Music Blogs - Blogged Blog Directory Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Best of 2010: The Top 31 Albums of 2010

Remember Xanga?  Yeah, I barely do either.  Back on my old Xanga account, I posted my first "Best Albums of the Year" list in 2004.  That year, I gave the top spot to of Montreal's Satanic Panic in the Attic, an album that I still think deserves that designation.  This will be the seventh time that I've done this list, and judging at the way things have been going on the blog in 2010, it could be the last as well.  So before moving on, I'd like to look back at the other artists who have made it to top of this annual countdown.

  • 2004 - of Montreal: Satanic Panic in the Attic
  • 2005 - Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
  • 2006 - The Flaming Lips: At War with the Mystics
  • 2007 - Field Music: Tones of Town
  • 2008 - M83:  Saturdays=Youth
  • 2009 - Loney, Dear: Dear John
2010 was a phenomenal year for music, with excellent releases coming from artists I had previously hated, and others that I had never heard of.  Putting together a list of this size is never an easy undertaking for one person, but this year's was escpecially difficult considering the wealth of music released in 2010.  Enjoy the read, and make the most of the rest of this great year!

Surfing the Void#30:  Klaxons:  Surfing the Void - Aside from having easily the most amazing album artwork of this year (or perhaps ever!!), Klaxons' sophomore release is a thoroughly enjoyable rock record with dense instrumentation and curious melodical choices.  It is also a very dark album, or at least that's the vibe I'm getting from it.  My first run-in with this group was at a party earlier this year when a guy threw on the music video to "Magick."  I'm still recovering from that incident, though the moment was enough to make me want to check out Surfing the Void.  I'm glad I did.  Thanks, random dude!

#29:  Yelawolf:  Trunk Muzik Mixtape - Not to be confused with Trunk Musik 0-60, also released in 2010 (dude....variety...), Yelawolf's first release of the year is a pretty solid collection of rap music.  Oh the fun times I've had jamming out to "Mixin' Up the Medicine" and "Pop the Trunk!"  There's something about Yelawolf's energy and presence.  He embodies everything that made Eminem such a cool figure before he got fat and started making pop songs with Rihanna.  He might be the guy to save hip hop from itself.  Or he might just be some white trash, Travis Barker lookalike from Alabama.  Either way, this is a great album. And this coming from a guy who isn't really the biggest fan of the genre!

White Magic#28:  ceo:  White Magic - 80s pop stylings thrown on top of some amazing electronic pop music, sweetened with excellent lyricism: that's probably the best way to describe ceo's music.  The solo project from Swedish musician, Eric Berglund (formerly of The Tough Alliance), ceo picks up right where TTA left off, while still maintaining some uniqueness.  The electronic pop genre, since 2003, has really just been a bunch of also-rans playing catch up to The Postal Service, but that's not stopping me from loving it.  ceo is a great addition to the club!

Before Today#27:  Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti:  Before Today - I'm always weary when I read Pitchfork and see them ranting, raving, creaming over some artist that I've never heard of.  It's not that I think that every artist I've heard of is worth hearing, it's just that sometimes such ranting can lead to false hopes (case in point, Best Coast....worthless).  By the time I finally got around to listening to Before Today, I was so prepared for a letdown that it may have actually made me more open to liking what I was hearing.  This is an album so infatuated with 70s psych rock, that distinguishing it from that era of music can be difficult.  Everything about the instrumentation, effects, and fidelity of the music makes you think you're listening to an album that was made 35 years ago, and yet here we are in 2010.  Crazy, really.

Business Casual#26:  Chromeo:  Business Casual - At the end of 2007, I added a second writer to Audio Overflow, and her name was Jill (Hey Jill!).  Somewhere on her "Best of 2007" list was this band called Chromeo, whom I had never heard.  They looked like a fun group and everything, but I just never got around to listening to them.  So when I saw Business Casual in 2010, I immediately thought back to Jill (Hey Jill!) and her 2007 list.  I downloaded the album and was amazed, really.  Like Audio Overflow favorite, Wallpaper., Chromeo is kind of a tongue-in-cheek, funk pop band that knows how to let loose and have fun.  While they may be a bit more musically heavy-handed than Wallpaper., they still do their thing extremely well, and bring a lot of smiles and dancing along the way.  An adequate substitute if there ever was!

