My Favorite Albums – 2010

January 8, 2011
2010 was coming to an end and I tweeted a plea:
“I need: Your 3-5 favorite new bands of 2010. I have listened to 0, so no answer is too obvious.”

That was my year. I didn’t do my homework. I listened to the artists I already liked and that was pretty much it. Finally, when December rolled around, I panicked. I got some good responses and spent the next few days dissecting the results. What I found was that I don’t think I missed as much as I was worried about. One act from my desperation push made the list, but for the most part I was content with my results. 2010 was a great year for music, but a bad year for effort on my part.

Once I had a solid list of 15 or so things I really thought would be alright, ordering them was a different issue. One of my favorite albums of the year was a stand-up comedy CD. Does that deserve a spot in the top 10? I listened to and enjoyed a lot more rap CDs this year, but have a hard time putting them into the context of my appreciation for indie rock. How should this be accounted for?

Well, I came up with a top 10 and a few honorable mentions. So let’s take a look at how things panned out. As a bonus since there are so many artists on here I have written about in previous years lists,  I’ll be throwing in how I think their 2010 releases compare to some of their other work.

As always, I’ve provided free download links for all of these albums. Also as always, if you like the album, buy it.

Hit the break to see ’em.

Honorable mentions –

Aziz Ansari – Intamate Moments for a Sensual Evening
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Brilliant brilliant brilliant comedy album, but I decided to keep my top 10 for music this year. Aziz Ansari (Parks & Rec, Funny People) kills it on every track on every topic. gay rights, Kanye West, R. Kelly, Craigslist, Facebook, rednecks, bed sheet thread counts . . . you name it. Golden from beginning to end.

And that is before he takes the part of alter-ego Raaaaaaaandy (with 8 A’s). He’s got a DJ, crazy sound effects, and horrible horrible jokes. Let me just put it in his word’s: If ya’ll are ready to laugh your dicks off, you should listen to this album.

Wavves – King of the Beach

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Though not a brand new band (though they are new to me), Wavves were part of my December cry for help push. They have a lot of noisey/poppy/rocky/californiay sound that I came to love through the Japandroids last year. Don’t have a lot to say about them. I feel like I would have liked this album more had I listened to it in the summer/spring.

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

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So Outkast-Speakerbox/The Love Below was the first hip hop album I ever purchased but I listened a lot more to the Andre 3000 disc than I did to Big Boi’s. Well, here we are in 2010 and the oft overlooked half of Outkast put out a pretty great record. Tracks like “Shutterbug” “For Your Sorrows” and “Shine Blockas” are among my favorite of the year, but ultimately there were a few too many songs that I skipped over every time to justify throwing this in the top 10

Wolf Parade – Expo 86

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Anyone who has read this list ever knows of my adoration for Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade. Love him. I think he is brilliant in his (solo? main?) project Sunset Rubdown 100% of the time. I also thought he was brilliant on the first Wolf Parade album. Since then though, this act has just been kind of… bleh for me. Their second album was way off the mark for the most part, and while this one is significantly better, it just didn’t have what it took to make the top 10 for me. Solid effort. Maybe next time.

Apologies to the Queen Mary >>Expo 86 > Kissing the Beehive

10. Sleigh Bells – Treats

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This was the only act that I didn’t listen to until December that made the top 10. These guys are nuts. If you listen to The Blow or Yacht at all, you may find some reference points there. Like the Blow (or the Blow circa 2006 when they released their fantastic Paper Television), there are just two of them, a guy and a girl. They make fantastic use of drum machine beats and incredibly crunchy guitar work. The female vocals are featured most of the time. There is a lot of kind of weird things going on. I’d call it fun and occasionally a bit creepy. But it is definitely danceable.

9. Rick Ross – Teflon Don

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…sigh. This is the record I had the hardest time putting in my Top 10, but I listened to it so much I just couldn’t feel like I was being honest without including it. Primarily, this track was featured when I was accomplishing countless hours of cleaning during my fall at Camp Arcadia.

