14 March 2011

Top Albums: 2010

{ Oh, 2010, so close but yet so far away! In chronological order: Lady Gaga sent her first five singles to the number 1 spot (Amazing). Beyonce wins six Grammys. Taylor Swift (not a country singer) wins four. 311 on 3/11 plays a five hour set (I didn't know they had that much music). Waitwait, Lady Gaga sends her first six singles to number 1. Justin Beiber debuts at number 1 (I still haven't heard one of his songs). Hang on, Lady Gaga's SEVENTH single goes to number 1. Ringo turns 70 (my parents feel old now). Lady Gaga wears a meat dress. Christina Aguilera buys receives a start on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Whew. Quite a year, isn't it? }

Picking the best albums of 2010 was a difficult task because I feel as if I haven't had enough time to really digest a lot of the albums that came out in 2010.

In fact, I almost think that the best albums of 2010 should really be reviewed a year later but that wouldn't be timely, right? (This list is already late enough as it is).

There are some great albums that I didn't really spend enough time with and the most obvious is the Black Keys record Brothers. I'm really looking forward to them play at Coachella, though. The latest Yeasayer record is another one that I wish I spent more time with in 2010.

I didn't spend too much time with Infinite Arms by Band of Horses but on the first go around, it didn't grab me like their previous efforts. The Klaxons sophomore release had a great single - "Echoes" - but the rest of the record was a bit of a disappoint.

My feelings on the MGMT record (especially compared to the Broken Bells album) has been well documented.

I missed the boat on Sleigh Bells and didn't spend enough time with Mark Ronson's record. I feel like I was a bit late to the party on !!! as well, though, their performance at the FYF Fest was quite memorable.

Contra (Vampire Weekend) and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Kanye West) were solid records but didn't crack my Top 5 or my Honorable Mention list.

Keeping The Chemical Brothers (Further), Janelle Monae (The ArchAndroid), JJ (No. 3) out of the Honorable Mention list was a difficult decision. Nostalgia for Chicane (Giants) and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Beat The Devil's Tattoo) wasn't enough for their records to crack the list.

I love statistics so that's why I love Last.fm and according to Last.fm the albums from 2010 that I listened to the most was Beach House's Teen Dream (278 plays), Clinging To A Scheme by The Radio Dept. (193 plays), Gorilla Manor by Local Natives (189 plays), Fyfe Dangerfield's incredible solo debut Fly Yellow Moon (188 plays) and Arcade Fire's Grammy Award winning record The Suburbs (178 plays). Broken Bells, LCD Soundsystem, Caribou, Two Door Cinema Club and Groove Armada round out the list.

But I can't really go by how many times I've listened to a record, I have to go by the album that impacted me the most in a personal sense. After all, this is what these sorts of lists are all about: personal taste.

Sometimes there's no accounting for taste so without further ado, here are my top albums of 2010:

5. The Radio Dept. - Clinging To A Scheme

Credit for this Swedish band has been a long time coming. Clinging To A Scheme is the third release by The Radio Dept. but it takes all of the beauty of their first two records and wraps it into this inspired new album.

There was some stiff competition for this fifth spot on my Top Albums of 2010 list. But this album by The Radio Dept. beat out records released by Best Coast, Broken Bells, Groove Armada, Local Natives and Two Door Cinema Club.

The lush production, the steady beats, the thick guitars and the dreamy production makes this such a beautiful record. It's a perfect sunrise record after a long night.

4. Beach House - Teen Dream

Teen Dream is another beautiful record. A nice compliment to The Radio Dept., in my opinion. Coincidentally, both bands were playing shows in Los Angeles on the same night. Beach House played two sold-out nights but The Radio Dept. only played one. It was like choosing between your children but I had to choose The Radio Dept. because who knows when that Swedish band would come back to Los Angeles.

I do regret missing the Beach House show, though.

This is another band heavy on the dreamy production and reverb (though, far less than their previous releases). Teen Dream is a melancholy record with gorgeously dissonant guitars and wide open space.

This is another perfect album for late-nights and hazy mornings.

3. Fyfe Dangerfield - Fly Yellow Moon

Even though my ears are certainly slanted towards the reverb-drenched sounds of The Radio Dept. and Beach House, I am still a sucker for good ol' fashioned pop music with an English slant. Fyfe Dangerfield's solo debut Fly Yellow Moon fills those requirements.

Dangerfield is the front man for the quirky indie-rock band Guillemots. He broke away from the band to feature a bit more of a mainstream sound but his strong sense of pop melody and stellar lyrical abilities really shine on this album.

The album was recorded in five days and was produced by Brit-Pop guitar legend Bernard Butler (Suede) and the loose and carefree feeling of the songs is obvious on this record. The result is a wonderfully eclectic album.