Sex Dreams And Denim Jeans#25:  Uffie: Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans - If you would have told me in 2007 that the chick who "rapped" on Justice's album would make a full-length album in 2010 and that it would make it to my year-end list, I would have made you regret that decision.  But alas, Uffie did make an album in 2010, and despite its fair share of garbage tracks, it's still pretty good - far better than her doppleganger (Ke$ha)!  Tracks like "Pop the Glock" and "ADD SUV" are flat-out great pop songs that benefit from Uffie's unique style and excellent team of producers.  So while other songs on this album have long been forgotten by me, these and a few others will continue to get plays for some time.  Whether her shelf life will extend a few more years has yet to be seen, but for now, kudos, Uffie.

Swim#24:  Caribou:  Swim - I bought my first Manitoba album back in 2004.  By the time Manitoba eventually became Caribou and Dan Snaith's music started gaining the kind of notoriety it always deserved, I had already stopped paying attention.  For some reason or another, I decided to listen to Swim in its entirety.  While it may be Snaith's most difficult album to date, it also contains some flat-out awesome songs, like the just-missed-the-top-31, "Odessa" and the amazing closer, "Jamelia."  It's certainly not an album I'd recommend to everyone, but if you're feeling rather adventurous, give it a spin.

Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall & John Oates#23:  The Bird and the Bee:  Interpreting the Masters Vol. 1 - The Bird and the Bee made it to 2009's end-of-year list with the expertly crafted Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, and they appear here in 2010 with a Hall and Oates cover album of all things!  I debated heavily as to whether such an album even qualifies for this list, but in the end, Interpreting the Masters is too good to not include.  In addition to masterful covers like, "Rich Girl," "Kiss On My List," and "Private Eyes," the duo is nice enough to include an original song as well ("Heard It On the Radio").  Sure, it may not be the most original album of the year, but it is a fun listen - and "Rich Girl" is awesome!

Have One on Me#22:  Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me - True story:  those tickets I bought to see Joanna Newsom in Houston over a month ago turned out to be worthless.  Such is life when you live in Houston and a show gets cancelled due to poor ticket sales.  But fret not, Cale, cause Ms. Newsom gave you more that enough music (read: WAY TOO MUCH MUSIC!!) to digest well into the new year.  Being a huge fan of 2006's Ys, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Have One On Me.  Being over 2 hours of music split over 3 CDs, it just felt way less cohesive than her previous efforts.  And while most of the album's songs are great, it is simply a lot of music to take in.  Is it good? Absolutely.  Just not the greatest.

Plastic Beach#21:  Gorillaz:  Plastic Beach - In my opinion, Gorillaz albums have always been "hit or miss" affairs, containing a few solid tracks along with a handful of throwaways.  Plastic Beach doesn't really change this much, but on Gorillaz's 3rd proper LP, Damon Albarn pushed the limits of what this little cartoon band could do.  Featuring appearances from the likes of Snoop Dogg and Gruff Rhys (odd couple, much?), Plastic Beach is a pop album so eclectic that it borders schizophrenic.  "Stylo" shows Albarn at his best, pulling excellent performances from Mos Def and Bobby Womack, and keeping the production minimal, yet exciting.  Meanwhile, "Superfast Jellyfish" has possibly the weirdest rap performance of the year, and one of the cathiest hooks as well.  There's something for everyone on this album, which is part of what makes it great.

Teen Dream [CD + DVD]#20:  Beach House:  Teen Dream - It took me a long while to fall in love with Beach House, and even longer to fall in love with Teen Dream.  It is "mood music" through and through; the kind of stuff you're not going to want to listen to without being in a certain mood.  And that's okay when the music is this solid!  My #1 song of 2010, "Zebra," kicks the album off right, capturing both melancholy and joy, with Victoria's soaring vocals and Alex's reliable guitar.  "Norway" is the track that caught everyone else's heart, and with good reason.  It's a lovely song - especially in a live setting (wow, just wow!).  The album is one to come back to occasionally, not visit consistently, and yet it remains dear to me even now - almost a year after its release.

