Thursday, February 10, 2011

2010 Year-End Report

It is now apparent that the inspiration I spoke about in my previous post was only to be had on that fateful Friday, as I did not follow up on my promise of show/record reviews to be posted. The truth is that blogging had turned out to be a much more exhausting and time-consuming endeavor than expected. It was hard to keep up while I was working fulltime and I put my priorities where they needed to be. Alas, this year has brought me a new challenge in that I have lost said job. Although I have scrapped the notes from the shows I had attended, I decided to give something to readers who have been asking me what has been on my playlist.

I have taken it upon myself to compile this monstrous recap of everything I had enjoyed in 2010 in order to present the artists who have made my year that much better. It was a daunting but fun task. It’s also interesting to compare it to my Mid-Year Report and see how my tastes had evolved throughout the year. The run-through includes a link to my favorite track from each of my top 40 albums as I count them down so you can indulge in the experience of each release. In this way, the top 40 album countdown also doubles as a Top 40 songs countdown as well. There is also a short write-up included with each one so you can get the full effect of why the album had such an impact on me. You don’t have to (and probably won’t) take it in all at once, but it is worth your time to go through this list and check out each artist so you don’t miss one that you’d enjoy if they came to your town.

I own almost every album on this list (just waiting to get a few on vinyl) and have seen most of these bands live. As always, I urge you to purchase anything that you have discovered here. There is plenty to take in and I tried to make it as interactive as I possibly could but you’re going to have to do some research if you want to check it all out (i.e. movies). A big part of why I thought this might be a fun project is feedback, so if there is something you like or anything you have to say about the post, do so in the comments! Everything is below starting with my Top 40 albums. Just hit play on the first track and it should play sequentially as you read. Enjoy!

Top 40 Albums of 2010:

40. Spoon Transference

This album suffered from too many people pitting it against Spoon’s incredible back catalog and not enough people actually listening to it thoroughly. Transference can easily be considered one of their strongest, most creative efforts with songs like “The Mystery Zone” and “Who Makes Your Money”. With a January release, Transference fell off the radar for a lot of people, but it was still flying high on mine by the time I was compiling my year-end list. The unique, minimalist approach to the production kept me intrigued and coming back for more time and time again. You can read my full review here.

Spoon – “Who Makes Your Money”

39. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

It’s no wonder that it takes Gorillaz so long to release a new record. The brainchild of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett is certainly the result of attention to detail and the execution of a vision. They may have left their comfort zone with elements like the sprawling arrangement on “White Flag” courtesy of Kano and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music but that’s what keeps you coming back. The numerous featured musicians add to the collaborative feel and make it so that no two songs are alike. It is evident that they can still craft a pop song with “On Melancholy Hill” which has become everyone’s favorite earworm. Over the holidays, Gorillaz also release The Fall which was recording over the course of their tour on an iPad. While the toned down approach is intriguing, it’s not as riveting as their fully conceptualized records.

Gorillaz – “White Flag”

38. Grass is GreenYeddo

Grass is Green is filling a void left after the 90s when bands like June of 44, Polvo, and Burning Airlines were melding carefully calculated math rock with pop sensibilities. Grass is Green do just that on their debut, Yeddo. Songs like “Tricky Tim’s Night on the Town”, “Uhm Tsk”, and “Greenville” wield angular guitar riffs with memorable choruses to hit your eardrums with something unique. They are not simply mimicking the sound of their influences; they are taking the foundation laid down by them and building something genuine on top.

Grass is Green – “Greenville”

37. Pile - Magic Isn't Real

Magic might not be real but Pile has done something truly incredible with their latest album. The group has perfected the balance between the catchy melodies of 90s alternative rock and the aggression and urgency of post-hardcore bands like Fugazi. “Don’t Touch Anything” may be the number one hit single that radio has been waiting for but unfortunately, it may never get the chance to hit the airwaves. “Number One Hit Single” isn’t too bad either for a scorching guitar rock tune that never lets up.

Pile – “Don’t Touch Anything”

36. Frog Eyes - Paul's Tomb

Frog Eyes have come to define epic in indie rock. Carey Mercer’s vocals are hands down the most unapologetically emotive that you will hear from the class of 2010. This mixed with some of the most unique guitar tones in music and 9-minute+ songs like opener “A Flower in a Glove” makes for one hell of a listen. If you need further evidence, give “Styled by Dr. Roberts” a spin and try not to get chills as Mercer’s screams “You have to hit ‘em in the fucking knees” over a torrent of dissonant guitars. It’s simply unlike anything out there. He also shows Katy Perry how you are suppose to sing “I kissed a girl” and mean it on “Lear in Love”.

