05
Jan
11

2010 Favorites (1 of 2): Albums + Songs


10 Favorite Albums of 2010

Like my post from last year, this list of favorite albums is presented in alphabetical order, since I find the idea of a ranked Top 10 compiled by a single person to be kinda silly. That said, at time of writing I have read a number of other best-of-2010 lists (and listened to lots of podcasts) from many of my favorite sources for criticism: The A.V. Club, Pitchfork, NPR Music, The Current, Sound Opinions. HOWEVER, I jotted this list down BEFORE any of those sites posted theirs. Consequently, there are a few albums out there I regret not ranking higher (The Walkmen, The Roots). Oh well… LOTS of links to hear the songs I’m talking about below. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading!



Best Coast

Crazy for You

Having lived in San Diego for two years, I’ve often proscribed that the city’s many shark-bitten-surf-board-on-the-wall drinking establishments put away the Sublime already and get with some fresh beach tunes. Seeking to fill that void, a number of groups went for those Phil Spector backbeats and reverb-drenched guitars this year (Wavves, MGMT, Surfer Blood), but Best Coast shone through the pack thanks to the sturdy, woozy croon of Bethany Cosentino. I’m not sure any of the songs on the much-anticipated debut Crazy for You are quite as catchy as last year’s single “When I’m with You” (though “Boyfriend” and “Crazy for You” come close), but I was pleased with the collection overall.

Black Mountain

Wilderness Heart

Black Mountain singer Amber Webber’s side project Lightning Dust made my list last year. How cool to spin this year’s Wilderness Heart and hear Webber’s quavery vocals playing more of a central role than ever before! She’s right there in front sharing duties with leader Stephen McBean on single “Old Fangs“, album opener “The Hair Song“, and the standout Pink Floyd homage “Buried by the Blues“. Jeremy Schmidt’s mellotron flourishes also stand out in what I’d call Black Mountain’s best album yet.

Gorillaz

Plastic Beach

It’s been 15 years since Blur first “Whoo-Hoo!“-ed it into our hearts, but on his third sprawling, guest star-packed Gorrilaz album, Damon Albarn proves he remains every bit the creative force. Favorites this time out include a cameo by 70’s soulster Bobby Womack on lead single “Stylo“, Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano on “Empire Ants“, and the catchy Albarn solo spot, “Melancholy Hill“.


The Joy Formidable

A Balloon Called Moaning

The Joy Formidable are a trio from Wales who make loud, hooky, infectious pop-punk. Normally it’s the kind of thing that gets overhyped and overplayed beyond enjoyability, but these guys haven’t really made a splash in America yet, so I for one was able to relax and just enjoy the songs on their debut “mini album”. Check out the videos for “Cradle“, “Austere“, and “Whirring” in advance of new LP The Big Roar, dropping in March.


 

Janelle Monáe

The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)

Musical theater being far from my forte, I was tripped up to read about Janelle’s original aspirations for Broadway stardom. But The ArchAndroid is no cast recording: just one listen through this sonically adventurous, genre-shattering debut proves Monae has more performing ability stored in her patented poof than a hundred thousand Billy Elliots (or whoever it is they’ve got up there these days). Months after first hearing it, my favorite track is still “Neon Valley Street” (though “Cold War” runs a pretty close second).

Robyn

Body Talk

No scene could have been weirder this fall than being squished inside an over-stuffed Orange line train on the way to my temp job, bumping track after track of Robyn’s electro-dance pop into my custom earmold headphones. But bump them I did … over and over again! I suppose this is a story of impulses toward critical elitism and guity pleasure intersecting perfectly. On paper, any artist who starts in the pre-fab teen pop realm of the late 90’s and breaks so far away that she’s starting her own label is going to get something of an automatic pass from me. From there, however, the early-80’s Madonna spirit Robyn channels in her music is not something I normally enjoy outside of a dark club. But a good song is a good song, and Robyn’s Bodytalk (an LP compiling highlights from the three Bodytalk EPs she released in 2010) contains more than its fair share. “Dancing on My Own“, “Indestructable“, “Love Kills“, “Hang with Me“, “Call Your Girlfriend“, “U Should Know Better” (feat. Snoop Dogg!), and “Dancehall Queen” ALL burst with witty lyrics, creative production, and gorgeous harmonies.