Travellers in Space & Time#19:  The Apples In Stereo:  Travellers In Space and Time - Funny thing about this album: when it first released, I was absolutely in love with it!  I reviewed it favorably, named it a "Best New Music" selection, and listened to it on repeat for weeks.  Mistake.  Travellers is a terrific album, make no mistake, but after a few weeks of rocking out, I was done.  I haven't been back since.  Perhaps it was Robert Schneider's grating, nasally voice that did it for me, because it certainly wasn't due to a lack of pop hooks.  There are so many great songs on this album, that calling it the best album the band has released in the last decade isn't even a stretch.  It's an awesome collection of retro, disco-influenced pop music - I'm just bored with it now.  Still, if you love your twee, indie pop, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  For realsies.

#18:  Das Racist:  Sit Down, Man - A friend threw out a pretty solid criticism on Das Racist a few weeks ago, namely that they rap about nothing most of the time.  I'll admit, it's true, and yet there's something incredibly endearing to me about a hip hop group that doesn't take itself too seriously and is able to spit out more pop culture references on a single verse than most artists could muster on an entire album.  That, and some of these rhymes are just too damn clever!  Take, for example, the wonderful, "I'm counting Jacksons with black friends, counting tens and Benz's with white friends.  Wonder if suicide is a largely white trend.  Google it later and confirm that.  Aight then."  Sit Down, Man may not be at the forefront of socially-conscious hip hop ("Man, he's so conscious!"), but it is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.  And regardless of lyrical content, some of these rhymes are just insane.  It makes learning the lyrics both a tedious task and a personal achievement.

Permalight#17:  Rogue Wave:  Permalight - And the award for worst-named album of the year goes too.... In all seriousness, 2010 was a make or break year for Rogue Wave.  Their first two albums are two of my favorites from the last decade, and yet by the time their third came around, I was pretty much worn out with the direction they were heading.  Permalight shook things up a lot by adding in more refined production and a lot of electronic flourishes.  "Good Morning (The Future)" is perhaps the album's greatest achievement, proving that the band who once sounded like an Elliott Smith rip-off is capable of breaking out of that mold and doing something entirely unexpected.  And for as divisive as Permalight is for Rogue Wave fans, one has to be excited that the group is still trying new things and expanding their sound, rather than regress or remain stagnant.  I'll give 'em props for that!

All Delighted People#16:  Sufjan Stevens:  All Delighted People EP - Seven years in, and this may be the first time I've ever added an EP to this list.  The obvious reason for making an exception with this particular album is that it's well over an hour in length and contains more amazing songs that most artists could muster on a proper LP.  All Delighted People is the precursor to Sufjan's 2010 LP, The Age of Adz, coming out of nowhere last summer and being overshadowed by its big brother just a few months later.  While its time in the spotlight is brief, it is an important collection of music because it represents the death rattle of the 50-states era of tunes; a dumping ground for a lot of ideas (great ideas!) that didn't really suit the direction that Sufjan wanted to take with his music.  The Age of Adz is a great record by almost all accounts, but that doesn't mean that longtime fans didn't want some classic Sufjan either.  All Delighted People is perhaps best viewed, then, as a gift to those who waited patiently for 5 years for Sufjan to drop some new music.  Not a bad gift, either.

Lights#15:  Ellie Goulding:  Lights - With the exception of two songs, Lights is an album of flawless pop music.  Girly pop music?  Absolutely!  But with production this amazing, a voice this talented, lyrics this affecting, and hooks this strong, Lights should be able to win over even the most masculine of dudes.  Does that mean I don't get embarassed when a driver pulls up next to me at an intersection and sees me jamming out to "Salt Skin?"  Of course not.  But do I know that "Salt Skin" is probably better than whatever bullshit they're likely listening to?  Yeah.  And that makes me feel pretty good about myself.

