As anybody who's been paying attention will tell you, 2010 has been a great year for music. There have been some phenomenal releases from every genre, and plenty of established acts created out-of-the-box masterpieces (the best of which take up the top 5 positions on my list). Last year I didn’t rank my favorite albums, but I’m going to muscle through it this time because I think it’s important. There’s three hip-hop/rap albums, a soundtrack, and some good old-fashioned rock and roll. Enjoy.
Album of the Year list:
10. Neon Trees - Neon Trees
Each track on this album wormed its way into my brain, the long white wires of my iPod headphones serving as tunnels directly into my skull. Though the enveloping synths and woah-oh choruses in “Animal” got the majority of pop radio’s attention, almost any song—pulse-pounding freakout “1983” or bombastic closer “Our War”—could have done equally well.
9. The National - High Violet
This one, like its predecessor, took a while to grow on me. Once it did though, Nate Berninger’s pained baritone reaffirms Boxer’s slow burn with more tense, almost atmospheric rock. Perfect night music.
8. The Roots - How I Got Over
The best live band in rap take a break from Jimmy Fallon’s soundstage to deliver great socially-conscious hip-hop with more solid hooks than their recent releases. Obscure samples (Monsters of Folk) mixed with the usual guests (Blu and Joanna Newsome) for great effect.
7. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
I know, I know…another rap album? Big Boi’s debut solo album was four years in the making, and thank GOD he finally got it out. Though missing a few prime cuts with his fellow OutKast André 3000, Sir Lucious Left Foot delivers in fully flushed out backing tracks and a slew of acrobatic rhymes. The most telling moment on the album comes in the middle of “Be Still” (featuring Janelle Monaé, who we’ll see again later), when Big Boi tosses out a few throwaway lines which take the supposedly unrhymable word ‘orange’ and flip it a few times: “Say I don’t deserve you, you’re gonna learn/ Treat it like a perm, leave it be or let it burn (burn)/ Eat ‘em like an urr-ange, orange/ So when they on the verge of leavin it don’t get borin./ Foreign trips are taken…”
6. Vampire Weekend – Contra
A lot of people (including almost me) forgot about this record because it was released in early January, but it’s one of the great mainstream indie records of the year. That descriptor might seem like an oxymoron; it’s supposed to be. Although the boys from Columbia combined South African poly-rhythms with every instrument I’ve never heard, the end result is a set of relatively straightforward pop songs with quirky hooks.
5. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network OST
Reznor and Ross’ brooding and sparse soundtrack to my favorite movie of the year…is probably what made it my favorite movie of the year. Each dark, minimalistic blip added to the undercurrent of betrayal that purveyed the film. This is the first soundtrack I’ve ever searched for and it introduced me to the viability of soundtracks as music for casual listening. Extra awesome in surround sound.
4. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
My favorite Sufjan album. To be honest, I’ve never loved any of his prior work; Illinoise felt like an overly grandiose, unfocused failure. However, from the first descent into the electronics of “Too Much” (particularly effective after the fake-out opening of “Futile Devices”) this album entranced me. Sufjan’s most personal lyrics to date resonate better than ever before, and twenty-five-minute tracks fly by effortlessly. A wonderful accomplishment from a super-talented musician.
3. The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
With this album, Kristian Matsson steps out from any “Swedish Bob Dylan” moniker that certain blogs are trying to push on him to craft a tight ten-song set that sounds like an early morning sun. Drawing on old American folk influences like Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Stephen Foster helps Matsson create an album that sounds both timeless and out-of-time.
2. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
What else can be said about this record? It’s loud, it’s arrogant, it’s fantastic, twisted, dark, and beautiful…but most of all, it’s Kanye West’s. Yes, the “My” of the title marks this record, as Mr. West’s retreat from the limelight gives him the room to craft an album that deserves to NOT be limited to the phrase “comeback album.” The bombastic horn section in “All Of The Lights” deserves to be played the next time Usain Bolt breaks a world record; the screwed vocals of “Blame Game” reflect chilling heartache that 808s and Heartbreaks only hinted at; Kanye’s most inventive sampling yet cements his status at the pinnacle of rap producers. The Aphex Twins, Lacrimosa, King Crimson and Chris Rock are given equal time, and at the end of it all we’re told (in Gil Scott-Heron’s voice) that all Kanye really wants is “a good home, and a wife, and children, and some food to feed them every night.” Yeah, right. Kanye wants to rule the world, and with this, his greatest record, he has for the time being.
1. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
“Look what you started; I seem to be coming out of my skin.” So begins 2010’s most soulful, rocking album. To say I’ve overplayed this album would be the biggest understatement of my year. I devoured this record from the day it leaked this summer, bought multiple copies and pushed them on my friends and roommates (it worked; you can hear a Gaslight record blaring out of one of our apartment rooms almost every day). Every note and lyric became a mission statement, the rough punk of “Boxer” mixing with the showstopping climax of “Bring It On” mixing with the West Side Story finger snapping of “The Diamond Church Street Choir.” Around the album’s midpoint, Brian Fallon’s croon “Who does it better than we do?” ceases to be an idle boast. Economical instrumentation captures each drum fill and guitar riff perfectly while expanding the Jersey Boys’ sound from prior releases, building up this wonderful tribute to aging gracefully until the U2-esque harmonies of finale “We Did It When We Were Young” carry us away into the great mist hovering over the George Washington Bridge. It won’t be long before we see these boys again though, as the running time of barely over a half-hour demands instant and constant replays. For these reasons and many more, American Slang truly deserves to be called my Album of the Year.
