I had really good intentions when I started this site, and I kept it up for quite awhile, but this post will likely be my last for at least a little while. I’ve been writing about music since my freshman year of college (a long time), but it’s time to be honest with myself and admit that I’m just not feeling it anymore.
That’s not to say that I’m no longer interested in music; In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 2010 was an awesome year for releases and I found myself flat-out surprised by a great deal of albums, with a load of things that I kept going back to and many hours spent cranking the stereo and singing along.
Alas, I just don’t find the enjoyment that I once did in writing the reviews themselves. It’s probably kind of obvious given the tailing-of in regular updates over the course of the past half-year or so. I’ll still post here, but it will probably be less about music and less often. We’ll see…
Anyway, enough explanation; Let’s roll with my favorite albums of 2010! If I had to pick a theme for the year, it would probably be “pop.” There’s a little bit from just about every genre on the list, but a solid majority of it has some sort of major pop trappings that are undeniable.
1. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA/Virgin)
For my money, this is the best LCD Soundsystem album from front to back that’s ever been made. It’s also my favorite album from front to back of 2010. Solid cuts with massive beats and lyrics that veer between self-loathing and celebratory. If this is indeed the final LCD Soundsystem album, at least they went out with a bang (or at least a pow, pow, pow, pow, pow).
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
One of several albums on this list that arrived to my ears in the last quarter of the year and didn’t receive a review on the site, this one was probably the most surprising. While I’d enjoyed some of West’s previous albums, I had never been on board fully with his work until I heard this one. Usually I don’t care for albums that are over-the-top all the way, but this one swaggers like a beast and delivers the goods over and over again.
3. Francis And The Lights – It’ll Be Better (Cantora)
I mentioned it in my review, and I’ll say it again here; I cannot understand why this album hasn’t gotten more love from people this year. The short release is bursting at the seams with insanely catchy hooks and it’s varied enough to go from white-boy funk to soft ballads without so much as a hitch. Maybe it’s too poppy for the indie lovers yet too indie for the mainstream pop lovers. Too bad; I guess it will be both of their losses.
4. The Drums – The Drums (Downtown)
One of those releases that felt like a slight let-down upon release (mainly due to a majority of the songs being available elsewhere already), this debut album from The Drums is still one of the most insanely hummable albums of the year. Loads of different reference points / influences / land grabs going on here, but it’s still fresh with a capital F. Can’t wait for a follow-up.
5. Owen Pallett – Heartland (Domino)
This one might surprise you as much as it does me, but I can’t deny that this little chamber pop release hit me early this year and hasn’t let go since. Some of the songs (“Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”) are more obvious, but everything else just keeps on wiggling until it’s stuck in your head.
6. Caribou – Swim (Merge)
Dan Snaith reinvents himself yet again, and the result is another solid album of warped-ass dance music. This is club music for the sea floor, music for swimming in your sheets, and sunny-side up songs for welcoming warmer days. Needless to say, it’s been on rotation for a good portion of the year.
7. Born Ruffians – Say It (Warp)
This album got harshed-on by more than one review site that I read, but I can’t understand the dislike for it, honestly. Sure, it’s herky-jerky and about as willfully disjointed as it gets for a follow-up from a group that was this close to breaking through with their debut, but that’s how it goes sometimes. If you haven’t already, give it another chance.
8. The Books – The Way Out (Temporary Residence)
Many years in the making, this is the longest album from the duo of The Books, and also the most layered, inventive, and downright infectious. There are moments where it doesn’t sound like you’re even listening to The Books, then you remember that nobody else is making this kind of music and yes, all is right with the world. If that weren’t enough, Nick wrote a blog post about the creation of every single song on the album. They’re great reads, and you’ll feel even more enlightened about the creative process in general.
9. Mark McGuire – Living With Yourself (Editions Mego)
I guess it’s officially the year of Emeralds, as not only did the duo break into my list with their Does It Look Like I’m Here? release, but Mark McGuire’s solo effort Living With Yourself had me spellbound as well. Field recordings, layers of hazy drones, and looping, reverberating guitar work that reminds me slightly of an updated and amplified Michael Brook. Beautiful stuff full of potency and a bit of longing.
10. Sam Amidon – I See The Sign (Bedroom Community)
Sam Amidon has been quietly been creating some of the more heartbreaking and beautiful music that I’ve heard on his past two albums. His previous All Is Well had a couple downright stunners, but this newest release is even more consistent, with a trio of cuts that just melt me every time near the end. Oh, and for good measure, he teamed up with Nico Muhly on the best triptych of Mothertongue.
11. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego)
I’ve been following Emeralds for a couple years now, but none of their albums had completely resonated with me until I heard Does It Look Like I’m Here? The group has certainly shown flashes of brilliance before, but this is their masterpiece (so far). Beautiful, dense, dark, pulsating, and many other adjectives can’t quite do it justice. Outstanding.
