Moving right along, 2010 was one of the best years in music in recent memory...shit...maybe ever! That's right, I said it. I can't remember the last time I came across so many great tunes.I have SiriusXMU to thank and Phonte Coleman... No more spoilers, enough babble, here's the list :
18. The Foreign Exchange - Authenticity
The untimely break-up of the greatest hip-hop group you've never heard of, Little Brother, has sent members Big Pooh and Phonte Coleman spinning into other projects. Authenticity, marks Phonte's third go with Dutch producer Nicolay, and they reminded us that good R&B still exists without the presence of cheesy TLC-like beats. Authenticity is an album to groove to, make no mistake about it. On 'Laughing at Your Plans', Phonte enlists the help of the angelic Chantae Cann for a masterful collaboration, as Nicolay weaves in a soft violin to conclude his beautiful arrangement. The last track 'The City Ain't the Same Without You' is reminiscent of the magic on The Foreign Exchange's first two critically acclaimed albums Connected and Leave it All Behind. As this list progresses, you'll see that Phonte Coleman was quite possibly the hardest working man in hip-hop in 2010.
17. Foals - Total Life Forever
English band Foals put together one of the most unpretentious and just flat out effortlessly energetic albums of 2010. This is just good indie rock. The operatic first track 'Blue Blood' surprises us into an uptempo drum beat that just makes you want to move. On 'Spanish Sahara,' Foals lead singer Yannis Philippakis' voice guides us into an atmospheric crescendo to lead guitarist Jimmy Smith's pivotal solo before the track's final chorus and crowning moment of the album. On the albums title track 'Total Life Forever', you hear shades of bands like The Clash and the Pet Shop Boys. This album is a perfect snap shot of what good indie rock should sound like today. No frills.
16. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
Newsom just has one of those "Once in a Lifetime" type of voices. She has so much range, that she's in a class all by herself. The double disc, Have One on Me finds Joanna mastering her way through her harp and piano on 24 gorgeous tracks. On 'Good Intentions Paving Company,' Newsom touches on her 60's and 70's influences and channels her inner Joni Mitchell. There is nobody like Joanna Newsom. She has the most beautifully unique voice I've ever heard; Trouble is, that same voice seems to be the polarizing characteristic on whether people are into her music or not. I know which side I'm on.
15. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Damon Albarn is the master of concept albums. It's no surprise that he learned his trade from the man himself, Dan the Automator on 2001's self-titled album, where we were introduced to the world's first "virtual band". 2005's Demon Days saw the Gorillaz surviving in a fierce world of gun toting children and chaotic-decision making totalitarian human heads. On Plastic Beach we're brought to a land something like Koopa Troopa Beach from Super Mario Kart. I'm not one to relish over Snoop Doggy Dogg, but his vocals on 'Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach' are a perfect match for setting the tone of this world that we've warped to. Albarn shrewdly employs Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano, namely on the Caribbean insta-classic 'Empire Ants'. Albarn shines in moments of elaborate arrangements like on the tale of electronic enchantment, 'Rhinestone Eyes.' I remember in the hey-dey of Alterna-rock, people would question who was better: Oasis or Blur? Well those drunken idiots from Oasis are washed up, while "that dude from Blur" (Albarn) continues pushing the pop music envelope and has no plans on stopping anytime soon.
14. Wavves - King of the Beach
I jumped up and down like a crazy punk rock teenager while listening to this album more than I have in years. This shit is FUN! Just crazy, idontgiveafuck type o' tunes. My favorite time to listen to this album, is typically on a Friday night at like 8pm, after a hot shower and gettin ready for a night on the town of heavy drinking with my friends. Guaranteed to put a huge FTW grin on my face. On 'Idiot', Wavves' Nathan Williams lets us know what a dumb ass party animal he is and then throws a wicked punk rock guitar riff in there for good measure to make sure you're bangin your head up and down. He even gets a little poetic with cuts like 'Green Eyes' and 'Take on the World,' where he tells us that he has a soft spot for pretty girls and still daydreams of being top dog in his spare time. I had more fun listening to this album than any thing else i came across in 2010.
