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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Top 50 Albums of 2010, 10-1

10. Contra---Vampire Weekend
       Follow-ups are a pretty tricky thing to get right, especially with expectations like those leveled upon Contra. Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut was a pretty ridiculously big deal, shooting to #17 on the Billboard charts on the first try, and gaining haters aplenty in the process. Just two years later, it was time to see if VW would take the next step towards stardom, and what path they would take to get there.

I honestly didn’t see Contra coming. I thought they would try to reinvent the wheel in some fashion. Instead, Contra shows the band continuing with their same sound, but growing within it. Shying away from neither their Graceland vibe nor Ezra Koenig’s gleeful delivery of hyper-articulate verses, Contra feels like it has a bit more money behind it than their first, but it’s always well used. There’s no real need to list off tracks: the whole thing is amazing, never really peaking, but surely never weaning. Contra isn’t a bold new declaration; It’s the coining of a brand. Haters can keep hating: Vampire Weekend makes the best pop music in the business, and they've got a #1 selling album to prove it.

9. Forgiveness Rock Record---Broken Social Scene
        The other of my aforementioned two most under-appreciated albums of the year, FRR featured about a forth of the players whom used to comprise the band, and was ignored by just as many fans. I honestly can’t understand why. The slimmed down BSS made the same kind of album that the full line-up did: Lengthy, Rousing, Anthmatic, and almost obsessively varied. Even with all the casualties, the band still put together what I have always known and loved them for: an event.

FRR has about four times as many lyrics as the next BSS effort, which I’m sure has offended some, but they remain impressively free under the new constraint. In the deal, they receive one chant-worthy chorus after another, and an immediate distinguishability between tracks that their other albums lacked. It also happens to be one of the thickest discs of the year, passing Seven and a half tracks and a Half-Hour before, in my opinion, hitting it’s first real hiccup, and even from there, they’re few and far between. For all the band's been through, the remaining members of Broken Social Scene can still make me feel like an-overly emotional teenager, and for that, I thank them.

8. Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty---Big Boi
        There are two MCs in Outkast, for anyone who is keeping track, and one who is still making music. Andre 3000 might possibly be the most charismatic person in the world: When he enters the scene, the light bulbs seem to get brighter. It’s not exactly an easy image to stand beside, and considering Big Boi’s absurd talents, it’s kind of crazy that he choose to do it for so long (and might again, maybe? (crosses fingers)). After all those years of playing wingman, and all those struggles to have his album released, The Son of Chico Dusty proves that Big Boi can star in his own show, a hell of a show for that matter.
It’s a shame that (*spoilers alert*) I can’t have this as my top hip-hop album on my list, because Big Boi certainly was the year’s best rapper. The man possesses the invaluable ability to make anything he says sound cool, a fact that turns his occasionally silly lyrics into celebratory chants. The beats on the album are simply miraculous: fast-paced, varied by virtue of a bevy of producers, and ripe with rhythmic possibilities for Big Boi to explore. He doesn’t even begin to disappoint them, his flow seemingly unstoppable on Daddy Fat Sax and Fo Yo Sorrows, funky and fun on Shutterbugg and Be Still, smooth as silk on Shine Blockas and Turns Me On. A couple handfuls of great guest verses are turned in, but Big Boi isn’t content to play second fiddle for too long this time around. Your move, Andre.

7. Swim---Caribou
        We had better cherish Swim as well as we can: Dan Snaith won’t likely make an album like it again. The human behind the one-man band nearly never covers the same ground twice, and the sunny-pastures of his last effort, Andorra, are no where to be seen this time around. In Snaith’s own words, the album was made to sound as if it was made out of water, and this isn’t shallow water we’re talking about. The tone under the current is dark and deep, infinite in sonic possibilities.
Snaith’s voice gets to sit on the bench for about half the album, but when he emerges, he gives one of the year’s best vocal performances. Without his hauntingly precise dictation, Odessa wouldn’t be the stunner that it is, nor would Jamelia be the album’s beautiful and triumphant conclusion. Swim is made up of nine decidedly different tracks, their quality and that strange, dark ocean sway the only thing that connects them. More so than any other album this year, Swim rewards repeated visits, all of its detail slowly revealing itself upon extra listens. At a mega-tight Forty-Three Minutes, Swim is all killer, no filler, and when it’s over, you won’t know what hit you.

