Even a diehard pop girl needs a little twang in her life now and then. This year it came from the latest Old 97s record, The Grand Theatre, Vol 1. If you're not familiar with Old 97s, they're a little bit country and a little bit rock n'roll. Some critics and fans would complain that the songwriting over the past few releases had too much pop ; of course, that's not a problem with me (and it's another discussion). On this record, I think the band was able to satisfy both sets of fans.
The sound of Texas in 2010 had an excellent contribution from the San Antonio band, Hacienda and their record, Big Red and Barbacoa. Big Red and Barbacoa is their 2nd release and it continues to showcase their love for big 60s sounds ranging from The Beach Boys and The Beatles but also a little bit of 60s country from Buck Owens. Hacienda are also a great example of why family (the band consists of 3 brothers and a cousin) harmonies are so sublime.
Sometimes it's nice when old musical loves come back into your life. In 2010, that would be The Posies with their latest release, Blood/Candy. I was a big fan of some of their early 90s releases (Dear 23, Frosting on the Beater) but I had not kept up with subsequent releases. With Blood/Candy, it sure was a sweet reunion with their outstanding harmonies and solid songwriting.
This year also brought another fine release from Frightened Rabbit with "The Winter of Mixed Drinks." Melancholy, anger, and despair never sounded so sweet. But all hope is not lost in their songs.
Another release I absolutely loved this year was "Big Echo" by The Morning Benders. Once I heard the "Excuses", I was hooked -- again and again. For some folks, it was considered to be the only outstanding track on the album. No, that is certainly not the case. This is an absolutely gorgeous album filled with lush tracks such as "Stitches", "Wet Cement," "Promises" and "All Day All Light." A real keeper and you may find yourself listening to this one on repeat.
I also have a soft spot for a couple of certain male songwriters who are more well known for their bands than their solo output : Brendan Benson (My Old, Familiar Friend) and Fran Healy (Wreckorder). Their sweet, melodic tunes and vocals are my musical comfort food...and maybe just a little bit of crush, too ;).
Staying on that melancholy yet hopeful note, Crowded House came back in fine form with "Intriguer." This was their 2nd release after the band reunited in 2007. I've been a longtime, diehard fan so Neil Finn could sing the phone book to me and I would be happy. Their live shows promoting this album were an experience. This is a band that really connects with and respects its audience. With songs like "Amsterdam", "Twice If You're Lucky" and "Isolation", it shows that Neil Finn remains one of the outstanding songwriters of his generation.
For pure, unabashed fun, the releases from Free Energy (Stuck On Nothing) and The Thermals (Personal Life) struck a chord with me. Life's too short to waste more than 3 minutes on a song, alright ? ;)
Austin likes to keep things groovy and it was done in 2010 with help from The Black Angels (Phosphene Dream) and The Ugly Beats (Motor!). The Black Angels turned a little bit of light onto their signature dark drone with songs like "Telephone" and "Sunday Afternoon". The Ugly Beats have put out their finest release so far and you don't want to skip a track. With this band, "retro" is not a dirty word ; they have fun with their influences.
In my musical world, "pop" is not a bad word but it also doesn't refer to current Top 40 artists. To me, it means that melody and harmony are key elements to great songs that stick in your brain and make you want to sing along or just simply make you smile. A variety of examples from Austin this past year include releases from Hollywood Gossip (Dear as Diamonds) and Household Names (Stories, No Names) as well as more indie/electro pop from The Black and White Years (Patterns) and The Sour Notes (It's Not Gonna Be Pretty).