Albums, 2010

Albums 2010 2

This was a really fun, interesting year in music, which is good because it was also a year in which I was particularly interested in listening to some new albums.  I reached a breaking point with all of my old playlists and favorite artists and decided to dedicate myself to searching out a lot of new stuff this year, and I wasn’t disappointed.  To be fair, there were a few great new albums from my old favorite artists as well.

As always, this is not a list of the best albums of the year, but a list of my favorites.  Although, to be honest, I’ve listened to most of the stuff that is showing up on other best of 2010 lists, and I feel pretty good about this.

15) Sufjan StevensThe Age of Adz (October 12th)

sufjan-stevens-age-of-adz-cover-art

It would be wrong to say that I’m disappointed in this album; I actually like it quite a bit when I sit down and listen to it.  The problem is that I rarely put it on.  It was a pretty crowded year of music for me, and for some reason I’m always in the mood to listen to something else.  For now it just barely makes the list, but I suspect that it when I get some more reps in it might climb.

14) Beach Fossils – Beach Fossils (May 25th)

beach-fossils-cvoer

Man, a lot of bands sounded like this band this year.  Or this band sounded like a lot of bands.  Whichever it is, this is definitely a good sampling of 2010 in sonic form.  Beach Fossils stand out from the pack a bit, though; they’re slightly catchier than similar-sounding groups, and the guitar lines here are great.  The guitar parts  sound a little like Johnny Marr from the Smiths, except slower and hazier.

13) Daft PunkTRON: Legacy soundtrack (December 7th)

daft-punk-tron

It’s true that this is not a “real” Daft Punk album, in the sense that they were working within the confines of scoring a movie.  But listening to this album has been one of the more memorable aural experiences of the year for me.  Using it as a soundtrack while washing dishes or doing homework makes those everyday tasks feel almost epic; when I put it on at the gym I feel like I’m running to SAVE HUMANITY!

12) Surfer BloodAstro Coast (January 19th)

astrocoast

I know I’m not the first to mention this, but this band sounds a lot like Weezer.  Luckily, it’s not recent “even we don’t know if we’re being ironic with these lyrics, and Rivers came up with this chord progression using a mathematical formula” Weezer.  This sounds like it could be a lost studio session from between The Blue Album and Pinkerton.  I may be going a bit far with the Weezer comparison.

11) The Morning BendersBig Echo (March 9th)

bigecho

Have I mentioned before that I only bought this album because I heard it was produced by one of the guys from Grizzly Bear?  And that I hadn’t even listened to a snippet of it?  I have, you say?  Several times?  OK, then.  Moving on.

10) RobynBody Talk (November 22nd)

robyn-body-talk-cover

I knew of Robyn’s productivity this year, and kept seeing her name pop up on Pitchfork and other places, but I had listened to absolutely none of it.  All of the material from her EPs was new to me, so when Body Talk dropped in November, at an hour long and with fifteen tracks, it felt like it was making a bigger and bolder statement than a lot of pop albums.  This album is currently a favorite of mine at the gym, along with number thirteen and number one on this list.

9) Local NativesGorilla Manor (February 16th)

localnatives-600x600

So, this came out last year in the UK, but I don’t live there, so I’m putting it on the list.  That said, you’ve probably already heard it, so you don’t need me to blather on about it.

8 ) Beach HouseTeen Dream (January 26th)

beach-house_teen-dream

Earlier this year Beach House tweeted their displeasure that Katy Perry’s album had a name so similar to their own.  I’m not sure why they cared, frankly, and they are also ignoring the fact that it’s the name of their band and not the name of their album that’s the real problem.

Picture 3

I think this band’s name really does them a disservice, particularly in a year in which the word “beach” is going to bring to mind a very specific type of music.  For a long time this album didn’t totally click with me, and I think that’s because I was trying to fit it in a box in which it didn’t belong.  Once I realized that I had to view it outside of the musical spectrum of the year 2010, it really got its hooks into me.  The other band on this list with the word “beach” in their name live and die by their haziness, but Beach House, at least on this album, traffic in a much crisper sound.

7) YeasayerOdd Blood (February 9th)

yeasayer-odd_blood

Can you believe this album is from 2010?  Doesn’t it seem like at least a year and a half or two years old at this point?  For me, at least, that’s likely a function of the fact that both Johanna and I played the shit out of it in the somewhat-frenzied months before our wedding when we were bouncing around the Triangle tasting cake and talking to photographers.  We’ve listened to it so much that it seems like it can’t have only been around for ten months.

Some of the tracks, like “Madder Red,” have worn a bit thin at this point, but “O.N.E.” holds up well for me, and “Ambling Alp” is just a really, really terrific song.

6) The DrumsSummertime! EP/The Drums (March 8th/June 7th)

The Drums

I’m grouping these two together even though they only share two songs because, due mostly to the timing of their releases, I actually listened to the EP quite a bit more than the album.  It feels weird to only include an EP when the same artist released a full-length album three months later, though.

Typically I think naming a band something as generic as “the Drums” is stupid.  If I were in a band, I wouldn’t want people to have any difficulty finding it when Googling or looking on Amazon or iTunes.  But guess what?  Apparently the Drums are a big deal now, or at least have someone working for them who is good at search optimization, because the first five results on Google all point to something related to them.

The sound of the Drums is very of its time; I will never have any difficulty placing these albums in the correct year in my mind.  Normally that would be a strong indicator that they might not fare so well in their future releases.  Remember all the bands from 2000 and 2001 that tried to then continue being a band in 2004 or 2005 and failed spectacularly?  But the songwriting here is pretty strong, so hopefully they will end up being adaptable.

