“What the hell is going on here? Not only is Jeff waiting until MAY to post his top albums of the year list, but he doesn’t even have the decency to start the list with anything clever or original? There’s no introduction about how 2010 was good year for music, but 2011 is blowing it out of the water already? No multiple references (and frankly, we deserve an apology) to the fact that they took five months to post a yearend list? How Jeff is posting his 2010 list when we’re nearly halfway through 2011? What the hell? I was hoping that he would say something like, there were breakthrough bands that just missed this year’s list, like Fang Island’s debut, or how this marks the first year that Jeff has not listed the album that contained the best song of the year on his year-end album list. I was hoping he would point out that Spoon’s Transference was a good album, but got relegated to the 11th best album of the year after a surprise surge from a double EP that’s controversial in its own right, since it’s not technically an album, but it will be the first EP to ever make Jeff’s year end list. I was hoping for something like that. And funny captions and such. Instead, what do I get? I get a lengthy paragraph of a hypothetical reader expressing his frustration. I just want to know what the best albums of the year are, dammit!”
10. The New Pornographers- Together
When The New Pornographers put out a record, it’s a lot like when Daniel Day-Lewis puts out a movie. Well, not the “Holy shit Daniel Day-Lewis is entirely fucking insane” way, but more in the sense of, “We know how good he can be, but if he’s in an only-okay-movie we will totally forget about that movie.” Seriously, the movie the guy followed up There Will Be Blood with was that musical movie Nine, which was so forgettable I’m wasting all of our time by making a joke about it here.
This was only slightly less forgettable
The New Pornographers put out three albums from 2000 to 2005 that are Power Pop classics, pretty much dominating upbeat playlists for that entire time with songs like “Mass Romantic”, “The Bleeding Heart Show”, “Electric Version”, “Letter From an Occupant”, and maybe some of the Dan Bejar tracks if you’re into that sort of thing. We loved them because they were so impossibly upbeat, an unstoppable fireball of Indie pop that had so many hooks I just had to stop myself from making a fishing joke, since I know so little about fishing.
You know, like the…uh…Trout hook?
When Challengers was released back in 2007, we sort of didn’t know how to react. It was alright, and had a few catchy songs, but this was the follow up to the 2005 masterpiece Twin Cinema? Dammit, Daniel Day-Lewis, we expected more from you!
And better choice in piercings.
Challengers was more lackadaisical and ballad friendly then any of their previous albums, and Together still does not reach the 2005 dizzying Power Pop heights of the band’s heyday. There is just enough up-tempo songs however to make this album deceptively strong. While there is no single “top 10” worthy song, there isn’t much in the way of filler either, and this album benefits from the total sum of its parts. An album full of very-good-but-not-great songs can sometimes trump the album with a few great songs, but a few only-okay tracks. That’s what Together brings to the table, an album that may not add any new songs to the upper echelon of The New Pornographer’s cannon, but a song that is worth at least four uses in How I Met Your Mother episodes. What you’re left with is an album that shines through much brighter every time you listen to it, much like the boy you turned down for prom, only to find out later that he has gone on to write for a sleek, sexy music website that does posts at an almost bi-yearly rate, you don’t really notice the album until you give it a second listen. Or second look. Johnny Flenderson works at a gas station now, Carol, why the hell would you chose him over me!?
Erm… I mean… dance music y’all!
9. Girl Talk- All Day
Girl Talk needs to have their own PSAs. Gregg Gillis’ DJ mashup project has done more for awkward white people in the 21st century than cocaine and shoulder pads did in the 1980s. If somewhere a 22 year old with thick rimmed glasses and a penchant for Sigur Ros wants to get the people at his party to dance, Girl Talk is there. Whenever a hipster feels he can’t go out on a dance floor unless he hears Neutral Milk Hotel, Girl Talk is there. Whenever sweaty white kids need to dance off that ecstasy because OH MY GOD THE MUSIC FEELS SO GOOD, well, velvet walls are there, but so is Girl Talk.
In defense of people currently rolling, we do agree. These do feel amazing.
Every Girl Talk album always comes out as a surprise, always comes out online for free, and always crashes serves as an influx of white people flood the internet to download the album so they can get a playlist for their next party. It’s hard to imagine there being a “bad” Girl Talk album, since the albums (which are essentially 70 minute single tracks that are broken into tracks for convenience), but All Day in particular is the strongest Girl Talk album since Night Ripper. Starting with Black Sabbath and taking you through a torrential tear of old school hip hop, top 40 hits, indie tracks, and the guitar riff from Beck’s “Loser” (oh and also fucking Electric Light Orchestra!) the album serves as the best dance music that came out in 2010, plus lets you appreciate the humor of the fact that there was absolutely someone who never heard the song “Teach Me How to Dougie” until he reached the second track of this album. Because white people are hilarious.
8. Peter Adams – Dances for Heather/I am a Strange Loop EPs
Peter Adams released two EPs that consisted, essentially, of two 15 minute tracks composed for the Cincinnati Ballet, broken into three tracks each. Peter Adams, who is an established Elitish favorite, continues his practice creating ornate, orchestral Indie pop tracks from his home, playing every instrument you can hear. While we would have loved for a full length album to come out to build on the brilliance that was I Woke Up With Planets In My Face and The Spiral Eyes, any new music from Peter Adams is welcome, and he definitely did not half-ass his commitment to the Cincinnati ballet, as every song of the Dances for Heather EP made my top songs list this year.
And that’s worth a delicious, delicious kudos
…And, not to show myself to be a lazy music writer in my year end list coming out in May, but that was before I had even gotten a chance to give I am a Strange Loop a close listen, since it features the track “The Tangled Canopy” which is easily one of the three best songs of the year. Whoops.
So I’m just going to pretend that I didn’t make that mistake, Dr. Stein style.
So when a combo of EPs supplants an album (This is pretty much the reason why Transference by Spoon was the last album to not make this list) it has to be pretty damn good. And this is. Pretty damn good. Soaring, building, orchestral yet poppy, occasionally soft and lilting, occasionally strong and driving. In fact, “The Tangled Canopy” best shows all the strengths of Adams’ work in 2010, starting with soft, slowly building strings that swell until they reach a breaking point, followed by a soft guitar-vocals interlude that then lets loose with a flurry of orchestral instrumentation, drums, and layered vocals that form a sinisterly breezy, yet ineffably catchy, melody. These songs don’t stay in place for very long, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
7. Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Oh Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. What are we going to do with you? We’re used to our musical geniuses being crazy and self-destructive, but we have no idea what to do when they just end up being…egotistical douchebags. So when Kanye West made the horrific mistake of, gasp, making an attractive, 19 year old millionaire sad, all hell was unleashed on him. Also, memes. Just like, so many memes.
…Granted, funny memes, but still
Kanye was coming of 808 & Heartbreak, which was greatly influenced by his mother’s untimely death. And it was…fine? Lots of vocodor, and decent songs that weren’t particularly memorable. So after the infamous Imma-Let-You-Finish incident, it was easy to see Kanye’s career fizzing out of existence.
Like so many packets of Pop-Rocks
So when My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy begins with “Dark Fantasy” begins with spoken word couplets going into choir-like vocals that meld into a piano driven beat. What follows is an album filled with upbeat club jams and somber reflection pieces, all doused in a combination of self-reflection and egoism.
What’s left is the “Sergeant Pepper’s of Hip Hop,” a real game-changer, and a reminder that Kanye West is an asshole…but a talented asshole.
6. LCD Soundsystem- This is Happening
Ah LCD Soundsystem, we hardly knew ye. Wait, that’s not true. You actually got increasingly popular with each album release. And now you’re gone. Gone and forgotten. Well, that’s not true. 19,000 people watched the last ever LCD Soundsystem concert, and even more streamed it live online. This is Happening is both the best album LCD Soundsystem released, as well as their worst. And that’s where it gets tricky to know how to read into the album.
Each LCD Soundsystem album uses the same art-dance-punk tropes to give you a different feeling. Their debut was tongue in cheek, all scene-reference and house parties. Sound of Silver was less goofy, but not quite serious, the defiant college student refusing to accept a professor’s hypothesis, at times goofy, at times soulful, but always sure of their identity and their sound.
Generally it involved James Murphy looking silly
This is Happening hits you like the season finale of a critically acclaimed TV show on the bubble of being renewed. It wants to leave enough open that you can see more coming in the future, but it wants to give you enough closure to leave you at peace if this is where it ends. Let it Be this is not, James Murphy still has plenty on his mind. This is an album by a man who has more to tell us, but doesn’t feel the need anymore.
So you have songs like “Dance Yrself Clean” to open, that alternates between quiet electronic and blaring dance hall. You have “Drunk Girls,” a song that doesn’t take itself seriously that, at its heart, is about…well, not taking yourself seriously. “All I Want” blindsides you with raw poignancy that penetrates into the core of the beat itself, to the point that it can touch your soul before you hear a goddamn word if you’re in the right state.
Okay okay I get it, being too serious
But honestly, this album is a testament to what LCD Soundsystem has accomplished over 3 well spaced albums. We don’t want it to be an epitaph…but it’s a good epitaph nonetheless.
5. The Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
I’m not going to get into the lyrical analysis of the story arc at play with The Arcade Fire’s most popular/third best album. I cover that pretty heavily in my discussion of the three songs from this album that made my top songs list, so just take my word when I say, there’s a lot of artistic depth behind the lyrics. This album is loosely connected, and really highlights a divide between demographic cultures, which is really driven home by the opening dichotomy of the title track, as “The Suburbs” combines jangly, upbeat piano chords with, well…depressing lyrics.
Of course, what made this album more noteworthy wasn’t the album itself, it was the reception. Number one album on Billboards when it was released, winner of the best album Grammy in a move that made music fans everywhere go, “…Wait, I thought the Grammys rewarded shitty bands.” Fans of the band cheered the win, troves of poseur hipsters burned their Arcade Fire patches because the band wasn’t “cool” anymore, and people who don’t know what good music is decided to make “Who is Arcade Fire” into an internet meme.
The Suburbs isn’t even the band’s best album. In fact, it’s their worst. Which was like saying Return of the Jedi was the worst movie in the original Star Wars trilogy. Factually correct, but pretty misleading. And yes, that will likely be the nerdiest reference I make in this entire list.
Win Butler: “Correction- second nerdiest”
Each Arcade Fire album comes with an unspoken worry that they’re eventually going to flame out. Their popularity or success with get the most of them, and their music will become a cheap parody of itself. For now that, thankfully, that’s not proven to be the case. If this album were the best album The Arcade Fire had done, it would be the number one album of the year. Dropping down to five by their third just shows that they have plenty of juice left in them. Hey, the more chances to piss off Justin Bieber fans, the better.
4. Sleigh Bells- Treats
OH SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!? ARE WE BEING BOMBED? WE’RE BEING BOMBED AREN’T WE? IT WAS THE DAMN RUSSIANS ALL ALONG, I FUCKING KNEW IT, I KNEW THOSE APOLLO CREED KILLING BASTARDS WERE UP TO NO…oh sorry, my itunes volume was just on pretty high, I guess I put the Sleigh Bells album on.
Though Ivan Drago did get a producer credit, I believe
Sleigh Bells will punch you in the damn ears until you bleed because fuck you, that’s why. But for a band that tries to make instrumentals that sound like fireworks having sex with a two headed guitar, there’s something strangely catchy and upbeat about these tracks. Nowhere is this seen better than “Crown on the Ground,” a top 10 song for Elitish’s 2009 list, one of the first tracks released by this band, a barn-burner that is both off-kilter, out of control, catchy as all hell, and…almost pleasant in the right mindset. There’s a sweetness to the dichotomy between Alexis Krauss’ perky pop vocals and Derek Miller’s obscenely overdriven instrumentals.
Not that kind of overdriven
While the style itself seems somewhat limiting (“Female vocals? Check. Loud noise metal influence instrumentals? Check. Okay, done”) they get about as much range out of their unique arrangement in Treats than bands that work in other eclectic genres. “Infinity Guitars” pounds forward methodically with a flicking-off-society punk edge, like the leather clad girl you went to school with who kept getting suspended that you couldn’t help but be attracted to (and steered away from), but it immediately gives away to “Run the Heart” and “Rachel” that feature almost more of a, dare I say, pseudo club beat and fully takes advantage of the subconscious innocence of Krauss’ vocals. Who knows if they can keep this level of creativity and ingenuity this sharp in subsequent albums (I’m unfortunately foreseeing a sophomore slump for these guys), it doesn’t matter when the creativity and ingenuity is in front of us in the first place.
3. Los Campesinos!- Romance is Boring
Los Campesinos! sings like Welshmen. *cough* Sorry, is this thing on? I said, “Los Campesinos! sings like a Welshman.” No? Nothing?
