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Monday, February 21, 2011

Top 10 Albums of 2010

10. Phantogram- Eyelid Movies

eyelid movies

One of my personal favorite albums of 2010, Phantogram’s Eyelid Movies is a trippy, dreamy, and atmospheric album that takes Mezzanine-influenced trip-hop and combines it with elements of 80’s alternative rock. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter make for an excellent duo, both in terms of production and vocals. They both have their own styles that blend perfectly together, creating a multi-layered mesh of trip-hop that’s catchy and atmospheric in equal measure. Eyelid Movies is highly original and incredibly entertaining, and it’s an absolutely fantastic debut.


9. Agalloch- Marrow of the Spirit

marrow of the spirit

After exploring their more mellow side on The White EP, Agalloch have returned with their fourth full length album, and their best since 2002’s masterful The Mantle.Marrow of the Spirit is almost the opposite of the aforementionedWhite EP, as Agalloch have turned their sound into a full fledged black metal assault, using the softer post-rock moments as a way to build to the heavier ones. Those dark and brutal moments are easily the highlights of Marrow of the Spirit, as five of the non-intro songs build to those at their climax. Maybe it’s a little predictable, but Agalloch have enough variety to prevent that from becoming an issue. Marrow of the Spirit isn’t quite a masterpiece, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better atmospheric black metal album released since the last Agalloch record.


8. Alcest- Écailles de lune

ecailles de lune

Neige (born Stéphane Paut) has to be one of the best musicians in music today. His debut album for Alcest, Souvenirs d'un autre monde, was an absolute masterpiece. Not only was it one of the best albums of the decade, but it marked one of the few times I’ve been completely speechless after listening to an album.Écailles de lune is the second Alcest album, and it continues the gorgeous black metal-influenced shoegaze of the first. This time around there’s a little more emphasis on the atmospheric black metal side of the music, as it can get quite a bit heavier than Souvenirs d'un autre monde. There are moments of pure beauty and moments of pure chaos, but it’s when the two blend together that Écailles de lune is at its best. At times it can take a little long to get those moments, especially on the album’s latter half, but Écailles de lune is still a masterful follow up to one the best albums of the past decade.


7. Enslaved- Axioma Ethica Odini

axioma ethica odini

Enslaved have mellowed out a bit on Axioma Ethica Odini, but the new side of the black/viking metal band only makes them better.Axioma Ethica Odini is a progressive black metal album, similar to Opeth but with black metal replacing the death influences. The clean vocals are actually quite good, and the lighter sections only make the black metal parts more powerful when they come in. If you’ve listened to the last few Enslaved albums, you’ll know that a full on prog album is what the band has been building up to, and Axioma Ethica Odini is that album. Thankfully Enslvaed are excellent at what they do, and any open minded fan of metal would be wise to give one of the best albums of 2010 a close listen.


6. Pantha du Prince- Black Noise

black noise

Approaching music from a minimalist style is one of the hardest things a musician can do. As an electronic artist, there is always a temptation to speed things up, adding in unnecessary sounds or removing others too early. However, if an artist can be patient and really explore the sounds they’ve created, the listener is forced to do the same. Pantha du Prince has achieved this on Black Noise, and listening to it can be a mind bending experience. It’s hard not to get lost in the downtempo beats, and even after numerous listens I still feel me eyes well up. Black Noise is a masterful album, and one that anyone with the patience for minimalist art should experience.


5. Flying Lotus- Cosmogramma


Cosmogramma is not only the best album so far from experimental producer Flying Lotus, but it’s his first album of actual art. While Flying Lotus has always shown a great deal of talent, his overly experimental approach has never really amounted to anything more than just that- an experiment. With two full length albums under his belt, Flying Lotus has learned from his mistakes and created an album that lives up to his enormous potential.Cosmogramma is as cohesive as an experimental electronic album can be, and the songs have a great deal of tension and build up. Be warned that this album still isn’t all that accessible, but anyone willing to embrace their avant-garde side will be rewarded with an ambitious and creative record that simply cannot be brushed aside.


