Friday, December 03, 2010

Best in Music: Top 20 Albums Released in 2010

In my college days, I was afforded the opportunity to be an unpaid music reviewer for a highly regarded bastion of student journalism that most students picked up on a daily basis for the sole reason of folding the included crossword puzzle into shapes that could remain hidden from view while their professor provided them with another in a series of interminably boring lectures derived directly from reading material assigned out of the overpriced textbooks (which they often were involved in writing) that few students perused until it was time for an examination.

This was done especially in the 101s, the over-sized intro lectures in fields of study such as Communication, Psych, Geology and the like. Still, I prided myself on these unread reviews from the usually dispense-without-reading weekly entertainment insert supplement, the drably titled Inside Beat.

When school ended, the process of music criticism had burned me out. Besides the fact that you received limited feedback, which is a vital part of any good music writing, because of the paper's subpar web presence at the time for interaction.

Continually slogging to dreaming up musical comparisons that all began to meld together while the same observations that were heavily influenced by my own personal tastes at the time just became nonsensical and too repetitive.

Musical boundaries needed to be explored; ears needed some breathing room. While my knowledge of a large assortment of modern acts along with the bare necessity of classic artists was pretty good for my youthful age, the refined and disciplined ear might not have always been there. Also, the harshness started coming out at the end, the jaded critic taking albums just so he could prove how good he was at turning them into punching bags. While it might be fun, it's not informative and comes with tons of inbred bias that is ready to be spilled upon.

Then came the online locales that did it better (Pitchfork, Stereogum etc) and with more regularity that one man could do so I quit, for the most part, left the written view to the paid or more likely compensated by unlimited amounts of music professionals, despite the fact that this is not the perk it once was.

Yet I still listen to tons of albums and before all the tastemakers have a crack at it, setting the table for us acolytes, I'd like to throw out my own list. In order to do this, you have to get it out earlier and earlier, like stores putting out Christmas stuff in august now. So here it is.

1. Teen Dream - Beach House
Standouts: “Used To Be,” “Zebra,” “Lover of Mine,” & “Norway”

You know you have found it when you can't stop talking about it. You can't stop thinking about it and you are furious with yourself with taking a free weekend at a beach house because you missed seeing them. The ironic thing was I picked going to a beach house for the weekend over actually seeing Beach House (opening for The National). But I won't be making that mistake again as they will be coming back around in February.

The album's faint cover is like a projection of the album. Smooth, understated, and full of lush mystery. An all encompassing effort of beauty from this male/female duo with melodic harmonies that are beyond description. I never imagined I’d ever hear something so beautiful come out of Baltimore, unless you count The Wire and Homicide. But this dreamy pop is the antithesis of image that is projected on those shows. Where is the closest beach to Baltimore?

A nice bonus if you actually buy the physical disc (which is something I did but haven't done in a year or two) is that a separate DVD comes with accompanying videos for every track on the album by an assortment of artists. The videos are not genius themselves but a lovely compliment to this perfect album while reminiscing on breezy late summer evening while sticking your feet below the sand. That sounds lame, but don’t hold my inept description against Teen Dream because it is truly breathtaking.

2. Gorilla Manor - Local Natives
Standouts: “Airplanes” & “World News”

Pieces of Gorilla Manor have been out since mid-2009 from their Daytrotter Sessions EP. Filled with exuberant bursts of harmony, Gorilla Manor rancorous energy that gets restrained and then released en mass to reach beautiful musical apexes. Standout drumming and beautiful injections of perfectly placed violin are make it particularly effective.

3. Swim - Caribou
Standouts: “Leave House,” “Kaili,” & “Odessa”

Primally addictive beats by way of Canadian Daniel Smith, who has also recorded under the name Manitoba. Smith has a doctorate in Mathematics, wonder if his studies helped him figured out what will work as habit-forming hooks to the ears of listeners.

4. Before Today - Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti
Standouts: “Bright Lit Blue Sky,” “Round & Round,” “Beverly Kills”

& 5. Contra - Vampire Weekend
Standouts: “Horchata,” “California English,” & “Diplomat’s Son”

Addictive seems to be the motto of the year. Yet Vampire Weekend and Ariel Pink do it with disparate methods. You felt you knew what you would get from Vampire Weekend perpetually after their debut explosion yet Contra is just unfiltered catchiness with ten tracks coming in just short of thirty-seven minutes. More fleshed out musically than their debut, Contra has a heavy debt to African music while the lyrical focus drifts towards the palm trees of the west coast and away from their east coast roots.

After Ariel Pink's opening track "Hot Body Rub." you know the grooves that are to be let loose are derived from a different ilk, possibly filled with the sounds and horns of a 70's action chase scene or montage until the echoed voice of lead singer starts echoing about 2 minutes in with moans ... leading into the album's most standard track "Bright Lit Blue Skies" into wondrous triumphant synth-tastic breakdown break down of "L'estat." The songs have quite the variety but all sound directly out of a perfected late 70's/early 80's haze. While not an offical video below, it is still quite fantastic.

