Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Freshman Class: Best Debut's of 2010

Every year a new handful of bands and artists arise from obscurity. Some will find many years of critical claim or commercial success and others will disappear into the haze of the unknown. This is my list of 2010’s best debut acts, and although the future is uncertain for these freshman, their recent successes may just tip the scale in their favor.


Surfer Blood

Florida natives were the first indie stars to make their debut in the new year, and gained critical acclaim with ‘Astro Coast’. The band’s first single ‘Swim’ was an anthemic tune that sounds like it belongs at a sports game, “Swim until you reach the end!” It’s their second song, a combination of lead singer’s John Paul Pitt’s unique, throwback voice and the simple harmonic melody that sells Surfer Blood as one of the top debuts of the year. Surfer Blood is almost definitely going to become one of those bands where everyone knows the songs, but may not quite know who it is sung by.


Marina & the Diamonds

I first heard of Marina & the Diamonds aka Marina Diamandis at Camden Crawl in 2009. When she released her debut album, ‘The Family Jewels,’ I was skeptical. How many more UK pop stars can we take? Marina & the Diamonds, doesn’t that sounds a little bit too much like Florence & the Machine? However, Marina’s voice validates her talent and songs like Mowgli’s Road, a song based on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book,’ makes her case as a brilliant songwriter. ‘I Am Not a Robot,’ her third single from the album, encompasses a range of different styles and sounds, something Marina is very talented at doing. Marina’s powerful presence and unique voice may be a little too much for mainstream pop, but she has definitely found her place in the indie-pop genre.


Two Door Cinema Club

Two Door Cinema’s club “I Can Talk” was an infectious alternative hit off their album ‘Tourist History,’ but it was after ‘Something Good Can Work’ that made the listener realize how much range in sound and style Two Door Cinema Club have. Hailing from Northern Ireland, these three boys create the perfect type of UK based indie rock, not seen since the days of the Fratellis and the Wombats. ‘Something Good Can Work’ is the kind of song you wish the DJ would play at a nightclub, infectious, catchy, and easily danceable.


Freelance Whales

Freelance Whales seemingly came out of nowhere with their album ‘Weathervanes,’ but in fact, the band got their start busking around New York City. If Ben Gibbard’s Postal Service decided to blend a little more indie and a dash of folk, Freelance Whales would be the result. Hit single, ‘Hannah’ is sung fast and the lyrics are seemingly nonsensical, but really tells the story of a girl who doesn’t quite know where she is, impressive for a band that is less than two years old.


Sleigh Bells

What do you get when you combine the ex-member of a 90’s teen pop girl band with an ex-member of a hardcore rock band? Sleigh Bells is your answer, and they are going to be one those bands people either love or hate. Described as ‘noise-pop’ Sleigh Bell’s intense melodies are in your face and almost overwhelming. However, no one can deny the amount of talent that had to go into the production of ‘Treats’ and the fascination of the blend of sounds created by Derek Miller and sung with Alexis Krauss’ unique voice. Both singles, ‘Tell Em’ and ‘Infinity Guitars’ and stripped down while being complex all at once.


The Drums

Probably the best debut album of the year, The Drums are another example of recent indie rock genius. Although I am not the first person to say this, The Drums sound like Joy Division trying to sing Beach Boy’s songs, and it works! ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ was the perfect summer tune to remind the all the kids stuck in the mid west how great the beach really is. ‘Me and the Moon,’ taking on a more serious subject, shows that the band can also create a mature composition. Although the Drums have lost members on their way to stardom, their ability to keep together may just prove the bands longevity.


Best Coast

California cutie Bethany Cosentino and the rest of Best Coast made their 2010 debut with ‘Crazy for You’ and easily marked the return of low-key west coast surf music. Cosentino and boyfriend Nathan Williams of the band Wavves were voted Rolling Stone’s hottest couple of 2010. The first track off the album ‘Boyfriend’ was a simple in your face tune, but their second hit ‘Crazy for You’ was the perfect late summer beach hit. Costentino’s bubbly personality and west coast sound has earned Best Coast a large celebrity following and their simple acoustic summer sound never goes out of style.


Everything Everything

The BBC may have predicted their success in December of 2009, but on my radar they came out of nowhere. These UK natives sound like a throwback indie band mixed in with modern electropop. The album is full of possible hits including QWERTY finger, Suffragette Suffragette, MY KZ, UR BF, and their latest single Photoshop Handsome and combined make ‘Man Alive’ the most unique album of 2010. The album manages to be both experimental and poppy at the same time while also being a staple of good songwriting. The video for Photoshop Handsome is also rather impressive for a band’s debut album.



