Friday, January 07, 2011

Ten for '10 - My Favorite Albums of 2010

Figured I'd dust of Ye Olde General Admission to do a rundown of my Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2010. I've effectively deluded myself into thinking people might actually care about my opinion, because nothing says Musical Authority™ quite like a person sitting at their computer in a basement who can neither sing nor play an instrument.

Anyhow, I've traditionally thought of myself as an Indie Rock Kid. But, ignoring the fact that I'm 35, the main thing that's surprising about this list is the near complete absence of indie rock. One or two albums made it on the list, but for the most part this was apparently a year of hip hop and dance music for me. Maybe this just wasn't a good year for rock music, but just as likely, this list reflects the fact that 2010 was sort of a downer of a year, and I was trying to shake off the aura of doom and gloom by listening to music that made me want to shake my proverbial money-maker. Regardless, not many fuzzed out guitars to be found here.

So, onward to the list...

(In alphabetical order)

Aloe Blacc Good Things - "Hey honey, I was just listening to NPR on the drive to the store and heard this really good sounding album..." I'm not sure what it means that I'm getting my music recommendations from Public Radio, but -regardless- this album is a revelation. Somehow he's managed to capture the sound of spirit of early 70's soul music while not sounding cliched or derivative. And, even when he's singing about being scorned by a lover or needing a dollar for some cheap wine, his album makes you feel like you are enjoy a lazy Sunday morning.

Arcade Fire The Suburbs - Unlike Funeral, this album didn't didn't have the "thrill of the new" to it. And, unlike Neon Bible, it didn't have the opportunity to be stuck in a car with Sarah and I as we drove around South Africa for a couple weeks. Still, even an unremarkable Arcade Fire album is better than 90% of what's out there in my book. And, like both previous albums, The Suburbs continues to grow on me even after months of listening.

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Dark Night of the Soul - While most of the albums on this list could be described a "feel good" this album is the antithesis of that. A fact that was only driven to home by Mark Linkous' suicide before the albums completion. But, that's not to say that the album is chore to get through, far from it. Instead, its an album for dark nights, rain and wine; an album for recognizing beauty in sorrow and tragedy. It doesn't hurt that, like several other entires on this list, this album features a veritable cornucopia of guest artists, with everyone from the Flaming Lips and James Mercer to Iggy Pop and even David Lynch making appearances.

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim Here Lies Love - Despite my love of all things David Byrne, I have to admit that even I didn't know quite what to make of this album when I first gave it a listen. A two-disk collection of disco and dance songs roughly chronicling the life of Emelda Marcos, that Byrne has been researching and organizing for years. To make matters more surreal, it features a laundry list of famous female singers (including Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper and Natalie Merchant) plus Byrne and Steve Earl singing the various rolls. But, despite my initial reservations, repeat listening paid off and the album revealed itself to be not just unusual but also a lot of fun. "Solano Avenue" is easily my favorite track of the albums, but "Please Don't" (featuring Santigold) is the main single, and features a video of sorts...

Dessa Badly Broken Code - Oddly, another NPR recommendation. And, almost as surreal, a white, female rapper. Dessa's album inhabits a world where everyone is constantly racing into and trying to escape from self-destructive relationships, but thanks to her nimble rap skills and surprising singing voice, it was a world I found myself revisiting. This song isn't as good as others on the album like, say, "Matches to Paper Dolls" but its got a video, so here ya go...

Gorillaz Plastic Beach - A cartoon bands third album, featuring a not so subtle environmental theme.... yeah, that sounds like it should be a disaster. But, despite that conceit, and despite the fact that it lacks the big singles found on the Gorillaz first two albums, Plastic Beach is possibly the Gorillaz strongest album to date. Without a big name producer to help steer the ship, this Gorillaz outing is definitely Damon Albarn's baby. That said, like the previous two outings, the disk is overflowing with an eccentric array of guest artists: Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Snoop Dogg and Lou Reed amongst others). And, of course, there are the trademarked weird and amazing videos by Jamie Hewlett...

Janelle Monae The Archandroid - When I first heard this album, I was convinced it would be huge in the same way the first Gnarls Barkley CD was. But, while it does seem to have gotten its fair share of love on various critics Top 10 lists this year, it never reached that over-saturated and overplayed level other album did. Probably for the best, I suppose. While other albums on my list lean heavily on guest artists, Janelle takes another route, instead drawing from a huge spectrum of musical influences from the last 30 or so year (ranging from Bowie to Outkast), and somehow jams them together into one cohesive album that lives in a world somewhere halfway between Phillip K. Dick and Metropolis.

Sadly, you can't embed the video for "Tightrope" the featured single, so you'll just have to go here to see Janelle do her thing, in all its pompadoured glory.

Junip Fields - Have you ever been at a party late at night, when everyone's pretty much left, and heard the sound of rock music playing through the walls from some other distant location? Or, have you ever wondered what it would sound like if the Beta Band made 70's folk rock? If you can imagine either of those sounds, you get close to approximating the sound of this Swedish duo. As the parent of a 2-year-old, you grow to appreciate music that is quiet enough that it won't wake your child up from a nap, but upbeat enough to keep you awake yourself. And, while the end of the album flirts with being too jam band-y, one can't deny its hooks and appeal.

Kenye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - I thought I had this list all figured out in early December, but then Kanye had to go and release this album. Nominally a concept album in which the artist himself is the concept, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an overstuffed, Baroque epic that should collapse under its own self-importance. It's self-indulgent, occasionally offensive, and abrasive ...and also pretty incredible and essential listening. In the main single, "Runaway," Kanye urges the listener to raise a toast to the douche bags, assholes and jerk-offs of the world while simultaneously acknowledges himself as one. Well, Kanye, I raise my glass to you.

Mark Ronson & the Business Intl. Record Collection - This is probably my guilty pleasure of the year. This is popcorn fluff of the highest caliber, but it's (I'd argue) also high quality fluff. Apparently Mark Ronson is a wealthy, privileged East Coast producer or something. I'm not too sure, but I do know the album brings a smile to my face and its mix of pop, dance and hip-hop makes me want to dance. Both timeless and soon-to-be-dated. In the album Mark confides that he just wants to be part of our record collection. Well, if I collected records, I would definitely consider it.

So, that's it. My list. I'm sure I'll regret it when I look back on it in a year. It's probably worth mentioning some of my other favorites that almost made the list:

Broken Social Scene Forgiveness Rock Record
Broken Bells Broken Bells
Cee Lo Green The Lady Killer
Charlotte Gainsbourg IRM
The Roots How I Got By
Vampire Weekend Contra

Also, the band (or individual) How To Dress Well was someone who I considered for this list. It sounds like late-80's R&B bounced off the moon and played over a crappy radio. It's an interesting one, and one that I can't help but think will gain some traction in the coming year but, ultimately, the album in its entirety was a little too esoteric. When it works though, it works...

Finally, I'll mention that while the above lists reflect my picks from the 2010 releases, there are a ton of older albums that have been getting a lot of play at the Hill-Stach Manor, including...

The XX
The XX
Mos Def The Ecstatic
Basia Bulat Oh, My Darling (Stella's favorite of the year)
The National Boxer
Blue Scholars Hello From Oof

See you next year!

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