My 2010 "Best So Far" List...

I'm not sure I necessarily believe in yearly "Best of" lists, although I do confess that I like to assess what I've been listening to against the NPR listener-generated Year's Best and staff-selected Year in Music lists.  Perhaps it's a function of my disorganization with respect to the year's releases, or perhaps it's that I don't approach music in a terribly linear chronological fashion.  All that being said, a lot of really cool music has been released in the first two months of 2010, and I thought I'd share my picks with the MMS audience.

I'm not going to say anything about Vampire Weekend's Contra or Surfer Blood's Astro Coast that someone hasn't already said, but I think both albums are worth a listen.  I will say that I think this is the album that Vampire Weekend was trying to make with their eponymous debut, which showed a tremendous amount of promise but ultimately fell a bit short.  Compared to the debut by their upstate compatriots Ra Ra Riot, Vampire Weekend felt flat and stifled by comparison.  Astro Coast is good, old-fashioned surf-inflected power guitar pop.

After hearing "You Must Be Out of Your Mind", I really wanted to like The Magnetic Fields' Realism, the final installment of their "no-synth" trilogy.  I'm an unapologetic defender of Stephin Merritt (against the likes of Jessica Hopper and Sasha Frere-Jones).  I just couldn't find any other tracks to love; to me, there was no "Come Back from San Francisco" to serve as the companion to "I Don't Want to Get Over You".  The album is, as always, beautifully arranged and lovingly executed, so I don't want to dissuade you from buying it if you've been a fan of their prior work.

One album about which I am very excited is Basia Bulat's Heart of My Own.  The Canadian neo-folkie with the dusky alto returns with another densely layered album, full of her recondite lyrics, soaring string arrangements and characteristic autoharp.  She'll be playing a show at Iota on March 23rd; I recommend you check her out.  I was there for her phenomenal show with Vandaveer at DC9 a few years ago.

Yeasayer's ODD BLOOD is also garnering a lot of positive press, and rightly so.  Their follow up to 2007's All Hour Cymbals shows them heading into the direction of danceable but experimental pop in the vein of Dirty Projectors and Brian Eno.  The percussion is still present, as are the strong vocals, but the world music focus of their prior album gives way to a more heavily synthesized sound.  I jokingly told a friend that Yeasayer had made the best 80s album of 2010, and I was only half-kidding.

While we're on the subject of eighties-inflected music, Four Tet's There is Love In You is absolutely stunning.  "Angel Echoes" is an early pick for Song of the Year.  Kieren Hebden is to electronic music as Nico Muhly is to classical, a talented young barbarian at the gates of tradition.

Albums I haven't listened to but intend to are Local Natives' Gorilla Manor, OK Go's Of the Blue Color of the Sky, The Knife's Tomorrow in a Year, and Adam Green's Minor Love.  The buzz about Local Natives is gathering, with an exclusive first listen on NPR and a SXSW set.  OK Go has produced not one, but two, of the most imaginative videos of the year for their single "This Too Shall Pass" (a la Weezer's "Island in the Sun").  The Knife's Dreijer siblings, who wrote the single "Heartbeat" popularized by Jose Gonzalez, return with an opera inspired by Darwin's On the Origin of Species.  And finally, former Moldy Peaches vocalist Green channels his inner Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg on his latest release.