The 2010 Mixtape

In February of 2010, The Mr. Roboto Project closed its doors, with no definite plans to reopen. Its closing left a considerable void for DIY arts and culture in pgh and the rust belt.  Make no mistake, DIY music has and will continue to thrive without Roboto, but for everyone that attended a meeting, put on a show, saw bands or met friends there, Roboto was something special.  It’s easy to be cynical about being young, punk community, DIY ethics and aesthetics, but Roboto worked. It just did. The first time I walked into Roboto, it felt like possibility. It never stopped feeling that way to me, or to many of the dear, dear friends I made there.

Personally, Roboto’s closing was another reminder of my changing relationship to music. During last year’s All Songs Considered Year in Review show, renaissance woman (and my perma-crush) Carrie Brownstein argued that music was becoming less and less social. In many ways, my experiences in 2010 bore this out. The memorable engagements with music that I once had in spaces like Roboto were in 2010 supplanted by extended headphone engagements. 2010 was, in many ways, a year of deep listening experiences–ambitious efforts by Kanye West, Titus Andronicus, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Midlake and Sufjan Stevens proved that talk of “the death of the album” was premature. On the other hand, the chance encounters with music, the word-of-mouth promotion and direct relationship with artists that made Roboto so special to those of us who spent time there has in some ways been replicated by online music communities. Blogs like Can You See the Sunset and Rebel Frequencies, podcasts like Sound Opinions, aggregators like HypeMachine, sharing communities like Waffles and What, and sundry message boards and twitter feeds (like our very own @rustbeltrising) have all helped me keep music as an important part of my life.  Without them, much of the music that follows would not have come to my attention. I’ve also been able to plug students in more directly to developing conversations in the music industry (special shout to students putting out albums of their own, including Sarah Aument, The Fly, Liz Lewis, and others that would probably be embarrassed by my endorsement.)

I’m past the point in my life where I could honestly try to compile a list of “best” music of 2010–best songs? best albums? best artists? best shows?–so instead, I’ll humbly offer my Mr Roboto Project Memorial 2010 Mixtape. So much music had to get cut from this 20-track opus: Beach House, Vivian Girls, Wiz Khalifa, She and Him, Girl Talk, Grass Widow, Reading Rainbow, Rot Shit, The New Pornographers, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Tallest Man on Earth, Best Coast, Joanna Newsom, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Rural Alberta Advantage, Avi Buffalo, The Menzingers and lots more I’ve missed. What’s left is the music I spent the most time with and enjoyed the most this past year.

Track by track breakdown after the jump.

“Boy” – Ra Ra Riot. The Orchard. Barsuk Records.

I discovered Syracuse’s own Ra Ra Riot in 2007, less than a year after they formed as students there. Their live performances are phenomenal, full of enthusiasm and energy and, for lack of a better term, joy. Their debut with Barsuk, The Rhumb Line, failed to capture the warmth of their stage presence.  Their 2010 album The Orchard is a hit-and-miss affair, but this track best approximates their live show.

“Young Hearts” – Free Energy. Stuck on Nothing. DFA Records.

From Syracuse, my previous home, to my new home in Philadelphia. Next up on the mixtape is a sample from  Free Energy’s enormously fun power-pop record.

“Shutterbug” – Big Boi. Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. Purple Ribbon/ Def Jam.

I put this record on my list when it leaked last year. Now that it’s finally released it’s on the list for real. It’s been in steady rotation for all of 2010.

“Jail La La” – Dum Dum Girls. I Will Be. Sub Pop Records.

The 60s girl-group sound revival has been a dominant theme–we see it crossed with garage from Vivian Girls and infused with grunge in Best Coast. Dum Dum Girls were my favorite in this tradition this year.

“Ambling Alp” –  Yeasayer. Odd Blood. Secretly Canadian.

One of the catchiest songs of the year, no question.

“The Mighty Sparrow” – Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. The Brutalist Bricks. Matador Records.

Ted Leo can do no wrong. Just ask him on Twitter (@tedleo). He’ll tell you.

“Kiss Your Lips” – Allo Darlin’. Allo Darlin’. Fortuna POP!

This record snuck up on me. Sounds like a standard twee-pop girl-group, but they have a nice sense of humor about them. The Weezer nod here pushed it over the top, but check out “The Polaroid Song” and their multiple homages to St. Henry Rollins.

“All of the Lights” – Kanye West. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam.

Despite what Jay-Z’s latest string of publicity might have you believe, the two biggest stars of the hip hop decade were Eminem (in the first half) and Kanye West (in the second). Both were intensely personal in the production of their music. But where Eminem’s ascent to fame eradicated the source of his lyrical appeal (once he no longer had trailer-park demons to fight, people lost interest), Kanye’s train-wreckish handling of his own celebrity seems to fuel his creative output. Who would have thought hip hop would out-emo emo?