Wild Hunt#14:  The Tallest Man On Earth: The Wild Hunt - Thank you Adam Holloway for seeing a random SXSW show a few years ago and introducing all of us to The Tallest Man On Earth!  If it weren't for that chance encounter, I probably never would have checked out The Wild Hunt or any of the brilliant songs contained therein.  Folk music - I mean real folk music - has never been something to come easy to me, and Kristian Matsson's music as The Tallest Man On Earth is no exception.  The guy's voice isn't exactly what you'd call "smooth as butter" (side note: if you call anything "smooth as butter" go ahead and consider us unfriended), but his lyrics are both entertaining and deep, and his melodies are flawless as well.  There's hardly a song on The Wild Hunt that I wouldn't want to listen to if you were to turn it on, and that's saying a lot!  Listen to "Burden of Tomorrow" if you haven't heard it, and you may just fall in love too.

Halcyon Digest#13:  Deerhunter:  Halcyon Digest - The first time I ever checked out a Deerhunter song, I was pretty unimpressed.  Same with Atlas Sound.  Nothing by Bradford Cox ever really did it for me.  I reluctantly checked out Halcyon Digest in November out of sheer boredom, and even then I didn't really enjoy it.  Eventually, however, these songs clicked with me and I just sort of got it.  It's rare these days to hear indie rock music that doesn't have a gimmick - just music for the sake of making music.  I think Deerhunter, or at least the Deerhunter on Halcyon Digest embodies that idea fairly well.  While there's nothing technically impressive about this album, nothing particularly noteworthy about many of these songs, they all have their role in forming this incredible whole.  This album has only grown on me over time, and I see a whole lot more Cox in my future (yep...went there).

Field Music (Measure)#12:  Field Music: Measure - Scroll back up to the top of this article and you'll see that my 2007 Album of the Year was Tones of Town by a little band called Field Music.  After that amazing album, and a brief haitus, the Brothers Brewis returned with a double album filled to the brim with pristine pop music.  It's the kind of stuff your cool aunt, your best friend, and your dad could listen to and all enjoy with equal fervor.  And while Measure has a ton of music to take in and digest, not all of it goes down as easy as it should.  At 20 full songs, there are bound to be a few filler tracks in there.  Sure, there isn't really a terrible song on the album, but some just feel incomplete of out of place.  Still, there are moments on Measure where everything flows together perfectly, much like it did on Tones of Town, and the band shows no lack of creativity.  The 3-song suite that opens the second disc of Meaure is a particularly impressive collection of songs, showing great range and musicianship.  Field Music isn't exactly well-known, but they deserve to be.  Measure makes that abundantly clear.

Contra#11:  Vampire Weekend:  Contra - Vampire Weekend had another great year in 2010, starting with topping the Billboard charts and then finishing up the year with a pretty awesome tour.  Sure they got into a little trouble with that album cover along the way, but a little bump in the road to becoming millionaires is a small price to pay.  Contra may not be the instant classic that their debut was, but it follows up on the momentum of Vampire Weekend and diversifies the band's sound in the process.  "Horchata" alone shows such musical growth, that any further discussion on the topic seems unnecessary.  Take "Taxi Cab" and "Giving Up the Gun" into consideration, and its clear that Vampire Weekend is not a band to just sit back and do their thing.  The band is constantly pushing the limits of their tightly-defined sound, and that's part of what makes Contra such an enjoyable listen.  Also, it's a lot of fun!

Treats#10:  Sleigh Bells:  Treats - What is Sleigh Bells?  Sleigh Bells is really badass guitar riffs fed through a few distortion pedals and shot out of a wall of amps.  Sleigh Bells is a hot, tatooed chick singing about nothing, but doing so in a manner that you want to sing about nothing too.  Sleigh Bells is that moment on the third verse of "Infinity Guitars" where your speakers seem to be pleading with you "HOLY SHIT, I WASN'T MADE FOR THIS!!!  MAKE IT STOP!!"  Sleigh Bells is all of these things, and it's also one of the most inventive pop albums I've ever heard.  It is a near-flawless combination of pop, rock and dance music, and an album I can easily say must be listened to!  So go listen to it.

