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Twelve 2010 Albums Worthy of Your iTunes Gift Cards


Top 12 of 2010

Last year I finally got around to putting together a top 10 music list, and once again I decided to buckle down and give it some thought. This time around I hard time narrowing it down to just 10, so I decided to include a dozen releases.

For some general background information, I get to listen to music a lot. I have a job that lets me listen through headphones, which is much better than most listening environments. In this setting I'm also able to listen to complete albums and not just random songs. In the age of the iTunes store and singles being more popular than ever, I'm still a hard-core album person. I think it's an insult to only have a couple of good songs with the rest being filler.

So, for the 2010 music scene, these are the cds that I think deserve some special recognition.

Hot Chip - One Life Stand
I debated whether to put this release on my list, however since it was released I kept coming back to it. Yep, Hot Chip put out a great album this year. With previous releases I always felt like they came close to doing something great, but always put a little too much goofiness on it. This is certainly not a dark or deep album. It's got the fun of Hot Chip, but takes it to the next level. Alexis Taylor's voice is really the center of the Hot Chip sound. Once he starts singing, you know it's Hot Chip, but this album is less of a dance-floor version of Hot Chip. Maybe that's a bad thing to some, but I found it to be a good thing. This is simply great big-hearted electro-pop and I simply couldn't dismiss it from my list.

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here
The biography of Gil Scott-Heron is truly one filled with enough hard life experiences to draw from for good material for this spoken word / poetic / political rapper who's now 60-years old. This was certainly not a release I was anticipating, nor expecting, but it certainly deserves some interest when it's his first recorded album since the mid 90's, and it's also coming out after Scott-Heron's time in and out of prison. For the album it's truly a captivating piece that's not even 30 minutes long. His weathered, raspy voice reminds me of a mix of Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash. The instrumental portions work as well, as they help establish the mood and setting of each song as Scott-Heron takes you through them. This is not an upbeat and cheery album, rather an album to play when it's dark and cold and you're all alone.

Jonsi - Go
As a huge fan of Sigur Ros, vocalist Jonsi Birgisson has a voice like no other. For more than a decade, Sigur Ros has set the bar high, so it's hard not to expect a lot from this release. The biggest change is there's now understandable English from Birgisson . So, it's different, yet the same Sigur Ros grandiose epic music that blows you away. Two key collaborators: pianist, composer, and arranger Nico Muhly and percussionist Samuli Kosminen bring exactly what Birgisson's voice needs to be pushed to an otherworldly experience and it goes there again and again. So, even if you play this knowing what to expect, you still are going to find plenty of surprises that make it well worth your time.

Future Islands - In Evening Air
The Teacher and myself had the pleasure of watching Future Islands open for Dan Deacon back in early 2009. Back then I remember being captivated by the live performance of the band, especially frontman Samuel T. Herring. My only gripe was the album Wave Like Home simply didn't have the same emotion and expressiveness in the vocals, that the live performance had. Maybe the band read my post (yeah right), but when I first played In Evening Air it was all there. I can liken this electro-pop's rawness to the first Passion Pit album Chunk of Change, without the pitch-shifted vocals. Having said that, Herring's vocals might not instantly be your cup of tea, however the heaviness of his lyrics demand this voice. I love the quote in Pitchfork's review: "Their music is playful but steeped in subtle detail, with both emotional heft and a pungent sense of theatricality." These are the most intelligent lyrics from a heart that's been deceived, lied to, and cheated on: "You are the savage sun and scarecrow. I am the tin man."

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
James Murphy makes cool hip music. He knows it. Sound of Silver was one of the best releases from 2007 and since then just about anything he's touched has been good. So, this was easily my most anticipated release of 2010. While this album probably doesn't reach the greatness that Sound of Silver reached, it's easily some of the most interesting and entertaining music out there. Murphy's production is as good as it gets. He knows how to use layers of synths, drums that don’t sound cheap and every other trick that puts so much life into his songs. This is truly the "self-help guide to relationship hangovers" (Pitchfork) that's about as brutally honest as you need to be with yourself, while making it cool and hip. Makes lots of sense, right?

