December 31, 2010

Albums extravaganza 2010

I was planning on putting this up earlier, but it works out well that I have New Years' Eve off and have time to compile this. Here are the favorite albums of a few Sad Bears. I'm sure you've already read way too many lists but please humor us for this. We like lists way too much.

Feel free to berate us/debate us in the comments. Lists after the jump. (And happy new year. Don't party too hard out there while you watch the NHL Winter Classic!*)

*I realize that I will probabaly be the only person actually watching this. Deal.

10. The Walkmen - Lisbon
A bit more upbeat than some of their past work, this album snagged me on first listen. The Walkmen having become a reliable group to turn to when I'm rummaging for music to play.

09. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I feel a little like a sellout listing this album. Maybe I am...but I guess I don't care. "Power" is the best song on this album.

08. Vampire Weekend - Contra
A good second album for Vampire Weekend, though, regrettably a little more mature and less self-assured than their first. At any rate, I appreciated their calls back to the beats of Paul Simon on Graceland.

07. Hot Chip - One Life Stand
Less hoppin' than their previous albums, I liked hearing this side of Hot Chip.

06. Wavves - King of the Beach
Probably the album I've listened to the most this year. Tony introduced me to it over the summer and its remained my consistent music while driving for work.

05. Wolf Parade - Expo 86
Didn't care much for it at first. But numerous other listens roped me in. This is a good edition to the already impressive Wolf Parade discography.

04. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Loved this album. These songs helped me get through so many stories at the end of long news days. Great stuff from the Gorillaz. It took a few listens to feel comfortable with so much guest artist work but I think they did a good job of keeping a seamless flow into different emotions

03. Beach House - Teen Dreams
Beautiful, spacious and expressive. Work from Beach House's new album grabbed on first listen to one of their songs placed on a mixed CD for me. At times it can sound a little forlorn, but definitely not a bad thing in this case.

02. Spoon - Transference
This album is probably the best of the year. The control Spoon has over their music is amazing, and their consistency to produce so much goodness this year is shadowed only by The Arcade Fire's sense of place and time. (Also: best album artwork of the year).

01. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Basically neck and neck with Spoon, The Arcade Fire comes in first on my list because of (as I think Tony may have mentioned before) their interesting position in our lives. If there's a band that speaks to our generation -- I think The Arcade Fire might be it. This album, and it's fantastic array of songs, have been with me in all my important, potentially life-changing, decisions this year. I remember speeding down I-10, south from Phoenix toward Tucson, this summer with Mark Perkins...and this song was blasted as I made one of the biggest journalism decision I've ever made.

Favorite songs on this album: "Sprawl II", "Modern Man", "Rococo", "We Used to Wait." -- too many to list in a 'favorite songs' category.

I've been mudbog busy these days, but here's some stuff:

Arcade Fire, Suburbs
I like the Arcade Fire because I can be critical of them and hate some things about their music without it really taking away from my overall enjoyment of what they're up to. Alongside bands like The Walkmen and Grizzly Bear, and maybe Beach House and MGMT, I think they're building "the sound" of "these days."

Wolf Parade, Expo 86
Grew on me, big time.

Wavves, King of the Beach
I'm still convinced there is genius going on here alongside the hipster silliness and awkward album art. I'm also glad I can still listen to stuff like this, on like volume level 11, while driving. Moment of brilliance is at about 1:10 on "Linus Spacehead."

Beach House / Walkmen / Grizzly Bear
I'm awash in this stuff, better late than never.

Hip Hop
I don't think I could ever be a hip-hop poser because I'd never come across as trying hard enough to know what the hell is going on. But this year more than before -- thanks in part to Top 40 and hip-hop radio while on road trips -- I came to hip hop unlike ever before. I just find myself needing the beats when I turn to the iHome, etc. This goes for Beyonce, Janelle Monae, old J5, Kanye, and sometimes the vocoder.

