tongue-tied lightning

2010: The Year in Music
December 29, 2010, 6:21 PM
Filed under: music

I was disappointed with a lot of what I heard in 2009, but this year more than made up for it.  In fact I had a hard time narrowing my list down to 14 albums (I went with 4 honorable mentions because there were too many albums vying for the fifth spot).  The Roots put out two solid albums this year and neither one of them made the cut, Neil Young put out his best album in over 20 years and it wouldn’t even make my top 20.  And I feel I should mention Cee-Lo, who just missed the list but whose Fuck You is clearly the song of the year.  The only album I had really high hopes for that didn’t deliver was The Hold Steady’s Heaven is Whenever, but there’s more than enough here to make up for it.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order, by artist:

Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me:  This could’ve made the list but it’s so overwhelming it’s hard to get a bead on it.  Clocking in at over two hours and spanning three discs the few times I tried to listen through I had grown a bit tired of it by the end.  Individually, many of the songs are as good as anything on Ys, though she frequently forgoes the folk song structures that populated that album for more conventional song structures.  This album literally contains more than enough great music to keep you busy.

Of Montreal – False Priest:  This is Of Montreal’s most consistent album and in many ways that is it’s biggest shortcoming.  It’s much easier to listen to than 2008’s schizophrenic Skeletal Lamping and the P-Funky pleasures it provides aren’t to be scoffed at, which is why it is listed, but towards the end you start to yearn for the genre-defying madness of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor:  One gets the impression listening to Titus Andronicus that they truly don’t give a shit.  Their music is weird, messy, frequently out of tune and all the more charming for that.

Walkmen – Lisbon:  This album could’ve easily made the list proper if only I had more time to spend with it.  Unfortunately other albums’ more immediate pleasures vied for my attentions and I haven’t had time to fully digest Lisbon.  Based on what I’ve heard so far I have no reason to believe I won’t come to love it as much as I love Bows + Arrows and You & Me.

The Top Ten Albums of 2010

10. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz:  Just when everyone things they have Sufjan figured out he disappears for five years and returns with an album that sounds more like Nine Inch Nails than anything on Illinois.  His ear for melodies is as good as ever it’s just now it’s set over a bed of glitchy noise.  This could be higher if I had had more time to spend with it.  The 25-minute auto-tune heavy “Impossible Souls” is one of the more impressive tracks of the year.  As he says on I Want to Be Well he’s not fucking around.

9. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs:  Mark 2010 as the year that I finally “got” Arcade Fire.  I liked Funeral enough, but never got the ‘best album of the decade’ hype, and Neon Bible didn’t do much for me at all.  The poppy rhythms of The Suburbs are more up my alley than anything they’ve done to date, and while there are some weak points and it feels a few tracks too long, there are so many highlights I can’t even pick a favorite track.  It’s either The Suburbs, Rococo, We Used to Wait or Sprawl II depending on my mood.

8. Robyn – Body Talk:  You have to applaud Robyn’s ambition if nothing else.  Releasing three EPs in a year, two of them longer than several albums.  On top of that Body Talk’s high points make for some of the best pop singles of the last few years.  The only caveat is that they can be a bit uneven, particularly Volume One.  After Volume Two was released I said I wished she had just put out one solid album, and when she did that instead of releasing Volume Three on it’s own the track selection didn’t feel right (None of Dem instead of Cry When You Get Older?  No acoustic Indestructible? Do we really need Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do AND We Dance to the Beat?).  But we can all agree that having a surplus of Robyn music in 2010 is not a bad thing.

7. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty:  That Body Talk and The Son of Chico Dusty are in the bottom half of this list just underlines what a great year for music 2010 has been.  This is the best Outkast related project since Stankonia and in some ways I may even prefer it to that.  So much funky swaggery goodness.

6. Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels:  For some reason I considered putting this in the honorable mentions, and then I came to my senses.  There’s no denying how much I love Marina.  I love her voice, I love her attitude, I love her goofy style and I love her music.  While Body Talk might have slightly higher highs, this is about as consistent as pop music got in 2010.

5. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening:  Just when I thought James Murphy couldn’t top Sound of Silver, he comes along with This is Happening.  If this really is his last album I’ll be sad to see his brand of dance music go, but at least he went out on a high note.

4.  Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid:  The ArchAndroid is a staggering debut.  Who else would kick off a career in pop music by releasing Suites II & III of a four part opus loosely based on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis?  Nicki Minaj could’ve taken a lesson from Janelle, but the difference could also be a matter of talent.  She effortlessly jumps from style to style handling hip-hop, R&B, soul, funk and jazzy ballads with equal aplomb.  Watching her electrifying performance of Tightrope on Letterman hooked me, and it’s a great song, but for me it doesn’t get better than Cold War.  If the album flags a bit in the second half, well, who can fault her ambition?

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Fantasy:  This could quite easily, and perhaps should, be number 1.  According to iTunes I listened to this album more than any other this year, and it’s only been out for a month.  Maybe the iconoclast in me wants to put a different album than everyone else at number 1.  Maybe I can’t think of anything to say about it that hasn’t already been said.  In fact I think I’ll quote Carrie Brownstein here, who summed up the album quite well “This album is as self-aware as it is self-aggrandizing; it’s boastful and brainy; it’s celebratory, but only because it’s seen desperation. Not many records can sound like a “greatest hits” album on the first listen — that’s raw power.”

2. Beach House – Teen Dream:  I liked this album when I heard it back in January and I seem to like it more with every subsequent listen.  If there is an album I listened to this year more than Kanye’s this would be it.  I love Victoria Legrand’s voice and I love the soothing melodies that back it.  I’m not sure what exactly makes Teen Dream so much better than Beach House’s first two records, but they feel so much more assured here.  I don’t see myself ever growing tired of this album.

1. The National – High Violet:  Kanye’s album could just as easily be number 1 and this album number 3 so take the rankings for what they’re worth, but High Violet cemented The National’s place as my favorite current band.  They meld the anthemic sound of Alligator with the minimalist aims of Boxer and make what is likely their best album yet.


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