Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best Albums of 2010 (20-11)

20. Sade - Soldier of Love
Sade gets a bad wrap. She has been around making music with her band since the mid 80's, and has consistently released solid album that go beyond her deep R&B leanings. Unfortunately she is often pigeonholed into an adult contemporary wasteland, and while this maybe something you might hear sitting at a Starbucks, it is also something that is deeper musically than what is released by her peers. While she doesn't lyrically conquer any topics that haven't been covered a million times before, she has such a strength and conviction in her voice that it is easy to forget the seemingly trivial subject matter. Another thing that sets her apart is her band, who she has been playing with since the start of her career. While on first listen it just sounds like a competent backing band, the subtleties and nuances really reward those who listen to the album multiple times. The band never lets her fall into the easy territory of balladry, and even when they strip songs down to just Sade's voice it never comes off as ham handed. Also for being 51 years old, the Nigerian born singer is still incredibly striking to look at physically.

Sade - Soldier of Love
19. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
This is a tough call. If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year what my top 10 would look like just based on anticipation, this album alongside The National album would definitely have been near the top. However upon hearing This is Happening I was pretty underwhelmed. That isn't to say its not a good album, because it is. It contains all the things about the previous two albums that I enjoyed so much. Standout track "One Touch" utilizes the Dance Punk builds and speak/sing vocals of James Murphy that we have come to expect, and "Home" provides a similar sense of catharsis provided by Sound of Silver standout track "All My Friends". But the predictability seems to have dragged Murphy into a rut musically. Opening track "Dance Yrself Clean" builds slowly to a noisy end, but grows tiresome. "Drunk Girls" follows in the goofy footsteps of cuts like "Daft Punk is Playing at my House" and "North American Scum", but is easily the worst of the three. And I actually skip "Somebody's Calling Me" every time, which is strange because I hardly ever skip tracks when listening to albums.
So with all this complaining why is This is Happening still my 19th best album of the year? Truth be told I still like the album quite a bit. It neatly closes out his 3 album arc (Murphy has said this will be his last album),and is still a lot of fun to listen to. Even a mediocre LCD Soundsystem album is better than most everything else that comes out. I'm just sad that he didn't explore any new territory.
LCD Soundsystem - One Touch
18. Deepchord Presents EchoSpace - Liumin
Dub Electronic (no not fucking dubstep) is an interesting genre. It grew out of the Dub Reggae movement, which took Reggae and stripped it down to its most primal elements, which was the groove. The electronic version of Dub has the same aesthetics, but the compositions tend to be more long form with an emphasis on the trance of repetition. Liumin is Dub Electronic to the bone, but it differs from other albums in the genre in some key ways. It is somewhat of a theme album. The composers went to Tokyo to record hours and hours of field recordings of the city itself, and then constructed the music around loops of the sounds themselves. It opens with something that sounds like water rushing, but with so much delay and echo on it that it begins to sound like a downpour or a waterfall, and then slowly over a course of minutes the groove kicks in, and doesn't really let up for the duration of the album. It morphs track by track, but is a steady undercurrent that holds the whole project together. Sounds of conversations, trains, footsteps, and other things you would commonly hear walking down a city streets at night weave in and out of the groove, providing a kind of narrative. This definitely isn't an album that you are going to listen to at a party, but it makes for a perfect listen for those up on there computers at 3AM, headphones on and drink in hand.
DeepChord presents Echospace - Firefly
17. The National - High Violet
No one tackles the conflict between growing old and growing bored as good as The National does. While I would still recommend Boxer to a listener who was new to the band, High Violet is still a very good record. The opening 1-2-3 punch of "Terrible Love", "Sorrow", and"Anyone's Ghost" is among the strongest material that they have ever released, and "Lemonworld" is astonishingly beautiful both musically and lyrically. Where the album let me down a bit is how it falls into its own comfort zone and stays there. A couple of the tracks sound like they could have been either scraped or reworked, which is sad considering the strength of the tracks surrounding them. I saw The National live this year, which was something that I had been looking forward to for years, but was a bit let down. While the performance itself was great, it was at the same time very predictable like the album itself. There is a strength to be had with the music of a band as consistent as this, but I am hoping for their next album they decide to break out of the mold they have put themselves in.
On another note, much of what I love about the album comes from the work of my favorite member of the band which is the drummer. Rarely does a drummer define a band in the way that he does. Not only does he set the pace and tempo, he provides single handedly the catharsis of the slow build and release. Not surprisingly the tracks that feature him the least are the most forgettable on the album.
