As the decade lumbers to the finish line like an old, battered horse, the Blocland staff will spend 2019 embarking on a journey of years gone by. This month – the month we call February – we travel back to 2010. Wow, 2010! The year of … many things. Did we have the Internet back then? Who can even recall?! This decade’s felt like 100,000 road trips around the world. And now here are some of OUR favorite memories. It’s like we were in the backseat all along. Watching you.
Presenting Blocland’s Best Albums of 2010:
It all started here. On a Friday in late May, ten years into a new millennium, Tame Impala arrived fully formed. They made no bones about what they were going for; one look at the album cover and you know this is gonna be some psychedelic shit. What no one was prepared for was just how goddamn good an album it is. Frontman/The Tame Impala Dude Kevin Parker meticulously produced it, teasing and tweaking every little wave of dreamy delay, fuzzed out riff and harmonized vocals before handing the album over to be mixed by legendary Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. The sound ends up dancing between charmingly lo-fi and exquisitely refined.
Parker’s laid-back Aussie drawl brings to mind John Lennon and the album nods enough in the direction of the fab four (along with The Kinks, MC5 and basically any band that had a phaser pedal in the early 70s,) but it consistently feels fresh and exciting and it never falls prey to pastiche or retro vibe fetishism.
In their debut album, Tame Impala immediately established themselves as one of the best rock bands in the world with an energy and sound that could and would fill stadiums. Though I think most would say the band reached even greater heights with 2012’s Lonerism and 2015’s instant classic Currents, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear anyone say InnerSpeaker is their favorite. It’s a catchy, charming and kickass rock album that’s as powerful on the stereo as it is trippy with headphones. It’s a blast and truly rewards every listen.
– Saul Wright
It was the year after I graduated from University. I was living by myself in the city barely scraping by, and for the first time in my life I stopped going to church every week. I remember a few Sundays I would get dressed to go to church, get in the car, and instead park somewhere on the hillside and listen to Teen Dream.
In a time of my life when I was losing a source of spiritual experience, I found a new connection to ‘The Divine’ that in fact had always sort of been there. That’s music by the way, in case that wasn’t obvious. I was lucky enough to see Beach House perform in Park City during Sundance at a small club. I purposely distanced myself from the friends I came with. That turned out to be the wise choice.
I had a truly spiritual experience being lifted by Victoria’s powerful voice, the resonating bass pedal notes, and Alex’s crystalline guitar arpeggios. I succeeded in isolating myself from my surroundings and connecting with something bigger, an experience I used to find more commonly in church.
After releasing 2006’s Ashes Against the Grain, Agalloch entered the black metal equivalent of an imperial phase. With an unimpeachable catalogue that stretched back to 1999, they established themselves as leading purveyors that demanded respect for the Cascadian and American scenes as a whole. The Portland, Oregon band didn’t necessarily rewrite the book on black metal. Instead they possessed a deep understanding of the goals and feels laid out by Ulver, Windir and the rest of their Norwegian predecessors while offering up their own progressive take. It also helped that Agalloch outclassed every other band on virtually all musical fronts. The tremolo pick, blast beat, repeat format is still going strong, but Agalloch provided a necessary interruption where blistering dual guitar attacks met contemplative folk arrangements in complex yet highly melodic excursions. Agalloch were a band that only dealt in epics and in 2010 they went bigger and bolder than ever before.
Marrow of the Spirit’s defining characteristic is the sheer amount of music on display. “Into the Painted Grey” functions as a straight ahead blast beat rager with John Haughm and Don Anderson weaving together an absurdly rich tapestry of guitar harmonies and leads. “Watcher’s Monolith” demonstrates the restraint in Agalloch’s compositional maximalism while working in classical-tinged piano. The seventeen and half minute “Black Lake Niðstång” may just be the most cinematic black metal has ever been. With its Spanish guitar figures, pained cleans, and droning soundscape, it serves as the perfect centerpiece for a record of this magnitude. Even the field recordings sprinkled throughout were treated with enough care and consideration to fully capture the seasonal change just as the thaw takes hold. What’s most striking about Spirit nine years later is how much ground it manages to cover without straying very far from black metal aesthetics and formulas – something that’s unheard of in 2019’s post-everything world. This is a set of songs that pledge allegiance to Darkthrone while possessing the same ambitions found on Animals or In the Court of the Crimson King.
