Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Year In Disappointments

As the world begins to assemble top ten lists and look back over the year in music, I find myself thinking about those moments in the past 11 months where my excitement turned to disappointment upon hearing an anticipated record. 

1. Goldfrapp - Head First. After three wonderful records filled with high-impact analogue synths, whomping beats and gorgeous melodies, the duo took a breather with Seventh Tree in 2008. It brought acoustic sounds into the mix and, though controversial among some critics, it was a fine extension of their sound. It also made me curious to see where they would head on the next album. My anticipation was high enough that, if not for Lala (RIP - another disappointment!), I would have just bought it. So glad I didn't. One thing the world does not need is another tinny ABBA-influenced electro-pop record, even one featuring the gleaming soprano of Alison Goldfrapp. There was none of the roof-rattling power or hypnotic rhythms of their previous work. And now they've been nominated for two Grammy awards, which may only make it harder for them to find their artistic compass again.  

2. Efterklang - Magic Chairs. Their album Parades was a fascinating and precious discovery of 2007. It was modern chamber music married to a quirky pop aesthetic that seemed both completely Danish and completely otherworldly. Tripper, their debut, included some glitchy electro in the mix and was also beautiful if slightly unformed. Magic Chairs seems to be a bid for wider acceptance, with solo vocals pushed forward in place of the choral approach of their previous albums. The songs are more linear and spacious and, ultimately, more ordinary. Next!

3. The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers. While I might be somewhat lonely in my devotion to In A Safe Place, I am devoted. Like a stainless steel chair with warm wood accents, the music gleams with a high-tech surface surrounding an organic center, creating an experience that overlaps with both the best of Eno's ambient records and the enveloping folk of a Nick Drake. On the new album, Jimmy LaValle has put that chair in the closet and replaced it with one made entirely of plastic. Every beat of the bass drum intrudes like a Twinkie at Per Se and the songs are flat and lifeless.

4. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening. Swimming against the tide here. Sound Of Silver was simply fantastic - all of the best of James Murphy's many talents in one place - warmth, wit, barbed affection for, well, everything, and music that backed up all the attitude with melody and funk. This new one strikes me as simply a tired re-hash. I mean really - Drunk Girls? You Wanted A Hit? This is taking self-parody to a new low. And All I Want was a Bowie rip that showed how far Murphy needs to go in the studio to approach the mastery of a Tony Visconti or a Brian Eno. If this is indeed the last LCD album, it's a sorry way to go out.

Good to get that off my chest before discussing the best music of the year! 

Note: my best of the year lists will be coming between Christmas and New Year's. I realize that many lists are already out there but I would rather not make a final decision on what the best of the 2010 is while there are still weeks to go in the year. Cheers.

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