The 25 Best Albums Of 2010

No Youtube links on this one.  If you go to the University of Minnesota Morris, I’m almost constantly sharing my library.  Otherwise, you should be smart enough to know how to find albums online.

25. Write About Love – Belle and Sebastian

Since they released their two best albums, Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, in 1996, Belle and Sebastian has made it look easy.  Here, they continue on with that with a feel of adult contemporary (with a featured Norah Jones for chrissakes).  As usual, no individual player stands out, but every song winds up being greater than the sum of its parts.  They just know their way around a good tune.  Plus, they pump out two songs worthy of their legendary first two albums: “I Didn’t See It Coming” and “I Want The World To Stop.”

24. Majesty Shredding – Superchunk

After a nine-year break, Majesty Shredding finds Superchunk specializing in sing-along songs.  Breaking the shackles of their ridiculous nineties consistency, they’ve finally found a reason to get a little ambitious (selling out Spoon and Arcade Fire tickets at Madison Square Garden for two nights in a row, for one), which upgrades their formula from good to great.  Whether they’re having a ball (“Digging For Something,” “My Gap Feels Weird”) or being uplifting (“Learn To Surf,” “Everything At Once”), they get it exactly right.  Nine years of work well spent.

23. Cosmogramma – Flying Lotus

I’m pretty thankful whenever an album like this plays like an “Electronica for Dummies” demonstration.  Flying Lotus does everything right on his third release, and by that I mean that he tries just about everything and gets all of it right.  Whether it’s lulling you into a trance (“MmmHmm”) or establishing a groove (right after on “Do The Astral Plane”), Flying Lotus’s jazz-rooted electronic style makes for a memorable trip.

22. Lisbon – The Walkmen

No “The Rat” here.  It would stick out like a sore thumb.  Closest thing is the chorus to “Angela Surf City,” which is about as full and furious sounding.  But then you have the alien-sounding horns of “Stranded,” the impressive imagery of the lyrics (especially on “Juveniles”), and the sparseness of the entire album.  As Hamilton Leithauser’s voice goes back and forth between Ezra Koenig and Bob Dylan, Lisbon unfolds as The Walkmen’s best-imagined album and is in hot competition with You & Me for the title of their best.  And all throughout their stripped down formula does what minimalists do best: More with less.

21. Before Today – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

He’s been farting around with his lo-fi since the late nineties, but Ariel Pink finally comes out and gets some attention with before today.  Suddenly the dude has a bunch of pop know-how.  The Steely Dan hook of “Bright Lit Blue Skies” (which instantly reminded me of Pretzel Logic’s “Night By Night”), the shattered emotion behind “Can’t Hear My Eyes,” and the stuffed genius inside of “Round And Round” at the epicenter all come together to make this a rich album.  It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you stop dicking around.

20. Transference – Spoon

Doomed to forever be Spoon’s most underrated album, Transference also happens to be their most frantic and percussive work.  Spoon is playing around again, and this time they’re using odd song structures, cutting Britt’s voice out of nowhere, and, in the middle of all of this hubbub, allowing their three most mellow songs ever (“Goodnight Laura,” the killer “Out Go The Lights,” and “Nobody Gets Me But You”) to slip in.  Like Daniel’s torn apart vocal on “Written In Reverse,” the whole thing is shockingly visceral.

19. Blue Sky Noise – Circa Survive

Circa Survive’s Blue Sky Noise is grand-scale emo rock highlighted by a voice that’s not of this world.  It might sound so wimpy that you want to slap the band silly, but the way everything is executed makes the songs in Blue Sky Noise sound like the music of the gods.

18. There Is Love In You – Four Tet

There Is Love In You is insanely pretty.  The cut up vocals of “Angel Echoes,” the crescendo of “Love Cry,” the dizzying “Circling,” and the just plain wonderful “Sing” are just the beginning of a set of songs that just persist to be beautiful.  That’s not something I see an artist chasing after over the span of an album successfully, but Four Tet makes it seem easy.

17. Plastic Beach – Gorillaz

It seems like everyone on the planet is on Plastic Beach.  You have Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, and De La Soul bringing their A-game, Little Dragon making a name for themselves, and old pros like Lou Reed, Paul Simonon, and Mick Jones playing their part.  Then you have Damon Albarn, the mastermind, who throws all kinds of shit at you and somehow makes it flow.  A white British man (and I don’t mean The Streets) is behind some of the best hip hop today.  And also everything else.

16. Odd Blood – Yeasayer

Odd Blood always feels a little alien, even during the more normal “O.N.E.,” but its cheerfulness glows through it strangeness to make it a fulfilling experience.  Every song froths at the mouth with positivity.  Odd Blood is at once both foreign and friendly.

