Thursday, 23 December 2010

Favourite Albums of 2010 - 10-01

Well here we are, wrapping up my favourite albums of 2010 list, so what follows were the albums in 2010 which I truly loved, the ones that in the years to come I'll keep looking back on as having defined my 2010. My list may not to be everyone's taste but these albums were my favourites of the year that has been 2010.

10. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

Romance is Boring was the first album that I heard in 2010 and still stands as one of the very best. Whilst Los Campesinos! sound has become less poppier after their 2008 début Hold On Now, Youngster but still retains the sarcastic, almost morose humour of that album. What Romance is Boring does retain from Los Campesinos! past albums is the sheer loudness and noise, maybe not as loud as other albums this year, but Los Campesinos! don't shy away from the noise when the time comes. The lyrics are a true stand-out on this album with the lead singer Gareth penning some of the wittiest lyrics you'll hear in any song this year: "I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock/Feels like the build-up takes forever but you never get me off". Whilst the songs rarely follow any kind of lyrical pattern, you become more engrossed in the stream of conciousness story that is being told. Los Campesinos! might not have put out the most critically acclaimed or most recognisable album of the year, but it's one that I wanted to put out there so that hopefully more people will get around to hearing it.

'The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future' - Los Campesinos!

09. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles II

The first Crystal Castles album is noisy and messy as fuck. Songs like 'Alice Practicce' and 'Crimewave' sound like they could collapse in on themselves at any point. The second Crystal Castles is still noisy as fuck but it lacks some of the messiness that was to be found on their first album and whilst that may be a turn off to some fans, Crystal Castles II is still just as stand-offish as the first album. Whilst it might be less-punk, it makes up for that for being a more cohesive album. There are still the absolute highs in the form of 'Baptism' and 'Celestica' but the other songs on the album don't pale in comparison as much. Even though Crystal Castles strayed more towards pop, this album still isn't clean enough for radio play. Sure it's less raw, but the experimentation is still there and is the sheer balls to walls noise and dance ability that make Crystal Castles one of the best electronic bands around.

'Baptism' - Crystal Castles

08. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

The ArchAndroid is eclectic as all hell. Being a concept album telling the story about a messianic android in a future society, the album jumps into so many different genres over the course of it's 70 minute run time. Listening to this album for the first is almost overwhelming how many different genres it spans but it also becomes clear that the album is just a joy to listen to, especially if you let yourself be swept away by the ambition behind it. Of course The ArchAndroid is first and foremost an R&B album but then you can hear rap, rock and even an orchestral element. But most noticeably of all this album is just fun. It's lively and just creates a joyous atmosphere around its songs. Like so many other artists on this list, Janelle Monae gets what makes pop music fun and likeable, this album doesn't feel sterile and overproduced instead it bursts with so many ideas and so much ambition whilst still being inherently listen-able, making it one of the best full fledged débuts of any artist this year.

'Tightrope' - Janelle Monae feat. Big Boi

07. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

If This Is Happening really is the last LCD Soundsystem album then James Murphy and company will have left behind one of the strongest discographies to grace the 21st Century. Hell the guy wrote 'All My Friends' which is one of my favourite songs ever. We can debate for hours whether this album is as good as 2007's Sound of Silver (it probably isn't) but that doesn't take away from the fact that This Is Happening is so very good. James Murphy knows how to write great songs, songs that make you want to move and not in that shitty way that clubs do. Songs that tip their hats to the great music makers of yore such as David Bowie and Brian Eno. Over the years LCD Soundsystem have become the epitome of cool within the music industry and This Is Happening is no different in that respect, the songs barrel along with so much urgency but never outstay their welcome even though there is only one song on the entire album that is less than 5 minutes long. Songs like 'Dance Yrself Clean' still have that un-paralleled electronic build that LCD Soundsystem have perfected over the years. This Is Happening could have so easily been a disappointment and fallen into the shadow of Sound of Silver but it didn't and LCD Soundsystem cemented themselves as one of the best bands in the world and This Is Happening one the best albums of 2010.

