Friday, December 31, 2010

Special: Gary's Top 25 Albums of 2010

Not a minute too soon (quite literally), my infinitely-hyped, overly-wordy and precisely-ordered rundown of the year’s best albums is finally here. (Hold the applause.)

From my personal perspective, it seemed as though 2010 had a lot of very solid releases, making it one of the better years in recent memory. The list is varied with doe-eyed newbies and grizzled veterans, dreamy lullaby-pop and ear-shattering mathcore, heady lyricism and stoners “just havin’ fun.” It isn’t perfect, it isn’t comprehensive, it isn’t good, but fuck it, it’s my twenty-five favorite albums of 2010. Drink it up:

25. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico DustyAlthough close to being deemed hip-hop’s Chinese Democracy (that dubious honor still belongs to Dre’s Detox), Big Boi’s debut has been long-awaited, to say the least. Luckily, it is finally here, and unlike Chinese Democracy, it is brilliant and transcends time and genre. With unlikely earworm hooks and Big Boi’s spot-on flow and lyrical craftsmanship, Sir Lucious Left Foot should pay dividends even for those with a cursory interest in hip-hop.
Key Tracks: “Shutterbugg”, “Tangerine”, “Shine Blockas”

24. No Age – Everything In Between – California indie punk duo No Age has taken their distinct, multilayered and noisy sound and refined it to a more nuanced, more expansive level on Everything In Between. While 2008’s superb Nouns had plenty of energetic highs and hazy lows, Everything In Between is just that: A blissful middle ground of more-than-superficial punk- and garage rock.
Key Tracks: “Glitter”, “Fever Dreaming”, “Shed and Transcend”

23. Beach House – Teen Dream – No, not Teenage Dream, but rather Teen Dream, Baltimore duo Beach House’s third LP of shockingly simple dream pop. With an intoxicating, atmospheric aesthetic mixed with gentle vocals, Teen Dream truly emits the dream vibe, as each song is colorful, vibrant and beautiful as they effortlessly wash over the listener.
Key Tracks: “Norway”, “Walk in the Park”, “Used To Be”

22. Holy Fuck – Latin The Canadian (!) instrumental outfit creates typical electronic-sounding music atypically, by using drums, bass, toy keyboards and other unusual instruments and by avoiding laptops and the like. Latin follows true to this vow, with nine smooth and groovy tracks constantly propelled by well-paced percussion. Battles fans itching for a follow-up to the magnificent Mirrored should be satiated in the interim with Latin.
Key Tracks: “Silva & Grimes”, “SHT MTN”, “P.I.G.S.”

21. Wavves – King of the Beach – An impressive comeback from last year’s Wavvves and all of Nathan Williams’ personal drama, King of the Beach is a much more refined album of hooky surf/stoner rock that is consistently contagious. With all of the surf- and garage-rock in 2010, King of the Beach stands alone as the most addicting and the most fun.
Key Tracks: “Post Acid”, “Idiot”, “Baby Say Goodbye”

20. Daughters – Daughters – Relentlessly propulsive and brutal for nearly twenty-eight minutes, Daughters is jampacked with frenetic fretwork, dizzying drums and schizoid time signatures. Somewhat reminiscent of Torche’s Meanderthal without the sludge and with more of a technical, mathcore sense, Daughters is a speedy set of noisy-yet-calculated wonderment.
Key Tracks: “The Theatre Goer”, “The Virgin”, “The Hit”

19. Glasser – Ring – Melodic and hypnotic, Cameron Mesirow dazzles on her debut, both with her mesmerizing voice and soaring, synthy soundscapes. Anyone familiar with Bat for Lashes will instantly get hooked to Ring for the very same qualities that Natasha Khan exudes so effortlessly.
Key Tracks: “Apply”, “Clamour”, “Plane Temp”

18. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis Perhaps the most exciting, energetic live band out there and unquestioned masters of mathcore, The Dillinger Escape Plan continue to impress on their fourth full-length. With unbelievably precise execution on every instrument at all times and Greg Puciato’s signature screaming, Option Paralysis will heighten all senses as it bludgeons and consumes the listener. Toss in some unapologetic experimentation, like the piano-laden “Widower” and the Nine Inch Nails-aping closer “Parasitic Twins”, and the end product is an exciting entry into the DEP canon.
Key Tracks: “Good Neighbor”, “Parasitic Twins”, “Room Full of Eyes”

17. Caribou – Swim – As paradoxical as it seems, Dan Snaith has made the perfect introspective dance record to be heard through headphones. Adopting more of an electronic sound, Swim abides by its name and flows fluidly from song to song, dazzling the senses with a myriad of evocative elements that coalesce precisely to overcome the listener.
Key Tracks: “Odessa”, “Kaili”, “Bowls”

16. Delorean – Subiza Spanish synth-poppers Delorean have crafted an exquisite set of expansive songs that will entrance one to dance. Showcasing shades of bands like Air France, Phoenix and vocals eerily like Noah Lennox of Animal Collective, these catchy and at-times atmospheric beats and dreamy vocals combine to make an irresistible summertime album.
Key Tracks: “Stay Close”, “Simple Graces”, “Infinite Desert”

15. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards After a forgettable debut, the blues-rock supergroup (including the likes of Jack White, Alison Mosshart of The Kills and Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age) came roaring back on their second attempt, and have solidified their sound as a bluesy classic rock outfit teeming with swagger. Grungy guitars, distinctive drumwork and slithering synth and organ abound on Sea of Cowards, all capped off by Mosshart’s trademark howls and yelps. Simply put, Sea of Cowards is an addicting shot of pure, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.
Key Tracks: “Die By The Drop”, “I’m Mad”, “Blue Blood Blues”

14. Liars – SisterworldMore than anything, experimental rockers Liars’ fifth LP plays like a horror movie. The songs seethe with creepiness and an uncertain forebodingness, and occasionally burst into an auditory attack. Whether it’s the orchestral elements, the whispered backing vocals, the seemingly lifeless repetition of a guitar riff, or simply the lyrics (“Life possession could be fun / Counting victims one by one”), Sisterworld succeeds in leaving an unsettling feeling and constant paranoia in the listener. Who knew bloodthirsty, borderline insanity could be so catchy and fun?
Key Tracks: “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant”, “The Overachievers”, “Here Comes All The People”

13. Foals – Total Life Forever – On just their second album, British band Foals has made significant strides forward from their debut without losing their math-y backbone and tablature. Still a Foalsian record at heart, the band can be seen exploring in a multitude of directions on Total Life Forever, perhaps none more striking than standout “Spanish Sahara”, a breathtaking seven minute journey with one of the most epic crescendos and satisfying peaks in a song this year. Although some tracks are more poppy and immediate (“This Orient”, “Miami”), the album as a whole is a grower that rewards upon subsequent listens.
Key Tracks: “Spanish Sahara”, “This Orient”, “What Remains”

12. Yeasayer – Odd Blood With Animal Collective’s mammoth 2009, some band had to step in and fill their shoes in 2010, and fellow Brooklynites Yeasayer probably came the closest to matching AC’s quirky experimentalism and aesthetic. Merriweather Post Pavilion this ain’t, Odd Blood is still packed with sonically soothing pop melodies and atypical psych- and freak-folk fun: Opener “The Children” does its best Fever Ray impression, “Rome” channels the catchiest Arabian beat, and “Madder Red” is a toned-down, down-on-one’s luck touching ballad that takes off during its chorus. At a lean ten tracks, Odd Blood is a well-crafted endeavor into the burgeoning genre of experimental pop music.
Key Tracks: “Madder Red”, “Ambling Alp”, “O.N.E.”

11. How To Dress Well – Love Remains Tom Krell has made one thing clear: Low fidelity is not just for punk music. Love Remains incorporates an at-times chilling ambience and a soulful delivery to create a truly emotional experience. The fidelity makes the lyrics incomprehensible at times, but it still works to dramatic effect rather than frustration. It is as if the songs are distant, foggy recollections of a past love, but like all memories, the details are scattershot. HTDW has made a strangely beautiful collection of lo-fi R&B and ambient music that becomes truly immersive.
Key Tracks: “You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’”, “My Body”, “Decisions”

10. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma – Steven Ellison is a beast. The multitalented producer responsible for a majority of the bumper music on Adult Swim has also made a fantastic, highly diverse album bordering on unclassifiable (in a good way). There exists a large chasm between an album with lots of influences and one that fuses said influences simultaneously, the latter case better describing Cosmogramma. FlyLo seamlessly integrates jazz, orchestra, electronica, and a plethora of other subgenres and sound effects to create a truly unique entity that stands alone as the most original album of the year.
Key Tracks: “Do The Astral Plane”, “Dance of the Pseudo Nymph”, “Zodiac Shit”

09. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach – Many adjectives encapsulate Plastic Beach, surprisingly only the third full-length from the entertaining animated group. If anything, it is quite the collaborative, multi-genre effort, as mastermind Damon Albarn calls on an eclectic cast of characters to assist, including Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Lou Reed and soul legend Bobby Womack. Plastic Beach turns out to be the Gorillaz’s most complete album, filled with varying emotion, from the silliness of “Superfast Jellyfish” to the pop euphoria of “On Melancholy Hill” to the slow and somber “Empire Ants.” All of this from a quartet of cartoon characters...if only more real bands made such sprawling, ambitious albums….
Key Tracks: “Empire Ants”, “Stylo”, “On Melancholy Hill”

08. Sleigh Bells – Treats If a band ever exemplified the sic-worthy descriptor “rawk”, it might be Sleigh Bells. Crudely put, they do cracked-out cheerleader chants. Mere seconds into the album, with the machine gun intro of “Tell ‘Em”, the listener is roped into their stomp-and-handclap, speaker-blowing world, and it is damn difficult to escape. There are moments of repose: standout “Rill Rill” is the sheer definition of the summertime classic, with its sun-drenched sound and sing-along sensibilities. Overall though, with song after song of pummeling guitar, bass and backbeat, Treats will damage your hearing and have you begging for more. One of the most refreshing debuts in recent memory.
Key Tracks: “Rill Rill”, “Tell ‘Em”, “Infinity Guitars”

07. Vampire Weekend – Contra – Vampire Weekend’s phenomenal debut made them indie household names. Contra thrust them into all of the other households. Like their debut, their sophomore effort is laden with meticulously-refined power- and chamber-pop, but with a bit more experimentation. Even so, Contra plays like an album that anyone in the world could dig, with infinitely hummable melodies and irresistibly warm structures. Simultaneously infectious and enduring, Vampire Weekend have cemented themselves among the more exciting bands in recent memory.
Key Tracks: “Horchata”, “White Sky”, “Giving Up The Gun”

06. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles II – Sophomore jinx be damned, the duo’s eponymous follow-up to their excellent, also self-titled debut improves on the original by tweaking their sporadic spasticity (“Doe Deer” excepted) and in turn cranking out some impressive, more mature songs. Words are hard to come by on II, but this is unabashedly a more melancholy and even sinister album, and the music paints this quite vividly with a plentiful palette of entrancing electronica. Also, lush landscapes abound at times, in which it is difficult not to get lost. II is a consistently solid album front-to-back and deserving to be among the year’s best.
Key Tracks: “Celestica”, “Baptism”, “Not In Love”

