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Best of 2010: Ashley’s top picks

December 28, 2010

We’re capping off our Best of 2010 series with my very own favoritest things of the year. (Rich will be along with his forecast for 2011 soon.) Though I listened with fury to albums by say The Dirty Dishes, Sidewalk Driver, The Acre or Ad Frank this year, those were all in fact released in 2009, so I’m sticking firmly to things released this year. I also have about a gazillion honorable mentions that I’m not going to try to list out because it’ll just get unruly, so I’ve limited this to the crème de la crème, the top of my pops, the most awesomest of all the very awesome things I heard this year. 

Blah blah disclaimers feelings of guilt hating to choose favorites etc., here are
Ashley’s Top Albums of 2010

Faces On Film – Some Weather
Whoa-hoa-hoa there, Mike Fiore, way to come out of nowhere with this juggernautically spectacularly incredible album and knock me and, like, everyone, off our feet. Not that Mike, aka Faces on Film, is a new kid on the local music block or anything, but I sure didn’t see this coming and yet with my first listen I knew this was one of my favorite albums ever. Haunted reverb-shimmered vocal melodies dance over layers of dreamy guitars and bells and various other perfectly placed instruments, all sounding like it was recorded in a big hollow barn under a starry night sky in a David Lynch movie. Though I may have come off as a bit of a crazed superfan when I told Mike recently that this record is exactly the sort of music that I would want to make if I knew how to make music, I think that’s kind of the ultimate compliment.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Mammoth Swoon
If Mike Fiore is our 2010 king, then Aly Spaltro aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper is our queen (and OMG, they share a bill at Café 939 on January 27 in what’ll certainly be the hottest ticket in town that night). She slowly but surely turned heads all year long before the loss of a local legend, who happened to be one of her most feverish admirers, launched her into the spotlight and set her on course to become an overnight legend herself. Aly’s songs are carefully worded sagas, often surprising you with their sonic twists, and she sings in her signature warbling croon with so much power and passion that you feel it tingle right down to the tips of your fingernails. Her self-made recordings are stunning in and of themselves, but the true sensation of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper lies in her ability to silence and awe her audience in a live setting. Presumably she’ll get cranking on her first studio recording in 2011 if world domination doesn’t get in the way.

Kingsley Flood – Dust Windows
I almost forgot about this album when I was compiling my list, not because it’s forgettable in the slightest, but because I can’t really believe that it came out this year – it feels like I’ve known it all my life. It’s cozy and warm and comforting, beautifully simple yet so layered. Kingsley Flood have resisted being pigeonholed as an Americana act because their unique blend, dense with trumpet and fiddle over a mix of honky tonkin’ indie rockin’ banjo pluckin’ foot stompin’ rootsy bluesy folky country rock, cannot be so easily defined. See what happened when I tried just then?

Spirit Kid – Spirit Kid
Ten seconds into this album, Spirit Kid have already taken you on an unexpected turn and dripped impressive sunshiney vocal harmonies all over you. Buckle up and enjoy the ride because it’s only up from here. Head cheerleader Emeen Zarookian leads this pep squad into impossible formations with ease; his pop sensibilities are spot-on and these songs sound like they might have fit right in back in the ’60s, but aren’t we glad they’re right here now! At times their live band includes two tambourinists. TWO TAMBOURINISTS! Can you say high-energy funfest? Emeen’s smooth singing and all-around adorableness drives all the girls wild. Zarookimania!

Streight Angular – After and BeforeAlright! EP
Al Polk and his merry band came out of the gates swinging this year with their frenzied pop-rock takeover. Every last song Streight Angular crafts is an instant hit, with clever lyrics and beats that you can’t resist. The ’80s influence is palpable and some songs sound like they could have easily fit in during the height of new wave. And have you seen Al’s neon windbreaker? Howard Jones would be proud.

The Organ Beats – Sleep When We Are Dead
Pro and polished yet gritty and badass, this glorious powerpop debut from the trio of siblings Noelle and Danny Leblanc and pal Mikey Colocouris sounds so enormous that you can’t really comprehend that there are only three people in this band. And as soon as you chalk it up to studio gloss, you see them live and realize, no, it IS that they’re that good. Noelle takes the wheel on vocals and lead (er, only) guitar like its nuthin, Mikey’s right there with her holding up – and smacking down – the low end, Danny’s all BAMBAMBAM in the back, and you’re like WHOA.

