Choosing 25 albums somehow ended up being an even harder task than picking my favorite 50 songs of the year. I was able to narrow it down to 24 full-lengths and one collection of releases, so sorry for cheating a bit. Here’s a list of all the music that grabbed my attention upon first listen and had me coming back for more. Everything listed below deserves yours ears’ attention, so check it out. Click “Read More” to see it.
25. Tame Impala- Innerspeaker
24. Gorillaz- Plastic Beach
23. Wavves- King of the Beach
22. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti- Before Today
21. Earl Sweatshirt- EARL
20. The National- High Violet
19. Sufjan Stevens- Age of Adz
18. Crystal Castles- Crystal Castles
17. Hot Chip- One Life Stand
16. Charlotte Gainsbourg- IRM
15. Flying Lotus- Cosmogramma
14. Sleigh Bells- Treats
13. Gold Panda- Lucky Shiner
12. Four Tet- There Is Love In You
11. Beach House- Teen Dream
Producer Will Wiesenfeld took what Flying Lotus has done with heavy, instrumental hip-hop beats and romanticized all of it. Baths’s Cerulean is packed with tough, hard-hitting jams that are contrasted with dream inspired lyrics about love and human connections. It’s an interesting, heavy and fresh approach to the beat madness growing out of Los Angeles.
The most daunting listen of 2010 also provides the most rewards. Every listen of Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me reveals a brand new favorite. There is more and more to come back to each time. In each of these 18 songs, she puts beautiful stories against her incredible, virtuosic talents. Newsom is one of the most interesting artists around today, and with an album as mature as Have One On Me at such an early point in her career, you can bet there will be plenty more amazing releases from her to come.
The Walkmen have worked hard to become one of the most trustworthy bands in Indie music. They are consistently good because they consistently put out something different. At times, Lisbon does make a clear return to rock ‘n’ roll, but there’s a calming Southwestern vibe here that really sticks with me. A desert sun seems to hover over each of these songs. “Stranded” exemplifies it best. The weather is hot and the air is dry, but Hamilton Leithauser still sounds at peace, especially against a truly beautiful lineup of mariachi horns.
With LCD Soundsystem’s third album This Is Happening, James Murphy definitely solidifies himself as one of the biggest innovators in the clash between modern rock and electronic music. He turned LCD into a force to reckon with this year, playing show after show, and somehow expanding his fan base even further. You could penalize the dance outfit for never exhibiting any drastic changes during the course of its three-album catalogue, but why would you? Murphy has successfully found a way to incorporate so many elements from different genres over and over again without faltering once. He’s a master of style and a connoisseur of musical tastes.
The combination of James Blake’s 2010 releases have already provided the music world with an impressive resume well before the release of his debut album. His music is beautifully frightful, creating ghostly atmospheres with manipulated vocals and tranquil, electronic compositions. The eight tracks between the two EPs CMYK and Klavierwerke ride a fading pulse and combine for just over 30 minutes of deep, mesmerizingly intimate music. In his cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love,” he bears his soul by finally putting his own vocals to use. The results are no different. If all this can serve as a preview for his 2011 full-length debut, then we definitely have something in store for us.
Deerhunter has yet to produce an album I do not fall for, and Halcyon Digest is their most beautifully serene release to date. It carries a mystique that never fades, whether Bradford Cox is singing a bright, sentimental take on a Russian sex slave in “Helicopter,” or guitarist Lockett Punckt is picking up the pace in “Desire Lines.” Halcyon Digest is a powerful listen from start to finish, providing moments perfect for quiet, late nights with your head phones (see “Basement Scene”) as well as jams deserving of your speaker system’s fullest attention (“Revival”). In the end, no rock album this year sounded so euphoric. Deerhunter provides a nonstop dream. Halcyon Digest is one giant stream of consciousness to drift to.
The differences between Caribou’s last two records are huge, but that is what is expected of the talented singer, writer, and producer Dan Snaith. In 2007’s Andorra, he made a turn to psychedelic, daytime-friendly music. Surprisingly, his next attempt would bathe in darkness. Swim is a tragic blend of warped dance pop and anxious, heartbreaking lyricism. “Odessa,” my favorite song of the year, begins the album with a bang. It’s a creepy, echoing opener that sets the tone for the eight tracks to come. Snaith sings about a woman who has suffered several years of mistreatment from a damaged lover. She needs to finally take a stand and walk away. The rattling bass and distorted sounds behind her story provides an inside view of what may be going on in both her mind and heart. Like “Odessa,” the album focuses on the sorrows of unhealthy, diminishing relationships, which are appropriately accompanied by immense productions that sound both complex and isolated. Heavy drums and bass, soothing string arrangements, and beautiful horn sections combine to make what feels like this year’s most unique sounding electronic album.
