Friday, December 17, 2010

Top 25 Albums of 2010: 5-1

5. Eux Autres Broken Bow

I sometimes ask myself why I care about this stuff.  I’m nearly 32.  I’ve got two kids, a wife, and all those other grown up responsibilities.  What do I care what a couple of indie kids have been cooking up in their garage?

The short answer is I care because they care.  Eux Autres are going nowhere fast.  They will never headline the Paramount.  You’ll never hear them on the radio.  If they’re lucky, maybe Volkswagon will use one of their songs to hawk the Jetta.  Yet, here they are putting out their third album over the last five years.  They make music because they love making music.  I can’t help but hear that in every note.  I notice it in every fiber of my being.  I listen to their art because they’re passionate about their art.

Eux Autres are a two-piece brother/sister combo out of Portland, OR.  They write songs in English and French.  Their instruments are minimal:  Electric guitar, skeletal drums, and key board.  Their songs are simple: call and response vocals peppered with the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus.  What Eux Autres lacks in polish, they make up for in passion.  What Eux Autres lacks in big budgets, they make up for in songwriting.

Take every hit song you’ve ever loved.  Imagine it its rawest form, stripped of any gloss, shine, or pretense.  That’s what I hear when I hear Eux Autres.  Its two people making the three-minute pop song in its rawest form.  This doesn’t mean their lazy.  It doesn’t mean there’s no talent, resolve, or finish.  It’s the aesthetic they capture and embody.  And as the album charges to the albums middle and Heather Larimer shouts out “you’re alight / you’re alight / our tongues were never tied” begging you to sing along with her, you know you’re part of something special.

Eux Autres "Go Dancing"

4.  the Radio Dept. Clinging to a Scheme

Without a doubt, the i-pod has changed the way I listen to music.  While the advent of the cd meant we could make mix-tapes and highlight individual songs, the cd was still tailor-made to be treated as a single, monolithic entity comprised of smaller units.  You listened from front to back with limited shuffle or skip.

Since I purchased my first i-pod five years ago I have started listening to more and more singles.  It’s easier now than ever to make playlists centered around certain songs.  Yet despite this, I can’t shake the album.  More so than any other album on this list, Clinging to a Scheme is an album’s album.  Comprised of ten, if not interchangeable cuts, it stands as a testament to the unyielding power of an album that’s meant to be listened to as a whole.

The Radio Dept. first emerged in the early 00’s as a neo-shoegaze act.  Heavy on the reverb and distortion, they used raw noise to get their point across.  Over the years, two albums and countless singles and eps later, the Radio Dept. have polished their sound to a more subtle haze.  If colors could sound, Clinging to a Scheme would be 32 shades of grey.  Perhaps unnoticeable at first, the patient listen begins to notice the shifting from one tone to the next, feeding into another, before cycling back to the first.

Certaintly, the Radio Dept. kept some of their earlier shoegaze qualities:  the fuzzy distortion is still there.  The electronically altered vocals and layers of keys make for a vast and deep sonic palate.  But it’s the muted restraint that helps you dig in and hear just how much is going on.

MP3: the Radio Dept. "Heaven's on Fire"

3.  Beach House Teen Dream

I was never prepared for this.  Beach House’s self-titled debut and sophomore follow-up Devotion came to me like a breath of fresh air.  I couldn’t think of a more appropriate name for a band.  They made music for a beach house.  Not some MTV party house, but a Washington coast beach house.  This was the music of a grey-sanded beach, 35 mile an hour gusts, and watching the pouring rain arrive on shore type of beach house.  Beach House took the unrelenting greatness of Mazzy Stars “Fade into You” and made it their own:  a guy, a girl with the most frighteningly beautifully breathy vocals you’ve ever heard, some drums, and a keyboeard.

But after releasing two outstanding and well-received albums that have seen them increase their fanbase and press coverage, I wasn’t quite sure what they could do to up the ante.  Well they did it.  Never did I think they would make an album that sounded so big.  It’s as if they pulled the covers from their chins, and moved this sound directly to the club at 1 am.  But not just any club.  This is a David Lynch film type of club.  This is the band that is playing as your mind begins to melt.  You fall in love with the chant of “I’ll take care of you”, you’re whisked away with the refrains of “Nooorw a a a a ay”.  You’re moved to dance with the beats of “Walk in the Park” and “Used to Be”.  Beach House has made the complete album with Teen Dream.  It might just be the album they’re forever measured.

