Written by Steve Karmazenuk
2010: It was the Best of Tunes; it was the Worst of Tunes…
Let it be known that 2010 was the year that I, Steven “Team” Edward Karmazenuk came out of the closet as an indie music hipster snob. That being said, I still like to think that I’ve kept an open ear as I’ve listened to some 81 different albums, this year. What follows, are my picks for the 20 best and the 20 worst albums of 2010:
BEST OF # 20 MASSIVE ATTACK: HELIGOLAND
After too long an absence, Massive Attack brought us ‘Heligoland’ in 2010. A twist on their early Trip Hop / Rhythm and Blues, this album supplied us with bleak, discordant trippy vibes, with only occasional relapses back into the fuck-music extraordinaire that we all love Massive Attack for. Best on this one are the songs “Girl I Love You” and “Saturday Come Slow”
Massive Attack: Heligoland – 10/10
WORST OF #20 DEADMAU5: AT PLAY VOL. 3
Deadmau5’s third compilation is very eco-friendly, given how much recycled material they used from ‘Vexiliology’ and ‘Random Album Title’. But this isn’t just recycled Deadmau5; the Progressive House sounds here sound uncannily like some Prog House tracks from the early 2000s; the similarities here to Paul Van Dyk and Astral Projection’s works just makes this one feel uninspired.
Deadmau5: At Play 3 – 7/10
BEST OF # 19 SLASH: SLASH
I can’t say anything bad about this one; the former Guns N Roses guitar god flips the bird to his former bandmate Axl Rose, whose disastrous ‘Chinese Democracy’ proved that GNR was once and for all dead. Slash’s work here, including a Hellraisingly awesome rendition of “Paradise City” proves that in his divorce from Guns N Roses, he got sole custody of all the talent.
Slash: Slash: – 10/10
WORST OF # 19 GWAR: BLOODY PIT OF HORROR
Theatrically comic metalheads GWAR put out ‘Bloody Pit of Horror’ this year, an album that anyone who’s ever heard GWAR has already heard. Their usual shtick is put on extra-thick this time; producing what I can only describe as Tween-oriented Metal. There’s nothing here to write home about, other than the musical talent so terribly wasted on the same-old, same-old, running gag.
GWAR: Bloody Pit of Horror – 5/10
BEST OF # 18 MGMT: CONGRATULATIONS
Fans and critics alike blasted this album. I really don’t understand why. MGMT followed up their light and carefree debut, ‘Oracular Spectacular’ with a much more pensive, thoughtful piece through which they were trying to express the overwhelming culture shock they experienced, becoming overnight sensations a couple of years previous. Instead of lauding Andrew and Ben for taking such a mature, confessional step, everyone bitched and moaned because they all just wanted more of the same music they’d heard on ‘Oracular’. In spite of what everyone else said, ‘Congratulations’ remains a powerful, wonderful disc and a brilliant evolution of their sound.
MGMT: Congratulations – 10/10
WORST OF # 18 CHROMEO: BUSINESS CASUAL
Doing their best to revive the Disco/R&B of the 1980s, Chromeo’s third album was just disappointing to me. Relying heavily throughout the album on one set of standard Electro-Funk principles, the album quickly becomes pedantic. An utterly-out-of-place (Yet seemingly obligatory for Montreal bands) French language track only further muddles the album’s aesthetics.
Chromeo: Business Casual – 5/10
Last Gang Records
BEST OF # 17 ALKALINE TRIO: THIS ADDICTION
It’s kind of funny that a couple of years ago Alkaline Trio’s ‘Agony & Irony’ made my “Worst of” list, coming in with a score of 5 out of 10. Their 2010 followup, ‘This Addiction’ had me foot-stomping, head-bopping and generally enjoying the hell out of every song on there. With the title track being the first boot-stomp on the floor, the album continues strong with songs like “Dine, Dine, My Darling”, “Dorothy” and “American Scream”. They really turned it around in my never-really-anything-near-approaching-humble opinion.
