Kevin J. Elliott

Top 10 Albums

Bill Callahan
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
Drag City

I’ve always adored Callahan as Smog, but failed to register with any of his solo endeavors after dropping the moniker. Getting serious and getting maturely confessional seemed like a drag compared to the idiosyncratic themes created back then. This, arguably the finest work of his career, lets in a little light where there was always dirge-like melancholy. Still, the arrangements, sewn on like a silk lining, are stubbornly stark, and his words, a continued stoic poesy. It’s hard to pay attention to anything else when this record is on.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Ashes Grammar
Mis Ojos Discos

From a distance, it would be hard to see the tiny gears and motors that propel Ben Daniel’s blissful experiments. Obscured in swirling puffs, flashing pastels and wayward echo, the initial smokescreen of Ashes Grammar could be chalked up to any number of nameless shoegazers blaring their album from the basement and through the heating ducts. Certainly the touchstones are there. The dual vocal performance of sisters Lauren and Robin Daniels recalls the celestial intonations of the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser; the warped and warm rushes of synths on “Close Chorus” soothes like a faded copy of Loveless; the methodical patterns of pulsating electronics matched with a very human heart stand as populist as the Postal Service—but none of those signifiers stick. Daniels instead keeps his compositions in an atmospherically confounding state of flux, a place where everything blurs into one prolonged illusionary trip.

In Prism

In an age when the reunion bug bites more bands than it actually should, it was nice to see one of those reunions result in a new album, and in Polvo’s case, it could just be the best record they’ve ever made.

Memory Tapes
Seek Magic

This is that out-of-nowhere electro dance-pop record I was telling you about. Dayve Hawk’s one-man project has been continually lumped in with the glo-fi kids, but he’s really a seasoned vet. This is much closer to the work of, say, Cut Copy and those poised to regenerate as New Romantics (circa 1983) than an ephemeral nostalgic dirt-weed buzz. This sinks under the skin quite naturally.

The Electric Bunnies
Through the Magical Door
Florida’s Dying

Perhaps the most surprising release of the year. I knew these Florida boys weren’t your average band, but I didn’t expect them to challenge the parameters of punk and psych as much as they do on this record. It comes with a fucking board game inside.

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca

Before Bitte Orca, this was a band impenetrably pretentious. For this album though, Dave Longstreth chose to look past all of his music theory dissertations and stifling genius to present wild time signatures and caterwauling vocal acrobatics as a piece of timeless pop—still managing to bewilder any listener not prepared for a delicate mix of everything from Timbaland beats, orchestral swells and post-grad white-boy Afropop.

Times New Viking
Born Again Revisited

Not sure why many didn’t take the time needed to really get under the skin of this record. TNV’s songwriting stretched out in leaps and bounds, the sonics more distinctive and unique then ever, and the entire package was nothing less than a huge middle finger to trends and waves. Maybe that’s why, not trying to conform can have bitter rewards.

Major Lazer
Guns Don’t Kill People... Lazers Do
Downtown/Mad Decent

Unmistakably the gold standard for party records in the ’00s. If I had to choose an artist of the decade, it would be Diplo.

Eat Skull
Wild and Inside

Listening to Eat Skull after Animal Collective is a bit of a palette cleanser—or the missing link in the pop equation. This album is really just Bee Thousand for punked, jaded grown-ups who don’t want to ever grow up.

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion

Considering this album arrived the first week of January and still blasts forth with ecstatic color and aural fireworks, what we proclaimed way back when is more than apt. “I’ll go ahead and drink the kool-aid: Merriweather Post Pavilion is a landmark album, an event, and asserts without much doubt that Animal Collective have set the bar pretty high for their peers to follow.” Before this album, it was still possible to debate whether or not Animal Collective was the band of the ’00s. But with this decade cap, it’s easy to see the long line of inferior imitators they have spawned. In retrospect, even within 2009, Merriweather Post Pavilion created a new template for experimentalists and pop purveyors alike. And through a year full of revelatory live shows and improvisational riffs on their own catalog—not to mention the just released Be Fall Kind EP—the band continues to stretch those parameters even further.

Five Albums You May Have Missed

The Odawas, The Blue Depths (Jagjaguwar)

Night Control, Death Control (Kill Shaman)

Circulatory System, Signal Morning (Cloud)

Javelin, Jamz ’n’ Jemz (self-released)

Allison Iraheta, Just Like You (Jive)

Favorite Reissues

Spiritual Singers, Ntsamina (Mississippi)

Axemen, Scary Pt. III and Big Cheap Motel (Siltbreeze)

Nirvana, Bleach: Deluxe Edition (Sub Pop)

Various Artists, Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965–1968 (Rhino)

Various Artists, Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes (Numero Group)

Five Live Shows That I Still Remember

Mayyors, Spiro’s, Austin

Metallica, Stubb’s, Austin

Kurt Vile and Psychedelic Horseshit, Ms. Beas, Austin

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LC Pavilion, Columbus

Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, The Bell House, Brooklyn