Spirit’s legacy lies in the way it immediately dominated the conversation and became the center that all underground metal revolved around in 2010 and ensuing years – again, something that’s unheard of in 2019’s post-consensus world. Agalloch broke up in 2016 making the lyric “For when I die the universe will die with me” seem almost prescient. Of course black metal would forge ahead with new sounds and new ideas, but it isn’t over dramatic to say an invaluable piece was lost. We may never see anyone like them again but would that be such a bad thing? To dwell on the break up any longer would be to miss the point of the band and album entirely. Today Marrow of the Spirit serves as a reminder of the ambition the U.S. scene is indebted to and the boundless potential still rustling within black metal.
– Lobster Man
No one’s tried to recreate Halcyon Digest, and no one ever will. It would be foolish to try and replicate the pure indie-rock bliss on display here. In that sense it’s kind of like Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, standing alone as a weird, beautiful anomaly in a musical landscape of copycats and trendy sub-genres. Hell, even MBDTF falls into this category. Maybe that’s why these albums are timeless.
What makes this album so different/special? It was a startling reinvention when it came out – the band’s low-fi, instrumentally dense sound mixed with spacey and blissful psychadelic wandering – but it also has those very Deerhunter qualities that can’t be replicated. I.e. on “Revival” how the band sounds like it’s being dragged through the mud as it records, or Bradford Cox’s silky stream-of-consciousness croon that glides undaunted over any kind of production thrown his way.
The album ebbs and flows, its sequencing perfect. Spacey opener “Earthquake” and tender, dazzling “Helicopter” frame a journey that crests spectacularly in “Desire Lines.” Goddamn, this track doesn’t have any right to be this good; the production is clean, the chord progression simple, the lyrics banal. But it is one of the greatest songs of the ‘10s. Don’t argue.
“Helicopter” would have been a fabulous penitulmate track – slap on the upbeat “Coronado” as the closer and you’ve got a classic – but who could imagine Halcyon without “He Would Have Laughed”? It has an epilogue-quality and psychedelic groove that has you walk away smiling wistfully. But why would you walk away when you can just hit repeat?
The following was written by me in 2010. I could write a review about SALEM now with the hindsight of an entire decade, but I think it’s more valuable to correctly express how I felt about this album when it came out. Minor changes have been made for readability in 2019.
– Raptor Jesus
“Nah, I ain’t tryna look bad… Nah.”
Why do I think SALEM crafted the best album of 2010? The answer is simple: Newness.
I remember in 2004 when I first heard of a band called TV On The Radio. Critics everywhere repeated the same description: There is nothing else like them. Of course, back in 2004, we didn’t suffer from the problem where a new band with a new sound gets a shitty new genre that it can be categorized in. Unfortunately, SALEM suffered hard from being pioneers of a genre dubbed “witch house” or “drag” – whatever the fuck that means.
For the remainder of this write-up I refuse to acknowledge genre. Genres are man made inventions and never intended by musicians. Genres are a means to assist communication of music, to assist in describing music to others; a way to group up similar bands to assist in the age old musical discovery method of “If you like this band, you’ll also like this band.” But bands like SALEM can’t benefit from this, they have to be taken aside and addressed on their own terms, which is a major reason why I think this album is one of 2010’s greatest gifts.
Of course the album definitely does stir up comparisons to some musical touchstones. Chopped and screwed Houston rap, shoegaze, even 2010 newcomers Sleigh Bells. But even after you’ve identified what it sort of sounds like, how SALEM end up executing King Night is something else entirely.
It opens with the title track, aptly enough, and is without a doubt the best song on this album. This is a fitting move, because if any casual listener puts on this album and this apocalyptic opening track that samples “O Holy Night” doesn’t win you over, nothing on this album will. Because once “King Night” (the song) finishes, it’s down the rabbit hole we go.