Frog Eyes – “Lear in Love”

35. The National - High Violet

The National have now hit three home runs in a row. Continuing the success of Alligator and the masterful Boxer, The National have somehow met with – and may have surpassed – the almost unreachable bar that they had set for themselves. Complex arrangements and some help from Sufjan Stevens make this one of their most compelling releases of 2010. The record is a very emotional one and it’s hard not to get moved by the somber baritone of singer Matt Berninger. There is no denying that they have crafted one of the most powerful singles of 2010 with “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and once you’ve heard that one you’re going to want to hear the rest.

The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”

34. Sharon Van EttenEpic

Sharon Van Etten returns one year after her criminally overlooked 2009 album, Because I Was in Love, with an even stronger, more confident record in Epic. The most immediate feature is Van Etten’s voice which is perfect for folk of this nature. There is so much heart behind every word spoken which carries the music in beautiful style. When you add the extremely personal and introspective lyrics, it becomes something beyond whatever genre you want to categorize it. With its droning undertones and soaring vocals, the show stopping centerpiece, “Dsharpg”, shows that she is able to bring something new to indie folk. Tracks like “One Day” have a more traditional sound but have a greater infectious quality than other songs of this ilk.

Sharon Van Etten – “Dsharpg”

33. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

It’s impossible to read anything about The Tallest Man on Earth without mention of Bob Dylan and this write-up will be no different. Kristian Matsson has a worldly and raspy voice as well as a knack for storytelling, making the comparison almost unavoidable. However, he displays his distinctive flair with the galloping strumming on “King of Spain” and the ringing, bouncing notes in “Love is All”. Matsson may bring to mind the masters of the past but with moments like the fluttering “A Lion’s Heart” and the piano ballad “Kids on the Run”, he exhibits enough unique characteristics to put him at the forefront of modern singer/songwriters.

The Tallest Man on Earth – “King of Spain”

32. Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto

Portugal. The Man is a rarity in this day and age. Not only do they release a record year after year, but each one has been getting consistently better as well. American Ghetto can easily be considered their strongest to date and it’s no surprised that they were snatched up by a major label shortly after its release. “The Dead Dog” kicks off the record with a lively jam that shows their potential to create truly memorable tunes. The album goes on to demonstrate that the band is constantly evolving and willing to expand their sound. There is a greater use of electronics than they have used in the past but they also have honed their sound into perfectly structured vehicles. “When the War Ends” is a prime example of how it fits together, creating a ideal mix of swirling guitars and synthesizers.

Portugal. The Man – “When the War Ends”

31. Fang Island - Fang Island

This album is hands down the most fun release of 2010. Fang Island have harnessed the energy of the world’s largest fireworks display with the joy of thousands of laughing children and injected it into their innovative guitar rock concoction. Their debut is the result of focusing on all things fun about rock music. Cheesy 80s guitar licks, gang choruses, roaring rhythms, and ear-splitting crescendos come together to form the ten captivating tracks within. When hearing these elements seamlessly combined in songs such as “Life Coach” and “Treeton”, one feels like they could explode with joy at any moment and that’s just what music should do.

Fang Island – “Treeton”

30. The Drums - The Drums

With their debut, The Drums had quietly created the catchiest indie rock album of 2010. Every track contains a chorus that could easily be stuck in your head for days (see: “For Ever and Ever Amen”). There is not one song that didn’t have me looking up the lyrics so I could sing along. It’s amazing that one of these tracks did not become a huge national hit, although; you will hear “Let’s Go Surfing” in a few commercials and shows. These aren’t simply pop songs. They are filled with lyrical substance reinforced by thunderous 80s influenced percussion, surf rock guitars, and reverb-laden vocals. From the loss of a best friend (“Best Friend”) to coping with the fact that someone is no longer in love with you (“Book of Stories”), The Drums cover a lot of ground and they do so with unmatched poise.