Static Of the Gods – Knowledge Machine
Hard-hitting, extremely smart, shoegazey rock ‘n’ roll that grips you and demands you do not pass go, do not collect $200, until these 43 minutes are up. Jen Johnson’s crystal clear vocals soar over an intricately woven, effects-heavy base. This album owned my car CD player for months because it’s the perfect driving soundtrack — you can get lost in it and it no longer matters that you’ve been on that same goddamn one-mile stretch of 93 for half an hour.

Gem Club – Acid and Everything
Armed with only vocals, piano and cello, Christopher Barnes has constructed his opus (at least until he makes another) with this sublime masterpiece. There are only seven songs here but they are all so lovely and delicately crafted that they manage to carry you into another dimension. Kristen Drymala accompanies on cello, bells, occasional vocal harmonies and bird noises, and the musical connection between the duo seems deeply engrained, as if they’re in each others’ head.

Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys – SteamShipKillers
A triumphant offering from a group of exquisitely talented and deliciously playful musicians, led by Walter and his strong-like-bull-but-soft-on-the-inside vocal deliveries. These songs are gorgeous, tragic, elaborate, passionate, brilliant, and full of rich, complex flavors. Their eccentric live show, complete with costumes, performance artists and puppeteers, takes the music to the next level but also seems to scare off some. If you’re all hung up on whatever it is you think you won’t like about this band, you’re missing something really special here.

Hands and Knees – Dancing On Your Tears aka Wholesome
I’m always surprised that these guys & gal aren’t more widely known in our town. They construct sunny guitar-driven pop songs with perfection, and this, their third release, didn’t disappoint. In fact it seemingly picked up where their last album, Et tu, Fluffy?, left off, delivering more great hooks, more toe-tapping finger-snapping singalongs, and perhaps more dynamic range than we’d seen from them – a remarkable feat since they had already proven themselves to have considerable range.

Needy Visions – untitled
Screamy fuzzy psych-garage-y tendencies combine with just the right restraint and fine-tuning to make this somewhat under-the-radar album (unless your radar is the indispensable Boston Counter Cultural Compass) a major standout. It’s not long before you’re singing along, totally charmed by catchy melodies and vocal harmonies that, at times, sound like the Beach Boys played through a toaster that’s on the fritz.

One Happy Island – One Happy Island
Pop bliss arrived at long last when One Happy Island finally released their full-length debut after existing as a band for several years. The album excels at delivering wide variety – sometimes bordering on twee, other times deep and rocking. They’ve got a big bag of funstruments and they know just when to employ bells, ukeleles, melodicas, and other fantastic noisemakers, while all members share vocal duties delivering a balance between male and female leads and a whole bunch of team harmonies.

Magic Man – Real Life Color
I don’t even remember where this came from – maybe someone mentioned it on Facebook or Twitter or something – but on a tip I downloaded this album from Magic Man’s Bandcamp and it blew my mind. A bleepy-bloopy Postal Service-y Arcade Fire-y album where every song is perfectly balanced. Here’s hoping they’ll be making a lot more noise in 2011.

Favorite Songs 
Standout tracks not from any of the above albums

Full Body Anchor — “Drown Control”
Man. Man, man, man. It just keeps punching you, and you just keep asking for more. The glorious wail of vocalist Rice Edmonston get you deep in the gut, the guitars stage an all-out offensive, yet it’s all delicately balanced (if “delicate” is a word one can use in relation to such a hard-hitting song). It ends before you’re quite ready to be out of its grip, which leaves you wanting what Full Body Anchor’s got coming for you in 2011.

Mean Creek – “The Comedian”
Pretty much one of the most incredibly perfect songs I’ve ever heard. I’m going to leave it at that.

DOOMSTAR! – “Rainbow Bloodsucker”
The title track from their debut album, which is without a doubt one of my many honorable mention albums for the year. This song’s high-energy and frenetic pace always gets me amped up. DOOMSTAR!’s psych-fuzz-garage-noise-rock made an audible splash this year, earning them accolades and firmly establishing them as a big fucking deal. Get psyched.

Bodega Girls — “We Are Losers”
No way you’re not, Bodega Girls. Not with slick beats and rhymes like these. Thanks though for implanting this catchy catchy number in my head for the entire second half of ’10. Stupid, no, but crazy and dangerous? Oh hell yeah.

That’s me, right, with Kerri-Ann, who wears her sunglasses at night when we hit the town.
  1. Great list! It reminds me once again that this year, there was so much good local stuff and so little good national stuff…hmmm.

  2. Well thanks. It was very very hard to narrow things down, truly. That says a lot for the health of local music. Also, many of these are free to download if you follow the links, so devour away!

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