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Counting down the year's best music
A lot of thought went into creating a top ten list of the year’s best music. But obviously not everyone agrees.
So, for the next week, NOW will be posting top ten lists from all our individual music writers – all the different opinions that went into creating that master list. Watch NOW Daily for a new list every day.
1. GIRLS Broken Dreams Club (True Panther/Matador)
Even though this EP is only Girls’ second release, they already feel like a reliable older act. Instead of chasing their 15 minutes with fashionable and inappropriate dance remixes of their first album, Girls release an even stronger collection of songs with that timeless, heartbreaking quality for which we’ve come to love them.
2. ABE VIGODA Crush (Bella Union/Post Present Medium)
While contemporary purveyors of tropical punk like Vampire Weekend have rocketed to stadium-sized success, Abe Vigoda remain off the radar. That’s disappointing yet has also allows their sound to percolate and resurface as a much darker and more intricate take on their chaotic, dissonant compositions. Crush seems slept on still, so hopefully these guys get a little of the spotlight in 2011.
3. ZOLA JESUS Stridulum EP (Sacred Bones)
Citing both Diamanda Galas and the Residents as main influences on her work, Zola Jesus makes for an unlikely candidate as a pop musician. This year’s Stridulum EP saw her move in a more positive and reflective direction than on her prior releases. Nika Roza Danilova sounds confident and focused on this anthemic collection of synth pop gems, and has me looking forward to a full-length in 2011.
4. HOW TO DRESS WELL Love Remains (Lefse)
Sometimes some of the best bands have the worst names. Such is the case with How to Dress Well. That aside, Tom Krell emerged from the blogo-sphere this year with his harshly lo-fi but still sexy take on R&B. There’s something incredibly dark and mysterious about his love-me-down jams, and his music is full of contradictions – which is a part of the appeal.
5. WYRD VISIONS/CASTLEMUSIC Sing My Boat/Voice Of God (Blue Fog)
Even though it’s only two tracks, this EP from these low-key locals is totally epic. Wyrd Visions manage to make folk music futuristic. Jennifer Castle is hypnotic and comes off like a mysterious, wizened mother. This EP is a total treat that leaves me begging greedily for more.
6. CHINAWOMAN Show Me The Face (independent)
Last year a Polish visitor asked me if I knew a local artist he was obsessed with called Chinawoman. Thank god he did, because I ended up discovering one of Toronto’s best kept secrets. Chinawoman’s second self-released full-length record, a collection of her takes on Russian ballroom waltzes, is mysterious, twisted and lush. Show Me The Face will have you baffled at how this woman’s music could possibly remain unknown right here in our own city. Any recognition’s too little, too late – rumour has it she’s recently shipped off to Berlin to do her tough-girl Euro?pop thing there for a while.
7. AUSTA The Beat And The Pulse (One Big Silence)
It’s really exciting to see Katie Stelmanis take this drastic turn with her unique dark pop music. She’s now under the moniker of Austra and with a band in tow, and the new songs sound poised for giant dance floors. The Beat And The Pulse seems like a huge Euro-flavoured dance hit, fit for gay circuit parties or hipster hangouts. Her vocals take these songs to the next level of dance anthem, without the overbearing effect they sometimes had on her earlier singer/songwriter work. Seeing her play live at the Bovine a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help feeling that we’d be seeing her in much larger venues sooner than we think.
8. DENTATA (self released CDR)
I must have seen Dentata, a group of newly 20-something rockers, play 100 times in 2010, usually in dingy punk clubs or musty basements rather than popular venues. Every time the band seemed to be having more fun than anyone in the audience, whether they played for three people or a crowded room. Their sound is reminiscent of early Hole records meets DIY Sabbath, with some of the fuzzy freak-outs of Sonic Youth. I was lucky enough to get a copy of this CDR-only album recorded in their practice space, and it got more play than most “real” records I acquired this year. Dentata have just completed recording their first full-length with Blue Fog, which should be out early next year.
9. BONJAY Broughtupsy (Mysteries of Trade)
Toronto’s Bonjay have up to this point been somewhat unfairly labelled simply as a dancehall act. On their new EP, Alanna Stuart, who also plays with Everything All the Time, reveals the true range of her vocal abilities. One minute she’s club-diva vocalist, the next spitting lyrics with fury, all the while littering the tracks with strange experimental vocal undertones as well as giant pop hooks. Sure, they excel at big, sexy dancehall vibes (and Broughtupsy has plenty of them), but Bonjay have a unique take on club beats. These guys have a much wider variety of influences, and lots more to reveal in 2011.
10. BLONDE REDHEAD Penny Sparkle (4AD)
Although Penny Sparkle was widely panned by critics, it slowly worked its magic on me. I admit upon my first listen I asked some NYC friends to check in on the band, fearing they may have overdosed on some sort of coma-inducing narcotic. It’s the type of album that makes you wish you had time to lie around stoned out of your mind and dreaming without noticing the sun coming up or going down. The band worked with the same production team as Fever Ray, and the album is cryptic and minimal, to say the least. Tiny textures and rhythms are concealed beneath its surface, as if it were Blonde Redhead’s take on Björk’s Vespertine. Standout track Black Guitar is one of the band’s creepiest and most beautiful duets to date.