15. Foxy Shazam – Foxy Shazam

After two whatever albums, Foxy Shazam made an album so awesome that it drew comparisons to Queen.  That’s actually a little bit unfair given that when it comes to bravado, Eric Nally smokes Freddie Mercury.  The songs are bombastic from front to back, with the Super Bowl track “Unstoppable,” the savage “Bombs Away,” and “Count Me Out,” which sounds like the number one singles that, okay, maybe it makes a bit of sense, Queen used to make.

14. Shut Up, Dude – Das Racist

Sit Down, Man is more focused, but Das Rasicst’s first mixtape fits them nicer.  It’s looser and funnier, and doesn’t that play to their strengths more?  Forget the idiotic things that people say about “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.”  “Commentary on consumerism” my ass.  It’s a dumb joke; one that’s, against all odds, fun to hear over and over again.  Race is less discussed than used as a springboard for jokes.  It isn’t monumentally substantial, but Shut Up, Dude might be the funniest hip hop album ever made.

13. How I Got Over – The Roots

The reason that I fell in love with How I Got Over so quickly is because it’s a hip hop album set up like a rock album, which is usually a lot easier to swallow.  Fourteen songs in forty-something minutes, and until two not-as-great songs to finish it, How I Got Over is consistently wonderful.  The band turns a Joanna Newsom sample into a badass chorus, uses the lovely ladies of Dirty Projectors for a killer intro, and use a Jim James vocal as the backbone to a song screaming “why?!” to God.  And as the band grows up and settles down (into a permanent job on late night television), they’re, despite the struggles presented in darker tracks like “Dear God 2.0” and standout “Walk Alone,” also growing more positive.

12. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

When I was first listening to The Suburbs, I always thought of it as a story about two people trapped in a suburban lifestyle, attempting to find the will to escape it.  The more I listen to it, the more I disagree with myself.  It seems more like a series of perspectives, with the first track defining the setting.  “Ready To Start” chronicles a man’s consideration of giving up his dreams for the sake of success, “We Used To Wait” romanticizes an old man’s bitterness toward technology, and “Sprawl I (Flatlands)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” tell the same story from two different points of view: one depressed and one optimistic.  Themes run deep, most importantly the positive side to wasted time, but thanks to some fluff (read: good to very good tracks that don’t live up to usual Arcade Fire perfection), this isn’t quite in the same league as Funeral (but what is?) or Neon Bible.  But really, if this is in any way a disappointment, then I readily welcome and anxiously await more disappointment from Arcade Fire.

11. This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem

It’s laid out exactly like its phenomenal predecessor: Long, building introduction, party song in the following tracks, long, slow song in the penultimate slot, and two emotional songs at the center.  This Is Happening’s blueprint is almost identical to Sound Of Silver’s, yet it falls short of its older brother at every single turn.  Still, Sound Of Silver has when of the best album sequences ever, so This Is Happening cribbing from its style (and also The Velvet Underground and David Bowie on two of its better tracks) is understandable and forgivable, especially with “All I Want” and “I Can Change,” which almost do justice to the marvelous pairing of “Someone Great” and “All My Friends.”  “Somebody’s Calling Me” is a bit of a dud, and “One Touch,” “You Wanted A Hit,” and “Pow Pow” are all good songs that are compromised by their unjustified length, but every other song is absolutely awesome.  “Home,” maybe but hopefully not (and I’m saying probably not) their last song ever feels like a satisfying resolution to one of the defining bands of the recent era of indie music.

10. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty – Big Boi

Big Boi might be less respected than his fellow OutKast member Andre 3000, and there’s a pretty good reason for that.  Andre 3000 is a little less standard, and he sort of wrote “Hey Ya!,” the greatest hip hop song of all time.  Big Boi just raps really tight.  Which means that it’s actually really easy for him to put out a really good album.  Sir Lucious Left Foot actually exceeds that standard.  Sure, the hooks helmed by Janelle Monáe and George Clinton on “Be Still” and “Fo Yo Sorrows” are more impressive than Big Boi’s verses, but that’s just thanks to how brilliant those guests are.  With the way “Daddy Fat Sax” storms the album out of the gate at full power, “Shutterbug” constantly grabs your ear, and “Tangerine” is so sexy that you pop one, Sir Lucious Left Foot takes a lot of staples of hip hop, tries to execute them all and succeeds.

9. Forgiveness Rock Record – Broken Social Scene

“World Sick” is a stunner, and it happens first.  It’s hard for any album to follow that up, but Broken Social Scene, who have You Forgot It In People, 2002’s best album, under their belt, bring know-how to their challenge.  Every other song sounds like it’s soundtracking some pivotal movie moment, particularly the titanic instrumental “Meet Me In The Basement.”  Not that Forgiveness Rock Record is quite in the ballpark of You Forgot It In People, but its serves as a nice counterpoint to it.  You Forgot It In People is chaotic, contemplative, and spontaneous.  Forgiveness Rock Record always focuses its eyes on the prize.

