Ô Paon, 'Courses'
If Dirges are your bag, and your waiting for the end of the world, the Mayan calender, or the end of this article; have no doubts that 'Courses" from Quebec mantra makers Ô Paon will fill the meaningless void until the apocalypse. Geneviéve Castrée sings in her native tongue, Quebecois-French, with English translations found in the liner notes. Literally this CD features haunting repeating phrases as prayers and meditations on alienation, violence, greed and pollution. The arrangements by Thierry Amar, will console listeners while they mourn and contemplate their termination. Tongue removed from cheek, it's a really lovely sounding and interesting collection of vocal pieces. Very unusual.
Arcade Fire, 'The Suburbs'
The compositions are engaging, well thought out, and fresh. It's something of an Avant Indie Pop Rock concept album that deals with the Suburbs as an object of both great affection and loathsome hatred. Though not exactly new territory, this collection gets it right. It's a palette with shades of noxious nostalgia and splendid contempt. The band retains it's cynicism while extolling the virtues of the post Vietnam era, backhanded as it may be.
PVT, Church With No Magic
Moody synth-rock. Drawing from Brian Eno and Talking Heads as references. This Austraian trio fearlessly indulge their artistic ambitions. It's hypnotic but begs your full attention. One of the better efforts this year.
Two of rock's legends, one nearly forgotten, make music that ranks among their best. But producer T Bone Burnett delivers the goods in a spectacular package filled with steel guitars, brazen brass bursts and uplifting gospel choirs. Russell's voice steals the show with a croon that knows all there is to know about Americana.
Thomas Adès, 'Tevot'
A beautiful sensation emanates as this massive orchestral score washes over one's psyche. One can easily argue that Thomas Ades of London town is the finest composer walking the earth today. Fans of Gershwin's orchestrations, Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother', Wagnerian brass flights, and lush unapologetic orchestral timbres will all find solace here.
Notable too, is the flawless efforts of conductor Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. In my view, Ades is emerging as the emissary of post 20th century music. There have been some attempts to escape the gravity of the previous century...but Ade is first to provide the thrust to achieve the escape velocity. A marvel to behold. This is my pick for best album of the year and there is no other competition.
The Chocolate Drops, 'Genuine Negro Jigs'
Nothing short of breathtaking, The Carolina Chocolate Drops evoke ghosts with their 2010 release "Genuine Negro Jig", a true celebration of historical music. "Snowden's Jig" for instance, draws attention to the Snowden Family, an early black string band. Every tune, (most having been obscured by the clouds of time) is played with respectful but bubbling energy and reverence for history. The enthusiasm is so infectious, I defy anyone not to be truly drawn in. It's not all ancient music though, as the excellent Tom Waits composition 'Trampled Rose' receives the Chocolate Drop treatment here as well. Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson began playing old-time music at farmers' markets and town squares in North Carolina but today you'll find them in the most revered performance spaces and festivals in America...and rightfully so!
Until this release, Mary Halvorson has been primarily known for her excellent guitar playing, but with this release she joins the ranks of the greatest jazz composers of the last several generations. This is the real deal folks, every aspect of this outing is superb. It's everything Jazz should be - inventive, challenging, funky, transporting, and magically irresistible. Stunning ensemble work and brave improvisation here make for one delightful piece of work !
Trampled By Turtles, 'Wait So Long'
Newgrass? Bluegrass revival? Jam Band? All of the above! Exciting music regardless of how we perceive it. The musicianship in Trampled By Turtles is astounding by any standard. Why not enjoy a video?
Brian Eno, Small Craft On A Milk Sea
In Brian Eno's words-
''The work in this collection is a result of an occasional collaboration between myself, Leo Abrahams and Jon Hopkins. The two of them are gifted young player/composers whose work, like mine, is intimately connected to the possibilities and freedoms of electronic music. Over the last few years we've worked together several times, enjoying exploring the huge new sonic territories now available to musicians. Mostly the pieces on this album resulted not from 'composition' in the classical sense, but from improvisation. The improvisations are not attempts to end up with a song, but rather with a landscape, a feeling of a place and perhaps the suggestion of an event. In a sense they deliberately lack 'personality': there is no singer, no narrator, no guide as to what you ought to be feeling. If these pieces had been used in films, the film would complete the picture. As they stand, they are the mirror-image of silent movies - sound-only movies.'' Eno's work is without peer, on a conceptual level there is nothing quite like it despite myraids of electronic music composers influenced by him.
Ben New, Collapsed Light
A veritable feast of selections sure to entertain and delight. The songs cycle through eclectic mixes with subject matter that deals with Captain Beefheart, Les Paul, Quantum Physics, Ancient Egypt, Dancing Zombies, Tequila, Romance, Death, Deep Space Spaghetti Westerns, and Nuclear Mayhem. It does so in a detached way allowing the listener to form their own experience of the music without being specifically led to conclusions by the compositions themselves.
I wrestled with including this, my own work, in a 'best of' list for pretty obvious reasons. But when I went to compile the 10 best I honestly found that most other candidates even though I may see them as among the best releases of the year, simply weren't on par with the Collapsed Light CD. So at the risk of being a self promoting hack, I decided despite my personal involvement, this release shouldn't be eliminated as a candidate either. I hope you'll agree. Have a listen here and if you like the music, enjoy a free download of some of the songs. Happy New Year all. Hope your 2011 is filled with conderable sounds!