Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Do Ask, Do Tell: My Top 10 of '10

Choosing my ten favorite albums this year has seemed particularly daunting.  Maybe it's because I already knew there would a struggle when a few months into the year my calendar was already overflowing with reminders about album release dates from old favorites.  The inevitability of new bands being noteworthy made things almost too overwhelming to think about.

That being said, here are my favorites.  The albums that have gotten me through this year, the albums that have maintained my sanity.  The albums I wish had come out sooner so I could have that much more time with them.  The albums I desperately want all of my friends to love, too, even if that's unrealistic because when it comes down to it, favorites are pretty freaking personal. 

#10: Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History (US Release: April 13, 2010)
Choosing which album just made it onto this list has been more difficult than I would have imagined.  New vs old?  I felt bad leaving off so many albums from bands that I've loved for so many years.  But, when I look back on 2010, I'm going to remember falling for Two Door Cinema Club, and won't necessarily remember that this is the year that Spoon released Transference or The Hold Steady came out with Heaven is Whenever (deepest apologies to Britt Daniel and Craig Finn, both of whom I hold in the highest regard).  From the moment I heard "I Can Talk" though, I was totally hooked.  Two Door Cinema Club is insanely catchy and I am beyond excited to see them play with Tokyo Police Club in 2011.
You should listen to: "I Can Talk" and "Undercover Martyn Flexin' It" (Passion Pit Remix)"

#9: Frightened Rabbit - Winter of Mixed Drinks (US Release: March 9, 2010)
The Midnight Organ Fight is a tough album to beat, or even to match.  However, I will say that in this particular installment, Frightened Rabbit has brought back their Scottish brogue to another set of songs that have permeated every aspect of my life this year.
You should listen to: "Nothing Like You" and "Living in Colour"
#8: Tokyo Police Club - Champ (US Release: June 8, 2010)
A good portion of this list is very serious music.  Kind of depressingly serious at times.  Full of heartbreaking beautiful moments.  Tokyo Police Club has its quiet, serious moments, but for the most part this album is full of pep and fun which is a refreshing injection into my personal rotation.  It is the perfect kind of catchy.
You Should Listen to: "Favourite Colour" and "Bambi"

#7: Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More (US Release: Feb 16, 2010)
I am and always will be a sucker for a song with a solid climb and build.  And the lilt to his vocals doesn't hurt either.  The slight warble in "White Blank Page" paralyzes me.  But tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart? I'm particularly in love with the balance of their soft moments with their full power crescendo.  There's a raw desperation in the emotional energy that backs every song, and it gets me every time.
You should listen to: "White Blank Page" and "Winter Winds"

#6: Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
This album is an opus.  An odyssey, but she is so much cooler than Odysseus (sorry, Homer).  Her particular brand of aesthetic cool completely matches the suave and soulful nature of her insanely danceable songs.  Every song from the first half of the album was on repeat all summer, and fall, and probably winter, too.  Also, the video for "Cold War" kills me.
You Should listen to: "Cold War" and "Come Alive (War of the Roses)"

#5: The Morning Benders - Big Echo (US Release: Jun 28, 2010--that's my half birthday!)
It should not be at all surprising that this album made my top 5, much less the top 10.  It completely embodies summer for me, both on an auditory level and on a personal temporal level.  Their on-stage charisma is one part endearingly awkward and one part hopelessly engaging.  All I can think when I watch them is how I wish I were their friend and I could go back in time and be in their Yours Truly session of "Excuses."  And how I need to refrain from acting like a 15-year-old girl when I see them off stage.
You should listen to: "Cold War" (bizarre coincidence) and "Excuses"

