There’s still a few weeks left in the year, but a few publications have released their top of 2010 lists already (Rolling Stone, The Onion’s AV Club). I haven’t seen anything on the horizon that piques my interest, so I’m confident in posting my list a little early as well. I’m not a professional music critic, so there are a few albums I didn’t get the chance to fully listen to that might have made the list. I really enjoyed the following 10 albums a lot this year, whether at work, at the gym, or riding around town on my bike. I don’t think my music tastes will line up with some (read: most) of the other cast members, but here we go.
10. Girl Talk – All Day
This is more of a nod for Greg Gillis than the actual album itself. I mean, I’m pretty much his exact target audience: 80s born, pop culture enthusiast with a short attention span. That broad brush covers a whole whack of my peers as well, so it’s no surprise that Girl Talk has had so much success the last few years. All Day marks his fifth album, and 2nd since his rise to fame with Night Ripper. The mixes between old school hits and new school rhymes continue, but this time Gillis gives them a little bit more time to breathe. I love Girl Talk live, and Night Ripper and Feed The Animals were on my playlist for a LONG time. All Day doesn’t have as much staying power. The Beyonce / M.O.D. / Miley Cyrus mix is great, and there are a lot of places on the album that sound amazing, but I’d rather hear it live.
9. Robyn – Body Talk
Little Miss Ambition released three LPs this year that may not be massive in size (8, 7, and 5 new songs respectively) but they definitely make up for it in sound. I had the immense pleasure of seeing her perform just after she released the second album (Body Talk Part 2.) and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Robyn keeps her trademark storyteller bubblegum break up songs with Dancing On My Own, and keeps the fun going with Fembot and We Dance To The Beat. One of the things I love most about Robyn is her great collaborations. On Body Talk Part 1 she does a song with Diplo, Dancehall Queen, and another on Part 2 with Snoop Dog…. SNOOP DOG! Finally she’s getting some State side recognition. This girl’s got talent.
8. Daft Punk – Tron Soundtrack
Not really a traditional Daft Punk album, though you can definitely hear their signature sound on tracks like “Derezzed”, I’m comfortable enough to classify this album as epic. Tron is a big deal this month, with almost a full year of promotion, Disney is betting big on this movie. If the film is half as good as the soundtrack suggests then I’m certainly going to enjoy it. The grandiose layering of strings, and percussion take your ears on a hour long journey. I put this on as I was walking around Dusseldorf a while ago, and it really felt like I was actually in a chase scene in a movie. I find it’s great background music to read to as well.
7. Caribou – Swim
This is the first year that I started paying attention to the artist formerly named Manitoba, Dan Snaith. He won the Canadian Polaris prize in 2008 with his previous album Andorra, and followed it up with this year’s beautiful Swim. It’s great mood music. Laid back tracks with minimal vocals. Stand out tracks for me were Odessa and Leave House. It may sound weird, but this was my number 1 gym album for a few months. Most people like heavy music to get them pumped up, but I liked how the cerebral flow of the songs allowed me to simultaneously concentrate on what I was doing and enjoy the music. I saw them perform earlier this year, which was great. I didn’t quite know what to expect, as it could have just been Snaith and a laptop, but he played with a four piece band and rocked it.
6. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Everyone seems to be shitting their pants over this album. Without giving it a proper listen, it would be easy to jump on the Kanye hate bandwagon, but you would be missing out on some of the year’s best pop tunes. The featuring list for some songs reads like a A-list party guest list. Dude got Bon Iver front man Justin Vernon for fuck’s sake! It says a lot about an album when you talk to people and almost everyone has a different favourite track. For me it’s All of the Lights, feature Rihanna, Fergie, Kid Cudi, etc, etc. The minute long interlude before it provides the perfect set up for the booming tracks and heavy vocals. That’s just at the moment though, ask me tomorrow and my answer might change to Blame Game, Monster, Lost In The World, or the nine minute long Runaway. There are no missteps on this album, get ready to hear a lot of these songs over the coming months as they’re all hit single material.
5. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
This album is so cute. Scottish indie rockers Frightened Rabbit blew me away with their heartbreakingly self-deprecating 2008 LP Midnight Organ Fight. When I listened to such hillariously depressing songs like Modern Leper, where singer Scott Hutchison’s Glasgow accent peaks through ever so slightly, I just wanted to give him a hug, WHICH I would have been able to do if they didn’t cancel their concert here last month! Oh well. 2010’s The Winter Of Mixed Drinks continues with FR’s folky rock flavour, but shifts in a more optimistic direction. Stand out track Nothing Like You, strums along with a cadence that lets you know everything is going to turn out OK. The album isn’t perfect, there are some tracks I’ll skip over when listening to it, but the good far outweighs the not so good. In an age of dubstep and auto-tune and everyone trying to recreate Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion it’s nice to hear someone doing traditional folk song writing so well.
4. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
The first single from this album Love Cry came out in late 2009, though the album wasn’t officially released until Jan of 2010. I was hooked on first listen. The spacey echoed synth elements build a very distinct atmosphere, leading the way to additional layering of drum beats and some vocal samples. Like Caribou’s Swim, I mainly listened to There Is Love In You while doing other things. This may come out of left field, but I found it the perfect soundtrack to a few video games I was playing (Dead Space and Borderlands). The computer-based whines and bleeps fit well with the mood of those games. The opening track Angel Echoes contains a hauntingly sublime cut up vocal sample that breathes dramatic romance. Released very early in the year, I found myself repeatedly coming back to listen to this album in full.
3. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
When this album came out back in May, I thought I had already heard the best of the year. LCD Soundsystem lead man James Murphy is the record store nerd gone professional. Stand out tracks from earlier albums like All My Friends and Losing My Edge highlighted his dense knowledge of music history and composition. This is Happening continues down this line, but you realize that James is getting a little older and his songs lyrics start to reflect it. The hillarious (and opinion splitting) single Drunk Girls pokes fun at partiers and their frivolous lifestyle. The album explores a lot of different sounds, from the Bowie inspired All I Want, to the more spastic Pow Pow, to the bossa nova intro of Dance Yrself Clean. This is Happening is a lot to take in, with songs for many moods, a true highlight from this year.
2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Canadian wonder team Arcade Fire are the greatest active band. Don’t believe Bono’s self-patting on the back. The depth, talent, and showmanship of this Montreal collection is so unmatched, it’s scary. The hype surrounding this album pre-release thankfully held true. The Suburbs is a fantastic concept album that themes the loneliness of claustrophobic isolation and oddness that are the North American suburbs. Following the last two Arcade Fire albums, Funeral and Neon Bible, The Suburbs has a common thread of musical maudlin throughout many of its songs. That, along with climbing instrumental build-ups and the clever lyrics by Win Butler give Arcade Fire their distinct sound. Rococo to me is a big highlight from this album. The snarky turn up of the nose at youth overstepping their intellect resonates ironically with our generation’s need to prove everyone else wrong. The Blondie flavoured Sprawl II is another great song that successfully utilizes female lead Régine Chassagne’s precious voice perfectly. In ten years, people will look back at this album and wonder what happened to good music.
1. Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz
The top three entries on this list were hard to rank. This is Happening came out earlier in the year so I haven’t been listening to it as much recently, and I just saw Arcade Fire live last week, so they’ve been on my mind more lately so they beat out LCD for the second spot. Sufjan’s latest edges them both out. I will be blunt: I’m not fucking around, I love this album. 2005’s Illinoise was and is one of my favourite albums of all time. I was so excited to hear that Stevens would be putting out not only a proper full length, but an amazing EP as well (All Delighted People). The EP didn’t come into consideration for his top ranking. Although it’s great and the two title tracks were a treat to listen to, Age of Adz merits number 1 all on its own. There’s so much on this album to take in. When it first came out, I didn’t want to be away from it, I even brought my laptop into the washroom with me when I showered so I could keep listening. Sufjan lays it all out in the songs. Perfectly constructed Vesuvius sounds like it could fit in with his folky Illinoise material, while more electronic tracks like Age of Adz and I Want to Be Well echo some of his earlier work. He “ends” the album with the over 25 minute long Impossible Soul. That wasn’t a typo. 25 minutes. And it’s all amazing. He even throws in some auto-tune to prove that when it’s not used as the crutch of the song, it can be quite beautiful. And if someone can make me appreciate auto-tune, that alone is worth recognition.