Fenech-Soler definitely win the award for hardest band name to pronounce, but they are also probably one of this biggest buzz bands of the year. Echoing former UK new rave artists, Fenech-Soler are the latest addition to electropop groups such as Pendulum and Groove Armada. Singer Ben Duffy even lent his vocals on Groove Armada’s latest single, ‘Paper Romance.’ Like Pendulum, the vocals and the intense hooks make the music almost overwhelming, but are easily floor fillers as well. Don’t expect this band to disappear any time soon, they are releasing new singles off their self-titled debut well into the new year.


Ou Est Le Swimming Pool

The music community experienced a tragedy at Belgium music festival Pukkelpop with the loss of Ou Est Le Swimming Pool lead singer Charles Haddon. Upset after injuring a girl during a performance, Haddon ended his own life by jumping off of a satellite tower in front of hundreds of several shocked onlookers. Despite this horrible event, I saw all Ou Est Le Swimming Pool had to offer at Isle of Wight’s Bestival in 2009. I knew even then that catchy ‘Dance the Way I Feel’ would be an infectious hit basically impossible to resist. ‘The Key,’ the newest single from their debut album ‘The Golden Year’ is an ambitious record full of heavy synth pop hooks, a perfect example of the path the band were heading down. Whether Ou Est Le Swimming Pool will become a duo, replace their lost member, or disband remains up in the air, but if Haddon hadn’t ended his life far too soon, this band would have had a lot to offer.


I Blame Coco

Sting’s daughter, Coco Sumner, makes another one of my end of the year lists. Whether her success is based on her famous dad, or her own individual skill is up in the air, but 2010 gave her the perfect opportunity to show off what she had to offer. A synth pop princess, Coco shared her vocals with Sub Focus and even released a few hits of her own with ‘Self Machine’ and ‘In Spirit Golden.’

Honorable Mention


December is a slow month for music, most artists wait until mid-January to release new material, so this space will go to mentioning the biggest trend in music to arise from 2010. Dubstep, a UK dance music genre that bases its roots in Croydon, made it mainstream in 2010. Magnetic Man, the first dubstep super group including genre founder Skream, Benga, and Artwork released their self-titled debut in October. Single ‘Perfect Stanger’ included vocals from Katy B, who had her own dubstep hit with ‘Katy on a Mission.’ However, it was Rusko’s release of ‘O.M.G.’ in May of this year that really put the genre on the map. Hit single ‘Woo Boost’ was very much the dance single of the year and his work with fellow artist Caspa is what put him on the map. Although Rusko is currently working on the production aspect of his career, even working on tracks for Britney Spear’s next album, let’s hope this dubstep DJ doesn’t leave us for too long.

My 2010 Playlist Part II

1. Take It Easy-Surfer Blood
2. Mowgli’s Road-Marina & the Diamonds
3. Something Good Can Work-Two Door Cinema Club
4. Hannah-Freelance Whales
5. Infinity Guitars-Sleigh Bells
6. Me and the Moon- The Drums
7. Crazy for You-Best Coast
8. Photoshop Handsome-Everything Everything
9. Lies-Fenech Soler
10. The Key-Oe Est Le Swimming Pool
11. In Spirit Golden-I Blame Coco
12. Woo Boost-Rusko

Best Albums of 2010

I have always been a fan of albums. Some may say that albums don’t matter anymore, its all about singles, but the album is the work of art, the outcome of an artist’s hard work and agility. The album gives the artist a chance to tell a story, to create something meaningful, and to create a cultural impact on the world.

2010 produced many great albums, enough to counter the argument that the album medium is dead. Most end of the year ‘best albums’ lists count down or count up from best to worst, but in order to break the mold and to narrow down my choices, I have decided to list my favorite albums of the year by picking my favorite album of every month.


Vampire Weekend-Contra

As a famous 80’s icon once said, Vampire Weekend just want to have fun (or something similar). Indeed, their first release from the album ‘Cousins’, was an upbeat, fast-paced, whimsical song that really didn’t have much substance. It wasn’t until the groundbreaking ‘Giving up the Gun’ that I knew this album was very good. The song is packed full of powerful lyrics, “but if the chance remained, to see those better days, I’d put the cannons down,” is only one example. The album contains the best of the old, the African guitar rifts and unique drum beats, but includes new electronic sounds and studio tricks. The album has spawned several hits including ‘Horchata,’ ‘White Sky,’ ‘Run,’ and even the holiday hit ‘Holiday.


