Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Listmania: The Best Albums Of 2010, Pt. 1

As pop culture aficionados, your friends at Culture Blues are not immune to the end-of-year lists currently overwhelming the internet. Welcome to Listmania, where Culture Blues ranks their favorite shit in a bunch of different categories. Music lists always elicit passionate responses. With that in mind, let's infuriate by ranking the year's best! Here is #25-11 on our Best Albums of the Year list. #10-1 can be found here.

The Best Albums Of 2010 (#25-#11)

25) Gemini - Wild Nothing

Jack Tatum put together a record which transports you to smoke-filled nightclubs haunted by pale, black-clad misfits of the era before the MP3, and he did it all from his bedroom. There is an audible reverence on this record for a time when dream-pop expressed the love, wishes and confusions of people who thought Depeche Mode were sellouts. This notion of respect guides Tatum as he crafts his ode to the the late 80s, and enlivens tracks like Bored Games, Drifter, and The Witching Hour, making each song play out like a praise to its influence.

24) King Of The Beach - Wavves

This year indie was obsessed with two things: 1) Excessively long album titles and 2) Going to the beach. With King Of The Beach, Wavves became the beating heart of going out to catch some rays while smoking bowls and listening to some lo-fi. Nathan Williams hasn’t been on the scene all that long, but he has already managed to develop a reputation as a somewhat immature stoner who isn’t the best at keeping a band together. On King Of The Beach the rhythm sections consists of Steven Pope and Billy Hayes, and together these dudes pump out a fun and energetic cloud of Coppertone-laced smoke, featuring tracks like King Of The Beach, Super Soaker, and Linus Spacehead, all of which are great for a lazy, sunny day.

23) Fang Island - Fang Island

Although this record came out in February, I didn’t get my hands on it until the summer, which was totally my bad. Since my first listen I have been in love with this album, and have been trumpeting its merits to anyone looking for a new band to get into. Fang Island is part prog-rock, part math-rock, with just the slightest dose of psychedelia (in order to appease Pitchfork readers); all in all, completely awesome. Sure, those of you who are more “with it” have already seen the video for Daisy, but there is so much more to this record than those fantastic 3+ minutes of audio. Allow me to direct your ears to the quirky shuffle of Life Coach, the twin six-string madness of Careful Crossers, and the epic satisfaction of Davy Crockett (wait for the 2:32 mark!). I think your iPod could do for a little of this.

22) Congratulations - MGMT

MGMT could have just put out the sequel to Oracular Spectacular. They could have pleased all of the kids in Three Wolves Howling at the Moon t-shirts, providing them with more jams to take ecstasy and drink PBR to. Instead, they decided to please themselves. Just about every review of Congratulations had some variation of this statement: “Though there’s no monster single on it, a la Time To Pretend, this is a far superior record to Oracular Spectacular.” More than 8 months since its release that sentiment still remains true. Tracks like Someone’s Missing, Brian Eno, and Flash Delirium still sound like they come from a new, and better, band.

21) Swim - Caribou

Dan Snaith is a post-everything world’s musical chameleon and architect. Part mathematician, part composer, the Canadian-born Snaith has been releasing music since the millennium’s dawn under the guises of Manitoba and Caribou. For those not familiar with either of those names, Snaith’s music can be summed up as meticulously constructed electronic compositions that manage to contain a remarkable amount of soul. On Swim we find a songwriter inspired by loneliness and weariness, and he leads us through a journey filled with dazzling clatter (Found Out), phased atmosphere (Lalibela), and endless groove (Odessa). Swim is the type of record that repays the thorough listener, even after numerous spins, with new discoveries and the type of audio candy meant for a good set of headphones.

