Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Ten Best Albums of 2010

This is the biggest problem I've faced in years. This list, this year, when I could've easily put down 15, I put it down to 10 for the sake of the reader. 2010 will probably be looked back at as one of the best music years ever. Every band, group, singer, rapper, seemed to step their game up, narrowing the list and even placing these albums was a difficult task. To you, there may be some glaring omissions, bear in mind I wanted to do 15, and even 20, but that's just too damn much. Not since 2002, have we had so many "instant classic" albums appear, but if you're following closely, you'll see that we were blessed, and next year should be just as good. Now, the top 10.

10. Grinderman- Grinderman 2
Never has a guy on the wrong side of 50 gotten so much better and kicked so much ass, so much to the point where he fronts two bands who are equally putting out great material. Nick Cave is one of the best songwriters period, so when he announced he was releasing another album under Grinderman with his core Bad Seeders, I was skeptical, but it paid off. Cave and the boys bring rock and roll back to where it was fun and like most men in the world, he just wants to rock out and get laid. While most bands are treading water to keep their edge and stay heavy, Nick Cave keeps his cool and ups the ante on his already brilliant career, and if that cover doesn't yell "bad ass", the music will.

9. Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest
Bradford Cox is a machine, like Nick Cave above, the guy fronts two bands, both put out amazing music. Brad and Deerhunter follow up 2008's best album (by a mile, it's a classic!) with something equally as brilliant. Deerhunter take it back to the heyday of art-rock in the 70's where experimentation is king. The only difference is that there's more melody and song written into these songs, and rather than it falling flat, it works on many levels. Deerhunter aren't just making albums for the hell of it, consider they seem to put one piece of material out a year if not more, but it all deserves to be heard and it's all very good. As with any Deerhunter album (or EP), there's no wasted moments, every song is as important as the last, it has an epic ending, and it's all heartbreaking. In a few years, Deerhunter are going to be the hipster default answer to the cool kid question of "who's the best band out there?", and they've deserved it more so than any artist on this list.

8. The Black Keys- Brothers
In the past three years, there's been one coveted rock and roll band that us indie kids adored who finally hit mainstream. In 2008, it was My Morning Jacket, last year it was Kings of Leon, now it's The Black Keys. Unlike the other two, The Keys put out a stellar album rode the success as best as possible without losing fans or their mojo. "Brothers" is a smart piece of blues rock filled with a nice vocal range of Dan Auerbach and catchy songs that keep coming one after another. They're everywhere now, but for good reason. While most will tell you they perfer Jack and Meg, I'll take the Akron duo any day, they're expansive, they can change, and you'd never know they were successful. From Danger Mouse produced songs to stripped down tunes, they can do it all, and do it well. If 2010 was any indication, these guys are going to be huge and handle it better than what most of us are used to, but it's all well deserved for two guys who have been doing it all for a decade.

7. Owen Pallett- Heartland
The first curveball on the list. Mr. Pallett is probably more known as a unofficial member of Arcade Fire, but "Heartland" should keep his stock rising. He's managed to put out a better album than the band he works with the most and did it all while managing to help them with the best parts. With a Christopher Cross-like voice over violin and synth loops, Pallett brings a concept (not sure what the hell it is exactly) thatcan keep you guessing while still being enjoyable. The songs are infectious and some of them even fun, and while he may seem to be a one trick pony here, it's a trick that doesn't tire by the end of the listen, it's an album worth obsessing over, not just for the concept, but for the music in general. Pallett may come off as a poor man's Sufjan Stevens, but he's put out a better record for a guy who was on SNL recently backing shitty renditions of a band he's made better music outside of.

6. Vampire Weekend- Contra
VW did it the right way. They gained much hype, delivered on the hype with a good debut, tour the fuck out of it, make an even better, more ambitious album, sell more copies, and become one of the biggest bands around. That formula shouldn't work, and considering they're a band you'll love or hate, they could silence any haters with "Contra". Boasting catchy tubes like "Cousins", "White Sky", "Holliday" and others, Vamp Weekend have upped a game they had no interest in playing and became bigger because they deliver. A surprise you say? Sure, but The Police and Paul Simon were always big and those are the two biggest names Vampire Weekend owes as much as anything. They're proof that indie counter culture can be fun without being ironic, we don't have to be too serious, and we can be ourselves, leave everyone else behind and still make it. It's not blue collar, but with Vampire Weekend's success, they've done it the old fashioned way if you haven't noticed, they just wanted to have a good time and play music, something dearly missing in today's realm of Pitchfork's stranglehold on the culture some of us love so dearly.

5. LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening
What was supposed to be a swan song, actually isn't, but we're still left with one of the best albums of the year by everyone's favorite hipster DJ James Murphy. Murphy probably has a better record collection thanall of us combined, and he's let us know. But "This Is Happening" is more personal, it has more feeling and the grooves are as good as they've been. From the opening bars and soft spoken beginning of "Dance Yrself Clean" to the epic ending of "Home", James Murphy is a genius with wordplay and song structure, call him the David Byrne of the new era, James Murphy is indebted to all the music he enjoys and each LCD album is a tribute of that. Electronica, punk, funk, disco, rock and roll, balladry, it's a storied three album career that thankfully isn't over yet. Swan song or not, it's a hell of an album either way for an artist who is on his way to becomming one of the most respected talents of American music with a three album arc that many can't even touch.

4. Spoon- Transference
Spoon are the San Antonio Spurs of rock and roll and Pitchfork culture. Their best work was done between 1999 and 2007, many people forget about both of them and they fly under the radar, they're aging, they've never been as respected as they should, and look at that, they're both from South Texas. And like the Spurs, 2010 has been a reawakening. "Transference" isn't their best album, but it's probably their most complete, it's the sound of a band who just wants to rock out. There's no horns, the production is limited, and some songs just cut out before the seem to get interesting, but damn if these guys don't know how to write some of the best break up music ever. Brit Daniel screams over "Written in Reverse" while a piano gets trashed, "Trouble Comes Running" is a stomper" and "Got Nuffin'" rocks an amazing solo. So what's the problem here? Older than most of their counterparts, Spoon are playing songs here like they haven't lost a step, in fact, it's more of a call to arms to their younger festival bands to step their game up and try to dethrown them, as far as I'm concerend, Spoon are still kings of the Coachella/Bonnaroo generation, "Transference" just solidifies it.

3.Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Here's a guy who knows all about backlash. For all the shit Kanye's been through since the release of "Graduation", he had no choice to knock it out of the park, and he did that and then some. "Fantasy" is a classic, it's not about having a good time, most of the time it's just boastful and sometimes just downright depressing, but Kanye know's what he's done, he also knows how to combat it all. Introducing a "art-rap" album full of a guy who is piss and vinegar and remains the best while his aging counterparts in Jay-Z and Eminem continue to put out music that's not worthy of their classic material. Yeezy brings it, whether it's a Bon Iver sample, a King Crimson sample, showing up his guests on the album or just being himself, he's done the only thing that he could possibly do for most of the world to forgive him. He put out something ambitious, took the heat, reaped the benefits and now can laugh knowing that he's done something most artist could have never recovered from. Hell, how can an album with two of hip hop's best songs ever written (Power and Runaway respectively) not be a classic? Yeezy can take it to the bank, you can love him, you can hate him, but admire and respect the man for being in a tail spin to being on top of the music world.

2.Titus Andronicus- The Monitor
Here's your second curveball. An album nobody heard by a band who has made the ballsiest album and most fun rock albums in recent memory. Titus Andronicus have the mindset and smarts of a band who's been around for years, yet they're only two albums in and with this one being based off the Civil War (loosely I may add), The Monitor is an album full of Clash like punk, Springsteen Jersey rock, and Pavement slacker smarts. Boasting some of the smartest, most honest songs written in years, The Monitor breaks into your mind and doesn't leave, big grand hooks, stomping beats, and amazing musician work all around, The Monitor is an instant classic by a band who will soon be on all of our radar's. There are some bands that may sound like them, but nobody is as balls out, fun, fearless, and as brilliant as these kids from Jersey.

1. The National- High Violet
There's no question, it's a sure thing here. The National have become a band we can all appreciate, and even if they've become more user friendly, it's not taking away from anything they've done. Nobody is writing lyrics as poignant and realistic of modern life as Matt Berninger is. No band is using alt-rock crunch with arena filling noise as well as they do, in fact nobody is making beautiful music like this. The National are a lost-art, they have great depth, teriffic story telling, and can go from 0 to 60 in a second. They nearly had a number one album for fuck sake, not that it means anything. After "Alligator" and "Boxer", it was impossible to create something half as good, yet they defy odds, and make an album that's just as good if not even better. More expanxive and easy to relate to without losing a damn thing in the proscess, can it be done? It sure can, "High Violet" is an answer to the question of where do we go if we're already at the top, the answer is to keep going. No doubt it my mind they can top this. There's a reason they're as respected as they are in the music world, and it's because they can do damn near anything and make it sound beautiful and rich without being pretentious.

There you have it. If there's anything I missed, please comment below. 2011 is looking good so far with new releases from The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Cake, U2, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, R.E.M., Jack White, The Strokes, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Arctic Monkeys, Beastie Boys, Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Atlas Sound, Drive-By Truckers, Fleet Foxes, Foo Fighters, and more.

Thanks for reading, see you all next year!

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