My Favorite Albums of 2010 Pt. 2

Here is Pt. 2 of My Favorite Albums of 2010 list. This is not a best of list. It is merely a list of my 10 favorite albums released this year. Check back later this week for my Favorite Songs of the Year list. Peace!

Robyn performs at Pitchfork in Chicago/Photo Credit: CajunTomato

10. Lisbon by The Walkmen. The song I listened to the most on iTunes this year belonged to The Walkmen. Oddly enough, it didn’t come from Lisbon. I pressed play on “New Country,” an earnest tune off Lisbon’s predecessor, You & Me, about accepting change, more than any song. That’s not an indictment on Lisbon. Hardly. Lisbon contained a host of memorable moments from the swaying entrance of “Juveniles” to the unabashed electricity of “Angela Rock City” and the downtrodden, yet hopeful horns of “Stranded.” There was a time, probably around A Hundred Miles Off, when I wondered if I was simply outgrowing The Walkmen’s brand of polished, yet eloquently haggard rock’n’roll. That’s an obsolete thought now. The Walkmen have grown on me, and I have grown with them. Recommended songs: “Juveniles” “Victory”

9. The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monae. I don’t remember how I first heard about Janelle Monae. It might have been on YouTube or Letterman or a thousand different avenues. But the first time I watched her perform “Tightrope,” the joyous, toe-tapping first single of The ArchAndroid, I knew I was in love. Her charisma, her voice, her moves, they all screamed star. Maybe because of how good “Tightrope” is, I didn’t explore The ArchAndroid for some time. It’s possible I was afraid of disappointment. There is nothing to be disappointed about on The ArchAndroid, however. It is Monae’s unique, futuristic vision, which is self-evident in a live setting, but also on album. She is just as comfortable sailing across upbeat numbers (i.e., “Cold War” “Come Alive”) as she is with slower fare (i.e., “Oh Maker,” the affects-laden “Mushrooms and Roses”).  There is the feeling with Monae’s music that anything is possible, and that she is brave enough to risk failure in order to pursue an idea. Whether this changes as she moves forward is impossible to say. But I plan to watch and listen as her career advances. Recommended songs: “Tightrope” “Cold War”

8. This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem. The first few times I heard This Is Happening I pegged it for a dud. Maybe I put too high expectations on James Murphy. Or maybe I wanted a repeat of Sounds of Silver, one of my desert island albums. This Is Happening proved a grower for me, though. Surprising since I don’t view LCD Soundsystem’s music as the kind that unfurls layers. It is there. It is excellent. End of story. This is a different story, albeit with the same wounded, aging hipster (Murphy) playing the lead role. The excellent “Dance Yrself Clean” could serve as a Cliff’s Notes for my experience with this album. Three minutes go by and still nothing. Then the percussion and synths drop and it’s positively orgasmic. LCD Soundsystem hits its stride in the album’s middle with the sterling one-two punch of “All I Want” and “I Can Change,” before shooting into the stratosphere with the sublime “Home,” which stands side-by-side with “All My Friends” as my favorite James Murphy song. Recommended songs: “Home” “All I Want”

7. Body Talk Pt. 1 by Robyn. It befuddles me that Robyn isn’t bigger in America than she is. When I mention her name to others, the response generally borders along the lines of “Didn’t she have that one song back in the day?” Yes, I answer, it was called “Show Me Love.” Of course that song is to Robyn what “Creep” is to Radiohead – it’s an early work that put them in the public consciousness, but turned out to be an artistic low point. Robyn released three Body Talk mini-albums this year, which given the consistency of their quality should have vaulted her among the world’s pop stars. Whether it did or not, it didn’t seem to make much of a dent in America, which is a shame. Nothing on American pop radio compared with “Dancing On My Own,” an impeccable heartbreak song that should have set dance clubs on fire from coast to coast. Robyn sounded just at ease trying on Jamaican rhythms on “Dance Hall Queen” and “None of Dem.” The acoustic number “Hang With Me” is stunning in its emotional breadth. I’ll say it again: I don’t understand why she isn’t bigger in this country.  Recommended songs: “Dancing On My Own” “Hang With Me (acoustic)”

6. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler grew up outside Houston. Poor guy. That city sucks. All sprawl, no soul. On Arcade Fire’s third album, Butler fleshes out a vision of the suburbs that borders between the apocalyptic and apathetic. “By the time the first bomb dropped, we were already bored,” he sings on the title track. As The Suburbs moves forward, Butler’s vision turns to empty rooms, cities with no children in them and finally a suburban war. Imagine that: Win Butler’s not a white picket fence, apple pie kind of guy. There’s no sunshine here. But that’s ok. The music is arresting, providing a disorienting backdrop for Butler’s suburban nightmares. Among the highlights are the pensive keys on “We Used to Wait,” the spiraling guitar work of “Ready to Start” and the rushed aural assault of “Month of May.” A glimmer of light appears in the form of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), a song that can best be described as Regine Lassagne’s Blondie turn. Taken as a whole, The Suburbs does not surpass The Funeral as Arcade Fire’s best because it lacks the immediacy of that work. But it is a worthwhile addition to the canon of what is quickly becoming one of popular music’s great bands. Recommended songs: “Ready to Start” “Month of May”

5. High Violet by The National. I have no reservations admitting I enjoy sad bastard music from time to time. I don’t consider myself a sad bastard. I just enjoy a mature person expressing mature thoughts in the form of song. (Speaking of mature: I enjoy Ying Yang Twins, too.) The National, a five-piece from Brooklyn by way of Cincinnati, are the champions of sad bastard music today, largely because of vocalist Matt Berninger’s mournful baritone and his downtrodden turns of phrase. “Sorrow found me when I was young, sorrow waited, sorrow won,” Berninger begins “Sorrow.” Amazingly, despite his sad bastard persona, Berninger avoids throwing outright pity parties. He’s just a man in love with someone who has moved on, in many cases. He needs space and, perhaps, chemical help. When he offers, “I don’t have the drugs to sort it out,” on “Afraid of Everyone,” it is alternately a cry for help and a self-prescription for more alone time than at first thought. It’s an interesting thing listening to Berninger drive down a slippery road, emotionally speaking. It helps that the songs are uniformly strong, particularly in the percussion department. It all culminates with the majestic “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” Indeed, the songs here are so good that it’s easy to selfishly root against Berninger finding happiness. Recommended songs: “Sorrow” “Bloodbuzz Ohio”

4. The Monitor by Titus Andronicus. I wrote off The Monitor before hearing a note or chord. I read the album was loosely based on The Civil War and decided it was not for me. Frankly, it sounded like Ken Burns at band camp. No thanks. Then I heard New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus perform live in Chicago this summer and my opinion did a hasty 180. To quote resident Stone Temple Pilots shitshow Scott Weiland: “There is rock, there is rock’n’roll and there is rock’n’fucking roll.” Titus Andronicus earned the latter distinction with The Monitor, a batch of barn-burners that double as fantastic shout-along material. Credit goes to frontman Patrick Stickles. He wears his emotions on his sleeves and it’s contagious. “Four Score and Seven” qualifies as one of the most glorious songs I have ever heard. It makes me want to pick up a guitar or a musket or both and just lose my mind. “But I wasn’t born to die like a dog, I was born to die just like a man,” Stickles wails, pausing before shouting, “I was born to die just like a man” once more for good measure. Album opener, “A More Perfect Union,” all but matches “Four Score and Seven” stride for stride in the kick ass department, while “To Old Friends and New” is a piano ballad as pretty as the aforementioned song is kick ass. The Civil War will never again be this awesome. Recommended songs: “Four Score and Seven” “A More Perfect Union”

