Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Bay Area Albums of 2010

  1. The Audiophiles - Fairytales & Other Tales EP. If they’d lasted a bit longer, The Audiophiles could have been the best band ever. The unlikely supergroup, featuring Lil’ Billies/Juvenile Dukes guitarist Greg Fleischut, Guitarfish drummer Nathan Pastor, and folk singer/songwriter Jeremy Lyon (and the great unsung hero, bassist Zak Mandel-Romann), made exactly the type of music you’d expect from such a combo. Light-hearted lyrics, chill-garage vocals, smoky guitars, and clattering drums combine to create a sonic brew that sounds like every band in the world and no band you’ve heard before at the same time. It’s a nearly immaculate blend, and on the group’s second EP, Fairytales & Other Tales, it’s put to fine use as the backdrop for excellently crafted songs.
  2. Girls - Broken Dreams Club. I might be the only person in the world who doesn’t like Girls’ aptly named debut Album. But Broken Dreams Club, Girls’ second release, is a perfect little mini-album--six songs, thirty minutes, great songs, heavy on ballads but anything but boring. It’s also one of those rare albums that can truly be said to be absolutely timeless. Its modernity is easy to distinguish (no pre-punk band could get away with a singer like Chris Owens), but any of these songs could have been written any time in the last 35 years. And “Carolina” is just one of the best songs ever. Just saying.
  3. The Morning Benders - Big Echo. Alright, they’re in New York now instead of Berkeley, but this is Bay Area music all around--kids in the Bay Area love them some Morning Benders, and just about anything Fogtown kids are likely to be doing on a Saturday afternoon could easily be soundtracked by at least one song off this album. Half rock n’ roll anthemizing, half ambient mood music, Big Echo somehow manages to take these two halves and combine them into something not only coherent but enjoyable.
  4. Grass Widow - Past Time. Sloppy and rambling yet lean and cohesive, avant-garde yet accessible and streamlined, Past Time comes across as the kind of album that must have been a lot of fun to make. It’s also a lot of fun to listen to--if you can get past any Donnas-induced phobias you may have of all-chick garage bands, this is a great listen for anyone.
  5. Westwood & Willow - Doorways, Vehicles, & Markets. The Sullivan Brothers’ second release under their Westwood & Willow art-folk guise is a fine offering, and despite the candy-and-wine mix of darkness and goofiness, the album does not sound schizophrenic. In fact, it is a remarkably cohesive album--Kevin Sullivan’s lonely guitar and sad vocals blend well with his brother Sean’s subtle arrangements, and they provide the album’s backbone. This is an excellent choice for anyone looking for folk music that is witty and charming but not saccharine, intellectual and thought-provoking but not relentlessly depressing.
  6. Girl Named T - Hey Liebe. As far as the art of the album goes, Bay Area scene veteran Theresa “T” Sawi has it down. Hey Liebe, her long-awaited full-length debut under the Girl Named T moniker, is almost perfect in terms of the form of the album, and it plays almost like an early Beatles album--concise, two-and-a-half-minute pop-rock ditties about love and loneliness that shoot out of your headphones one after the other like machine gun bullets.
  7. Royal Baths - Litanies. Royal Baths have one or two guitar sounds and about a hundred ways of scaring the crap out of their audience. Less influenced by garage rock and psychedelia than by the Velvet Underground at their most experimental, Royal Baths are a true example of a band turning to the omnipresent fog rather than the sparse sunshine of their home. Litanies’ frequent repetitiveness is made up by excellent moodscaping and some truly brilliant musical ideas.
  8. Man In Space - Man In Space EP. With their entirely self-produced, self-managed debut, this Dizzy Balloon side-project has succeeded in creating a sound with the free-form bizarreness of an experimental indie band and the accessibility of a major-label pop band. Few bands since the Flaming Lips have come this close to creating the perfect balance between accessibility and impenetrability. What’s next for Man In Space is anybody’s guess, but any producers or major-label execs better stay the hell away from them.
  9. Fever Charm - Fever Charm EP. Fever Charm and Finish Ticket, two of the most engaging live acts in the Bay Area, released their respective EPs this year. While Finish Ticket’s Shake A Symphony captured but a fraction of the band’s live energy, Fever Charm’s self-titled EP is as tight, funky, and edgy as anything the band’s done, live or offstage. Opening with the acidic “You Won’t See Me Tonight” and finding equilibrium in slower, more anthemic songs, Fever Charm is as close to a perfect studio sampler as we’re likely to get from a live act of Fever Charm’s caliber.
©Daniel Bromfield, SF Rebirth 2010

1 comment:

  1. don't forget Zak Mandel-Romann on the bass guitar in The Audiophiles. that man crafts the most badass bass lines around.