The Best Local Music Of 2010: Our Annual Mixtape Starring Sweet Bulbs, Marnie Stern, Sharon Van Etten, and Special Guest Hannibal Buress


Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent. This is a compilation of 2010’s best local music, lovingly curated by YIMBY columnist Christopher R. Weingarten. See last year’s tape here.

Have you heard the one about how the recession is over? Uh, don’t tell it to New York City’s musical community. While our center-of-the-universe assembly line of hype puttered on unabated, 2010’s biggest up-and-comer success stories were actually beamed from the outer limits of the five boroughs — Titus Andronicus (Glen Rock, NJ), Screaming Females (New Brunswick, NJ), Phantogram (Saratoga Springs, NY), Real Estate (Ridgewood, NJ) — places where money can go to tour vans instead of landlords, where musicians aren’t paying $400 a month for the luxury of sharing a practice space with three other bands. The remaining New York City indie-crossovers all benefited from frugal one-man home-recording set-ups (Oneohtrix Point Never, Matthew Dear), stripped down line-ups (the Drums, Sleigh Bells, Matt & Kim) or simply embracing the idea that sounding mushy is smarter than buying new gear (Small Black).

Ergo, the real heroes are the classically maximalist acts that not only managed to thrive, but survived in a year where bedroom-grown genres like “chillwave” or “witch house” were not only fashionable but cost-savvy. Enter the miracle existence of sceneless wonders who think big. Our favorites are the explosive nine-member Red Baraat, who mix Bollywood bhangra with New Orleans brass; the always evolving Zs, who still play fast and loose with 20th Century composition; and, most unlikely, the six-member Ava Luna, a mutant combination of sensual girl-group harmonies and propulsive Zé Records art-funk. Conversely, Brooklyn alterna-prog cold-fusion scientists Buke & Gass found that you can save a couple bucks by just inventing your own instruments.

But people still gathered in communities, even if they weren’t always under the Pitchfork microscope. The mostly unchill wave of twentysomethings at Death By Audio rallied ’round the acidic gutter-suck of noisy new pigfuck bands (White Suns, Pop. 1280, The Men and leading lights Twin Stumps). Cake Shop and Union Pool turned into sweat lodges for a new breed of bands mixing sludge-metal crunch with indie-pop gleam (Elks, Cleanteeth, Primitive Weapons and the especially vulnerable confessionals of Made Out Of Babies frontwoman Julie Christmas). And the post-Mulhy stringaverse invaded Le Poisson Rogue for a tender breed of new indie composers (Bing And Ruth, itsnotyouitsme, Victoire). Sound Fix and Earwax have entire sections put aside for the grungy new space-rock (Titan, La Otracina and the mighty White Hills). DIY shows happened on subway platforms and living rooms with a new breed of giddy, blown-out twee-punk (Knight School, Beachniks and catchiest of all, Sweet Bulbs). And independent hip-hop explored a complex new revision of ’90s boom-bap thanks to Roc Marciano, Hell Razah and Skyzoo — the latter making it to 106 & Park thanks to an album that sounds like a cassette tape.

This is happening. New York is not killing us. Love more.

Village Voice, Sound Of The City, and Yes In My Backyard present:
Love More: YIMBY’s Best Local Music Of 2010

1. Hannibal Buress — Intro
The man behind the best comedy album of 2010, My Name Is Hannibal, blesses us with an exclusive mixtape drop!

2. Skyzoo & !llmind — “Speakers On Blast”
[Duck Down]

Made to sound like a cassette tape, Brooklyn rapper Skyzoo and NJ producer !llmind team up for a woozy, 808-saturated Walkman banger full of 1993 warmth and 2010 agility. Says Skyzoo, “When I heard [the beat], I automatically felt like it could be a radio mainstay, but it had a slight old school feel to it, from how raw it comes across. So I imagined what the club scene was like back in the late ’80’s/early ’90s and meshed it with the club scene of today. Why not put lyricism on the radio?”

3. Julie Christmas — “Bow”
[Rising Pulse]
The Made Out Of Babies frontwoman harrowingly uses her sludge-metal pedigree to explore an indie-centric vision of tortured, scab-picking vulnerability. “It’s easy to be pissed because I’ve had a lot of practice,” says Christmas. “I wanted to try something harder.”

4. Marnie Stern — “Transparency Is The New Mystery”
[Kill Rock Stars]

The reigning champ of NYC avant-wheedle brings her unique flurries of notes into its most personal territory to date.

5. Buke & Gass — Medulla Oblongata

Explore the beautiful and wild sproinging of Arone Dyer’s “buke” (a modified baritone ukelele) and Aron Sanchez’s “gass” (a mutant guitar/bass he built from scratch). Says Dyer, “My father introduced me to soldering and electronics as a kid, and I learned a lot disassembling and trying, miserably, to rebuild his tapedecks after he found out.”

6. Sweet Bulbs — “Acid and TV”

Cheery dreampunk foursome blast through 88 seconds that guitarist Michael Sheffield says were inspired by Jawbreaker, Hüsker Dü, and “not knowing what to do as someone has a mental breakdown”

7. The Austerity Program — “Song 25”
[Hydra Head]

This two-man pigfuck operation drags Big Black acrimony into modern art-metal crunch. “Here’s the thing about Hydra Head,” says vocalist/guitarist Justin Foley. “We sat down with them in 2001 and told them that we wanted total control over everything, we had expensive packaging ideas, and we were going to record everything ourselves. Oh, and the type of music we play fit into no scene, we had developed no following, and we had other things going on in our lives, so don’t expect us to tour. Since then, we’ve made good on all of these promises.”

