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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Top 50 Albums of 2010, 20-11

20. Sit Down, Man---Das Racist
         Blurring the line between parody and homage in the best of ways, Sit Down, Man is chuck-full of unexpected pop culture references, and MC swagger. The thing goes for Twenty tracks, nearly all of which produced by a different artist than the last one, giving it a wide and expensive feel. And where other rappers might have used their all-star tailored beats for something more serious-minded, DR are jokers through and through, humor and allusion oozing out of every musical pour. No matter how many times I hear SDM, there’s always another new, hilarious rhyme in there, just waiting for me to find it.

19. Black City---Matthew Dear
        Let there be no doubt: Black City lives up to its name. Matthew Dear’s new disc is a dark and grimy affair, tempting us down dark alley ways that we know can’t really be too safe. BC is a triumph of thematics, its mood and tone apparent from the start, sifted down to the marrow of your bones by track three. Dear’s vocals are manipulated through all kinds of machines, and the sound that comes out is lonely, twisted and deranged. Oh, and did I mention that it’s an electronic dance album? Even when you hear it, it’s a bit difficult to wrap your head around.

18. Age of Adz---Sufjan Stevens
        Five years ago, Stevens was at the absolute peak of the indie music universe. It's been just as long since his last proper LP, and the, 'what’s hot and what’s not,' of popular music has changed quite a bit. While viewed as a reinvention by many, Age of Adz is more of a gathering of styles that Stevens has been working on for years, cross-breeding the electro beats of earlier works A Sun Came and Enjoy your Rabbit with the grandiose orchestral swell of Illinoise and Michigan. While the result may not usher Stevens back up to the summit he was at, it does just about everything else. Each song is painstakingly overstuffed with ideas and details, tracks like Too Much culminating in an innumerable number of sounds, all bouncing off one another at once. It’s only fitting that the creator of the most bloated pop music known to man would find yet another set of sonic possibilities to throw into the mix. The new old clothes look good on him.

17. Crystal Castles (II)---Crystal Castles
        One of two bands this year who found out that cleaning it up a bit doesn’t have to mean dumbing it down. Sure, the fiery, scream-filled, less-musically interested tunes of the band’s first self-titled record were exciting for the ever-present possibility of the whole thing blowing up in their faces. And while their second release (also, obnoxiously, self-titled) slips into this style briefly with ragers like Doe Deer, their aim now seems to be to make vicious electro-pop as opposed to vicious noise. The album’s finest moment, Celestica, is also its most inviting, mixing traditional melodic sensibilities with the jagged edge that has always marked their sound. It’s all neon lights and furry, this time fitted with discernible lyrics. You won’t mind.

16. Gorilla Manor---Local Natives
        Two major genres have emerged from the independent music scene in the last few years: One is the kind of electro-pop occupying Sufjan, Animal Collective, and The Ruby Suns at the moment. The other is far earthier, focused on rousing song-writing and soaring harmonies. Local Natives fit exactly into this later school, and while their adherence to the trend causes the whole thing to sound extremely familiar, the band is just good enough to make you go for it anyways. Songs like Wide Eyes, Sun Hands, and Camera Talk show us precisely what would happen if the Fleet Foxes had a coffee once in a while, a slightly different take on a sound that we’ve been saturated with lately. But Local Natives’ music is their own, World News and Airplanes each shining brightly on their own merits despite being so narrowly removed from their brethren. Everyone burrows a little bit; what’s important is making something worth-while out of it, and that’s a lesson that Local Natives take to heart.

14. (tie) Astro Coast---Surfer Blood and King of the Beach---Wavves
        Over and over again, I’ve switched the position of these two albums on my list. Both slide perfectly into a pretty exact genre (Surfer-Stoner-Pop-Punk) and both are filled to the brim with physically addictive hooks, and monstrous guitar riffs. Who would be the year’s champion of immature, break-neck, beach-inspired, distortion-drowned pop ditties? Well, no one, it looks like. Or both, I guess.
Astro Coast probably wins as a whole, with tidier guitar riffs that sound hardy and true from first track to last. Vocals mostly stay in one place, but echo around the songs as if auto-tuned. Think old school Weezer, and be sure not to adjust any expectations. Astro Coast might not be The Blue Album, but it has the makings of a college-rock classic in its own right.
King of the Beach, on the other hand, has more individually sublime moments than Astro Coast. Wavves is the other band previously mentioned that cleaned up their sound for 2010, and is actually better for it. Their reverb-laden, distortion-defined debut, Wavvves, was boosted by the endlessly lacking quality of it’s recording, garage rock that actually sounded like it was made in a garage. But KotB clears out all of the static, maintaining the band’s love of bite-sized churners that rage all the way until their Two minutes of life are over. This time, you can actually hear all of the melodic brilliance that Nathan Williams and company have created.
As an added bonus, both albums even take time away from their rocking out to offer smaller, sweeter tracks that make both feel more well-rounded and full-bodied. Really, you can take your pick. I’ll have both.

13. Plastic Beach---Gorillaz
        Gorillaz saddle themselves with expectations unlike anyone else in the business. Not only do they average just one release every four years (The Fall and various B-sides withstanding), but when they do release one, they’re over-flowing with guest artists, different sounds, and endless track lists. Plastic Beach does little to divert from this formula, sixteen tracks of all different shapes, sizes, and colors, all vaguely focused on the album’s concept of a far away dystopian land filled with pollution and trash. But what makes PB much different than the band’s previous efforts is Damon Albarn’s sudden willingness to keep the album’s best moments to himself. Where Albarn was content to just get an assist on Feel Good Inc. and Clint Eastwood before it, the album’s singles here all go the other way around, with its best song, On Melancholy Hill, kept all to himself. Not as foreign and spell-binding as their last two efforts, but infinitely more human for having a unifying voice at its center.

12. Treats---Sleigh Bells
        In a world where no idea is truly original, Sleigh Bells crafted a debut that sounded like no one else around. The pairing seems more destined for media attention and novelty value that lasting musical offerings: Derek E. Miller of hardcore leanings on guitar, former teeny-popper Alexis Krauss on vocals, and there’s your band. But as it turns out, Treats is the party album of the year, Miller’s guitar and Krauss’ voice each providing exactly what you would expect, but somehow fitting together in inconceivably perfect fashion. This thing is loud, I mean REALLY loud, but Krauss’ sweet voice never loses its place in the wreckage, giving the lips of the listener something to do while their head bangs on and on. Throw in the out-of-nowhere chill-out of instant summer classic Rill Rill, and you’ve got the debut album of the year, born out of rampant creativity and an endless yearning for parties and fun. If you don’t believe me, crank it at your next party, but don’t blame me when everyone is calling you about setting up another shindig next weekend.

11. Total Life Forever---Foals
         To my mind, this is one of the year’s two most criminally under-appreciated albums. Unlike fellow accent-rockers Mumford and Sons, Foals back their epic vocals with appropriately epic songs; deep, complex, and resplendent in detail. Nearly each of the Eleven songs starts in one place and ends up in another: quiet, single-string pluckings giving way to finales that come on with cosmic force, their expert and exact build-up making each explosion more cathartic than a merely rousing. The songs that do follow classic verse-chorus-verse narrative don’t suffer for it in the slightest, Miami being the album’s very best track by my count. Their debut, Antidotes, was fun in its own right, but it’s hard not to view it as something of a practice round in training for TLF, a crowd pleaser for the very biggest of crowds.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2010:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2010:

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