2010: Year in Review

I've been delinquent with this blog for the last two years because graduate school has shifted my creative exploits elsewhere. Between sewing, getting ready to start an Etsy store, being a foodie, and learning to play the ukulele, there has not been a ton of time to listen to all of the music that nice people send me. At the same time, I've lost the energy and ability to pay attention to keep up with whatever the kids are listening to these days.

There were, however, a few noteworthy items that I wanted to put out there, in no particular order. These range from albums that are masterfully produced to those that were recorded onto individual tapes, packaged with handmade covers and full of tiny morsels of twee goodness. You'll see some running themes here, including my new-found love for alt country, my re-found love for late 70's/early 80's experimental new wave, and a bunch of Stephin Merritt action.

Groom: Marriage (streaming)
As I've mentioned before, Groom's last album, At the Natural History Museum, was nearly perfect in my estimation, in a weird way that appealed to my liking of a specific set of genres, so it may not have worked for everyone but I hope that it did. Their sophomore album, Marriage, surprised me by being original enough that it feels qualitatively different than the first, but is every bit as good lyrically and thematically. On a few rainy ATL days, when I've been burrowing inside my cave and feeling, at first, pretty misanthropic, Marriage has actually made me want to go out into the world and give someone a hug. There are so many layers of irony in that statement, not the least of which are the album title and its relation to the album content and my own opinions about the institution of marriage, but it is an enormous feat for anyone to pull that off without making me hate them.

These layers (of irony and other things, like bitterness, yearning, nostalgia's ghosts, and bits of humor) are exactly why I love Groom so much. From Marriage, I've learned a lot about patience, second chances, forgiving, being haunted, and letting go. A perfect soundtrack to the year.

Lucy Wainwright Roche: LUCY

This album earned a "HOLY CRAP" from me back in October, when I saw Lucy open for local indie folk favorites, Girlyman. She is sweet, sardonic, and charming, tells hilarious stories, and reminds me of one of my best friends, so naturally, I love her. The album reflects all of that ("honestly, you were less than a prince") while packing a good bit of Americana punch, including strong travel themes and songs of betrayal. Another near-perfect album that has added the perfect bit of humor to lonely porch sitting on balmy autumn nights.

A few notable things from Stephin Merritt, who hates indie rock but masters it nonetheless:

For those of you who know me or have been following the blog for some time, you know that I've been a Stephin Merritt fan since I was a very young teenager. Without gushing too much about it, I got a chance to meet Stephin for a couple of hours last week over high tea, which was a surreal experience to say the least. Sitting in this Edith Wharton-esque tea parlor surrounded by silk wallpaper and old ladies in pretty frocks, we made lots of zombie jokes, talked about the instrumentation for the new album, and discussed contemporary urban life. I don't have much of note to report because I was trying to avoid talking about music the whole time. I can say, however, that he is working on new songs with electronic instruments that are not synthesizers and that there is an electric ukulele bass involved which basically sounds like what Stephin would be if he were an instrument.

It was my third trip to NYC this year, and the second related to TMF (the first being my spring break trip to see them back in March). Overall, it has been a very good TMF year for me, and also a productive year for Stephin. I've already written about Realism in some detail, so I won't rehash anything except to say that I am glad for the return of electronic instruments, which we haven't seen enough of since before 69 Love Songs.

Also this year, Stephin scored 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and the soundtrack to his musical, Coraline, was also released on CD. Fun fact about that: if you saw the musical in New York in 2009, you definitely noticed that the set was constructed entirely of toy pianos. I asked Stephin if this was a deliberate part of the set design aesthetic and he said that he required so many toy pianos that he suggested the pianos be prominent in the set display. The designer liked it so much that they adopted it, even adding a bunch of toy pianos that were never used for playing music (all of which was written by Stephin except for the parts where the mice sing, because that was already in the book). The musical's showing on the West Coast, however, has a completely different set design.

Back to albums you should check out:

Jews and Catholics: Who Are? We Think We Are!
I've mentioned these guys before. If think you will have any appreciation for new wave layered upon 90's alternative, check this album out.

eskimeaux: Ixsixán (streaming)
Gabrielle from eskimeau wins major DIY points for packaging her tape in homemade paper and felt envelopes. Ixsixán means "I love you" in Tlingit and the album is like catching a whiff of a whisper and the jangle of wind chimes echoing in a canyon. Or maybe a little bit like if the same spirit channeled by Fleet Foxes had presented itself in a single woman and then decided to add a whole lot of epic fullness.

The Farewell Drifters: Yellow Tag Mondays

These guys are incredibly talented and put on a fantastic, energetic live show. The album is hardly quieter, and carries with it a lot of the authentic hootenanny feel of seeing them on the stage. I honestly never thought this was a genre I'd be into but Yellow Tag Mondays has changed everything.

Birds and Arrows: Starmaker
Channeling a little bit of the Submarines and Mates of State but original enough to keep you interested.

Humble Tripe: Counting Stars
These dreamy, auditory landscapes nevertheless feel as intimate as sitting in someone's bedroom while they cry.

Anthologies that were good this year:
Kevin Dunn: No Great Lost

This dude came to a local record store this year a few months after I received this album and it was kind of epic. I was frankly unaware that there was apparently some kind of new wave history woven into the very fabric of the city, but if you are into that kind of thing, you'll agree that The Fans probably gave the B-52's a run for their money.

Stroke: Songs for Chris Knox

Chris Knox has had an obvious influence on a lot of bands I really like (Tullycraft, anyone?), and when he had a stroke, a bunch of musicians I really like contributed a song to this benefit collection, from Stephin Merritt to the late Jay Reatard to Jeff Magnum, Lou Barlow, and Yo La Tengo.

Other than that, I've enjoyed some Deerhunter action, a bit of Yeasayer and Bell & Sebastian, even a little bit of The National, but don't have anything particularly new to contribute to those conversations.

Happy 2011, everyone!


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