Ok, I'd better get this out there, late and incomplete as it is, so I can move on to 2011 already. I want to write about James Blake and the new Radiohead, but it's all stuck in my craw until I can present: The Sweet Snob's 10 Most Amazing Albums of 2010.
I am The Sweet Snob. I heard a lot of albums this year. Some really impressed me.
I hungered for them, and I listened over and over, stunned by their value.
I hope you find something you didn't hear here, and you give it a chance. I love these albums.
Note that the covers are my blurry, cropped reinterpretations of the album covers in question, but just click on each one to see the real album cover.
Without further delay, I bring you:
#1 Big Boi – The Son of Chico Dusty
Nothing lifted my spirits, and could reliably get me and my woman shaking booty as well as The Son of Chico Dusty. On Your DJ Ain't No DJ, Big Boi challenges any rapper to challenge him. I so wanted to come up with something, just to do it, just to see what he'd say. But I didn't. Big Boi is unassailable. What am I going to criticize him for? Being into Jesus and blowjobs at the same time? Hey, maybe if I got as many blowjobs I'd be more into Jesus myself! You're alright with me Big Boi, and next time I see you live, I hope you do 90% Big Boi songs, and don't lean as hard on the Outkast catalog. You don't need to, playa'.
That doesn't explain why it gets the #1 spot. It's not as intelligent as LCD Soundsystem. It's not as iconic as Kanye. But it BUMPS, and in 2010, that's what I needed. There's so many hooks, jumps, bridges, surprises, George Clinton, and lines we repeat to each other as private jokes. I had a long time this year to listen to this album, and let's just say it passes the smell test. When this album comes on, we sing along.
#2 LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
Yeah, this happened. You finally charmed me to the bone you bastard, James Murphy, and I'll never be the same. You made be believe that a middled aged guy can be a genuine star. That sometimes the hipsters are right and their flavor of the month really is all that. That you can make magical music to shake your ass to, and not even sell out. That you can make a video so funny and creepy it actually goes back in time and makes the song better.
What some people love about LCD Soundsystem is the sonic construction: a mishmash of many dance music forms. Me, that's just the frame for James' warmhearted jokes and really lovely singing. In Dance Yrself Clean, the album opener, James starts his plaintive verse about friends who are "talking like a jerk because you are an actual jerk, and living proof that sometimes friends are mean". If this was the first LCD Soundsystem song you ever heard, you might be surprised at the three minute mark when this epic really kicks in. He waited three minutes and just strung you along before suddenly you're in the middle of a passion dance party. By the time he tells you to "throw your little hands up", it's not cause you don't care, it's because of a "string of divorces".
In Pow Pow, he pokes fun at New York art and criticism culture, himself, America lovers, America haters, pretension, Wired Magazine and a bunch of other things. He does this while also making it danceable and saying POW POW POW POW POW a lot.
Mid-album, he shows convincingly that he's not the coolest guy he can think of, by singing two painfully-sincere-but-painfully-tongue-in-cheek odes to unrequited love, All I Want and I Can Change. Can I just say how much more romantic his All I Want is than Radiohead's All I Need? Thom Yorke of Radiohead says, "You are all I need, you're all I need, I'm in the middle of your picture, lying in the reeds." James says, "All I want is your pity. All I want is your bitter tears." And you can dance to it.
This is a guy I want to come to my party. This is a band I finally want to jam with, to mentor me, to jet set with, to follow on twitter even though his updates are mostly about good Japanese food. I look up to James Murphy. James Murphy, will you be my friend? Check this box.
#3 Beach House – Teen Dream
This was the real sex album of the year, and it is a dream. Victoria Legrand is just a powerhouse of a singer, and something like a less pretentious Stevie Nicks! This album was a creeper. It was fine and generic-sounding dream pop to me the first few times, but it's generic only in the way that a true classic is: Like a smooth stone with all the rough edges worn away.
How can I explain how it landed at number three though? Because it's just beautiful.
Listen to 10 Mile Stero, a pretty stellar example of the highs and lows the album can hit. If you don't feel it from this one song, I would understand, even though I think it's stellar.
#4 Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me
We smoked a joint and went the the Joanna Newsom concert. Joanna was so neurotic and intense that my companion actually had to leave. Joanna kept flipping her new haircut back and singing like a precocious child alien from another dimension.
This album is #4 just based on the double album of this triple album that I've even half digested. The quotable quotes could fill a whole review. There's no one like Joanna and even if you don't like her, it's retarded to say she's not critically relevant. People are already reverently covering her, and I wait with bated breath to hear what she'll do next.
I had really eaten and chewed every song on her last masterpiece of an album, Ys long before Have One On Me came out, so I'm just deciding this one was designed to hold me over a little longer.
The obvious choice is the crowdpleaser, Good Intentions Paving Company
#5 The National – High Violet
It's better than the Arcade Fire album. By a lot.
#6 How To Dress Well – Can't See My Own Face: The Eternal Love 2 EP
This is R&B for ghosts, and maybe some living people like me. Later in the year, How To Dress Well put out a whole album, with all of these EP songs and more, but these are the songs I love.
A friend of mine didn't like them because, "I don't like the distortion, even if they're doing it on purpose." They are, Damien, but they play it like an instrument, like Jimi Hendrix. If Jimi Hendrix were some kind of falsetto ghost. I never know what to play for people, because Suicide Dream and Mr. By and By are such different songs. You'll have to listen to both.
Suicide Dream 2:
Mr. By and By
#7 The Morning Benders – Big Echo
My girlfriend had to go home after their opening band because her back was really hurting, so she kind of dared me to take the bowl I had in my pocket and smoke it with the band after the show. I did, they were really nice, and the show was great. The album is great. I expect big things from these young men.
To understand what they're capable of, listen to the astounding Excuses from the album:
and then listen to their amazing cover of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, which is not on the album, but is spectacular enough to recommend them in general:
#8 The Roots – How I Got Over
There's so many raps on here that are better, stronger, more grown-up, more worthy of scrutiny and quoting, that make me say, "YEAH!" than anything on Kanye's album.
I submit for your approval, part of a Black Thought verse from Walk Alone:
I go above and beyond, the duty called, truly y'all
Even though they kind of blew me off like a booty call
Asked me if I'm just another moolie or a movie star
Forced to face the music like a graduate of Juilliard
Walk alone, talk alone, get my Charlie Parker on
Make my mark alone, shed light upon the dark alone
Get my sparkle on, it's a mission I'm embarking on
A kamikaze in the danger zone far from home
Now that's a rhyme!
Now I'll give Kanye this, MBDTF has some really rockin' production. This roots album is a lot more classic in construction.
Side note: This was the year I finally realized (from watching The Sopranos) that "moolie" referred to the Italian word melanzana (pronounced mu-lin-yon), or eggplant, a racial slur for Africans.
#9 Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I wanted to leave it off, just because I'm pissed it hit #1 on so many lists, but I can't. This album damn well belongs here, and despite its high profile, it's damn damn good. Something about it compels me to press play, and it's got highlights for its highlights. Truthfully it's better than #9, but I just can't bear to place it any higher.
#10 Yellow Ostrich – The Mistress / kissed her little sister – HIGHandLow
These are young lions! (And grouped together because I discovered them on the same top 10 list, and they're on the same label.) I know it's cheating to group things, but these albums hit me so much at the same time, and so hard and so fast, that I needed them together here, as one.
You have no excuse not to listen to these albums, since you can listen to them both in their entirety on Bandcamp, as well as buy the albums on a "pay what you want" basis.
Ok, so Yellow Ostrich is sort of a heartfelt, choral rock and roll. The best way to grok them is listen to the amazing trilogy of songs: WHALE, Hate me Soon, and Hold On in succession. If you like anything like The Love Language, Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear, then do yourself a favor and be the first person on your block to hear this album. Sure it's a little twee, but they can rock.
kissed her little sister is similarly lo-fi, and has a similarly gentle-punk-rockiness to him, but I consider this the more edgy musically of the two.
And, since you can listen to the whole album on bandcamp for free, I recommend you do so. My favorites are cocaine, discotheque dialect, my dreams are televisions, and he walked on the water.
These albums are really damn good, but either I didn't get the time to hear them enough, or they they were brilliant in places but not enough to vault them up into the stratosphere for all time.
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
Mark Linklous of Sparklehorse killed himself with a shotgun last year, and now this insane collaboration with a bunch of big name indie artists is finally officially out
Real Estate – Real Estate
Beach guitar perfection. This is music so soft and gentle it would bear you away on a cloud. Sort of like Bill Evans piano playing. It could sound like background music, but listen to it 100 times and it will never get old. You'll always be able to lay on your bed and listen to the whole album while you daydream.
Glasser – Ring
Percussion, singing, and hooting. This is a magical album. Somehow it didn't push enough boundaries to be a top 10 album. It didn't capture 2010. But it is good. It is damn good. There's echoes of Kate Bush in here, but more symphonic, less dorky.
Avey Tare – Down There
Animal Collective released a powerhouse of an album last year in Merriweather Post Pavilion. I would have thought it would have been a wonderful year for Avey Tare, but I guess it kinda kicked his ass. Down There is not the same kind of masterwork as MPP, but Avey shows that he's more than a one-trick pony. For such a creative guy with the bleeps and bloops and shouts, it's good to see that he can just sing his damn heart out, and create the sonic landscape of the swamp as he can the wide open fields and skies. It is also just a DAMN good album.
Balam Acab – See Birds EP
An album I first thought unremarkable, I grew to love. It is quiet, liquid music for loving lizards. What do you say about an album like this? It bubbles over you with just the weight of mossy water.
Freddie Gibbs – Str8 Killa EP
I needed to believe that midwesterners could rap too. Freddie Gibbs is one of my favorite rappers, and as soon as he learns how to rub two hooks together, he's going to be huge. People talk about how he can slip effortlessly between regular and doubletime rap. and I actually had to listen after reading about it, just to realize that's what he's doing. His subject matter is hardly creative (weed, grinding, etc.) but he still inspires me somehow. The album was a little overstuffed, but the EP is sublime.