I listen to a lot of new music — in large part due to my beloved KEXP — but rarely make note of any of it. So for the end of the year, here are five new albums (plus two from 2009 and three older honorable mentions, but hey, who’s counting) that I spent a lot of time listening to this year.
Visqueen, “Message to Garcia” (2009)
The part of me that identified as a riot grrrrl all those years ago — big boots, short dresses, and enough anger and righteousness to power the world — rejoices when I listen to the latest from Visqueen, a Seattle-based rock band. While they have hints of this musical heritage with punk-tinged guitars and an intensity of purpose, this is a true apolitical rock n’ roll album, rocking out with power-pop chords and a few tracks that even verge off into country territory with a pedal steel backing. And through it all Rachel Flotard’s vocals ring clear and true and fierce, singing about love.
Soulico, “Exotic on the Speaker” (late 2009)
The best Middle Eastern/hip-hop mashup I’ve heard; fun and conscious and danceable. Israeli-born but playable in any underground club anywhere. Fucking outstanding.
The New Pornographers, “Together” (2010)
The latest from the New Pornographers is harder in some ways than their melodic “Challengers”, which I adored. The title track in particular uses echos of rock anthems and drums in an adrenalin-raising sort of way. Not all the songs are like this, some are sweet and low and lovely, although some I find not as beautiful; all in all this album is a bit uneven but compelling. The New Pornographers also have a knack for videos; the videos for “Together” and the harrowing video for “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” — which focuses on the aftermath of the BP oil spill — are extraordinary.
Ana Tijoux, “1977” (2010)
Tijoux is French-Chilean, and her hip-hop crosses boundaries too; tight and low and intelligent, these tracks are hard to quit listening to. In Spanish.
Hot Chip, “One Life Stand” (2010)
Sadder and more introspective than past Hot Chip, but still with moments of infectious joy and driving beats.
Jónsi, “Go” (2010)
I only just discovered this solo album from the Sigur Ros frontman, but all I have to say is: damn. Icelandic, chirpy and transporting; a little shared dream.
Delorean, “Subiza” (2010)
Sweet, happy happy house, Ibiza sunshine style. There’s nothing complicated here, but who doesn’t want to be made joyous with a fine electro-synthpop dance excursion? Put your hands in the air.
Honorable mentions, for things I discovered in 2010 that were released in earlier years:
Joe Bataan, “Call my Name” (2005)
Joe Bataan’s career as a musician reminds me a little of Gil Scott-Heron’s; influential and well-known in the ’70s, then a long hiatus until 2005’s revival release of “Call My Name”, a grand and groovy piece of jazzy soul with classic funk overtones. The set is tight and catchy; even if this isn’t your type of music, who can resist?
The Pinker Tones, “Million Color Revolution” (2006)
What is this? Some tracks could be the soundtrack to a particularly good James Bond film from the late 60s; some would be at home in an enlightened Latin Jazz club, some could be background music in the kind of nightclub that has soft blue lighting and serves creatively mixed drinks, and some are straight up Latin dance-pop. In a word, it’s uneven and strange, but you could do much worse for a party than mixing up some cocktails and putting this on the stereo.
Ladyhawke, “Ladyhawke” (2008)
Simply fun and retro — retro like bleach-blonde 1980s power-pop delight. A New Zealand pop star who has a great voice and is largely and undeservedly unknown in the U.S., this could be the soundtrack for any top-down fast-driving trip to the beach.