Alkaline Trio: This Addiction – 9/10
WORST OF #17 STORY OF THE YEAR: THE CONSTANT
This album just never held my attention when I listened to it. Wincingly labeled as Punk-Pop, it’s really just Emocore, and sounds like every other Emo band out there. The songs are capably performed and produced, but they’re so paint-by-numbers standardized that the only story here, for me, was the utter lack of originality
Story of the Year: The Constant – 6/10
BEST OF #16 JON & ROY: HOMES
The Folk-Rock feel-good happy-time music from Jon & Roy’s ‘Another Noon’ converted me to their following in 2009. This year they followed that up with ‘Homes’, I pounced on the chance to review it. There is an easy elegance to their music and lyrics, a simple sound from which profundity can easily be found. This is the kind of Indie Rock that gives Indie bands a good name.
Jon & Roy: Homes – 10/10
WORST OF # 16 BLACK LABEL SOCIETY: ORDER OF THE BLACK
Although this album merited a passing grade, it was quite mediocre, really. While effectively capturing and fusing the sounds of Golden Age and Hairband Metal, the music feels more like a tribute album. The music is very radio-friendly; tailor-made, really: 4 ballads: “Darkest Days”, “Time Waits for No One” “Shallow Grave” and “January”. Each of the ballads starts with practically the same piano intro, and is sung with intense, mournful balladeering.
Black Label Society: Order of the Black – 7/10
BEST OF # 15 OASIS 1994-2009: TIME FLIES
I’m still kind of in mourning for the death of the Brothers Gallagher’s flagship project. 15 years of great songs by one of the most powerful and significant Britpop bands in generations were compiled onto the 2CD & 1 DVD collection I listened to. It feels bittersweet to listen to, because these are such wonderful songs, but there will be no more new material from this band.
Oasis 1994-2009: Time Flies – 10/10
WORST OF #15 PAISLEY JURA: TIME IS HOW YOU SPEND YOUR LOVE
This album appears as part of the Worst Of category because of a combination of a technical penalty (The value-subtracted lack of metadata on the CD) and a lack of originality. Again, this one received a passing grade because of wonderful tunes like “26 Degrees” and “Gravenhurst”, but loses marks because Jura’s velvety-smooth Jazz vocals aren’t that different from the velvety-smooth Jazz vocals of Diana Krall, or Norah Jones. When Jura isn’t doing the Jazz thing, she’s playing confessional piano pieces that fall into Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos territory. ‘Time Is How You Spend Your Love’ is a good addition to the Jazz / Piano Woman genres, but certainly not outstanding.
Paisley Jura: Time Is How You Spend Your Love – 6.5/10
BEST OF # 14 DANGERMOUSE AND SPARKLEHORSE: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
Titans met and a masterpiece was formed. Dangermouse is among the most prolific of DJs out there. Sparklehorse were one of the best Indie bands of the last 15 years. ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ was a one-off collaboration between the two, and a host of brilliant artists, including the Flaming Lips, Iggy Pop, David Lynch, Suzanne Vega and several others. The musical style changes…shifts, really, from song to song, so we have Psych-Rock influenced tunes like “Jaykub” or the lost-Lennon sound of “Revenge” Of all the albums on this list, while not my absolute favourite it is probably the most essential listening.
Dangermouse and Sparklehorse: Dark Night of the Soul – 10/10
WORST OF # 14 ESCAPE THE FATE: ESCAPE THE FATE
When plans for their self-titled third album were revealed, Escape the Fate bassist Max Green boasted that “We are wiping the slate…and re-writing Rock music as you know it…” The only problem with that statement, though, is that they really didn’t. The music here is typical Post-Grunge / Emo Rock, extruding the same sounds as their fellow musicians of the genre, like Linkin Park, Saosin, Bullet for my Valentine, Seether, Billy Talent…when you make the kind of statement that Green made and then you put out the same, old, same old, something went wrong.
Escape the Fate: Escape the Fate – 6/10
BEST OF # 13 UNDERGROUND REALROAD: SLAVE TO THE GAME
This is the album that got me listening to and enjoying Rap music, once more. Montreal virtuosos Underground Realroad’s debut is a powerful testament to making music for the sake of making music. The overwhelming message these artists deliver is that the best Rap comes from the soul and not for the goal of gold records. Their sound layers 70’s R&B samples with solid, well thought and poetic rhymes, and a mastery of verbal and musical rhythm. To quote the title song, “This is for the people who know what Hip-Hop is!”
