I honestly hate writing these lists. Those who know me know I am guilty of uttering the phrase “this is my favorite album of ALL TIME!” far too often, and usually about more than one album. The reason for this is simple. The music I listen to is a reflection of my state of mind at the time, the place I am at, who I am with, etc. and thus always changing. With this list I tried to look at the albums I revisited, the albums I constantly came back to. The albums where each song was a different obsession on a different day. While these are by no means the best albums of 2010, these are the ones that meant the most to me. Thanks.
25. How To Dress Well- Love Remains
24. Tame Impala- Innerspeaker
23. Best Coast- Crazy For You
22. Dylan LeBlanc- Pauper’s Field
21. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti- Before Today
20. Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest
19. Spoon- Transference
18. Vampire Weekend- Contra
17. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings- I Learned The Hard Way
16. Avi Buffalo- S/T
15. Gil Scott-Heron- I’m New Here
14. Neil Young- Le Noise
13. Kurt Vile- Sqare Shells EP
12. Crystal Castles- II
11. Sleigh Bells- Treats
10. Girls- Broken Dreams Club EP
Girls return on “Broke Dreams Club EP” doing everything they do best- writing beautifully crafted pop songs full of angst and catchy hooks, often from the perspective of a teenage girl. Tracks like “Thee Oh So Protective One” and “Heartbreaker” have everything that made you love “Lust For Life” only bolstered by flourishes of a slightly larger recording budget (some nice brass accents). “Broken Dreams Club” is a melancholy portrait of youthful angst, and “Alright” and “Carolina” both touch the fringes of psychedelia. The entire EP is phenomenal, showing growth from Album but staying true to the sensibilities that generated them hype in the first place.
9. The Black Keys- Brothers
The Black Keys have always killed it with the blues. However it was not until this years release of Brothers that The Black Keys tried out pop and dove into soul- and executed both successfully. With beefed up production the duo stacked catchy riffs upon catchy melodies on tracks like “Ten Cent Pistol”, or the Jock Jams-esque “Howlin For You”. The boys delve into soul on album highlights “Everlasting Light” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Brothers shows a huge amount of growth for the band. While sticking to their roots, The Black Keys made their blues accessible leading to one hell of an album, and even a Grammy nod!
8. Beach House- Teen Dream
There is an air of peacefulness that comes over me each time I hear the song “Zebra”. Teen Dream is a collection of dreamy, shimmering songs- almost intricate lullabies that have the same affect as a warm cup of coffee on a rainy morning. The voice is unrivaled, and only bolstered with the warm guitar tones and ease of the melody. Teen Dream is an escape with every listen, an album you come out of feeling just a bit more at peace than when you started.
7. The Tallest Man On Earth- The Wild Hunt
I was hesitant to give The Tallest Man On Earth my full attention due to a set up of Dylan comparisons which would surely fall short. Putting those aside, I did sit down and give The Wild Hunt a listen, only to find out that TMOE is not Dylan. However, The Tallest Man on Earth is brilliant as just that- The Tallest Man On Earth. He is an exceptional songwriter with keen melodies that take on a life of their own when sung in his grating voice. The songs play out as very off the cuff, and very honest. The nuances are there as well. In the album highlight “Love Is All” he caries on each line of the verse in a way that gives the impression of man at ease with a time ending. Don’t listen to The Wild Hunt and expect to find Dylan, listen for the beautiful honestly that The Tallest Man On Earth brings to each song.
6. Woods- At Echo Lake
At Echo Lake is an incredibly charming album. It’s an album meant to be listened to in the hills of Laurel Canyon as the breezy recordings just sound better in nature. It has an environment about it, stemming from the bedroom quality of the recordings. It’s raw, but not stifled by it’s lo-fi nature. In fact, it seems more appropriate to call these front porch recordings. At Echo Lake breaks no barriers, but not all albums need to. In fact, it demonstrates the timeless fact that a strong album is rooted in strong song writing, period.
5. LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening
This Is Happening showed little growth from Sounds of Silver, luckily for LCD Soundsystem, little growth was necessary. In fact it seems as if we grew around the band. As dance music seemed to seep into every facet of popular music, the public came to the realization that LCD was band that was as dancey as it was witty. Murphy returns lyrically as strong as ever with tirades such as:
“One, the king wears a king hat and lives in a king house
Two, your time will come, but tonight is our night, so you should give us all of your drugs
Three, we have a black president and you do not, so shut up”
Songs like “Dance Yrself Clean” and “One Touch” showcase the band’s ability to structure dance anthems, while “Drunk Girls” and “I Can Change” showcase Murphy’s songwriting. And what would an LCD album be without that one epic song, the one where you don’t know whether to cry, or dance, or just hug the person next to you? Oh, that’s here as well with “All I Want”. This Is Happening is a classic LCD album as any of them, if it does happen to be the bands last release- it’s a hell of a one to go out on.