Spaghetti Western String Company

Farewell Verse

Final release from the venerable Minneapolis quartet. Leader and banjoist Michael Rossetto formed the group following the first Spaghetti Western album, a bedroom Americana masterpiece called Do Right by People. Be sure to check out the cover of Radiohead’s “Exit Music”, sung in Italian!


Tame Impala

Innerspeaker

I first caught wind of this Aussie band about two years ago when a friend posted the video to “Half Full Glass of Wine“, a brilliant take on late-60’s/early 70’s psychedelic riff rock that even ends on a sloppy drum solo. Waiting for full-length debut Innerspeaker to come out soon became agonizing, though as I learned later, the delay was due in part to that fact that frontman Kevin Parker plays every instrument on the album! OK, so he’s not behind the skins on lead single “Solitude Is Bliss“, but the rest of the cuts — especially groovy opener “It Is Not Meant to Be“, single “Lucidity“, and the re-recorded “Desire Be Desire Go” (from the ’08 Tame Impala EP) — bear the mark of a true rock craftsman. Sunnier sounds influenced by early 60’s surf and girl groups may have been more popular this year, but Tame Impala are just getting started.


Kanye West

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Despite the hipster baggage it brings with it, I do cop to reading Pitchfork on a regular basis, and to being generally intrigued by the choices the site’s writers make in deeming albums “Best New Music”. That said, I’m also highly skeptical of the indie-zine’s authority in assessing major-label hip-hop. So when I discovered that Kanye’s new album was to be the first Pitchfork “10.0” for a new album in 8 years, I knew I would have to spend some time with it to form my own, unbiased opinion. Long story short, I ended up listening to this thing about four times in a row on my trip home for Thanksgiving, and large sections of the album haven’t left my eardrums since. It’s the production for me: I’ve simply never heard hip-hop this intricately (see=obsessively) crafted. “Dark Fantasy” samples a Mike Oldfield song from 1983, “Gorgeous” is based on a vocal line from the bridge of an obscure-ass late-60’s Turtles song, and “Power” samples the coolest, geekiest prog song ever. (Shall I go on? These are just the first three tracks!) Elsewhere, the Nicki Minaj verse on “Monster” IS as fantastic as everyone says, the naked emotion coursing through the Chris Rock cameo on “Blame Game” is on-par with the tragic-comedic brilliance of that Rodney Dangerfield scene from Natural Born Killers, and attempting to assess how many of us can even remember hearing Bon Iver’s “Woods” in it’s original form two years ago — let alone how many predicted what would become of it — is now completely impossible.


Neil Young

Le Noise

The success of Le Noise begins with Neil Young’s decision to record without a band: an ideal move for an artist whose eccentricities are actually growing as he gets older. Of course, the resulting album wouldn’t be what it is without some pretty unique production by Daniel Lanois. On opening track “Walk with Me“, listen to how Lanois is able to take a single guitar + vocal performance and expand it into a powerful, swirling wall of sound that actually demands to be heard. (Something we haven’t said about a new Neil Young album in quite some time…)



Next Five


Amiina

Puzzle

Sophomore album by Sigur Rós’s string section. Check out: Ásinn“, “What Are We Waiting For?



The Black Keys

Brothers

Album was too long, but a few great singles to add to the live set. Check out: “Tighten Up“, “Next Girl“, “Everlasting Light



The Books

The Way Out

Welcomed return after 2005’s Lost and Safe. “All You Need Is a Wall” boasts a beautiful vocal melody. Also check out: “I Didn’t Know That“, “A Cold Freezin’ Night


Relayted

Gayngs

Relayted

Inspired collection of slow-jams by MN/WI indie supergroup. Check out: “The Gaudy Side of Town“, Cry



John Grant

Queen of Denmark

Recorded with Midlake, an impressive debut with lyrical wit reminiscent of Randy Newman. Title track contains the line: “I hope you know that all I want from you is sex/To be with someone who looks smashing in athletic wear.” Also check out: “Marz




