ck’s top ten albums of 2010
Another year, another top 10 list. The biggest change in the way I experienced music since 2009 is the death of lala.com. Fortunately, I was still able to find places online to listen to most albums that I was curious about. The public library has also become my friend. Unfortunately, that means I won’t have links to the full albums for you on this year’s top 10 list. However, I will, of course, link to “must hear” tracks on YouTube, as usual.
Now, let’s get started on this year’s list. But first, a moment of silence for the dearly departed lala.
THE TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2010:
10. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
A few weeks ago, I posted a 20-second review of this record. I skip several tracks almost every time I listen to it, some of the lyrics are awful (“The same people who tried to blackball me/forgot about two things/my black balls”), and it’s among the most overrated and overhyped albums of the year. That being said… it’s still really good. It’s definitely not a 10.0 record, but it’s solid.
MUST HEAR: “Runaway“, “All of the Lights“, “Power”
9. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Hot Chip is inching better and better with each release. 2006’s The Warning was decent, highlighted by the bangin’ “And I Was a Boy From School” and “Over and Over”. 2008’s Made in the Dark experimented more proficiently with other tempos, but was still centered around a few highlight tracks (“Shake a Fist”, “Ready for the Floor”, “One Pure Thought”). What we’re seeing with One Life Stand, however, is that Hot Chip has finally figured out how to make a record where every song is great. One of the unofficial criteria I have for making these lists is, “do I enjoy every song on the record, or do I find myself skipping tracks every time I listen to it?” One Life Stand passes the test… most of the time. It bothers me a little bit to have the slower “Brothers”, “Slush”, and “Alley Cats” back-to-back-to-back, but the saggy middle of the record isn’t enough to keep it off this list. Add the best music video of the year (“I Feel Better”, linked below), and you have a band FINALLY hitting their stride.
MUST HEAR: “I Feel Better“, “Hand Me Down Your Love“, “Alley Cats”
8. B.o.B – The Adventures of Bobby Ray (+No Genre mixtape)
This year, Tk pointed out that he has perhaps reached the end of an era. He’s spending more and more time on different, exciting genres of music, while spending less and less time with blog-buzz bands. To a lesser extent, I’ve turned a corner in my musical taste as well this year. This was the year that I more fully immersed myself in rap, hip-hop, and R&B. In fact, you can see it reflected here; numbers 10, 8, 6, and 3 on this list could be counted in one of those categories. 2010 was also the year that B.o.B blew up the mainstream with his hit “Airplanes” (featuring Hayley Williams of Paramore). “Airplanes” caught my ear, of course, but what people don’t realize is that there are at least three or four songs on the record that are better! And as if that wasn’t enough, he dropped a free mixtape on his website that continues to explore B.o.B’s genre-chameleon personality. Aptly titled No Genre, it starts with the most aggressive B.o.B song yet (“Beast Mode”) and doesn’t let up. Not a bad year for Bobby Ray; no, not at all.
MUST HEAR: “Magic” (feat. Rivers Cuomo of Weezer), “Don’t Let Me Fall“, “Nothin’ On You” (feat. Bruno Mars)
7. Vampire Weekend – Contra
It’s always fun to see music that was released in January on the year-end top ten list. Just 11 days into the new year, Vampire Weekend dropped this summer fun record into the middle of winter. Within the first few seconds of album opener “Horchata”, you know just where your experience with this record is going: You’re going to hear more African influences as they expand their sound. You’re going to get up out of your seat. And you’re going to have a heck of a lot of fun. An improvement over their self-titled debut in almost every way, Contra is that rare sophomore record that makes you excited for album #3 after just one listen.
MUST HEAR: “Horchata“, “Run“, “Giving Up The Gun”
6. Cee-Lo – The Lady Killer
There is much, much more to this record than Fuck You. It’s true. While this summer’s viral hit might have been the chart-toppingest track on The Lady Killer, it definitely wasn’t the best. The record also boasts one of the greatest “driving through the city at night” songs with the synth-drenched “Bright Lights Bigger City”. Cee-Lo’s brand of robo-voiced neo-Motown goes down even smoother on “Satisfied”, a bombasic romp through a sea of horns, soul guitar, and doo-wop backing singers. Top it off with the unlikeliest cover of the year (yes, it’s that “No One’s Gonna Love You“), and you end up with the sexiest record of the year.