The Black Keys - Brothers
The fuzzy guitars and phasing, analog keyboards, and cavernous drums put this indie rock release’s sound pretty far from most things given that label. This release has been huge and the music from it is out there, so even if you didn't seek out this release you've probably heard Tighten Up somewhere on the TV. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney know what they're best at and bring the blues-rock with Danger Mouse adding some additional flavor (producing the well known single). The Gary Glitter stomp also finds itself at home over numerous tracks. There's obvious vocal range when the falsetto hits on The Only One. This truly was a fresh release for 2010.

Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1
This international pop star, who's probably not as well known as she should be (in the USA), truly released some tasty treats this year. Her proper album Body Talk was just released and while it contains most of what's on the EP here, I think this release deserves more of the praise. This concise release is what I love most about EPs. If done right, there's just enough to really leave you wanting more, yet feel satisfied at the same time. Robyn delivers on that. Since June, this has been on constant rotation. Fembots have feelings too, and don't you forget it.

The Walkmen - Lisbon
This one was a big surprise for me. The Walkmen released Bows & Arrows way back in 2004. The track The Rat was one that really put them on the radar for me. It's not that they've put out bad music since then, rather consistently good music, but nothing that blew me away. Knowing that The National were planning a 2010 release, I certainly wouldn't have bet on The Walkmen to out do them, but that's exactly what they did with Lisbon. This album is hauntingly good, much like last year's release from Grizzly Bear. There's some tracks that easily compete with The Rat for standout songs. There are so many layers of sound on this one and it simply gets better with each listen.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Deerhunter's Microcastle was an album that I didn't fall in love with immediately. Over time I played it again and again, each time hearing more detail and depth in the album. Truly Bradford Cox (the not-as-tall as me, but still tall Deerhunter frontman) knows how to make good music. Last year his side project, Atlas Sound made my top ten list, so this release was easily one of my most anticipated releases and it didn't disappoint. This is indie rock at it's best with the Deerhunter dream-pop layered on top. This is truly an album to appreciate with a good set of headphones. Sure it rocks when it needs to, but there are many details layered within the depths of intricacy and nuance. I'm sure The Teacher would call this "music for music nerds", but I would prefer to call it "damn good music".

Twin Shadow - Forget
This debut album by Twin Shadow (George Lewis Jr) was a nice surprise featuring a bit of 80's pop revivalism, hints of new wave and beautiful production from Grizzy Bear's Chris Taylor. The retro aspect comes from the synth sounds, electric guitars and the drum machine that ruled the 80's. While you might think that alone would translate to 80's cheese, that's hardly the case here. Instead Twin Shadow pumps out catchy as hell tracks that deal with love and everything you want to forget about from love gone wrong, while keeping it upbeat, and keeping it chillwave and woozy. At times there's a feeling of Grizzly Bear and times TV on the Radio, or anything else good you remembered from your 1980's new wave albums. "Lean your ladder against my window, and I'll come down", so you should at least do the same and give Forget a spin. It won't let you down, your heart will still beat and you'll know the secret handshake. It's all familiar and all fresh.

Girls - Broken Dreams Club
"There's a voice in the back of my head that says you're always going to be alone, so just turn the TV on." Girls put out a great EP here (trust me, don't let the fact it's an EP make you think this release isn't big . These dreamy, catchy pop ballads (with a hint of the 1950's) carry a mega-downer theme, but that's just par for the course if you call your album Broken Dreams Club. Vocalist Christopher Owens almost has a natural melancholy in his voice, and it's one that draws you in. The Horns, pedal steel, and electric piano are well used on these six tracks, which are really more optimistic than anything else. It's also hard not to be optimistic about future releases from Girls. Last year's Album was also very good, so there's no reason not to keep them on the radar for 2011, however for now this EP does just fine.

Kayne West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
At this point there's a void of an Arcade Fire or Sufjan Stevens review. Yep, while they both put out very good releases, they just missed the cut. Would I have expected to put a release from Kayne West on here? Nope. This release was one that simply could not be left out. Sure, it's Kayne West, and whatever you might think of him or his music, this album is amazing. Production is off the hook. Sure, Kayne might be the number one a-hole out there, but he knows it. The guests are great. Rihanna made my list (not with her album), rather with her vocals on All Of The Lights. Oh yeah, there's also Jay-Z, RZA, Kid Cudi, and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. Vintage Gil Scott-Heron shows up, Aphex Twin shows up, Chris Rock shows up for a ridiculous conversation. Even Kayne West shows up, and doesn't disappoint.

Posted by monkeyinabox ::: |


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