6. Wheels On Fire - Liar, Liar
Following the demise of beloved Cincinnati bubblegum trash combo 20th Century Tokyo Princess, it was easy to anoint Wheels On Fire as the best band in Ohio of 2010. Coming from the slightly comatose and sleepy burg of Athens, Wheels On Fire didn't get the memo that rock n' roll was better back in the day, and instead worship furiously at the altar of the White Stripes, Hives, and Black Keys. Really though, what's so motherfucking wrong with that?! To an army of ears that went through boot camp trained by the clarion call of the Queers, Rancid, NOFX, Screeching Weasel, and the Mr. T Experience, the rock n' roll that Wheels On Fire crank out is hopelessly inept and trad. Sure, they talk about pretty girls a lot, but they do it without the slick sophistication of the 90s pop-punk tribe. That very same slick sophistication plants those bands squarely in 1995 and leaves them there in a frozen, severely shiny time capsule. Pop-punk got all hung up with perfectionism and kinda defeated the whole purpose of the whole punk rock thing in the first place. It was supposed to be the vessel of real live kids bashing out noisy, stupid pop songs, and that's exactly what Wheels On Fire do with reckless abandon. Their second LP features a run of AMAZING tracks called "Losin'," "Ambulance," "Land Of Haunted Houses," and "Black Moon" that stand right up there with the best of '60s garage, '70s punk, and the garage rock class of 2000. These folks aren't concerned with professionalism or establishing a mood or adding some kinda epic heft to their music. They just crank out the HITS! "Ambulance" sounds like a raucous bubblegum ditty that's run off the rails, substituting the morose sadness usually associated with catching your baby with another man, and instead dishes out a beating so severe that the paramedics get involved. In place of soul-searching and refection, we get tales of haunted houses, UFOs, and alien abduction. You know, important shit! "Stick Around" is the real classic here, grabbing you around the throat with haste, relaying a tale of pussy-whipped complacency, and getting the hell out of there before you think really deep thoughts. Hell, other bands are covering it already, and if that isn't enough of a tribute to it's genius, then I don't know what is. Liar, Liar is perfect in it's simplicity and more fun than just about anything else.
7. Demon's Claws - The Defrosting Of...
Originally saddled with the stupendous title of "Defrosting Walt Disney" before (I'd assume) the sue-happy band of Mickey's minions got wind of the situation, the third LP from Canadia's Demon's Claws is the scummiest, nastiest bit of basement rock n' roll to emerge in 2010. Despite being recorded in four separate sessions in different locales, it all manages to have the same foreboding, dirty, degenerate atmosphere. The guitars are pushed screaming into the red, the frequently incomprehensible vocals sound like they came from the bottom of the sewer, and everything is drenched in reverb and tribal rhythms, coming off like a seriously deranged seance performed by a bunch of drug-addled fuckups. Crude jolts of caveman rockabilly and country dot tracks like "Catch Her By The Tail," and for the most part, hooks are sacrificed in the name of suffocating atmosphere. I really don't know about the swamps-per-square-mile ratio of Montreal, but these motherfuckers must have climbed out of one of them! If the Black Lips have slightly cleaned up their act and settled comfortably into their role as the garage rock band it's OK for douchebag hipsters to like, then Demon's Claws have taken the basic template of their feedback-drenched epic Let It Bloom in the complete opposite direction, wallowing gleefully in the muck and mire. I mean seriously, have you heard "Fucked On Ketamine" yet?! This is one song that adheres to the maxim of truth in advertising. A song that probably intends to evoke the bad-ass vibe of classic outlaw country instead sounds like vintage country-punk Gun Club on designer drugs and turns the simple tale of retiring to the bedroom with a stripper and a mysterious baggie into a sadistic mystical journey.It all winds up with a pair of southern-style country-rock songs laced liberally with banjos and casual profanity that function as an easy landing-pad comedown for those who get wrapped up in the whole Demon's Claws trip. And what a trip it is!