The Drums – “Forever and Ever Amen”

29. Suckers - Wild Smile

Suckers have released one of the best debuts of the year with Wild Smile. Diversity is the real attraction here as no two songs sound alike. Some songs lure you in with catchy structures like “Before Your Birthday Ends” where singer Quinn Walker’s falsetto often reaches impossible heights. Others such as “It Gets Your Body Movin’” and “2 Eyes 2 C” are much more dynamic but still retain a playful side. Right up until the funky bass line that closes “Loose Change”, Suckers keep things interesting through the whole way.

Suckers – “Before Your Birthday Ends”

28. Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork

Maps & Atlases started their career with two EPs full of mindboggling math rock. With their debut full-length, the group moves away from the insane math rhythms and technicality of their previous albums and display lush arrangements and pop structures. Songs like “Solid Ground” stick in your head endlessly while the thunderous percussion of “The Charm” demonstrates that the band is still one of the most creative around. The title track is a gorgeous display of innovative songwriting. The end result is the band possessing one of the most unique sounds in music today.

Maps & Atlases – “Perch Patchwork”

27. Sleigh BellsTreats

Sleigh Bells are the epitome of noise-pop. Never have I thought that something so loud and distorted would be able to reach as many people as they have. Almost everything on this record is recorded well in the red. The only track I would really see as being a single is the insanely likable “Rill Rill” which served as my jam for much of the past summer. Other songs such as “Riot Rhythm” serve as an abrasive call to arms. Derek E. Miller (ex-Poison the Well) and Alexis Krauss (sexy) have created something truly unique and special with this release.

Sleigh Bells – “Rill Rill”

26. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists seem to get overlooked every time they release an album. The Brutalist Bricks is one of the finest entries in the group’s solid catalog. This time around they focus more on the punk side which is evident from the start of “The Mighty Sparrow”. There is a timeless quality in all of Ted Leo’s work driven by his thoughtful lyrics. “Bottled in Cork” shows this ability to tell a story and craft an anthemic tune. The Brutalist Bricks is an album you’ll be impressed with every time you throw it on.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Bottled in Cork”

25. Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame

Any time someone tells me that bands don’t make music like in the classic rock days, I direct them towards Dr. Dog. The group has the feel of a classic psychedelic rock band right down to the production on the albums. 2010 found them releasing their most personal record to date. Tracks such as “Station” and “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” have a sincere feel about them while recalling the greats of the 60s. The reflective anthem “Where’d All The Time Go?” and the confessional “Shame, Shame” make this one feel like a classic already. Dr. Dog have added another truly unforgettable and underrated album to their catalog.

Dr. Dog – “Where’d All the Time Go?”

24. The Besnard LakesThe Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night

The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night is the most overlooked and underrated album of 2010. From the moment I first spun the record on my turntable, I thought, “This is going to be on a lot of year-end lists.” I was wrong seeing as I haven’t seen much mention of it at all but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. With a perfect mixture of classic rock and shoegaze, The Besnard Lakes have fashioned one of more incredible listening experiences of 2010. The record was created to be heard as one long piece on vinyl which is exactly how I took it in. If there is one must-hear track, it would be “Albatross” where vocalist Olga Goreas sounds like she is bursting at the seams while singings “I wanted to help you” amongst swirling guitars.

The Besnard Lakes – “Albatross”

23. The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

One of the most consistent bands in rock and roll, The Hold Steady returned in 2010, this time without mustached multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay. Many speculated how this would affect the band’s output but I don’t t think they lost a step with Heaven is Whenever. The overall sound is simplified but no less powerful. The album starts with the smoky ballad to “The Sweet Part of the City” (“the part with the bars and restaurants”) and goes on to tell stories including one about finding solace listening to records on the floor with a loved one (“We Can Get Together”). As usual, the music is on the shoulders of Craig Finn’s introspective and witty lyrics which are among my favorite in music history. With lines like “You can’t tell people what they want to hear if you also want to tell the truth” from “Soft in the Center”, it’s hard not to fall in love with this music.

The Hold Steady – “Soft in the Center”

22. Robyn - Body Talk

Some people are under the impression that since I listen to obscure underground music, I feel that I am “too good” for pop music. This usually comes from me equating Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and/or Lady Gaga to the piles of shit I see left on the sidewalk from people who don’t pick up after their dogs. The problem is that after all the “groundbreaking” antics and crazy-ass meat suits from the aforementioned “artists”, they are making incredibly safe and simple music. Lady Gaga may push the boundaries of fashion but she certainly isn’t doing so for music. Enter Swedish singer Robyn, who has released an album that not only pop fans, but music lovers in general can appreciate. Body Talk plays like a greatest hits albums opening with the single “Dancing on my Own” which is quickly becoming a club favorite. It moves on to the unbelievably enjoyable “Fembot” containing some of the best electronic beats I’ve heard in some time. “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” is the cautionary tale that it sounds like and ends with an impressive break. That’s just the first three tracks…

Robyn – “Fembot”

21. Marnie Stern - Marnie Stern

The female guitar god has released her most diverse and personal album yet with this self-titled release. I think “For Ash” is the Marnie Stern version of a ballad even though it’s still a joyous romp of hectic drumming and squealing guitars. The rhythmic assault, as with previous albums, is courtesy of percussive genius Zach Hill. “Transparency is the New Mystery” displays Marnie Stern putting her heart on her sleeve amid her signature guitar sound singing “It’s not enough. I’m not enough.” “Cinco de Mayo” is the most like her previous material as it is incased in a torrent of finger-tapping guitars. As typical with all of her albums, each song has endless replay value and you will come off with a new favorite ever time you listen.

Marnie Stern – “Transparency is the New Mystery”

20. High on Fire - Snakes for the Divine

High on Fire have released one of the most exciting and crushing metal albums I’ve heard in awhile. The devastating title track has all of the elements of a classic metal song. It is the longest and most engaging on the album and one of the standout opening tracks from 2010. The album is packed full of great solos, memorable riffs, and pummeling drumming. Matt Pike pulls out all the stops with scorcher “Ghost Neck” embracing breakneck riffs and throat tearing vocals. The imagery and sonic assault bring to mind the battles from Lord of the Rings.

High on Fire – “Snakes for the Divine”

19. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis

The Dillinger Escape Plan continue to display their technical prowess on Option Paralysis. The influence from Nine Inch Nails as well as Faith No More found on their recent albums is also furthered here. The group is not afraid to experiment as evident by the effective use of electronics and piano and “Widower”. Still, the songs that have me coming back for more are the face-melting tracks like “Gold Teeth on a Bum”. Sometimes I need an album that simply destroys my eardrums and Option Paralysis does the job every time.

Dillinger Escape Plan – “Gold Teeth on a Bum”

18. Menomena Mines

Menomena doesn’t get enough credit for a group whose members are intelligent enough to have created their own software for their writing process. Mines includes some of the best songwriting you’ll hear from 2010 so it’s apparent that there is something special going on in that process. The opener “Queen Black Acid” is one of their most memorable and confessional songs to date. In fact much of the album can simply be described as unforgettable. “Dirty Cartoons” is a gorgeous ballad that simply must be heard. “Tithe” is unlike anything else you will hear from the year and followed by a track as urgent as “Bote”, you can see why this album is so high on the list. The alluring crescendo and chants of “All this could be your someday” from “Five Little Rooms” is the reason I get so excited when I hear Menomena are working on new material.

Menomena – “Dirty Cartoons”

17. Big Boi - The Rise of Sir Lucious Left Foot

Plain and simple: The Rise of Sir Lucious Left Foot is a perfect rap album with endless hit potential and innovative production. Every track is a standout. Big Boi has risen from the shadows of Outkast and become a force of his own. “Shutterbugg” and “Shine Blockas” are two of the best singles to hit the airwaves in 2010. However, the real gems are the songs that haven’t been played on the radio such as “Tangerine” and “You Ain’t No DJ” which features a ridiculous verse from Yelawolf. Chances are if you put this record on for one track, you’re going to end up listening to the rest.

Big Boi – “You Ain’t No DJ” (feat. Yelawolf)

16. No Age - Everything in Between

No Age returned with an album leaning more towards the pop side with “Glitter” being one of the downright catchiest songs of the year. There is still plenty of noise and punk to be heard on Everything in Between. “Fever Dreaming” is already a notorious fan favorite featuring a crunchy and hasty punk approach. “Valley Hump Crash” is a great example of the middle ground where catchy meets noisy. It’s evident that No Age has perfected this style and I consider this their best release to date. Some fans have been alienated by the amount of accessible tracks on this album but I fully embrace it. It’s not like they are going to be opening for Katy Perry any time soon.

No Age – “Glitter”

15. Phantogram - Eyelid Movies

Eyelid Movies is one of the more unique and innovative records released in 2010 and one of the most stunning debuts I’ve heard in awhile. I haven’t heard a trip-hop album I’ve enjoyed this much in as long as I can remember. The diversity found on here is astonishing as well. Listen to the bouncy beat of “Mouthful of Diamonds” and the ominous composition of “Running from the Cops”. It would be comprehensible if you were to think these were two different bands. The miraculous thing is that they make such variation work over the course of the record. It’s got a smooth flow and has the listener marveling at each song as it comes. “As Far As I See” has one of the best trip-hop beats since The Avalanches were still making music.

Phantogram – “Running from the Cops”

14. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

Wow, where do I start with this one? The thing with Broken Social Scene albums is they take a long time to absorb. Most fans didn’t even like their self-titled album until a year or two after its release and now it’s a fan favorite. Forgiveness Rock Record is as lush and lavish as anything they have previously released. As customary, the record is laced with unbelievable arrangements and introspective lyrics. From the horn section on “Art House Director” to the southern twang of “Water in Hell”, there is so much range to explore. It also contains the second ballad about masturbation (“Me and My Hand”) Kevin Drew has penned but it may be his best.

Broken Social Scene – “Art House Director”

13. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

The Suburbs is the ultimate grower, which most of the best albums are. The record is laced with meaningful lyrics and the intense delivery from Win Butler that projects them in your psyche. This band is not as big as they are for no reason. They have the songwriting chops to combat any nonbelievers and there is a reason everyone likes “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains”. The elements that first grabbed my attention, however, were the intense string attack on “Empty Room” and the punk flavor found in “Month of May”. Make no mistake about it; I’ll have a new favorites by next week.

Arcade Fire – “Month of May”

12. Deftones - Diamond Eyes

Deftones got a bad rap getting lumped in with the nu-metal crowd. At this point I think people are beginning to see them for what they really are: a metal band with lots of shoegaze influence. The truth is most of the songs on Diamond Eyes have influence from My Bloody Valentine and The Cure; something that you probably won’t find in any nu-metal circles. This record has a lot of variety. “Royal” is one of their most brutal songs where “You’ve Seen The Butcher” along with “976-HERO” represent two of the catchiest overlooked gems of 2010. An instant classic among fans, hopefully this album branches out into the audience it deserves.

Deftones – “976-EVIL”

11. Grinderman - Grinderman 2

Grinderman 2 wins for funniest album of the year. The funniest thing about it, though, may be how well written most of this material is. The album opens with the amusing but unsettling tale in “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man” and is followed by the irresistible stoner jam “Worm Tamer” which contains lyrics like “My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster / Two great big humps and then I'm gone.” The sprawling blues jam “When My Baby Comes” shows that these guys are no joke though and have serious musically ability. The record is packed with such highlights like the noisy blues onslaught of “Heathen Child”. This record is indisputable proof that at over 50 years of age, Nick Cave is still one of the few badasses left in rock and roll.

Grinderman – “Worm Tamer”

10. Kylesa - Spiral Shadow

Every year an album sneaks up on me at the end and creeps into my top 10 based on my obsessive playing of it. In 2010, Kylesa had done just that and claimed my favorite metal album. The band somehow manage to establish the perfect amalgamation of 90s indie, classic psychedelic rock, and stoner metal. “Drop Out” showcases this ability by seamlessly implementing them all in one song. “Don’t Look Back” is one of the catchiest songs of the year, containing one of the most memorable riffs you’ll ever hear. “Forsaken” is present to keep old fans happy with some dirty, sludge metal. Some fans may have been taken off guard by the sudden accessible change but this is the band’s best effort to date. Spiral Shadow has a timelessness that their previous releases didn’t have. The female/male vocal dynamic adds the perfect touch to the vocals to compliment the music. There are so many aspects to this album that every spin is like a fresh listen. Kylesa have fashioned the most memorable and creative metal album since Torche’s Meanderthal.

Kylesa – “Don’t Look Back”

9. Yeasayer - Odd Blood

I had been up and down on this record all through 2010. But when all is said and done, I kept going back to it. The main reason is that it features some of the most perfect pop songs from the year. Although I never got into “The Children”, it is followed by one of the most consistent string of songs released in 2010. “Ambling Alp” is the feel good anthem that already had most people hooked by late 2009 with its chorus of “You’ve got to stick up for yourself son / Never mind what anybody else done”. O.N.E. is perhaps the greatest ode to addiction I have ever heard and one of the more fun dance songs of 2010. Other must-hear tracks include “I Remember”, a heartfelt ballad structured around fluttering electronics and an irresistible chorus of “You’re stuck in my mind all the time.” The band also released a free live album which showcases their ability to transform these songs into even more creative compositions in a live setting.

Yeasayer – “O.N.E.”

8. Wolf Parade - Expo 86

Spencer Krug finds a way to make my top 10 list every year. After being disappointed with At Mount Zoomer, Expo 86 brought back more of the urgent guitar rock and emotional synth tunes that I initially fell in love with. The seriously ambitious track lengths and songwriting work perfectly with my tastes. The songwriting duo of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner are perfectly complimentary to each other. Krug’s danceable tune "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" fits perfectly on the same record as Boeckner-penned tunes like “Pobody’s Nerfect”. The lyrical content is as interesting and perplexing as ever. The album also contains one of the best closing tracks in the ridiculously good guitar rock opus “Cave-O-Sapien”.

Wolf Parade – “Cave-O-Sapien”

7. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

I didn’t find this album to be the baffling change in direction that a lot of other writers have touted it as, stating that this is his “electronic album”. Yes, there is a much greater use of electronics and every song is utterly epic but Sufjan has ,always embrace varied instrumentation and expansive songwriting. For all the fuss about electronics, the album begins and ends with acoustic guitar. The title track is a great example of the complex arrangements bordering on genius found within. But that is nothing compared to the 26 minute long song, “Impossible Soul” that somehow doesn’t contain a boring section. The lyrics on songs like “Now That I am Older” and “I Want to be Well” demonstrate that this is his most personal statement. Having seen these songs performed live with explanations given for most make the meaning behind them so much stronger. Clearly, this is his most personal record and greatest experiment and I think it paid off magnificently in the end.

Sufjan Stevens – “The Age of Adz”

6. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye is a douchebag. We all know this. What we didn’t know was that an album full of songs about what a douchebag he is would get Kanye the recognition as a genius that he was always starving for. This album is not flawless as some would like you to believe. It is, however, a tremendous accomplishment that features some of the best production in the history of rap and will inevitable leave its mark. “Dark Fantasy” opens the show up with one of the best Kanye tracks yet. The dichotomy between the verse and chorus is perfectly implimented. “Gorgeous” and “Power” follow and prove very fitting of their names. The highlight is “Monster” where Nicki Minaj manages to outdo both Jay-Z and Kanye with her verse. I could have done without “Lost in the World” which features a Bon Iver sample that I thought sucked when it was on his Blood Bank EP let alone here. But that’s a minor complaint for such a masterfully executed record. It is evident to this writer that the world was waiting for this record. In a time, where most Americans have a completely unwarranted sense of self-worth and importance, this one was bound to be a hit.

Kanye West – “Monster” (feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver)

5. Beach House - Teen Dream

There is a reason Teen Dream is on so many year-end lists. This album is as relaxing, atmospheric, cathartic, and dreamy as one could possibly be. If you look at most of the records in my top 10, they are over-the-top epics that feature lush instrumentation and complex arrangements. Teen Dream sits in stark contrast. The arrangements are simple and the dynamics are fairly static but there is still something subtly commanding about these tracks.”Zebra”” and “Norway” are slices of songwriting perfection and contain some of the most undeniably infectious choruses of the year. ”Walk in The Park” is a brilliant mix of simple organ chords, reverb-drenched vocals, and a delicate beat. I think once you get to the chorus of “10 Mile Stereo” where singer Victoria Legrand explains “They say we will go far, but they don't know how far we'll go”, the allure is fairly evident.

Beach House – “Walk in the Park”

4. Future Islands - In Evening Air

Although I saw Future Islands in the past and liked their live show, I never went back and really listened to their music. From the first time I heard In Evening Air, I was hooked; you can even say obsessed. This was the year I couldn’t get enough of Future Islands. Every song struck a chord with me and it struck it hard. The draw for me was vocalist Sam Herring who exhibits some of the most emotional singing on downright personal subject matter. The throbbing bass and resonating keys of “Swept Inside” perfectly compliment Herring’s delivery and story-telling ability. “Inch of Dust” is another perfect fusion of synths, pounding beats, and emotive vocals declaring, “Call on me. I’ll be there always.” This album never left my side the entire year and for good reason.

Future Islands – “Inch of Dust”

3. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

Wow, the third and apparently final LCD Soundsystem album was a doosey. This is Happening is the definition of intelligent dance music. James Murphy is spilling his guts out on the dance floor with every track. I never thought he could reach the emotional output and intensity of “All My Friends” but boy was I wrong. “I Can Change” and “Dance Yrself Clean" were able match that intensity and more. The latter perhaps being the best opening track of the year. “All I Want” is another emotionally-charged masterpiece recalling David Bowie’s “Heroes”. “Home” closes things with one of the best beats Murphy has ever recorded and also puts itself in the running for best closing track. It’s devastating to know that this is the last LCD Soundsystem album.Also of note, the group released The London Sessions in 2010 containing the excellent and exclusive "Yr City's A Sucker".

LCD Soundsystem – “I Can Change”

2. The Black KeysBrothers

No one is writing blues music steeped in tradition like The Black Keys. This is the year that they finally broke out. It seems weird putting an album at my number two that has been featured in countless commercials but they deserve it. It’s not surprising with tracks like “Tighten Up” and “Howling for You” that everyone is now paying close attention to the group. The duo really let their creative juices flow with this one as each song takes on a life of its own. It’s hard not to get sucked into tracks like the slow blues number “Unknown Brother”. But they also let you know that they haven’t forgotten the classics with their enchanting take on Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. The last track, “These Days” is the best ballad of the year and one of the most arresting songs you’ll hear. They made a statement with this record and they kept it simple: This is The Black Keys. The name of this album is Brothers. Take note. I am indeed making sure I remember this one but it shouldn’t be hard. They’re going to be around for awhile. Check out this video where they square off against Vampire Weekend for which band sold out more in 2010 on The Colbert Report.

The Black Keys – “Unknown Brother”

1. The Books - The Way Out

I can’t possibly put into words what this record has meant to me over the course of 2010. First things first, The Books transcend traditional music. These are sound collages that are meant to mirror the very essence of the human condition. The album even starts off with an intro that acts as a disclaimer featuring samples from self-help tapes speaking of enlightenment. This is the first of the “Group Autogenic” tracks that bookend one of the most absorbing musical journeys you will ever take. On this record, guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong compose music with the help of such unique elements as samples taken from a Talkboy capturing the innocence of kids blindly threatening each other (“Cold Freezing Night”). Lyrical content for a folk song, “Free Translator” was generated by running the words through a translator until they were fully nonsensical. The pair also turned the story of a rabbit into an old school hip-hop song (“The Story of Hip-Hop”).

The Way Out is a record that begs to be listened to from front to back as each song takes you further down the rabbit hole. On this journey, you’ll laugh, you’ll be struck with sudden sadness, you’ll be confused, and you’ll be enlightened and if that’s not the musical experience of the year, I don’t know what is. At the end, you will be thanking The Books for creating something wholly unique that can elicit so many thoughts in your mind. This record has served as the soundtrack to many frustrating and many enjoyable moments in my year but every time I put it on, it instilled a feeling that everything would be ok. I don’t know what it is about this style of music that speaks to me so much but each time I spun the record, it was just what I needed. I bought it on vinyl as a birthday present to myself and from the first spin, I knew I had found what I was looking for musically for so many years but never knew what exactly it was. If you are interested in learning more about the record, all the composition explanations can be found if you search their blog.

The Books – “The Story of Hip-Hop”

Top 10 EPs of 2010:

1. Double DaggerMasks
Double Dagger-Pillow Talk by divisionpromotions

2. Girls - Broken Dreams Club
GIRLS // Carolina by TheArtOf...

3. Torche - Songs for Singles
Torche - Songs For Singles by H.H.R.

4. Doomstar! - Rainbow Bloodsucker

5. MiniBoone - Big Changes

6. Guards Guards 


8. Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People

9. The Tallest Man on Earth - Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird
Tallest Man On Earth - Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird by TILLS

10. Future Islands - In the Fall
In the Fall (Future Islands w/ Katrina Ford) by chrankoss

Top 5 Death/Black Metal Albums:

2010 was an awesome year for death and black metal albums so I thought it deserved its own category. Let’s face it, these don’t really play well with the others.
  1. Ludicra The Tenant
  2. Agalloch Marrow of the Spirit
  3. Deathspell Omega - Paracletus
  4. Watain Lawless Darkness
  5. Harvey MilkA Small Turn of Human Kindness

Top 5 Performances in 2010:

1. The Books - Somerville Theatre: October 21, 2010

The Books started the night with the new-age self-help tape inspired “Group Autogenics I” which was complete with floating heads talking about enlightenment and visuals that had you considering whether someone slipped a psychedelic into your drink earlier. It was the perfect start to a musical performance that was unlike anything I had ever seen and proved to be quite the aural and visual journey.

Throughout the night guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong synchronized virtuosic instrumentation with creative visual components. Watching them perform the accompaniment to “I Didn’t Know That” had me in tears laughing, not only because the song turned out to be about a hilarious golf instructing tape but also because their playing was simply that good. They recruited a third member for the tour whom they stated playing “Tokyo” would be impossible without. They weren’t kidding seeing as he shredded acoustic guitar to the aforementioned song faster than I thought was humanly possible. Other highlights included “Free Translator” which they revealed came about from running the lyrics through a free translator until they no longer made sense and “Smells like Content” which featured a rapid and complicated vocal pattern that was simply mind-boggling.

2. Sufjan Stevens - Orpheum Theatre: November 11, 2010

This was one of those shows I could probably write a term paper on. Right before the show, I was ranting about my regret over not getting a ticket to the sold-out Sufjan Stevens concert. I won tickets thanks to the excellent Boston-based blog Ryan’s Smashing Life and I could not be more thankful. It turned out to be one of the best shows I have ever seen. Sufjan Stevens transcends what you would expect from a musical performance.

Instead of a long-winded rant, I can just list the key elements and you can imagine how awesome it was to see: 14 people playing on stage, dancers, crazy visuals with 3D effects, balloons dropping from the ceiling, confetti cannons, and all of the 26-minute “Impossible Soul”.

He mostly played songs from Age of Adz. The title track was magnificent to watch unfold with its melodious verses and intense chorus. He ended the regular set with “Chicago” and went on to play several songs off the highly lauded Illinois album during the encore. “John Wayne Gacy” was an incredible way to end the night by playing one of the most unsettling folk songs ever written.

3. Built to Spill – Paradise Rock Club: October 1, 2010

When anyone asks who my favorite live band is, I always respond with Built to Spill. I have seen them a handful of times now and the experience is always bordering on religious. They are one of the few bands with long passages of jamming that don’t bore me and actually have me awestruck the entire set, which is typically very long. This particular performance had a setlist of songs I had never seen them perform live and, as always, it injected new life into those tunes. I’ll never look at “The Weather” in the same light again. Their live take on that song was simply breathtaking and you could see that the lyrics “No one’s home and the weather’s fine, I’d rather wait for you” were extremely personal to Doug Martsch in the way her delivered them amongst a captivating crescendo and his legendary guitar soloing.

4. Cave In – Great Scott: August 7, 2010

5. Wolf Parade – House of Blues: July 12, 2010

Top 5 Artists I "Didn't Get" in 2010:

This meter shows where I am at with these musicians:

1. SALEM: Apparently, trying isn’t cool. The same people who cheered at the end of that “performance” would probably call me a genius if I took a shit on stage and stuck a microphone next to it.

2. Ariel Pink: Weather Channel music.

3. Die Antwoord: You’re weird; I get it.

4. jj: Indie Kidz Bop

5. Ke$ha: The Jersey Shore of Music. At first, everyone seems to hate her but then people begin to listen to her to “be ironic”. There’s a fine line between irony and stupidity.

Top 10 Movies of 2010:
  1. Black Swan
  2. True Grit
  3. Inception
  4. The Social Network
  5. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
  6. Kick-Ass
  7. Exit Through The Gift Shop
  8. The Fighter
  9. The Ghost Writer
  10. The Town

Top 5 Comedy Albums of 2010:
  1. Kyle Kinane - Death of the Party
  2. David Cross - Bigger and Blackerer
  3. Hannibal Buress - My Name Is Hannibal
  4. Anthony Jeselnik - Shakespeare
  5. Reggie Watts - Why Shit So Crazy?

Top 5 Artists with Albums Announced for Release in 2010 That Are Likely Never Coming Out:

I can't wait to never hear these albums!
  1. The Avalanches
  2. The Wrens
  3. Glassjaw
  4. Dr. Dre
  5. Tool

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