Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Listmania: The Best Albums Of 2010, Pt. 2

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 the cream of the crop. The Top 10 (you can find #25-11 here).

The Best Albums Of 2010 (#10-#1)

10) High Violet - The National

I will be the first to admit that The National only paint in one color but, man, what a gloriously gloomy gray it is. From the moment you hear the bass drums and distorted oscillations that introduce Terrible Love, the fist track on High Violet, you can basically hear the whole record play out before you like a maudlin overture. As the track opens up and reaches its climax you’re compelled to succumb to the sadness, and just let it wash over you.

High Violet is an impressive example of a band refining itself, and not being afraid to simply do what they do best. You don’t come to The National for fairy tales; you come for the melancholy and the Mariana Trench-deep baritone of lead singer Matt Berninger. Everything is more focused on High Violet, and the songs benefit greatly. Tracks like Bloodbuzz Ohio, Lemonworld, and England are all great, and show us a band that is just about ready to leave the confines of indie behind.

9) The Suburbs - Arcade Fire

The release of The Suburbs was, without a doubt, THE event in indie in 2010. Message boards all throughout the Internet were littered with the frenzied anticipation surrounding this record’s release. I understand what led to this - after all, over the course of their two previous LPs, Arcade Fire had become “the only indie band that mattered.” With their own version of the Canadian musical family/gang-flavor, Arcade Fire has weaved ornate tapestries of near baroque brilliance, all while expressing the fears and hopes of the children inside us all. On The Suburbs, the band decided to bring much of the same flair but, this time, the record is about growing up.

A great deal of my contemporaries have labeled this record a masterpiece, which I consider a bit of an overstatement; that being said, this record did grow on me a lot over the course of this year. Like everyone else I enjoyed Month Of May and Ready To Start immediately (I even really enjoyed Rococo). As time went on, I also began to appreciate Sprawl II and Half Light II, and finally heard the record through the ears of others.

8) Everything In Between - No Age

Coming up with a follow-up to a classic record has to be one of the most daunting tasks in music. I imagine an artist being haunted by the specter of the classic as they hunt for inspiration, record, and even while listening to the final mixes. Many bands have been destroyed by this combination of pressure and doubt. Luckily, for fans of noise-punk, No Age did not become one of these casualties.

Everything In Between is a brutally killer record. Of all the albums in the top ten it possesses the most edge and is the least palatable, but fuck the proletariat. Over 13 tracks, No Age constructed a record that is adorned by vibrant chaos the way a king wears a crown. With monster tracks, featuring glorious hard-wave noise, like Life Prowler, Glitter and Shred and Transcend, No Age provided people who like their music ultra loud with a gift in 2010. This record isn’t just limited to face melting, as my favorite track is still the post-shoegaze piano driven excellence that is Positive Ambition, which shows off the band's down-tempo softer side.

7) Before Today- Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink is one of the most unique active American musicians in any scene. The man has been writing songs since age 10, and has recorded over 500 tracks on cassette tapes since the mid-90s. He produces and creates practically all of his music, at times even using some rather unconventional methods like generating drum sounds from his mouth and armpits. Since the early 00’s Pink has produced 12 records of stunning vision and ingenuity, none more so than his latest, Before Today.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Before Today, marks an advancement in fidelity that actually improved the work of this lo-fi master. The lack of hiss has been replaced by an exuberance that helps lift and expand the tunes to a size that sets this record apart from Pink’s other LPs. Pink’s trademark genre synthesis is still on fine display throughout; tracks like Round And Round, Bright Lit Blue Skies, and Menopause Man all sound like they are playing on the greatest AM station from outer-space ever, and showcase the talents of Pink in a fashion that is impossible to not appreciate.

6) Lisbon - The Walkmen

New York city based hipster-icons The Walkmen have released a somewhat hit-or-miss string of albums since dropping Bows + Arrows (the best record in their catalogue) back in 2004. Over three LPs they have had more tragedies (A Hundred Miles, Pussycats) than triumphs (You & Me), but with the release of Lisbon they managed to fly close to the sun, and keep their wings intact. You all have no idea how pleased I am by that whole tragedy/Icarus tie in.

Lisbon was recorded in just 5 days which, by today’s standards, is like writing a novel in a week. Fortunately, the album's quality does not suffer as a result of this studio alacrity, and it should probably serve as an example to those artists who spend days obsessing about mic placement. This album is 11 tracks of reverb-drenched, treble-heavy splendor that ranges from the somewhat asymmetrical (Victory), to radio-ready (Angela Surf City, one of the best singles of 2010). Along the way there is some melancholy brass (Stranded), a throwback (Blue As Your Blood), and some serious loveliness (While I Shovel Snow), all collected for your Ray Ban wearing pleasure.

5) Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty - Big Boi

It's impossible to  imagine the impact this album would’ve had had it been released back in 2008 as was originally slated. Sadly, the geniuses at Jive weren’t convinced that it had any hits, so they stalled it. In that time the memory of Outkast’s triumphs faded, and it looked bleak for Big Boi. What’s worse is he saw the best-rapper-in-the-game title be passed from Yeezy to Weezy and back, all while his own hotness was being delayed by clueless executives.

Thankfully great music is timeless, and Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty is beyond great. This is my favorite hip-hop record of the year. It has everything; dizzying production that stays smooth as silk, some profound flow, and serious funk. Who needs auto-tune when you can listen to the talk-box awesome of Shutterbug? Who’d ever want to listen to sci-fi/funk facsimiles when you can listen to the dope on dope of Fo Yo Sorrow? Who else can build a beat out of choirs and horns that sounds as badass as General Patton? The answer to all these questions is no one, which is exactly who should dislike this album.