4. Dessa- A Badly Broken Code

a badly broken code

Although it had the advantage of coming out in January, I’ve listened to A Badly Broken Codemore than any other album released this past year. Dessa’s full length debut is downright addicting, and contains layer upon layer of subtlety. Dessa excels as both a rapper and a singer, but her biggest talent is how she mixes them together. She’ll switch from rapping to singing to spoken word when delivering her lyrics, giving her already beautiful lines another layer not usually found in hip-hop. At times her voice can sound like that of a poet, as she has put thought into how she delivers each and every syllable. There is such a strong attention to detail in this album, and not just from Dessa. Each producer has clearly put a lot of work into their track, and it’s necessary to do so with Dessa’s unique talent. The beats are not your typical hip-hop affair, and it’s great to hear some varied work from Doomtree’s talented production duo of Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak. A Badly Broken Code is an all around exceptional album full of unique music and gorgeous lyricism. This one of the year’s most essential releases, regardless of how much you like hip-hop.


3. The National- High Violet

high violet

It's only recently that The National have been put under the mainstream spotlight, but the Brookyln indie rock band has quietly released some of the finest music of the pest decade. Starting with their self-titled debut in 2001, The National have grown with each album, continuing to polish and perfect their dark blend of chamber pop, High Violet is no exception. In a way, it’s is more of the same for The National, but this the most polished, consistent, and even memorable album to come from the band thus far.

High Violet starts with the gut-wrenching lo-fi tune “Terrible Love.” From the moment Matt Berninger’s vocals enter, it becomes apparent the group’s signature baritone voice has only gotten better. Berninger has a voice with the rare ability to shake its listener to the core, creating the dark ambiance that sets the tone for the barrage of distortion and melodic undertones to follow. However, while the vocals may be the most noticeable aspect of The National on first listen, High Violet is far more than a one-man show. Part of what makes listening to The National such an experience is the aforementioned melodic undertones. They may be subtle, but they work.

“Terrible Love” is only the first of many great tracks on High Violet. “Anyone’s Ghost” is a kind of dark pop rock tune that works far better than it has any right to, and the single “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is simply breathtaking. However, the album’s biggest highlights come in its second half. Tracks like “Runaway,” “Conversation 16,” and “England” take The National’s chilling ambience to a new level, all without loosing the rock ‘n roll sound at the band’s core.

The music is excellent, the lyrics are excellent, and High Violet is just an incredible album all around. Fans of the band won’t be disappointed, and new listeners are in for a treat. The National have established themselves as one of the best bands in modern rock, and High Violetmight very well be the group’s best effort yet.


2. Les Discrets- Septembre et ses dernières pensées

Septembre et ses dernières pensées

It’s hard to believe Septembre et ses dernières pensées is Les Discrets’ full length debut. This is a masterful album in every respect, and it’s one of the best albums of 2010. Les Discrets released a split last year with Alcest, so it’s no surprise that the album this is most reminiscent of is Alcest’s Souvenirs d'un autre monde. Much like Alcest’s debut,Septembre et ses dernières pensées combines elements of shoegaze, post-rock, and black metal, but the way those genres are combined is a bit unusual. Usually black metal is the most prevalent genre of the three, but here it’s comes second to shoegaze. This gives the music a raw sound that doesn’t overpower the gorgeous melodies and atmosphere. Septembre et ses dernières pensées is a brilliant album, and one that belongs in the collection of every music fan. It’s one of the best albums of 2010, and one of the finest shoegaze albums of recent memory.


1. Kno- Death is Silent

death is silent

Kno, best known as the producer behind the underground hip-hop group CunninLynguists, refers to himself on the haunting track “Graveyard” as the “emo Primo.” While “emo” is used almost sarcastically, Kno’s description of himself isn’t far off. His talent as a producer rivals DJ Premier, although Kno’s beats are of darker nature and often drift closer into DJ Shadow territory. Needless to say, the beats on Death is Silentare fantastic. Each beat is layered with clean samples building and changing in the most interesting and subtle ways. Kno uses slow keys, vocal samples (often from films), and instruments that come and go at the most opportune time. Everything is simple, and yet few producers can achieve such beauty in their beats. Kno’s attention to detail is astounding, as every element of his beats is used to absolute perfection. Everything is so clean, so smooth, and so beautiful.

