30. Big K.R.I.T. - K.R.I.T. Wuz Here
Bit K.R.I.T. (King Remembered In Time) released this full studio album as a free digital download last June and firmly established himself as one of the most exciting voices of the South. His intelligence and hunger to succeed are delivered through the classic tradition of Underground Kingz, with honest lyrics backed by highly musical production (Big K.R.I.T.'s own) that includes funky organs, mellow Rhodes, wah guitars, cold piano runs and a lot more. Some of the cuts are deliciously 90s, like the super faded and smooth "Moon & Stars" featuring the still-relevant veteran Devin The Dude. Big K.R.I.T. has it all and I can't wait until I'm hearing new tracks of his dominating the rap charts. One can hope.
29. Dirty Projectors and Bjork - Mount Wittenberg Orca
New jaw-dropping material from one of the most unique and important songwriters active today, Dave Longstreth. I revere this guy's ability to combine direct pop sensibility with really smart composerly ideas that draw from, for example, Medieval polyphony (hocketing). I feel like, if he wanted to, Longstreth could easily compose amazing works for the full modern orchestra. Instead, we get advanced works for the modern "indie band" format that sound like no other music in existence. This stuff is so good it's worthy of scholarly attention. The fact that Bjork is on this EP is somewhat incidental unless you happen to be extremely fond of her voice - it feels fully like the aesthetic product of Dirty Projectors. Compositionally as exciting as Bitte Orca, this might have made my Top 10 if it was longer.
28. Ras G & Samiyam - LA Series #3
I can't get enough of this stuff. You've got six songs on this little split 10", three each by Ras G (& The Afrikan Space Program) and Samiyam. If you're not hip, these guys are two of the best Brainfeeder affiliates after Godhead Flying Lotus Himself. Ras G is something like the reincarnation of Sun Ra as a hip hop producer, using his dirty GarageBand concoctions to communicate with interstellar beings and blow out venue sound-systems. Samiyam brings the next movement in gritty, nostalgic hip hop with generous use of Nintendo sounds. The two of them make for a dynamic duo on this short, blunt-fueled space romp. Put your car's bass on +3 - Los Angeles bangs.
27. Polar Bear - Peepers
Polar Bear play an eccentric blend of jazz, funk and punk that is generally really catchy, though they aren't afraid to explore more dissonant and aggressive territory. The two tenor saxes that comprise the main melodic element of the band sometimes work with extended techniques that recall the great Eric Dolphy's voicelike squawks and howls. Interesting use of electronic manipulation also comes into play at times, resulting in a sound akin to The Contortions sent fifty years into the future, but without those inimitably pissed-off James Chance vocals. A great followup to their self-titled debut, Peepers is full of crafty songwriting and gutsy solos.
26. The Roots - How I Got Over
Now almost 20 years in the rap game, The Roots prove with How I Got Over that they are still capable of dropping releases as hungry, observant, classy, and downright essential as Phrenology, Things Fall Apart and Illadelph Halflife. This band probably has as good a ratio of artistic credibility to mainstream acceptance as it's possible to get in the hip hop world nowadays. They have honed a widely appealing sound, increasingly including cross-over elements from rock and roll and pop music, without ever compromising their message of elevating the mind or straying from the core values of hip hop. Black Thought is one of the best emcees, period. ?uestlove is a top-shelf drummer and producer, and the fact he got Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle of Dirty Projectors fame for the opening track "A Piece of Light" should clue you in to how cool How I Got Over is. In a genre where live "bands" don't properly exist (or are extremely rare), The Roots are as vital as they come.
25. Supersilent - 11
Supersilent are one of my favorite groups of all, so I was really happy when 2010 brought not one but two excellent full albums by them. For the uninitiated: Supersilent free-improvise absolutely everything they play, and maintain an air of mystery by just numbering everything they release. I have to admit, when it was announced that Supersilent's drummer Jarle Vespestad was leaving, I had fears for the future of the group, even though it's undeniable that some of their most moving recordings don't feature the drummer. In truth, Supersilent are doing fine without a drummer, as 10 shows, but this vinyl-only LP is a welcome gift for anyone who misses the classic Supersilent sound. Its contents stem from the same sessions that gave us 8, and Vespestad's drumming appears in top form. In my opinion, Supersilent have only released one miss, the highly unusual (even for them) 9, an album of explorations on three Hammond organs. Besides that anomaly, the band has been mining gems for over a decade now, and moments of 11 are as breathtaking and difficult to accept as improvised as anything they have ever recorded.