Yeasayer-Odd Blood

Yeasayer’s debut album ‘All Hour Cymbals’ is a very experimental 11 track album, that, frankly, sounds like background music. The fact that the same band could, 3 years later, create something like ‘Odd Blood’ is amazing. ‘Ambling Alp,’ a song that tells the story of boxing legend Joe Louis and his bouts with famous boxers such as Primo Carnera (nicknamed the Ambling Alp) and Max Schmelling is nothing short of genius. Although the story may apply to Mr. Louis, anyone can relate to such lyrics as ‘Now the world can be an unfair place at times, but your lows will have their complement of highs, and if anyone should cheat you, take advantage of, or beat you, raise your head and wear your wounds with pride.’ Their compilation of instruments and exotic, foreign feel make Yeasayer one of the most talked about bands of 2010.


Gorillaz-Plastic Beach

Damon Albarn’s virtual animated project Gorillaz released their third album in 2010 and it marked Albarn’s most successful foray in the United State’s music industry. The concept band become even more conceptual with Plastic Beach by following in the footsteps of greats before them and by packing the album full of talent to create their best album yet. The imagery in ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ would give John Steinbeck a run for his money. The song boldly starts with ‘I’m a scary gargoyle on a tower,’ and floats through a series of vague observations that are powerful enough to bring the listener into their own world. The intro to ‘On Melancholy Hill’ is the kind of hook that will become a timeless fixture in pop culture and who could resist a lyric like ‘cause your my medicine when your close to me,’?


Plan B-The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Now my American readers will probably be scratching their heads about this one, but Plan B, also known Ben Drew is a UK rapper turned soul artist whose second studio album went straight to number one in Britain. The album tells the story of Strickland Banks, a famous singer convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. The songs follow Strickland’s time in prison and his subsequent personality change as he attempts to cope with prison life. Not only artistic, but a foray into the psychological, Plan B also manages to create a unified album where the individual songs also manage to stand out on their own. For a rapper, Plan B’s soul singing is melodically sweet and stands up to the giants of soul.


Black Keys-Brothers

The minute ‘Tighten Up’ comes on the speakers, I can’t help but get excited. There has not been an album this good in a long time. The album marks the Black Keys graduating from blues rock connoisseurs to rock n’ roll superstars. Dan Auerbach and Pat Carny present an album that is radio friendly, but doesn’t give up the raw sound of their instruments or the realism of their lyrics, ‘Living just to keep going, going just to be sane, all the while I know it’s such a shame.’ Its a throwback, but modern at the same time. ‘Howlin for You’ sounds like it came right out of 1950’s Memphis, just pure simple Blues. The Black Keys give the world a reason to get excited about music again.


We Are Scientists-Barbara

California duo We Are Scientists return to the world of music in 2010 with Barbara after a foray into the world of mini-television series. At the end of 2009, We Are Scientists wrote and starred in ‘Steve Wants His Money’ to show off their comedic sides that their fans have come to know so well. Barbara is a return to the fast-paced indie rock that gained them so much popularity in the first place. The album produced perfect summer hits such as ‘Nice Guys’, ‘Rules Don’t Stop,’ and ‘I Don’t Bite,’ that were sure to please.


Mystery Jets-Serotonin

Twickenham locals, the Mystery Jets, released their follow up to 2008’s hit ‘Twenty One.’ Although they are still a brilliant blend of perfect indie pop, Serotonin is an album that has been aged to maturity. Hits such as ‘Dreaming of Another World’ and ‘Show Me the Light’ are easy sing a long songs, but show an evolution from previous hits. “Just try, try to spread the sky. Only once, once before you die. Do something that will make your mother cry.” Quite a bit darker than ‘Half in Love with Elizabeth.’


Arcade Fire-The Suburbs

Arcade Fire brought out their most ambitious album yet and at the same time its pop genius. The album describes suburban life and the conflict between boredom and ambition that comes with it. The album deals with the hardships of the modern world and conflicts that go beyond simple love stories. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ is a beautiful, anthemic synth pop tune that sounds like Depeche Mode if they had a female singer. Single ‘Ready to Start’ brought us genius lyrics such as ‘All the kids have always known, that the emperor wears no clothes, but to bow to down to them anyway is better than to be alone.’ Hit song ‘We Used to Wait’ also generated the Wilderness Downtown, a music video, directed by Spike Jonze, that includes images, using Google street view, of the home the viewer grew up in.


