Dorian S. Ham

Favorite Albums

Every year around this time, it’s the general grumbling that it hasn’t been that great a year for music. But sampling the diversity among all the Agit Writers’ choices shows that can’t be the case. Frankly, there may be too much choice material as I’m still delving into a stack of records that came out this year. So the absence of some records isn’t a statement about quality, but just the fact that I probably haven’t heard it. The one exception to that would be Lulu by Lou Reed and Metallica. Holy crap that record blows! Here is a list of records that got a lot of burn this year, but doesn’t include everything I dug. Regardless, let’s go!

PJ Harvey
Let England Shake

To paraphrase Jay-Z, if you want the old Polly Jean, buy the old albums. For fans that have stayed on for the sonic rollercoaster that is PJ Harvey’s catalog, it’s best to expect the unexpected. Both an examination of the Great War and England’s history, Let England Shake slowly reveals itself. So while there aren’t any scorching rockers, this elegantly gothic, understated, folksy record contains some of Harvey’s best work.

Adventures in Counter-Culture

While Blueprint had stayed active on the local level in Columbus with a series of EPs under his own name and with his group Greenhouse, he hadn’t yet released a follow-up to 2005’s 1988. Yet, it seemed a safe bet to know what to expect. Wrong. Instead Blueprint took a hard left, got his croon on, expanded his sonic palette and delivered a record that’s at turns playful, defiant and hopeful.

Wanda Jackson
The Party Ain’t Over
Third Man/Nonesuch

It only seems logical that after his successful revitalization of Loretta Lynn in ’04, Jack White would turn his attention to ’50s hellcat Wanda Jackson. On The Party Ain’t Over, Jackson and White seem more like raucous buddies than doting fan and legend. The result is a collection of covers that tackles everyone from Bob Dylan to Amy Winehouse and even throws in a classic gospel tune. White and Jackson could have played it safe and crafted an album full of the type of songs that made Jackson popular in her heyday. Instead, White hauled in an amped-up horn section and twisted the proceedings into a R&B-tinged rock & roll revival.

Those Darlins
Screws Get Loose
Oh Wow Dang

A glee-fully bratty recasting of the three-gal, one-dude punky country group into a Phil Spector–ish garage-rock band, on Screws Get Loose, Those Darlins mixed hooks, goofy humor and riffs into one of the most infectious records of the year.

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx
We’re New Here

As a re-imagining of last year’s I’m New Here, as well as some earlier Heron tracks, We’re New Here goes beyond just a mere remix collection and instead works as an original stand alone work. Wrapping Heron in an eclectic blend of dubbed out hip-hop, minimalist dance music and dusted breakbeats, Jamie xx does the legacy of Heron proud.

Hail Mary Mallon
Are You Gonna Eat That?

At some point in the last decade, Aesop Rock got the reputation for being an anti-social, grimly serious and introverted character. For those people still holding onto that characterization the debut of Hail Mary Mallon, his group with DJ Big Wiz and former labelmate Rob Sonic, will be a shock. Would Def Jux fans of yore imagine that he’d drop a tune called “Breakdance Beach?” And Rob Sonic proves to be a more than capable partner as he and Aesop trade lines like Run-DMC.

Jay-Z and Kanye West
Watch the Throne

Proposed collaborations in hip-hop are like the boy who cried wolf. The list of woulda coulda is staggering, so there was no particular reason to think this album was actually going to happen. Whoops. Over some of the most eclectic production to be found on a mainstream rap album in ages, Jay and Ye play their roles to perfection. For those who like their rap a bit more everyman, this probably isn’t the record for you. But if you can get over that you’ll actually find some introspection among the luxury rap.

Travis Barker
Give the Drummer Some

Yes, the drummer from Blink 182. No, it is a shock. There’s no reason why this album should work. Yet, instead of making a rock album with rappers, Barker crafts custom hip-hop beats for his laundry list of guests. Who knew that Baker would be in the running for rookie producer of the year?

End It All

End It All comes on the heels of Antipop Consortium’s 2008 reunion record, Fluorescent Black. Beans’ lyrical style crams so many references, allusions and punchlines into one verse that as soon as you think you have a firm grip, he takes a sharp left and leaves you flying. One of his verses has more words than some rappers’ entire albums. Yet it isn’t just a rapidfire verbal bludgeoning. Beans mixes braggadocio with character studies and pointed commentaries that artfully links the abstract with the concrete.

