Kevin J. Elliott

Top 10 Albums

The Unholy Two
$$kum of the Earth
Columbus Discount

It’s quite essential to procure a copy of perhaps the most brutal record in Columbus’ rich musical history since Photograph Burns (and that’s saying something). Chris Lutzko and company bear little resemblance to V-3, but their downer speedball of carnal noise and pigfuck riffs is just as much high art as it is terrorist punk, as psychedelic as it is sonically unbearable. Like a Cheater Slicks masterpiece in designer jeans and a cabal of pussy.

How to Dress Well
Love Remains

Perhaps it’s Tom Krell’s heart-breaking falsetto that has linked him to the youth-revival of synthetic ’90s R&B and soul. That’s unfortunate because How to Dress Well’s haunting debut goes much deeper than the quiet storm—somewhere at the bottom of a well, at the core of the earth, excavating a record full of dark and lilting emotion. Krell is organic as they come, using mostly voice and beat (wrapped in infinite echo) to convey this sadness. Love Remains is one of those records that only work at night, or among a cold, desolate landscape, where the horizon is a faint glimmer of existential hope.

Public Strain

Public Strain is a fence-balancing act between two extremes. If one had to choose, this, their sophomore effort, might place them slightly on the side of stubborn experiment. It plays like This Heat sent on an Outward Bound mission—four heads equipped with plenty of artificial klang and steadfast in making as much noise as possible, but forced by the elements to produce a unified front to get them out of that dense dark forest. It could be attributed to geography, as their native Calgary sounds a world away, but Public Strain is more a geography of mood. Women are a prime example of four divergent minds seeing what happens when they all continually clash in the same room. As of press time it appears that clash was too much, as Women are now no more. Consider this then a document of beauty and catharsis shaking hands and walking away from the whole mess.

Beach Fossils
Beach Fossils
Captured Tracks

Each note falls where it may, never sounding forced, never sounding planned, even when Beach Fossils are the closest approximation to a Galaxie 500–early REM hybrid we’ve heard in quite some time. It would be just as easy to approximate Dustin Payseur’s sonic approach to that of his peers in Real Estate or a number of other tropically themed slacker types favoring mellow times over actual effort. But the singularity in his brittle voice and wispy, yet intricate, guitar playing sets him apart from the pack. On the surface it’s one of those background records, completely inoffensive and lacking in an emotional connection. Get a little closer, though, and the puzzle starts to take shape, melodies emerging beyond the simple cadence of Payseur’s vocals. All of a sudden Beach Fossils project muted optimism in ebullient, blissful, effortless songwriting.

Pilot Talk and Pilot Talk 2
Def Jam

Curren$y came out of nowhere, even though he’s been a part of the Young Money/Lil’ Wayne stable of emcees for years. On his two installments of Pilot Talk, Curren$y distances himself from that camp, trading in bling and braggadocio for hyper-relaxation and thick, potent, dank smoke. It’s hard to pick a favorite between the two, mostly because they simply bleed into each other, recalling an era when samples were natural and never forced, full of analog itch and not digital glitch. Curren$y chose the low end theory in making a hip-hop record that never tires or runs over; there are no skits, no elongated posse cuts, just crisp, refreshing, boom-bap from an artist whose creativity seems mockingly playful and endlessly stoned.

Halcyon Digest

Truth is, Deerhunter was a much more interesting band when its music was rambunctious and its persona less forgiving and more confrontational. Bradford Cox has reigned in the band’s sound on Halcyon Digest, and the whole record sounds muffled and blanketed. But it would be remiss to say that with fewer antics, and perhaps a full spin in the blogospheric cycle, Deerhunter is any less intriguing. Instead, Cox now deals in sensory manipulation through the use of colorful tiny explosions of aural ephemera. When those bursts are immediate, as on the deja vu melody in “Revival,” it becomes goosebump-inducing. Halcyon Digest is the band’s most determined, fulfilling, and most importantly, grounded album to date.

The Whines
Hell to Play

Listening to the Whines’ mighty debut, Hell to Play, you can hear a rare spirit that doesn’t usually permeate even the best of the lo-fi contingent passing as passing these days. You can hear anthem-driven streaks left over when wiping free the grime of the post-grunge hangover. You can hear the band obsessing over Guided By Voices lore even as it’s losing its oral history. You can follow them as they start backtracking over the International Pop Underground 7-inches. You can even smell the rite-of-passage. As opposed to most bedroom recordings traipsing over influence with scant respect, Hell to Play feels completely whole in vision and execution. It’s a goldmine for this type of discombobulated nostalgia.