2. Math and Physics Club I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do

Complexity hides defects.

A four year wait for a full-length that features only 10 songs seems like an awful lot. Suppose though, those four years were spent crafting a batch of the perfect indie pop songs. Every day was spent trimming, refining, and re-arranging every guitar strum, every drum hit, and every lyric.  Suppose the end the result sounded so effortless, so simple, so perfect, you could only ask "what where they doing those four years?"

I'd like to think that's what's happening here. This is, by all means, not a complex record. It's three guys, ten songs, and a few chords. The lyrics are of the romantic variety (with a bit of tongue-in-cheek tom-foolery) and the choruses big.  I think it takes more work for this to sound effortless than they probably get credit for.

Where the band really hits the mark is its uncanny ability to take the little things and build upon it.  Take opener “Jimmy had a Polaroid”.  The song is a simple ode to the pleasures of taking pictures in the park or spinning your favorite record.  In a world that seems like it has gone made, songs like this remind you of the simple moments of life that make it worth it.  When the band tackles traditional topics like love and loss, they do so without ever sounding generic or trite.  As someone who is happily married I can relate to songs like “Will You Still Love Me” because I recognize my own shortcomings.  “I’ll Tell You Anything” speaks to the person who just wants to make the partner happy.  And who hasn’t felt the universal question of “is this love or is it just loneliness”.  That they whip it all together in a great big sing-along only heightens how accessible it all is.  This is why music is universal.  The best of the bunch write stuff that we all understand and make our own.

1. Allo Darlin’ Allo Darlin’

I’ve been dreading writing this one.  What do you say about an album that has so completely floored you that your only option is to simply stand back, smile, and dance?

The best place to start is the Rendesvous Club in Seattle.  Lindsay and I got tickets to see the band play in October.  By that time, we’ve had and loved the album for awhile.  Like everyone else in the room, this was our first time seeing them play live.  Allo Darlin’ is the debut album of this UK-based band and this was their first US tour and first time in Seattle.  The show sold-out quickly.  Of course in this case, a sell-out meant 65 people.  But it didn’t matter.  Every person there was flat-out in love with this band.  I’ve never experienced anything like it. This was not a scene.  This was a celebration.  And the band brought it.  They described the night as a “slow boil”:  Starting slow and gradually building throughout.  To the band, it didn't matter that there was only a few dozen people there. They played like 300 or 3000. There was pure joy in their performance.  There was no place they’d rather be.  When they sang the refrain to "Silver Dollars" ("we do it/because we love it"), it was the truest sentiment that they could have offered.  I’ve been to hundreds of shows in my life.  This one took the prize for my favorite rock moment.

Musically, Allo Darlin’ falls in line with the path blazed by the Vasalines, Talulah Gosh, Tiger Trap, Belle and Sebastian, and Camera Obscura.  They’re thoroughly schooled in the indie-pop/twee/DIY aesthetic.  There is an optimism, joy, and celebration in the minute of life.  Every single song is full of good-natured declarations of hope and the power of change.  It’s full of humor (sample lyric from a song about punk pioneer and serious dude Henry Rollins that is not on the album, but serves as a nice illustration: "Henry asked the DJ to play some Abba Dude/and he raised his tiny fist to 'Dancing Queen' ".  There’s hand-claps, ba-ba-ba’s, and the power of the mighty ukulele.  Oh, and references to Weezer, Johnny Cash, the Just Jones, and Woody Allen.  With the exception of maybe the last one, every song demands to be your favorite.

I may be asking too much of it, but I could see this very well reaching the cult status of If You're Feeling Sinister.  It’s that solid of an album.  At the very least, trust me on this one.

"Polaroid Song"

"My Heart is a Drummer"

Top 25 Albums of 2010: 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 |10-6

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, as always, for this thoughtful and well written list. Once again, I now know what I'll be listening to for the next few months, if not a lot longer.