'Dance Yrself Clean' - LCD Soundsystem

06. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

If I'm going to be perfectly honest, I didn't think that Gorillaz had this album in them. Sure songs like 'Feel Good Inc.' and 'Clint Eastwood' were good and enjoyable but they didn't even hint at how good Plastic Beach was going to be. If you've been paying attention, you'll realise that the cartoon figureheads of the Gorillaz have disappeared from everything but the music videos and now the band has just allowed Damon Albarn to collaborate with as many people as he wants. Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Mark E. Smith (The Fall), Gruff Rhys (Super Fury Animals), Little Dragon and even members of The Clash. The diverse range of people offering their voices to Plastic Beach could make the album seem bloated but amazingly it doesn't, Damon Albarn gives the album room to breathe an accommodate all the different collaborators. Little Dragon contribute the spectacular electro-pop wonder of 'Empire Ants' whilst Gruff Rhys and De La Soul rap out a cereal commercial on 'Superfast Jellyfish'. And yet it doesn't feel out of place because of Damon Albarn's fantastic production across the entire album and his presence on the fantastic 'On Melancholy Hill'. Plastic Beach is an eclectic assortment of alternative hip-hop songs that don't really sound like hip-hop. Instead, on this latest Gorillaz album, it feels like Damon Albarn has created something wholly unique. Losing the cartoon front, Albarn was able to stretch his creative roots to whole new levels and I can't wait to hear what else comes from this new era of Gorillaz.

'On Melancholy Hill' - Gorillaz

05. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

My love for Arcade Fire should come as no surprise to those that know me or are frequent readers of this blog, especially with Funeral topping my favourite albums of the decade a year ago, and I stand by that choice. Funeral and The Suburbs are too entirely different beasts though and it would be unfair to compare them. The Suburbs to many might seem overly long at over an hour, but so were The ArchAndroid and This Is Happening so that argument becomes mute. The length of the album goes a long to aiding the concept, it forces the listener to actually listen, to pay attention to what happens. The Suburbs like so many other great albums before it works as a cohesive whole, one that begs to be listened to all the way through to see the message, to experience the full brunt force of it. The album yearns for the days of youth, days of the Surburbs and whilst in many ways the subject matter is intimate, the sound is epic. Arcade Fire have made some of the most joyous music of the last decade and that doesn't change here. Tracks like 'Ready to Start' and 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' still sound so very much like Arcade Fire but at the same time they don't. I could wax lyrical about this album but this might be the toughest album on the list to get my point across without having someone listen to it. The Suburbs is an album that needs to be experienced, The rock, the synths, the orchestral elements and the lyrics to get the full extent of why this album is as good as it is.

'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' - Arcade Fire

04. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Cosmogramma is unlike any album I've heard in my life up until this point. For lack of a better way to describe it, I can only say it sounds like electronic space jazz. But that threat of the unknown is what makes this album so irresistible to me. I wanted to hear more of it, more music like it, but of course that doesn't exist. Cosmogramma is unique in the world. Cosmogramma was born because technology has allowed everyone to make music using their laptops, but of course only the very best will every survive the competitive music world and that's exactly what Flying Lotus has done. Cosmogramma is dense, it doesn't take just one listen to get this album, you might like portions of it but as you delve deeper you notice more and more intricacies, more to get excited about, more that makes the album feel unique. Sure listeners will be able to pick up on traits of IDM and dubstep but trying to peg the album into either of those genres would just detract from the work that Flying Lotus has done. Flying Lotus is currently working as one of the biggest visionaries in the music world, he's working at a creative level unseen by anyone else working in the field of laptop electronica. Hell he even got the Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke to contribute vocals to '...And The World Laughs With You', and he made Kid A which is not only an incredible album but asure influence on this album. Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma, like so many other albums on my list, has succeeded in fusing so many different genres and creating something cohesive and unique. Flying Lotus seems poised to make something better than Cosmogramma for his next record and I cannot for the life of me figure out what it might sound like.

'...And The World Laughs With You' - Flying Lotus feat. Thom Yorke

03. Sleigh Bells – Treats

Sleigh Bells are noisy as fuck. They are a sensory overload. They are pop music on steroids. They were the best new band of 2010. Sleigh Bells were so many things but mostly they got pop music right. They knew that it was about the pure jubilation and joy. Yes you could quite easily think of them as a gimmick, with so much feedback that makes you think that songs like 'Crown on the Ground' have actually broken your speakers. Treats is 30 minutes of a non-stop sonic attack, the noise doesn't let up for that entire time. I've seen Sleigh Bells live twice this year and am going to see them again early in the new year and it still astounds that the level of noise that is coming from only two people, one of whom is only providing vocals. Other bands I've seen live with twice as many members cannot stretch the speakers to the level that Sleigh Bells do. Sleigh Bells might not be the deepest album on this list, the lyrics might be comparatively simple and the technical side comparatively basic but it's the lack of depth, the fact that it doesn't require multiple listens to understand what this album is about that makes this album so joyous. It's pop, plain and simple. Sleigh Bells achieved what they set out to do, create some of the most visceral and fun music they could. The opening bars of 'Tell 'Em' lay out exactly what you should expect from the entire album with Derek E. Miller's riffing and Alexis Krauss' wonderful vocals. There's so much to love about Treats, the moment where all shit breaks lose on 'Infinity Guitars', the entirety of the Funkadelic sampling 'Rill Rill' and of course the flat out 'Crown on the Ground'. Sleigh Bells had the best début album of anyone this year as well as easily the most fun and exuberant one.