6. The Wild Hunt---The Tallest Man On Earth
        You thought Vampire Weekend had it bad with the who Paul Simon comparison? The Tallest Man on Earth, the name under which Kristian Matsson records, bears a resemblance to Bob Dylan that is so startlingly clear that no introductory conversation about him can exist without Dylan’s name coming up. There are a number of surface reasons to arrive at this conclusion: The one-man, one-guitar folk style, the dense and mysterious lyrics, and, of coarse, their similarly unorthodox voices. But the best reason that I can think of to name the two in the same breath is that Matsson’s one-man-show with an acoustic guitar is every bit as compelling as Dylan’s was.
I know, I know, bold words, but The Wild Hunt honestly sounds like ten previously unearthed tracks from a Dylan long passed, and not we’re not talking B-Sides. The title track has all the smile and ache of some of Bobby’s best, and You’re Going Back and King of Spain destroy the notion that one man with a guitar is not enough to fill up a room. TWH feels foreign and aged in nature, and that’s the point. It’s romantic without parody to a degree that I was starting to think didn’t really exist anymore, earnest and true. A loving and passionate trip back in time and space, and a testament that Matsson is a jaw-dropping talent, shining bright even in one man’s impossibly long shadow.

5. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy---Kanye West
        Kanye West is my favorite person on Earth (sorry, Mom), and, no, it’s not because he plays nice, but it’s not because he’s an asshole, either. The thing that makes West so amazing to watch is that his train of logic is so elusive. Genius or not, the guy is obviously pretty bright, as his rhymes can attest, but he has also committed some of the most mind-bogglingly stupid crimes in the pop culture kingdom over the last many years. Kanye’s personal life also happens to be astonishingly reflected in the nature of his music: his inclination towards bold and brash decisions is a bit off-putting, but it’s all the more captivating for it.
Dark Twisted Fantasy is the album event of the year, and it’s not exactly oblivious to the fact. It arrives after months of free music via his G.O.O.D. Fridays offerings, a half-hour long music video directed by West himself, and a few enormous singles (and that’s only considering his art). As it turns out, MBDTF stands only Thirteen tracks long, and only Eleven proper songs at that. This is about half as many songs as your average hip-hop album, but each track has about four times as much detail, every beat rewarding repeat listens in a way that's usually reserved for instrumental music. And, Oh My God, Is Everything On It Huge! One enormous, stadium-filling jam after another.
If I’m being honest, I actually have a number of problems with this album that’s probably larger than any other on this list. West’s desire for grandeur occasionally has him spending too much time on one idea, as on the end of both Dark Fantasy and Runaway. In contrast to his ego-maniac persona, he has a habit of passing off the mic too often, as on All of the Lights, and the endless reiteration of Kid Cudi’s chorus on Gorgeous. But that kind of pull-and-tug is exactly what has always made West’s music so exhilarating, and you would be a fool to think that MBDTF isn’t mining that fact on purpose. Serving as a sort of journey into West’s mind, MBDTW is a thrilling and unpredictable affair befitting of the man himself, and if you think you’ve heard something bigger, you’re wrong.

4. High Violet---The National
        Just like music that is overly peppy and over-joyed in sentiment, most find it a bit difficult to take the abundantly morose too seriously. I myself had a difficult time with High Violet at first, its gloomy tone never truly livening. The National have never really been a happy band, but even on first listen, there’s no denying that this is the group’s most depressed effort yet. It’s a near impossible type of music to make work, but The National know just how: By sounding like you mean it.
High Violet is lavishly devastated at every turn, each sorrowful song fine-tuned to weary perfection. Unlike so many other dramatically focused albums, the slower, smaller songs (Sorrow, Lemonworld) sound just as carefully constructed, calculated, and cared-for as the anthems (Terrible Love, England), and every thing in the middle is just as strong. Almost no songs get away, Matt Beringer’s deep, jaded voice encased in beautiful and desperate surroundings. Quite possibly not the best thing to listen to while emotionally fragile, High Violet is misery you can believe in, gorgeous and shimmering in its purity.

