The Top 50 Albums of 2010 (30-11)
December 20, 2010 2 Comments
Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
Ms. Monae’s breakthrough album is a sci-fi concept album. Not exactly light thematic material, but the sheer breadth of styles and sounds covered on this seventy minute monster is her triumph. The first half hour flies by at a dizzying pace as she digs through 40 years of soul, funk and R&B sounds. It’s a bit rougher from their on with the album hitting a lull in the middle act but the highs far outweigh the lows.
Standout: “Tightrope” (feat. Big Boi)
Wolf Parade – Expo 86
On what seems like will be the final Wolf Parade album, the band retains what makes their songs so wonderful, namely a constant pulse and sense of propulsion, while adding a more raw edge to the instrumentation. It’s easy to get the sense that Krug and Boeckner were heading in separate musical directions and unfortunately the album suffers from their divergence as it is the clearest product of two brilliant artists, as opposed to a singular unit, in their discography. Fortunately the tunes speak for themselves and rise above what lack of cohesion exists.
Standout: “Cloud Shadow on the Moon”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
Standout: “Round and Round”
Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Standout: “One Life Stand”
Phosphorescent – Here’s to Taking it Easy
Standout: “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)”
Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
The return of Sufjan Stevens has been a long time coming. His last proper release was the 2005 classic Illinois, but the man has kept busy with his BQE project, massive Christmas album, an EP released earlier this year and contributing to 2009’s Dark Is The Night compilation.
His track on that indie-star studded release, which paired his trademark orchestral-twee sound with a new electronic sensibility and a unbridled bravado, turned out to be foreshadowing the direction he would take on his comeback album. Adz is bookended by pure, old Sufjan — acoustic and soulful — but everything in between is drenched in bleeps and bloops. It’s an odd combination at first, but ultimately a successful one that truly shines after a few listens. The result sounds something like Sufjan has been hanging out with Danny Elfman and Panda Bear a lot during his hiatus. It’s enthralling.
Standout: “Futile Devices”
Four Tet – There Is Love In You
Standout: “Plastic People”
Girls – Broken Dreams Club EP
Wild Nothing – Gemini
One of the year’s best debuts and one of the shining lights in a growing field of new wave revivalists, Gemini is a fluffy dream pop slow burner. Flashes of New Order and The Cocteau Twins abound, the album is best characterized by its warmth and density. Wild Nothing teeter on the edge of shoegaze but never cross the line from pop to drone.
Standout: “Summer Holiday”
Girl Talk – All Day
Standout: “Get It Get It”
Caribou – Swim
Harlem – Hippies
Standout: “Someday Soon”
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Crunchy. It’s apparently what happens when you combine a hardcore guitarist and a pop singer. This is noise pop in a different sense of the phrase, not relying on drones but a manipulation of treble and bass to attack your ear drums and move your feet. It’s a musical sugar rush and it’s fun as hell.
Standout: “Rill Rill”
No Age – Everything In Between
Standout: “Fever Dreaming”
Wavves – King of the Beach
Standout: “Linus Spacehead”
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
In what is a far flung departure from the project’s past output, Damon Albarn managed to pull together disparate genres and guest artist’s to create one of the year’s most effortlessly listenable and surprisingly great albums. The tone is all over the place ranging from the blistering funk of “Stylo” to the wacky bubble gum hip-hop of “Superfast Jellyfish” to the somber electropop of “On Melancholy Hill,” but the album manages to remain cohesive and consistent. The moment Albarn fades away in “Empire Ants” only to be replaced and Yukimi Nagano and a blizzard of icy synths is one of the most dazzling moments on any album released this year.
Standout: “Empire Ants”
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Knowing Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus) is a reat nephew of Alice and John Coltrane makes you start to thing of Cosmogramma in a slightly different light. It’s a fusion of jazz and electronic. Experimental in every sense of the word, but always carrying enough of a hook to trap your head in a continual bob. The man is adept at combining sounds from across the world and genres and his use of sound is second to none. Christ, he used the sound of a ping pong ball being volleyed back and forth as a percussion track.
Standout: “Do The Astral Plane”
Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
2010 was a year filled with really long albums. Arcade Fire, Janelle, Kanye, all put out massive LPs crossing the one hour threshold, but no one can touch little Ms. Newsom. Have One On Me triple album coming in at over two hours long. Two hours of beautifully arranged and written music.
It’s an album perfect for accompanying the winter months; it’s twinkly harp and acoustic guitar flourishes amplifying snowfall in a beautiful harmony. And don’t worry about Joanna’s voice. It’s better now. She doesn’t sound like a chihuahua being strangled anymore.
Standout: “Baby Birch”
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Many people dismiss Kristian Matsson as a Bob Dylan also-ran. Sure they’re both nasally folk-mongers but Matsson has developed a style all his own. As The Tallest Man on Earth, Matsson has the ability to easily convey emotion in his voice, turning a simple lyric into something heartbreaking or warm. You hear it when he sings “Driver please, don’t go that fucking way,” during album highlight “You’re Going Back” — one of the most spine tinglingly touching moments in music this year.
Beyond his singing abilities, Matsson has a gift for crafting tidy little tunes with absolutely perfect guitar melodies. They are simple and clean and effortlessly memorable. Dylan he isn’t, but that’s fine.
Standout: “You’re Going Back”