Underground Realroad: Slave To The Game – 9.5/10
WORST OF # 13 MANAFEST: THE CHASE
Aaaannnd on the other end of the Hip-Hop spectrum, we have big-C Christian rapper, Manafest. Everything I’d enjoyed about his previous release, ‘Citizens Activ’ was missing from this one. Where he’d been light on the pontifications and shout-outs to Jesus and God, this time around on ‘The Chase’ it seems every rhyme is coming from the pulpit instead of the stage.
Manafest: The Chase – 6/10
BEST OF #12 ENVY ON THE COAST: LOWCOUNTRY
A fast-paced, poetic Rocker, ‘Lowcountry’, Envy on the Coast’s second album delivers a fast-paced driving intensity on essentially every track. I’ve been a fan of these guys since I saw them open for 30 Seconds to Mars in 2006. This album captures the power of their live show, and couples it with vivid and not always easy-to-face lyrical imagery. Favourite songs on this one include “The Devil’s Tongue” “Southern Comfort” and the hidden track, “Just South of Heaven”. If you’re looking for some entertaining, challenging and enjoyable Indie Rock, do yourself a favour and get this one.
Envy on the Coast: Lowcountry – 9/10
Photo Finish Recordings
WORST OF #12 ARCADE FIRE: THE SUBURBS
There’s a municipal bylaw, probably enacted under the Bourque Administration that requires all Montreal music critics to like Arcade Fire. I am in flagrant violation of that bylaw. I’ve just never really gotten excited about anything Arcade Fire’s put out, and ‘The Suburbs’ is no exception. Yes, the bleak, minimalist Country-twanged Rock is capably performed and evenly produced, but I find the music on this one so mild that it just fades into the background. However, for those of you whose attention is held by Arcade Fire, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your trip through ‘The Suburbs’ immensely.
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs – 6/10
BEST OF # 11 HOT PANDA: HOW COME I’M DEAD
This was one of many indie CDs to find itself in my mailbox at CONFRONT Magazine. It came with no press sheet, so I knew nothing of who Hot Panda were, or what they sound like. So I put on the mystery music – and. I. Was. Blown. Away. There’s no real way to categorize this music, other than to say it is freaky-deaky Beat-Indie mind-rimming brilliance. Go get a copy of ‘How Come I’m Dead’ and hear for yourself!
Hot Panda: How Come I’m Dead – 10/10
WORST OF # 11 FRANKIE MAYFIELD AND THE SOUNDBOX: SELF-TITLED
Easily among the worst I’ve listened to this year, between Mayfield’s high-pitched, nasal vocals and cliché lyrics it’s hard to find anything redeeming about this one. While the musical arrangement and production are top notch, it really is pearls before swine.
Frankie Mayfield and the Soundbox: Self-Titled – 3/10
BESTOF # 10 DAFT PUNK: TRON LEGACY
Daft Punk s
hould be nominated for all kinds of awards for their work on scoring this movie. They abandon their traditional sampling and overdubbing in favour of working with real instruments, both analog and digital, crafting an epic, cinematic and unremovable-from-repeat instrumental score that, while woefully short, is easily the best motion picture score of 2010.
Daft Punk: Tron Legacy – 9/10
WORST OF # 10 JONAS AND THE MASSIVE ATTRACTION: BIG SLICE
This album of growly-vocaled Cock-Rock by Jonas Tomalty comes replete with throbbing danders and powere ballads. While most men might find this album smacks of douchebaggery, the women-folk seem to get all jelly-legged over his throaty, growling vocals and over-bass instrumentation.
Jonas and the Massive Attraction: Big Slice – 7/10
BEST OF # 9 THE AUTUMN PORTRAIT: THE DESIGN IS OVER
This album would have rated a 9.5/10 rather than the 7.5 it earned, owing to the lack of metadata on the disc. There are strong post-Grunge themes to the music, reminding me at times of Radiohead before Thom Yorke’s digital meltdown. This is The Autumn Portrait’s debut, and it’s one of the most promising first albums I’ve listened to this year. For that reason alone I include it in the “Best Of” category.