Mark Ronson & the Business International-Record Collection

Mark Ronson’s new project, the Business International, is Mark Ronson working from his comfort zone. Made famous by his eclectic producing and many collaborations, Ronson doesn’t let any of his fans down with this album. Each track has hit single potential and many of his songs have already gotten radio play in the UK; Bang Bang Bang, The Bike Song, and Somebody to Love. Each song includes a blend of UK pop stars including, Q-Tip, MNDR, Kyle Falconer (the View), Spank Rock, Boy George, and Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow). Mark Ronson manages to create a throwback pop album that doesn’t manage to become over produced.


Kings of Leon-Come Around Sundown

It may feel like, these days, Kings of Leon have betrayed their indie roots. They sell out massive stadiums in the United States, become divas and refuse to play just because of a few pigeons. Their first hit, Radioactive, is nowhere near up to par as their previous material, but take a closer look at the rest of the album and the old Kings of Leon begin to emerge. Their second single, Pyro, is a much better signal of the evolution that Kings of Leon have experienced between the previous albums. Kings of Leon should be a win for the indie community so hopefully they get their attitude in check and continue to educate the main stream masses.


I Blame Coco-The Constant

Eliot Sumner, also known as Coco Sumner or even I Blame Coco is the daughter of famed musician Sting of the Police. Coco Sumner is now a musician in her own right with the release of The Constant in November. First single, ‘Selfmachine’ was a summer hit, but fans had to wait ages to hear the follow up. Coco’s unique voice and synth pop sound returned to us in November with an album release and ‘In Spirit Golden.’ The UK is bringing out a lot of talented pop stars, most of whom are not even drinking age in the United States, and Coco Sumner breathes the kind if electro pop that has become to popular in the last few years.


Daft Punk-Tron Legacy Soundtrack

French electro pioneers, Daft Punk, return to the world of music after more than five years with out a studio album. Although their latest release is meant to be the soundtrack of a movie far less superior than its background music, it still shows Daft Punk’s uncanny ability to create great beats. Although Rolling Stone gave it a bad review for being too ‘Hans Zimmer.’ However much we would have all liked to see a real album from the duo, Daft Punk set out to create a score, not a dance album and as a score it is brilliant. Daft Punk manage to create sound that creates an image, the mark of true artist.

My 2010 Playlist

1. Giving Up the Gun-Vampire Weekend
2. Ambling Alp-Yeasayer
3. Rhinestone Eyes-Gorillaz
4. She Said-Plan B
5. Tighten Up-Black Keys
6. Rules Don’t Stop-We Are Scientists
7. Show Me the Light-Mystery Jets
8. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
9. The Bike Song-Mark Ronson & the Business International
10.Pyro-Kings of Leon
11. Self Machine-I Blame Coco
12. Derezzed-Daft Punk

Best Christmas Songs of 2010

A quick Christmas present to all my readers, a last minute addition to your Christmas play lists. Here is a list of the best Christmas songs to come out this year.

6.Wish List-Neon Trees

A fun pop song with a heavy guitar rift and irresistible lyrics. What more could you ask for?

5.Christmas Was Better in the 80's-Futureheads

The Futurehead's signature Sunderland accents sing a punk rock song about Christmas past.

4. Christmas Lights-Coldplay

Nothing says Christmas like Chris Martin's melodic voice over the piano. Do you think Martin is a Vince Guaraldi fan? This song sounds like it could have been in a Charlie Brown Christmas special.

3. Mistletoe-Jukebox the Ghost

Jukebox have a way of putting serious lyrics against light-hearted music. Who knew contrast worked so well?

2. Holiday-Vampire Weekend

Honda agrees with me.

1. Getting Ready for Christmas Day-Paul Simon

Paul Simon doesn't disappoint with his new Christmas single, indeed it could be the best seasonal song since John Lennon's 'Happy Christmas.' With a similar theme and style, the song is based on a 1941 sermon given by the Rev. J.M. Gates and is hopefully a sign of Simon material to come.

Top 5 Live Shows of 2010

It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means! End of the year lists! Over the next couple months, before my return to the United Kingdom, I’ll treat all of my readers to several list based articles for your reading pleasure. The first of these gifts is the best live shows I have seen this year.

5. fun.

Can an indie band be a super group?

