After a year of turmoil and crisis, what better way to end it by talking about some good music. In this spirit I present you, 20 of my most favourite albums of the year. Note this is barely a definitive list and there were many highly respected albums I didn’t listen to this year out of shear laziness (sorry Wavves, Hot Chip, Beach House, Big Boi, The Roots, Caribou, Yeasayer and many, many more). It is hardly objective and is filled from head to toe with my bias. What it is, is just a list of albums I obtained, that I liked alot, and would like to spruik around because there all pretty darn good.
First of all, I have to get some honourable mentions out of the way. I didn’t feel that I could justify the presence of EP’s on a list for LP’s, so I liked to recommend Girls’ Broken Hearts Club, Flying Lotus’ Pattern + Grid World and Sufjan Steven’s All Delighted People. Also, the re-release of Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come contained a live recording entitled Live from Umea Open, which was on heavy rotation during my 2010. There were also full length new albums, namely Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti’s Before Today that I just couldn’t fit in the list. In any case the albums that are on the list are pretty good, so give ‘em a listen.
20. Fang Island - Self Titled
Listeners have two options when it comes to Fang Island; either they see their stadium rock/indie pop/art punk hybrid as an insincere mash up of contradicting genres, or they relax and just enjoy the bands sound. I choose the latter. I can’t help but love the synth powered Fleet Foxes-like chants of “Dream of Dreams” and the “Jack & Diane”-esque breakdown in “Sideswiper”. In the end, Fang Island is just bit of fun, and some good fun at that.
I recommendz: “Daisy” (also one of my favourite video clips of the year), “Life Coach” and “Careful Crossers”
19. Girl Talk - All Day
Girl Talk is the ‘Where’s Wally’ of a music nerd. Firstly, 373 samples crammed into 70 minutes of music is an achievement in and of itself. Then there’s the mash ups themselves. And while haters are gonna hate, mash ups of Twista verses over “With Or Without You”, or Rhianna’s “Rude Boy” over (my favourite band) Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” remain utterly danceable and completely genius. Even ending the record on a sample of “Imagine”, as sacrilegious as it is, can’t ruin this album for me.
I recommendz: “Get It Get It”, “Make Me Wanna” and “Every Day”
18. Male Bonding - Nothing Hurts
The first debut record on my list hales from a trio from England. Male Bonding’s combo of shoegazer vocals and noise-punk riffs is nothing original, but there execution is unique, pushing both parameters to there absolute limits. Considering this is the groups first full length release, one can expect many more good things from this band in the years to come.
I recommedz: “Crooked Scene”, “Nothing Use to Hurt” and “Weird Feelings”.
17. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two (Return of Ankh)
Everything on this record just sounds really good. The drums hit hard, the bass lines are crisp, there is just enough atmosphere to fill the space without it getting cluttered, and then, there is Miss Badu herself, who sounds just perfect! Her voice sounds almost effortless on tracks like “Gone Baby Don’t Be Long” as she goes from a dark drone to a heavenly croon. Plus, any album with a wah bass line is a winner in my books.
I recommendz: “Window Seat” (definitely one of my favourite tracks of the year), “Gone Baby, Don’t be Long” and “Umm Hmm”.
16. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles II
Crystal Castles are a rare act that manages to find fans in the indie, punk and dance communities. Their visceral yet danceable form of electronic music is in fine form on II. The darkness of this record is the most obvious difference to I, one only needs to hear the treatment of Sigur Ros’ “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” on the track “Year of Silence” to understand the difference. Despite the demonic feelings II continues to ooze funk on every track. Love it.
I recommendz (obvious really): “Baptism”, “Not In Love” and “Celestica”
15. No Age - Everything In Between
Whilst the noise punk scene continues to get bigger every year, No Age show once again they are one of the true innovators of the genre. From the opening riffs on tracks like “Common Heat” and “Valley Hump Crash”, to the layered tape effects on “Dusted”, there is a certain peace and joy on this record that I haven’t encounted on previous No Age records. But don’t be fooled, tracks like “Depletion” keep the band grounded in their classic distortion-reverb-heavy punk sound, giving the record a classic No Age spin on their new stylings.
I recommendz: “Glitter”, “Fever Dreaming” and “Skinned”.
14. Motion City Soundtrack - My Dinosaur Life
Haha. In amongst all this pretentious music comes a band that really should only be loved by 15 year old girls. I have a very soft spot for MCS. My Dinosaur Life is not Dan Deacon, it is not Panda Bear, it is not HEALTH. It is not challenging nor overly original. What it is, to me, is just a bit of fun, Something simply, catchy, geeky and sensitive. A bit of emo escapism that keeps you dancing around and singing. What more can you ask for?
I recommendz: “Pulp Fiction” (perhaps MCS’ best song, ever?), “Disappear” and “Stand Too Close”.
