Here are two I was surprised didn’t make the final cut of my end of 2010 list. They were on the first draft, but, because of one part laziness, two parts hesitance, and a sprig of not-quite-good enough, they fell by the wayside. They are both excellent album in their own way.
Benoit Pioulard is part of a (somewhat-) surprisingly large scene of musician from Southeast Michigan, some loud, some quiet (Windy and Carl) some in between (His Name is Alive) whose sounds, despite their varying locations on the sonic spectrum, share a wispiness that reminds me of pulling apart the separate strands of wet branches. I say “somewhat surprising,” because Southeast Michigan, whether in the state highways of Irish Hills, the 3 AM diners of Romulus, or the (I feel exploitative even typing these next words. forgive me), pavement wiles of Detroit, is a place where wind sometimes seems more powerful than the politicians do. It makes sense to me that the music would reflect that.
Pioulard (the recording name of Thomas Meluch) alternates on his recordings between fuzzy, warm ambient pieces, and sweet, mostly acoustic songs which rise out of that fuzz and hammock themselves in your ears. Last year he released Lasted, the first album where the balance shifts from a preponderance of wordless sounds to more obviously structured songs. Yet, interestingly enough, despite their swelling ranks, the more recognizable “songs” stand out less against the ambiance on Lasted than on Meluch’s previous two albums. This is not an obvious record, and it is not one that screams “favorite” necessarily. It, in my mind, is an album for late nights spent spelunking or bike rides to nowhere in particular, seconds after the rain stops falling.
In a similar sonic direction, Dark Dark Dark’s newest album does exactly what I would’ve hoped it would have; opens up the claustrophobic, dense, near-psychotic vaudeville and bluegrass of their previous album, The Snow Magic. It has one of the best album openers of any album released last year, the galloping “In Your Dreams.” It has several tracks of such perfect melancholy that your smile might mop up your tears. It has wonderful and well thought out lyrics which accompany a wide variety of different musical genres.
However (and I hate to, in any capacity, echo the shitty writing and off-base opinions of Pitchfork) the album is as wildly uneven as it can be wildly good. There are tracks that seem like pure mood building, such as the somber “Something for Myself” or the restless “Right Path.” And, I suppose, I’m going to be the impossible-to-please fan when I say this, but the energy that made The Snow Magic such a brisk listen is gone. My good friend Brandon has remarked that Dark Dark Dark are and will continue to be a live act. Even their lyrics sound better live, he contends, and this is certainly the case on “Right Path,” a track whose energy seems somewhat neutered on this album version. The same is true for “Heavy Heart” and the western-tinged “Say The Word.” On Wild Go, Dark Dark Dark give the songs the space and gravity they deserve, hanging each on a wall with a plaque and appropriate light, but in the process, they turned the album into a museum. It’s a little tough to dance in a museum. I would have loved to have love every track on Wild Go as much as I love it’s highlights. If I did, it might have very well been my favorite album of the year, carried by Nona Maria velvety voice and Marshall LaCount stunted but brutal deliveary, and supported by flute, accordion, drums, upright bass, banjo piano, and guitar. I’ll give you two reasons to buy the album, and will not give you any of the reasons not to.