I recently made a list of all the significant albums that came out in 2010. I split them into two lists: Ones I heard, and ones I didn’t.

They were roughly equal, maybe 20-25 albums in each category. Now, for obvious reasons, I’m not going to be concerned too much with albums I did not hear. I did not hear them for various reasons. Mostly, I wanted to but could not because I couldn’t find them at the record store (Superchunk, for some reason), or online (Black Milk), or I just couldn’t afford it when I did happen to go to the record store (Neil Young). Sometimes, I had no real desire to hear them or spend money on them after listening to a few songs (looking your way, Sufjan).

So I’ll leave those albums alone for the time being and focus on the list of albums I did hear. Because, I realize in looking at this list (which is bigger than the other) that very few albums stick out as ones I loved and listened to on repeat.

This often says more about me than about the quality of the album. For example, I like the Arcade Fire’s latest epic, but I did not play it on repeat — as in, cuing up song one as soon as the final song ended — at all.

I did that on a select few albums. And really, isn’t that what matters when you’re discussing an album you find to be the best of the year? Something you loved enough to want to hear ALL THE TIME? No offense to Arcade Fire (which I really like, by the way... in fact, I am listening to and enjoying it as I compile this post) or Sufjan Stevens or Kanye West (please don’t diss me in a song) but I can’t justify naming an album my favorite of the year if I didn’t absolutely love it — no matter how notable or groundbreaking it is. Sorry. Them’s the breaks.

10. Hot Chip — One Life Stand
As I've said before, Hot Chip has always been able to deftly tow the line between heartfelt love song and tongue and cheek humor as deftly as a wide receiver's footwork on a sideline pass. On this album, they score a huge touchdown, although they lose some of the big beat firepower they have had. These songs are about watching Wheel of Fortune and falling in love and, although they have less club-ready sex appeal as songs from The Warning, they songwriting is all the better for it.

9. Wavves — King of the Beach
Stoner love songs and Beach Boy mimicry buried behind a cacophony of jangly fuzz guitar.

8. Big Boi — Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Ridiculous title, awesome album. I think it's a tad long for Big Boi to handle without Andre 3000 (17 songs, a few too many), but the first three quarters of the album he proves exactly why he's been the underrated member of Outkast for all these years. Check the swagger on "General Patton", the smooth flow on "Turn Me On" and "You Ain't No DJ" and tell me this is not so.

7. Spoon — Transference
Solid, tight, catchy. Vintage Spoon. Not quite as good as Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga but a down album for Spoon still beats 99% of all existing music.

6. The Roots — How I Got Over
Someone (maybe Christgau?) called this a nostalgia album. That's pretty evident. Not in the sense that it sounds like The Roots are trying to turn back the clock sonically. It's more lyrical and thematic — almost every song on here is uplifting, and not in a cheesy way. Black Thought rhymes a lot about the past and how he arrived at the present. There's also the requisite religion ("Dear God 2.0") and love ("The Fire") songs, but the main theme is evident in the title track's chorus: "Out on the streets/Where I grew up/First thing they teach us:/Not to give a fuck/That type of thinking can’t get you nowhere/Someone has to care." This is what "mature" hip-hop sounds like.

5. No Age — Everything In Between
More tuneful than Nouns, but No Age still know how to rip shit up. The thinking man's noise-punk-garage band. I think they're getting older, too: Much like How I Got Over, there's some heavier shit at stake here. I think. Lyrics are still a little muffled. But the general idea I get from songs like "Glitter" and "Common Heat" is still a feeling of alenation. They're just more mellowed-out about it. But, again, they still know how to shred. As I've already stated, "Fever Dreaming" has no decipherable meaning, it's just fucking cool.

