Being a student, it is nearly impossible for me to listen to everything during the course of a given year. While I’m very satisfied with my Top 35 Albums of 2010, I knew there were several releases that I had initially missed due to seemingly endless amount of obligations. During my (somewhat) relaxing time off these last few weeks, I finally had the chance to listen to several albums I never got around to listening to in 2010. While there were many good ones, these albums are the cream of that crop, and would have gotten serious consideration for both my Honorable Mentions and Top Albums lists if I had given them more consideration when they were released.
Blue Hawaii: Blooming Summer EP; The kinds of emotions usually associated with chillwave are those of simple nostalgia, a desire for a return to a simpler time or to the carefree days of youth. Blue Hawaii, however, believe that the genre is also capable of providing the perfect backdrop for exploring the deeply personal feelings of heartbreak and longing. Over Alex Cowan’s gorgeous arrangements that walk the line between dream pop and the tropical sunniness of the group’s namesake, lead singer Raph delivers downright devastating lines like “You seem to be the kind of friend that I long for…I’ve never wanted anyone this bad before” on “Dream Electrixra” in her delicate yet emotive voice. The end result is one of the most beautiful records of 2010, and one hell of a debut for a duo that has only been working together for a little over a year. Raph’s main band, Braids, are set to release their full length debut later this month, and needless to say this album has only made me more eager to have that record in my hands. Whether or not that means Raph has less time to dedicate to Blue Hawaii, Blooming Summer will always be remembered for it’s emotional immediacy and sheer effortless beauty.
Emeralds: Does It Look Like I’m Here?; I’m sure it’s been said time and again, but this Cleveland trio has a way with atmosphere that makes Does it Look Like I’m Here? an invigorating experience. In much the same vein as purveyors of early electronic music, Emeralds’ tracks are primarily focused on combining synth loops, waves of noise, and various other sounds into something massive and undeniable. It all comes together to create an almost natural sounding ambiance, making the album’s hour long run time seemingly fly by. This album can work as either background music or the subject of study, as it is easy to be consumed by everything going on within the songs. Either way, Does It Look Like I’m Here? is an album that handily demonstrates that you don’t need a rhythm section, vocals, or a barrage of hooks to be memorable. Sometimes, the slow burn is the deepest.
Fang Island: Fang Island; With their self-titled debut, the boys in Fang Island have created the musical equivalent of drinking an entire crate of Red Bull without the negative bodily implications. Filled with a gratuitous amount of guitar hero antics, thundering percussion, breakneck speeds, and plenty of organ-like keys, this predominately instrumental album is the perfect way to psyche yourself up for any of life’s challenges or celebrations. The sheer amount of technical proficiency the band possesses is phenomenal, and the fact that they sound like they’re having fun while doing it is a marvel in itself. The life-affirming lyrics complement the music perfectly, and the way they are chanted Animal Collective-like rather than sung furthers the sugar rush, taking tracks like lead single “Daisy” and “The Illinois” to near euphoric heights. The band has described their music as “everyone high-fiving everyone,” and it’s safe to say there will be plenty more high-fives to go around if they continue on the path they’ve established here.
Matthew Dear: Black City; Having established himself as a techno and dance music pioneer under his many different aliases, Black City sees Matthew Dear take cues from a style that hasn’t been fully reexamined as of late, the darker realms 80′s dance music. The majority of the songs on the album sound as though they belong in a neon blue and pink tinged Miami lounge circa 1988, with plenty of funky grooves and synth atmospherics. Dear explores many of our deepest, darkest and most self-indulgent desires on this album. Particularly on songs like “You Put A Smell on Me,” which urges the listener to go for a ride with Dear in his “big black car” or through his lusting on “I Can’t Feel,” there is a seductive quality to Dear’s music that is at once sophisticated and borderline creepy. It is how he strikes this balance that keeps Black City from sounding contrived, and makes this a great album to dance to while wearing a suit.
(Photo: Blue Hawaii; Credit: Alex Cowan)