The title track evokes a bit of Nick Drake, while "She Needs Me" has a Stevie Wonder-ish vibe, "High On The Tide" is the track that really grabbed my ears with its lovely waltz-movement and wistful melody. "Faster Than The Setting Sun" is - relatively speaking - a bombastic track with big guitars, big vocals, and Beach Boys-style background vocals.

The album can simply be passed off as just another British pop record but the album has variety without feeling directionless and adds an interesting twist on familiar melodies.

The songwriting is simply fantastic. Dangerfield has an uncanny ability to take words that border on mushy or cheesy but puts them together and delivers in such a way that is absolutely stellar. And it's all about delivery.

If it wasn't for the next two records, Fly Yellow Moon may have been my record of the year.

2. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

After the brilliance of Funeral I was disappointed with with their follow-up Neon Bible even though it had a few amazing tracks. But if Neon Bible made your faith waver, The Suburbs is reason to believe.

They are a message band and the message in The Suburbs really called to me in a way that Neon Bible never did (or failed to convey).

The theme of writing about suburban America isn't ground-breaking. It seems like every other indie-rock band from the Pacific Northwest or punk band from Orange County or hardcore band from Long Island (etc., etc., etc.) wrote about their suburban plight in one way or another.

But the strength and maturity of Arcade Fire is able to approach the suburbs in a more powerful way.

The strength of this album in undeniable. The melodies are uplifting and the lyrics are stellar. The music feels more organic, there is a slight twinge of nostalgia there, a feeling that could take you back into suburbia.

But I suppose that's where the album strikes my core. I identify with dull middle-class suburban life and while I've spent the better part of my life attempting to escape suburbia, I can't deny that growing up in suburbia has defined me as a person and defined my attitude and values.

I've yet to really hear an album like The Suburbs that really captures the essence of suburbia across an entire album like this one.

They picked up a really well-deserved Grammy Award for this one.

I think they can be one of the greatest rock bands of our generation but that's for a different post on Pet Bear Sounds.

1. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

This Is Happening may or may not be LCD Soundsystem's final album but if it is James Murphy's last effort with LCD Soundsystem he has left us with a fantastic trilogy of albums.

This album encapsulates all the best parts of LCD Soundsystem and brings it together in one fantastic record. Sure, the earlier records may have had bigger "hits" but This Is Happening sounds like the most complete and consistent album from start to finish.

This record weighs in at nine tracks and finishes just over the hour mark. It's a bit of a long haul for the ADD nature of the record-listening public these days but start the album and that hour will fly by. This is the hallmark of a great, well-paced album. And the best part is that it feels like an album as opposed to just a collection of great songs.

I feel as if Murphy put a bit more thought into crafting this album as an album as opposed a collection of great songs.

Murphy brings together familiar and infectious beats, a heavy dose of '80s synth-pop nostalgia, and a wistful, observant, reflective and introspective energy that I love in my pop songs.

The real magic behind LCD Soundsystem isn't the melodies and the beats. There are plenty of bands or electronic acts that can produce beats just as well as LCD Soundsystem and even better, but those acts generally don't match the lyrical prowess of James Murphy.

That's the secret about LCD Soundsystem: The lyrics carry the songs, not the beats.

James Murphy is a 41-year-old dude coming to grips with aging, heartache, pain, and nostalgia. Basically, growing up. But he presents this theme in his fun dance songs with such refreshing honesty and clarity without sounding mopey and, well, old.

Message to hipsters: If you're in your early 20s and you think that you "get" James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem now, live your life for another ten years and then take a listen to this album again and then you'll really get it. Take another ten years and listen to it again. This is an album that won't be locked into 2010, it will grow with you.

In a culture where youth and the indiscretions of youth seems to be championed, it's interesting to see the perspective of the aging hipster seeing how much things change and how much things don't change one bit and Murphy's (reluctant?) acceptance of that.

LCD Soundsystem is dripping with influences from the 1980s. It's music that Murphy grew up with and it's all he knows how to play and while that style fell out of vogue in the 1990s, the appetite for '80s-style electronic sounds and beats has exploded over the past few years.

It was difficult to choose This Is Happening over The Suburbs because both records "speak" to me, as it were. But This Is Happening is the best record of the year because it will always be a wonderfully nostalgic and almost bittersweet reminder of 2010 and I'm sure I'll look back on it all through wistful eyes and bore my children about "back in the day" while they roll their eyes at me.

2010 Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
  • Best Coast - Crazy For You
  • Broken Bells - Broken Bells
  • Groove Armada - Black Light
  • Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
  • Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History

{ Thanks to LCD Soundsystem for aging gracefully. }

Please be sure to read my post explaining this little project and, more importantly, the criteria that I'm using. Thanks!