8. Light Chasers – Cloud Cult

Cloud Cult’s always felt like Arcade Fire.  They’re this universal, sprawling orchestral band with crazy positive vibes coming all out of everywhere.  And this time I think they’ve actually topped Arcade Fire and shown that as a band, they’re still growing.  Even though they can still make you feel awful with songs about the kid that was stripped from the Minowas after two years of life, more positivity is here than has been on any of their other albums.  Those horns on “Unexplainable Stories,” the galloping “Running With The Wolves,” and the shouted title on “There’s So Much Energy In Us” are just three examples from an album that goes from quiet and emotional to hard and furious in a second, and for once their chronicling feels like a journey.

7. A Badly Broken Code – Dessa

Up until this point, P.O.S. has been the star of the Minnesotan hip hop collective Doomtree, but Dessa’s first album is the best female hip hop album in, well, quite a while.  She’s got dark, serious songs (“Children’s Work,” “The Crow,” “Mineshaft II,” “Matches For Paper Dolls”) and lighter chamber pop songs (“Dixon’s Girl,” “Seamstress,” “Bull In The China Shop”), and cast against each other (they seem to switch off every song or so), Dessa’s A Badly Broken Code utilizes Dessa’s pleasant voice and wordy rhymes for a consistent collection of fourteen wonderful songs.  Debuts like this are hard to come by.

6. Everything In Between – No Age

Everything In Between doesn’t sound as pure as Nouns, which exhibited a nice defining sound for No Age.  It was halfway between punk rock and shoegaze, being at once pretty and powerful.  Everything In Between, instead of combining the pretty and the powerful, juxtaposes them against each other, with the shoegazy pop songs (“Glitter,” “Chem Trails”) switching off with the classic punk rock songs (“Fever Dreaming,” “Shred And Transcend”).  With their third great album in a row and their craft still evolving, you start to wonder how good No Age might become.  They seem to be in the same ballpark as Pixies or Pavement.  It might not be quite as great, but Everything In Between feels like No Age’s Doolittle.

5. Body Talk – Robyn

Though I really miss Pt. 1’s “Cry When You Get Older,” Pt. 2’s “Include Me Out,” and the acoustic songs that closed the first two parts out so nicely, Body Talk is stronger over an hour than either of the first two parts leading up to it were over thirty minutes.  All of the usual suspects are here (and sequenced very well), and she tries to be all things to all people: The girl who can’t have you (“Dancing On My Own (Radio Version)”), the girl you can’t have, at least for now (“Hang With Me”), the girl you can have, but you have to leave your girlfriend first (“Call Your Girlfriend”), and the girl that you’re about to have, in bed (“Indestructible”).  Whether she’s singing about broad romantic topics or the dancefloor, Robyn transcends the role of the typical pop diva with melodies that grab the heart instead of just your hips.  But your hips, too.

4. The Monitor – Titus Andronicus

Patrick Stickles has the voice of Conor Oberst, the yell of Paul Westerberg, and the sensibilities and ambitions of Bruce Springsteen.  He took his talents and made a concept album about the Civil War which doubles as a metaphor for a broken relationship.  It’s at once punky and old-fashioned, with old pianos and loud guitars flying against each other.  The shouting finishes of so many songs are euphoric, and when Stickles gets on a roll like he does in the first minutes of “The Battle Of Hampton Roads” (“Solidarity’s gonna give a little less than it’ll take/Is there a girl in this college who hasn’t been raped?/Is there a boy in this town that’s not exploding with hate?/Is there a human alive ain’t looked themselves in the face/Without winking/Or saying what they mean?  Without drinking?/Without leaving something? Without thinking/’What if someone doesn’t approve?’/Is there a soul on this Earth that isn’t too frightened to move?” is just a taste), it’s transcendent.  Forget Bruce Springsteen.  Stickles is his own legend.

3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West

For the third time, Kanye West has made the most critically acclaimed album of the year, except this time he crushed all opposition.  My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is frothing at the mouth with ambition, dying to prove everybody wrong regarding who they think Kanye West is.  He’s one of the most interesting celebrity personas.  He’s unpredictable, spontaneous, and a little bit insane.  My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy seems to take the top off of his head, and show us his brain.  Some of these songs come straight out of bizarre world like you’d expect them to.  The final pre-Rock verse of “Blame Game” alters Kanye’s voice in a fucked up way, “Devil In A New Dress” (the album’s “We Major”) has that really strange vocal hook (I can’t make out a word of it, myself), and then there’s “Monster,” which at times sounds like a parody of the horrorcore genre.