13. Best Coast - Crazy For You
This album troubled me for quite sometime. Did I love it because of Bethany Cosentino’s simple tales of love and heartbreak? Or do I harbour a deep seeded misogyny that gets of on a woman who is near catatonic without a man? While Best Coast is clearly no Bikini Kill, I’d like to think that it is the groups pop perfection that leads me to adore this record. Besides, when Bethany cries “I’d love him to the very end but instead he is just a friend, I wish he was my boyfriend”, how can you no love it?
I recommendz: “Boyfriend” (I really like this song), “The End” and “Happy”.
12. Surfer Blood - Astrocoast
Originally I wasn’t going to include this album. All I remembered of it was the endless ocean references (the band name, the album name, the cover, the tracklist). I decided to look over it again when it all came flooding (FUCK!) back. Astrocoast has all the right moves. Catchy melodies, simple hooks, cool riffs. Once the sun finally comes out for summer I’m sure this album will be on constant rotation.
I recommendz: “Swim”, “Floating Vibes” and “Twin Peaks”.
11. Ceremony - Rohnert Park
In direct contrast to the last few entries, Rohnert Park is hard as fuck. A through back to pre-Damaged era Black Flag and Circle Jerks, Ceremony have produced a fine example of straight hardcore punk, and whilst it wears its influences on its sleeve the raw aggression of this record saves it from sounding derivative. They even through in some softer tracks (“The Doldrums” and “Into Wayside Part III”) which are actually good! A vast difference to most hardcore bands running around these days. It is important to note that Ceremony were once a powerviolence act, proving metal influenced bands can eventually see the light, even in an age where Bring Me the Horizon can reach no. 1 on the Australian charts.
I recommendz: “Sick” (easily the best punk song of the year), “Terminal Addiction” (easily the best straight edge song of the year) and “Back in ‘84”.
Finally, the top 10…….
10. Das Racist - Sit Down, Man
I’m still grasping with what Das Racist is. When they declare that they are “an end to mind wash religion. No where politics, bogus philosophies” or “They ask me about all my views on the relations of races and cut out the radical shit for space, das racist” then maybe they are a political hip hop trio. But when they rap “Ho Ho Ho, merry Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Ramadan. Got more rhymes then Jay Elec got rama lama ding dong parmesan cheese on the ravioli. Holy Spicoli Batman I’m Sean Penn” or using a completely out of place afropop hook in “Julia (The Very Best Remix)”then they surely must be a joke. It seems Das Racist might be the Nation of Ulysses of alternative hip hop; a boundary pushing, self aware hyper political outfit where there is no line between what is real and what is parody. Still, I like it alot.
I recommendz: “Puerto Rican Cousins”, “Rooftop”, “Return To Innocence” and “Fashion Party”.
9. Sleigh Bells - Treats
Let’s face it, by the time the opening track “Tell ‘Em” is finished, you’ll know whether or not you love or hate this album. The duo’s fucking LOUD mix of near-crunk beats, heavy guitars and adolescent sounding vocals are either exactly what you’ve been looking for, or the completely self-aware irony will collapse you into a post-modern black hole from which there is no escape. In either case, Sleigh Bells deserve credit for making a punk/hip-hop mix that is you can actually listen to, a feet rarely accomplished (see BrokenCYDE). So my advice; roll with the punches, this an album that can capture your imagination for a long time and remain enjoyable, if you let it.
I recommendz: “Rill Rill”, “Tell ‘Em” (both some of my favourite tracks of the year), “Crown on the Ground” and “Infinity Guitars”.
8. Daughters - Self Titled
I’ve loosely described this to people in the past as post-hardcore. Not because it sounds like A Day to Remember or Saosin or any other of those countless bands, but because it generally does expand on possibilities of hardcore. Daughters is the sound of getting someones head kicked in. It hits with a bang, carrying the occasional polyrhythms, distorted bass and guitars which sound like hurricanes. Yet it is Alexis Marshall’s crooning that makes the album for me. It is kept back in the mix, allowing the brutality of the instrumentation to shine through, without overshining it like screaming would. Daughters is a shining example of what hardcore can do, being intelligent whilst maintaining all the crunch. A very bright side in a year where fucking Bring Me the Horizon reached no. 1 on the Australian charts. Fuckers.
I recommendz: “The Hit”, “The Virgin”, “The Theater Goer” and “The First Supper”.
7. Gonjasufi - A Sufi and the Killer
Undoubtedly my favourite debut record and album titled of the year. Listening to this album is like that moment in the Simpson’s when Barney drinks the all syrup squishee; “I don’t know where you pixies came from, but I sure like your pixie drink”. This is the most versatile album I’ve heard all year, as the former yoga instructor floats between alt. hip hop, to blues, to P-funk, to Amnesiac era electronica, even of noise pop gets a run. Adding to the musical variability is Gonjasufi’s voice, which is equal parts tortured as it is vulnerable making a truly remarkable record that deserves to be heard.