4) Halcyon Digest - Deerhunter

I'm pretty sure that Deerhunter wasn’t even ready for the sort of acclaim that Halcyon Digest has received since its release back in September. I have actually seen this record placed as high as number one on a couple of lists around the Internet - it’s usually either this record or, in most cases, Kanye’s.This is the record that Deerhunter will always be able to say catapulted them from a band that no one had ever heard of to a band that some people might know.

The main reason for the newfound appeal of Deerhunter is the somewhat radical change in overall sound and fidelity from their previous efforts. This record is shrouded in a murkiness that envelops the listener from the very first measure of Earthquake, the album’s spectacular opener. Sonically, this album is about blending the obscured with the dreamy, and even some light here and there, in a brilliant and radiant fashion. Songs like Helicopter, Don’t Cry, and the unreal Desire Lines are all excellent, and prove that change isn’t always a bad thing.

3) Teen Dream - Beach House

I find it surprising that so many people have forgotten about this record. Back when Teen Dream dropped at the start of the year it was universally acclaimed, and looked like a shoe-in to be in the top 5 of most lists of this nature. Sadly, music critics are allowing themselves to become prisoners of the moment, and are disregarding what is a heavenly and ethereal work of art. We at Culture Blues aren’t distracted by the newest shiny thing, and know when/how to give props.

Listening to Teen Dream is one of the most pleasurable aural experiences available. From the second you hear the delay drenched guitars of Zebra you are transported to a sublime sonic landscape where all you need to do is drift and smile. Almost every stop on this musical journey is gleamingly beautiful; from Used To Be, to Silver Soul, to Norway, to 10 Mile Stereo this record truly glows. I have had the pleasure of seeing Beach House twice in concert this year, and heard them fill the air with these tunes. You need to be your own friend and catch them if you can... after you have heard this record to death, of course.

2) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West

What can be said about My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy that hasn’t become redundant by now? In the review I wrote about this record a couple of weeks ago, I already declared it a masterpiece. I’m far from the only one. Every media outlet in the world has lauded this record, in a way that hasn’t been seen in some time. So I am sure some of you out there are asking yourselves “Then why isn’t it number one, dumbass?” To which I say, “Calm down, Kanye. Number two is really fucking good, though I am well aware that is not enough for the likes of you.”

Basically everything about My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy is fantastic. We all know the merits of Dark Fantasy, Gorgeous, Power, Monster,  and Lost In The World (if you don’t, you probably live in China and aren’t reading this anyway), but the record is more than just sick tracks. The album’s production is tight, Kanye’s rhymes are sharp, the flow is better than ever, and the sequencing is outstanding. All of these factors add up to the best hip-hop record of the year, and Kanye’s best ever.

1) This Is Happening - LCD Soundsystem

James Murphy released the soundtrack of 2010. This Is Happening is a peerless record; it’s an hour of music that is superb in both its appeal and production. Over 9 tracks, listeners are treated to exquisitely crafted toe-tapping, ass-shaking, dance-punk, sprung from the mind of a man who is as talented as he is cool (a rare feat in today’s industry). There has been so much written about Murphy’s gargantuan mental database of not just music history, but its core and essential elements. On This Is Happening he uses this expertise to create a record whose frequencies are all tweaked and panned to fastidious perfection. The bass is rounder than a sphere, the drum kits are phased and dry, the reverbs are perfection incarnate, and Murphy’s chameleonesque vocals are not only in their best form, but are also placed in the mix with precision. To top it all off, all of this wonder goes on without ever feeling cluttered or claustrophobic.

I could go on and on about this record's production, but at the end of the day we all know that the songs are what matters, and Murphy dazzles us here as well. The first track I was exposed to from This Is Happening is still my favorite, and that is the incredible All I Want, a song that channels Eno-era Bowie and the stellar All My Friends (which is one of my favorite songs of all time) all while achieving its own perfection. Beyond the shores of that greatness are numerous other gems, like your girlfriend’s favorite new-wave homage, I Can Change, and the sprawling opener that warps in an epic-strutter, Dance Yrself Clean. To be honest, there is no soft spot on this album; even songs like Drunk Girls, Pow Pow, and You Wanted A Hit have been blasted at parties and grooved out to by your friends, and their friends, all over the world - some of them just didn’t know it was LCD Soundsystem (it has happened to me numerous times).

Ultimately, I would say the reason This Is Happening was chosen as album of the year was because it was the album of the year. What I am trying to say is: this record was not only the best produced, while featuring some of the best songs, but it become as much a part of the year as the World Cup or the oil spill. As I said in my opening statement, James Murphy released the soundtrack of 2010.

***

Well, there you have it kids, the year's best music. My apologies must go out to the artists that fell just short of making the list. Though Fourtet, Hotchip, The Black Keys, James Blake, Erykah Badu, Emeralds, Curren$y, Rick Ross, and Best Coast all put out great albums this year, sometimes in life one must make tough decisions. For those of you who want to whine about Vampire Weekend, go make your own list.

Did your favorite album make it? Should Kanye have been number one? What do you guys think is the biggest omission? Let us know in the comment section below.

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5 Responses »

  1. thumbs-up to listing fang island and joanna newsom's new records in this list.

    you left out my personal favorite album of the year though: jonsi's "go".

    and i will save a vehement anti-kanye rant.

  2. will also save a vehement anti-deerhunter rant...

  3. Speak your mind, Brother!

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