Here's a list of great records from pre-2010 that I discovered/loved this year:
Delta Spirit - Ode To Sunshine
The National - Boxer
Miniature Tigers - Tell It To The Volcano
Charlie Parker - Jazz At Massey Hall
Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run; The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle; Nebraska (I didn't really get into Bruce until this summer)
Gil Scott-Heron - Pieces Of A Man
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
Broken Bells - Broken Bells
Mutemath - Armistice
Jay-Z - The Blueprint
Bob Dylan - Nashville Skyline
Nirvana - In Utero
Counting Crows - August And Everything After
The Strokes - This Is It
Drake - So Far Gone
Amos Lee - Amos Lee
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F[FONT="]♯[/font] A♯ ∞
Should've Been Given More Press on AP.net
Miniature Tigers - Fortress
This severely underrated group mixes lush instrumentation and colorful pop melodies that are highly reminiscent of one of AP.net's favorite bands, fun., and an even better debut that's even more infectious and nuanced in all the right ways...listen up!
These are Bands that Released Above-Average Albums in 2010, But I'm Afraid I've Outgrown Musically:
Jimmy Eat World - Invented
Though it was similar enough to Futures that it should've gotten many plays, something about this record still hasn't caught my attention.
Hellogoodbye - Would It Kill You?
Hellogoodbye's new release is miles ahead of their last few, but I just never got into it.
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Yeah, it's sprawling. I don't consider that a good thing.
I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody's Business - The World We Know Ace's voice still melts hearts, but not mine. There were some nice songs on here ('Rosary'), but overall I'm getting a little bored with Mr. Enders.
Most Disappointing Records of 2010:
Drake – Thank Me Later After the minimalist So Far Gone crept up to become one of my favorite rap releases of 2009, I (and the rest of the world) had GIGANTIC expectations for this album. First single “Over” seemed promising, with a booming horn background and witty-enough rhymes about Rosetta Stones and Visine. Once we got to the whole thing, though, we met lukewarm pop songs (“Find Your Love”) and decent tracks ruined by poor guest choices (“Up All Night”; “Unforgettable”; actually, almost every song with a guest). Underlying everything was the sense that Drizzy had no idea what he wanted his album to sound like. It begins wonderfully, picking up right where So Far Gone left off, and ends properly with a meditation in Miami. But right around when Nicki Minaj cuts in during “Up All Night,” Drake loses his direction, and the middle of the album is truly muddled. Here’s hoping he shows a bit more independence with his sophomore full-length, to make something truly unforgettable.
Jack Johnson – To The Sea
Every subsequent release from this man has gotten worse and worse. He’s getting further away from sunny barbeque jams that make him a joy. Does he not know how to make catchy tunes anymore?
Delta Spirit – History From Below
Unfortunately, instead of capitalizing on the wonderful and unique elements from their debut Ode to Sunshine (bright three-part harmonies that push lead singer Matthew Vasquez’ vocals to the forefront), these San Diego boys decided to release a mostly monotonous and undynamic collection of songs. A waste of talent.
Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Search for More Money (& Cocaine) Oh, that wasn’t this album’s title? My bad.
Lyricists of the Year:
Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem
Mixtape of the Year:
J. Cole – Friday Night Lights
Setting Drake-sized expectations out with this fully-formed meditation about a man on the precipice of fame, wondering what it’s like to step off into the darkness.
Hardest Worker of 2010:
Anyone who’s seen his wildly eccentric short film “Runaway” or heard the dozen or so free G.O.O.D. Friday tracks (that could’ve easily been their own album) wouldn’t bother to dispute this title.
Next Big Things:
Lady Gaga Born This Way is going to be huge. This will be the summer of Gaga.
Look out for new zombie stuff based off of the strength of AMC’s series “The Walking Dead.”
The Foo Fighters
They took a little time off to work on different projects, but with Butch Vig (Nevermind) at the helm of their latest, I'd be pretty surprised if their next album doesn't push them into the stratosphere...literally, like they should play a show in space, Protozoa style.
TV Series of the Year:
“True Blood,” “Mad Men,” and “How I Met Your Mother” all had wonderful seasons.
I’m giving the title to 1960s series “The Fugitive.” Look it up.
Guilty Pleasure Singles:
Katy Perry – Firework
“Baby, you’re a fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirework !” OMG I LOVE HER BREAS…THIS SONG. Don’t tell anyone.
Anything by Bruno Mars
Say what you want, the man can write (and sing) a pop hook like no one’s been able to since Michael Jackson. Watch out for him.
Worst Songs of 2010:
Eminem –Not Afraid
I’m grateful as anyone for Eminem’s 2010 “comeback,” but this song really is awful. The wordplay too. “Lift the liquor cabinet up, ‘cause I’m raising the bar.” Really?
B.o.B. – Airplanes [Featuring Hayley Williams]
The first time I heard this song, it was practically charming. The 12000th? Not so much.
Any of the Summer 2010 songs that got played into oblivion at Camp. See you next year!
and finally...Most Anticipated of 2011
Taking Back Sunday - TBA
Coldplay - TBA
Bright Eyes - The People's Key [Feb. 14]
Cold War Kids - Mine Is Yours [Jan. 26]
The Gaslight Anthem - TBA
The Ataris - The Graveyard of the Atlantic
Lupe Fiasco - LASERS
Blink 182 - TBA
Thrice - TBA
Brand New – probably won’t happen
Thanks for everything 2010! See you...err, next year?