“King Night” sets the aesthetic for SALEM: clicking drum ticks that tap along at Aphex Twin-like pacing, always changing and even unpredictable after dozens of listens (trust me). Supporting these clicks are big synth washes with ascending and more often descending melodies. And then of course the bass. I mean, THE BASS. BIG BASS.
Then there are the vocals. SALEM vocals oscillate between its three members – Jack, John and Heather. Heather provides the angelic croon over classics like “Frost” and “Redlights”. These were also earlier Salem singles that got everyone’s attention, and I think what everyone was expecting from the album. But then you have Jack, thug rapping Jack, taking the chopped and screwed sound where nobody ever thought it would go. I feel that Jack plays the role of Satan on this album. That dark, brooding beast uttering phrases that summon up disturbing images (on “Sick”) or short-attention spanned boredom (on “Trapdoor”). Jack also provides SALEM with what many other listeners cite as its downfall. They don’t like that this white dude is rapping next to this girl with an angelic croon.
But almost as if they realize how even a mere three songs could swing the balance of this record off the scales, lead maestro John Holland swoops in with SALEM’s most assured songs. Centerpiece “Release Da Boar” and B-side standout “Hound” hunker down and dig as deep into SALEM’s self-made aesthetic as humanly possible. “Release Da Boar” has sampled voices uttering at the beginning “Whatever happens, happens”, a subtle but revealing glimpse into SALEM’s outlook on life in the Midwest. “Hound” explores the unpredictable beat schematic all the way into nothingness before blowing back up stronger than ever. But then John finds his way to a microphone for what can only be described as one of the greatest musical feats in 2010: “Killer”. Before I got a hold of this album I wondered how they could possibly close an album that opens with a song like “King Night”. “Killer” is that song, with John’s vocals lazily refusing to sing any higher, but uses the music to lift his admittance here at the end “I’ve got miles and miles to go.” Bravery is something rare in music, and this is the one album in recent memory where I feel the creators are brave souls daring to try something new.
Overall, this is a religious album. It is SALEM’s self-made religion. These are the sounds of three Midwestern deadbeats approaching music as their only savior and together crafting an album that will at the very least give those three members a sense of unparalleled importance. They can now go on in life knowing that no matter what anybody thinks, they’ve made an album that will live on and stand on its own, high and mighty, like the cross on the album cover. The real beauty is that some of us did notice, and the only thing those of us could say to SALEM is the exact same thing they say to us in the first 10 seconds of their album: “I Love You.”
A little joke about this one. We like to call it Uni because around the offices here at Blocland it’s the unanimous favorite all time album. We all adore it.
Not only is it the subjectively best album it is also the objectively best album. Little joke around the office is that we call er the ole 1-2 because of this. We all love to have fun.
The interlude is the only song that hasn’t been a favorite from this album. There was a long time that is was Runaway but now it’s a toss up between Gorgeous and Devil in a New Dress. I do like Blame Game and it helped get me into Aphex Twin.
Fun fact! This album was recorded in our 51st state AKA Hawaii.
CyHi da (or the. Not looking! I have a deadline and Colin has threatened my body if I do not meet it!) Prince is on the album. What a find Kanye!
Everyone still loves Kanye which is great. This is the album that really catapulted him into #1 Greatest Artist All Time.
This is the album 21 year old Doris needed in her young nubile life at the time. This album provided a consistent comfort when I had little of that at the time. My penis and mind may change but this album never will.
Nine years later I can still put this album on and feel those feelings of comfort, joy, hope and wonder. I’m only 30 but it seems the weight of existence grows heavier with each year and those feelings have become more difficult to muster. Kanye has my back.
I don’t really want to look to deep into who I was when this album came out (hint: yikes) which is where this has started to go. So I’m going to leave with another cool trivia fact.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s original run time was 1 hour and 33 minutes but was cut down because that’s too long. Everyone agreed about that one.
– Doris, the Editor-in-Chief