Below are my favourite ten albums that were released in the year 2010. They are arranged in an alphabetical order and I have supplied a comment about each.
Burzum, Belus (Byelobog Productions)
The first Burzum album in eleven years, Belus is a Black Metal concept album about the life-cycle of Aryan god Baldr. A typically bombastic release by recently-paroled Varg Vikernes, convicted for murdering his own bandmate and a rash of church-burning in Norway in the early ’90s. It’s always hard to separate sound and content with Burzum, being extremely vocal in his stance against anything Judeo-Christian and non-Nordic. There are lots of unwelcome racial overtones, and Burzum is one of the reasons why Nazism has a foothold in the shittier ends of Black Metal.
However, he’s consistently very good. Opening with swathes of dark ambient and the impatient tapping of a bottle, the album quickly gives way to the grim, lo-fi and primal black metal that Burzum originally created. Blastbeats, mid-tempo riffs and pained howling reign. Occasionally, melody threatens. It’s not his best album, but it’s a statement of True Norwegian Black Metal.
Bill Callahan, Rough Travel For A Rare Thing (Drag City)
Callahan opens this live album by stating “I’m just gonna get right down to business” — as clear a statement of what is to follow as you’re likely to find. The record strips down eleven select cuts from Callahan’s overwhelmingly brilliant (smog) discography into their simplest forms: songs to be sung on a porch.
The fiddles on Held and Diamond Dancer lend a slight hoedown feel to proceedings, but it’s the voice and guitar of Callahan that keeps me coming back to this record. Gentle and manly, tender and gruff: it’s perfect in every way. I will always find time for a nine-minute version of The Well.
Daniel Higgs, Say God (Thrill Jockey)
Daniel Higgs is the former vocalist/lyricist of legendary Baltimore post-hardcore band Lungfish. I saw Lungfish live twice in 2004 and didn’t blink once. The music and delivery were hypnotic with Higgs acting as a mystic, conducting a transcendent sermon to largely atheistic punk audiences. Say God is a Gospel record, in the only way Higgs could approach Gospel.
Repetition of musical and lyrical phrases has always been key when listening to Lungfish/Higgs solo material; Say God is no different. It’s full of mantras, drones and wordplay. Higgs talks directly to you, turns his phrases in and out, replays them and then directs them heavenwards. It’s easy to feel the warmth from the record as the banjo is plucked away, the squeezbox drones, a jew’s harp (as always) enters and Higgs repeats himself in his wonderful strangulated voice.
Four Tet, There Is Love In You (Domino)
I don’t really know how to describe dance music, I just know when it works. Four Tet can be pretty inconsistent. For every Ringer, there’s an Everything Ecstatic. This is one of the records where he gets everything spot on: an album full of minimalist compositions where loops phase in and out, ethereal chimes ring, beats shuffle and click, and minute rhythms build layer on layer to create a complete picture.
There Is Love In You is a lush album that draws on straight techno, microhouse and the classic minimalism of Reich, Glass and LaMonte Young.
Melvins, The Bride Screamed Murder (Ipecac)
If you don’t know The Melvins by now, you haven’t been paying attention. Putting out sludgey punk since 1983, The Melvins have influenced everyone from Nirvana to Sunn O))), Boris, Eyehategod and any number of bands who wanted to play fast music slowly.
A bent to their music is always defined by the current bassist. The last two albums have been Melvins/Big Business records featuring incredibly precise playing and two drummers. Melody comes through the twin-vocals, ghoulish synths occasionally spook in the background, and the usual Black Flag/Sabbath riffing is tight and strong. Again, it’s not their best album, but Melvins will always put out a good record.
Mount Eerie, Song Islands: Volume 2 (PW Elverum & Sun)
It’s not an album exactly, but a bunch of odds and ends from Phil Elverum‘s first five years as Mount Eerie (the first volume of Song Islands was of material Elverum recorded under the Microphones moniker). I am a bit obsessed with this man’s output, which is very easy to understand when it is all so wonderfully conceived, realised, recorded and packaged — featuring typesetting, letterpress, recycled paper and brilliant glossy photographs of romantic ancient forests.