Write About Love#9:  Belle and Sebastian:  Write About Love - One of the more pleasant surprises this year was the latest from Belle and Sebastian.  After I grew tired of The Life Pursuit, I more or less thought that I had worn out the Scottish, indie-pop stalwarts.  I checked out Write About Love under the assumption that it would be something that was solid, sure, but nothing that I would particularly care about.  I was so wrong about that one.  Write About Love is not justa better album than its predecessor, it blows it away on almost every level!  Everything from the melodies, the variety, and the guest vocalists is practically perfect.  I've enjoyed this album so much that I've even gone back to listen to The Life Pursuit a few times to find that it's actually still pretty awesome too!  Wins all around!

Crystal Castles (II)#8:  Crystal Castles:  Crystal Castles (II) - Picking up right where they left off the first time around, Canadian electro-punk duo, Crystal Castles returned in 2010 with an album that smooths out some of their rougher edges yet continues to deepen what they already do so well.  Tracks like "Empathy" or "Celestica" show the band with a more refined sound, while others like the nightmare-enducing "Doe Deer" prove that the band still hasn't given up their schtick entirely.  Having seen the band twice this year, I am perhaps more in love with them than I should be (which could explain the high ranking on this list).  But Crystal Castles is just a flat-out impressive album in so many ways, that I'd feel terrible not placing it so high on this list.  I've been listening to it consistently since its release, and I've still got a long way to go before I get sick of it.

The Age of Adz#7:  Sufjan Stevens:  The Age of Adz - I think there were very few Sufjan Stevens fans out there who actually wanted an album like Age of Adz.  After five years of waiting for a proper follow-up to Illinois, I'm willing to bet that most of us were totally in the mood for some banjos, and guitars, and strings, and soft little tunes about historical figures.  Right?  Right.  But even though Adz is nothing like what I envisioned or hoped it would be, it is perhaps the exact album that it needed to be.  It is the album that Sufjan needed to reassert his place in the indie music world; one that separates him from his past without fully abandoning it; one that doesn't simply build off of a single idea, but combines all his best ideas from the last decade to create something beyond reproach.  No, The Age of Adz is not our ideal album, but it may just be perfect in spite of that.

Odd Blood#6:  Yeasayer:  Odd Blood - On November 4th, a reader by the name of Mr. Shuffleupagus left a comment on one of my posts decrying my lack of "love" for Yeasayer, particularly their new album Odd Blood.  Well, prior to that post, my only run in with the band was in a friend's vehicle earlier this year when he played me "Ambling Alp."  But thanks to the suggestion of Mr. Suffleupagus, I decided to check out Odd Blood. What an awesome album!  Even in listening to opener, "The Children," I knew I was in for something special.  But as the album progressed and revealed itself as a masterpiece of modern pop/rock music, I began to fall in love.  Songs like "Love Me Girl" and "O.N.E." expertly blend elements of experimental rock and pop music, keeping things consistently interesting and exciting.  Hell, "Rome" sounds like a modern day "Ballroom Blitz." I'd love the album just for that!  If you're a fan of intersting pop music, especially that of the 80s variety, do yourself a favor and listen to this album.

Together#5:  The New Pornographers:  Together - I was listening to this album the other day and it suddenly struck me how much better it is than Challengers, the band's 2007 album.  When it was first released, it was pretty clear, but as I listen to it months later and find that the songs are still so freaking enjoyable, the melodies still so catchy, I can't help but reemphasize its awesomeness!  Together is a fantastic album, capturing inspired performances from every member of the band.  My favorite songs is still "Up in the Dark," but there's really not a bad one on here.  Even "Moves," which I found myself skipping over months ago, has recently made it back onto my playlist.  If you liked Twin Cinema but found yourself a little disappointed by Challengers, go ahead and give the band another try.  No one does power pop better!

