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Top 40 Albums of 2010 (40-26)

It would be an understatement to say 2010 was a great year for music.  Throughout the year I found myself listening to new album after new album and thinking, “This will definitely make my Top 20 Albums list.”  Which of course explains why I’ve doubled the list this year from 20 to 40.  While 2009 left me disappointed with many of my favorite artists releasing less than stellar albums, everyone showed up to play in 2010. Let the games begin.

Honorable Mention:

Blitzen Trapper “Destroyers of the Void”

Erykah Badu “New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)”

Meursault “All Creatures Will Make Merry”

Sam Amidon “I See the Sign”

Shearwater “Golden Archipelago”

40. S. Carey

“All We Grow”

[Jagjaguwar; 2010]

While Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon was off exploring the world of hip-hop with his Kanye West affiliation, his band mate and disciple Sean Carey carried the Bon Iver flame in 2010 with his solo album “All We Grow”.  But while Vernon’s music is often barren and cold, Carey’s exudes the warmth of a winter’s fire.  The cover art of an aged childhood photo builds off this intimacy and helps stir the embers of memory within the listener.  Manned with simply a guitar, drums, and a piano, Carey build’s compositions that crescendo with emotional swells and soften for moments of contemplation.

39. Shining

“Black Jazz”

[Indie Recordings; 2010]

Back in July, I wrote of Shining’s “Black Jazz”: “On their latest release, “Blackjazz”, the doom-heads decided to try combining the two most devilish music forms from the past 100 years (jazz and black metal), resulting in an album of hellacious proportions.  Upon first listen, “Blackjazz” seems to be simply a polished black metal album, but beyond the familiar machine gun drums and crunching guitar riffs, this is more than simply black metal.  Shining rely heavily on synth, but instead of providing simply an ominous cloak, the keyboard is twinkled sporadically like a possessed Duke Ellington, venturing through scales and chord progressions more familiar to jazz night clubs than church burnings.  At times the album doesn’t even resemble music, rather a Jackson Pollock of sound, splattering up and down the malicious jazz scale in search of melody. The jazz meanderings are more obvious when Jørgen Munkeb picks up the saxophone and honks out notes like a line of tumbling dominos, notes rising and falling at will as the horn meshes with the chaos surrounding it.  These Norwegians have exorcised the true, dark spirit of jazz and unleashed it back into the world to wreak havoc.”

38. Perfume Genius

“Learning”

[Matador; 2010]

Perfume Genius’sMike Hadreas is a master storyteller, using his lo-fi, piano-motivated songs to reveal one heartbreaking tale after another.  With so many emotional stories of suicide, molestation, and drug abuse, you would think that Hadreas moonlights as a psychiatrist.  And maybe he should because beyond his captivating narratives, he also whispers one memorable melody after another, counteracting the depressing nature of the album.  His soothing melodies lift up the down-trodden characters, giving them a voice and in a strange way, giving them hope.

37. Grinderman

“Grinderman 2”

[Anti-; 2010]

On “Grinderman 2”, Nick Cave unleashes the sexual deviant within, throwing all of his 50 year old caution out the window and letting the women know that him and his “loch ness monster” have arrived with its “two great humps”.  Yes, this is 9-straight songs about Nick Cave’s penis (what I’m saying is this album pretty much dominates).  On “Grinderman 2” the band took a loose approach to their songwriting, taking a improvisational stance, and the songs thrive because of it.  Without restrictions, the album is free to be as dirty and untamed as it wants to be.

36. Caribou

“Swim”

[Merge; 2010]

Caribou’s Dan Snaith is such a show off.  On each album he’s produced a completely new sound, showing that there really is nothing he can’t do. We get it; you’re talented! On “Swim” Snaith takes the opportunity to show us all that he can make a great dance album.  Think of all those struggling other bands in the genre that have been trying to hone there sound, and then along comes Caribou and blows any progress they’ve made out of the water.  Not only does Snaith create some groovy dance beats, but he also provides a poppier sensibility to the world of club music.  And I guess that’s his secret – these aren’t dance songs at all, rather pop songs disguised in a dance beat garb. Where’s a glow stick when you need one?

35. Big Boi

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty”

[Def Jam; 2010]

“Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty” has the potential to be the best album of 2010, but a handful of less than stellar tracks hold it back (Jamie Fox…really?!).  Still, when this album is on, “it is on!”  The story of this album has become one of legends with the label not knowing what to do with it when Big Boi first presented it to them.  They asked, “but where’s the hit?”  Morons. The only explanation I can come up with is that with so many great songs they couldn’t tell which was the best.  The problem probably arose because what Big Boi brought to them sounded like nothing they’d ever heard before in the hip-hop world with it’s funky bass, 70s style chorus chants, and lyrics that require more than an urban dictionary to understand.  You dig home skillet?

34.Les Savy Fav

“Appetites”

[Frenchkiss; 2010]

Everyone loves a come back story, so when Les Savy Fav returned in 2007 with their album “Let’s Stay Friends”, their first album in six years, it was cause for rejoice. But now, three years later, “Appetites” didn’t receive nearly as much love, which is a damn shame because the band is still as potent as ever with track after track of raucous art rock.  “Let’s Stay Friends” gave hints toward a more melodic approach and “Appetites” continues this tradition, expanding more upon this friendlier stance. I can’t lie, I will always prefer the earlier Les Savy Fav stuff that is completely reckless and insane, but I still can’t deny myself of a great song, especially with Tim Harrington’s lyrics as biting as ever.   The band is far from finished as shown when Tim shouts in the opener, “WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE! WE STILL GOT OUR APPETITE!” Let the feeding frenzy continue.

33. Four Tet

“There is Love in You”

[Domino; 2010]

I hate the term “background music” because it implies that the music isn’t worthy of your attention, yet I almost just typed that “There is Love in You” is a background album. This would be misleading.  Yes, it works perfectly as the soundtrack to your day, to your work, to your play, but to suggest it’s easy to ignore? Unwise. In fact, if the music of Four Tet’s 2010 release does anything, it intrudes your mind with a wide range of thoughts and ideas, and through its hypnotic beats you are capable of organizing your thought process.  The title “There is Love in You” implies that we all have love, but if you don’t (ahem…me) this album will nourish your heart with it’s upbeat rhythms and give you a great big hug.

32. The National

“High Violet”

[4AD; 2010]

In the latest issue of SPIN, comedian Patton Oswald was asked to listen to some of the top albums of the year, and I felt his take on The National needed to be repeated. “Is this guy lying on a couch about to fall asleep? ‘Dude, do you want to have a half-hour nap before we record? Because we have time. We don’t need to do this right now, you look really jet-lagged.” While this would seem like an insult, the lethargic, overly dramatic presentation is what makes The National’s music so spellbinding.  It would be easy to say that Matt Berninger’s voice is the source of all the syrupy sentimentality that makes “High Violet” such an absorbing listen, and I think that’s the band’s goal. But back behind Berninger’s vocals hides the Dessner brothers with their astute songwriting that lifts the emotions to a higher shade of violet.

31. Frog Eyes

“Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”

[Dead Oceans; 2010]

I’ve seen Frog Eyes perform live a handful of times, and I’ve always enjoyed their wild live shows with singer Carey Mercer spastically shaking through each song. But for some reason, I pigeon holed the band as simply a great live band not thinking much about their music beyond the stage. Not only is “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph” a (ahem) triumph, it’s one of the most ambitious albums to come out in 2010. The record is broken into four parts, all adding depth to the overall story of an escape from the constraints of life, the perils of war, and the mourning that comes with death. The guitars fight for space, battling for supremacy as General Mercer transfers his manic energy into a war cry that will chill you to the bone.  So much love is paid to Mercer’s friend Spencer Krug, but with “Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph”, it might be time to give Frog Eyes the respect that is due.

30. Tobacco

“Maniac Meat”

[Anti-Con; 2010]

I’ve never really gotten into Black Moth Super Rainbow, and prior to this year, I’d never heard of front man Tom Ferc and his side project Tobacco.  Then of course after a chance run-in with his remix of HEALTH’s “Die Slow”, I gave into the temptation and bought Tobacco on vinyl.  Now my addiction to its grimy sound is in full force: the affected vocals, the crunchy synth that seems to be run through a twisty straw, the basic drum tracks that call back to the age of old school hip-hop. When my friend Justin heard me listening to Tobacco he asked, “Is that an 80s band?”  While the lo-fi, 80s feel is in full effect, nothing like “Maniac Meat” ever existed in the age of Reagan.  A lot of artists take sounds from the 80s and recreate it for nostalgic purposes. Not Tobacco.  Ferc has taken the 808 drum beats of Run DMC and the synth sounds of the Eurhythmics and created something completely original.  This is what “Walk this Way” would have sounded like if Annie Lenox moved in next door to Run DMC (oh, and if Annie Lennox had throat cancer, God forbid).