At Echo Lake

Even as the first trails of “Blood Dries Darker” begin to cling to the air, it’s apparent that Woods have evolved through months of ragged-glory tours, and as a result, crafted something timeless in At Echo Lake. Effortlessly capturing that communal vibe, theirs is a new psychedelia, a strain that doesn’t abandon the bedroom spontaneity of the Woodsist stamp, but also isn’t afraid to worship indulgent soothsayers like the Grateful Dead or the Flying Burrito Brothers in carving out a compact, slow-burning jam. “Suffering Season,” perhaps the album’s buoyant highlight, even recalls a zoned out Olivia Tremor Control, drowned in layers of reverb, tape atmosphere and Wilson-esque harmonics. Amongst these giant kaleidoscopic pop songs, Jeremy Earl shows his affinity for simple, haunting folk songs. The journeyman tale of “Time Fading Lines,” the rain-on-tin lull of “Pick Up,” and the elegiac end of the night denouement of “Til The Sun Rips” all pronounce Earl as a born-again traditionalist, not a fluke songwriter leading the beards through modern Brooklyn. It could even be said that the band’s urbanism is a gift, and when that hustle ’n’ bustle efficacy retreats to nature, acoustic instruments, and clean, clear horizons, the results are close to mythical.

Does It Look Like I’m Here?
Editions Mego

Cleveland’s always elusive Emeralds collective have been soaring through the underground for years now, but on those limited cassette and CDR releases, they usually hurled their work towards opposite ends of a spectrum veering between minimalist electronics and destructive noise. Does It Look Like I’m Here? is a mammoth convergence of the two. With the record still bubbling with cosmic synths and layered with subversive guitar lines that run like linear equations, the hypnagogic intelligentsia shouldn’t have to over-think this one as it transcends pocket genres into its own being of psychedelic music. By crystallizing and bolstering their sonic force as an instrumental band, Emeralds seemingly play in three-dimensions, creating landscapes that bulldoze those artists who mine similar territory. Does It Look Like I’m Here? is as face-melting an experience as it is a landmark in predicting the future of psychedelia.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Before Today

Equate Haunted Graffiti to the Spiders from Mars and you can theorize that Before Today was a Ziggy Stardust–like transformation for Ariel Pink. Stridently bedroom-bred, Pink made the leap of faith into a studio to embellish idiosyncrasies that were formerly obscured in tape hiss and muddy layers. With an endless palette with which to work, he’s made all of those would-be hits imagined on past recordings reality. Pink’s strange and wonderful world now shines in neon and is given clarity upon the widescreen. As a result, nothing sounds off-limits. From the creamy ballads bathed in golden soft-rock affectations (“Round and Round”) to classic garage psych-fuzz (“Bright Lit, Blue Skies”) and onward to ’70s-prog excesses (“Fright Night”), there are no lack of surprises on Before Today. To be fair, most of Ariel Pink’s recordings have been flooded with enigmatic pop moments, it’s just those hallucinations have never been this vivid.

The Next 10

20. Boston Spaceships, Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (GBV, Inc.)

19. Jazmine Sullivan, Love Me Back (J)

18. Circle Pit, Bruise Constellation (Siltbreeze)

17. Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge)

16. Wild Nothing, Gemini (Captured Tracks)

15. Javiera Mena, Mena (Union Del Sur)

14. Oneohtrix Point Never, The Returnal (Editions Mego)

13. Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (Fiction)

12. Nice Face, Immer Etwas (Sacred Bones)

11. Tame Impala, Innerspeaker (Modular)

Top 10 Singles

10. Twin Shadow, “I Can’t Wait” (Terrible)

9. The-Dream, “Yamaha” (Def Jam)

8. JoJo, “In the Dark” (Blackground)

7. Kanye West, “Runaway” (J)

6. Crystal Castles (featuring Robert Smith), “Not in Love” (Fiction)

5. Jazmine Sullivan, “Holding You Down (Going in Circles)” (J)

4. Deerhunter, “Helicopter&rdquo (4AD)

3. Girl Unit, “Wut” (Night Slugs)

2. Games, “Strawberry Skies” (Hippos in Tanks)

1. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, “Round and Round” (4AD)

Top Live Shows

5. Guided By Voices, Outland, October 16 (Columbus)

4. Circle Pit, Carabar, November 24 (Columbus)

3. Dam Funk, Fader Fort, March 20 (Austin)

2. Blue Oyster Cult, Obetz Zucchinifest, August 28 (Columbus)

1. Pavement, LC Pavilion, September 16 (Columbus)

What to Watch Out for in 2011

Leaving Records

Russian beat scene

Dominique Young Unique

Rebirth renewal and explosion of the shit-pop, shitgaze spectrum with new, highly touted records coming from both Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit