My Top 50 Albums of 2010


Feb 19 2011, 17:50

Welcome again! For the second year in a row, I've compiled a list of my top albums of the year. A few caveats to start: there are separate categories for EPs, Live albums, and soundtracks/compilations, so those are not included for consideration in the main list. However, digital-only releases and mixtapes are, provided they're roughly LP-length. Well, let's get to it.

The Tallest Man on Earth - Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird
Low - Live at Eindhoven

The Weakerthans - Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre
Phoenix - Live in Sydney
The White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights

Crazy Heart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Shutter Island: Music from the Motion Picture

Michael Giacchino - LOST Season 5 and LOST The Final Season
Clint Mansell - Black Swan
Carter Burwell - True Grit
Honorable Mentions:
Hans Zimmer - Inception
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network
Alexandre Desplat - Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1

50 - 26
50. Hannah Georgas - This Is Good
49. Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer
48. Lissie - Catching A Tiger
47. Derek Webb - Feedback
46. Minus the Bear - OMNI
45. Girl Talk - All Day
44. Jim Bryson - The Falcon Lake Incident
43. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & John Frusciante - Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & John Frusciante
42. Brett Detar - Bird In The Tangle
41. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
40. Beach House - Teen Dream
39. Woodhands - Remorsecapade
38. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
37. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
36. MGMT - Congratulations
35. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
34. Circa Survive - Blue Sky Noise
33. John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up
32. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
31. Wolf Parade - Expo 86
30. Wintersleep - New Inheritors
29. The Reason - Fools
28. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt
27. Coheed and Cambria - Year of the Black Rainbow
26. Del Barber - Love Songs For The Last 20

25 - 11
25. As I Lay Dying - The Powerless Rise
24. Caribou - Swim
23. The Black Keys - Brothers
22. Drake - Thank Me Later
21. The Knife - Tomorrow, in a Year
20. Postdata - Postdata
19. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II)
18. The Roots - How I Got Over
17. Tim Kasher - The Game of Monogamy
16. Menomena - Mines
15. Foals - Total Life Forever
14. Yeasayer - Odd Blood
13. Motion City Soundtrack - My Dinosaur Life
12. Max Richter - Infra
11. My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

10 - 1
10. Underoath - Ø Disambiguation
The departure of drummer/singer (and only remaining original Underoath member) Aaron Gillespie prior to the recording of this album could very well have broken up this band. Instead, they prove as resilient as ever, pushing screamer Spencer Chamberlain to take up clean vocals as well. And he really takes control. Instead of the dynamic interaction shared by the two vocalists on the previous three albums, Spencer seems to share the mic with his own dark self, sounding like a man possessed. His own past battles with drugs bring out a desperation that fuels the album from start to crushing finish. When he screams “Where is my fix?” on “A Divine Eradication”, it is absolutely chilling. Not only has Chamberlain finely honed his vocal skills into a haunting, guttural growl and a mournful wail on this album, but the absence of Gillespie allows the remaining band members to flex their individual strengths as well; keyboardist Chris Dudley in particular adds some great moody electronic elements. Relentlessly assaulting yet subtle and atmospheric, Disambiguation is one of the most interesting hardcore/metal albums of the year.

9. Shad - TSOL
Lyrically sly and adroitly produced, Shad’s latest album mostly bucks the trappings of self-involved hip hop while still sounding refreshingly old school with a touch of R&B and Motown soul. Without a reference to guns, money, or one-dimensional women, Shad’s rhymes are positively uplifting. Whether he’s giving his ode to strong females (“Keep Shining”), imparting personal history (“A Good Name”), or waxing philosophical (“At the Same Time”), he is always compelling, and manages to keep the whole thing lighthearted and a lot of fun. More personable than k-os and without the heavy-handedness of K’Naan, Shad is the shining star on Canadian hip-hop’s horizon.

8. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
On American Slang, The Gaslight Anthem packs all the nostalgic charm of bygone eras of post-war American rock-n-roll into a tightly-constructed 34 minutes, celebrating a national identity borne on the notes drifting out of smoky clubs and basements that had the power to mend broken hearts and heal wounds. Frontman Brian Fallon growls wistfully about pain, loss, and change over playful guitars — I don’t think a single chord is struck in this entire album. It’s nostalgic without regret, a positively mythic traverse through the landscape of Americana that looks forward to telling new stories. “We called for our fathers but our fathers had died”, Fallon sings on the title track. He recognizes his debt to yesterday, but has his ambitions firmly planted in tomorrow.

7. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
The sheer scope and breadth of invention on Sufjan Stevens’ latest album makes it hands down the best work of his career, in my opinion. Having been a big fan of his electro-instrumental turn on 2001’s Enjoy Your Rabbit, I was thrilled to see him incorporating many of those elements into his existing style. The results are endlessly fascinating: he opens quietly, with acoustic minimalism (“Futile Devices”), and then over the next 45-minutes proceeds to deluge the listener under as many simultaneous sounds as possible. It is precisely because of the relentless, carnivalian assortment of chamber vocals, electronic blips and bleeps, drum machine beats, and string and horn numbers that the album continues to reveal new joys with each repeated listen as it shifts with grace and ease across its vast orchestral soundscapes. Though the closing track, “Impossible Soul”, clocks in at a whopping 25-minutes — you’ll either love it or hate it profusely — , it is ultimately the culmination of an artist who throws everything under the sun at the canvas and somehow manages to make it all stick.

6. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
What sets South Carolina’s Band of Horses apart from countless other acts is frontman Ben Bridwell’s ability to create such smooth, lilting melodies that neither undermine nor contradict the band’s aesthetic, but instead perfectly complement the lazy guitar jangles. Infinite Arms has the sound of back porches and open skies, like Neil Young filtered through a wide-eyed, youthfulness. The title track may be the most beautiful song of the year.

5. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
A revolutionary freedom-cry in the conceptual guise of a science-fiction tale, Monae’s debut full-length album is a glorious fusion of classical, Motown/Soul, hip-hop, afropop, and rock elements. It plays like a retro-futurist cyber-punk Alice in Wonderland, and the sheer ambitious absurdity of it suggests that the whole thing shouldn’t work. But it does, because Monae believes so sincerely and wholeheartedly in herself as the voice of the downtrodden. The Archandroid is schizophrenic, borderline insane at times, yet it never feels messy. It is a collection of pure pop songs with surprising depth of ideas; Monae makes the political fun again. Most artists would be at pains to write a debut album half this good.

4. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Hipster icons, Arcade Fire, currently exist in a limbo where indie kids cry “sellout” from their ivory tower, and commercial popsters wonder “who is arcade fire?” It’s a lonely place, and frontman Win Butler takes stabs at the absurdity of both sides. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Butler sounds weary on “The Suburbs”, lamenting the loss of a simpler time when beauty was more readily accessible and appreciated. Comparing modernity to a wasteland, he has been unwillingly drafted into “a suburban war” where Dylan’s business men aren’t just thieves but vampires. When he sings on the title track “I want a daughter while I’m still young / I want to hold her hand / and show her some beauty / before all the damage is done”, it gets right to the heartbreak of desperation in a world of apocalyptic bleakness. The musical ideas are big — you can hear touches of The Rolling Stones (“City With No Children”) and power-punk rebellion (“Month of May”) amidst the band’s trademark baroque elements and particularly beautiful moments where Butler gives vocal priority to his wife, Régine Chassagne (“Half Light I”, “Sprawl II”). But the lyrical ideas are just as big, a balance that imbues the whole thing with a sense of hyper-urgency for its sheer realism and relentless honesty. For Butler and Co., The American Dream has come true, and revealed itself to be a nightmare.

3. The National - High Violet
While there is a polished arena sheen to The National’s fifth album, frontman Matt Berninger doesn’t need the Coldplay via Arcade Fire showmanship to be heard. His authenticity does that for him. With track titles like “Terrible Love” and “Afraid of Everyone”, he creates a sense of longing and displacement that perfectly captures “generation lost”, the ennui of the realization that what feels like young urban disconnect is actually just adulthood. It’s Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs in the heart of the city, and the sound is accordingly ceremonial and moody, melancholy and grandiose. Carried on Berninger’s baritone vocals and Bryan Devendorf’s beautifully layered drumming, High Violet surrounds and swells, simultaneously soothing and alienating. By the time the horns kick in partway through “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, you almost forget you’re nodding your head along to downer lyrics like “I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/I never thought about love when I thought about home.” You don’t have to be alone to be lonely.

2. Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Born out of tragedy — the band’s longtime bassist has been in a coma since a car accident in 2008 — Diamond Eyes sees an already unrivalled band reinvent themselves with an introspection they had yet to uncover. Weaving between ethereal softness (“Sextape”) and their trademark menace of heavily distorted guitars and Chino Moreno’s piercing screams (“Rocket Skates”), the band strikes a juxtaposition that hits viscerally. The melodies on this album are otherworldly, and the energy is intensified with desperation and passion. For its sheer seamlessness in subtle and severe tonal shifts, this may be the band’s best album to date, even more engaging in its complexity and evocative in its moods than 2000’s White Pony.

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Audacious and unbridled yet fine-tuned to perfection, West’s fifth full-length album is also his most cohesively fascinating. Fantasy takes stock of his divisive public persona in a way that is equal parts self-loathing and braggadocio. And like a post-modern Midas — “No one man should have all that power”, he raps—, he is acutely aware of the irony and tragedy of that paradox. The tenacity of West’s ambition is only equaled by the veracity of his introspection. No other artist rivals the fans in criticism of his own art, and subsequently demands as much perfection. Pulling from pop culture references and a cavalcade of guest stars and samples as diverse as Nicki Minaj, Gil Scott Heron, and Bon Iver, and submerging it all in lush orchestral ministrations and choric voices, West crafts a Fellini-esque comi-tragic hip hop opera that largely reinvents the genre as it goes along in a hallucinogenic meta-exorcism of his demons. The polar opposite of 2008’s subdued 808s & Heartbreak, Fantasy amps the spectacle up to max and revels in it. On “Monster”, a track with no less than four guest musicians, he sarcastically plays with a public that he knows loves to hate him, rapping “I’ma need to see your fuckin’ hands at the concert”. Do we need Kanye more than he needs us? Maybe, maybe not. But clearly he wants to tread the line between subhuman and superhuman and embody the most fundamental qualities of both worlds. Lonely on the top, the man with a god-complex wants us to bow down, and it’s hard not to comply.
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Best of 2010, Saskatchewan


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