4. Caribou — Swim
Mesmerizing from start to end. Psychedelic (sotra-)electronica for the ages.

3. LCD Soundsystem — This Is Happening
"Dance Yrself Clean" is a tease on this album. That is, it's the only balls-to-the walls dance number, really, on the album. But that's okay, because the other songs have the emotional and musical strength to make up for the fact that they don't quite have the backbeats that many people look for in an LCD Soundsystem song. I could listen to songs like "All I Want" and "You Wanted A Hit" all day long.

2. Beach House — Teen Dream
I just like the vibe of this record, despite the fact that it's not exactly original. Who cares? It's catchy and I like how it sounds.

1. Broken Social Scene — Forgiveness Rock Record
Winner and still champion. I'm surprised I never got tired of these songs after listening to the album on repeat this whole summer. But I still find each one exciting every time I play it.

1. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
I should probably write “one man’s opinion” and “favorite, not best” and make some allowances for different tastes, acknowledge that many people who know more about music and listen better than me do not like this album at all—and some of these people like other things that Sufjan has done in the past. I should do that. I will not. I am convinced that Adz is better—and Sufjan is better—than anything else in music right now. More, the combined superiority of every element of this album so surpasses everything else that came out this year that comparison feels almost silly. The rest of these albums are good. Adz is great.

Incomparable lyrics; Sufjan’s evocative voice; craftily employed, complementary background singing; organic and wildly artificial sounds; fantastically catchy beats and harmonies overlaid with an awesome mess of perfect fuzz and noise and furor—all these set it apart.

Consider the intricate way Sufjan lays out his album: the gorgeous, haunting opener gets blasted aside by the sci-fi psychosis of the following two epics (the bridge of “Too Much” where the hisses and buzzes and racket just pop over flutes and strings is a key to the album, I think). This neurosis gives way to the simple beauty of “I Walked.” Three lovely, angsty tracks follow. Closer aside, “Vesuvius” is the album’s most comprehensive track. “All For Myself” functions as a gorgeous, highly multi-tracked display of Sufjan’s unique and powerful voice—and also as a catch-of-breath before the final two-track, thirty-minute push. What I love here is how “I Want to Be Well” offers a kind of manic reconsideration of where wanting it all for oneself has led. Finally, the twenty-five minute closer recaps the album (pretty to ugly to angsty to catchy) before the final summation: “Boy, we made such a mess together,”

There’s much more to say about this album—about how it is a profound examination of personal suffering and the isolating tendency of the sufferer to see only himself and his own suffering, about how consciousness displaces place in his previous work, about the way the album can’t be experienced fully without dipping at least a little into the mad art of Royal Robertson—but I will stop myself here. The Age of Adz is, as I have said, a perfect storm of Dan Deacon, Fuck Buttons, Philip Glass, and every aspect of Sufjan Stevens’ varied discography. The rest of my albums on this list are just favorites, but this is the best album of the year.

2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
I have without a doubt listened to this album more than anything else this year. At no point was it ever the album I was listening to most, but from the moment I picked it up in early March until now it has remained among the four or five albums I’ve listened to most. I listen to it when I unwind, when I’m excited, when I study, and especially when I drive. My early obsession with “Rhinestone Eyes” and “Some Kind of Nature” gave way to “Glitter Freeze” and “Stylo,” followed by “Melancholy Hill” and “Superfast Jellyfish,” and, now, “Sweepstakes” and “Welcome…”

3. The Walkmen – Lisbon
Three months ago I wrote of Lisbon, “I already feel like it’s gonna be one of those albums that I can’t separate from a point in time. It’s going to be: first-semester grad school. New place. No close friends. Lisbon by the Walkmen.” Lisbon is inextricably linked in my mind with Bows + Arrows. Both feature signature opening lines, badass second tracks, loser lyrics, and contemplative closing tracks. I won’t try to say which is better, but I will say that Lisbon sports an optimistic bounce that pleasantly contradicts the lyrical pessimism, as well as they grim way I characterized it when it came out.

4. The National – High Violet
A fragile thing.

5. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
This album hits very many of my music pleasure receptors during its hour.

6. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Except for the piano closer, Kristian Matsson sticks to his acoustic guitar and voice. Though it’s not John Darnielle in the bathroom with the boombox, The Wild Hunt is a minimally produced album that allows for no distractions and no excesses. Matsson has one of the most affecting voices in music today, and his lyrical imagery equals Dan Bejar’s, only Matsson’s lyrics often make narrative sense too. I should mention that his recent five-song EP, Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird, is just as good and can be viewed as a complement to the Wild Hunt (there’s an electric guitar!).

7. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
With the benefit of turning this stuff in late, I have to say that I absolutely agree with Chase about Arcade Fire possibly being the band of our generation. Their three monumental releases span and in many ways define the past decade musically.

8. Titus Andronicus – Monitor
A brilliant mixture of Americana, Civil War memorabilia, and New Jersey. Maybe the best black sheep album since Black Sheep Boy (“there’s only one dream I keep close / and it’s the one of my hand at your throat”). Best guitar hook of the year. Best drinking song of the year (“And the walk home is gonna be a real shit show / I’ll be picking up half-smoked cigarette butts all up and down that road”). Best mixture of piano, guitar, drums, fiddles. Some of the best melancholy horns on the year (see also “Stranded” by the Walkmen). The vocals begin as an impediment but unfold into the perfect tool for their needs. Ugly and beautiful, this album is a feat.

9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Although “Monster” is the most blistering track I heard all year, the opener, “Dark Fantasy,” best encapsulates the album. The chip on the shoulder is there (“What the fuck do I know? / I’m just a Chi-town nigga with a nice flow”), as well as his characteristic need to display emotional vulnerability (“me drown sorrow in that Diablo / me found bravery in my bravado”). There are ridiculous pop culture shout-outs (“too many Erkels on your team / that’s why you’re Winslow”) and some obnoxious lines (“You ain’t got no Yeezy, nigga?!”).

Nicki Manaj’s opening monologue introduces the album as the true history behind a fairy tale “made up centuries ago.” The centuries-old, universally known myth turns out, of course, to be a litany of injustices committed against Kanye West. This album is all about Kanye. If sometimes—okay, often—that’s insufferable, the album still stands as a hip-hop, pop masterpiece. Relatively speaking, this isn’t a heavily autotuned album. Kanye wisely relies instead on various background and guest vocalists to do most of the singing—as in the way the choir and the Mike Oldfield sample punctuate the flow of Kanye’s verses in the opener. The song and album are far from perfect, but they do certify that, for now anyway, Kanye West is the king of pop.

10. Breathe Owl Breathe – Magic Central
Breathe Owl Breathe have always skirted borders between cute and cutesy, catchy and irritating, compellingly quirky and definitively obnoxious. And let me first say that for a six-and-a-half minute stretch beginning with the third track and continuing through the introduction of the fifth one, Magic Central falls quite solidly into the latter, regrettable categories. Fortunately the other forty minutes on this album more than make up for those rather irritating moments. “Own Stunts” expresses the melancholy cheer inherent in Micah’s voice. “Icy Cave Dancers” is a perfect folk-influenced pop song. “Swimming” in particular could have fallen into a sentimental, quirky mess but, thanks to restraint, stands out as the most catchy and poignant song on the album.

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Blogger Tony said...

Since submitting my stuff I've been listening to more Kanye, in part because of this juggling video.

Jack is right about Beach House. Also about Spoon. Jack is also long-winded about the albums he didn't listen to.

I need to hear Broken Social Scene. I was just thinking about how I hadn't listened to them in a long time, and lo and behold (whatever that means).

I've been listening closer to Lisbon, and the first song, "Juveniles" is revealing its genius, especially as a Track One. I also think Lisbon competes with Spoon and Arcade Fire in the album artwork category.

January 2, 2011 at 1:18 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

As you will see shortly, Mark is way more long-winded than I.

