Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum is stuck in the ’80s, there’s no doubt about it. But this is a good thing. Wild Nothing channels post-punk, dream pop, and shoegaze influences such as the Smiths, New Order and My Bloody Valentine to create catchy and ethereal music.
Title track “Golden Haze” blends the melodic guitar style of Johnny Marr and the cosmic synths of New Order. There’s a hint of Morrissey in Tatem’s voice albeit less desperate. Tatem is reminding us what it feels like to fall in love; on “Your Rabbit Feet” Tatum recalls a dreary love story, a la Robert Smith. Its dreamy melodies make you wonder if this is what The Cure would sound like had they drenched themselves in reverb.
Although Wild Nothing wear their influences on their sleeves, it in no way detracts from the Tatem’s songwriting and only serves to enhance the music. With Golden Haze EP, Wild Nothing further assert themselves as the best breakthrough indie band of 2010. So throw your headphones on and be prepared to lose yourself in a puddle of nostalgia. It’ll be worth it.
– Evan Kaloudis
Dirty Projectors & Bjork
Mount Wittenberg Orca
Björk has been involved in several all-star collaborations recently. What more could an artist ask for than to have the Icelandic icon lend her unique aura of credibility to his/her endeavor? One might expect that each time such a singular artist gets involved in a collaborative project it would be her light that would shine brightest; yet what makes Mount Wittenberg Orca such an accomplishment is its keen attention to balance. On this EP, Björk is merely the icing on an already beautiful cake. 2009 was a windfall year for Dirty Projectors and instead of resting on their laurels and taking a much deserved break, they released this EP to benefit the National Geographic Society. Wittenberg features all the style and quality that made Bitte Orca such an essential release last year and with this partnership made in heaven, Dirty Projectors have proven that they have many more brilliant releases in store for their listeners.
– Ricky Schweitzer
Opening track to Zola Jesus’ Valusia EP, “Poor Animal,” plays a clever little trick in the first minute. The song begins with a thumping persistent beat and those signature ominous keyboard notes and it all sounds very typical but when Nika Roza Danilova sings “It’s the same every time,” things start to change. And it’s pretty much all because of the full drum set beat that comes into the picture which sounds like it was transferred from an upbeat pop song being played somewhere else. And its inclusion makes for a small but noticeable step forward for Danilova as she finely tunes her newly clean sounding music. And there’s plenty other little steps on the three other songs on the EP: the sparse piano tension of “Lightsick;” the sheer catchiness of “Sea Talk” which still retains that signature creepy doomy vibe. It’s kind of obvious that the Stridulum EP was all about the big steps forward but the little steps are not to be ignored because it could well be a tiny shift forward that sends someone off the edge. What Danilova might have fallen into is up for much debate though and her Valusia EP only makes you anticipate the next step even more.
– Ray Finlayson
Aside from the name attached to the songs, none of the works in James Blake’s EP trilogy have much in common with one another, and the transformation his sound has undergone is almost more thrilling than the music itself. With CMYK‘s tattered old R&B samples and circuitous production, Blake has fashioned elements from jazz, dub and electronica into something truly unique, challenging what should be called dance music in the process. It’s his most consistent effort yet, as he follows the standout title track with three equally mercurial pieces that sound a few years ahead of their time. His style is already recognizable and he’s poised for a huge 2011, riding a hot streak that probably won’t be ending any time soon.
– Brendan Frank
A Swedish Love Story EP
Heartland was an early treasure of 2010: Owen Pallet intricately spun a web of harmonies using the strings of his violin and his premiere wherewithal for composing using a classical and romantic sensibility with a spritely electronic underbelly. The results were lush and detailed, with every song sounding different from the next yet still sustaining a level of musical versatility that would prove to be the album’s common characteristic, (next to its narrative and its protagonist, Lewis). A Swedish Love Story was Owen’s extended play follow up and was marked as sort of a direct “contrast (to) Heartland’s convoluted record process.” Unlike his January release, Love Story‘s scale is diminished in favor of a more compact overall sound. Using only his violin and a few other electronic toys, Owen recorded these four songs in the span of about a week, and while they are quite different from what can be found on his previous LP, all of the familiar elements are here: the tightly-wound and infectious melodies are clearly much more lightweight, but the attention to detail goes nowhere. From the bouncing staccato plucks in “Scandal At The Parkade,” to the velvety rhythms of “Honour The Dead Or Else,” Love Story is a tiny package with a ton of material to digest from one of the most unique and enjoyable indie artists around.
