calculated. You can sense the acute listening that was taking place throughout the entire session. This is one of those jazz albums where something extremely exciting was etched into time and thankfully it was caught on tape. It's been in my heavy rotation all year.
The Budos Band – The Budos Band III (Daptone) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Yep, you guessed it, this is the third album from massive Staten Island afro-soul ensemble, The Budos Band. As their bio accurately states, "The cobra is poised to strike if anyone dares challenge The Budos on their quest." This album is literally that cobra. It is by far their most viscous, dark, and sinister melodic masterpiece. It cuts you like a razor and takes no prisoners. It makes you want to commit malicious crimes using it as a soundtrack. I didn't fully appreciate how intricate these compositions were until I saw them performed live--full horn section, keyboards, guitars, percussion--on the big stage this summer at the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival. It blew me away. This album for me is partly a souvenir from that show but is also a huge milestone for this band. They have transcended the classic afrobeat tendencies (the Fela sound, etc), proving that the Budos is real.
Various Artists – Turkish Freakout: Psych Folk Singles 1969-80 (Bouzouki Joe) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
For some reason 2010 was the year in which all rare Turkish psychedelia from the 60s and 70s finally saw the light of day. This comp of reissued 7"s and select songs from LPs has some crossover with others like Anatolia Rocks but each song is a gem and the track order is careful and poignant. These records are impossible to find but you've probably heard bits and pieces when sampled by the Gaslamp Killer, a huge Turkish psych collector in LA. Just like 60s rock, the rhythms cross over into funk and soul, but unlike western rock, the Turkish sound is emblazoned with heavy minor-chord emotion. The beautiful and somewhat melancholy vocals from singers like Beyaz Kelebekler offer a glimpse into a dark and mysterious time in Turkish history. Above all, the funky rhythm shared by all of these records is breathtaking; it's unlike anything produced in modern times.
Qwel & Maker – Owl (Galapagos) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Since I'm a west coast kid I'm a harsh critic of Midwest hip hop; Chicago emcees usually sound like cheap imitations of Busdriver to me. However, the third album from Qwel & Maker is a new milestone in independent Midwest hip hop. It actually has more of classic east coast sound but don't read too much into that. It just sounds smooth. It samples some really choice funk and soul cuts and packs a punch on every well composed verse of rhymes. The Galapagos4 label is a little inconsistent for my tastes but I'm glad I crossed paths with this release -- it's been in my heavy rotation ever since.
The Alps – Le Voyage (Type) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I've only just discovered this modern psych/folk band and this album really caught my ear. The title is for real; it honestly takes you on a voyage. From beginning to end each melody and texture bends into the next, captivating your imagination. It's very visual. Their sound thrives on all the best parts of 70s psych, the epic glory of Hawkwind or the unpredictability of King Crimson. And just as any decent psychedelic album should, it comes complete with sitar and crickets.
Various Artists – Let's Boogaloo Vol. 5
The Limiñanas – The Limiñanas
The Streets on Fire – This is Fancy Javelin (tracks: "Unforgettable Super Lady", 'Moscow 1980")
cassette/podcast: Andean Ocean Mixtape
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Kings Go Forth – The Outsiders are Back
Various Artists – Afro-Beat Airways: West African Shock Waves (Ghana & Togo 1972-78)
Lobisomem – Concussus
Casino vs. Japan – Night On Tape
Warpaint – "Undertow"
Tame Impala – "It Is Not Meant To Be"