12. Echospace – Limuin (Modern Love)
I honestly can’t say that I’ve ever heard an album with these guys’ fingerprints that I’ve thought was a dud. This one is no different, and just in case you thought they’d worn their post-dub minimal techno thing into a nub, these nine tracks blur and bob and weave and generally melt time in all the good ways that music can. It sounded good in the summer and it sounds just as awesome with a dusting of snow on the ground.
13. Girl Talk – All Day (Illegal Art)
Yeah, it’s mashup, but Girl Talk is the damn master at this stuff. If a dude taking chunks of songs and throwing them together in a way that creates something new can create a masterpiece, then this is the best thing running from Gregg Gillis so far. There’s still 300 some odd samples that blast through in just over an hour, but the transitions are more smooth and everything just flows like nobody’s business. Endlessly re playable.
14. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II (101 Distribution)
Easily one of my favorite new artists that I heard this year, Zola Jesus hit the ground running with a series of EPs (including the stunning Valusia EP). If you add everything together, you have about ten gorgeous songs from a young singer who sounds like she’s just beginning to hit her stride and absolutely dropping my jaw in the process. Chills.
15. Jaga Jazzist – One-Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune)
It’s been awhile since I’d heard from this group, and they didn’t disappoint in coming back from their hiatus. The perfect blend of their augmented orchestra sounds, One-Armed Bandit zooms off in many different directions and manages to hit the mark just about every time.
16. Grinderman – 2 (Anti)
If this is how Nick Cave is going to play in Grinderman, then I don’t care if he ever goes back to the Bad Seeds. Way more varied than the first album from the group, this one is deranged in all the right ways, with just enough pervert and pussycat to keep me grinning like a bandit.
17. Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (Young God)
I’ve been following Michael Gira’s work for some time now on a rather intermittent basis and have enjoyed a lot of what I’ve heard (while also being repelled by a great deal). To my ears, this newest release strikes an almost perfect balance, with the vitriol and sheer power on one side, with a real gleeful deviousness on the other. In the eyes of some, those two things probably aren’t that far apart, but it works in spades here.
18a & b. Elephant9 – Walk The Nile (Rune Grammofon) & Bushman’s Revenge – Jitterbug (Rune Grammofon)
Yes, I realize that these are two separate albums from two separate “supergroups” on the Rune Grammofon label, but they are so linked up in my head that I find it hard to peel them apart. Two amazing doses of proto progressive jazz metal kraut something or other, these two albums were both huge steps up from the first releases from each respective group that I’ve found them lodged in my rotation a ton.
19. Vampire Weekend – Contra (XL)
Something about this group made me not want to like them, but screw it, they’re fun. This is another sophomore album that’s even better than the debut, and while a lot of people think they’ve worn out their welcome, I don’t think they will until the infectious songs stop pouring out.
20. Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
It’s not perfect all the way through, but this is exactly the direction I was hoping that Stevens would go after his long hiatus. It’s full of blurps and whirs and certainly more challenging than his past work (reading comments at the NPR “first listen” site for it was downright hilarious because of this), but proves that whatever genre he’s working in, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Reissues (no order here, but they’re all amazing)
Walter Gibbons – Jungle Music (Strut)
This double-disc set of remixes from Gibbons has gotten so many repeat listens that I’d have deepened the grooves if it were vinyl. Absolutely slaying remixes of Gladys Knight, Arthur Russell, Double Exposure, and many more. It’s disco, but not straight disco. So damn groovy, in a great way.
Peter Gordon – Love Of Life Orchestra (DFA)
Another set of futuro-disco cuts, this one has long been a favorite of James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem (two cuts opened and closed his Fabric Mix). It’s easy to see why, too, as this saxed-up set of songs is full of love and life and isn’t at all afraid to get down.
Thomas Koner – Nunatak, Teimo, Permafrost (Type)
Like a lot of ambient music from the same era, this triple-disc set hasn’t aged perfectly, but if you’re into the bleak, desolate nordic-style drone ambient music, this is one of the forerunners and still quite solid. It’s incredibly stark, but it felt just about perfect when the last snowstorm arrived and dumped almost a foot on the ground here.
Charanjit Singh – Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat (Bombay Connection)
I guarantee you haven’t heard anything else like this in 2010. On first take it sounds like maybe Luke Vibert decided to take his acid experiments to some sort of middle-eastern trip-out realm, but this is the real deal. Almost 30 years old and still crazy enough to make you wonder what’s going on.
Bruce Springsteen – The Promise / Darkness on the Edge of Town (Columbia)
I’ve always had a weakness for the early Springsteen stuff, and this certainly scratches the itch. The album that should have been released after Born To Run (plus some bonus sessions), this is a damn solid batch of music spread out over two discs. BRUCE!
Various Artists – Shangaan Electro (Honest John’s)
Another album of music that you might not honestly believe until you hear it, this one marries insanely fast tinny electro beats and somewhat traditional-sounding African vocal styles (mostly sung in English) for one of the most unique and insanely catchy albums I’ve heard in the past couple years. Hard to describe and hard to get out of your head.
As always, I thank you for reading, whether you followed me over from my other site or discovered this one from somewhere else. It was a good run. Maybe we’ll run into each other on some other corner of the web in the future.