Wednesday, December 22, 2010

End of The Year Review: The Best Albums of 2010


1) The Black Keys - Brothers

            It’s always a hard decision to pin down amidst all the great albums released in a year the best album of the bunch. Honestly, I could argue for any of these first four records as the best of the year, but I’m going with Brothers by The Black Keys as my favorite long player of 2010. At the halfway mark of the year, I had listed this record as my eighth favorite record as of June, but then, something happened. I put Brothers in my car CD player and it stayed there for a very long time. I listened to this album more than any other release this year for very good reason, it’s a tremendous and solid record. Whereas on previous records, The Black Keys have opted for loud riff-tastic rough around the edges garage rock, that while highly entertaining always sounded like it needed something more. Then on Brothers they found something new, a groove. By adding an occasional bassist and keyboardist on a few tracks, their once DIY songs sounded smoothed out, and focused. This is the first  time that The Black Keys have sounded like a true band, rather than a couple of guys banging it out in their basement. From start to finish this album features solid song after song that experiment with a whole host of different styles of rock. Whether it be the T.Rex-esque opener of “Everlasting Light” or the cooled off blues of “10 Cent Pistol” This album has something for every rock fan, which is a hard task to accomplish. This album has paid off for these boys from Akron, as they have recently exploded on the mainstream being featured on MTV and diamond commercials using their songs. Will they be able to deal with success and not compromise their sound? Or will they go the way of Kings of Leon and try to capitalize on their new fame by reconstructing themselves? That chapter in The Black Keys history has still yet to be written. 

2) Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
This should have been my #1 album of the year. God knows, practically every single major reviewer in the country feels the same way about Kanye’s new record. They’re calling it a masterpiece, and one of the most important hip-hop records released in years. And who knows, maybe it will, only time will tell. One can never truly say an album is quintessential until a few years have passed and we are able to look back at it in retrospect. This record is certainly immense in its grandiosity, which I feel is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s greatest strength and weakness at the same time. While I certainly love the epic feel to some of the songs, “Power,” “Monster,” “All of The Lights,” but after thirteen gargantuan songs, this record becomes too extravagant for its own good.

3) Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Deerhunter just may become the next band like Yo La Tengo to release one solid record after another. While Halcyon Digest has certain elements of their previous massive release of Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. they opted to try another approach to this record that I feel worked out very well in their favor. Halcyon Digest is a very intricate record, but you have to listen very closely to hear it. For instance, on first glance “Revival” may seem like a straight-up simple pop song, but on second listen one might begin to hear the mandolins, banjos, and harps used to pepper the song throughout. Bandleader Bradford Cox said that they were listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. a lot during the recording of this album. It makes sense how such a rich record could be influenced by one of the most complex LPs in rock and roll history. Also check out Cox’s side project Atlas Sound, who has just released Bedroom Databank vol.1-4, a compilation of 50+ demos recorded around Thanksgiving that is being given away for free online. 

  4) LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
          If the year had ended in June, this would have been hands down my choice for #1. I believe that twenty years down the line we will look back at this time period and will hold up LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy as a David Byrne figure. Talking Heads were the essential cool art band of the 1980s, and I believe that our children will see LCD Soundsystem as a tremendous influence on the next generation of artists. As dance and electronica becomes more popular with every rave, LCD Soundsystem offers a compromise that meets the techno and the rock kids halfway, offering a completely unique genre of music: disco punk. If this is LCD’s last record like Murphy has said since its release, then LCD Soundsystem has gone out on top of their game. While this record is a slight step down from Sound of Silver, This Is Happening is a great record to throw on and let loose. This album failed to produce a song as monumental as “All My Friends” but it did give us a few amazing dance jams, “Dance Yrself Clean” and “Pow Pow” are long songs with a constantly engaging beat. This Is Happening further confirms my long belief that James Murphy is the connoisseur of cool.

  5) Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame
This is another record that took forever for me to get into, but once it clicked I could not put it down. Shame, Shame is a true grower of an album. Some songs took no time for me to appreciate, “Shadow People,” “Where’d All The Time Go,” However it took a while for me to see what this album really is, a new modern twist on McCartney-tinged pop. Once I began to view the album in that light, I began to see that this is an album of all seasons. The band tackles a variety of techniques here, with the country tinged “Station” to the gospel-sounding “Jackie Wants a Black Eye.” I cannot recommend this band and album enough.

