Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 2010 Okapi Sampler

Hello?  Is this thing still on?

After over five years of constructing this online scrapbook, back in March, I got a bit sidetracked.  Nothing bad.  Thankfully, quite the opposite.  I just got really busy with new projects and a new life here in Atlanta.  At the same time, American culture and politics have kept spiraling to new vulgar lows, and I've made a purposeful effort to back away from it all.  I don't want to know how violently ignorant the masses are anymore.  Not to say that I don't still check in with Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart, but I have detached myself from a lot of it.  

So, that said, I think a the 2010 Okapi Sampler is a good way to check-in here at the Lair, if only for a quick hello.  

Back in 2007, I imagined that "in a few years, we'll look back on 2007 as a resurrection of forward-thinking and sophisticated, but fun, music."  Now, three years later, and heading into 2011, I stand by my prediction - with a little more context.  2010 was another good year for the underground that 2007 launched.  Some of the most important tracks of this year, were created by artists who've been bubbling under for a few years now, but there's a notable feeling of tension between escapism and melancholy in most of the tracks that I've picked as the best of the year.  This is an era of conflicting feelings and opposing dreams, and I think a lot of the best songs of the year address the times well.

So, here are the top tracks of 2010*

1.  Helicopter - Deerhunter - This Atlanta band has received a lot of indie buzz, and deservedly so.  While most young people are content with lyrics that never venture beyond the level of a foul-mounted sixth-grader, Deerhunter are constructing songs like this one that tear the thinking heart apart in their tragic gorgeousness.  Helicopter is, from the liner notes, inspired by the true story of a Russian boy, Dima, who left his home at age 14 with a dream to become a fashion designer - only to end up being sexually expolited, raped, sold, and eventually he disappeared (by one account, thrown out of a helicopter over the remote northern Russian forests). Not an easy tale to hear, but an important work of art nonetheless.

2.  Tightrope - Janelle Monae (featuring Big Boi) - The ATL has a lot going on musically - just look at Deerhunter and Janelle Monae.  What could they possibly have in common, besides a common hometown?  Authenticity.  Janelle Monae might be written off as a female James Brown impersonator - but you from the minute this track takes off that there is a rare sincerity in her voice, in her energy, and in her vision.  I can't take my eyes off of her, and play after play, I still cannot get enough of the raw funk of this jam.

3.  Everything is New - Antony and the Johnsons - Antony Hegarty can do nothing less than magical.  His voice, his arrangements - everything about his work gives the listener a deeper understanding of hope and pain and love.  And, often in twenty words or less.

4.  Stick to My Side - Pantha du Prince (featuring Panda) - House music has been a central inspiration in my life for more than twenty years now, so it's not lightly that I declare Pantha du Prince is my favorite house producer of recent years.  No one has done a better job of stepping into, gathering, and sharing that space in the human condition where longing and joy and solitude and hope all co-exist.  Vocals by Panda, from Animal Collective, just make this journey even more beautiful.

5.  Ready to Start - Arcade Fire - Normally, I steer away from rock critic darlings.  I hated The Strokes and Vampire Weekend, and I don't get the ultra-fascination with Radiohead. But, Arcade Fire is just really fucking good.  There's a sincere understanding of John Hughes' '80s, without a hint of artificial "retro-ness."  These verses and lyrics will be held on to for dear life by this generation of outsiders, for many years to come.

6.  Any Which Way - Scissor Sisters - With the constant media attention on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the same-sex marriage "controversy," and Log Cabin Republicans - the Scissor Sisters reminded us that the gays can still be, well, fun.  I had the opportunity to catch them in concert in August, and man, what a show!  Sure, this track is like a big musical rainbow flag, but sometimes it's good to embrace your inner rainbow.

7.  Limit to Your Love - James Blake - The power of the Blues has always resided in minimalistic brilliance.  This track is Blues for a new era, with each aching  minimal note placed precisely to create maximum impact.  With hints of Matthew Dear, late '90s Moby, and possibly even Burial, I can't wait to hear more from this 22 year old.

8.  Since We Last Met - NDF - There's something about this track that takes me back to the basics of late '80s Adonis house.  It's not particularly ground-breaking, but there's a realness that's irresistible.  And, of course, I give it a 10 for danceability.


9.  Little People - Matthew Dear - Back in 2007, Matthew Dear was one of the artists that got me excited about music again.  This year, his Black City album kept it going.  It's a little less accessible than some of Matthew's earlier works, but that just means it takes a little more exploration through his slightly twisted musical mind.

10. One Life Stand - Hot Chip - A little '80s, a pinch of rave, and a healthy serving of right now, Hot Chip keeps producing catchy synth-pop anthems, and I just keep falling in love with each and every one of them.  This title track, and much of their most recent album, seems a little more mature than previous forays, and I'm starting to get the feeling that they may be around for a little while.

There you have it - my completely biased, totally subjective, top 10 of the year.  Other honorable mentions include "Heartbeat" by Nneka, "Say My Name" by Holy Ghost!, "Reckless" by Azari & Ill, "The Light" by Forest Swords, "Telephone" by Lady Gaga and Beyonce, "Night Air" by Jamie Woon, and "Coma Cat" by Tensnake

No comments: