The culmination of our countdown week allows me to pontificate a little about the year and the album format. For most of the decade, the album has seemed to been a quickly dying format with singles playing a bigger and bigger role in the music industry. This year, I felt like the tides have turned back in the album’s favor. Many cohesive albums with real story arcs were released this year and really made me hopeful for the future of music.
20. Drake: Thank Me Later
I agonized over whether or not Drake’s Thank Me Later actually deserved to be in the top 20 albums in the year. In the end, I could not find an album that I felt was better than it to fill this spot. The truth is Drake proved himself a new type of pop icon, a versatile threat of singing, rapping, and acting. Although I think time will prove that he is better off rapping than dabbling in his other interests for now he is young and wants to try it all. Who can fault him for that?
19. Sleigh Bells: Treats
I was kind of a late comer to Sleigh Bells. It wasn’t until a late-in-the-year recommendation that I decided to check out Treats and was immediately taken by the album. The album’s combination of cranked-to-12 synths and sweetly sung female vocals make for a unique pop esthetic that is both parts disarming and catchy. Sometimes the album sounds like a train wreck of mis-volumed elements but for the most part, those elements are always righted enough to hear the band’s catchy pop hooks.
18. Rick Ross: Teflon Don
I feel like Rick Ross really came out of no where to make this album. I always liked Rick Ross’ singles; I mean who does not like “Hustlin'” or “Speedin'”? But the larger than life rapper had never put together a cohesive album and showed no signs of ever doing so. Like with Ross’s other albums, I loved “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)” but I did not anticipate enjoying the album as much as I have. The album is well produced with credits from superstars like Kanye West, No I.D., Danja, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, and Lex Luger but the real story is Ross’s lyrics which are fantastical at best. Taking Ross’s kingpin persona to new and ridiculous heights, the album is like reading a novel you know can not be true but you can not help but be enraptured by.
17. My Chemical Romance: Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys
I like putting My Chemical Romance in my end of the year countdowns because I actually like taking shit for liking them. I will defend to the death My Chemical Romance because the truth is, I think they are geniuses. Their image screams “we hate our parents but love Nightmare Before Christmas” but their music screams “we listen to a lot of classic rock and know how to use it.” Killer guitar riffs and interesting song structures make Danger Days a compelling listen even if the album’s concept and story line are murky at best.
16. Big K.R.I.T.: Wuz Here
There was no rapper I found more likable in 2010 than Big K.R.I.T. His mixtape, Wuz Here, had the lyrical sensibility of early Outkast and the production quality of modern UGK creating an album that seemed to encapsulate everything the dirty South has had to offer over the last two decades. But Krit’s biggest strength is his ability to transport the listener to his home state of Mississippi. He showcases the good in his breakout single “Country Shit” but he does not shy away from talking about crime and poverty in a negative way on tracks like “No Wheaties” and “Neva Go Back.”
15. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: The Brutalist Bricks
I completely missed Ted Leo’s The Brutalist Bricks when it was released back in March; it was not until nearly November that I sought out the album and listened. I was pleasantly surprised with the album. The truth is I lost track of Leo largely after 2004’s Shake the Sheets but I find The Brutalist Bricks a striking return to form. The record is full of hopeful guitar rock that never slows down. At 13 songs in just over 40 minutes, Leo tightened up his song writing to give his Matador debut a lot of bang for your buck.
14. Das Racist: Sit Down, Man
There is something slightly off putting about Das Racist’s style. Their voices are very monotone and show very little emotion; couple that with their dry sarcastic lyrcism and you feel like somehow you are constantly being made fun of while listening to them. The fact is you might be but it does not mean that it is not funny. Their humorous lyrical antics are so enjoyable it is easy to overlook the fact that these guys actually have rapping skills.
13. Best Coast: Crazy For You
I spent a good portion of the year thinking that I did not like Best Coast’s debut album, Crazy for You. I knew that I loved “When I’m With You” but it took recommendations from some musically savvy friends for me to revisit the album. Revisiting the album in the dead of a New England winter I finally saw the magic of Best Coast. Despite the freezing temperatures outside my ears enjoyed the warmth that the album provided; It was a welcome escape.
12. Surfer Blood: Astro Coast
As I mentioned in my tracks of the year write up, Surfer Blood was ruthlessly cut out of many end of the year countdowns. The only reason I can see for their omition is the time of their album release. The group felt steadfastly like a 2009 phenomenon; that is when their single “Swim” broke and thus that is when the band broke. Unfortunately, their album was pushed until January of 2010 but it seems by December most people feel like the band is sooooo 2009. The truth is no matter the year, Astro Coast is a great album. Surfer Blood mixes surf music staples with a wide variety of genres from anthematic power pop to 80s alternative rock and they always do it with tact. The song writing is solid and no one can argue with the singles “Swim” or “Floating Vibes” either.
11. Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
Gorillaz have always had a great formula. Damon Albarn works as the ring leader for a motley crew of characters that have no business sharing an album together but somehow come together to create something equal parts beautiful, poppy, and exciting. Plastic Beach is really no different veteran grime men like Kano and Bashy could never have imagined sharing an album with the likes of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith and certainly no one thought Snoop Dogg would ever share an album with Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed but indeed that is what has happened. And it all somehow works.
10. The New Pornographers: Together
The Pornographers are nothing if not consistent. The Canadian supergroup bring to the table four distinct vocalists: A.C. Newman, Neko Case, Daniel Bejar, and Kathryn Calder. When their powers combine, they do not form captain planet but instead form a power pop group that is hard to reckon with. Together represents one of their strongest collection of songs to date. The album is sunnier and poppier than its predecessor, Challengers. My only complaint is that the Together feels much more like a singles collection than it does a cohesive album. Song for song, Together can stand up to nearly any record but it has little arc which is why it does not appear higher in the countdown.
09. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
After a few listens I finally came around to loving Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. On face value, I liked the hooks in songs like “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and “We Used to Wait” but it was not until multiple close listens that I was able to appreciate the album conceptually. Arcade Fire essentially wrote an album that summed up the major concerns of our times. Arcade Fire addresses the changing economy, the rampant materialism of our culture, and the troubles of living to work but that do it in a non-preachy way that makes the message accessible to a variety of listeners.
08. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way
As a whole, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are quite admirable; their devotion to soul music of the 1960s has lead them down a path of undesirable recording methods in a modern sense just to stay true to their sound. They are rewarded for their toils with critical lauding for their latest effort I Learned the Hard Way. The album maybe not be a great album in a traditional but it is one of the finest collection of songs released this year. The music is warm and inviting and Jones’ ever headstrong vocal performance is reminiscent of classic divas like Aretha Franklin and Diano Ross.
07. Wavves: King of the Beach
I think of all the albums on the countdown, I had the most difficult time placing Wavves. Wavves’s album, King of the Beach is catchy, energetic, and slightly addicting, yet something about it screams “not an album of the year.” Maybe it is that everything seems too easy on the album. Maybe it is the hideous cover art. No matter what it is, I tried to let the album guide me as to where to put it. In the end, the song writing might not be extremely technical but the songs are catchy as hell and as soon as the album is over you want to go out and start a band. Surely that is a sign of a top ten album of the year.
06. Gaslight Anthem: American Slang
While most of my blogosphere peers were over the moon for Titus Andronicus, for my buck Gaslight Anthem is the best punk rock Bruce Springsteen wannabes. American Slang is the band’s masterwork. Singer/songwriter Brian Fallow writes some of his best lyrics on tracks like “The Spirit of Jazz” where he sings “Was I good to you the wife of my youth?/not another soul could love you like my rotten bones do/so I will wait on the edges in between/these New York streets, where you and I would meet.” It is this type of americana poetry that makes American Slang so successful and engaging.
05. Fang Island: Fang Island
I decided to reread my review of Fang Island’s self-titled third album to prepare to write this little blurb. In my original review back in February, I proclaimed that the album is full of “complex party anthems.” Relistening to the album all these months later, I have to say that the album is still a high energy party album but there is something deeper than that. The complexity I talk about is not just the band’s twisting of time signatures and tempos but it is also their dramatic shifts in styles while never losing their essence. The album has Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies, Boston-esque guitar solos, and Fucking Champs-esque drumming and that can all be on the same track. The combination is mind blowing but also extremely catchy which is no easy feat.
04. Spoon: Transference
If Spoon’s Transference had come out in November, I do not think it would have made this list but since it came out in January, I had the whole year to mull over the album. My first listen through what stood out most to me were the songs’ unconventional endings with most abruptly ending leaving me to wonder if my CD was faulty. These little quirky additions ultimately take away from what truly is a wonderful album. While it might not be Spoon’s greatest album, Transference does contain some of Spoon’s greatest songs. The best two are exact opposites of each other: “Written in Reverse” is a seething emotional mess which stands in stark contrast to “Who Makes Your Money” is a subdued jam, but both would make my Spoon’s greatest hits mixtape.
03. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son Of Chico Dusty
When loving a hip hop album it is important to ask yourself “what am I loving about this?” Hip hop can be deceiving because sometimes tight production can overshadow mediocre rapping and make you think you are enjoying a rapper more than you are. On Big Boi’s debut solo album, the Outkast alumni mixes his mind-bending flow with some of the best production money can buy. What is really commendable about Sir Lucious Left Foot is that Big Boi did not go with production that would make obvious radio hits but instead it is as if he chose instrumentals that are specifically difficult to rap over but have an aesthetic quality that sounds like p-funk night at an intergalactic casino. Everything sounds shiny, new, and way way ahead of its time.
02. Vampire Weekend: Contra
It was hard for me not to give Vampire Weekend the number one spot on my countdown. Contra had an unfair advantage because it came out in January so it had an entire year to simmer in my consciousness. The album’s excellently crafted pop with hints of African rhythms just seemed to get better with age. The real reason that the album did not take home the crown on my list is because Contra really did not do much new over Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut. Contra seems like the next logical step which is incredibly good but it was not revolutionary enough to be called the best of 2010.
01. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
When speaking of revolutionary, I do not know if any one has been more revolutionary this decade than Kanye. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy seems like the culmination of his genius. It takes the experimentalism exhibited in 808s and Heartbreaks and Late Registration and combines it flawlessly with the hit making ability exhibited in College Dropout and Graduation. The result is an album that seems far ahead of its time but at the same time may signal a change in hip hop. I listen to the nearly 5-minute avant garde outro on “Runaway” and just think about the hip hop heads that are listening to it never having heard things like that done by bands like Sonic Youth but will listen to it because Kanye did it. Kanye bridged those gaps in 2010 and music might be a better place because of it.