Every year I send in my Top 10 to the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll, and every year, starting about 20 minutes later, I go back and start fucking with it. Continue, I mean. Why? Because of all the really, really good records being made. And 10 is just not the round number it used to be back before the world got all blown-out and untrackable. Also because I'm an editor, i.e., bit of a mental case.
This year, I waited till just about the very literally very last moment to submit my P&J. Longer actually — that afternoon, seconds before it was nearly certain that I was about to do it, a couple of friends dragged me out and we got good and hammered (the holidays and all that, "just one beer" and all that). When I got back and tore off my list, confident in that drunkenly authoritative way that everything was in its place, I um…completely left off one of my real favorites of the year. … Sorry, Glass Rock. To quote Marc Masters, "Imagine if this mattered."
Anyway, these days you can go back and fix pretty much everything. You just can't go back and give everything the 10 or so points it deserved in Pazz & Jop.
And so, I moved stuff around (soberly) and here, now, below. It's got 24, but by the end it may be 25, cause I'm pretty sure I'm still forgetting something. Just about all of them at one point of the year felt like mortal locks for my Top 10. But I'm only fucking apologizing to Glass Rock.
1. Major Stars Return to Form (Drag City)
Yeah. Best yet by the best-yet sextet. Maximal psych-rawk splendor, featuring two of the Stahs' three ostensibly active singers; for proof of their discrete dopeness go back-to-back with "Low Grade" (Sandra Barrett) and "The Space You Know" (Amanda Bristow). Really though, no recording matter can contain what this band is about. You just haven't lived until you've been kicked in the back of the head during a Wayne Rogers guitar solo. By Wayne Rogers.
2. Sun City Girls Funeral Mariachi (Abduction)
3. Phantom Payn Days Phantom Payn Daze (De Stijl)
Tensely lazing electric shocks from this non-bastard offspring of Suicide, Peter Jefferies and the Velvets, which is impossible of course, how could three things have one baby, and yet, here he is, and in case you're wondering — he's not confined to that bedroom, just happier there. 39 Clocker Juergen Gleue made these dark and sexy (a.k.a. "never released") recordings in the mid-’90s, and they go deep with a South Island vibe, Germanically poised. We can know that "cool" still means something because of this album.
4. Islaja Keraaminen Pää (Fonal)
Honestly, I still haven't sorted this album out exactly. Which is weird because it's Islaja's most accessible, for one. It could in fact be that very thing, the proximity of these elegant, stained-glass-future torch songs to "normal" pop that makes it so jarringly other. Why does a white Finnish lady make me think of Sun Ra without having anything to do with him in any way? Still haven't sorted it. [Just realized, days later, that it's also or perhaps instead Abbey Lincoln, early ’60s with Max Roach, her blues, just the powerful suggestion of being out, relaxed and regal in it where she was, commanding, stately but not stuffy. Analagous in some crucial unnameable way, Abbey and Merja, but otherwise unlike. Not sure I've sorted it though.]
5. Glass Rock Tall Firs Meet Soft Location (Ecstatic Peace)
Sorry, again, really. It's hard to believe I could've simply forgotten about this one, no matter how much whiskey, especially since it contains 2010's most unforgettable instant: the very first blow of the very first song, itself called "Glass Rock" — just this huge exhale, all the weight fallen off your shoulders as you slump into a chair. It's a life-up-to-this-point moment that's followed with Kathy Leisen declaring everything permanently okay by asking, "Whatchoo think about loosin' it up?" Only recently decided that line's not missing a syllable. Take care to note that I've talked only about the first half minute of this mind-blowing, tender-hearted, sinking-yacht-rock album, and also please notice that its title track is named for the band, and its title instead explains what's going on here. Everything else in history explained at the band's totally natty blog.
6. Sharon Van Etten Epic (Ba Da Bing!)
She sings at you from an angle with this almost lurid voice that swerves around forcefields, like she's emotionally drunk from her own lyrics. Dramatic results. Would've been only slightly the less if it were just "A Crime" and "Peace Signs," but I'm glad it isn't.
7. Fabulous Diamonds Fabulous Diamonds II (Siltbreeze)
Bliss of haunt, stately psych that ghost-patrols the darklands, where your nervous system lives low to the earth. Drums, synth, vocal incant; so simple, so right. Suddenly want to make sure these two have heard Phantom Payn Daze.