05. The Limousines – Get Sharp The best album this year that no one heard. Former Strata lead singer Eric Victorino and multi-instrumentalist Giovanni Giusti have joined forces to make one hell of a debut: Take catchy, electro-pop and mix it with an intoxicating falsetto, and get Passion Pit or at-times MGMT. The equalizer here is the fantastic lyrics on each track, whether it is the humorous contemplations of a one night stand on “Flaskaboozendancingshoes” or the all-too-real coming-of-age musings of “Very Busy People.” This powerful combination makes Get Sharp that rare record that will have you dancing and listening to the words.
Key Tracks: “Very Busy People”, “Triangle Circle Square”, “Internet Killed The Video Star”

04. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest – Atlanta quartet Deerhunter have followed up their excellent Microcastle with another fantastic album. Halcyon Digest plays so seamlessly: It is never too far-reaching, but it is a delight with focused attention. Frontman Brandon Cox tends towards the inclusive, but there are shining moments of radiance, like the “Nothing Ever Happens”-esque jam ending of “Desire Lines” or the slow-motion beauty of “Helicopter.” At times hazy and navel-gazing, at other times poignant punk-pop, the end result is a gradually addicting product that will abruptly end and demand another listen.
Key Tracks: “Helicopter”, “Desire Lines”, “He Would Have Laughed”

03. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs Not many bands could make a concept album about suburbia this interesting. Yet the adored indie vets do what they do best and thrust it to unheard-of grandiosity. This is tailor-made stadium rock, plain and simple, with the band always clicking together and producing instrumentally, lyrically and thematically satisfying music. The Suburbs is an hour-plus sprawling epic, propelled by striking immediacy and emotion and jam-packed with heavy themes of growing up and nostalgia, and the result is unavoidably engrossing.
Key Tracks: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, “Ready To Start”, “Suburban War”

02. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Yes, it’s that good. Forget every negative thing you’ve ever heard or thought about ‘Ye. Forget it all, listen to this album with unbiased ears, and realize why it is being universally praised. Every song is meticulously produced, with a stunningly refreshing sound defying the laws of hip-hop (including length: eight songs are five minutes or longer), all the while Yeezy’s flow and swagger never ceases. Nicki Minaj’s rap on “Monster” might very well be the best fucking minute-plus in music this year, but the album is literally littered with standout moments that it is simpler to call the whole thing brilliant. The man might be twisted (and a douchebag, asshole, etc.), but he recognizes it and takes the listener on a journey through his subconscious, which is at times dark, but mostly beautiful.
Key Tracks: “Runaway”, “Monster”, “Dark Fantasy”

01. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening If this is truly LCD’s last album, at least James Murphy and Co. are leaving on a high note. Every song here delivers in its own way, as Murphy uses all of his noticeable influences (punk, dance, electronica, new wave) to near-perfection. Whether it is the slow-build dance jam opener “Dance Yrself Clean”, the heartfelt yearning backed by melancholic synth on “I Can Change”, or the retro barnburner classic of “All I Want”, the album does not disappoint for a moment. Effortless interchange of genres, clever and meaningful lyrics and spot-on delivery: This Is Happening is the rare complete album.
Key Tracks: “All I Want”, “I Can Change”, “One Touch”

If you made it this far, congratulations! Here are some closing footnotes before I recede back into the darkness:

> As with every year, there are always those albums that I catch just in the nick of time. Perhaps with a bit more time, Das Racist’s Sit Down, Man and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s Before Today would have cracked the prestigious list somewhere. They are both very solid and different albums deserving of recognition and repeated listens.

> Apparently one of the most divisive albums of 2010, M.I.A.’s /\/\ /\ Y /\ was definitely not a bad record by any means. It was definitely no Kala, though. Ditto for Eminem’s Recovery: Better than Relapse, however, nowhere close to his first three albums.

> Is it just me or am I the only one who can never see the Teen Dream artwork?

> The Tron: Legacy soundtrack is not a Daft Punk album. What a fucking cocktease.

> God, Ke$ha sucks.

That’s it for me in 2010. Not a shitty way to kickoff the decade, for sure. Here’s to the release of that goddamned Avalanches album in 2011. Well…that’s my mama.