24. Hiroki Sasajima - Nille
I can't say this about many albums: Nille scared me on the first listen. It possesses a genuinely haunted quality that downright spooked me when I gave it the proper, immersion-style listening test: with headphones, lying down in the dark, full attention. There may be no other way to really appreciate this work, which is extremely minimal in terms of traditional musical content. Nille operates mostly with field recordings, opening with an aural depiction of a vaguely nautical location marked by a subtle and somehow ineffably cruel background reverberation. Tension builds through unidentified wooden thumps and scrapes, and over several minutes the strange resonance thickens to something more miasmatic, as delicate sounds like clinking crystal chains join the mix. Later on, the sound of rustling, crumpling paper builds into an atmosphere of anxiety before giving way to primitive electronic hums. As eerily foreboding and bracingly austere as this music is, there is also something entrancingly beautiful about it; Nille ultimately resides in an emotional no-man's land for the brave and patient.
23. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid
A fantastically ambitious debut album, The ArchAndroid somehow combines hip hop, R&B, soul, rock, funk, rap, pop, electronica, and at times even classical orchestration without any serious missteps. It doesn't even sound overly ambitious, sprawling, or unfocused - just amazingly fresh, confident and exciting. Janelle Monáe has a very strong and individual voice, overlooks her own production, and has cooked up some kind of sci-fi plot behind all of this in which the Android is a mediator between the majority and minority, like Neo in the Matrix, or something. (Her words). Pop brilliance that I bet Michael Jackson, rest his soul, would have gotten behind.
22. Various Artists - Pomegranates: Persian Pop, Funk, Folk & Psych of the 60's & 70's
The post-Beatles psychedelic movement reached a lot further than a lot of people may realize. Yeah, there's all that wonderful Brazilian psych a la Os Mutantes, Os Brazoes, Tom Ze and etc. And you've got your Amon Duuls and Ash Ra Tempels and other Kraut rockers. But who knew Iran had a thriving hippie scene in the 70s?? This compilation was one of the most eye-opening records I heard in 2010. As a "stupid American", to borrow a stereotype popular around the world, I didn't commonly think about Middle Easterners going out and shaking their asses to groovin James Brown-esque jams. But it seems that, as a form of rebellion against the Shah's autocratic rule of the 70s, that's exactly what some people did, at least until such practices were deemed sinful by traditionalists and fanatics after the Revolution of '79. "One form of tyranny swapped for another", as the liner notes to this absolute jewel of a compilation puts it. Broaden your cultural awareness and collection of deep dance cuts with this trove of forgotten treasures.
21. Celer and Yui Onodera - Generic City
This review will be necessarily personal. If my past review of their albums Cursory Asperses and In Escaping Lakes is any indication, I am quite taken by the diverse ambient oeuvre of Celer. Heck, I even dedicated my debut album as an ambient recording artist to them. I thought I had worked out a pretty clever game plan with my album, combining totally unprocessed, "anecdotal" field recordings of real environments, with pensive, atmospheric drones and instrumental textures. I thought I was giving just the right amount of a nod to Celer's legacy (the drones), while bringing my own element to the game (the field recordings). Turns out, I'm not at all the first person to think of combining these two basic elements; in fact, while I was toiling on my album, Celer and Yui Onodera had already done it, and done it extremely well. I couldn't have known that, as Generic City, to my knowledge the first Celer album to use anecdotal field recordings in any overt way, would not be released for some five months after my album. It is quite a revelation hearing them work in this format; I am humbled at the pristine quality of their recordings, how finely the episodes of sound transition, and as always, how lovely and full of life the drones are. Several years of work went into the creation of this album, and you can hear it. For all of this praise, there is a "but" I have to mention at this point - Celer were at their best working alone and with abstract sonic material. As engaging as Generic City is for the most part, there are times when the musical arrangements and field recordings seem to be incongruous, one's presence distracting from the mood or character of the other. When this happens, the listener is stirred out of the otherwise perfect sense of place the music establishes, suddenly remembering that these sounds are not natural but have a hidden contrived organization. Fortunately, this doesn't happen too many times, and the album's more effective parts paint shockingly vivid urban scenes that instill complex emotions. Quite possibly the least characteristic album Celer ever had a hand in, and therefore one of their most intriguing, Generic City resides among the stronger of the band's many releases from 2010.
To be continued!