The Autumn Portrait: The Design is Over – 7.5/10
WORST OF # 9 THE WIND-UP RADIO SESSIONS: RED BRICK HOUSE
With pleasant, mellow, folksy Jazz tunes pepper the debut CD from Hamilton-area ensemble The Wind-Up Radio Sessions. The jovial music is light, easy to listen to, but utterly bland. The Wind-Up Radio Sessions just aren’t up to offering anything with real bite, or a real sense of energy. Their tribute to Neil Young, “No One Came” sounds like a pale imitation of the great Canadian singer-songwriter. This one just feels filtered, diluted, bland.
Wind-Up Radio Sessions: Red Brick House – 6/10
BEST OF #8 SCOTT LANAWAY: MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
Electro-Folk is the best way to describe the trippy, poetic harmonies that Scott Lanaway produces. The mystic, ethereal quality of most of the music here creates a soulful atmosphere with a sophisticated, sensual sound. A fusion of Jazzy World Beat, African rhythms and Electronica, played downtempo nice and mellow creates a dreamlike album, a blissful, relaxing musical work of art.
Scott Lanaway: Mergers and Acquisitions – 9/10
WORST OF #8 HIM: SCREAMWORKS – LOVE IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
More cock-rocking from the “Heartagram” – trademarking HIM. The songs on “Screamworks” are very typical of the post-Emo Rock generation. Everything is heavily overproduced and equalized, creating an almost flat sound to the songs. Making matters worse is the interchangeability of the songs, themselves. This is prefabricated top-40 Pop-Rock, one for fans of HIM and their genre, only.
HIM: Screamworks – Love in Theory and Practice – 5/10
BEST OF #7 CRYSTAL CASTLES: CRYSTAL CASTLES II
Another terrific example of Canadian Experimental Electronic Rock, this disc is filled with challenging, discordant harmonies, melodies, trippy vocal loops and asynchronicity. With multiple layers and seemingly barely-controlled chaos noise makes this one a musical, manic freak-out, a frenetic and addictive aural mindjob.
Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles II – 9/10
WORST OF #7 SOULFLY: OMEN
The marketing boys behind this album boast of its violence, its intensity, its aggressiveness. In truth the themes, imagery and lyrical execution behind this one are uninspired. All the obvious lyrical and thematic choices are explored on ‘Omen’: bloobaths, mayhem, rivers of red, execution, violence, war…basically every cliché and stereotype attributed to Hardcore Metal by its detractors can be found, perfectly distilled, on this disc. Worst of all though, is that with a little more effort, a little more attention paid to lyrics and imagery, and this album could have been really badass.
Soulfly: Omen – 5/10
BEST OF #6 RON CONTOUR & FACTOR: SAFFRON
Veteran Canadian Hip-Hop artist Moka Only, AKA Ron Contour, establishes a Jazz-fueled, brassy Funk sound on ‘Saffron’, and then uses that sound to deliver eloquent lyrics and poetic imagery to his listeners’ ears. This is a fantastic example of Rap done right.
Ron Contour & Factor: Saffron – 9/10
WORST OF #6 RYAN STAR: 11:59
Reality-TV show contestant also-ran Ryan Star’s “Debut” album is in fact his second full-length release. But we don’t talk about it, because it came out before he was a contestant on “Rockstar Supernova”. As one might expect ‘11:59’ is one Arena-Rock song after another, interspersed with Power Ballad after Power Ballad.
Ryan Star: 11:59 – 5/10
BEST OF #5 THE CITY STREETS: THE JAZZ AGE
Blues-driven, bleak, minimalist Rock is what you’ll find on ‘The Jazz Age’, by The City Streets. Songs of heartache and regret fill the album, such as on songs, “Midnight Sun” or “Young Runs Out”. This one is low-key yet powerful; subtle, and essential listening.
The City Streets: The Jazz Age – 9/10
WORST OF #5 STONE SOUR: AUDIO SECRECY
This one, the third album from Stone Sour, just seems to be striving too hard to sound like every other 1990s-era Power Metal / Post Grunge band. Here the fault is not with the musicians – who are technically proficient – but with the material, which has all the hallmarks of having been manufactured to fill some sort of marketing niche.
