First Quarter Report

March 30th, 2010 by Eric Loose

2010 seemed to start out a bit slowly, but sure did it pick up impressively. The heavyweight matches don’t take place until later in the year between Radiohead, Minus the Bear, The Gaslight Anthem, Jonsi, and a slew returning big names. The main trend, it seems, among the first quarter of 2010’s best comes from the refinement or subtle changes in a band’s sound. Rather than recreating the promising albums of the past, Titus Andronicus, Beach House, and Frightened Rabbit refused to regurgitate the same album that first garnered them a fair amount of credibility. Instead, the commencement of the decade has opened with evolving bands – sometimes for better, other times, not so much – and I find it heartening. On that note of evolution, risk-taking, and utter surprise, I give you the best of the best in the first quarter of 2010…

5. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

I was curious to see what Frightened Rabbit would pull out of their hat to follow up their stupendous release from 2008. No matter what the result, it was sure to be held up to the highest of standards. Nevertheless, The Winter of Mixed Drinks walks a thin line but comes out as a success in my eyes. Despite some fervor among diehard Midnight Organ Fight fans, The Winter of Mixed Drinks doesn’t represent an entirely marked change in direction from the Scottish boys. Rather, the larger, more resounding sound on the 2010 release results in a more accessible and almost grandiose territory. Don’t fret, the beautiful imagery and songwriting is still present, which is what makes The Winter of Mixed Drinks such a solid release in the end. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” “Things,” and “Skip the Youth” can easily hold their own as single songs among Frightened Rabbit’s – albeit short – discography. The Midnight Organ Fight seemed to touch listeners in their hearts. The Winter of Mixed Drinks is just as poignant but aims for the ears, instead.

4. Fang Island – Fang Island

It’s been mentioned time and time again how unabashedly fun Fang Island’s self-titled is, partly because this is incredibly obvious, but also because many find this aspect the main draw. While this is certainly true, Fang Island encompasses so much more. The hand-claps, gang vocals, and triple-team guitars all add to the rich textures and melodies that Fang Island capitalize on. I haven’t found an album this easy to listen without a helpless, silly-looking smile on my face in I don’t know how long. The most endearing album of 2010 so far, with enough “ooooo-oo’s” and fiery melodies to fuel a steam engine, also strikes me as one of the more original. Fang Island is a bold record that the band certainly doesn’t hold back on, and it has become increasingly difficult to hold back from listening to it.

3. Beach House – Teen Dream

Hailing from my very own city of Baltimore, Beach House glides into the top albums of 2010 so far not with a bang, but rather with a whisp. Teen Dream is dream-pop for those who don’t listen to dream-pop; it’s soft and subtle for people who don’t always appreciate soft and subtle. Why, you ask? Well, I’ve pondered this, and one possibility is that it may simply be too mellifluous to ignore. Another is the fact that the songs work so well as singles. “Norway,” “Walk In the Park,” “Real Love,” almost every single song is overflowing with listenability that seeps into your ears like sugary syrup. It’s more difficult to answer the question “What is there to love about Teen Dream?” than it is to reply to “What is there not to love about Teen Dream?” – a true sign of an album that’s sure to stand the tests of time. While Beach House doesn’t quite evade some of the Pitchfork/hipster cliches, Teen Dream has me sure I’ll still be humming along to “In and out of my mind… In a matter of timmmmme…” for many a sunny afternoon to come.

2. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

Talk about energy! Titus Andronicus capitalize on every tool in their arsenal that makes your blood stir in order to make their indie-rock opus succeed, and succeed it does. The sloppy guitars, lackadaisical yet impassioned vocals, and onslaught of fervor and unabashed passion all add up to so much more than your everyday rock record. Based loosely on the Civil War, The Monitor is anything but caught in the past. With references to Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Dark Knight, and Bruce Springsteen (they’re from Jersey, what’d you expect?), The Monitor is unapologetic and fun throughout, from the two-minute ditties to the sweltering fourteen-minute closer. It’s often said about music that is held in high regard: “This is what [insert genre here] is SUPPOSED to sound like!” While this cliché description is a tad trite, I can’t think of a better way to describe The Monitor. Titus Andronicus have truly created a rocking album, a glorious product of the times we live in.

1. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

I can’t say I’ve been this impressed with a new release since mid-2009. With his guitar and waveringly sweet voice, folk musician and Swede Kristian Matsson has crafted the most heartfelt and solid album of late. I didn’t expect to think this highly of a what seems to be a simple folk record at first, yet I can’t help but love every aspect, every piece of the puzzle that The Tallest Man On Earth creates here. From the soaring imagery and the interesting lyrics that are just made for his voice and his upbeat, gangly guitar rhythms, all of The Wild Hunt interlocks perfectly together. The emotion just seeps out of Matsson with every wistful melody and croon. Not to mention, it’s impossible NOT to love an album this much that includes “King of Spain,” an easy frontrunner for song of the year. Step 1- Listen to The Wild Hunt. Step 2 – Love The Wild Hunt. It’s that simple.

Honorable Mentions:

La Verite – Elephant

loscil – Endless Falls

Throats – Throats

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