 6) Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
The fourteen minute closing number, “The Battle For Hampton Roads” sums up the immensity of this record. It’s anthemic, bold, daring, and above all a wild raucous of Jersey punk rock. These guys should not be lumped in with other punk bands however, they are in a league of their own. Titus Andronicus seem to have bigger plans than making simple punk rock songs. They are intelligent enough to make their music an experience. Their shows have become as legendary as Fugazi were in their early years. These guys have proven a lot in 2010, it’s going to be interesting to see if they will spend 2011 traveling around the world living out of a van, or will they take some time off? Whether they have a new record out or not, The Monitor is something they could tour in support of for a long time. It’s that great of an album.   
 7) Hot Chip - One Life Stand
 I had listened to One Life Stand a great deal towards the beginning of the year, but as the months passed I frequented it less and less. I guess that happened simply because other records were released that gained my attention more. This is a fine assortment of songs by Hot Chip, and is their best record to date. I am still confounded as to how a band makes their most melodic album also their most danceable. I will say they are more concentrated than LCD Soundsystem’s balls to the wall dance jams, but now they need to take all the talent that they have and try and create a few sure fire hits. They have it in them, and I bet their next record will be the one that brings Hot Chip to the same limelight that LCD has achieved.
8) Tame Impala - Innerspeaker
This album gained a lot of attention this year for their hazy psychedelic rock that echoes Pink Floyd. These guys seemingly came from out of nowhere and have suddenly become of the hottest tickets in town. Their instrumentation and overall ambience is what makes Tame Impala great. One minute they sound so blurry you could cut the fog with a knife, but the next minute they hit as hard as Black Sabbath. Keep them on your radar, they could be huge.
 9) Free Energy - Stuck On Nothing
When I first heard this record I thought, “Holy shit! Weezer sounds great again!” Sadly, this is not the new Weezer record, instead here we have a new DFA offering called Free Energy, a band once called Hockey Night that decided to re-tool their image as a no thrills riff-heavy glam rock band, enlisted James Murphy as a producer and thus became Free Energy. These guys have a ways to go before they get their chance in the spotlight, but are certainly making inroads (recently opened a tour for Weezer). There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about this record. The lyrics and instrumentation is fairly simple. What makes Stuck on Nothing great is it is simply a fun party-rock album. Sometimes it’s great to say “Fuck art, let’s dance!” and this album is certainly a testament to that. Andrew W.K. would be proud. 
 10) Ty Segall - Melted
I recently named San Francisco’s grime-garage rock scene the best of 2010. To me, Ty Segall’s Melted stands out as the best of that movement. It’s loose, slimy, and a raucous good time. 