'Rill Rill' - Sleigh Bells


01. The National – High Violet

This was album that was sat as my number 1 choice for months and months, and as you can see it still sits here at number 1. But I think it's safe to say that the album that The National's fifth studio album has tied with is so all encompassing that it just became an inevitability it would be first. High Violet is the sound a band who work together as well as any band could ever possibly want to work together. The National have become an entirely cohesive unit and over the course of their last three albums and have became a force to be reckoned with in the indie world, and have now created three pretty much perfect albums with Alligator, Boxer and now High Violet. Yes you can call them dour but you cannot call them boring. Everything that is done throughout this album has a calculated precision, every hit on the drum, every orchestral swell, every moment Matt Berringer is singing on the album. More than any other artist on this list, The National make albums rather than songs, everything is made to play better when strung together, to paint a bigger picture. Sure it makes it more difficult to pick out which song is the best but that's just because every single is so uniformly strong. There's the almost too fuzzed out 'Terrible Love' which opens the album with it's slow build and rumbling guitars. Or 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' which still stands as the most single worthy song on the album and has some of the best lyrics The National have ever committed with "I still owe money/To the money/To the money I owe". But that's not even the best sample lyrics on the album with Berringer proclaiming on 'Conversation 16' that "I was afraid… I’d eat your brains/Cause I’m eeeeevil". And whilst High Violet lacks a crescendo like 'Mr. November' on Alligator, second to last track 'England' is the closest the album gets to an emotional release with the rise and swell of the piano throughout, before bleeding into the hauntingly wonderful 'Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks'. The National's albums have always done better in hindsight (at least in the case of Alligator and Boxer) and if High Violet has hit me this hard within it's first few listens then it's hard to imagine it not becoming one of my favourite albums ever. Hell it's one of only two albums I'd give a 10/10 this year, but if you haven't figured what this album has tied with then you clearly haven't been paying attention to music this year.

'Bloodbuzz Ohio' - The National

01. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

A year ago if you had told me I'd be saying that Kanye West had put out one of the best albums of 2010, I'd have laughed in your face. How much I enjoyed this album was a complete surprise. I had been following all the news stories about Kanye for a while, the MTV breakdown, the ludicrous quotes he kept coming out with, THE ALL CAPS BLOG POSTS, the Twitter account, saying that George Bush hated black people, the hilarious smack down that South Park laid down on him last year, but I'd never heard his music really before. Of course I knew 'Gold Digger', I knew 'Stronger' but I'd never gone out of my way to listen to Kanye. In fact I found him so much of an insufferable douche that I decided I probably would never like him even if I did listen. But then 'Power' dropped back in May and somehow I found myself listening it, and then even more unlikely, actively enjoying it. This was quickly followed up by the surprising reveal that one of my favourite artists, Bon Iver, was not only doing some production work on Kanye's new album but was also contributing vocals to several tracks. Following this I started following the buzz leading up to the album's launch. There was the fantastic performance of the 'Power' on Saturday Night Live, the 30 minute short film for 'Runaway' and even the untimely leak of 'Lost in the World' which not only caused Kanye to stop his G.O.O.D. Fridays but was heavily based around on the song 'Woods' by Bon Iver. All of this was amazingly good and Kanye started to improve dramatically to me, but I've rambled on so long about what lead me to listen to the album and haven't actually talked much about why this album is so good. You could talk about how perfectly the album opener 'Dark Fantasy' sets up the album or how 'Power' features Kanye at his most big headed, but then is also just a damn likeable and huge sounding song. Or on 'Monster' where Nicki Minaj's delivers not just the best lyrics on any song in 2010 but the best vocal delivery on any song this year. What about 'Runaway' where the tinkling piano turns into a 9 minute epic that not only has Kanye deliver the self-deprecating line: "Let's have a toast for the douchebags/Let's have a toast for the assholes/Let's have a toast for the scumbags", which then morphs into the single best use of auto-tune on any song in 2010. Then there's 'All of the Lights' where the guests range from Elton John to Rihanna, and that's without mentioning the Chris Rock skit on Blame Game or the aforementioned Bon Iver morphing 'Lost in the World'. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has so many stand-out tracks and moments that it's impossible to list them all. This is the album that finally proved that maybe Kanye had a right to be as cocky as he has been. The guy has finally gotten around to creating his masterpiece. Of all the albums that were released in 2010, this is the one that will be remembered for years to come, the defining album of 2010. Hell it was Kanye's year all round.

'Runaway' - Kanye West

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