However, Death is Silent is more than just beats. Kno also raps on just about every track, and he is aided by some welcome guests. Deacon and Natti from CunninLynguists have multiple verses, all of which rival their best from A Piece of Strange and the Strange Journey albums. The immensely talented Tonedeff also shows up for a verse, as does Tunji from Inverse, Thee Tom Hardy, and Substantial. It would have been interesting to get a verse or two from someone outside of the usual CunninLynguists guests, but considering the quality of the verses it’s hard to argue.

Even Kno himself delivers some great verses. His flow is often methodical, coming across at times as a poor man’s Evidence, but he stays on beat and holds his own. In his lyrics, however, is where Kno truly shines as an emcee. He crafts his wordplay with the same attention to detail that he gives to the beats, creating the same type of “every word is necessary” lyricism that have been perfected by underground artists like Atmosphere and Aesop Rock. Kno’s lyrics are often stories, told vividly and even deceptively. He’ll start out with something typical and then take it a completely different direction, forcing the listener to go back and think about every line that has built up to the end. Rhythm of Rain might have his best verse, and is a perfect example of Kno’s deceptive wordplay. What starts out as a sexual metaphor turns into one of the darkest and most beautiful verses imaginable. Again, Kno’s mediocre flow may turn off some listeners, but those willing to dig deep into the lyrics will find that Kno’s talent is not restricted to beat making.

Death is Silent is a monster of an album, dark and beautiful in equal measures, and is absolutely essential to any fan of hip-hop. This is one of the best albums of the year, and it earns my highest recommendation.

On Sasquatch and Paid Dues

Fellow Seattleites have probably heard that the lineup for the 2011 Sasquatch! Music Festival was announced a few weeks ago. I’ve attended the festival three years in a row (albeit for only one day in 2009), and did a write-up for last year’s. I have mixed feelings about the lineup this year, as many of my favorites are bands that I saw at the very same festival just a few years before, but there are still a few artists on the lineup that I would love to see. Unfortunately, that will not be a reality this time around. With the increase in ticket prices ($175 last year to almost $300 this year for a full pass), combined with the many other fees involved in making such a trip, I simply cannot afford to go. That means there will be no write-up for the 2011 festival. I know a few people who are going, and I hope they have a lot of fun and will let me know how the festival played out. Meanwhile, I’ll be at home wishing I could see Flying Lotus and Iron & Wine, while being thankful that I don’t have to do deal with the festival’s usually obnoxious attendees.


While Sasquatch is a no-go, I will have a write-up of a major festival for you guys. Thanks to some major help from a friend, I will be flying to Los Angeles on April 1 to attend the Paid Dues Festival the next day. I posted a news entry about Paid Dues a few weeks ago, stating my amazement of the lineup. For those of who missed it, Paid Dues is an independent hip-hop festival that will feature such artists as Black Star (Mos Def and Talib Kweli), Immortal Technique, Sage Francis, Slaughterhouse, Murs, Heavy Metal Kings (Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill), P.O.S., Binary Star, Blu & Exile with Fashawn, Grieves, Sab the Artist (founder of Atmosphere’s Rhymesayers label), and plenty of others. I couldn’t be more excited, and I will of course have a full write-up of the festival with photos (assuming I can get my camera in, as the website seems a little vague about camera rules) as soon as I get back home.

I’m still working on a number of different entries that should be up soon, as well as a much needed update for the archives. I know they’ve been much delayed, but I promise that it won’t be much longer. Thanks to all of you for your continuing support.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sound Writer on Facebook

I've created a Facebook page for Sound Writer. This is a good way to keep up to date with what I'm working on, and get Sound Writer updates on your Facebook feed. There is a box below that will take you to the page, where you can "like" it if you so desire.

You also may have noticed that I've changed the layout. Hopefully this will make it easier to find major posts (such as the Holiday Buyer's Guide, Sasquatch! write-up, and future posts of that nature). Let me know what you think of the new layout, and any suggestions you have to improve it would be much appreciated. Thank you again for your continuing support, and I hope to make 2011 a big year for the blog.