Andrew Dost of fun. didn’t seem to think so, but they sure do make a strong case for it. With members hailing from Steel Train and the Format, fun. are an indie dance band that had a sold-out Saint Louis crowd in a sweat. The band added the lower the case f and the period to lower expectations of the band, but this light-hearted band deserve to be taken seriously. The harmonies from their hit single ‘All the Pretty the Girls,’ hail back to the days of the Beach Boys and the Beatles, absolutely brilliant. In ‘Walking the Dog,’ upbeat Nat Ruess’ vocals may sound upbeat, but he remorses, “I guess I will never know where all the boys of summer will go, but I’ll miss what we made, all the days were not wasted. There are some things I may never know.” Melancholy lyrics, for a band that had the crowd in a dance frenzy, not to mention a subtle nod to some rock heroes that came before them a great example of how fun. are a combination of old and new.

Check out my interview with fun.’s Andrew Dost.

4. Jukebox the Ghost

Jukebox the Ghost have been on my radar since the beginning of 2009, and could probably win an award for the hardest working band in the business. Constant touring in the U.S. and Europe, not to mention recording a new album, has kept them plenty busy. Their live shows usually come with some great covers including Ace of Base’s ‘It’s a Beautiful Life,’ New Order, or even Side B of the Beatle’s Abbey Road. Not that they need covers to get the crowd excited, their audience usually know all of the lyrics and are happy to sing along with Jukebox the Ghost’s upbeat and whimsical harmonies. 2010 was a good year for the band. They released their second album, “Everything Under the Sun” in September, they had a slot a Lollapalooza, one of the most popular music festivals in the world, they opened for 90’s legends the Barenaked Ladies, and even made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman performing ‘Schizophrenia.’

3. We Are Scientists

We Are Scientists may have originated in California, but their style of music and sense of humor seem to fit them right in with UK culture. At the end of 2009, We Are Scientists

created and starred in a mini-television series called ‘Steve Wants His Money’, and for those who didn’t already know, the duo got to show off their comedic and creative side. In June, We Are Scientists released their fourth studio album ‘Barbara’ and showed that their talents are cross-continental. Their three singles ‘Nice Guys’, ‘Rules Don’t Stop’, and ‘I Don’t Bite,’ are the type of songs that are perfect to sing along, bordering on anthemic, but are still very craftily written pop songs. Their U.S. shows did not get near the credit or promotion that they deserved. Intertwined within their great repertoire, the duo’s clever and humorous personalities shine which makes them one of best live acts of the modern music world.

Check out my interview with We Are Scientists.

2. Kele

Saying Kele was one of the best live shows of 2010 is a bit misleading, because he didn’t do it alone. It was the Nylon Magazine’s Fall U.S. tour that put together one of best shows of the year. Dance aficionados Innerpartysystem, started out the night and between their hard bass and their crazy light shows, turned hipster Webster Hall into a raver’s paradise. Does It Offend You, Yeah? were second up and although are normally an electic mix of indie rock and electronic music, went purely electro for this show as their lead singer was out sick. It didn’t seem to matter, however, because anyone who wasn’t worked up after Innerpartysystem, couldn’t help but dance to Does It Offend You, Yeah? Finally, Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke headlined the event, and kept everyone in the crowd happy. For those who had no idea Kele had gone solo, they were treated to Bloc Party’s best repertoire and for the‘new fans’ he pla

yed his UK hits ‘Tenderoni’ and ‘Everything You Wanted.’ It was one of those perfect nights where the lineup, the venue, and the energy were all in sync.

1. Roger Waters

I don’t know if I can express anymore how perfect Roger Water’s production of the Wall really is. Only calling it a live show doesn’t seem to sufficiently explain how amazing and how much effort was put into this project. This show was Water’s vision of the Wall that Pink Floyd could never convey because the technology of time didn’t agree with them and the movie failed to create the same message . The show features live, larger than life puppeteering, mind-blowing productions, and amazing sound quality that brings the album to animation right before the audience’s eyes. During the show, I experienced every emotion in the spectrum, it has its light-hearted moments, its terribly depressing times, and even anger-inducing occasions. Nothing I can say can adequately describe the experience that is ‘The Wall,’ so instead, I urge everyone (I know the tickets are pricey, but worth it) to see the show.

Stay tuned for more list based articles and more analysis of 2010 in music.

Play List

1. Walking the Dog-fun.

2. Empire-Jukebox the Ghost

3. Rules Don't Stop Me-We Are Scientists

4. Everything You Wanted-Kele

5. Goodbye Blue Sky-Pink Floyd