PS- Forget all the hype, and the hype-backlash. This record is stunning. Stunning.

“Turn Cold” – Cut Off Your Hands. You and I. Frenchkiss Records. (***2009 Release)

Yes, technically this came out last year, but they’re from New Zealand. It took a while for this to get to me.

“The Tightrope” – Janelle Monae featuring Big Boi. The Archandroid. Wondaland Arts Studio/ Bad Boy.

If there is any justice in this world, we will be listening to records from Janelle Monae for years, and Ke$ha will be struck mute and go far, far away. 2010’s most danceable album (sorry LCD Soundsystem).

“Steady Hand” – Buried Beds. Tremble the Sails. Self-Released.

My favorite discovery of the year. Lots of whoa-oh-oh’s and vocal harmonies. Philly dudes who put out their record on a donation-only basis.

“Time Keeps on Slipping into the (Cosmic) Future” – Iron Chic. Not Like This. Dead Broke / 86’d.

I would have added this for the band’s name alone.

“No Future Part Three” – Titus Andronicus. The Monitor. XL Recordings.

It’s sort of unfair to put a single from this album up for judgment, as none of them are all that interesting on their own.  The album (and it is an album rather than a collection of singles mixed with filler)  may be a concept album about the Civil War, it might be empty posturing by some guys from New Jersey–but it sure is enjoyable trying to figure it out.

“Acts of Man” – Midlake. The Courage of Others. Bella Union.

I loved Midlake’s 2006 album The Trials of Van Occupanther, and The Courage of Others tops it. Sad bastard music, yes, but beautiful sad bastard music.

“Fever Dreaming” – No Age. Everything in Between. Sub Pop.

I fully admit that I am getting too old to really “get” some music. Lots of this blips and bloops, Emeralds stuff I just don’t enjoy. The Ariel Pink record that so many people talk about this year just sounds corny to me. I have trouble really getting into a lot of the looping “dream punk” stuff that’s come out in recent years, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed No Age this year.  Maybe I’m getting used to it, or maybe I’m not ready to collect my retirement quite yet.

“Sun Hands” – Local Natives. Gorilla Manor. Infectious / Frenchkiss Records.

Another single that’s making a lot of the year-end lists, and with good reason. Earworm of the year.

“Euston Station” – Betty and the Werewolves. Tea Time Favourites. Damaged Goods Records.

Such a fun record, top to bottom. It hasn’t received much buzz this year, which is a shame.

“Swim (to Reach the End)” – Surfer Blood. Astro Coast. Kanine.

I started hearing about Surfer Blood early in the year, and my first trip through the record I wasn’t feeling it. I don’t know what happened in the second half of 2010, but after I heard them on Filmspotting I gave it another spin. Enjoy greatly in small doses.

“My Gap Feels Weird” – Superchunk. Majesty Shredding. Merge Records.

Oh man, these dudes! So glad to have them making records again.

“C’mon” – The Soft Pack. The Soft Pack. Kemado Records.

Another self-produced record (love those) from a band more in the straight rock tradition.  Break it out next time you’re getting ready to go out drinking.

“Vesuvius” – Sufjan Stevens. The Age of Adz. Asthmatic Kitty.

I had about had it with Sufjan Stevens. I mean, yeah, Michigan and Illinois were good, but then he was doing soundtracks and Christmas albums and being so. damn. PRECIOUS all the time. Obviously the dude is on a different level in terms of his arrangements, but he’s mixed in some electronic music here, and dialed down the cute-o-meter. Another album experience worth having.

“Nothing Can Kill the Grimace” – Mixtapes. Maps. Self-Released.

Smart lyrics, male-female vocals, and  a snotty attitude. It’s like high school all over again!

“Right On” – The Roots. How I Got Over. Def Jam.

I’m cheating with this one. Any Roots album will always make my list (can you believe that they’ve been this good for this long???), but I put this single here to give Joanna Newsom a shout. The title track is probably stronger, but hey, it’s the Roots, everything they do is worth listening to. Just not worth watching Jimmy Fallon. That’s where I draw the line.

“Fall Hard” – Shout Out Louds. Work. Merge Records.

It’s not a fantastic album, but this single has earned quite a few replays this year.

“Change on Me” – RVIVR.  LP. Rumbletowne.

It’s comforting to know that no matter how much I change, how much my tastes develop or what new grown-up kind of stuff I get into, I’ll still love a record like this. The second ex-Latterman band on the list (Iron Chic is the other), this one reminds me where I came from as I think about where I’m going.

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About michaelddwyer

Assistant Professor of Media and Communication at Arcadia University, specializing in film, media studies, and cultural studies. View all posts by michaelddwyer

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