10. Sophie Hunger – 1983

Zurich-based Sophie Hunger is a singer not many people in North America have heard of yet, which is quite the pity. Her voice is powerful, and calming, much in the way you think of Randy Newman but absolutely without the tackiness. She can just pull those emotions out the way he does-effortlessly. And she does it in English, Swiss German (“D’Red”) and French (“La vent nous portera”). Her second album added more variation musically and in tempo, evidenced by “Approximately Gone” which sounds as if it’s from Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s I.R.M.. 2010 saw TED catch on. Hopefully 2011 sees her voice breach more boundaries.

9. Lookbook – Wild at Heart

Joke’s on you when you show up in a city and, seemingly out of nowhere, everyone is talking about one band. More so when you love a city so. That happened this summer with Lookbook. I did not make it past Wisconsin border before purchasing Wild at Heart, much to contrary efforts. This video did it. “Yesterday’s Company” bursts into stereo with John Hughes-evoking electro-pop. “The Only Ones”? That’s your neon workout video. “Free Your Man”? Late-night city alleyways wanderings. “True to Form”? Beating Arkanoid in the arcade. Some people are calling lo-fi an 80s revival…those people insert this in their cassette deck.

8. Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy

Who buys soundtracks? Seriously. No one. But then again, things are changing artistically all the time and people have to up their game. Daft Punk reinvented the soundtrack this year. When news came out they were producing the soundtrack, listeners elated months before as they would if Radiohead unveiled a new album (more so, I’d say). Upon seeing the film, the music was so streamlined it had to have been produced in a wind tunnel. The typical radio single Daft Punk moments were the only hiccups, but well-needed. “Recognizer”, with its impending blend of violins, baritone blasts, and electronic mingling together brought the program vs user conflict further into reality. As an album alone, they’ve merged symphony and electronica, phenomenally.

7. The Felix Culpa – Sever Your Roots

“Everyone is a home unto themselves. But you’ll never be home, until you become a home to someone else.” – “Mutiny”

January saw the revival of an utter middle of the decade favorite. The Culpa heralds from the border of Wisconsin & Illinois, near Beloit, Rockford and McHenry County and with their 2004 Commitment, sparked a rage in the area that reached to L.A., where they had won the 2005 Ernie Ball Showcase. Shortly thereafter, silence.

Five years later they re-emerged with Sever Your Roots, a phenomenal fourteen-track progressive opus of post-hardcore. Marky’s delivery teeters from soothing to searing, as on the 6:17 “Our Holy Ghosts” (below). They pull it off with a sincerity that lacks in most post-hardcore, seeking to be something more.

6. Dessa – A Badly Broken Code

There is not much to be said I haven’t already said about her album. She is redefining what it is to be unabashedly creative. She whole-heartedly deserves the acclaim for her rapping, singing and writing. After listening to this, go seek out “Scuffle” and you’ll hear why.

5. Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager

I’ve had debates with good ole Peter Lillis at Frontier Psychiatrist about this album. (I’d convince you if we were at the station.) Cudi vastly improved upon his debut with an elaborate, yet intimate delve into his struggles with addiction. You never quite comprehend if he recovers or struggles still, but he takes you on such a ride based on the perils of cocaine addiction-without the jail. While “Don’t Play This Song” is relatively weak, “Mojo So Dope”, “Ashin’ Kusher”, and “MANIAC” are reasons enough to lock yourself up in a Vegas hotel room and go on a bender with this sophomore release.

4. Sleigh Bells – Treats

Sometimes too much is bad. For example, when people first discovered Arcade FireGrizzly Bear and Sufjan Stevens, frankly I was discouraged and put them on the back burners. It nearly happened with Sleigh Bells. Why? Here’s why:

1) Someone sees a band, blogs about it. Other bloggers notice and start writing. Here, I notice.
2) Word spreads faster than crabgrass in the summer. Remixes come out. Here, I notice.
3) The music has spread so much that now Facebook is quoting it, and then you cannot avoid it any longer. Here, disappointment when it sounds too similar to what came before. (The Blood Brothers justly upped that bar years ago.)

I decided to preempt it and give Sleigh Bells the benefit of the doubt. Jesus Christ. I’m ever glad I did. This year, the duo has done more to progress indie than any other outfit. Why? Because it’s like Itchy & Scratchy Land going haywire in your eardrums. With legitimately no escape possible.

3. Gayngs – Relayted

Tell me the last time you heard an album where, listening to any other song off it caused you to listen to said album from beginning to end? Ryan Olson succeeded. “Crystal Rope” makes me want to pick up a bass, which no song has given such inspiration in years. “Cry” it…well it doesn’t make me want to cry. “No Sweat” saw the rapper P.O.S. lounge singing, unthinkable before. Maggie Morrison’s (of the aforementioned Lookbook) wurlitzer on “Ride” over Zach Coulter’s singing is such a late 70s, early 80s time trip. The songs do not seem separate at all. As Olson mentioned earlier this year to me, Gayngs is more of an event. And Relayted is more than an album.

2. Deftones – Diamond Eyes

Chi Cheng was seriously injured in a car accident back in November 2008, around the time the band was digging into Eros, the follow-up to Saturday Night Wrist. The former was postponed indefinitely. Diamond Eyes came out of the tragedy. It is the most cohesive hard rock album since Slipknot‘s 2004 Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. “Diamond Eyes” starts with a lull, a hesitation before Chino Moreno’s hypnotic, unique voice serves as the emergency raft through these tumultuous seas. The second, “Royal”, holds no qualms about pummeling so early on. The staggered “You’ve Seen the Butcher” seeps into “Beauty School”, which feels much like a tempered version of the revered “Back to School (Mini Maggit)”. But “Sextape” harnesses a beauty only heard from A Perfect Circle‘s Mer de Noms.

1. Y La Bamba – Lupon

A great album is one that grows with you. I had been so addicted to the sheer natural and mystic nature behind the video for “Juniper”, it nearly eclipsed the rest of the Portland group’s album. Resolved to not listen to the song, the more I listened, the more the rest came into focus; “Soy Capitan”, “Abducted”, “Winter’s Skin”. Luz Elena Mendoza, who works in a sushi and sake place in Oregon, has such a hauntingly confident, naturally lush voice. The album? Imagine yourself in a deep forest cabin in the Pacific Northwest. Merely listening as the day ebbs could twitch the wood chairs into animation and crackle the fireplace to cast a warm glow over an earthen floor. The more you stay in the welcoming place Y La Bamba has created, the more you never want to leave. Hence, the top album of the year.

Honourable mentions:

Luísa Maita – Lero-Lero
Madjo – Trapdoor
Paper Tiger – Made Like Us
Stars – The Five Ghosts

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Founder, Editor, Writer, Photographer. (Austin, Texas)

Founder, Editor, Writer, Photographer. (Austin, Texas)

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