I recommendz: “She Gone” (this was my absolute favourite song up until last month. More on that later), “Ancestors”, “Sheep” and “DedNd”
6. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
At the start of this blog I did say I was biased. This is a clear example. It’s not the American Slang is bad, very far from it, but it’s not exactly the 6th best album of 2010. But how could I leave them out? I love everything about them. The classic rock n’ roll instrumentation, which contains more then a hint of motown soul, The Clash, The E Street band and The Cure. Then there is Brian Fallon’s lyrics, from the mundane (“university boys and the girls fill the bars well I’m just waiting on the lights to change”) to the shout along choruses (“So was I good to you, the wife of my youth? Not another soul could love you like my rotten bones do”), each and everyone is absolutely sincere and instantly lovable. In the end, American Slang displays that The Gaslight Anthem are everything that rock music should be; honest, heartbreaking and fist pumpin’.
I recommendz: “Bring It On”, “The Spirit of Jazz”, “American Slang” and “The Diamond Street Choir”.
5. Women - Public Strain
Straight of the bat, I have to say how much I admire this album. Unlike the many noise rock bands around these days, there does not seem to be an effort to sugarcoat the noise on this record with cute pop sensibilities. When Women want drone, there is drone! When Women want to destroy a songs structure, they destroy the songs structure! When they want and odd timing, they jump to 13:8! All of this makes Public Strain an abrasive and uncompromising first listen, but as you stick with you begin to discover moments of true beauty, particularily on tracks like “Narrow With the Hall” and the BRILLIANT ”Eyesore”, where some great guitar riffs seem to emerge out of nothing. To me, Women have achieved what little acts are able to do, they have a vision, and they have completed it, and for that I respect Public Strain immensely.
I recommendz: “Eyesore” (I really, really love the closing riff), “Narrow With the Halls”, “Drag Open” and “Heat Distraction”.
4. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Given the popularity of dance punk at the moment (see: Passion Pit, Cut Copy, Hot Chip, Crystal Castles) it would have been easy for James Murphy to follow up the classic Sound of Silver with a simple pop album. Instead, Murphy took the gamble and produce some close to a prog-dance album, with influences from the Velvet Underground, David Bowie and the Talking Heads. The results is truly rewarding. From the cracking snare that kicks of “Dance Yrself Clean” 3 minutes after it started, to the pure catchiness of “Drunk Girls” to the epic sprawl of “Pow Pow”, every moment on This Is Happening is exciting, pushing boundaries without becoming overwrought. Much has been made by the suggestion that this might by the last LCD album. In a way, it could be the best thing to do, leaving on a high point that would be very difficult to top.
I recommendz: “Drunk Girls”, “All I Want”, “Dance Yrself Clean” and “Can Change”.
3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
I didn’t really listen to this album much when it first came out. The reason was simple: I immediately loved it, might as well listen to things I didn’t like so much on first listen to find something I did (sorry, Jonsi). Still, The Suburbs became a staple of my 2010 listening. Unlike their previous two (classic) albums, The Suburbs is much more of a rock album then a wall of sound baroque masterpiece. In saying that, it is no less complex, beautifully arranged and/or interesting then Funeral or Neon Bible. In fact, I welcome the change; Arcade Fire have proven they don’t need an orchestra, accordians and organs to make brilliant rock music.
I recommendz: “The Suburbs”, “Ready to Start”, “The Sprawl (Mountains beyond Mountains”, “Modern Man” and “City With No Children In It”.
2. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
My love affair started around two years ago with the release of the incredible Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. Deerhunters brand of “ambient punk” struck and immediate chord and I quickly went about the task of collecting as much Deerhunter music as I could. So to say I was stoked about the release of Halcyon Digest is an understatement.
In retrospect I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the album. The rainwater Cassette Exchange EP and frontman Bradford Cox’s solo album Logos indicate a distinct shift away from the more instrumental tendencies of early Deerhunter, to a more cohesive, rhythmic shoegazer pop. This change is fully realised in Halcyon Digest. It is easily Deerhunter’s most immediate, accessible and enjoyable work to date (it has even spawned dance remixes!). All the songs are instantly recognisable and catchy. Despite this, Deerhunter maintains the signature layered sound that simultaneously had enough definition for the listener to understand what’s going on without ever allowing one to fully disect all the instrumentation. Lyrically it is not too different to what Cox has produced in the past; constantly depressing (“it would be the death of me, knowing that my friends will not remember me”) though there is a distinctive focus on melody (see: “Memory Boy”) this time round.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of Halycon Digest (for me at least) is that the band sounds like they are enjoying themselves. The doom and gloom of previous records, whilst a solid pillar to Deerhunter’s music, have given way to a certain serenity on this record in an organic way. Investing time and heart into a band and seeing them blossom as Deerhunter have done on this record is a truly joyous experience. In saying that, this is easily the best album for first time Deerhunter-listeners to obtain, and I would recommend this album to pretty much anyone. it is that good.
I recommendz: “Helicopter”, “Coronado”, “Revival”, “He Would have Laughed” and “Don’t Cry”.
Finally, my favourite album of the year is…….