Yeah, Kanye’s a nut.  He’s crazy in the coconut.  But he’s growing up.  There’s that line on “POWER” that goes “my childlike creativity and honesty is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts.”  The College Dropout and Late Registration were filled with a childlike wonder that made them so spontaneous.  With Graduation’s disappointment and 808’s And Heartbreak’s unwanted left turn, Kanye’s career went through a messy adolescence.  But with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye west has not only music figured out, but also himself. Making an album with a horrifyingly crazy wave of critical acclaim behind it couldn’t have come at a better time.  He’s a stable adult now, as much as we ever want him to be, anyway. Kanye West did a good-ass job.

2. High Violet – The National

This album reminds me a lot of Arcade Fire’s Funeral.  It’s got those broad, sweeping, emotional songs in forty-something minutes.  Both albums have reason to be sorrowful, but this is different.  Arcade Fire pummels though misery at every turn, but The National takes some time to wallow in it.  “It’s a terrible love that I’m walking in,” “I don’t want to get over you,” “I don’t want anybody else,” and, less lovelorn, “I’m afraid of everyone.”  Eventually they reach a euphoric high (“England”) and find peace with themselves (“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”), but it’s an emotional battle that they nearly lose.  In “Lemonworld” and “Runaway,” Berninger sounds particularly broken.

It’s thematically broad but heavy, but another reason that High Violet hits harder than Boxer, or any other album by the band, is that it strips the band down to their core, forgoing that Joy Division atmosphere they maintained for a while.  It also focuses on melody instead of just the prettiness of some guitar or piano trick the Dessners thought up, so Berninger always has a more solid core to write his songs around.  The new songs are often about lack of confidence, but they put their songs front and center here, anyway.  And let me tell you, this number isn’t good enough for this album.  In most other years, an album as good as High Violet would be the best album of the year.

1. The ArchAndroid (Suites II And III) – Janelle Monáe

One of the biggest complaints I hear about this album is that it’s front-heavy, but that completely misunderstands exactly why it’s up here.  Sure, the four stunners (“Dance Or Die,” “Cold War,” “Tightrope,” “Come Alive”) are in Suite II, but Suite III comes together like the medley in Abbey Road, with each song tumbling into the next perfectly.  I get it, it’s a long album and it’s hard to pin down exactly what it’s supposed to be.  People might get the wrong idea from “Tightrope” and think that this is just another eighteen-track hip hop album.  Maybe they’ll reduce it to a soul or R&B album thanks to her vocal styling.  But really, The ArchAndroid is so all over the place, and that’s what makes it really great.

She’s howling like “I Want You Back”-era Michael Jackson on “Tightrope,” doing a weird Prince impression on “Neon Valley Street,” shrieking and screaming on “Come Alive (War of the Roses),” and doing some bubblegum pop on “Faster.”  It’s not just that everything is so diverse, too.  Each song complements the next, and that’s why Suite III works just as well as Suite II.  Then you have her guests.  Big Boi gives Monáe one of the best performances in his entire life, and of Montreal finds a home on the album.  Doesn’t it make sense that their enthusiastic strangeness would fit in best on an epic-scale album about robots that takes place seven hundred years from now?  Then that tone on “Make The Bus” just serves to make the percussive snap on “Wondaland” hit harder.

The orchestrated interludes, bubblegum pop, spacey breaks, hip hop, soul ballads, and everything else all serve individual purposes.  With how dynamic the album it is, it reminds me of, say, The College Dropout, but instead it flows a lot better, sort of like Electric Ladyland.  It just gets the idea of what an album should be entirely right, paying attention to not only every song but the structure that comes out of their sequencing.  On “Neon Valley Street,” Janelle prays “may this song reach your heart.”  That line could be on any track here, and she’d have no need to worry.

Honorable mentions:

American Slang – The Gaslight Anthem

Contra – Vampire Weekend

Sit Down, Man – Das Racist

Hidden – These New Puritans

I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling

1,000 Years – Corin Tucker

Heartland – Owen Pallett

Romance Is Boring – Los Campesinos!

/\/\ /\ Y /\ – M.I.A.

Subiza – Delorean

The Wild Hunt – The Tallest Man On Earth

The Promise – Bruce Springsteen

The Guitar Song – Jamey Johnson

King Of The Beach – Wavves

Body Talk Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3 – Robyn

The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

The Lady Killer – Cee-Lo

London Sessions – LCD Soundsystem

More About Nothing – Wale

Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter

Teflon Don – Rick Ross

Broken Dreams Club – Girls

Heartbeats – GRUM

Teen Dream – Beach House

Mpls – Arron Dean

The Big To-Do – Drive-By Truckers

I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone – Crime In Stereo

Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 1:07 AM  Leave a Comment  

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