Rick Ross (one time Florida Corrections Officer, now self-proclaimed though often disputed large-scale drug dealer and gangster rapper) is ridiculous. This man in his mid 30s probably weighs upward of 300 pounds, has a ridiculous beard and makes us stories about his life for the entertainment of the rest of us. He seems to take himself pretty seriously though.

I’d like to attach some kind of deeper meaning to my liking of this record such as “enjoying the perspective of someone who’s life has absolutely nothing in common with mine” but really I just enjoy listening to this because it is fun, mindless and huge sounding in nature. The collaborations are good as well with Jay Z, Kanye, T.I. and other friends all dropping by.

8. Girl Talk – All Day

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Gregg Gillis is still the best at what he does. Capturing a couple years of pop music in one album and contextualizing them over the best of the last 5 decades of music. All Day is just another bigger version of this. If you didn’t like him before, you won’t like him any more here, but I’d say this is just an essential of a listen as the rest of his work.

(I can’t rank Girl Talk albums. They are all an equal amount of good to me.)

7. The Extra Lens – Undercard

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Ahhh John Darnielle! You are such a wonderful story teller. I’m not counting this as a new band for my countdown a) because the two people who made this CD released another one a few years ago under a different name and b) because this sounds like a Mountain Goats CD.

On this overlooked gem, we get stories of pastors who get in car crashes while driving home from affairs, boxers in dead-end jobs, some people in prison. All characters are suffering and living in situations that just seem so real and sad. That isn’t to say this isn’t a fun record though. Darnielle is as witty as ever. And the guitar work by Frank Bruno adds an element that does differentiate and in certain ways improves the sound of the Mountain Goats.

This is a fantastic album an an essential listen for any fans of Darnielle.

(While I said this sounds like a Mountain Goats CD, it isn’t one, and therefore I won’t compare it to them. Also, I am woefully unfamiliar with large chunks of the Mountain Goats immense catalogue)

6. Joanna Newson – Have One On Me

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What’s more ambitious than releasing a 5 track CD with songs all around 10:00 in length? Releasing a 3 disc CD with tracks of similar length. This time, though, I think Joanna is a victim of her own ambition. Not that these songs are lacking in quality– there isn’t a bad one on any of the 3 discs. If you decide to listen to them all in one sitting though, you drift into a feeling of sameness.

Had she consolidated these tracks down to one disc with the most memorable moments, or even released these three discs at separate times though out the year, this would be competing with my favorite albums of the year. Songs like Good Intentions Paving Company, Kingisher, Easy, On A Good Day… well, every song is good.

She displays versatility as well. I’d call this her most musically advanced album yet, but stylistically it is somewhere in between Milk Eyed Mender and Ys. And her voice? As angelic as ever. Listening to it at this moment, I have a hard time believing I ever found it difficult to get used to. Ultimately though, this was just too much for me to chew at once. Can’t wait to see what’s next for her!

Ys=Milk Eyed Mender>Have One On Me

5. New Pornographers – Together

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Many people swear by their first two albums, but for me Twin Cinema defines the New Pornographers existence. It is a nearly perfect pop-rock album. It has enormous hooks, perfect resolution to enticing rhythmic problems and an incredible energy. It also features some of my favorite Dan Bejar performances (see: Jackie Dressed in Cobras). This album is no Twin Cinema, but it is a hell of a lot better than their 2007 release, Challengers.

What’s good here? Well, the whole thing. But nothing beats a perfect closer, and this is one of the best of the year. The song “We End Up Together” is everything that I love about this band: Triumphant, ambitious and ever transforming from one sound to the next. To some extent, the whole CD shares these qualities. It never quite possesses the same magic that Twin Cinema had, but it gets damn close.

Twin Cinema>Together>Challengers

4. Arcade Fire – Suburbs

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This is the greatest album the Arcade Fire has released… since Funeral. It is almost impossible to write about the band without mentioning their debut masterpiece. It casts such a large shadow. This seems not to deter the Arcade Fire, however. Their ambitions are sprawling on Suburbs (pun intended?) and for the most part they pay off. There are fewer moments of pure bliss here than on Funeral but for the first time since then, they manage to match the same intensity in at least a couple places.

From my first listen, I knew that Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains was going to be my go-to track on this album. This track stands with the best of them on Funeral. Every other track has its moments, but this one is just a powerful force of awesome from start to end.