13. Best Coast - Crazy For You
I don't know how many times I've heard people say "Hey, you know the dude from Wavves and the chick from Best Coast are dating each other?" or "Did you know Bethany from Best Coast has a twitter account for her cat?" Yes, I know this. All this indie-gossip aside, on Crazy For You, Bethany Cosentino and Best Coast put together a shoe gazy, chillin on the beach in a house with teak furniture type of album. Her songs are short and sweet, her voice is cute and so is she. She longs for her one true love on 'Boyfriend,' and the love she lost on 'Our Deal'. If you thought Nathan Williams liked to day dream, his girlfriend takes the cake. The contrast between the two albums makes you wonder about the quirk and unpredictability of their relationship. While Williams made a party album, Cosentino made a girly album, somehow both were awesome.
12. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Oh FLyLo...when the hip-hop dust settles, you could be the last man standing. Man, I love this guy. FlyLo pioneered his own brand of "future-hop" on 1983 and Los Angeles and he hasn't changed what made him great on 2010's 'Cosmogramma'. You have to hear it to understand what he does that sets him apart from conventional hip-hop or electronica. On 'Do the Astral Plane,' FlyLo dancifies a soul beat to perfection. On 'Zodiac Shit,' he goes heavy on the bass to bring you through a stretch of short tracks leading up to '...and The World Laughs With You' with Radiohead's Thom Yorke. Cosmogramma is like taking all of the adult swim soundtrack music that everyone loves and throwing it down on a studio album for your listening pleasure. FlyLo represents everything that goes against what is conventional and understood in hip-hop. He melts electronica into everything he does and you never know which genre he identifies with more, hence the creation of "Future Hop." What does he represent to movement and progress in music? Put it this way: Thom Yorke, who frequently shuns requests for collaborations, notably from Paul McCartney, got together with Flying Lotus of all people to produce one of the best tracks of 2010:
11. Little Brother - LeftBack
I was crushed to hear that Little Brother, my favorite hip-hop group that didnt make music in the early-90's, was breaking up. While Phonte and Big Pooh have moved on to other projects (see: The Foreign Exchange, et al), they left us with this one last gem to bounce to. On 'Tigallo for Dolo,' Phonte graces us with his signature style and let's us know how he's grown as a rapper and that he represents who he makes music with "...even when he's by him[my]self." I remember taking a hungover nap one afternoon, i left my ipod rollin on recently added tracks and woke up to the mesmerizing chants on 'Revenge.' I knew I was hooked on another Little Brother album right then and there. Conscious hip-hop and compelling production, from dudes who can not only rap, but sing too. If you've spent more than a few minutes with me over the past year, you've probably heard my tirelessly touting the praises of Little Brother and if I leave you with one thing on this entry, its that you MUST delve into the library of this fantastic hip-hop group. They NEVER dropped off. They NEVER made a bad album. They NEVER compromised the way they made music to fit a trend. From start to finish, they always brought it. Man, I love Little Brother and I'll be scouring the show listings every day for however long it takes to see a Little Brother reunion tour on the schedule. Don't sleep on this.
10. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Bradford Cox is a musical genius. That's the first thing you need to know before listening to Halcyon Digest. He's also a weird mother fucker, with an ego that fills any concert hall. But sometimes, that's what it takes to make good, provocative and cerebral indie rock. 'Helicopter' proved to be one of the year's most poignant singles. Synthy drums drive bursting bubbles into the atmosphere while Cox strums and sings us into a stargaze. You lose yourself in his solitary confessions. The frail-looking Cox, is no doubt the brains of this group. He's happy about something, I'm not sure exactly what. On 'Coronado' he introduces a saxophone to help tell his tale of inexplicable elation. Deerhunter's sound caught me by surprise. I hadn't heard anything like this before. I was wowed and still am.
I'd like to pause at the halfway point and explain how I compiled this list. My goal was to beat Pitchfork to the punch so my opinions weren't biased based on theirs. Their list comes out tomorrow morning, so even though i accomplished my goal, you can see what a fucking procrastinator I am. There were other albums that I wanted to throw on the list, but missed the cut. It still doesn't mean that bands like The Radio Dept, Vampire Weekend, No Age, Wolf Parade and Sufjan Stevens didn't make great albums. Also, I didn't listen to the new Kanye or the new Big Boi this year, so don't expect to see them coming up. Finally, i listened to all of these albums over and over again, especially over the last month and ranked and re-ranked like 50 times. So this is it.. break is over, here's the Top 9!