8. Sharon Van Etten — “Love More”
[Ba Da Bing]

A pastoral mix of urban folkie lovesickness and post-modern harmonium drone — a unique sound informed by classic themes. Van Etten says “Love More” is about “what one would do for love, and how one can rise above the darkness.”

9. Callers — “You Are An Arc”
[Western Vinyl]

One of the year’s most celebrated nu-indie bands straddles the line between cinematic rock, art-jazz slither, and swooning soul. Vocalist Sara Lucas says “You Are An Arc” was inspired by reading about Florida forest rangers who track down snakes. “The images were unbelievable to me,” she says, “like finding a dead python with an alligator’s legs poking through the underbelly of the snake because he’d swallowed it whole. I’ve also never been to Florida so it’s sort of fantastical and absurd to me just like the giant snake that doesn’t belong there.”

10. Ava Luna — “Clips”
[Cooling Pie]

In the band’s hazy, floaty, post-TVOTR conceit, post-punk grooves, soaring soul harmonies, and classic indie detachment join forces for something beautiful, infectious, and damn-near indescribable. Says no-wave soul-stirrer Carlos Hernandez, their dreamy “Clips” is “about the ups and downs of a relationship… in particular, mine.”

11. Year Of The Tiger — “Rockit”

A one-guy, one-girl mix of blown-out crunch-fuck noize and cheerful pop chants — add them to Brooklyn’s increasing list of dance bands that mix awesome grooves with oppressive bursts of noise. Says producer Henry Ivry, “It’s about those times when things around us go from a state of decay to a state of ruin, despite our efforts. We tried our hardest, no one seemed to give a shit, and now we’re all screwed anyway, so fuck it — let’s dance our faces off.”

12. Roc Marciano — “Raw Deal”
[Fat Beats]
This Long Island auteur is a labyrinthine rhymer and a gloriously murky producer. “Raw Deal” combines his sample-centric boom-bap with an arresting tumble of assonance. Says Roc, “The track reminded me of ‘Warning’ by Biggie… Once I heard that sample, it was a no-brainer. It ain’t like I’m gonna make this beat and stink it up.”

13. Red Baraat — “Punjabi Wedding Song (Balle Balle)”

True party-starters, the nine-member Red Baraat are a fiery blend of raucous Indian bhangra and funky New Orleans brass. “Punjabi Wedding Song (Balle Balle)” is a cover of a song from Bollywood rom-com Bride and Prejudice, but done with punkish abandon. Says leader Sunny Jain, “The musicians that make up Red Baraat were all the first calls for the band. I pretty much told them that I was starting a project akin to Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, but on the Indian tip and that it’s going to be all acoustic.”

14. Arp — “From A Balcony Overlooking The Sea”
[Smalltown Supersound]

A gleam of wistful, Eno-ready light — the only vocal track on an album bursting with sunset synths and bleary-eyed blur. Says Arp mastermind Alexis Georgopoulos, “I can say it’s about a man writing a letter to an old friend or lover while looking out over the sea from his balcony in an old hotel. I see him in a white linen suit in the south of France.”

15. White Hills — “Dead”
[Thrill Jockey]

Prismatic psych-rock supernauts live somewhere between Hawkwind’s neverending moon duels and Mudhoney’s shaggy friendliness. “Sometimes time stands still and I completely get lost in what I’m playing,” says guitarist Dave W. “It’s a very freeing feeling, a kind of out-of-body experience. It’s as if my fingers have a mind if their own and I am a bystander watching them go… Other times I think of squirrels.”

16. Child Abuse — “Cut And Run”

As gloriously confrontational as their name would imply, Child Abuse mixes the incoherent glugs of death metal with the dissonant meander of nu-composition. “Even though we all love Stockhausen and Morbid Angel, our sound and writing process has never been preconceived or self-conscious,” says bassist Tim Dahl. “Twentieth century composition and metal has influenced us, but I wouldn’t consider us ‘serious’ composers nor a metal band. Until metalheads consider us a metal band, we are not a metal band.”

17. Zs — “Acres Of Skin”
[The Social Registry]

This hopelessly unique Brooklyn band continues to evoke Schoenberg’s jagged beep-bloops, Glass’s hypnotic, minimalism and Pere Ubu’s headbanging abandon. “‘Acres of skin’ is a quote from the dermatologist Dr. Robert M. Kligman who conducted tests on prisoners in the Holmesburg prison in Pennsylvania,” says saxophonist Sam Hillmer. “He was conducting experiments, which proved to be quite dangerous and permanently detrimental to his subjects. Later, when describing the environment he’d chosen for these experiments, he said something to the effect of ‘I walked into the prison and all I saw were acres of skin.'”

18. Twin Stumps — “Missing Persons”
[Fan Death]

A horrifying, misanthropic, hope-devoid pile-up of punk and noise leaving bloody fingerprints all over Brooklyn. According to frontman Alessandro Keegan, “Missing Persons” is about “the banal concessions we make in life which slowly kill us: being functional members of society, working soul crushing jobs, dampening our emotions with drugs and alcohol, and ultimately giving up on our dreams.”

19. Sightings — “Tar And Pine”

Veteran crew Sightings are Brooklyn’s greatest living noise band, an expressionist version of a rock music where each instrument produces a jagged, nauseous, unpredictable glurp. Says guitarist Mark Morgan, “Sounds like music to us.”