Farewell 2010 – Pussy Music Edition: The Best Unheavy Albums Of 2010

Extra! Extra! You want lists? We got ’em! Good lord do we have them. Although we all enjoy a good riff , heavy music isn’t the only thing that holds our attention, and so in this season of lists and mellow fruitfulness, I present to you some of the best unheavy records of the past twelve months, in no order other than alphabetically. We begin with:

The Ascent of Everest – From This Vantage

After 2006’s stunning How Lonely Sits The City I was pretty excited to hear some new material from Tennessee’s answer to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. An intermittent split with We All Inherit The Moon failed to elicit much emotion from me, but nevertheless I was prepared to give the the benefit of the doubt.

I’m glad I did. I haven’t bothered with much post-rock this year for two reason: firstly; I’ve been so busy with heavy music since joining this site that I just haven’t had the aural capacity, and secondly; in a genre where apparently use of a delay pedal and/or some kind of violin-shaped instrument makes up for lack of talent, it takes something special to hold my attention. With songs clocking in at 7-8+ minutes, it’s difficult to find the necessary effort.

This is very worth your time though. It’s hard to adequately describe the feeling that The Ascent of Everest give you, so instead I’m going to cop out and just get you to check them out yourself – and even if this doesn’t grab you, How Lonely should. A band well worth your time and money.

Balmorhea – Constellations

Earlier in the year I wasn’t just writing for HBIH; I was also writing for a British online radio station called Fluid Radio, that dealt with “ambient, modern classical, experimental acoustic, folk and abstract” genres. This gave me the opportunity to sample some music that I otherwise would never have found.

Balmorhea (pronounced ‘bal-more-ay’) hail from the same town as Explosions in the Sky. Both produce chilling instrumental music to captivate the mind and charm the soul, but unlike the expansive guitar-driven post-rock of their better-known contemporaries, Balmorhea assemble more delicate, but no less affecting scores to the panoramas of Texas.

I knew from the opening bars of ‘To the Order of the Night‘ that I was in for a treat. The piano melody raises those little hairs on the back of my neck: more than a response to the chilly December weather outside I can assure you.

What marks this record as special is the notes that they don’t play just as much as the ones that they do. It’s hard to pick a favourite track, because each one has something special; that tingle-inducing quality. The joyous banjo part and simple yet perfectly-placed drums in Bowspit; the almost vocal quality of the guitar in Night Squall. The album closes on Palestrina, in which that sense of calculated consideration is never more evident. A haunting drone builds through violin strings and sober choral vocals to a series of flawlessley appointed chords, and leaves you with an elegant feeling of calm and well-being.

Circa Survive – Blue Sky Noise

If I had to choose a favourite between this and my heavy #1, I would struggle. Thankfully I don’t, but what that should tell you is that this record is an absolutely astounding piece of work.

Expanding on the somewhat experimental sound of their past releases, Blue Sky Noise solidifies everything that made those albums good into twelve sublime songs. Whereas Juturna – and to a lesser extent On Letting Go – tended to meander, however well intentioned such sections were, what BSN has brought is focus.

The songwriting itself shows the band at the top of their game. It has some fantastic riffs (hooray!) dotted throughout, and Anthony Green is on absolute top vocal form. The absolute epitome of unbearable buttrock for some, but the ambience and attitude are so above par it’s ridiculous. I seriously recommend this album to anyone and everyone – do yourself a great big favour, yeah?

Mike Patton – Mondo Cane

We have actually mentioned this album around these parts, given Patton’s usual strong involvement in our realm of expertise – but Mondo Cane is in fact a pop album.

The scope of the project alone is pretty amazing. Sung entirely in Italian (in which he’s fluent – naturally), it’s an homage to mid-twentieth century pop from the land of high-powered supercars and lecherous members of parliament. He personally arranged songs by Ennio Morricone, Gino Paoli and Fred Bongusto (no, me neither) for a forty-piece orchestra, bringing his own unique vocal styling to the mix. He sounds just as evocative in another language as he does in any of his collaborative projects, and so Mondo Cane is just as deserving of a place in your Patton collection as The Real Thing or The Director’s Cut.

Minus the Bear – OMNI

The band with the strongest link to our usual heavy fare through guitarist Dave Knudson (who was in hardcore legends Botch), Minus the Bear already had an exceptional back catalogue before this year. I was perhaps a little wary of OMNI, as 2007’s Planet of Ice wasn’t my favourite thing ever, but I was knocked flat on my limey British arse by this album. Lesson learned.

It just feels good, man. I know that we, tending to reside in the shadows and drink the blood of infants, usually shy away from upbeat, melodic rock, but damn, if this doesn’t have you dancing in your coffin, inverted crosses spinning away on the wall and a glitter-ball hanging from the chandeliers then you truly are destined for a future of gloomy undeath.

OMNI takes all of the groove of Highly Refined Pirates, the catchiness of Menos El Oso and the songwriting maturity of later albums and wraps them all up in one brilliant pacakge. Give it a go, warriors!

I know I’ve missed a lot of quality albums; a friend tells me Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me is stunning – he’s been swearing by it all year. I’ve only heard it once, and so can’t really give it a proper rundown, but the newly reunited Swans’ My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky sounds solid, and has made a few year-end lists of its own. That being said, I hope at least some of you have checked at least of a couple of these out already, or might do so on my suggestion. We’re obviously winding down 2010 in a serious way around here, so this list seems apt, but we’ll be coming at you harder than a frozen elephant cadaver down Mount Everest in a hailstorm next year!

You have been warned…

– CG

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