The National - Lemonworld
16. Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise
Pantha Du Prince's previous album, This Bliss, was a fuzzy minimal IDM album that while being very good at what it was, came off as a bit sterile. Black Noise brings all the elements of the previous album but builds on them exponentially. There is no sense of coldness here, it is in fact and incredibly lush and full listen. This is the type of album that can be listened to in many ways with different results. It is a great background album, in that it isn't blatantly obtrusive or abrasive, but where it really shines is active listening on headphones. Each track sparkles and shimmers in such a satisfying way that I almost always listen to this album twice in a row. Panda Bear makes a guest appearance on "Stick to my Side", which is the first time Pantha Du Prince has employed vocals on one of his tracks. It could have turned out sounding rushed, but Panda's vocals go perfectly with the icy cool backdrop of Pantha's production. The other track linked below, "Wlt Am Draht", evokes a sense of mournful longing rarely found in IDM.
Pantha Du Prince - Stick to my Side
Pantha Du Prince - Welt Am Draht
15. Jónsi - Go
Its only been two years since the release of Sigur Ros' most recent album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, and yet frontman Jonsi has released two major solo albums since. The first album was the experimental ambient album Riceboy Sleeps, which was a collaboration between Jonsi and his boyfriend Alex. That album explored the slower glacial facets of Sigur Ros, and was quite a gorgeous album. The second is this year's Go, which is on the other end of the spectrum from Riceboy Sleeps. There is an infectious playfulness on Go that is hard to compare to anything else really. While it sounds like Sigur Ros in that the vocal style is the same, it differs in that a lot of the songs are in English, and the music is a curious blend of toy like instruments and orchestra. What I love about all the projects Jonsi is involved in is that they always focus childlike wonder mixed with the beauty of the world itself, which comes across musically and lyrically in the case of Go. I dare you to listen to the track I linked without smiling.
Jónsi - Animal Arithmetic
14. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
I am a proponent of the old school idea that an album should be listened to as an album, but this is an entirely different beast. Basically every single track on this album is a banger, and interesting in a musical sense a lot more so than any other rap. Where most rappers write a handful of singles and then flesh out the "album" with shit like skits and guest appearances, Big Boi doesn't cut any corners. Not to say that there aren't guest appearances, because there are on almost every song on the album, with some tracks featuring multiple guests. But every track sounds like it was approved by Big Boi, and he dominates all of the tracks even alongside the strongest guests.
However the album is not without its flaws. Like I said in the intro its not really an album album, its more of a hodgepodge of songs. You could listen to it in any order and really nothing would be lost, there really isn't anything holding Sir Lucious Left Foot together other than the strength of the songs themselves. Also I wish that there were lyrical themes present other than sex sex sex sex (not that there is anything wrong with that, its just that I know Big Boi has more to talk about and how much of a badass Big Boi is. But I guess this is Hip Hop, where ego rains supreme.
Big Boi - Shine Blockas
13. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Forgiveness Rock Record is the album that keeps on giving. I have been listening to it regularly for months and months and yet with every listen I find something new to like about it. Opening track "World Sick" is one of the best songs they have ever written, with its slow build toward its monumental chorus, and from there the album grows and morphs and changes at every turn. I think with one listen to the album people might just hear a generic indie rock record, but the rewards are there for those who pay attention. While some of the members of BSS are noticeably absent (Feist, Amy Millan), the ones who do show up put in some incredible performances, such as "Sentimental X's" which is the best thing Emily Haines has been involved with since her solo album. The perfect word for this album would be subtle, which is something sorely lacking in this world of rotten shitfests like Kanye West and Lady GaGa (I had to get a dig at them in somewhere on this list)
Broken Social Scene - World Sick
12. Matthew Dear - Black City
Matthew Dear is kind of hard to describe without name dropping a bunch of other bands and musicians, so I would say he is a mix of the weirdness of Talking Heads, the vocal warping of The Knife, and the dancepunk aesthetics of LCD Soundsystem. Emotionally the album runs the gamut from goofiness to paranoia to cold calculation, but it all fits together nicely and more importantly never comes across as dull or tired.
Matthew Dear - Monkey
11. Pulshar - Inside
This is on the other end of the Dub spectrum of Liumin, in that it is vocal based rather than repetition based. Inside is easily the best chill out album of the year. While the songs aren't 10 minutes long or anything, they still induce a sense of relaxation that isn't found in a lot of music. There is an icy coolness to the music that really lends itself well to late nights and long city walks.
Pulshar - Stepping Stones

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