5) DeerhunterHalcyon Digest (September 28th)

Deerhunter-Halcyon-Digest

I was really surprised by how much I ended up loving this album.  I bought the previous Deerhunter album, Microcastle, during a period in 2009 when I finally stopped resisting the hype and started trying to listen to all of the bands that people would not stop talking about.  I might have even bought this the same day I picked up Merriweather Post Pavilion.  Unlike with Animal Collective, whom I instantly realized I had been stupid to ignore, I sort of hated the Deerhunter album.  I mean, “Never Stops” is a pretty good song, and I like the guitar line in “Nothing Ever Happened,” but I swear in the chorus of that song Bradford Cox is trying to make me hate it.  I can hear it in his voice.

I almost didn’t even buy this one, but the reviews made me optimistic; not only were they uniformly positive, but they described a very different sound from what I had heard on Microcastle.  And there was certainly no “Revival” or “Coronado” on that album.  Halcyon Digest feels so much larger and cleaner and more exciting than what I’ve heard of the band’s previous work.  It turns out all Deerhunter needed to make me love them was more saxophone.

4) LCD SoundsystemThis Is Happening (May 18th)

this is happening

This is one that really fits in on a list of albums as opposed to singles.  I rarely listen to it in bits and pieces and I always think of it as a whole.  I don’t usually include songs from it when I make a playlists; the length and shifting tone of these songs means that they demand their own space.  The album is outstanding, but listening to individual songs doesn’t really feel right.

The lone exception to that, however, is the opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” which blew both my mind and my eardrums when I first heard it.  I listened to it over and over and even emailed my friends about it; it turned me into one of those people who will not stop talking to you about LCD Soundsystem.  Like with A Tribe Called Quest or Animal Collective or Arcade Fire, this is a band that makes you want to proselytize for them even though you are sick of hearing other people talk about them.  You can’t help yourself.  That usually means they’re putting out pretty good albums.

3) Vampire WeekendContra (January 11th)

Vampire-Weekend-Contra

I was really surprised to see this album show up near the top of so many “Best Of” lists this year.  It seemed like ever since about a month after Vampire Weekend released their first album, and continuing through the release of this (admittedly well-reviewed) follow-up, everyone has been trying to make me feel uncool for loving this band.  Obviously a lot of that is due to my own insecurities, and I will own up to that.  But I also suspect that enough time has now passed that the wave of backlash against the blog hype is starting to recede.

I also think it’s becoming harder and harder to not respect a band that absolutely refuses to change their style or sound in the face of quite a bit of mocking.  This album has a lot more depth than their self-titled debut, and it’s a lot prettier, I think, but their tone remains consistent.  If they had tried to mix things up to appease their critics that might have been the last we heard of them.  Pitchfork would have given it a kneejerk 3.4, MTV wouldn’t have started playing clips from the band during every commercial break, and we certainly wouldn’t be hearing “Holiday” in commercials from Tommy Hilfiger and Honda.  Good for them.

2) Arcade FireThe Suburbs (August 3rd)

Arcade-Fire-The-Suburbs

This album came out in the middle of my honeymoon.  Thankfully, we live in the future, so I was able to download it from the comfort of my hotel room, sync it to my iPod, and start playing immediately with the iPod dock conveniently located on the hotel room’s alarm clock.  My wife and I would listen to it as we were getting ready in the morning and it became sort of the soundtrack to the trip in my mind.  We ended the honeymoon in Chicago, and the association of this album with that period of my life was cemented when we saw Arcade Fire close out the final night of Lollapalooza in what I’m realizing, now that a bit of time has passed, was maybe the best concert of my life.

This is the third studio album from Arcade Fire, and I’ve really loved all three.  I have a lot of artists that I love and whose albums I will purchase without a second thought.  But I think my favorite thing about this album is that I finally have a favorite band again.  I love Arcade Fire the way my sixth grade self loved Green Day.

1) Kanye WestMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (November 22nd)

Kanye-West-MBDTF-Cover

Kanye West sometimes gets compared to the Beatles, and that always pisses a lot of people off.  Even Kanye himself doesn’t seem to like the comparison that much, judging by this line from “Monster”: “And what’s a Black Beatle anyway, a fucking roach?”  I don’t think Kanye West is John Lennon or Paul McCartney, either, but I think I understand why some people want to make the comparison.

The Beatles completely changed music in a relatively short period of time; most of what came after them doesn’t sound anything like what came before.  Kanye couldn’t possibly have a similar revolutionary impact, but whatever he is doing is definitely capital-N New.  I’m not even completely sure what type of music this is anymore.  It’s obviously not rock, but it’s not really what I think of as hip hop or R&B either.  There are samples mixed with live instrumentation and orchestration, vocals both sung and rapped and sometimes just spoken.  The Beatles altered the entire course of popular music; I suspect that with the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West has affected a much smaller corner of the musical landscape, but in a similarly profound way.

Honorable Mentions: Abe Vigoda – Crush (September 20th), Active Child – Curtis Lane EP (June 1st), Band of Horses – Infinite Arms (May 18th), Best Coast – Crazy For You (July 27th), Broken Bells – Broken Bells (March 9th), Caribou – Swim (April 20th), Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer (November 9th), Dominant Legs – Young At Love And Life EP (August 3rd), Hot Chip – One Life Stand (February 1st), Interpol – Interpol (September 7th), Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (May 18th), Kelis – Flesh Tone (May 14th), Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown (October 15th), MGMT – Congratulations (April 13th), The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme (April 19th), Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard (August 24th), Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP (August 20th), Wild Nothing – Gemini (May 25th)

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