I wish I could get more words out about this, but really it is just another good(great?) Arcade Fire album.

Funeral>Suburbs>Neon Bible

3. Vampire Weekend – Contra

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Expecting to be nothing but let down by this album, Contra proved me wrong. This is another great Ivy-League rock album. It’s as tight sounding as their first album and gives a big middle finger to the critics of their first album. Everything that people didn’t like about Vampire Weekend is on this album x3, and they threw in an autotune track just for good measure. It works out great for them, as far as I am concerned.

Speaking of autotune, California English (the track which implores it) may be one of my favorite on the CD. It defines the infectiousness of the whole album.

While I don’t think this album is quite as good as their debut, I only think it is a hair worse. There isn’t a throwaway track on this album. I hope this band keeps being themselves. This is a nice incremental evolution from their first CD and I would look forward to hearing a few more. 10 years from now I imagine, I will have a tough time on a summer vacation thinking about which Vampire Weekend CD I would like to listen to.

Vampire Weekend>Contra

2. Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz

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To me, this is the best work that Sufjan Stevens has ever done. It is more ambitious than Illinois. It is as sincere as Seven Swans. It is a singular artistic vision executed perfectly from start to finish. For being the most anticipated album in the career of someone who has trouble with people paying attention to him, this album shows shows strength and focus of vision.

Oh, and the music is fantastic. The instrumentation on a lot of this CD draws a lot from Stevens’ earlier electronic work, but the composition seems to be his most advanced yet. The man is a master of making the best of every instrument and every voice that he encounters. While this sounds like nothing Sufjan has put out to date, after a few seconds there is no doubting that this is his album. It straddles pop, modernist and ambient tones wonderfully from start to finish.

Speaking of finish, Impossible Soul is a masterpiece in five parts. An expression of love, of struggling, of confusion. I could be biased because I saw him perform all of this live, but I really believe he is at the top of his game right now. If it takes him another five years to put out another one, so be it.

Age of Adz > Seven Swans > Illinois

1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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“A-Trak was out there, Nicki Minaj. Just a bunch of über talented people and everyone was really nice and chill and just working on Kanye’s record. I was literally in the back room rolling a spliff with Rick Ross talking about what to do on the next part of a song. It was astonishing. Kanye came back and was like, ‘Look at you two guys. This is the craziest studio in the Western world right now!’”

– Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) on his time working with Kanye West, as interviewed by Pitchfork

Kanye west was a truly a monster in 2010, and I admit I got caught up with all of it. From his absurd Twitter rants to his titillating few months of weekly releases to his epic Runaway music video, Kanye had me wrapped around his finger this year. GOOD Friday tracks were some of the high points of my week when they were coming out. Who’s he going to have on this next track? What’s he going to be sampling? Will he try to rhyme with any words crazier than sarcophagus? Every week for months was an adventure, and it never failed to disappoint.

By the time the album the album came out, it was almost a foregone conclusion for that it was going to be something great. I didn’t expect it to be this great though. Of the 13 tracks on the CD, 7 of them were released in some form earlier during the year and all of them were great. Some of them (Devil in a New Dress in particular) got even better on the CD version. The songs that no one had heard though packed so many punches. Dark Fantasy? Hell of a Life? Blame Game? All of the Lights? All of them are fantastic.

With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West has managed to create a CD that matches his ego in ambition and scale. Kanye may have believed that he could make the best record of the year on his own, but just to make sure he got all of the most talented people in the industry together and somehow got them to put their best performances of the year on his album. Nicki Minaj will never do anything as fantastic as her track on Monster (have you heard her CD? It is horrible.) Rihanna destroys All of the Lights. Justin Vernon could never give his songs the treatment that Kanye did. Elton John, John Legend, Pusha T. Alicia Keys, Fergie, Kid Cudi… Kanye yest had his own personal circus out there in Hawaii and not a single one of them went to waste. Looking at all this, it looks like Kanye actually made something bigger than his ego. There’s something to wrap your mind around.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy > This list > The rest of Kanye’s CDs

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4 Responses to “My Favorite Albums – 2010”


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