Overrated

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs

…But I don’t mean musically. How the members of Arcade Fire are able to write and arrange such high-energy anthems and perform them in a large ensemble is a continued topic of interest. (And “Modern Man” is in something like 17/8 time, for crissakes!) Actually, this album is pretty close to being a top 10 pick, but for the content and quality of the lyrics… In Win Butler’s suburbs, chain stores morph into other chain stores, kids get busted on their bikes for breaking curfew, while others try to stave off the big, bad business world by going to art school. Such a scene would make decent enough inspiration for a personal album about growing up in isolation (which is what The Suburbs is, ultimately). But how well does Butler’s depiction relate to the actual suburban world of 2010? Look out your window: Homes are being foreclosed on in record numbers. Suburban development projects have stopped dead in their tracks. The American Dream of homeownership — so long a lynchpin to our economy — has been turned on its head… And yet to Butler, we’re still faced with ever-increasing “sprawl” (a really clichéd word, btw) and “the death of everything that’s wild”?? Don’t you read the news Win? The suburbs are over! Something far more complicated is happening out there! OK, you can argue that if Win Butler wants to write about his personal experiences to make personal songs about growing up, then he should be able to. But that would just make The Suburbs one of many works of art about the phoniness of suburban life to come out over that last decade (American Beauty, Weeds, etc.). It’s actually a pretty tired topic. And as we’ve already touched on, this band doesn’t really do “personal” anyway. Arcade Fire fans will take anything Win Butler says about the state of the world and turn it into an urgent battle cry. In fact, Arcade Fire get a lot of critical respect for their ability to rouse  communal spirit in concert with supposedly meaningful points of view. Sadly, the anthems on The Suburbs do little more than establish that (1) it must have sucked to live outside Houston in the mid 90’s, and that (2) fighting to overcome this bummer is “a war that we can’t win”, (cf. “Suburban War”)). A stronger effort would have addressed the housing crisis using more complex perspectives, perhaps through different characters who played different roles in the story. How about a Ponzi schemer who rips through a community peddling cheap mortgages? Or a song about a young family who lose their jobs, then their home, only to later find rebirth through realization that the suburban dream is a bunch of bullshit anyway? 2010 was probably Arcade Fire’s biggest year yet. Sadly, it may also go down as the year Win Butler & Co. finally grew out of touch with the daily lives of their audience.




Baffling



Sufjan Stevens

The Age of Adz

I’ll admit that when I included a new Sufjan Stevens LP in my “Musical Wishlist for 2010” post last year, I didn’t actually think it was going to happen. But lo and behold, not only did we get The Age of Adz rather unexpectedly this fall (as well as the preceding 60-min All Delighted People EP), but what we heard was nothing less than a grandiose, heartfelt, intricate, long-in-gestation masterpiece! Or was it an overcooked ego-trip by a workaholic Sufjan? Either way, I can’t say I’ve decided yet. It’s clear that Stevens chose to move away from the lilting orchestral strains that made 2005’s Illinois so inviting, replacing them with cold, power tool-esque electronic rhythms. I found this arrangement left space for Sufjan to carry more expressive weight with his vocals than we’ve heard before. But again, do I like the change? I think it’s going to take a few more listens (if not a few more years) to be absolutely sure.



Disappointing


The Hold Steady

Heaven Is Whenever


M.I.A.

/\/\ /\ Y /\



MGMT

Congratulations




Songs I really liked from albums not listed above

Antony and the Johnsons — “The Great White Ocean

Beach House — “Zebra

Broken Social Scene — “World Sick

Cee Lo Green — “I Want You“, “No One’s Gonna Love You” (Band of Horses cover)

Charlotte Gainsbourg — “Heaven Can Wait” (feat. Beck)

Deerhunter — “Helicopter“, “Desire Lines

Jónsi — “Go Do“, “Boy Lilikoi

Mavis Staples — “You’re Not Alone

Megafaun — “Volunteers“, “Bonnie’s Song

Midlake — “Winter Dies“, “Acts of Man

of Montreal — “Coquet Coquette

Peter Wolf Crier — “Crutch & Cane

Phosphorescent — “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)“, “The Mermaid Parade

Retribution Gospel Choir — “Hide It Away

Saron Van Etten — “Love More

Sufjan Stevens — “Djohariah” (so epic it won’t fit into one youtube vid!)

The National — “Terrible Love“, “Bloodbuzz Ohio

The Roots — “The Fire” (ft. John Legend), “Doin’ It Again” (ft. John Legend), “Radio Daze

Wild Nothing — “Live in Dreams

Yeasayer — “O.N.E.“, “Madder Red



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3 Responses to “2010 Favorites (1 of 2): Albums + Songs”


  1. January 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Awesome list!!
    Check out the DJ’s on my recent post!!


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