#10 Sleigh Bells — Treats”
Pure pop jouissance. The album made noise and sugar-pop two terms that didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Treats is as fragile as it is strong and more manic than a 7 year old on ritalin; Sleigh Bells made a solid debut and one of the funnest and most energetic releases of the year.
#9 Avey Tare — Down There”
Into the interior, we mine deep into the abyss of Avey Tare’s imagination. What came out wasn’t exactly an Animal Collective album but it held many of the collective’s cachets. Down There grows on every listen. Like many other animal collective albums, what lies beneath the murk is a pop album, albeit one more complex, nuanced and strange than what currently passes as an Animal Collective release.
“Cemeteries” threatens at times to crush under its own weight or swim up into the air and stop becoming a song. “Heads Hammock,” seems like another experiment in creating aural music structures. The album ends in a high point, “Lucky 1,” one of the more beat-oriented and celebratory songs on an album which usually saunters through a slim 35 minutes. All in all, the album finds the typically wispy template of a standard Animal Collective song and fits heavier subject matter into their sound. A must-have for anyone that thought Merriweather Post Pavilion was one of the best releases last year.
#8 Rick Ross — Teflon Don”
Teflon Don, of the most surprisingly good releases this year slammed into my computer speakers and quickly boomed through every car in seemingly every neighborhood when the album came out. Cocaine-infused commercial rap seems to be here to stay.
Between the bombast of the opening track, “I’m Not a Star” the unapologetic excess of “M.C. Hammer,” and the slick pop of “Aston Martin Music,” this album featured a huge sound. Ross’s rapping clearly improved quite a bit; there is something decidedly big about his delivery that blends perfectly with the pristine beats on Teflon Don.
Sure, it’s not all perfect. The standard critique of rap — that it is fails in terms of album pacing and is overly repetitive – applies to this album. Teflon Don’s main ailment and asset is that it uses familiar rap tropes – it is incredibly effective at what it does but is limited. Still, Teflon Don marks Rick Ross as an emergent talent and one of the most commanding voices in rap music.
#7 Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son of Chico Dusty”
Big Boi is back with his first genuine solo album. Like his classic pseudo-solo album Speakerboxxx, the beats show that show you don’t have to be sample-based to bring the funk. Big Boi sounded as capable at rocking a club banger as he was at making indelible pop. The album accomplishes more than most: an effective party album, a nearly hour-long rap album with skits that has a conspicuous absence of filler, an album that uses multiple guest stars but keeps a consistent sound. Top highlights include:
-Janelle Monae’s talent makes “Be Still Young Heart” the best song (that wasn’t) on her debut.
-”Shine Blockas” is one of the best gangsta-pop anthems to come out in 2010; not to mention incredible and appropriate cameos from the near-ubiquitous Gucci Mane (check out Bun B as well on the bonus track).
-”Royal Flush” may have out of date lyrics about Dubya Bush but gives us the huge treat of a Wu-Tang member rocking the mic with all of Outkast. Andre 3000 raps again!
#6 The Arcade Fire — The Suburbs”
The Arcade Fire’s most concept –ish concept album yet, The Suburbs shows us snippets of life in those medium-sized cities that are the center of so much boredom and alienation. It is an epic exploration of nostalgia by a band that has always liked big statements. It’s not necessarily an indictment of the place many of us grew up in and hoped to get out of and it certainly is not a celebration of it either. It’s descriptive rather than prescriptive.
Since Funeral I have waited for an album that either recaptured the angst-ridden grandeur of the debut or finally moved on towards more adult themes. The Suburbs means that we probably shouldn’t hold our breath. Still, it’s a good ride. Like they sang on Funeral, “I guess we’ll just have to adjust.”
#5 The National — High Violet”
Millennial angst, fears for our children’s future, paranoid minimalism and bleak atmospherics haunted High Violet. The National made a portrait of life in constant near-collapse. The symptoms of acute trauma are all over: fear of everyone around you, voices haunting your soul, not wanting to get over people lost; one may argue is as personal as it can be political.
