In 2010, some sort of miracle took place and several amazing bands released their best albums yet. Not just good bands who had a great year, but brilliant bands who had no business transcending their previous work, and yet still did. And the winners are…
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Scott: In my opinion, Arcade Fire was the epitome of one of those bands mentioned above. Bloggers and critics alike have almost universally praised it, so I’m not alone. Some are even referring to the CD as Arcade Fire’s OK Computer. High praise indeed.
If I was forced to pick just one favorite album this year, there is a strong chance this would be the one.
Also, if you haven’t yet, you should watch the Spike Jonze directed video for “The Suburbs.” Epic.
Brian: In my opinion, Arcade was one of those bands … wait, that’s already been said. But it’s true. The Suburbs garnered three Grammy nominations [ Album of the Year, Best Alternative Music Album, and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals ] … proof the the Grammys still are paying attention to the really great music that is still being made out there, despite what MTV would have us believe.
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
S: I’ve already written about this album at great length. Suffice it to say, I think it is a pop masterpiece. Kanye did some world conquering this year.
B: Pitchfork gave it an extremely rare 10 out of 10. Plus, what more can be said after this has been written?
3. The Roots – How I Got Over
S: As is the case with so many of these albums, I’ve already written a bit about this one. You can read that here. It’s still hard for me to be sure this is their best album yet, because they are so continually reinventing their sound from project to project that each album is so unique and brilliant. I can tell you that whenever iTunes is set on shuffle and a song from this album comes on, I more often than not find myself putting on the whole CD as a result. It’s a remarkably listenable album. My affection for it just grows and grows.
B: The Roots brand of genre blending, smart, tight hip hop is as genre blending, smart, and tight as ever. Black Thought, ?uestlove, and the rest of the Legendary Roots Crew, the greatest band in hip hop (and late night TV), have made an astonishingly good album. But then again, we’ve come to expect them to do just that.
4. Girl Talk – All Day
B: Greg Gillis, the brains behind Girl Talk, has done it again, but this time, he’s really done it. This time around, Gillis seems to have pulled more from popular music, more specifically from his top 40 contemporaries. Ozzy Osborne and Ludacris, Foxy Brown and Peter Gabriel, Radiohead and ODB, Portishead and Big Boi, Phoenix and Ludacris. He pulls from multiple genres and multiple decades creating insanely fun, danceable music from the sometimes mediocre. While I dislike Lil’ Wayne (I hate him, to put it more accurately), as soon as he shows up in a Girl Talk song, I love it. Perhaps it is the fact that Gillis has the talent and pop sensibilities to take two seemingly unrelated songs, separated by 3 decades, and miles apart as far as the amount of talent goes, and create something new (all while lounging around with his girlfriend!). The first week he released All Day, it “broke the internet“. To say this is Girl Talk’s best work, is truly saying something.
S: Yup, what Brian said pretty much sums it up.
5. Beach House – Teen Dream
B: I first heard of Beach House when I was still living in Baltimore. I didn’t hear of them because they were a local band. Here is the story: It was St. Patrick’s Day ’08. I was walking into a local Irish pub and ran into the parents of an old friend from high school. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked what my friend had been up to since I hadn’t talked to him in about two years. “Oh, he’s in Austin with his band for some music festival … South by Southwest, or something.” This came as a surprise. Not a huge surprise, but a surprise. Alex and I grew up playing together. He was super talented and had everything you need to make it in music. I just thought he would go another direction. I (and so many others) am glad he didn’t. Beach House has gotten huge. Their brand of lo-fi dream pop is good. Damn good. Organs, keyboards, slide guitars built a wall of fuzzy, dreamy sound around the reverb-drenched vocals of Victoria Legrand on the first two releases. On Teen Dream, we find her voice out in front of the wall of dreaminess. The whole thing sounds less lo-fi as a result. Everything seems tighter and more dynamic. I could listen to the album any day, all day. How is it their best release to date when their first two albums were included on Pitchfork’s best list the year they came out? They are that good.
S: I remember when I first heard of Beach House. I was making out with Rosario Dawson when my friend Mos Def called me and told me he’d just heard a great indie band I might like called The National. I told him I already listened to The National, and they were good friends of mine. Actually, I needed to remind him that I’d already told him about The National a month or so earlier, when the two of us were out drinking with Donald Glover and Alison Brie. We laughed about the fact that we had done so much drinking and laughing and best friending that he had completely forgotten about the band I tried to introduce him to.
That was when he mentioned Beach House.
They are really great. I like them. (That last line is true.)
6. The Black Keys – Brothers
S: Just picked by iTunes as the album of the year, Brothers finds The Black Keys up to their old tricks; crafting songs full of bad-ass swagger and keen relational insight, all wrapped up in a fun musical package.
Whether you are getting dressed for a big night out and want a soundtrack that makes you feel awesome, are looking to rage against that asshole who jilted you, or are in the mood for some sweet, sweet, babymaking fun, this album has the right prescription for you. Just let Drs. Auerbach and Carney cure what ails ya.
B: I love Scott’s last paragraph! The Black Keys are masters of down and dirty garage blues/rock with a touch of refinement. Brothers is no exception. If you love fuzz box distortion, cool keyboard/organ riffs, kick ass drumming, and bluesy vocals (as well as everything Scott mentioned), you will agree that Brothers is one of the best albums of 2010, and The Black Keys best album to date.
7. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
S: Like many people I know, my relationship with Sufjan had sort of run its course. It seemed it was never meant to be one of those love affairs that turn into a happy marriage. Instead, it appeared it was destined to be the hot, short, flash in the pan sort of union that you look back on fondly because it was a lot of fun at the time. There was no part of me that was excited for this album to come out.
Yet, when the All Delighted People EP came out, I used some spare emusic credits to pick it up, and suddenly those old feelings started rising to the surface. Then the Age of Adz came out, and suddenly I found myself wondering if perhaps my love affair with Sufjan might become the lasting sort after all.
With Age of Adz, he has successfully balanced between reinvention of himself and continuity with what made him great in the past. He’s still full of audacity, as evidenced by all 25 minutes of the album’s final track, “Impossible Soul”; and the man still has the talent to back it up, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve heard all 25 minutes of said track aired on KEXP more than once.
B: Looking over this list, it seems that the bands here have at least one thing in common (maybe except Girl Talk, but he is a different animal), each has the ability to reinvent themselves and grow over the span of each release. It is something that takes balls and artistic vision. Not every band has these qualities. When you change, you run the risk of alienating a part of your fanbase. When you don’t change, you get criticized for not pushing forward into new sounds. Change is scary and hard. It takes balls. When a band is so sure of who they are, change is easier. They make music that is honest and free to go wherever the soul of the band dictates. Sufjan’s new album exhibits his amazing artistic vision and his huge balls. It is an epic tapestry of sounds where Sufjan pulls out all the stops. We thought he was audacious when news first broke that he wanted to make an album for all 50 states, but listen to the Age of Adz and I think you’ll find that audacity was redirected into one beautiful and grandiose album.