9. The Roots - How I Got Over
This is the best album The Roots have put out since 2004's The Tipping Point. You gotta hand it to the undisputed best live hip-hop act in the world. They really brought it on this album. On 'Walk Alone' they give us the classic sound we've come to love with a killer soul groove. A Loungy piano and soft electric guitar layers over Black Thought's flow and we're in a trance. Cue the back-up singers and you feel like you're in an underground jazz club, snapping your fingers to the beat. This is what The Roots do so well on How I Got Over; They throw down the livest possible sound, so you can understand that hip-hop has transcended more than just DJ and MC. This shit is musical as hell, but still raw. On 'Dear God 2.0,' Black Thought professes: "If I could hold the world in the palm of these...hands, i would prolly do away with these anomalies, everybody checking for the new award nominees, wars and atrocities, ignorin' the prophecies , more beef and broccoli, corporate monopoly, weak world economy...." Damn...that's just sick. The icing on the cake for me was the inclusion of hip-hop's hardest working man in 2010, Phonte Coleman, on 2 of the tracks, not to mention collaborations with Joanna Newsom and John Legend. How I Got Over saw The Roots rockin in a major way.
8. The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Ok, I get it now.... I never understood why the Arcade Fire had such a massive following. I was into 'em, but never really grasped the big picture. Well, that all changed at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on October 2nd. Never have i seen a crowd vibe with a band quite like this. I immersed myself in The Suburbs and saw this as another band whose sound was maturing. The album touches on that very maturity. Notions of growing up and where you came from, as being so much of who you've become, are discussed in their songs. On 'We Used to Wait', the band produced a customizable interactive video, using a google maps plug in, where satellite photos of the street you grew up on are weaved in to personalize the video as a soundtrack to where you grew up (Google Chrome is recomened, here: We Used to Wait video). 'Sprawl II', sees singer Regine Chassagne taking over for lead singer Win Butler to show the band's ability to interchange the male and female vocals and achieve the same grandeur. Big time band, makes big time album and puts on big time concerts. Best show I saw all year. Boom.
7. Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Damn...I didn't see these guys coming. There was a week this year when I saw the XX on a Wednesday, followed by Local Natives on Thursday at Bottom of the Hill in SF and they KILLED it. The stark contrast between the sound of the two bands really highlighted Local Natives' energy. Their vocal harmonies were so impressive. It's definitely a young sound, with their use of tribal drums and layered vocals, but they're really polished. 'Wide Eyes' was one of the years best singles. They covered the Talking Heads' 'Warning Sign' to perfection and did David Byrne mad justice. Their sound has a consistent Southern California feel, but resonates everywhere. It was the most original project that I heard all year.
6. The National - High Violet
The big dogs stepped it up in 2010. The National was no exception. Matt Berninger and his velvety baritone voice serenades us through 11 tracks that show what might be the most mature and refined sound of any indie rock band out there. On the dark 'Anyone's Ghost,' Berninger deals with feelings of irrelevance and how he will overcome his anguish on his own. No lead singer defines his band's sound as much as Berninger, but it wouldn't be as notable without Bryan Devendorf's drumming. A drummer hasn't moved me like this since Tool's Danny Carey. Completely different sound, i know, but Devedorf's fills are second to none. This is most evident on the album's first single 'Bloodbuzz Ohio.' I had the pleasure of seeing these guys at the Treasure Island festival this year and they were my favorite act of the weekend (considering the lineup of heavyweights that were there, is saying a lot.)
5. Beach House - Teen Dream
I went to sleep and had the most perfect dream. The whole time throughout my dream, Beach House's Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally took turns serenading me through dreamland and I never wanted to wake up. Teen Dream is a classic "start to finish" type of album. Its hard to pinpoint which song is my favorite, cause they all stand out in their own special way. On "Walk in the Park," you feel like your living the greatest day of your life and strolling through the park with a smile on your face to celebrate....You put your hands in the pocket of your coat, keep the volume of your headphones to a comfortable level, and just smile as you notice the breeze passing through the trees around you. Beach House uses a synth-organ in most of their songs which defines their typical sound. This shit is just plain dreamy. Listen to it on a rainy day with a cup of tea and a book...My roommate says this album is like "warm wood and cold marble...two of the most comforting things ever" Nice Ally.