3. Thank Me Later by Drake. My mind tells me I shouldn’t like Drake this much, but my ears say otherwise. The music world anointed him as the next hip-hop great on the strength of a few mixtapes, which were hit and miss. And that irritated me. He had the earmarks of someone handed a prize without earning it. I was wrong. Drake’s Thank Me Later is a bombastic symphony featuring the year’s catchiest hooks not penned by Kanye West. It’s easy to understand why Drake, a former child actor, is confident in the booth. His delivery is smooth, his verses hit the right balance between bravado and reflective and the beats that back him are A+ grade. Drake walks the tightrope between arrogance and vulnerability on his best choruses, creating earworms. “I just hope that you think of me,” he repeats on “Unforgettable,” with Young Jeezy riding shotgun. “Over” reflects on his meteoric rise to the hip-hop’s summit, the changes that come with such a transition and his aim to remain on top. In the midst of his first verse, he spits a line near and dear to my heart. “Point the biggest skeptic out, I’ll make them a believer,” he dispatches. Consider me among the faithful. Recommend songs: “Unforgettable” “Over”

2. Teen Dream by Beach House. There is no grand statement on Teen Dream. No oversized boasts. No blistering rock your face off jams. Then why did it chart so high on my favorite albums of the year list? Victoria Legrand’s husky voice is a good place to start. It is a spellbinding, mesmerizing, bewitching instrument capable of transporting the listener to lovely dreamscapes. Plus, guitarist Alex Scally’s shimmering tones create worlds for Legrand’s tales of love lost to habitat and expand. The lurching, otherworldly “Walk in the Park” captures the essence of its song title exquisitely. “In a matter of time you would slip from my mind,” Legrand exhales, as if this is a mere formality. Album centerpiece “10 Mile Stereo” blossoms from its swirling, melodic guitar origin into a wondrous roux of guitar, keys and Legrand’s voice at its yearning, mystic best. Love always seems out of her reach or in her rearview mirror (see: “Used To Be”). But this is hardly sad bastard music. More than any other Beach House release Teen Dream sees Legrand’s voice and outlook coming into the light, if only for a little while, and breathing a sigh (i.e., “Norway”). Those seeking grand statements, boasts or blistering jams are encouraged to look elsewhere. Those seeking magic will find plenty in Teen Dream. Recommended songs: “Walk In The Park” “Zebra”

1. My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. Say what you want about Kanye … he’s a douchebag, an asshole, a scumbag. He’s also my generation’s greatest pop artist. That is not up for debate after My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy. His G.O.O.D. Friday series, which he released free via his web site this year, was amazing both in content and consistency. That collection of songs could have easily been the best of the year. West took it a step further with My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy, which included songs previously released as part of the G.O.O.D. Friday series and never before released material. The result was nothing short of stunning – a guaranteed best of the decade selection and the decade is still in its infancy. The album’s back story – Kanye’s Taylor Swift/VMA’s debacle, his subsequent self-imposed isolation – only served to humanize him, where before his bloated and seemingly impenetrable ego made him hard to root for. It also served to energize him. Amazing given the type of public humiliation he faced would have made most shrink. Not Kanye. My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy sees his oversized ego intact, and that is a great thing for music fans. There is pain here but there is a lot of joy. And the sheer scope of the enterprise is audacious. “Power” is a coronation, an immense track that more than lives up to the superhero theme music billing Kanye proudly gives it. Years from now music writers will point to “Monster” as the moment when Kanye went from being great to a living legend. It’s not so much Kanye’s verse; it’s his ability to conduct a song, with different voices and styles, that could have been a trainwreck and make it something timeless. Nicki Minaj’s verse needs to be heard. It is stone cold. “Pink wig, thick ass, give ‘em whiplash,” indeed. Kanye closes My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy with the timeless “Lost In The World,” a song that I instantly fell in love with as soon as I heard it. Kanye’s ability to use Bon Iver, a folk singer, and seamlessly incorporate him into two of the best tracks on My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy still makes me shake my head. Gorgeous stuff. “Let’s break out this fake ass party, turn this into a classic night,” has become something of a creed of mine. Seize the day, seize the night, just like Kanye seized 2010. It is a noble goal. Recommended songs: “Lost In the World/Who Will Survive In America” “Monster” “Power” “All Of The Lights”

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