2o) Cosmograma - Flying Lotus

I bet those of you who like their electronic dance music to be cacophonous, and slightly schizophrenic, haven’t stopped listening to Cosmograma since it dropped back in May. This isn’t so much an album as it is a listening experience; it’s the kind of music that can only generate from genius, and there may as well not be track numbers. Cosmograma is as dense as a record can get, with practically every second of audio packed with all sorts of expertly panned sounds that come together to form a collage of near unbelievable greatness. There is something for all EDM lovers on Cosmograma; from the sci-fi leanings of …And The World Laughs (complete with Thom Yorke cameo), the reconstructed jazz of Arkestry, or the slightly more traditional thump of Do The Astral Plane, there is no doubt you will be bobbing that head until your neck hurts.

19) Treats - Sleigh Bells

Treats begins with the kind of gigantic sonic statement that made this record an absolute favorite among the coolest kids with the tightest jeans. The mammoth drum machine assault of Tell ‘Em, combined with the obscenely distorted, simple guitar riffs of Derek Miller and the melodic chant-singing of Alexis Krauss, are the perfect intro to the formula that Sleigh Bells will repeat over and over again on Treats, to great effect. This record is all about the use of juxtaposition but, rather than using the sonic chaos to create dissonance between the music and the vocals, it is used more like a frame, or lens. Whether it be the angular swagger of Infinity Guitars, the sublime loops of Rill Rill, or the fuzzed-out repetition of A/B Machines, Treats is guaranteed to blow your ears out, and leave its hooks spinning through your head.

18) The Age of Adz - Sufjan Stevens

No matter what the Internet or that preachy “Sufjan purist” friend of yours says, The Age Of Adz is actually a great record. Admittedly, it is not the work of breathtaking elegance that was Illinoise (what is really?), but I honestly believe if this was the work of some new over-ambitious folkie then it would be a far more celebrated record. Such is the burden of expectation, and the occasionally myopic point of view that is a result of fandom. Seriously, what problems can one really have with tracks like Too Much, Now That I’m Older or (my personal favorite) Vesuvius? These are all excellent examples of a songwriter who is evolving and is trying his best to take your ears with him. Stop hating, start accepting.

17) Archandroid - Janelle Monae

By now there is little doubt that you have heard Janelle Monae's astoundingly popular tracks Cold War, Tightrope (which both have a very similar vocal hooks), and Dance Or Die. Some of you may even have read articles proclaiming her as a visionary talent ready for stardom. Usually my cynicism prevents me from buying into such intense hype, but in the case of Monae I am, at least, renting. It is easy to admire the ambition of The Archandroid; at seventy minutes and 18 tracks, it is the longest of all the records on this countdown not made by Joanna Newsom, and its futuristic story and ridiculous catchiness indicate that Monae is obviously not content with being the next R&B star... she seems to have plans for world domination.

16) How I Got Over - The Roots

The Roots have not made a bad record since they joined Def Jam and with the release of How I Got Over they have released their best. Clocking in at 43 minutes this record is the shortest The Roots have ever made, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in a refined sense of maturity and the further evolution of their jazz meets neo-soul brand of hip-hop. All of the band’s essential elements are on display to great effect; ?uestlove still lives in his house within the pocket, Black Thought is as intricate and introspective as ever, and the group’s sonic encyclopedia of samples and influences has grown to include the likes of Joanna Newsom (Right On), Monster Of Folk (Dear God 2.0), and even the Dirty Projectors (Tunnel Vision). I know that the band has its detractors for their choice of bill paying methods (being the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon band), but hey, none of you buy records anyway... not even great ones.

15) Body Talk (Compilation) - Robyn

If I had more balls, I would write without fear that I think Robyn may be better than Lady Gaga but, sadly, I don’t (I became a eunuch to enhance my singing abilities). Since I began writing Clef Notes, I have reviewed two of Robyn’s Body Talk EPs and their compilation record. Each time I sit down to listen to her work I am impressed by her consistency and talents. The Body Talk compilation contains most of the highlights from Robyn’s year of releases and is the best dance-pop record of the year by far. With absolutely killer numbers like Fembot, Dancing On My Own, and U Should Know Better, Robyn is keeping the world dancing, and representin’ Sweden HARD.