4. Four Tet - There is Love in You
This is Four Tet's 7th album and this is his best work thus far. I can't even begin to describe where to classify his sound on the musical spectrum. Four Tet's Kieran Hebden is a musical fusionist of the very essence. On 'Love Cry,' he gets you moving right away. This is intelli-electronica. I'll never forget the setting sun on Treasure Island as Hebdan dropped 'Love Cry'. The crowd was just prepping for the evening that lay ahead and our mood for the evening was just taking shape. He shows us his zany side on "Sing" where Aphex Twin like loops are dropped for us to embrace the chaos of the track. Acoustic guitars and throbbing rhythms bring everything into focus. This is the perfect album to listen to while experiencing mindless detachment. Let Four Tet's opus be your manitou through the Walkabout that is your day. (Ha!)
3. The Black Keys - Brothers
I admit, I didnt know too much about the Black Keys until I heard this album, at which point I proceeded to downloaded the rest of the library and was hooked. The album's first single 'Next Girl' came at a timely moment in my life, as I was breaking up with my girl and it made me laugh about it. 'Tighten Up' lifted me up and provided the most energy of any track on the album. Although, something crazy started happening as I kept listening...Brothers started morphing into a soul album. Old motown samples were used in tracks like 'The Only One' and 'Never Give You Up.' The albums deepest moment, might have come on 'Unknown Brother', where Dan Auerbach sings of perhaps a family member whose life was cut short as he strums away at his bluesy guitar while Patrick Carney keeps the beat. What these two guys do is amazing. Maybe only The White Stripes can produce music like this with only 2 full-time members, making Brothers all the more amazing of an accomplishment.
2. Caribou - Swim
I searched a long time to find this sound. This album is the most "me" of everything i heard in 2010. Mellow, intelligent, lo-fi electronica with a housy beat. The album's single, 'Odessa' first drew my attention. I was way into this, but then when I downloaded the album, every track was in the same spirit. "Found Out" uses a simple break beat on top of other trippy sound effects and a calculated guitar chord pulsating over the beat as Daniel Naith's voice spirals over everything. 'Leave House' uses a flute sound over the breakbeat. This shit is right up my alley. It's what i call "city music" Reminiscent of Everything But the Girl, "city music" is my go to music when im walking through town at night with my headphones on. I can listen to it over and over again on a continuous loop and still be motivated to keep walking through the streets of San Francisco. Hot. Cold. It doesn't matter, its a soundtrack to the city.
1. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
This just happened. James Murphy came up to bat with high expectations being an understatement and he delivered. This was the year of LCD Soundsystem. It had to be for Murphy and he embraced it. 'Dance Yrslf Clean' was the most important single of the year. It was the pioneer of electro re-inventing the wheel. We had never heard anything like this. But that's always the case with James Murphy. He's an innovator in every way. I knew the first time i heard this album that it was 2010's best, because music simply doesn't get better than this. I'm not gonna sit here and sugar coat this shit, cause this is one of the best albums ive ever heard. This band makes me feel so many different emotions. This is what music is supposed to do to you. It's supposed to make you dance in weird ways. It's supposed to make you jump up and down with your friends. Its supposed to make you sing along. Its supposed to make you headbang. It's supposed to make you wanna party. Its supposed to make you make a mean bassface. It's supposed to make you talk about it. And if its really good, its supposed to make you wanna listen to it over and over again.
On 'I Can Change', Murphy sings about the many different wavelengths we all go through when we're falling in and out of a relationship, or clinging to what's vanishing right before us. On 'Home', the album's closing track, Murphy preaches the gospel of loving where you're at and the moment that you're living in; Much like their music makes us feel...like we're caught in a moment and all of the things that came together to make this moment possible are important and ever present in our minds: "Yeah noone ever knows what your talking about. So I guess you're already there!" Story of my life. Embrace the moment, cause what you need is right in front of you. What a year!
Happy 2010 Everyone!