4. The Walkmen- Lisbon
The strength in Lisbon lies in The Walkmen’s shimmering guitar tone, use of space, and near flawless melodies. The album opens with “Juveniles”, a mid-tempo song embodying classic Walkmen characteristics and plants the seed for the overall tone of Lisbon. It has a bit of city swing to it which eventually leads up to a full on sing along “Your one of us, or one of them”. “Angela Surf City” is a driving rock song that shifts between a hard-hitting drum section, and erupting into a full out Strokes-esque chorus. “Woe Is Me” is a catchy one-two punch with a sing-songy melody interwoven between a bouncy guitar riff- The Walkmen at their popiest. For me, the album revolves around the song “Stranded”. The production on this track is just beautiful. The horns provide an exquisitely lush back-drop which seem to wrap its arms around the warm wail of Hamilton Leithauser. The Walkmen have always been a reliable band, and each album acts as a showcase for another one of the bands’ talents. On Lisbon The Walkmen are able to demonstrate that beauty isn’t a bad word when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll.
3. The National- High Violet
High Violet is an album that seems to better listened to in winter, than summer. An album that was meant to be heard with snow on the ground, and a calm outside that cold air and grey skies provide. Like winter, High Violet seems to find it’s beauty in how bleak most of the songs feel. The album opener “Terrible Love” carries with it so much emotional weight stemming from a love gone sour, that one often needs a break before continuing on with the album. The three songs following find High Violet at it’s most detached. Than cue “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, for me an anthem of home about the rush one gets from going back to a place you used to know. The song recharges the listener preparing them for some of the strongest songs to follow.
I fell in love with the guitar sound on “Lemonworld” from the first time I heard the first chord. Lyrically the song is flawless and I would be remiss if I left out one of my favorite bits on the album
“I gave my heart to the Army
The only sentimental thing I could think of
With cousins and colors somewhere overseas
But it’ll take a better war to kill a college man like me”
For me, “Conversatioin 16” is the highlight of the album. The song poetically tackles the subject of a relationship at the point of break. A character so jaded and unhappy he unabashedly proclaims (MY FAVEORITE LYRIC OF THE YEAR) “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, because I’m evil”
Throughout High Violet little hope is given to the listener, and thus the albums strength lies in it’s ability to navigate bleak emotional topics with lyrical poignancy and sense of calming beauty.
2. Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
The Suburbs is a story of transition. While growth and movement are by no means uncharted territories in the musical realm, what makes The Suburbs great is the finesse in which it explores this age-old saga.
The album plays out like a film- in “The Suburbs” the character is just understanding his desire to escape, and in “Ready To Star” the decision has been made. We see the character’s allure to “the modern kids” in the beautifully arranged “Rococo”, only for him or her to discover the evils that await in the city with “City With No Children”. The rest of the album plays with the theme of coping with the way things are now, and the understanding that we may never return to “The Suburbs”. Musically the band seems to explore this theme by stripping down production and demonstrate their pure strength as song writers on tracks like “Suburban War”, “Wasted Hours”, and “Deep Blue. “We Used To Wait “ is no doubt an album highlight, as is the surprisingly danceable “Sprawl II”.
Sonically The Suburbs shows the range of the band, but what really comes through on this album is the ability of Arcade Fire to piece together the story of change and accurately show the layers of emotion that goes along with it.
1. Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
One could rightfully say that everything that Kanye has done in his career- every non-p.c. statement, every award stolen, every Twitter tirade, has been to set us up for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In a way, his career, his music, were all plotted backward from this point. The album is an honest portrait of a man confused, a confusion only understood in the context of the popular culture we surround ourselves with. This album makes sense because we know Kanye, because he has shown himself to us.
MBDTF explores the dark corners of man’s mind where one finds the self indulgences, obessions, and lusts that many of us our too frightened to admit exist. However, in true Kanye fashion flaws our shouted with brazen horns, amidst distorted samples, and supported by everyone who’s anyone in the entertainment industry.
To me, “Power” is the song that best explains the dichotomy explored throughout the album, and thus the dichotomy that exists in the mind of Mr. West. The song is so fierce it almost comes off as paranoid, some sort of defense mechanism. In Kanye’s mind, there is no one better than himself- and for some reason, people hate him. But Kanye, needs love or some sort of human connection, so much so that at the end of this song he plots the beauty of his own death. The dichotomy continues with songs like “All Of The Lights” where Kanye seems to proudly admit his wrongs, placed up against songs like “Monster” where Kanye seems to unabashedly admit how fucking awesome he is. In tracks like “Runaway” and “Blame Game” we see a man steeped in depression—and if people could just let go of this damn Taylor Swift incident—they may actually feel bad for the guy.
Like him or hate him—this album is Kanye West. But maybe it’s not a matter of like or hate, maybe he is just asking you to try and understand.