Here are my picks for the top of the 2010 heap:
While Brothers, the band’s sixth album, may not be as strong as 2006’s Magic Potion, it does boast some solid offerings. “Tighten Up” and “Everlasting Light” prove the Akron, Ohio duo is making a firm return to their raw bluesy guitar-driven sound, after a dalliance with Danger Mouse’s production on 2008’s Attack & Release.
9. The Roots – How I Got Over – (The Island Def Jam Music Group) –
Dropping two albums this year, including a collaboration with John Legend, providing the soundtrack to the Daily Show/Colbert Report “Rally to Restore Sanity,” and playing nightly behind Jimmy Fallon on Late Night, The Roots may be the busiest band in the biz at the moment. Luckily all that work seems only to have strengthened the quality of their music. With tracks like the socially-conscious “Dear God” (featuring Monsters of Folk) and “Now or Never,” this latest disc may be their best since Phrenology.
8. Delorean – Subiza – (True Panther Sounds) –
How an album packed with 4+ minute songs can be so catchy and so esoteric at the same time is something of a mystery, yet Subiza walks this fine line perfectly. Sonically the Spanish band lies somewhere between Yeasayer and Miike Snow, crafting choruses that seem to float ethereally over varied backing sounds.
7. The National – High Violet – (4AD) –
Led by the dark rich voice of Matt Berninger, The National packs High Violet with delicate brooding songs about lost love and getting and feeling older. Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon contribute, strengthening songs like “Afraid of Everyone.” Praise for the band may have been a while in coming, but with their latest batch of melodies built on haunting, repetitive choruses, the praise has been well earned.
6. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot... – (The Island Def Jam Music Group) –
While record execs may have been demanding a new OutKast album, Big Boi fought to release a solo disc, and they should be glad he did. The album features what’s probably the year’s best use of an opera sample (on the track “General Patton”) and guest spots by Janelle Monae and Jamie Foxx.
5. Robyn – Body Talk – (Konichiwa Records) –
Perhaps the most prolific artist of 2010, Robyn released more than two albums worth of material this year, carefully crafting the infectious stuff dancehall dreams are made of. The Swedish singer produced the equivalent of pop candy, treats like “Hang with me,” “Call Your Girlfriend” and club anthem “Dancing on My Own” (which found its way into a couple of DJ-created mash-ups).
4. Beach House – Teen Dream – (Sub Pop) –
The third release from this Baltimore duo, Teen Dream is packed with simple lo-fi melodies like the opening lullaby-esque “Zebra.” Like their hipster-friendly contemporaries The XX, Beach House excel at creating delicately organic songs like “Norway.” And “Silver Soul” sounds like it could have come from The Flaming Lips’ songbook.
3. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening – (DFA) –
Likely James Murphy’s opus, This is Happening, doesn’t follow a lot of rules, either musically or as what a traditional dance-rock album should be. Most of the tracks are long, extended songs that build from something simple into a full-on dance track. Only one song, “Drunk Girls,” is under four minutes, and lyrically the album trades in sentiments of insecurity and duplicity. It’s to Murphy’s credit that he can dare us to dance while requesting our pity.
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – (Roc-A-Fella Records) –
Certainly countless hours have gone into analyzing everything Kanye (including a Jimmy Kimmel-sanctioned parody featuring Josh Groban), but given the merits of West’s latest, the rapper’s boundless bravado is not for naught. While he may trot out ballerinas and famous friends, including Jay-Z, John Legend, and Rihanna, Dark Twisted belongs to Kanye. Simultaneously self-aggrandizing and diminishing, with humorous lyrics wrapped in musically interesting coverings, every track on the album is a strong effort – it may well be West’s most mature work to date.
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – (Merge Records) -
Following up their ambitious, heavily orchestrated Neon Bible, Arcade Fire released a disc that feels raw and unfussy. Here the themes– being able to control your destiny, struggling with living in the world – are woven into simple bright lyrics, allowing familiar ideas to morph into great tunes like “Modern Man” and “We Used to Wait.”