The music on this compilation is patchy, as you’d expect. There are brilliant tracks such as Get Off The Internet, Cold Mountain and I Whale alongside sketches Heart Lake At Night, This Is The Same Ocean and even a collaboration with No Kids that results in a pretty unfamiliar funk.
What I like about outtakes is that I get to hear the creative process, the sketches of concepts, the avenues that were abandoned and some different approaches to ideas that made it through.
No Age, Everything in Between (Sub Pop)
I saw No Age in a small pub in Sheffield sometime in 2005 or 6. They were scrappy punks playing 90-second fuzzy pop songs and just finding their feet as a band. They asked the fifteen or so of us there, “should we play longer or shorter songs?“. They could have gone either way and been brilliant. I am happy that they decided to start playing longer songs, giving their palette more room to manoeuvre.
For a two-piece, they make a lot of noise — the guitar fills every inch of the speaker output, fuzziness and squeals leap around as the drums thrash along at a pace. Churning out up-tempo songs drenched in the shoegaze haziness of Psychocandy or Loveless, Everything In Between is a record for punk rock kids who grew up a little bit. It also has an excellently designed 12″ book in the LP package.
Mike Patton, Mondo Cane (Ipecac)
Mike Patton can be horrifically annoying. This is a thing Patton fans don’t generally accept, but it’s true. He makes so much music, shapes his mouth in so many different ways, that some of it is going to be annoying. Mondo Cane could go down as one of Patton’s annoying genre workout missteps, like the Peeping Tom album, but it feels like the project with the most love behind it.
It’s Patton’s personal tribute to 1960s Italian pop music, backed by a full orchestra of strings, brass, percussion. He gets to show-off his fantastic vocal range and sleazy Italian guy makes an appearance more than once. You can easily play this for seasoned musos, or as an honest-to-God Italian pop record.
Sun City Girls, Funeral Mariachi (Abduction)
This is the last Sun City Girls album, following the early death of Charles Gocher. There are already dozens of incredible SCG records to catch up on, so that should keep anyone going for a long time.
Sun City Girls have always been magpies, stealing bits of music from wherever they hear it — but stealing from the best. For the past decade or so, two-thirds of SCG have run the ethnographic record label Sublime Frequencies, finding the rarest forms of pop music and indigenous composition from every corner of the world. Thai funk, Sumatran folk, field recordings from Mali, Burmese jazz. It’s no surprise that the more unexplored elements of world music seep into Sun City Girls’ own. Funeral Mariachi features Arabesque wailing, Tuareg guitar playing, and all manner of East Asian tonal influences.
What makes Sun City Girls stand apart is that they don’t create tacky, Westernised “fusion” albums, but all the influences and inspirations are genuinely synthesised. This is a fitting final album from a formidable band.
Xasthur, Portal of Sorrow (Disharmonic Variations)
Another final album, another Black Metal album. Xasthur has crafted a singular place in the history of modern US black metal by taking the Burzum template (a one-man band, writing, recording and producing everything himself), then slowing it down.
Xasthur is more dirgey, nihilistic, oppressive than Burzum. For me, the best black metal approaches a form of ambient music. It is about tonality, monotony, repetition and textures. Usually, it is all so fast that it becomes slow-moving textures, the best makes me think of Tony Conrad or Rhys Chatham. Xasthur at times reaches that.
Portal of Sorrow is a strange album; there are comparitively odd rhythms, uncommon instrumentation and wonderful vocal contributions from Marissa Nadler. It is not as dense as previous albums, nor as completely bleak. The record veers into a form of regressive, primitive folk music. Like Sun City Girls’ offering, this is an apt farewell from an important artist.