8. The Living Sisters - Love To Live
This album earned its spot in the top 10 on account of how goddamn PRETTY it sounds. Kicking off with a circular acoustic guitar riff in a haze of harp plucking and gentle harmony voices, "How Are You Doing?" sounds like a warm blanket hovering over your bed waiting patiently to take you away to a world of blissful hangover dreams. I'm fine, how about you? I'm fine, too! Everything is perfect and in it's place, and everytime you'd expect a honking saxophone solo or restrained keyboard line, it's there. Many of the albums I've heard this year sound like the last disgruntled howl of the sexually frustrated male, banished to the garage to work out his bitterness and sorrow on his own time, so it's nice to hear this overwhelmingly female perspective. I'm surprised that mainstream rock critics didn't cream all over this record, since it features the daughter of critic fave/drug burnout Lowell George and siren-voiced Becky Stark, who helped create a perfect album a few years back with Lavender Diamond called Imagine Our Love. Combine those voices with the smoky drawl of Eleni Mandell and you have the classic girl group close-harmony sound of your dreams. I can't be the only lonely music nerd that flipped out over Love To Live this year, right?! Just listen to "Double Knots" and hear how white girls are showing out in 2010 like vintage Salt N' Pepa, teasing and tempting until they just wanna jump in the water and take off all their clothes. Wait, what?! Like I said, it sounds so pretty, but hidden behind all the overwhelming cuteness there's a seething, simmering sexuality that puts the dudes to shame. Like they say in "Good Ole Wagon," get outta my sight, I'm done playing tricks. You gotta go to the blacksmith's shop and get yourself an overhaul. Nobody wants a baby when a real man can be found, you've been a good ole wagon, but daddy you done broke down. The Living Sisters know that you don't need a bevy of garage-sired guitars to prove that you're pretty and vicious at the same time. They're too busy killing with kindness, son.
9. Sleepy Sun - Fever
Even in 2010, when endless musical thievery has given every genre of music a new life, progressive rock still has a bad name. Me? I blame it all on the emos. Not the current crop of auto-tuned mall-emo rockers, mind you, but the math-rock emos of the recent past. I'm talking about pussy-boy college graduates in tight sweaters and horn-rimmed glasses laying delicate mathematical guitar runs over shifting time signatures that had to have come from endless Adderall-spiked nights pouring over their music theory textbooks. Remember when every horn playing band-geek reject turned up in a ska band in 1999? Their equally lame percussion and jazz guitar-toting compatriots were plying their trade in bands on Polyvinyl in 2002. That shit is awful, just AWFUL! It makes me really happy that a band like Sleepy Sun can come along in the present day and rescue the good name of prog and bring it back to the days of 1972, where hairy bastard collegiate burnouts took rock music into playful, unexplored territory, wiping the mathematical equations from the blackboard and instead launching into wild spasms of sonic freedom. Sleepy Sun doesn't make prog rock in the traditional sense, so you won't hear any dizzying displays of mechanized instrumental prowess lifted from your dad's dusty Yes LPs, but you will hear a suite of nine songs that veer from passages of tranquil beauty to moments of unspeakable horror. Fever really does have that classic album feel, instantly familiar yet filled with tons of "what the fuck?!" bits that keep you coming back again and again. Folky campfire harmonies crash into strange Can-style funk beats and then blast off into epic feedback-soaked guitar solos, and you really don't know what the hell they're doing, but everything is safe and calm. The reverb-soaked blasts of harmonica that kick off the album closer "Sandstorm Woman" leads you into a revelatory soup of post-blues Haight-Ashbury guitars, molasses-slow melody, and tribal hippie exploration, and then howls it's way into outer space. Fever is probably the best mix of heavy rock and prog since the monolithic debut LP from Captain Beyond. Believe it! Yeah I ain't gonna lie, Sleepy Sun may have indulged in some psychedelic drugs before making this record, but don't let that scare you away. Any enlightened mind can hop a ride on this rollercoaster with the same results.