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Arts and Culture

The Year End Round Up Continues!

One more favourite, and a couple that almost got away

By Gregory Adams 30 Dec 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Gregory Adams is a freelance writer who lives in Vancouver.

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Sexy Swedish duo jj gets our last minute vote.

With the end of the year comes the inevitable wash of "best of" lists. In fact, we've already seen two such music articles on The Tyee this past month. Now, the beauty of the year-end wrap-up -- and in essence all criticism -- is that there really isn't a right or wrong way to do it. Art is, after all, incredibly subjective. Maybe your favourite disc of 2010 gave your buddy the dry heaves, while on the other side of things maybe you felt that, despite what the rest of the world seemed to think, neither Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or the Arcade Fire's Suburbs were all that special.

One thing that can't be denied, though, is that a ton of music came out this year. Possibly too much. Did anyone actually have that much free time on their hands to check out every new album or free online mix tape that came down the pipeline? Speaking for myself, I'll admit that there were more than a few choice cuts that I missed out on initially. While I'm pretty confident with my top pick of 2010 -- for the record, it was the Walkmen's brilliantly heartbreaking indie album Lisbon -- the year isn't quite over yet. Even this week I discovered a couple of gems that have me wondering whether or not I made the right choice. These two albums are my current obsessions.

jj - Kills

This Christmas Eve found three fairly high-profile online mix tapes fighting for our attention. Though multimedia outfit Gorillaz dropped its tour-documenting The Fall record, which was recorded almost entirely onto an iPad, and Rick Ross unleashed his trap-game focused Ashes to Ashes, it was jj’s hip hop-minded Kills that got me through the holiday. The Swedish electro-pop duo thrilled me earlier this year with its second proper full length n° 3, a record that combined airy, '90s Euro-club synths with the occasionally cribbed Lil Wayne verse, but this recently released set took the ensemble's rap jones to a new level.

The set finds jj borrowing the familiar digitized piano plinks of Dr. Dre's "Still D.R.E." on "Still," the down tempo melody from Kanye's song for the douche bags ("Runaway") on "High End," and even oversaturates front woman Elin Kastlander's softly sung vocals with Auto-Tune, but the genre sampling still meshes with the group's soft pop aesthetic.

Twin Shadow - Forget

Brooklyn-based solo artist George Lewis Jr., a.k.a. Twin Shadow, got a lot of online hype this year via the usuals like Stereogum, Pitchfork and Gorilla vs. Bear, but somehow I managed to avoid the dude like the plague. Well, actually, I know exactly why I jumped on board late in the game on this one, and the answer is embarrassingly ignorant: I already invested my time in a band with the word "Twin" in it this year.

Just as nouns like "Wolf" and "Horse" managed to find themselves in every second musical moniker a few years back, "Twin" seemed to be pop up a lot in 2010. I found out about Long Island dream poppers Twin Sister first, and decided to pledge allegiance to the group by keeping Twin Shadow out of my iTunes. Up until about a week ago I kept my promise, but my curiosity eventually got the better of me. Turns out I messed up; Twin Shadow's debut disc Forget is one of the finest I've heard all year.

Though playing within the confines of 1980s new wave, Forget is no mere rehash. At first "Slow" comes across as a nod to the Smiths, with busy-fingered Johnny Marr-styled guitar runs complementing Lewis' Morrissey-inflected croon, but the song fills itself up with a heady swirl of keyboard lines and rhythmically challenging pre-programmed beats that sets the song apart from anything off of Meat is Murder. Other highlights include Copacabana electro dance party "For Now" and the warm, wobbly chillwave synths that flood the senses on disco ballad "At My Heels."

As awesome as its melodies are, it's Lewis' velveteen voice that anchors Forget. Whether he's singing about falling for someone on the dance floor on "When We're Dancing," or counting the ways he loves his girl atop the ethereal boom bap of "Castles in the Snow," his romantic baritone is even more intoxicating than the dizzying synth sounds that back it. Honestly, I feel foolish for passing this one up for so long.

With new artists and albums popping up every day, it's hard to say how long either of these releases will have me in a headlock, but right now I can't think of a better way to end off the year. That being said, I can't wait for something new to take over me in 2011.  [Tyee]

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