At long last, here are my top albums of 2010. Hope you enjoy the list.
10 Jonsi – Go
Jonsi is the guitarist and vocalist for the post-punk Icelandic band Sigur Ros, which is apparently on an indefinite hiatus. Go marks his first proper solo album and also the first he’s sung mostly in English as opposed to Icelandic or Hopelandish, a made up language Jonsi claims is more like another instrument.
Another distinction between Go and previous efforts is the upbeat tempo. I like Go because it makes me feel happy.
Featured track: “Go Do”
9. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire
School of Seven Bells (SVIIB) was a trio comprised of twins Claudia and Alejandra Dehaza (formerly of On!Air!Library!) and Benjamin Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines). Claudia left the band about 6 months ago, 3 months after their sophomore album debuted.
Disconnect from Desire catapults you head first into its largess with “Windstorm”, said to be reminiscent of U2 whose Edge is rumored to be quite taken by the trio. Personally, I don’t hear U2 in “Windstorm” but it’s a great track. If you’ve never listened to SVIIB before, it’s the harmonies sung by the sisters that immediately draw you in. They’re a focal point of most of the songs on the album, including the powerful “Dust Devil”, where the sisters sing “I know you …” repeatedly amidst a powerful backdrop of pulsating drums, beats, and quirky synths that build to a crescendo and then gracefully place the listener front and center in the face of my favorite track on the album, “ILU”. “I want you to know that… I loved you,” sings Alejandra as the background sound that engulfs her takes on an a undulating and beautiful warp, paying homage to My Bloody Valentine circa “ Soon“.
Yes, shoe-gazing giants MBV and M83 certainly seem to influence the general feel of SVIIB and in particular, Disconnect from Desire. Featured track: “Dust Devil”. The video below is an acoustic version of the song.
8. Vampire Weekend – Contra
The Whitest Band in the World have certainly delivered one of 2010’s most eclectic offerings with influences from across the globe.
These include ska on “Holiday” (used in Tommy Hilfiger ads) plus synths, rap, and Latin beats throughout.
Ezra Koenig and his Columbia University pals have a long future in pop music
if they continue to turn out songs like “Holiday” and “Cousins”.
Watch them playing the featured track “Run” live in KCRW’s studios.
7. Robyn – Body Talk
It’s unfortunate that Sweden’s Robyn will be warming up for Katy Perry this summer when it should be the other way around. But hopefully the exposure she gets from that experience may influence Ms. Perry’s few intelligent fans to spread the word about Robyn. After a year of mild success as a manufactured syrupy pop singer in the late 90’s, Robyn started over in 2007 and released her self-titled album to strong critical success and marked commercial exposure. Robyn ignored industry influences and did it her way, releasing edgy pop that’s performed with pure energy. She recently toured Body Talk (a compendium of three Body Talk Eps) that were also released as the second album since her comeback. There’s no diva-like behavior, no costume changes, just pure delivery and with a voice that doesn’t quit. Hopefully, all of this talent will someday make Robyn a household name. Featured track: “Time Machine”.
6. John Grant – Queen of Denmark
Queen of Denmark was one of the most underrated achievements of 2010 but luckily rated Album of the Year by the well-respected Mojo magazine. American born Grant is a troubled and talented renaissance man, artist, and speaker of many languages including German and Russian. After the split of his band Czars, which I describe as “doom folk”, he slid deeper into a life of drug and alcohol addiction as he struggled with his sexuality. Fortunately, he made it through this time and with the urging and collaboration of his friends from the the band Midlake, he started working again. Fleetwood Mac-inspired Midlake provide all the instrumentation for Queen of Denmark and the result is a piece of work that’s at times sad and lonely, and at others funny, beautiful and hopeful. Featured track: JC Hates Faggots.
5. Villagers – Becoming a Jackal
Villagers are an Irish band whose debut album was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2010. Lead vocalist and songwriter Conor Obrien could be compared to another indie sensation named Conor, from “Bright Eyes” but his voice and lyrics are more brooding. He sings so clearly and often tells stories in Villagers songs, some of which could easily be used in an EFL lesson for these reasons. With such a prominent debut, Villagers have a bright future ahead of them.
Featured track: That Day
4. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Damon Alburn’s Gorillaz are now more well known than his original band Blur, famous for 90’s Britpop. What started in 1998 as a project that combined rock, hip hop, and pop music with a virtual world of cartoon characters including Tank Girl created by Jamie Hewitt, Gorillaz has become a proper music collective with Damon at the helm. Each consecutive album—the self-titled debut, Demon Days, and Plastic Beach has been more successful than the former and each has brought them more worldwide fans and bigger stages to perform on. Plastic Beach features guest performances by Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Gruff Rhys, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Kano, Bashy, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, sinfonia ViVA, and The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. The featured track, Stylo, features Damun, Bobby Womack, and Mos Def. Featured Track: Stylo.
