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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lou's Top 20 of 2010, Part 1

Here's the first in a four-part series revealing my choices for the Top 20 records of 2010. Feel free to submit your own list to purgegeeks@gmail.com and I'll strongly consider posting it.

16.) Unbunny - Moon Food (Hidden Agenda)

Unbunny mastermind Jarid del Deo fleshes out his sound somewhat here, which frankly detracts a bit from the stark beauty that made his records some of the best of the last decade but still reveals a uniquely gifted writer and vocalist.

17.) Rusty Willoughby - Cobirds Unite (Local 638

Rusty was an unsung hero of the burgeoning early-90's Seattle scene, leading his bands Pure Joy and Flop through a brilliant series of albums bursting with searing, somewhat off-kilter pop-punk. A resurrected Pure Joy made a couple of more subdued but well-crafted records last decade before Rusty entered acoustic singer-songwriter mode, somewhat jarring to fans devoted to his driving early work. With Cobirds Unite, he has stretched some within this form but perhaps found a new comfort zone. Standup bass, vibes, pedal steel, etc. provide ambiance to somber but still hooky tunes like opener "Wrecker of Hearts" and "Crown of Thorns." Covers of standards "Do Right Woman" and "Streets of Baltimore" represent not so much signposts heralding the new direction but perhaps touchstones leading to the intricate melange of folk, pop, country, jazz and baroque here.

18.) Thee Sgt. Major III - The Idea Factory (Spark & Shine

The current vehicle for Fastbacks/Young Fresh Fellows genius Kurt Bloch makes its second release here with a slightly revamped name and lineup. Bloch's pop-punk nuggets are understandably not quite as edgy as they were in the Fastbacks' heyday, but they are no less hooky--as well-evidenced on "Battery Operated" and "Everything Is New"--and "What Am I Gonna Do?" is about as angsty as can be expected of a 50-ish-year-old guy. Bloch takes a perhaps appropriately more wistful tack on the beautiful "The Forgotten Three." New vocalist Leslie Beattie is well-suited to Bloch's compositions, and YFFs bassist Jim Sangster and monster former Fastbacks and Posies drummer Mike Musburger round out the supergroup.

19.) Mark Olson - Many Colored Kite (Rykodisc

Between last year's long-awaited reunion with former bandmate Gary Louris and an anticipated full-blown Jayhawks reunion in the new year, Mark Olson gives us his second proper solo record. Departing somewhat from the deep debt to '60's and '70's American country-rock that has marked his work all these years, clear nods to British folk of the same era--at once more complex and understated than its stateside counterpart--come to the fore here. Olson's plaintive mourn is not unsuited to this style, but the shifting tempos and musical themes detract a bit from the emotive power that is his strength as a writer. Still, he doesn't fail to dutifully provide a fair share of the beautifully heartrending moments we have come to expect from him.

20.) Timothy Cushing - Telephone Lines (self-released)

There's not a ton of information readily available about this Maine-based singer-songwriter, but he reminds one of the Mountain Goats or a more lucid Daniel Johnston on what is apparently his full-length debut. Delightful country flourishes mark opener "Dandelion Wine" and "Magic Lantern," while "Heather" is a beautiful sad pop tune with tinkling piano and well-suited female harmonies. I hope we'll all learn a lot more about this guy soon.


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