Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members' top albums of 2010. The next list is from CHIRP Radio DJ Stephen Dobek. (Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members' picks.)
Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
When it comes down to my favorite album of any given year, it’s all about staying power. Teen Dream was released in the first month of 2010, but its impact was felt by my iTunes long after that. Already the authors of two albums I’m fond of, Teen Dream isn’t a drastic departure from the band’s sound, they are simply good at what they do, and here they are near perfect, especially Victoria Legrand’s voice. It isn’t often that every song on an album warrants five stars, but for me, this is one of those rare instances.
There were songs that hit me hard in the spring, lifted me up during the summer, have helped me to prepare for the brunt of another Chicago winter, but never any songs that wore out their welcome. Teen Dream is a fully realized vision, an album that will stick with me for years to come, and reason enough to look back at the music of 2010 and smile.
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
When I think of Cleveland I think of bad sports teams and even worse weather, but now, thanks to Emeralds, I think of mind-bending electronic music as well. These prolific Ohioans have released a lot of material in their short existence, and for the most part their songs were sprawling, ambient affairs. With Does It Look Like I’m Here they take a more concise approach. Songs materialize faster, and when they do they burn hotter than anything else the band has released. The payoff on ‘Candy Shoppe’ is something to behold, and is easily my favorite sonic moment of the entire year.
From beginning to end the album is mesmerizing, synths and guitar twirling together to create a sound that harkens back to the German ‘Kosmische’ movement, but is almost without equal in modern music.
Small Black – New Chain (Jagjaguwar) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Some albums grow on you after repeat listens, while others grab you immediately and don’t let go. For me, New Chain is one of the latter, from the opening bars of ‘Camouflage’ I was hooked. With greater production value Small Black leave the bedroom sound of their earlier work behind. Each song on the album evokes a big, nostalgic response, and while their contemporaries are numerous they never sound like they’re copying anyone, rather they are making the chintzy sounds of the past into their own new dynamic thing. New Chain is an album that keeps its focus on the future by remembering the sounds of parties long gone.
Mogwai – Special Moves (Rock Action) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Live albums aren’t something I’m often excited for, so the fact that Special Moves makes my list is a surprise. Through the years Mogwai have proven themselves to be one of the most fearsome forces in the world of post-rock, even though their recent work may have missed the mark. Thankfully this career-spanning look back hits the pleasure center over and over again. Songs like ‘Hunted By A Freak’ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ are given new life, and likewise, the band sounds re-energized and on top of their game rather than past their prime. Special Moves works so well because it recalls past greatness while also providing a burst of hope for the band’s future.
Blue Hawaii – Blooming Summer (Arbutus) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Blue Hawaii are part of a robust music scene in Montreal that is producing some very interesting material. Blooming Summer is billed as an EP, but these eight songs feel more like a full statement. While many artists of a similar thread look fondly upon the past Blue Hawaii’s lyrics focus on the heartbreak and lost love of yesteryear. They may share an aesthetic with others, but this brand of electronic pop is also uniquely their own. Blooming Summer showcases a band that is versatile and highly skilled, it leaves me eagerly awaiting a proper full-length release.
Working For A Nuclear Free City – Jojo Burger Tempest (Melodic) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Recapturing the sound of Madchester is not easily done, but WFANFC gave it their all, creating something wonderful that yields countless twists and turns. Jojo Burger Tempest is genre hopping on the highest level; many different influences are brought together but the seemingly natural balance between everything is what makes the album so special. It’s an ambitious undertaking for sure (It’s split between two discs, one containing 17 individual licks, and the second containing a single 33 minute romp), but giving it an honest listen will pay big dividends.
Jónsi – Go (XL) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
When I discovered that Jónsi Birgisson was striking out on his own I became very excited. His vocal prowess as part of Sigur Rós has been nothing short of monumental, so the sky was literally the limit. He did not disappoint. With powerful percussion, intense buildups and of course beautiful vocals now bigger than ever Go soars to amazing heights. Songs like ‘Go Do’ and ‘Animal Arithmetic’ are epic, even by Jónsi standards. This album also makes my list because I saw it played live at The Vic on my birthday and essentially had my face melted off by a complete multimedia sensory overload.
Sam Prekop – Old Punch Card (Thrill Jockey) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Sharing nothing in common with his full time band The Sea and Cake, or any of his previous solo work, Old Punch Card is Sam Prekop’s initial foray into electronic music. If there is any structure to this album it’s hard to find, Prekop essentially tries out different sounds until he finds something he likes and lets that play out. While it may not grab you in an instant, over time the beauty of Prekop’s experimentation bubbles to the surface, revealing something truly unique.
Candy Claws – Hidden Lands (Twosyllable) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
There is dream pop, and then there is the music that Candy Claws create, a sort of narcotic induced coma pop. The pastoral sounds of Hidden Lands were composed primarily on keyboards the band had no idea how to play, and perhaps that is why unexpected moments pop up all over the place. With lyrics that never rise above a whisper and melodies that echo the most sun kissed moments of the Beach Boys, Hidden Lands is strangely hard to place and strangely addicting.
Mimicking Birds – Mimicking Birds (Glacial Pace) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Mimicking Birds’ Nate Lacy is able to achieve a striking level of ambiance while sticking to a fairly sparse set up. With a production assist from Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, he created an album that sounds like it was recorded at a remote point in outer space. Lacy’s guitar work is something to behold, throughout the album he fingerpicks his way into hypnotic riffs, especially on ‘The Loop’, that ad to the atmosphere and the allure of Mimicking Birds.