Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best of 2010: #7 Beach House - Teen Dream

No one does languid better than Beach House. The California duo politely pack the entire aesthetic sense of Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides into audio form. Not in the way that Air did on that films soundtrack, though that too. Somehow they take the Moog futurist keyboard textures of that band, the coked up high flying classic rock that balanced out the movie’s soundtrack, the lovelorn youthfulness, and the dark edges of the adult world. All that but without all the pretty young girls dying.

Here Beach House don’t blow up the store, thankfully. On their prior Devotion it seemed they’d perhaps reached the full potential of their sound but here it opens up in ways that never seemed possible. What once seemed claustrophobic and sounded undoubtedly like two people in a room attempting to sound fully orchestrated, now feels like a fully functional multilayered band who just happen to sound orchestral. The songs are better too. The triumph of songs “Norway”, “Walk in the Park”, “10 Mile Stereo”, even the staid “Zebra” almost makes their past accomplishments seem amateurish in hindsight.

The fact that this record has held as long as it has is a testament to it’s slow burn charm. “Norway” was released way back in November 2009, many fans myself included had the record before last Christmas. Here’s expecting if you put it on next year at this time it’ll still sound great.

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Best of 2010: #8 The National - High Violet

In 2010 the ennui of thousands of grump out of work or under paid, under loved (occasionally over loved), white men between the ages of 25 and 40 can be audibly identified on High Violet, the fifth album by the National. While Arcade Fire were making some sort of big statements and headlining MSG, the National were sort of saying nothing, but sonically representing everything for a particular angst ridden crowd. That’s the power of this cryptic, mopey band, and it is also their great weakness.

Around April I was feeling very much of their ilk and anyone asking what I was listening to would have been told about the National. But, as I often do, I also might have said it’s not for everybody. In fact, I can’t recall myself telling anyone who bothered to ask unequivocally that they would love the album, in spite of the love fest I was having with Matt Beringer’s baritone at that point.

And I still love this album. The slow burn opener “Terrible Love” feels trite until you realize how little it’s giving up. If this were a Springsteen song we’d be expected to follow narrative and character, instead we’re left with repeated non-descript fragments, open to inferring whatever “spiders” you may or may not be walking with.

Musically the National are all at their best. There’s the subtle groove of “Anyone’s Ghost”, the chiming melodies of “Lemonworld”, the doom and gloom peak of “Conversation 16.” Really, there’s hardly a bum note on the whole thing. (A lot of bummed notes though.) Who knows, you might actually like it.

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