NATIONAL TREASURE | The National’s ‘High Violet’ took dark and bleak personal tones and turned them into an 11-song poetic masterpiece, topping our music releases of 2010.

The way music flourished in so many fashions this year was not only refreshing but hopeful. With brilliant releases coming out all year long, popular genres graduated to a more enlightened state. Pop music straddled the fence of innocuous and smart, indie rock grew up a few inches and even dance music took inventive turns.
The following releases offered a spectrum of originality that respected the past and hinted at the future. But really, they just kicked my ass over and over.

1. The National, High Violet — Matt Berninger’s baritone voice is super seductive and the first thing most people notice, but the band polished off rough edges while keeping their same Americana sensibilities from their previous four releases. The result was an epic album worthy of a John Steinbeck novel. Key tracks: “Little Faith,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”

2. LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening — A perennial fave among critics, the fusion of punk and dance never sounds as good as it does here. James Murphy, the man behind the music, ties clever and irreverent lyrics to musical constructs akin to an Escher painting. But in the album’s first track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” it’s like sex to music structured with minimalist foreplay, pounding rhythm and orgasmic moans. He even finishes it off with time for a cigarette. That is if your sex clocks in at eight minutes. Other key tracks: “Drunk Girls,” “One Touch.”

3. V. V. Brown, Travelling Like the Light and Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (tie) — Where everyone focused on Janelle Monae’s brilliant debut Archandroid, Brown got ignored with an early 2010 release. Light is the ideal companion to Green’s Killer — both with strong singers possessing the sheer force of a runaway train. Modern production over old school Stax and Motown sounds never sound contrived, but sound as fresh as ever.

4. Robyn, Body Talk Pt. 1 — The singer pulled off a trilogy of pop without much effort, but the Pt. 1 EP outshone the other two parts and even the compiled full-length. Straddling dance and electronica genres, Robyn steered clear of trivial lyrics and beats and instead made pop music her bitch. Key tracks: “Dancehall Queen,” “Dancing on my Own.”

5. Owen Pallett, Heartland — The gay singer/violinist twists his approach to avant-garde pop with orchestral leanings. His compositions have the quirkiness of a Tim Burton film but his voice is pristine and balances the music with a crisp elegance and cerebral lyrics. Key tracks: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” “Tryst with Mephistopheles.”

6. Best Coast, Crazy for You and Lovie, Because of my Mattress (tie) — With noise pop sounds of the summery ‘60s, both bands dropped albums that were worthy of repeat plays. The throwback tones are effortless and the cheeriness never wears thin. In fact, they are both infectious.

7. Girl Talk, All Day — DJ Greg Gillis mashes up classic rock, hip-hop and even ‘80s confections into pure aural pleasure. Day is like an entire party in 12 tracks and not one lets down. For anyone who questions remixing as a talent might get shut up by what Girl Talk is able to do every time.

8. Trombone Shorty, Backatown — Taking the horn out of the usual jazz motif, Shorty blows into new dimensions of rock, funk and even punk with this debut album. Then he throws down some more with impressive trumpet and vocals. Lenny Kravitz lends his help, which is almost derailing, but otherwise, Backatown is stellar. Key tracks: “Suburbia,” “The Cure.”

9. Wakey! Wakey!, Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said the Last Time I Saw You — The fact that Wakey’s Michael Grubbs was a regular on TV’s One Tree Hill should put this out of the running … if it weren’t so damned charming. Despite offering radio friendly jock pop in the vein of Coldplay and Keane, Grubbs’ created earnest tunes that were just slightly out of the box and the catchy hooks kept me coming back for more. Key tracks: “Car Crash,” “Dance so Good.”

10. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach — Hip-hop thrived this year with artists daring to stretch the genre into audible art. When Gorillaz collaborate with the likes of Snoop Dogg, The National Orchestra for Arabic Music and Lou Reed, the results are transcending. But it’s magic when they team with Mos Def and Bobby Womack in “Stylo.”


2010 LGBT releases

This was a big year for out artists both independent and major. In case you missed, here is a sampling of the year’s top queer releases.

Antony & The Johnsons, Thank You For Your Love EP, Swanlights. Trans-identified Antony Hegarty helmed two releases of original material which showcased the band’s lighter side.

LGBTreleasesWoodpigeonChely Wright, Lifted Off the Ground. Her first release as an out singer delivered a more folky vein.

Derek & the Darling, Rockface EP. Derek Nicoletto’s new duo dropped this quietly but made a lasting impression.

Woodpigeon, pictured, Die Stadt Muzikanten. Another gay Canadian strikes. Headed by out frontman Mark Hamilton, this dreamy release is a patient but worthwhile listen.

Xiu Xiu, Dear God, I Hate Myself. Trippy indie pop at its finest.

Chris Willis, “Louder.” Dance single by possibly the gay Usher.
— Rich Lopez


Front row seat: 7 best live shows


Owen Pallett

From a dive bar to a sold out sports arena, North Texas gays likely enjoyed concerts across the spectrum.  A certain Lady was perhaps the highlight of the year, but smaller touring artists — and one local musician — made impressions of their own.

1. Lady Gaga and Semi-Precious Weapons (American Airlines). There was no doubt that Gaga would deliver the goods, and she did so decisively. The energy was insane and her vocal shout-outs to the LGBT community were not only cool, but touching.  She went beyond giving a concert and offered an experience.

2. GLBT Twist Dallas (Lakewood Bar & Grill). Local musician SuZanne Kimbrell organized one of the best nights ever of local LGBT musicians — and perhaps the most important. A hefty lineup of seven gay or gay-friendly acts on a Wednesday outside of Oak Lawn might sound like a no-go, but people packed the small East Dallas bar and saw that local music does have a gay voice.

3. Cazwell (Station 4). This show was easily underestimated. The club kid/rapper packed it in tight at Station 4 with a crowd that filled up the dance floor, the balcony and even the perches from the upstairs Granite Bar. Fans shouted and screamed for his underground dance hits — and his hunky ice cream guys didn’t hurt either.

4. Big Freedia (The Loft). Sissy bounce came to Dallas and in big fashion. The New Orleans hip-hopster threw down in the tiny venue to an audience split between bouncing along to the party music and those with “WTF” looks on their faces. Perhaps the best part of the show was the men outdoing the women in the ass-shaking performances onstage.

5. Jay-Z and Trey Songz (American Airlines). Like Lady Gaga, Jay-Z turned his show into something more. Part hip-hop extravaganza, part religious experience. he kept the entire arena on its feet with hands waving in the air — like they just didn’t care. Without much agenda, he straightforwardly delivered track after track slapping us in the face with pure talent and amped- up fun.

6. Owen Pallett, pictured (Granada Theater). With an adorable face and lanky body, Pallett is hardly the vision of rock star. Add a violin and he’s borderline geeky. But he turned on a show layered with intricate playing, smart pop tunes, a gorgeous voices and quiet intensity. Think Leonardo DiCaprio in concert.

7. Jay Brannan and Eric Himan (The Loft). Brannan performed his acoustic set nicely, but Himan was the breakout here. He balanced Brannan’s mellower show with an energetic performance. In about six songs, Himan ran the gamut, playing with the heart of a musician hungry for bigger things. And all he had was a guitar to do it with. Bravo.
— R.L.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.