29. How to Dress Well

“Love Remains”

[Lefse; 2010]

Imagine all of your childhood R&B tapes getting water damaged in your parent’s basement. Instead of throwing away all your PM Dawn, Bobby Brown, and Billy Ocean away, you decide to give them one more listen.  You locate your dusty Walkman and begin relistening to your old favorites, quickly realizing that the damage has altered these once crystal clear, overly produced 90s standards. Yet, instead of just stopping the tape, you continue to listen.  The mold and mildew have created a cacophonous atmosphere, muffled the once pristine beats, created a ghostly R&B world where love songs have turned sour with sorrow. Then you realize that you aren’t listening to your old tapes, that you aren’t in your parent’s basement, and that you don’t even own a Walkman anymore. You’re just listening to How to Dress Well’s “Love Remains” (no flood damage required).

28. Ty Segall

“Melted”

[Goner; 2010]

My friends who have kids try convincing me of the joy associated with fatherhood.  And despite what they may think, I get it.  As an obsessive music fan, I’ve watched someone like Ty Segall grow up.  On his first self-titled release the songs are ornery and fun, yet not fully developed with his barebone tambourine drums set-up (he started as a one-man band on the street corners of San Francisco).  On “Lemons” his songs grew up with a full piece band backing him, yet his songwriting seemed to be going through an awkward stage, not quite as self-assured and free as seen on his first release. But now, with “Melted”, Ty Segall is all grown up.  The songs are still youthful in spirit but more mature and confident in form.  For me, listening to “Melted” is like watching my son get his diploma (and I didn’t even have to change a diaper).

27. Kylesa

“Season of Mist”

[Spiral Shadow; 2010]

The double lead guitar has been a mainstay in metal for years, but what of the double drum lead?  Kylesa beg to answer this question with a double drum set assault that beefs up their psych metal assault. The two drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry create intricate rhythms that bounce off each other like atoms on the verge of explosion.  These pummeling beats back up a band that has created some striking metal riffs and melodic anthems for 2010.  The Devil went down to Georgia, not to find a soul to steal, but to keep metal alive within the likes of Kylesa, Baroness, and Mastodon. And based off the out-put of these bands in the last few years, the Devil did his job quite well.

26. Liars

“Sisterworld”

[Mute; 2010]

The scariest album of 2010 is not by a black metal band; it’s by a little band that was labeled as “disco-punk” early in their career.  Since that label, the band has explored a wide range of sounds, venturing off into other territories musically.  On “Sisterworld”, Liars have taken a major journey away from their roots towards what I would describe as the auditory equivalent of the “Twilight Zone”.  The music is not of this world, rather an eerie environ where danger lurks around every corner.  Or maybe it’s not another land at all, rather similar to a trip to the Overlook Hotel where the mind takes its own jaunt to the dark side.  Whatever the case, this is Liars most complete album.  They are able to transport the listener to a nightmarish soundscape and keep them planted within the horror for the entire 42 minutes.   While past releases have shown the band’s versatility, on “Sisterworld” they remain locked in the “Sisterworld” where dissonance and death reign supreme. Disco is officially dead.

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Best Album Covers of 2010

 

20. Klaxons

“Surfing the Void”

 

This cover is funny in a "Laser Cat" kind of way, but it is also fitting for Klaxon's spacey dance beats.

 

19. Morning Benders

“Big Echo”

 

 

This summer, I wrote of Morning Bender's "Big Echo" and said, "The cover to 'Big Echo' says it all: a swimmer stands knee-deep in the forefront wearing a full body swimsuit and a swim cap, staring out into the vast expanse before him where other swimmers are already enjoying the ocean’s swell. He seems tentative, yet intrigued, just like the Morning Bender’s sound on this album. Like the flowing of the tide, the music moves fluidly between several genres. As much as I enjoy The Morning Bender’s sandy beach love songs, I always find myself awaiting that next big wave to whisk me back away to the enchanting sea of sound and hope that it won’t return me to the shoreline."