– Anthony Matarese
Arriving in the last few weeks of the year, Mesita’s Living/Breathing EP shows that you should never make your assessments about the year past too early. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if this found its way into people’s top ten of the year and also number one EP full of perhaps the greatest feel good moments. That vibrant and brilliant energy that “Living/Breathing” gives off could fuel the weariest of minds into doing anything while the clattering and spiraling “Jet Trails” would lift them up again before the EP had ended. But one of the strengths of the EP was that it showed a softer side to James Cooley; “For The Best” is a simple guitar and drums track that has him whispering his deep down hopes but when the chorus comes charging in he’s ready to wipe the slate clean and just get on with making brilliant music.
– Ray Finlayson
All Delighted People EP
Once, after seeing Suf perform his Age of Adz-heavy set accented by neon lights and robot dancing, I asked someone what they thought about the performance: “It was like watching a man lose his mind.” Agree or disagree, the statement becomes an entry-point of understanding into new-Suf; riddled with guitar-destroying electronic textures and his most cutting statements to date (“I’m not fucking around”). Surely, every artist suffers from insanity but Suf seems to enjoy every bit of it.
Then, before insanity, we had All Delighted People, the EP to give us some repose from the too-long hiatus of our favorite banjo-picker. Like Age of Adz, in the EP, Suf’s muse is love. But, it is a love that only he can sustain or explain: it is romantic, platonic, communal, and—at times—masochistic (“No I’m not afraid of death or strife or injury, accidents, they are my friends”). Friend feeling is unrolled like a grand rug in “Djohariah;” the absence of a lover and the absence of a God get crossed in “Enchanting Ghost.” Sufjan’s love is of existence.
Never the romantic, his pronouncements always side with the real: “All delighted people raise their hands/ And the people bowed and prayed/And what difference does it make?/ It doesn’t matter anyway/ The world surrounds us with its hate.” Still, the song plays on in triumph for the small victory of community, the successful campaign of love, landslide victory of faith. He is a favorite kind of realist, one who can only see the world as ever reaching toward progress and goodness, which itself is a sort of healthy insanity.
– Jesus Lopez
Broken Dreams Club
After a critically acclaimed debut, Girls offered an EP with little to-do. Well, besides being excellent. The six-song set featured a handwritten letter, proving him to be as bad at penmanship as he is good at writing tunes, while painting the set as a transition to their next step as a band. Hopefully what that step resembles is the near perfect “Carolina,” which combines Brian Wilson with contemporary indie pop to create an adventurous exercise in nostalgia, one that actually builds upon a foundation, rather than just recreating it. Christopher Owens and JR White are undoubtedly very gifted young men, both with quite different talents that complete the other. As a roadmap, Broken Dreams Club shows that the human condition is still capable of finding hope, even if that is in the realization that we are all in this mess together.
– Philip Cosores
The Tallest Man On Earth
Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird EP
The Tallest Man On Earth is easily my revelation of this year, and the EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird surpasses anything I’ve listened to in 2010 in many, many ways. There’s such a poignancy and beauty emanating from the EP, it’s quite startling. The premise is quite simple; vocals high-up in the mix, with the words coming through clearly, and then a backdrop of evocative acoustic guitar, with the exception of “The Dreamer” which has a muddy sounding electric strumming along. The sparse nature of the music couples beautifully with the lyrics, a blend of lonely, desperate and contemplative. Never has his music been as touching.
– Daniel Griffiths
Filtered and chromatic, James Blake’s Klavierwerke EP is as expressive as one could hope. A piano is few among the pithy electronics that adorn the four tracks Blake brought on this release. It’s used simply and cleverly to carry Blake’s constantly shifting sound that’s brought, and may continue to bring, the heart of a songwriter to dubstep. Blake is part of a progressive bunch that are taking dubstep out of its simple characterization – half-time drum & bass – into the realm of introspective music that wishes to do more than shake asses. Blake is not one to remember from 2010. He’s one to watch in 2011.
– Jason Cook