The narrative of Los Campesinos! has changed in the short years they’ve been together. No longer are we listening to them as the upbeat twee college students doing great songs that get ruined by fucking Budweiser, increasingly, as band members slowly shed off, it becomes more and more of a poetic vehicle for Gareth Campesinos!, who doesn’t mince words as the album’s opening track, “In Media Res” closes with the, erm, depressing, “If you were given the option of dying painlessly in peace at 45 or with a lover at your side after a full and happy life, is this something that would interest you?”…which then of course goes straight into “There are Listed Buildings”, a song that starts with happy yelped “Ba da”s. So yes, this album does have its bi-polar moments.
No, not that kind of bi-polar
These songs are deeper, more profound, more…scarred than the band’s first album, and it rivals the darker moments of We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. Romance is Boring has two type of songs- upbeat songs with surprisingly dark lyrics, or depressing songs with appropriately dark lyrics.
The best examples of this can be seen in the two best songs on the album, the title track, “Romance is Boring” and the somber-yet-brilliant “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future”. The first clocks in at two and a half minutes, all fist pumping and power chords, masking any negativity of the sentiment that “Romance is boring” and bringing you a full speed pop song. “Sea” on the other hand, is a full two minutes longer, full with cello and languished sentiment of life that runs deeper than typical musical angst. The typical “She don’t love me, she broke my heart” sentiment is so far in the background it doesn’t even appear on the cast list, instead we see lines like, “At 14 her mother died in a routine operation from an allergic reaction to a general anesthetic, spent the rest of her teens experimenting with prescriptions in a futile attempt to know more than the doctors.” The song has a raw honest desperation to it that have a deep impact, and adds that extra layer to this already good album to make it a truly great one.
2. Titus Andronicus- The Monitor
I’ve already extensively discussed the themes of Titus Andronicus and the main strengths and points of this album in such depth with their many songs that made my top 50 songs of the year list that you can probably recite word for word how I’d have this review go.
So yes, the album is allegorical and about the Civil War and has very abrasive vocals that somehow work a lot better than I would have ever expected. The lyrics delve deep into a personal dissatisfaction that is expressed through various Civil War motifs, like some sort of hyper-literate Hold Steady clone. Nevertheless, it doesn’t lessen the impact of this album, that hits on all cylinders as a personal, emotional, anthemic album, full of barnburners and fuck yous.
Songs like “Four Score and Seven” start off slow, build to an emotional threshold guided by a surprise horn section, before exploding into fist-pumping glory throughout the course of the track’s eight hyperactive minutes before asserting, “I wasn’t born to die like a dog/ I was born to die just like a man.” These type of moments that grab you by surprise and take you along for a ride riddle the album, and make it a no-brainer as the second best album of the year.
1. Buke and Gass- Riposte
Buke and Gass have unique instruments. They made it themselves, and it makes them get a lot of instrumental sounds that make it hard to believe that they are just a two person band. That’s all I’m going to say about the instruments, because the music is why they’re the best album of 2010.
Starting with “Medulla Oblangata,” which goes from a hazey instrumental intro do sharp, defined biting chords, the album takes you through a pounding, unpredictable ride. With the second track, “Medicina” you begin to get a sense that this album is going to be a roller coaster in the best possible way. A minute of slow, deliberate music slowly builds until the halfway mark where the best key change of any song this year takes place and you’re caught in catchy instrumentals whipping you along at a breakneck pace.
Like this. But music.
Arone Dyer’s vocals are a revelation, as always, helping take well crafted, catchy-yet-dangerous songs up to the next level. You never know which direction each song will take, but you know that even the most abrupt transitions are smoothed over by Dyer’s warm vocals. These are songs that are meant to throw off the casual hipster trying to nod along without knowing the music, as each song is roughly 35% vocals, 35% instrumentals and 30% tempo change. It gives each song on this album a dizzying effect that makes each track exhilarating. It should be telling that four songs from this album made my top songs of the year list, after I had to disqualify almost half the album from that list for appearing on an EP in 2009.
If it weren’t for the release year of this sucker, the top songs list would have been called “Buke and Gass and friends”
As you can tell by the post date, we are almost halfway through the year, and I’m just releasing my album list. While that is a testament to my laziness, it also is a testament to how good this album is. The best albums will grow on you with each listen, and as each month of 2011 has gone by, it’s only affirmed my selection here. So if you haven’t had a chance to listen to this album yet, go to their website and work on remedying it (link to website).
And there we have it, loyal readers. A mere 4,000 words to go through the top 10 albums of the year, but of course, most of my analysis is in my top songs of the year list. Either way, now that 2010 is officially in the rear view mirror, all we can do is look forward to each subsequent 2011 release (and hope that I’m more prompt with my year end lists in six months time).