Congratulations#4:  MGMT:  Congratulations - There is nothing easy about this album.  It is a piece of music that reveals its greatness slowly.  When I first downloaded it, I more or less stopped listening to it because I couldn't find a song like "Kids" or "Electric Feel".  For some reason, though, I came back to it and gave it another shot.  And I liked it a lot!  Upon review, I gave it a 7 out of 10 star rating and went on my merry way.  But Congratulations wasn't done with me.  Songs that I didn't get, like "Siberian Breaks" I started to appreciate in ways that I never thought I would.  Others, like "Flash Delirium" got even better!  These days, its hard for me to fins anything about Congratulations that I don't absolutely love.  So yeah, it's difficult, but if you stick with it, you won't be disappointed.

False Priest#3:  of Montreal:  False Priest - If ever a year goes by when you don't see an of Montreal album in the Top 5 of an Audio Overflow countdown, one of two things has likely occurred.  1.) There was no of Montreal album released that year, or 2.) I've died.  Fortunately for all of us, I'm still alive and able to enjoy (on a daily basis) the fruits of False Priest, the latest album from Kavin Barnes and Co.  After 2008's Skeletal Lamping a lot of people pretty much assumed that Barnes had gone off the deep end, lost in an endless terrain of schizophrenic musical ideas.  On False Priest, things have largely been toned down, but the band is still pushing boundaries.  Barnes' vocals in particular are breaking new grounds, hitting falsetto notes left and right, and barking out passionate cries as well.  Like most of the band's records, it may take a while to adjust to, but False Priest is badass.  That's really the best way I can describe it.

The ArchAndroid#2:  Janelle Monae:  The ArchAndroid - Like many, I would imagine, I was in the dark on this whole "Janelle Monae" thing until I saw her amazing performance on The Late Show.  That YouTube video caught my attention, and was followed a few days later with excellent reviews.  So I checked out The ArchAndroid, not sure what to expect.  What I got was easily the best female pop album in years, and one of the most inventive collection of music I've ever heard!  Everything is explored here, from full orchestral pieces to pop music, from R&B to rock and roll.  There's even a full-blown of Montreal song just sort of hanging out there in the middle of the album.  And you know what?  It all works!  Flawlessly!  In just a few months, Janelle Monae has cemented herself as one of the greatest entertainers around.  And if you get a chance, check out the live show! 

This Is Happening

#1:  LCD Soundsystem:  This is Happening - There was a time when I absolutely hated LCD Soundsystem.  That time was pre-2007, pre-Sound of Silver.  Back then, I just didn't get what the big deal was about; how someone could seriously dig this kind of music.  Sound of Silver made me a believer, proving that James Murphy actually has something to say over those repetitive dance beats.  With This is Happening, the guy has made his masterpiece, assembling an album that is funny, heavy, funky, and complex.  Of all the albums release in 2010, this one has given more joy than the others combined.  Just listening to "Pow Pow" around other people and watching their reactions is priceless!  Hearing the subtle genius of "Dance Yrself Clean" or "Drunk Girls" is equally as rewarding, but nowhere near as awesome as seeing the band do their thing live!  Best live show I've ever seen?  Pretty damn close.  But enough about that!  Back to the album.  Which is awesome.  You should get it.  Yeah.

Peace out, 2010!


Anonymous said...

first I read your review about uffie s album then I came to your favourite albums list for 2010 then you lost any kind of credibility

Cale said...

Having just lost your respect, I see no point in continuing blogging, o anonymous poster. Your words have dissected my greatest flaw, my Achilles heel, and exposed me for what I truly am; a dude who writes his opinions about music from his bedroom when he's bored. How can I ever find the motivation to continue such a sad endeavor after such a scathing attack on my credibility.

Simply, I cannot. I must find something else to occupy my time.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic content. Thank you for discussing

Anonymous said...

seriously nice awareness information discussing, anticipate this is actually a good choice for people

Larissa said...

Mr Shuffleupagus loves your new Yeasayer passion and your blog.

I made a year-end list myself, and we overlap in places:

Your site is one of the main reasons I started music blogging in the first place.

Keep it up.

Na Zd'rovye

Anonymous said...

Thank you for revealing your experience relating to this matter.