3 The National – High Violet
The National’s unmistakable sound is attributable to lead vocalist Matt Berninger’s distinctive barritone, a voice type not often heard in pop music. Although originally from Cincinnati, Berninger and the two pairs of brothers that make up The National are mostly thought of as a quintessentially Brooklyn band. Their 5 albums and 2 eps traverse various genres including Americana, alt-country, and punk. Influences undoubtedly include REM, Springsteen, and lo-fi bands like Pavement. High Violet is the album that catapulted The National from indie cult favorites to indie stars, landing them an uninterrupted Youtube broadcast from BAM and multiple appearances on Late-night talk shows. Their songs are mostly sad, heartfelt stories of love gone wrong or regret, but delivered with such beautiful vocals and instrumentation, that a sense of hope is inferred. Bloodbuzz Ohio is the featured track.
2 Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
2010 was most definitely a year for indie bands to be thrust into the limelight. And there’s not a better example of this than Arcade Fire, whose third proper album “The Suburbs” debuted at #1 in the U.S., the UK, Ireland, and their home, Canada. Its release was followed by a series of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, the first of which was broadcast on Youtube and directed by Terry Gilliam. MSG was the largest venue Arcade Fire had ever performed in and Pavel, Adi, and I can tell you personally, they pulled it off brilliantly.
Some of their “indie” fans viewed all this success as suspicious, thinking that it will make them “sell out”. Such idiocy was hopefully put to rest when Barbara Streisand could hardly pronounce their names as she announced their winning Album of the Year at The Grammies. This, along with people like Rosie O’donnell tweeting “Arcade who?… Never heard of them” prompted someone to quickly create a website http://whoisarcadefire.tumblr.com/, cheekily featuring all these tweets and references to no one knowing who they are. I’m sure that Arcade Fire as as glad as we are that the people featured on this site have never heard of them. No one was more surprised (and thankful) to win the grammy than Arcade Fire themselves, who will undoubtedly NOT be next year’s Lady Antebellum.
The Suburbs has been described by critics as Arcade Fire’s “OK Computer” or “Automatic for the People”. I prefer to think of it as Arcade Fire’s brilliant third album “The Suburbs”. At 16 songs long, The Suburbs is a true “album” of the by-gone era of albums that lead singer Win Butler and band members unveil memories of throughout the 16 songs. In keeping with its name, the album is about the nostalgia and sadness associated with brothers Win and Will Butler growing up in suburban Houston.
The choral attributes of Funeral and Neon Bible have been left behind and we’re left with an incredible mixture of songs that Butler himself defines as “a sound that evokes Neil Young and Depeche mode”. It’s hard to pick a favorite among the lilting Americana rhythm of the title track, the catchy opener “Ready to Start”, the personalized-video experience of “We Used to Wait”, the punk-inspired and Grammy performed “Month of May”, and the lovely “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains”, sung by Win Butler’s wife Régine Chassagne. Sprawl II is the featured track.
1 Janelle Monae – The Archandroid (Suites II & III)
The 26-year-old Janelle Monae is one of those rare musicians that is actually bringing something totally new to the world of pop music. Her first proper album,The Archandroid, is a concept album that doesn’t require an understanding of the concept to fully enjoy it. Garnering endless critical accolades resulting in a score of 91 on review-aggregator Metacritic, The Archandroid takes the listener on a journey told by Monae’s alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.
This description of a science-fiction obsessed nerd is exactly the sort of thing that would make me NOT want to listen to an album. But on The Archandroid, Monae tells her tale so well, it’s hard not to be drawn in. Described as “Afrofuturism”, The Archandroid’s influences are all over the place.
It’s amazing to note that all this was created out of the mind of a 26-year-old African American girl from Kansas, known for a pixie stature, high afro, and signature uniform—a tux. It’s also interesting to note that we owe Monae’s success to Big Boi from hip-hop outfit Outkast but primarily Sean Combs, currently known as “Diddy Dirty Money”. The featured track is the single and my favorite of the year “Tightrope”.
The Best of the Rest:
She & Him – Volume II
LCD Sound System – This is Happening
Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
Warpaint – The Fool
Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels
Massive Attack – Heligoland
Interpol – Interpol
Goldfrapp – Head First
Plan B – The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Best Coast – Crazy for You