6. Losing Sleep - Edwyn Collins
Standout: “Losing Sleep” & “I Still Believe in You”

You may have wondered what happened to Edwyn Collins and his throwback style voiced baritone after his breakthrough on the Empire Records soundtrack, “A Girl Like You.” Well the answer is a lot. If you haven’t heard the story, it is a true come back in every essence of the word. Collins suffered dual brain hemorrhages, leaving him unable to speak mid decade. While the voice isn’t fully recovered, the songs are full of heartfelt perseverance.

7. Reveal Hidden Worlds - Liam The Younger (download album in full for free)
Standouts: “Lie” “Turn,” & “Crossed Water”

Lo-fi but soulful with a standard monotone-esque indie rock delivery. Just feels like something different on it. “Lie” is like a droll yet beautiful recreation of "Earth Angel" for the modern audience. Reveal Hidden Worlds is full of slacker lullabies will make you feel like having a sorrowful dance at some dimly lit, banal Elks Lounge turn. "Candle" beautifully explodes with musical pent up angst, giving the album some of the many reminiscent touches of early Bright Eyes.

9. One Life Stand - Hot Chip
Standouts: “Thieves in the Night” & "Brothers"

British dances kings return with another stellar effort. Not much else to say.

9. Go - Jonsi
Standouts: “Go Do” & "Animal Arithmetic"

One of the faces of Sigur Ros makes an album full of exuberance that even features some songs in English for those Anglo-snobs that were waiting for lyrics they could understand. A outlet of celebration that was partially revealed on Sigur Ros last album but fills every second here.

10. Forget - Twin Shadow
Standout: “Tyrant Destroyed” & "At My Heels"

Sorrowful, dreary, yet hypnotizing throwback sounds to the synth-laden heyday of the The Cure.

11. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West
Standout: “All of The Lights” & "So Appalled"

Rap’s not my thing but Kanye, ya got me on this one (and not just because of Bon Iver but it didn’t hurt). Is he really an abomination to Obama's nation?

12 & 13. This is Happening - LCD Soundsystem & Forgiveness Rock Record - Broken Social Scene

Two mainstays for the better part of a decade. James Murphy and his crew return with probably the weakest effort to date but their self-titled and Sound of Silver are tough acts to eclipse. Still, there is plenty of excellence here on tracks such as "Sombody's Calling Me" & the anthemic "Drunk Girls."

Speaking of anthemic, that is the calling card of Broken Social Scene and their most popular works but Forgiveness failed to tickle the critical fancies of many but I thought it was an excellent effort from a band who has the same high expectations as LCD as their efforts. Take a listen to tracks like "Texico Bitches" & "Meet Me in the Basement" and try to remain unroused!

14. Saint Bartlett - Damien Jurado
Standout: “Cloudy Shoes” & “Racehl & Cali”

Opening track “Cloudy Shoes” is one of the three best tracks of the year and seems to be the perfect use of Jurado’s voice and musical talents. The megaphone filtered repetitions throughout are beautifully composed and ingenious, like a voice starting in one's head and then finally coming out filtered through their mouth.

15. The Age of Adz - Sufjan Stevens
Standouts: “Futile Devices” & “The Age of Adz”

The ambitious but often doubted 50 state project is gone but Sufjan still impresses nonetheless. The minimalist days of the delicately beautifully Seven Swans are gone but arising from the dust are some epic songs with four songs clocking in over six minutes including the 25 finale “Impossible Soul.”

16. Expo 86 - Wolf Parade
Standouts: “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)” & “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain”

See LCD & Broken Social Scene above.

17 & 18. Tron OST (Daft Punk) & Inception OST (Hans Zimmer)

Different yet both amazingly effective in creating a stark, landscape for the mind to envision the images they are supposed to supplement.

19. Port Entropy - Shugo Tokumaru
Standouts: “Malerina,” “Tracking Elevator,” & “Lahaha”

Cornelius light but lovely nonetheless. Sounds kind of like Japanese version of Hawaiian music, perfect for a luau.

20. Halycon Digest - Deerhunter
Standout: “Helicopter” & “Don’t Cry”

Mr. Cox continues to deliver the goods over and over again.

Honorable mentions:

Odd Blood - Yeasayer: First half merits inclusion while the second half is baffling horror-show besides the opening track which sounds like robot vomit.

There is Love in You - Four Tet

IRM - Charlotte Gainsbourg

Real Life is No Cool -Lindstrom & Christabelle

I Learned The Hard Way - Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings

Sky at Night - I Am Kloot

Subiza - Delorean

Big Echo - Morning Benders

The Chaos - The Futureheads: “The Connector” has a punkish hyperspeed Queen-esque feel to its chorus that could be the most addictive of 2010.

Strange Weather, Isn't It? - !!!

The Morning After - James

Root for Ruin - Les Savy Fav

False Priest - Of Montreal

Pete Yorn - Pete Yorn

Catching a Tiger - Lissie: I can thank the teaser for the upcoming season of Justified on FX for my addiction to her amazing track “Little Lovin.”

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