MUST HEAR: “Satisfied“, “Bright Lights Bigger City“, “No One’s Gonna Love You”
5. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
This is a record that spawns more questions than answers. For an excellent example, listen to the first minute of “Too Much”; it tells you everything you need to know about this album in a series of questions: “Wait, what is that noise?” “Is Sufjan making dance music now?” “Will I lose my hipster cred if I decide I love this song?” “Can I expect more pop from Sufjan, or more folk?” “Are there ANY banjos on this record?” “How epic can electronics get?” Since 2005’s near-perfect record Illinoise, it seems as if Sufjan has decided to strip everything away from his style and replace it with the complete opposite. Fortunately for us, Sufjan can’t escape who he is, and he can be summed up in just a few words: He’s approaching epic while staying precious.
MUST HEAR: “Too Much“, “Impossible Soul“, “I Walked”
4. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
I’ve heard it said that Broken Social Scene is more of a mood than a band. While I understand the premise, it leads me to wonder how certain moods are portrayed in music. U.S.E must be making records for happiness. Elliott Smith cornered the market on despondency. Broken Social Scene, then, has made a record for… what? My answer is vibrancy. Forgiveness Rock Record has moments of sheer power (the chorus on “World Sick”), moments of hushed intimacy (“Sweetest Kill”), and moments that make you want to run outside, pump your fists, and proclaim to the world, “I’m alive! I have this great record, I have feet in my shoes, and I’m going to give the world everything I’ve got!” It’s a sprawling epic that isn’t afraid to be personal, like every life.
MUST HEAR: “Forced to Love“, “Art House Director“, “Chase Scene”
3. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
Earlier, I pointed out that I listened to a lot more rap/hip-hop/R&B albums this year. I also counted this record among those. While not a complete misnomer, there is much, much more here than genre restrictions. Janelle Monae can flat-out sing. She has some amazing pipes. But if B.o.B is a genre chameleon, Janelle Monae is music’s Mystique, able to shift seamlessly between rock, soul, pop, R&B, electronica, and more. The list goes on. It may be a dizzying expanse, but it opens up further and further to reward the listener for sticking around. In a time when so many singers are making cookie-cutter records and piggybacking on each other’s songs, it’s refreshing to hear a great, big record from a new voice. Janelle Monae is too much of an individual to follow anyone’s lead; let’s hope that in the next few years, more singers will follow hers.
MUST HEAR: “Cold War“, “Tightrope” (feat. Big Boi of Outkast), “Neon Valley Street”
2. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt
Sometime in the middle of the year, I texted Tk out of nowhere to ask, “what’s the top record of 2010 so far?” This was his answer. I’d never heard of The Tallest Man, so I ran straight to the internet (which is not a physical location, but we’ll let that slide). I listened intently as this Swedish singer-songwriter spun Dylan-esque yarns of life and love. Clocking in at just over 34 minutes, this little record blew me away. When you have so many massive albums to listen to (see #3 and 4 on this list), sometimes an intensely personal experience is what you need. I listened to this record more than any other in 2010, and it’s not difficult to see why after just listening to a few tracks. Take the time to listen to this one once, and I guarantee you’re going to be taking more and more time to listen to it.
MUST HEAR: “Burden of Tomorrow“, “King of Spain“, “Troubles Will Be Gone”
1. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
So, here we are. Despite all of the explosively epic, intensely personal, and unabashedly pop music I’ve listened to this year, I’m picking another “typical” indie rock album for the #1 spot on this year’s list. The key, of course, is that L.A.’s Local Natives have done something here that is anything but typical. With this debut album, Local Natives have constructed something that sounds like a much more mature band. As my friend Nic once tweeted, “Local Natives are like a mix of Fleet Foxes and some band I like more than Fleet Foxes.” They’ve taken sweet vocal harmonies, jangly guitars, catchy melodies, and thumping percussion and tossed them all together in juuust the right way to pull out one of the best “indie rock” records ever. It’s difficult to write about this record, because it’s almost too perfect. Every superlative seems appropriate. Every song is a highlight. Every note is professional. Every band member shines. And every other record comes up lacking in comparison.
MUST HEAR: “World News“, “Sun Hands“, “Wide Eyes”
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Tags: 2010, b.o.b, band of horses, big boi, bob dylan, broken social scene, cee-lo, elliott smith, hayley williams, hot chip, janelle monae, john cage, kanye west, lala, local natives, outkast, paramore, rivers cuomo, sufjan stevens, talking heads, tallest man on earth, u.s.e., vampire weekend, weezer
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