Big Boi’s delayed, solo debut instantly became a hip-hop classic primed for constant rotation. Allegedly, 2010 was to give us three Outkast releases: Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty, an Andrei 3000 release, and Outkast’s seventh LP. Unfortunately, only the former came to life this year, but what Antwan Andre Patton cooked up for his fans ended up being the loudest, most exciting, funkified record of the year. Big Boi is on his A-game.
The 35-year-old rap star rhymes like he never took a break and makes sure to reinvent his sound track after track just as the exuberant Atlanta-based duo always promised to do. The album features a mind-blowing group of producers such as the seemingly exiled Scott Storch, the “Waterfalls”-producing Organized Noize, the rambunctious Lil Jon, and even Big Boi’s partner in crime Andre. Collectively, their works feature endless layers of oddball sounds and varying musical styles with enough bounce to push your car through the highway without your foot ever hitting the gas. Big Boi’s heavy, energetic voice playfully skids across throughout all this madness. On tracks such as the standout “Shutterbug” or the mischievous “Backup Plan,” he turns the music into his playground, and keeps the fun going until the very end. Do not consider this album a comeback anymore. It’s good enough to be played just as much as your Outkast favorites.
Being the sucker for nostalgia that I am, I could not help but listen to The Suburbs a thousand times over, imagining the best and worst moments of growing up in a warm but seemingly complacent San Diego that provided so many reasons to miss home, yet so many aspects of life easy to leave behind. The “We Used to Wait” video helped visualize the album’s constant themes of suburban youth, allowing you to Google map your house, throw it into some interactive footage, and watch yourself flee your neighborhood just after you write a final letter home. In a way, the cool, innovative HTML5 experiment helps put you into the album, but you don’t need it to. While The Suburbs provided enough bursts of emotional energy to get a sold out Madison Square Garden crowd to roar together two nights in a row, it feels significantly calmer than their previous releases. The album feels like home and it conjures every tingling memory left inside of you. The good times make you want to go back only to be turned back around again by the bad. “Modern Man” makes you want to skip all the questioning about daily work life and somehow regain your adolescence. “Rococo” reminds you of every reason why you needed to escape: when you became a self-absorbed teen that knew way too much, ready to rush into the real world. In truth, you weren’t ready at all, and you knew so much less than you initially thought. Appropriately, the album starts and ends on the same note with the title track. In “The Suburbs,” Win Butler sums up all the record’s feelings. He begins to declare for you, “If I can have it back…”
When “Power” leaked in late May, there was still plenty to be concerned about in regards to Kanye West. No one came into 2010 with as many doubters, haters, and questioning supporters as the prolific hip-hop star. West faced a stubborn rap community that received his previous experimental, auto-tune filled album with almost universally mixed feelings. He also had to answer to the fire that was left behind from the infamous Taylor Swift controversy – an act that apparently deserved to be treated with harsher consequences than any crime by previous hip-hop stars (i.e. Lil Wayne, R. Kelly, T.I., etc.). Hell, the president gave a shit enough to call him a jackass. Luckily, the Dwele-featuring, King Crimson-sampling “Power” addressed every doubt, insult, and concern with enough force to regain the respect of many discouraged fans and the attention of the rest of the music world nearly sixth months prior to the release of My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy. After all, no matter what controversy follows West, or how emotionally unstable the pop figure becomes, he’s killing this shit, and we’re all feeling it.
For the rest of 2010, the controversial rapper looked to take control of his image. He skipped the media and turned to Twitter to speak directly to the public. What he had to say was at once insightful and nonsensical, but there was no misconstruing or overanalyzing. He also turned to blogging to give music directly to fans before any radio station or publication could even bother to attach their opinions to his songs. Fans were able to preview the album piece by piece and therefore greeted it with more excitement than any previous release. Appropriately, the new album encompasses the new West by painting the portrait he wants us to see. It becomes the most personal and self-involved album in recent memory.
My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy serves as an hour-long, introspective look into a troubled mind torn by both internal and external conflicts. In 13 tracks, we hear the words of two different artists. The first is the 21st Century’s most boisterous, artistic ego, the most sought out producer in hip-hop, and the most daring musical figure in a stale pop atmosphere. The latter provides a completely different portrayal. Kanye West is an insecure, guilty, and self-loathing character burdened by the plights of his own errors and the harsh observations provided by an overly interested, celebrity-centric culture. This depiction is supported by the larger than life productions the artist has yet to put together. The music teeters on an overzealous attempt at divinity, but is always brought back to earth by a story of imperfections. Every aspect of the album follows suit. West’s lyrics are abrasive but delicate, the guest appearances are both violent and emotional, and the music is lush, grandiose, and dreary. Altogether, My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy becomes the most polished, triumphant release in years. There is nothing in pop music today this bold. This album deserves to be the most remembered. Fuck Matt Lauer.