Best Of 2010: Hidden Treasures

BOOM CHICK | Show Pony [Boom Chick]
On their debut album, Moselle Spiller and Frank Hoier go straight to the grimy, messy heart of rock ‘n’ roll. Spiller’s slapstick drumming blends seamlessly with Hoier’s blues riffs and simple vocals to create a sound that evokes both Bo Diddley and early White Stripes. (Boom Chick’s boy/girl format and Spiller’s bang-framed face practically force the Stripes comparison.) The pair began making music together in Spiller’s childhood bedroom a couple years ago, when Hoier had already been dubbed the “new Dylan” of Brooklyn, but Spiller was a newcomer to the drums. Show Pony conveys the giddy delight of discovery that must have transpired between the two when they first sat down to play.

“Ghost Of Bo Diddley” (download):


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THE DIG | Electric Toys [The Dig]
With Electric Toys, the Dig delivers a swaggering, post-Strokes power-pop sound that’s way too sophisticated and smart for a debut album from a band that’s barely three years old. Yet this New York City quartet got it all right with its full-length bow: The pop moments are catchy and familiar without ever veering into overly sweet territory, while the moodier material manages to convey both darkness and optimism. And though the Dig has the ability to deftly change styles from song to song, Electric Toys has a cohesion thanks to the band’s way with a hook. Check these guys out now, as rock stardom awaits.

“You’re Already Gone” (download):


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GOLDMUND | Famous Places [Western Vinyl]
Keith Kenniff, the brilliant, understated Berklee grad behind Goldmund, might not be a name you know by heart, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his work. Whether under his given name, Helios, Mint Julep or Goldmund, Kenniff’s stark, poignant compositions have regularly been featured on NPR and the BBC, in addition to appearances in several documentaries, film trailers (Revolutionary Road comes to mind) and commercial projects. His latest collection as Goldmund found him building plaintive, minimalist piano constructions around the historical framework he’s invoked before, only this time the people and places referenced were sourced from within. In the process, Kenniff created what is easily one of the most solemn, gorgeous records of the year.

“Brown Creek” (download):


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MOUNTAIN MAN | Made The Harbour [Partisan]
In a world plagued by an abundance of synthesizers, drum machines and over-production, Vermont’s Mountain Man comes in and brings us back to simpler times. The female trio’s debut album is driven by gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies accompanied only by sparse, acoustic fingerpicking—or sometimes nothing at all. The result is a gentle, rustic sound straight out of Appalachia, complete with earthy lyrics and even made-up words for a touch of whimsy. Made The Harbour is folk music in its purest state, strangely familiar and easy on the ears, yet you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life.

“Soft Skin” (download):


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THE ORANGE PEELS | 2020 [Minty Fresh]
Dryly referred to as San Francisco’s slowest-rising rock combo, the Orange Peels nevertheless remain the Bay Area’s finest purveyors of sunshine pop, oddly enough, with a back catalog that often references foul weather (“I Don’t Mind The Rain,” “Something Strange Happens”). But Peels chief Allen Clapp, ably abetted by new guitarist John Moremen, has shuffled the deck on 2020 by adding a few angular Talking Heads/Cars moments. “In my rearview crystal ball, everything’s 20/20,” trills Clapp on the title song. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take the world another 10 years to discover this prodigious songwriting talent.

“We’re Gonna Make It” (download):


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RETRIBUTION GOSPEL CHOIR | 2 [Sub Pop]
If you ever wondered what Black Sabbath and Crazy Horse would have sounded like had those two outfits joined forces to form a late-’70s AOR band hoping to get signed to the Amphetamine Reptile label in the early ’90s, look no further than 2. The sophomore album from this side project of Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Steve Garrington (plus killer drummer Eric Pollard) is a concise, confident, hard-rocking affair, brimming with blue-collar attitude, meaty guitar riffs and haunting vocal harmonies. At times experimental yet accessible, psychedelic yet sludgy, Retribution Gospel Choir is arena rock for the indie-noise set.

“Hide It Away” (download):


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FRANKIE ROSE AND THE OUTS | Frankie Rose And The Outs [Slumberland]
When we heard that Frankie Rose (an occasional member of Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls) was putting out an album of her own, we groaned, yawned and kvetched. Then we listened. While the wall-of-noise and throwback melodies have largely been carried over from Rose’s former collaborations, many listeners will be surprised by how assured and deliberately eclectic and expressive this debut can be. A nearly a cappella Arthur Russell cover seals the deal, and the album actually begins to point in some artistic direction for the current lo-fi girl-group craze, of which Rose ostensibly is such an integral part. Oh, and it’s pretty.

“Candy” (download):


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STORNOWAY | Beachcomber’s Windowsill [4AD]
Oxford, England’s Stornoway swipes large chapters from Belle And Sebastian’s dog-eared, too-precious book of love, loneliness and orchestral pop and explodes it Avett Brothers-style, exposing it to the livelier tempos and bright pop lights found outside of dim bedrooms and tight coffeehouses. Singer/guitarist Brian Briggs (whose bare-chested vocals likely make him this decade’s answer to James frontman Tim Booth) stands tall and belts his tunes straight into the gale-force guitar strums of Beachcomber’s Windowsill. Quite a bit folkier than its typical indie-pop counterparts and with added touches of doo-wop bass vocals, Stornoway may have recorded the year’s bravest and least self-conscious debut.

“Zorbing” (download):


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THRIFT STORE COWBOYS | Light Fighter [Thrift Store Cowboys]
Light Fighter sparks a new direction for this traditionally Southern-sounding, alt-county sextet from Lubbock, Texas, which last year faced tragedy when the band’s equipment trailer—containing more than 3,000 of its records—burned to the ground in the carport of singer/guitarist Daniel Fluitt’s home. Over the course of 12 haunting tracks, Light Fighter pulses with haunting harmonies, builds and breaks with driving crescendos and intricate instrumentation, then is capped off with Fluitt’s honest, rough voice, which is as much an instrument itself as the steel guitars, violin and drums. Thrift Store Cowboys have meshed genres, blurred black and white and created an LP that plays dark, indie and folk.

“Bright Fire” (download):


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WARPAINT | The Fool [Rough Trade]
Some bands fumble through their early releases until they find something that works, but not L.A.’s Warpaint. These girls emerged from the ether with a fully developed signature sound on last year’s Exquisite Corpse EP, which led to much anticipation for their debut full-length. Despite having such a markedly original style, distinguished by an air of mysticism with vague lyrics and heavy distortion, The Fool proves the quartet is far from one-note. Warpaint can rock out sprawling, bass-heavy jams as well as slow it down for acoustic ballads, and the vocals (a shared duty between main songwriters Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman) range from banshee howls to otherworldly moaning. Comparisons don’t do this band justice: Warpaint is in its own genre and has mastered it.

“Undertow” (download):


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Written by Ryan Burleson, Ross Burlingame, Jud Cost, Emily Costantino, Matthew Fritch, Liana Katz, Eric T. Miller and Joe Williams

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