8. The Dead C Patience (Ba Da Bing!)
On returning to form and staying there.
9. Noveller Desert Fires and Bleached Valentine split (Saffron)
At the moment I'm not sure I can think of anything other than "Bleached Beach," one song from her recent split LP (with unFact) that soars high and heavy, like a jetstream of lava. At first I missed the noise guitarist; Desert Fires burned the thought clear out of me.
10. Rangda False Flag (Drag City)
Bishop, Corsano, Chasny, demons. If you think I need to say more, that's your problem.
11. Alastair Galbraith Mass (Siltbreeze)
A bookend to Morse, 18 years later, too perfect. A string theory in a feathered hat, the South Island dark horse gives truest meaning to the words "experimental pop."
12. Doug Paisley Constant Companion (No Quarter)
"Who could be so cruel to someone like you? No one but you. Who would make the rules for the things that you do? No one but yooouuu." Drop your weapons, the war is over.
13. Effi Briest Rhizomes (Sacred Bones)
Brooklyn's brightest darkness, an arcane notion dusted off and lured from the attic of 4AD's old manse out into the woods for an all-night session. You're surrounded by trees but you notice only the air. Like a lot of good psychedelic music its persuasion is its pacing, and since the valence is distinctly female, maybe this is one of those cases where it's okay that every single review mentioned it (even if no one talked about why it might matter). Singer but not songwriter Kelsey Barrett has left, so what's next is bound to be different, and worth waiting for (this one took years), even if what's most noticed then is still mainly that did you know the band members are all female.
14. Neil Young Le Noise (Reprise)
Neil, burning, overwhelming you in a sea of guitar flames. Neil Young is an all-male band.
15. Endless Boogie Full House Head (No Quarter)
When Top Dollar speaks his mind, everybody else shuts the fuck up. Quel jammage! Endless Boogie is all-male.
16. Tyvek Nothing Fits (In the Red)
They razored off everything but the snarl, which will razor everything off your bones. Punk as fuck for them outta luck.
17. v/a Angola Soundtrack (Analog Africa)
One of the best comps of ’60s/’70s Africa ever, a spectrum of sounds whose ranginess will blow your mind. Angola's on the southwest coast of Africa but judging from this record it's the dead center of the world.
18. Wounded Lion Wounded Lion (In the Red)
Number one in punk-rock fun, raw and elemental pop with its pants pulled down. I did not jump around to any record more this past year.
19. Digital Mystikz Return II Space and Urban Ethics (DMZ)
Dubstep didn't leave them behind — very much the other way around. Both albums in here even though they're different — Return is Mala, Ethics is Coki — because the DMZ continuum is just that strong. It's no slight on their mid-decade singles — some of the best sounds of the ’00s, any genre — to wonder if this is the better straight-up listening music, thoughtful and deep darkness that's madly in love with your ribcage.
20. Rikki Ililonga and Musi-O-Tunya Dark Sunrise (Now Again)
Sansa kuwa, sansa kuwa, sansa kuwa… More African brilliance from the past, this time from Zambia. Find Zambia on a map and erase the borders, now it could contain all of what is Rikki Ililonga.
21. The Fresh & Onlys Play It Strange (In the Red)
This year's achingly wistful Bay Area pop record. Took a while to get past the mysterious power of opener "Summer of Love," which feels so much more like the end of summer, the end of love.
22. Gunn-Truscinski Duo Sand City (Three Lobed)
Steve Gunn is one of NYC's best guitarists, and definitely our most distinct — immediately identifiable the way he bends and frays notes, and conjures resolve out of shadows. Hushed and heavy, Sand City is the first duo record from him and percussionist John Truscinski, though they've played together plenty on the intrastellar earthways.
23. Thee Oh Sees Warm Slime (In the Red)
Sort of a lifetime (so far) achievement award. Warm Slime might not be any better than the last four hundred Oh Sees records, but since they're all so damn good…
24. Rene Hell Porcelain Opera (Type)
Jeff Witscher, man of a thousand aliases and one heavy dot of a record. I think of Coil, I think of Cluster, I think of Porter Ricks, I think of high-tension cables, I think of synthetic concrète, I think I need to track this fucker down on vinyl.
25. Dum Dum Girls I Will Be (Sub Pop)
I gave it short shrift when it came out cause it wasn't as good as the singles and EPs. But lately I've been listening to it constantly and coming to terms with being wrong.