 11) Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do
The world’s greatest bar band returns with their hardest rocking album since The Dirty South. Patterson Hood’s razor sharp wit takes aim at the economy in “This Fucking Job” However, what really impresses me about this record is when female bassist Shonna Tucker takes the lead on “You Got Another” and “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So.” Early next year, The DBTs will release yet another LP filled with country tinged murder ballads. Hell yes.
  12) Punch Brothers - Antifogmatic
Why put this album on here? Pitchfork didn’t list it, neither did Rolling Stone, who cares that this record has completely taken the genre of Bluegrass and made it as intricate as a classical piece of music. Chris Thile, of Nickel Creek has really done something amazing here, he has created an album that is neither bluegrass or folk, and is certainly in no way traditional. Sure “Rye Whiskey” is the closest thing one will get to a straight up bluegrass song. However, listen to the picking progression of the rest of these songs. They are so complex and ever changing that only a prodigy like Thile could even begin to accomplish. This is not only the most groundbreaking bluegrass album that I’ve heard in a longtime; it’s one of the best of the year period.
 13) Grinderman - Grinderman II
With “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” Grinderman II erupts at the start. Nick Cave may have taken a few years off from this project, but he lets us know from the get go that he is one bad seed not to be messed with. Cave fills this record with the same mean-spirited apocalyptic ministry that has made him the devilish cult hero he is. 
 14) Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
This album sounds The Dodos, Bon Iver, and Fleet Foxes all mixed into one melting pot. Basically for their freshman release, these guys sound like they have been a part of the game for a long time. They make such lush feel-good music that it is hard to turn away from an opportunity to see them live, hence their appearance at virtually every single summer festival this past year.
  15) Phosphorescent - Here's To Taking It Easy
This record goes well on a hot summer night, with a cool liquor drink in your hand. This alt-country/folk/Americana album flows together nicely, but the two standouts for me personally are the easy-rocking “It’s Hard to be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” and the slow sing-along “The Mermaid Parade.” This album might not have made it on many other end of the year lists, but it accompanied me through a very memorable part of the year for me.
 16) Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Broken Social Scene has always been one of those bands that I’ve been meaning to get into but really haven’t had the time or the chance to. Other than “7/4 (Shoreline)” and “Anthems For A Seventeen-Year Old Girl” I had no idea who they were except Feist occasionally joined them. With Forgiveness Rock Record I had a fresh opportunity to dive in, and I must say these guys have a lot of talent. “World Sick” alone shows how capable these guys still are even after taking some time off. 
 17) Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
A lot of my die hard Arcade Fire friends are going to be angry with me for placing The Suburbs relatively low on my list, but quite frankly this was a letdown from Neon Bible. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome songs on this album, “The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” “We Used to Wait” “City With No Children” and especially “Rococo” but the rest of this record is a little too mediocre for the high standards that everyone has for this band. “Modern Man” “Month of May” and “Wasted Hours” would be perfectly fine for any other band to have written, but if you are the group that brought Funeral to the world, then you have greater expectations. 
 18) How To Dress Well - Love Remains
I give and the rest of the blog world credit for introducing me to How To Dress Well. I thought this guy was another Panda Bear avant-garde indie-pop artist. However there is something about Love Remains that makes me return to it time and time again. Shrouded behind the odd industrial noises, scratches and pops is a very soulful singer. This mix of the ugly and the beautiful is what makes How To Dress Well extremely fascinating.
 19) Sonny & The Sunsets - Tomorrow Is Alright
Another product of the San Francisco garage scene is Sonny & The Sunsets. I have already spent a lot of time talking about these guys in recent months. Whereas artists like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees are much heavier on the rock, these guys jangle around with such fun and feel-good vibes that can draw parallels to Ed Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Check out “Too Young To Burn” and “Planet of Women.”
20) Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song
I must admit, I haven’t listened to this album nearly as much as some records that didn’t make the list, but I cannot deny this records importance. Jamey Johnson, who has been a budding country singer for a while, even penning the terribly popular song “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” creates his breakout opus with The Guitar Song. In a world where mainstream country singers have become so disillusioned with what they believe country to be, Jamey Johnson comes as a saving breath to a dying genre. This is not your daughter’s shitty country album. It’s about depression, pill addiction, and the effects of alcoholism. All of which, is much more relatable than the bland songs about pickup trucks and “being a man.” This is a brutally honest album, and is what Outlaw Country desperately needs to be. 
 21) The National - High Violet
I feel bad for The National, I really do. Their previous release Boxer was so good, that it was almost impossible to top. High Violet comes nowhere close to being what Boxer was, but it is still a damn fine album. I have found myself throwing this on whenever it rains, and I recommend you doing the same. The National aren’t for everyone, practically every one of their songs sounds similar, but they fill their music with such passion that it’s hard not to fall in love with them. 
 22) Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
A few years ago, Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn said this record would never happen, well here we are and on Christmas Day we will have an even newer Gorillaz record to enjoy. This album is not such much dance hall champion of their previous record Demon Days. This further begs the question of, “What are the Gorillaz?” are they a side-project, do they have a definite sound? What we have here is a fun melting pot of all sorts of music culture mixed into one experience. As Snoop Dog says, “Welcome to the world of the Plastic Beach.” 
 23) Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
This guy hasn’t changed much from his previous record, Shallow Grave. In fact, it’s more of the same, just one voice and one guitar and that is perfectly fine. This guy sings with such conviction it’s so easy to be drawn in to his storytelling approach to music.
 24) Beach House - Teen Dream
I listened to this record a lot during the first quarter of the year, but after their disappointing Coachella performance, I forgot about this record. As I was looking back on all the posts of 2010 I noticed this was one of the first ones, I threw Teen Dream on and remembered how pretty this record is. Though it may be sleepy, it’s too much of a pleasant experience to leave off. 
 25) Best Reissue: The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St.
One of my favorite records and an undeniable staple in rock and roll finally gets a much needed deluxe reissue. The first disc speaks for itself, Exile on Main St. is flawless, and I could go on for pages dedicated to each song’s brilliance. The second disc however is filled with b-sides, demos, and alternate takes. What amazes me is that all of these b-sides could have been great, even legendary Stones songs on another album, but they were just trash to them during that era. That’s how high of a bar The Stones had set for themselves with this record. The remastering work is quite impressive too, the record sounds more present than ever. Even if you are the casual Rolling Stones fan, this is a reissue well worth the purchase.

Honorable Mentions: Albums that almost made it.
  1) Wolf Parade - Expo 86

2) Spoon - Transference 

 3) Women - Public Strain

4) Superchunk - Majesty Shredding

5) Mountain Man - Made The Harbor

 Best Concerts I Saw of 2010:

1) LCD Soundsystem - Hollywood Palladium - 6/4/10
2) Deerhunter - Henry Fonda Theater - 11/1/10
3) Drive By-Truckers - The Avalon - 5/7/10
4) Devo - Coachella Music & Arts Festival - 4/18/10
5) Jay-Z - Coachella Music & Arts Festival - 4/17/10

Well, there you have it another end to another great year, please feel free to comment on this list and post your own lists as well. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year we will see you in 2011!


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