 

18. Of Montreal

“False Priest”

 

This cover brings me back to high school when I'd pass the time in class drawing a strange collection of images on the inside cover of my various notebooks. But nothing I drew ever compared to the intricacies on Of Montreal's 2010 release. Every time I look at it I find something new. Keep looking, and you might just find Waldo.

 

17. Thieves Like Us

“Again and Again”

 

 

On first glance, this may not look like much more than a girl throwing cards into the air, but the longer you look, the more questions arise: What is the silver purse-like item in her hands? Why is she giving it an elbow drop? And why are there nude women on the cards? The arrangement of the text only adds to the mystery.

 

16. Sisters

“Ghost Fits”

 

 

This cover combines my three favorite things: castles, mountains, and needle-point.

15. Mimicking Birds

“S/T”

 

I'm not sure what's going on here, but I absolutely love this cover with its strange pods spawning a creature that is literally mimicking a bird.

 

14. Ben Frost

“By the Throat”

 

 

In terms of a cover matching an album title, I don’t think it gets much better than this. The cover for “For the Throat” also contains one of my favorite album photographs for the year with the combination of snowfall, plows, and a pack of wolves caught in the headlights. Jack London could have written a novel based solely off this cover…

 

13. Erykah Badu

“New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh”

It's common in the R&B community for the album cover to feature the artist's face, but leave it to Erykah Badu to take it another direction. Instead of going with a glamour shot, Eyrkah's 2nd album in the "New Amerykah" series features a drawing of a robotic-android-Erykah with a tree sprouting from her head, all within the confines of a mystical flowery world. Suck on that Rhianna.

12. How To Destroy Angels

“EP”

 

While Mark Weaver's artwork for the How To Destroy Angel's first release is pretty spectacular, it also sets the listener up for disappointment upon first listen to Trent Reznor's side-project (God I hope it's a side-project).

 

11. Destroyer

“Archer on the Beach”

 

Only Dan Bejar could make a water fountain look magical to the adult eye.

 

10. Kanye West

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

 

 

While releasing five seperate album covers may seem a bit self-serving, Kanye uses the collection of images to add to the mythology of his "Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy": the lustful indulgence, the frailty of beauty, the faces of insanity, the perils of power, and the rebirth of legends.

9. Active Child

“Curtis Lane”

 

 

This year, many bands used old photographs as their cover (Vampire Weekend, Fang Island, Dum Dum Girls), but no photo caught my interest more than Active Childs "Curtis Lane". It captures the neighborhood found within the album's title and features two of the most creepiest child Halloween masks I've ever seen, which adds even more curiosity about the face that is hidden.

 

8. Black Tusk

“Taste the Sin”

 

 

Baroness guitarist John Dyer Baizley never gets a vacation. The artwork of Baizley continued to thrive in the metal world in 2010 with his latest masterpiece for the Black Tusk.

7.  Grinderman

“Grinderman 2”

A wild beast trapped by decadence - Nick Cave defined.

6. Sufjan Stevens

“Age of ADZ”

His darkest album to date, "Age of ADZ" let Sufjan go a different angle than his traditional Rockwell-ian covers. It also doesn't hurt when your album is based on the life of a famous artist (hence the apocalyptic artwork of Royal Robertson).

5. Strand of Oaks

“Pope Killdragon”

Since seeing this cover months ago I’ve had this simple black and tan image stuck in my head. There is something about it that is so alarming, so tribal, so ghostly, that I can’t seem to shake it (this obviously is a good thing).

4. Surfer Blood

“Astro Coast”

The most surprising aspect of this cover is not the shark mouth found within the checkerboard layout, rather what's going on in the other squares?

3. Method Man, Ghost Face, & Raekwon

“Wu Massacre”

Who wouldn't read this comic book?! Wu Tang is about to raise the motha fuckin' ruckus on the streets of Gotham!

2. Gorillaz

“Plastic Beach”

Gorillaz have always been as much about their artwork as they are about their music, and the cover to “Plastic Beach” continues this tradition, providing a visual cue for the world of the Plastic Beach discussed in the music.

1. Quest For Fire

“S/T”

I think I could stare at this cover for hours at a time; actually,  I have. This oil painting of what looks to be a melting, flower-based owl is truly a work of art. The epic, psych-jam-band mentality of Quest For Fire’s music only fuels the flames of exploration within this piece.  Skip the salvia, the mushrooms, and the LCD – just stare at this cover for an afternoon while listening to Quest For Fire; it will be the best trip you’ve ever had.

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