Eerie, cinematic and resoundingly dour: this isn’t a party album for a recession. Escapism it isn’t, however nothing felt more honest or stared at such a bleak world and refused to blink.
#4 Robyn – Body Talk”
Perfection is a motherfucker. Robyn was on top of her game the entire year pumping out pieces of what would be collated into the final Body Talk collection. From the absurdity of “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” and “Fembot” comes the pristine drama-queen anthem “Dancing on My Own.” This is robot music indeed: no album in recent memory so astutely refuses to make a single missed step. One of the best parts of the collection and especially the final draft is the complete lucidity that came from the editing process. Body Talk acts as greatest hits for the past year of Robyn’s output. Body Talk depicts a time of personal anguish and excess; dancehalls, lovers, robots and jealousy. In other words: the savagery of love and life.
#3 Ariel Pink – Before Today”
Sometimes during sleepless nights I think that all of music criticism is a sham and the most praised works are just the most scrutable ones. Like Ariel Pink. The endlessly allusive nature of the work makes it easy to appreciate, easy to analyze into neat-albeit-clever chunks of words. Every song sounds like something else: 90s soap commercials, 70s cock-rock, disco-funk. It’s too easy you might say. Blah blah. “I like it. Here’s why.” Done.
Yet something of substance seems to be at work during Before Today. It’s not just the fact that Ariel Pink and his weirdos managed to record in a “real” studio and came out just as strange and awesome as Mr. Pink’s stoned-out bedroom jams. The songs are incredibly warm and the choruses are down-right anthemic while still sounding endearingly sloppy. It’s the follow-up album of our dreams.
Or again, maybe it’s just easy and it’s the follow-up album of a critic’s dreams. Let’s face it, Ariel Pink is music for rock nerds, made by one out-there rock nerd. Whatever. You can call music criticism one big circular nerd’s club. We like it because we can explain it. We can explain because we like it. Blah, blah blah. I don’t really care. It’s still good.
#2 Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
Nothing this year sounded so appropriately arrogant than Kanye West’s narcissistic, maximalist epic. If anything proves to us rock died as a unifying force, it’s the fact that the big event album of the year wasn’t a high-profile release by The Arcade Fire or The National but a rap album that achieved so much that it wears its listeners out. This is a true tour de force: a work that’s as much about collaboration as it is the product of pure auteurship, an album that is intimately personal but speaks on subjects on a more universal level than any single artist that collaborates on the album when they are on their own (and that is one huge list). Above all, the album showcases Kanye West as the greatest producer of his generation and shows that songwriting trumps technical rapping ability. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was all things to all people, even gaining praise from people that hate Kanye West’s hi-jinks. From the Taylor West fiasco to the 10.0 grade from Pitchforkmedia the dots connected. For once and in one milieu: the bravado seems perfectly appropriate.
#1 Joanna Newsom — Have One on Me”
Certainly no other album this year covered this much ground: Have One on Me travels from a bedroom to California, to paradise and then back to a lover’s apartment. The album goes from within to outside, from solitude to union to the borders of Joanna Newsom’s heart. No release this year felt so powerfully timeless or as intimate. Ms. Newsom has improved at a startling rate. She startd off with one of the best releases of the last decade and matured her sound even furtehr. She slowly chipped away the wilder themes (dragons, swords, etc) and quieting the pretention of previous lyrics (singing about “a page of Camus”) while controlling her incredibly squeaky voice. No other artist has had such a direct A-B-C progression from Y2K.
Have One on Me is a journey inward and outward. With it comes the sense that something truly important was documented. The album closes with a perfect showcase of what makes Joanna Newsom such a compelling force in music today. “Does Not SUffice” solemnly closes with a list of what Newsom is packing while going through a breakup: the list is as strange as it is affective. It shows just how weird Joanna Newsom has remained but how much better she has gotten into tapping into universal sentiments. No album this year has crammed so much craft and so much detail into such a massive musical package.