Lonely Island
Turtleneck and Chain

While most may know these songs as Saturday Night Live digital shorts, the real secret is that these songs work just as well sans words. The true magic of Lonely island is that not only do they write great jokes, they write really, really good songs. And the crazy part is that even though they’re joking, it wouldn’t be that big of a stretch to hear these tunes on radio as actual songs.

Northren Soul
Columbus Discount

Although Ron House never really went anywhere, the chance formation of this band revitalized him in an exhilarating way. Joined by a motley crew of some of Columbus’ finest, this record howls, rocks and hits all the right notes.

Friendly Fires

This record neatly sidesteps the sophomore slump. Compared to the songs on Friendly Fires’ first album, Pala definitely has more polish. While their breakout, “Paris,” had a charming lo-fi feel to it, the songs on Pala are sleek pop tunes as vibrant as the cover art. Simply put, it seems like the band took the lessons it learned since its 2008 debut and became more proficient in executing their ideas.

Beastie Boys
Hot Sauce Committee Part Two

The long delayed follow-up to 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two was probably not as eclectic as fans may have wanted, but in the desire for the irreverent, they may have missed on a really great record. Beastie Boys still live and operate in their own universe, but this time they drafted Nas and Santigold for a go-round in a galaxy of dubbed-out retro-futuristic hip-hop.

The Roots
Def Jam

Really no one is on The Roots level right now. Having essentially delivered three records in one year, the Philly crew are hands down one of the most versatile bands working today. On their work with Booker T. (The Road from Memphis)and Betty Wright (Betty Wright: The Movie), they showed that they can update classic artists without going all Ron Isley in Mr. Biggs mode. And on their Undun, they continued to push the sonic boundaries of what is and isn’t hip-hop. Three distinctly different styles and moods, and the band navigated them all effortlessly.

Favorite Singles

This was harder than in previously years. For some reason I kept drawing blanks. And a few of the songs I championed actually came out in 2010. Ooops. So this is just a snapshot of some personal favorites.

“Rolling in the Deep”

Who could imagine that Adele would have had this type of success this year? And along those lines, who could have known that her first single from 21 would have been so ubiquitous? Out of the dozens of remixes, the best one was the first one by Jamie xx, arguably the producer of the year. The thumping minimalist shuffle was stunning on its own, but the addition of a verse by Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) pushed it to the next level.

Jay-Z and Kanye West
“Otis” and “Niggas In Paris”

You’ll be hard pressed to hear two guys having more fun than Jay-Z and Kanye on “Otis.” Over a beautifully chopped and fractured take on Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness,” the two biggest rappers in the world brag and boast and don’t take it too seriously. “Niggas in Paris” isn’t the best song on Watch the Throne—it’s the type of song that both Jay-Z and Kanye could toss out in their sleep—but it’s instantly addictive. There’s something about the combination of the verses with that beat and the minimal keyboard stab and snare cracks that dissolve into a sick 808 drop that had the internet freaking out when the album dropped. It also has an absurd amount of quotable lines. Is there a lesson to be learned? Only if you weren’t aware how hard Jigga and Ye ball. Is it braggadocious? Is it over the top? Yes. And your point is?

Times New Viking
“Room to Live”

Even if you like your Times New Viking noisy and hiss-covered, there was no denying the charming magic of the uncharacteristically subdued “No Room to Live.” Perfect for a cool session.

Maroon 5
“Moves Like Jagger”

I’m not going to be the one to defend Maroon 5. But while you can try to resist, there’s just something unstoppable about this deeply silly, deliriously catchy song. It’s like the band just decided to just throw away the overly serious presentation of earlier campaigns and just go for it. The speed that the phrase “moves like Jagger” has entered into the lexicon just shows that I’m not alone. Besides who doesn’t like having an excuse to do that rooster strut?

Best Reissues

Nirvana, Nevermind 20th Anniversay Edition (Geffen)

Megadeath, Peace Sells... But Who’s Buying? (Capitol)

Sebadoh, Bakesale Deluxe Edition (Sub Pop)

Father’s Children, Who’s Gonna Save the World (Numero Group)

Suede, Suede/Dog Man Star (Edsel)

Fela Kuti, ”Power Show“ Batch (Knitting Factory)

The Beach Boys, The Smile Sessions (Capitol/EMI)