January 2, 2011 at 8:54 PM 
Blogger Chase said...

I think Spoon wins for best album artwork. If I were an album cover, I'd be Transference.

January 2, 2011 at 9:09 PM 
Blogger Chase said... other words, I'm the best.

January 2, 2011 at 9:09 PM 
Blogger JHitts said...

Meh. I think I'll have to give my vote for album art to Grinderman.

January 2, 2011 at 9:22 PM 
Blogger M. Perkins said...

Yeah, about that long-windedness. Sorry.

I agree with Chase and Tony on Wolf Parade's album opening up. It's not among my favorites, and I still think it's third best of the their three, but I did listen to it quite a bit, and I liked it more with each listen.

I still dislike Wavves.

Also definitely with Tony on not really having any clue what's going on in hip-hop but increasingly digging it.

I've heard two songs by Big Boi (but only one each) and didn't care for them, but that's hardly enough to have an opinion. I felt similarly about Janelle Monae, except that Ross McDermott played "Tightrope" while we were dancing in Ryan and Darrah McD's kitchen at 1 AM on New Year's, and that was a blast.

The Girl Talk album is not really hip-hop, but I think it's a great introduction into top 40 hip-hop (and a reintroduction to top 40 in general). It's just outside of my top ten favorites too.

LCD Soundsystem really grew on me. I enjoy most of the songs on it now, and I love the closer and "All I Want"--and of course the best song of the year.

Album artwork is a really interesting category, too. I like: the Tallest Man EP, Contra (which I liked before the controversy), Spoon for sure, She & Him, High Violet, the Radio Dept, Grinderman, and the Walkmen. And I hate to be a broken record (okay, I don't really), but the Royal Robertson artwork is stunning.

January 2, 2011 at 9:34 PM 
Blogger Tony said...

I'll take that Tallest Man on Earth artwork. Still leaning toward Lisbon.

I'm a bit torn about Monae beyond "Tightrope." Need to study up.

January 2, 2011 at 11:46 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I apologize for not contributing even though Chase incessantly prodded me. I would have written something of substance if I weren't so profoundly lazy. However, some brief thoughts:

I should really start listening to Sufjan and Tallest Man on Earth. I've heard a lot of praise for their work and they seem like really alluring dudes, musically.

The Spoon album was really great, in my opinion. Incredibly smart and unique. On a similar note, I haven't heard LCD Soundsystem's latest, but I'm busy falling in love with their debut, so, hopefully, I'm on my way.

My only bone of contention is the Arcade Fire. I've basically gotten to the point where I can't stand them and, though I believe they are the signature sound of the Pitchfork-reared (mind the pun) generation, I don't really count that as a good thing. In my mind, they represent the most theatric and indulgent end of a (to quote Spencer Krug here, since I'm a pathetically hopeless fanboy) "fluffy, coy, sycophantic" musical culture.

By the way, Expo 86 was pretty good. Production's kinda shitty though.

-Evan, a.k.a. Boosephus Maximus

January 4, 2011 at 6:45 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, "Transference" really does win out for album artwork of the year. Absolutely amazing and also perfect for the content of the record.

Jack? Grinderman? Really? Dude. Just. . .Fuck you in the neck. Motherfucker.

- Boo Jackson

January 4, 2011 at 7:40 PM 
Blogger JHitts said...

I'm talkin' album art, Evan. How can you not appreciate a fuckin' wolf growling in the middle of an extemely well-furnished living room? That wolf would eat the Spoon guy's intestine's as he screamed for his mother.

If anything, it's the best visual representation of all of these of what the album actually sounds like. Better than that Spoon guy with a shiteating grin on his face. He's not quite cool enough to grace the cover of a Spoon album. I mean, he's not this guy, that's for sure.

Also, Mark: What, exactly, do you dislike about Wavves? I have a hard time understanding how anybody could dislike that album.

January 5, 2011 at 5:12 AM 

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