Stone Sour: Audio Secrecy – 5/10
BEST OF #4 KATY PERRY: TEENAGE DREAM
What can I say? I had a surprising amount of fun listening to Katy Perry’s second album, which is slightly brainier, slightly more clever, a little more adult and a lot more fun, the danceable tracks that fill the album from start to finish, even when dealing with tough subject matter, as on songs “Circle The Drain” or “Who Am I Living For?”
Katy Perry: Teenage Dream – 9/10
WORST OF #4 ABANDON ALL SHIPS: GEEVING
I just find that Abandon All Ships spend too much time trying to sound like Linkin Park while spreading Christianity-fueled “You’ll all burn in Hell” revenge fantasies and calling it music. This isn’t so much Post-Grunge as it is Evangelical Rock, and frankly, the hate-fueled judgments being spewed here are the antithesis of the Christian spirit of love and forgiveness.
Abandon All Ships: Geeving 5/10
BEST OF #3 BEDOUIN SOUNDCLASH: LIGHT THE HORIZON
The fourth album from Canadian darlings Bedouin Soundclash is somewhat more subdued, I find, than their previously carefree, whimsical sounding trips. There are sad and romantic themes throughout the album, with the occasional change of tract, such as the “Elongo”, a ballad that, for itself, makes this a fantastic album. But there is an underlying pain, a sadness hidden throughout the album…one that makes this bittersweet collection of songs all the more precious.
Bedouin Soundclash: Light The Horizon – 9/10
Pirates Blend Records
WORST OF #3 MIKE POSNER: 31 MINUTES TO TAKEOFF
Fans of Mike Posner’s Indie shows were more than a little let down by the overwhelming Pop feel to his debut CD. The songs here are of the typical “Girl I love you,” “Girl you done me wrong,” or “Girl I done you wrong,” variety, while Posner occasionally gets downright offensive, as when he repeatedly calls a girl a whore in the most sugary-Pop way possible, on the song “Cheated”. This one’s quite disappointing.
Mike Posner: 31 Minutes to Takeoff – 4/10
BEST OF #2 FACTOR: LAWSON GRAHAM
This 18-track tribute to the titular grandfather of Hip-Hop producer Factor, ‘Lawson Graham’ takes us the listener on an unforgettable aural trip through time and memory, serving occasionally as confessional and pulpit from which to deliver hard-learned life-lessons. Rap with a trippy, psychedelic and surreal edge to it, Lawson Graham is a breakthrough from the Canadian Rap Scene.
Factor: Lawson Graham – 9/10
WORST OF #2 VARIOUS ARTISTS: ALMOST ALICE
The soundtrack to Tim Burton’s latest self-indulgent Technicolor drug-trip includes not only the usual macabre throbbing of Danny Elfman’s usual compositions, but several ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed songs by Today’s Hottest Young Stars. Avril Lavigne, Tokio Hotel, 3OH!3 Franz Ferdinand – oddly enough – and others, including The Cure’s burnout lead, Robert Smith. This one is simply as dreadful as anything Burton, himself ever gets his hands on.
Various Artists: Almost Alice – 2.5/10
BEST OF #1 QUEST FOR FIRE: LIGHTS FROM PARADISE
This album is, singlehandedly, the best Stoner Rock album I’ve heard in years. The talent behind Quest For Fire have mastered all the elements that make a great, great trip-out album. They tap into a dank vibe; merging it with Celtic strings, bleak acoustics, throbbing, pounding drums, hypnotic vocals and a grim rhythmic monotony. The result is a musical stew of layered, trippy vibes that you want to listen on with good quality headphones, in the dark, over and over again.
Quest For Fire: Lights From Paradise – 10/10
WORST OF #1 CHRISTINA AGUILERA: BIONIC
The sins of this album are many, including the blatant ripping off of other artists, from Lady Gaga to Madonna, from Shakira to Alicia Keys with a soupcon of Britney Spears plagiarized for good measure, as well. Then there’s the crass, inelegant vulgarity that Aguilera tries to disguise as female sexual empowerment. It’s flabbergasting how desperate that Aguilera is to remain relevant, that she spends so much time ripping off her peers and talking about her genitals in details so graphic a gynecologist would blush. Cheap, vulgar and unappealing, and I’m probably the only critic who thinks so.
Christina Aguilera: Bionic – 2/10