#4: Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer (US Release: Nov 9, 2010)
I love "Fuck You" - it is a beyond solid song (though awful in its radio-friendly incarnation).  But to reduce The Lady Killer to this viral gem would be a horrible disservice.  Cee Lo's true mastery comes in modernizing soul for today's pop music world.  Yes, it's all terribly catchy, and the themes of love and heartbreak aren't exactly groundbreaking.  "Old Fashioned" could easily be from another era entirely and sounds like an old classic already (slow dance, anyone?)  But what does seem fresh and new that the listener actually feels like he means what he's saying.  There is actual, dare I say, soul building the foundation to this album.  Because, as the man says, "true love doesn't go out of style."
You should listen to: "Bright Lights Bigger City" and "It's Ok" (alright, and "Fuck You")

#3: LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening (US Release: May 18, 2010)
James Murphy, I Love You (and you're never bringing me down).  When "Drunk Girls" and that non-LCD-made video came out, I hated it.  I was nervously disappointed.  Now months later, as I listen to the lyrics of "Drunk Girls," it's kind of a masterpiece.  It's funny and witty and catchy in a way that you can't quite understand completely.  How could I ever doubt LCD Soundsystem??  I've had a different favorite song for every month that this album came out.  It's almost too easy to get lost in "All I Want" or flip flop between relating to either of the anthemic cries of "I Can Change" (I can change vs Never change). I do solemnly swear to never doubt the talent and awesomeness of one Mr. James Murphy ever again.
You should listen to: "I Can Change" and "Home"

#2: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The fight between #1 and #2 on this list has been a debate that I've been having with myself ever since The Suburbs came out.  As far as I'm concerned at this point, Win Butler & co. can do no wrong.  In fact, they are getting better as time goes on, which is a rare feat for bands these days, and especially rarer when you have what many consider to be an absurdly large orch-pop band.  The magic of Arcade Fire for me has always been their larger than life stage presence, which actually has nothing to do with the sheer volume of people on stage and more to do with their insane energy and quirky intensity.  I will maintain that I had a 100+ degree day-induced religious experience at Lollapalooza when I saw them in 2005.  But that has nothing to do with this album.  What is strikingly different about The Suburbs, on a completely personal level, is that I fell in love with this album the moment I heard it.  I didn't need to see it performed live, because it had a life and soul of its own right from the start.  As a fellow former-suburban-youth, I felt an instant relate-ability to the narrative of the album.  And while a band can really only ever have one "Wake Up", Sprawl II is pretty amazing in its own right.
You should listen to: "Half Light II (No Celebration)" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"

#1: The National - High Violet
Matt Berninger does not sound like the happiest musician in the world.  But he really should be, because this year has been killer for The National.  I was fortunate enough to see their show at BAM, captured on film by DA Pennebaker.  Every moment of every song that comes out of them is simultaneously beautiful and crushing.  Maybe their lyrics make you feel like someone is speaking to you in riddles.  Maybe you don't enjoy the guest vocals of the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Richard Reed Perry.  Well, maybe you're just not a person, ok?  Even if The National is never going to win an award for the most cheerful band, they're still winning my #1 because when push came to shove this year, this was the album I wanted to be listening to.  As I walked through the streets and squeezed into the subway like a sardine, the magic of High Violet transported me away from the hum drum and reminded me that I was a thinking, feeling person.  When it was put up on the NY Times as a preview, I didn't close my browser for over a week.  I listened to it non-stop, and have only really stopped listening to it in order to feel like I've given other albums a fair shake this year.
You should listen to: "Conversation 16" and "Bloodbuzz Ohio" (I almost refused to choose favorites for this album because it just feels wrong.  You should, in fact, listen to the whole thing)

And in case you're asking what albums were narrowly squeezed out of this list, I will say to you: the list is so long.  But I'd like to profess that I do have a love of:
* The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
* Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love
* The Black Keys - Brothers
* The Walkmen - Lisbon  
and, Sleigh Bells, Spoon, and the wonders that are She & Him (Zooey!) and Jenny and Johnny (Jenny Lewis!).  I'm also incredibly excited for the Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr LP to come out next year because their EP has won over my heart.  And ok fine, the Kanye West album is growing on me as the weeks go on (and I may have had "Lost in the World" stuck in my head all day today).  Maybe if it had come out earlier in the year, this list would be different.  But, it would never be #1.

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