By Paul Brown
A list of my favorite albums no one seemed to care about during my first year as Music Director of WKDU
To this day, I have no idea if I think of 2010 as a great year for music because it was my first year exposed to EVERYTHING that was coming out (and I still had a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the concept of infinite free music), or if I just lucked out gaining the responsibility of MD during this amazing year for music. Either way, I fell in love with countless albums that year, many of which eventually got some national attention / blog love. Even some smaller bands ended up signing to big indie labels and getting attention that way (such as Happy Birthday and Avi Buffalo releasing their respective fantastic debut albums on Sub Pop and getting fancy Pitchfork reviews, etc).
There were, however, dozens of albums that went completely unnoticed, even by my fellow DJs at WKDU. Because of this, and because of my nostalgia for the music that came out in 2010, I’ve put together a list of my favorite albums that seemed to have been released into some kind of vacuum:
1) Dinosaur Feathers – Fantasy Memorial (self-released)
This Brooklyn band’s debut album, while it may not be expertly produced, contains some unbelievably well-constructed indie pop songs. Amazing melodies, amazing harmonies, unconventional song structures… just really fine-tuned songwriting overall. The record feels like a blend of Animal Collective, Ruby Suns and Fleet Foxes. Highlights: “Teenage Whore“, “Sleeping In”.
2) Barb – Barb (Yep Roc)
This New Zealand band (which consists of solo artists Lawrence Arabia, Liam Finn, Eliza-Jane Barnes, Connan Mockasin and Seamus Ebbs) came out of absolutely nowhere (as far as I was concerned) and seemed to return there immediately. They barely toured behind the album and, if last.fm is to be any indication, almost nobody listened to it. Even now, three years later, I’m amazed and disappointed by how little attention it got. It’s a super fun, strange pop album that (I think) is better than anything any of these musicians has done on their own. Highlights: “Alcoholic Darling“, “Counting Sheep”.
3) Okapi – Love Him (Illegal Art)
To this day I know almost nothing about this album. I know it was made by Italian turntablist Filippo Paolini and that there were some contributions from Aldo Kapi’s orchestra (who I assume Paolini is paying homage to with his performing name). The album is a wild, over-the-top weird sound collage that, to my ears, sounds like the soundtrack to a bunch of demented claymation shorts. Highlights: “Bah!”, “Everything Must Change Pt. 2”.
4) The Good Ones – Kigali Y’ Izahabu (Dead Oceans)
According to their bio, “The Good Ones is a trio of Rwandan genocide survivors who play joyous, acoustic love songs written in the ancient local, Kinyarwanda street dialect of their nation’s capital, Kigali”. The album was recorded very quickly, in what sound like mostly one-take, live recordings, but this just gives the album a distinctive (and charming) personality and sound. Highlights: “Sara”, “Umuntu Ninkundi”.
5) Zeus – Say Us (Arts & Crafts)
It’s rare that a straight-up rock and roll album makes any waves these days in the indie world. Albums by bands like Spoon and Dr. Dog have been exceptions, but Say Us is a perfect example. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s a solid album front-to-back– definitely worth a listen if albums like Kill The Moonlight or Fate mean anything to you. Highlights: “Kindergarten”, “At The Risk Of Repeating”.
6) The Heligoats – Goodness Gracious (Greyday)
Chris Otepka’s lyrics are almost always conversational– he sounds as if he’s talking directly to you. Combined with his singing style (which, in hindsight, can be described as Front Bottoms-esque) and great sense of melody, this makes for a rather intimate and relaxed record, not to mention super fun. Once you’ve listened to Otepkas story/conversations enough times, putting on the record almost feels like hanging out with an old friend, talking about nothing but enjoying each other’s company nonetheless. Highlights: “A Guide To The Outdoors”, “Fishsticks”.
7) Skybox – Morning After Cuts (self-released)
Recorded after returning home from a national tour supporting Jukebox The Ghost, this Chicago band’s second album is relentlessly catchy, sometimes on the verge of being annoyingly so. Singer Tim Ellis has such a playful, ridiculous way of articulating his (usually already ridiculous) lyrics, and there are enough deviations (tracks 3 and 9 feel like somber Tallest Man On Earth tracks) that the album is pretty great all the way through. Highlights: “In A Dream”, “Slipping”.
8) Pomegranates (now Healing Power) – One Of Us (Afternoon)
To this day, I’m amazed this Cincinnati-based band doesn’t have more of a cult following. Their shimmering guitars, multiple singers and incredible melodies make them contenders for of the best indie rock bands around, and One Of Us is definitely their strongest album. Definitely recommended for fans of Guided by Voices / shoegaze-y 90s stuff. Highlights: “Prouncer”, “Skullcakin'”.
9) Sleeping In The Aviary – Great Vacation! (Science of Sound)
It’s not every day you hear a concept album about a cruise ship sinking during a family vacation. It’s also not too common to find songs about accidentally killing your lover during an experiment in S&M. Great Vacation! isn’t every album, though, and between its goofy, tropical instrumentation (ukulele, melodica, lap steel guitar), great harmonies and strange lyrical turns, it is one of the more memorable albums (for me at least) of 2010. Highlights: “Weightlessly In Love”, “Maria’s Ghost”.
10) Carnivores – If I’m Ancient (Double Phantom)
This Atlanta band has been extremely prolific and constantly evolving over the past few years. If I’m Ancient finds them at a strange crossroads between dream pop and garage punk, a combination you don’t hear very often these days… The Carnivores’ 2010 album also features my favorite song I’ve ever heard from the band, “Parent’s Attic”. Highlights: “Parents Attic”, “Parent’s Attic, “Parent’s Attic”.