14) Plastic Beach - Gorillaz

I was already under the impression that Gorillaz were a part of the mainstream. After all, Damon Albarn and Jaime Hewlett’s fictional four piece has already been in popular videos, sold millions of records, and even played the Grammys with Madonna. In spite all of that, Plastic Beach has truly crossed the group over in a way none of their previous efforts had. I'm increasingly surprised by the diverse cross-section of people who have expressed their adulation for Plastic Beach, and of course it is much to the music’s credit. Don’t get me wrong, it's easy to see what all these people enjoy; two of the singles (Superfast Jellyfish and On Melancholy Hill) are excellent, and the album makes the most of some unique choices in guest appearances like sinfonia ViVA, and of course, Snoop.

13) Forgiveness Rock Record - Broken Social Scene

At 14 tracks, Forgiveness Rock Record is a robust 63+ minutes that manages to touch on every sub-genre of indie and rock, all with the trademark Broken Social Scene feeling of a grand musical commune having the time of their life. From the minute the atmosphere, drums, and legato lines of the record’s intro track (Wold Sick) slide into your ear, you can hear the enthusiasm, and feel the glow, that radiates from this album. From that track forward this record is full of superb moments like the ethereal All To All, the boisterous Art House Director, and the white-knuckle tension of Chase Scene. Those tracks just scratch the surface of this record’s awesome, but don’t take my word for it... go listen to it NOW!

12) Have One On Me - Joanna Newsom

It is hard for me to think of a performer who is as critically acclaimed as Joanna Newsom. Her last record (Ys) was considered to be one of the past decade’s very best, and the anticipation that awaited its follow-up was enormous. Fortunately for all of her fans, Newsom delivered massively with a triple album of her particular brand of genius. Have One On Me may be my personal favorite record of Newsom’s; I appreciate how her voice has deepened, and that she sings with more clarity now, and I dig some of the new arrangement choices. Songs like Good Intention Paving Company, Jackrabbits, and Have One On Me (which feels more like something off of Ys) show us the kind of completely unique, harp-wielding faerie that Newsom truly is, and that music is better for her.

11) The Monitor - Titus Andronicus

The Monitor is, hands down, the best Civil War concept album of the year (how many others have you heard?). All kidding aside, I am actually a bit embarrassed that I only got turned on to it this winter. The Monitor is almost a revelation; the way this album weaves its concepts (there is also a breakup narrative going on) without even a sniff of pretension is astounding in its effortlessness. The album at its core is a barroom sing-a-long, with choruses that are larger than life, and is the direct result of blasting Born To Run while driving down the Garden State Parkway. Titus Andronicus paint a vivid picture on The Monitor, using a much richer sonic palette than on their debut. The band really spreads its wings, with tasteful touches of everything from violin to banjo to piano, and antiquated sounding snares. There are almost too many songs to choose from, but since I like to be your Sherpa I would suggest A More Perfect Union, No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future, Richard II, and A Pot In Which To Piss In, but I'm not doing this record justice. There are so many great hooks and musical nuggets that this record needs to be heard in its entirety. That way you can also hear Craig Finn of The Hold Steady do cameos as the voice of Walt Whitman!

So what are you thoughts on the list so far? How many of these records have you heard? Where do you think Kanye will end up? Let us know in the comments below.

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5 Responses »

  1. waaves album is really good. good job including it.

    plastic beach is probably in my top 3 if i had to make a list. i doubt theres an album that came out in 2010 with the exception of Pile's 'Jerk Routine' and Off!'s 'First Four EP's' that ive listened to more of. just a great record from a great band. its a shame the first 3 songs on it should have been throwaways.

  2. also, things that wont make your list that are awesome...

    high on fire - snakes for the divine
    triclops! - helpers on the other side

    hmm, i will think of more!

  3. Kanye will for sure get #1 (and rightfully so). I'm curious to see if Sir Lucious Leftfoot makes the top ten

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