To me, 2010 will stand out as the year musicians returned to the 70s and early 80s, stole the synths, and came back to play them for us. The Wire magazine coined the phrase “hypnagogic” to refer to the music of Rangers, Emeralds, Arial Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and the like, music suffused with warped nostalgia. But Boards of Canada did the same thing 15 years ago, and Ghost Box has been doing the same thing for years, and they’ve been calling THAT “hauntology” for quite a while, so I don’t know why they needed a new term. Oh wait, these groups are mostly American, so we have to separate them from the proper British groups. Well, that’s just stupid. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of the music, and the quality of the music this year was as good as it has been in quite a while. Emeralds’ album is ethereal, lush, and overwhelming. It took me a while to get it, but once I got it, I couldn’t let go. But the same can be said for the other works on this list–works that I have examined and celebrated both here and in my car (and between my ears) for the bulk of the year.
I love end-of-year lists not for the competition of seeing who is on top; rather, these lists always give me ideas for music to buy, since there’s no way to hear everything in a given year (unless you are paid to do this, which I’m not). So hopefully this list will have one or two suggestions for you as you go shopping for new music in the new year. I’ve provided links to each work to help facilitate that end. Happy holidays, and have a great 2011.
- Emeralds, Does It Look Like I’m Here — Unbelievably beautiful, captivating synth music from a band I’d not even heard of when the year began. If the 80s had sounded like THIS, perhaps we wouldn’t have needed so much hair gel.
- Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me — I waited a long time for this album to come out, but it did not disappoint. It’s very long, and it is hard to get through it all in one sitting (I don’t bother), but there’s enough here to study and dissect for a lifetime, and Joanna is just getting started!
- Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services, Black Mill Tapes Vol. 1: Avant Shards — This is just wonderfully muddy, trippy, eerie music that captivated me from the moment I first heard it. Wire magazine called it “evil,” which made no sense unless “evil” is British for “awesome.”
- North, Darkside — This has been a fixture in my car for a few months now. It’s the best thing Hyperdub has released since the last Burial CD, and that’s saying something. Wonderful, weird, twisted synthpop.
- Rangers, Suburban Tours — Each song on this guitar-swirl album sounds like the engineer pushed “record” halfway through. If there is such a thing as “hypnagogic,” then you’ll find it here–AOR radio from the 80s squished into knots and reimagined by punks. Awesome.
- Pan Sonic, Gravitoni — Pan Sonic’s last, great work was too much like their earlier music to place any higher on my list, but this is a band who redefined electronic music and whose output will be respected and revered long after the concept of “electronic music” has been shelved. A final, great summary of a truly great band.
- Ghost Box Study Series (Vol 1-4) — This was the Ghost Box filler year, when they released a bunch of singles that, together, make one of the best albums of the year. The Broadcast & the Focus Group single is of particular note–a continuation of their 2009 collaboration that is every bit as wonderful. I can’t wait for 2011 and a new Broadcast album (perhaps? perhaps?).
- Philip Jeck, An Ark for the Listener — As always, Touch records stands at the top of the mountain in electronic and experimental music. This was a wonderful, inspiring work from one of the label’s stalwarts–an artist who manages to create symphonies using only turntables.
- Frank Bretschneider, EXP — I’ve always loved Bretschneider’s music for its grooviness, but this year’s effort was wonderful because it pared down the grooves into their component elements and turned dance music into an abstraction (which is what it always has been anyways). Yes, clicks & cuts live!
- Arcade Fire, The Suburbs — I know that this is the only album on this list that anyone has actually heard of, but don’t let that fact diminish the quality and inventiveness of this Canadian group’s third effort. If the world is lucky, they are the band of the future, and this was only the beginning.