Tuesday, December 21, 2010

the year in music - best albums

Again, an uneven number here. So sue me. Actually, don't. Just read these, and think to yourself, "Damn, I love music. Even if I don't agree with this list of best albums, which is just one man's opinion after all, and made painstakingly and carefully, each choice with a clear rationale, there's no reason for me to be upset at his choices, even if they're not the top 13 I'd choose... damn, I still love music."

Top 13 Albums of the 2010:

13) J Roddy Walston & the Business, J Roddy Walston & the Business
One or two (or if you're me, four or five) standout tracks do not a great record make. But while Rod's self-titled album will not go down as a classic as an album, this collection of world-conquering-blues-rock-ballistic-missles is truly remarkable. So it's in 13th, okay?

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12) Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye has done an amazing job focusing on his art as his public image nosedives. One of the most hated recording artists does in the studio what he could never do spontaneously: keep it real. He exposes himself as a terrible person, a cheater and a bad singer, all to create a deeply personal and beautiful record about, well, an artist creating art. Nice work, asshole.

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11) Robert Randolph & the Family Band, We Walk This Road
These guys just edged out Cee Lo for the most likable band on this list. They're a real family, you see. And unlike the collection of catchy songs that was 2006's Colorblind, this feels like a fully-formed album, each track superglued to the ones before and after it. The segues are a smart touch too.

10) Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer
"Fuck You" is such a powerful single, there's a danger it could've overshadowed any other songs on the album. And while there isn't another "Fuck You" on this record, it's a marvelous hip hop/soul package. And Cee Lo spreads the love like so much butter on his already rotund catalogue with each delightfully danceable number, "Fool For You" and "No One's Gonna Love You", a Band of Horses cover, in particular. In other news, Danger Mouse has signaled he isn't quite ready to get Gnarls Barkley back together. And really, what's the rush?

The Suburbs
9) Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
I can't illuminate any more the creativity, skill, promise or Canadian-ness Arcade Fire has brought us with this album. The greatness of The Suburbs has been well documented. But... Remember the first time you saw their web video thing for "We Used To Wait"? First there was just one window, then bam! bam! bam! there were like ten! Man, that was rad, right? In conclusion, great album. Probably deserved better than #9. But no, I'm not moving it.

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8) Surfer Blood, Astro Coast
Initially dismissed by my weary ears as just another of the soulless lo-fi punk records that've been raining down lately (see Wavves, Vivian Girls, Times New Viking, et al), this album has since become a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine. I turn to it anytime I want heart-thumping, apparently genuine California surf-rock. Not since The Beach Boys have I seen a band stick to their theme so well. Surfing. It isn't just a texture upon which their rock music is laid. No, no, no. Pretty much every song is about moving to the west coast, ridin' waves, avoiding sharks and the like. Even the album cover stays frighteningly true. And I for one have come around.

Broken Bells
7) Broken Bells, Broken Bells
We all waited in anticipation as Danger Mouse left Cee Lo Green for former Shins vocalist James Mercer. Green recovered just fine as a Lady Killer, and with the Bells, DM got to explore some deeper themes. Mercer, meanwhile, finally got some much needed backbone, after being left for dead, repeating on Natalie Portman's Discman™ from Garden State. This album soothes as it cools, reminding us that we can still dance in this cold, cold world. The good news? DM and Mercer announced they'll team up for another album soon.

6) Yeasayer, Odd Blood
I don't know if I've seen a band take such a hard left turn from one album to the next with such enthusiasm and success, and without seeming to notice the change. It would be interesting to see fans of All Hour Cymbals who hadn't heard this album yet show up to a concert. The expressions on their faces would tell the whole story: "Oh shit. I'm at the wrong show. I knew I should've waited to get stoned. Who are these guys? They're amazing."

5) Junip, Fields
How this album didn't finish toward the top of the big lists I just can't figure. Spin, was it too subtle? NPR's All Songs Considered, was it too immature? Pitchfork, too mature? All I can say is it was dead-on for me. Sweetly sublime, like a wet breeze through pine needles, on a day you wore a parka when a cardigan would've sufficed, but you know deep down it's better to be too warm than too cold this time of year. Yeah, that's the stuff.

4) The Black Keys, Brothers
Right from the get go, Brothers explodes, detonating the eardrum the same way The Big Come Up muscled its way into the ear canal eight years ago, refusing to budge. The latest Keys release feels like a unique experience, separate from other albums, yet inextricably linked to the overall catalogue. Brothers, this is the blues rock standard to which all contemporaries will be held.

3) Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore, Dear Companion
There's something deeply troubling about Kid Rock's music being identified as "All-American". The same way a Sarah Palin tweet is troubling. But to find
true All-American musicians, we need only peer at
Sollee and Moore. They demonstrate a clear respect for this country's roots in folk, country and blues music, and with a little help from producer Jim James, rock n' roll.

2) Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
I feel like Damon Albarn just wanted to see if his band could put together a winner even after starting with a bizarre thud: an opening 20 seconds in which Snoop (sigh, nice to see you again D-O-double-jizzle, how's PepsiCo treating you?) mutters the band's name, then his own nickname, then inexplicably the name of a cult-classic film from the 60s ("Gorillaz and the Boss Dawg / Planet of the Apes"). But Gorillaz did create a winner. An A-list cast of featured performers (yes, even Snoop) once again added their accents to the growing paragraph from one of hip-hop's most fascinating ensembles.

1) Spoon, Transference
Front to back. Top to bottom. Impreccabe. (Impressively impeccable? Hello?) No other release this year, for me, had so few holes in it, so little room for improvement. This album has the depth Dark Side of the Moon, the precision of In Rainbows, with the energy of London Calling. Or something like that. It's none of those albums of course, but it's an outstanding record, eminently listenable, smooth, surprising, powerful, challenging, possibly cancer-curing, expertly crafted from both 40,000ft and under a microscope, and my pick for effort of the year.

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Other 2010 favorites that just missed the list:

Eyelid Movies
Phantogram, Eyelid Movies

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Band of Horses, Infinite Arms

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Jeff Bridges, et al, Crazy Heart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, I Learned the Hard Way

Suckers, Wild Smile

Moondoggies, Tidelands

The New Pornographers, Together

Cotton Jones, Tall Hours in the Glowstream

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Brutalist Bricks

The National, High Violet

Stornoway, Beachcomber's Windowsill

GAYNGS, Relayted

She & Him, Volume Two

Sleigh Bells, Treats

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz

Vampire Weekend, Contra

The Hold Steady, Heaven Is Whenever

Portugal. The Man, American Ghetto

The Roots, How I Got Over

Brooklyn Rider, Dominant Curve

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More

Jukebox the Ghost, Everything Under the Sun

The Mountain Goats, The Life of the World to Come

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