3. Teen Dream---Beach House
        The first time that I heard this album was late 2009, and it was love at first listen. I’ve liked Beach House all along, but I thought that there was something truly different, special about Teen Dream. Since then, a whole lot of buzz has surrounded it, then, as usually happens, a ton of other great music came out, and that buzz faded away. But even now, after over a year of returning to it over and over again, I’m still ready to buzz about it, so let’s get cracking.
TD sounds like the rest of BH, just more fleshed out, more vivid, and just plain better. One would think that extra money and attention would destroy the fuzzy, homey feel that has always defined them, but it merely shows them on a larger scale. The fact that they are only two never seems to phase Victoria Legrand or Alex Scally: Their partnership is fully-blossomed, each simple pairing of guitar and keyboard more lush and dreamy than the last. And Legrand seems about twice as confident as ever before, her raspy, alluring voice wailing and whispering to equal effect. There’s no use denying it: I’ll never get over Teen Dream.

2. This is Happening---LCD Soundsystem
        Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a ridiculously big LCD fan, and kind of doubt that I would ever dislike anything they released. Everyone has a weakness; nobody can help but dole out extra points to their favorites. Call it too derivative, call it too disco-y: the band has the power to hold my breathless attention with one lengthy groove after another. I also happen to harbor a pretty embarrassing man-crush on James Murphy, whose every word I tend to follow and believe, be it a sarcastic toss-off, or a desperate declaration. But what do I like about this album, you ask? Well, since you asked...
Unlike previous LCD efforts, no one song really sounds like another, but like the best bands, they all still bear an obvious stamp of authorship. Almost all start off in one place and then build to the next, the addition of new sounds and instruments filling each template in every corner. Who else could pull off the insane, name-dropping babble of Pow Pow, and only two tracks removed from shouting in desperation to win back a lover no less? Only my man, that’s who! Unoriginal as he (knowingly) is, Murphy has an incredible gift for mixing the un-mixable in both words and sounds: Retro and Modern, Dense and Accessible, Danceable and Contemplative, Nostalgic and Smart-Ass. It’s the perfect album for every occasion. Do you think the band has any open PR positions?

1. The Suburbs---Arcade Fire
        If you think that this placement is bold, then watch this: I honestly think that The Suburbs is Arcade Fire’s best album. Admittedly, the populist choice, Funeral, contains their best song, and I don’t even know which one it is. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), Wake Up, and Rebellion (Lies) are all probably better than the band’s next tune. But it’s also just ten tracks long, and not every song is as inspired as the last. The Suburbs, on the other hand, reaches the absurd number of Sixteen (Fifteen proper), and picking a favorite is like selecting a favorite child.
The Suburbs is a perfect concept album: Unified by theme and tone, but never beholden to a limiting frame-work. Much like High Violet, it’s jam-packed with hyper-earnest lyrics that would never work if we ever doubted either Win Butler or Régine Chassagne. Their tale of suburban loneliness and disappointment is perilously close to cheesy territory without ever stepping in, which, to my mind, is where the most powerful art generally sets up camp. The album’s characters seem to grow from start to finish, always teetering between beautiful defeat, and glorious resurgence. None are named, allowing the listener to make each tale of struggle their own amidst the setting that the group so vividly lays out. The Suburbs is as tragic and euphoric in turn as the minds of the sheltered teens who occupy its narrative, and by that measure, much of life itself. Its a titanic offering, the best album ever made by maybe the best band working today. If that doesn’t earn you the top spot, I don’t know what does.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2010:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2010:

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I'm surprised that Arcade Fire overtook LCD Soundsystem for first place, the world is all topsey turbey!