Top Ten for 2010 (List #7 of 7): by William Haun
by William Haun
2010 was a phenomenal year for music. Several new artists came on the scene with some great debut offerings (Baths, Broken Bells, Mumford & Sons, Freelance Whales). Bands that wowed us in the past delivered yet again on their sophomore releases (Vampire Weekend, Janelle Monáe, School of Seven Bells, Crystal Castles). Then there were the musical giants that made triumphant comebacks after several years of staying out of the limelight (Sufjan Stevens, Brian Eno, Four Tet, Joanna Newsome). Heck, even Peter Gabriel showed up 2010 to give us a fantastic covers album.
A year full of that much great music made compiling my “top ten” list an arduous task. I’ve added, removed, and re-added albums only to find myself removing them again. I would have my list completed and then have a mind-blowing track show up on my iPod’s shuffle and cause me to re-order the entire list.
So here’s my attempt to rank my favorites of the year followed by a couple other lists of notable works.
10. Cerulean – Baths
Will Weisenfeld isn’t just any other kid from LA with a laptop who can make beats. The classically trained 20-year-old’s previous project [Post-Foetus] was full of beautiful string arrangements and soaring melodies. Now with his Baths project he creates electronic soundscapes that are a bit chillwave, a bit glitch, and a bit ambient.
09. The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monáe
A 70-minute concept album about a futuristic world and a messianic robot. Did I mention this album is parts 2 & 3 of an epic that began with her 2007 EP Metropolis: Suites I (The Chase). Yea, that’s right. When you hear that description you know it’s either going to be the worst thing ever or the greatest thing ever. Monáe pulled off the latter.
The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III) jumps from genre to genre seamlessly and brilliantly. You get classical overtures, hip-hop, psychedelic rock, r&b, jazz, and more (she even collaborates with avant-garde indie rockers Of Montreal on a track). Tying it all together is her sweet, sweet voice – a voice that reminds me of Lauryn Hill (when is she ever going to make her comeback?).
Monáe has been compared to David Bowie, Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and the list goes on. I read one article about her that stated “Prince worked way outside the box; Janelle doesn’t even operate on the same planet as the box.”
The point is that Janelle Monáe is incredibly talented and not just creating music but important and innovative art. I’ll leave you with this jaw-dropping performance of the song “Tightrope.”
08. There is Love in You – Four Tet
Kieran Hebden is one of contemporary electronic music’s veterans and is hugely influential on the entire genre. The guy had a record deal at age 15 when he was part of the Krautrock trio Fridge. His first two albums as Four Tet were regulars in my CD player when I was in college (for you young folks, that was a shiny, plastic disc with music on it). It has been nearly five years since Four Tet put out an LP and the wait was definitely worth it.
On 2010’s There is Love in You he takes his loops and samples in more of a dance direction. I’m not a fan of the throbbing dance beats and techno of clubs, but Hebden imbeds his repetitive, minimal styles to create tracks you can both dance to at the club or bob your head between your ear buds in your cubicle at work. One thing is for sure, you’ll be smiling either way.
On a side note: Four Tet is well known for his incredible remixes of other artists’ tunes. This year he remixed a Jon Hopkins track and this music video emerged – possibly the best music video of the year:
07. Contra – Vampire Weekend
We all know that sinking feeling when that little-known, indie band we feel we discovered and claimed as our own goes mainstream. It’s not that their music changes, it’s just that we loose that personal connection – that special emotional bond. I knew that Vampire Weekend, my little baby, had grown up the day I heard their song “A-Punk” played as the background music in a segway between my son’s childrens television programs on PBS.
When Contra came out this year I wanted to dismiss them as “mainstream sell outs”. I wanted to so bad, but I couldn’t. The album is near perfection. It’s fun. It’s clever. It can play on loop all day and I won’t tire of it.
06. Lucky Shiner – Gold Panda
I knew Gold Panda from his work as a remixer and his debut LP demonstrated the same brilliance that made remixes so popular (and often better than the original tracks he was remixing). I won’t ramble on about Lucky Shiner’s awesomeness here since I wrote a “The Blue Indian Recommends” piece about it earlier in the year.
05. Saint Bartlett – Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado has always been a prolific songwriter and 2010 was no exception. Jurado gave us three full albums – Saint Bartlett, his best record in years, Hoquiam, a side-project/collaboration with is brother Drake, and Other People’s Songs, a digital-only release of covers recorded with Richard Swift. He also released over a dozen new songs online via his SoundCloud and MySpace web pages.
What makes Damien Jurado such an accomplished artist isn’t just the quantity of songs he releases, but the consistent quality of each track. He also has a way with words that is found only among the greatest of singer/songwriters. With just a few lines he can paint not just a picture but an entire film – and a beautiful, dramatic one at that.
By far, my favorite song is the opener “Cloudy Shoes” in which a ghostly voice echoes his lines over and over. Other standout tracks are “Arkansas” and the ever-puzzling “Rachel and Cali” – a song whose story I’m still trying to figure out.
04. Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter
When Deerhunter announced the title of their 2010 LP, they described it as “a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones… The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember and how that’s kind of sad.”
I’ve struggled to find a way to describe this album and I keep coming back to that idea of a trip down memory lane. The songs on the album vary considerably in instrumentation, tempo, and style, but they all have a tinge of sadness to them (some more than others). That is part of what makes this album so great – every song stands alone and at the same time they fit perfectly together.
Like Damien Jurado, Deerhunter’s frontman Bradford Cox is a prolific song writer. In addition to Halcyon Digest, he also gave us not one but four more great albums in 2010 under his Atlas Sound side project’s Bedroom Databank Volumes.
03. Teen Dream – Beach House
Indie dream-pop band Beach House just gets better and better with each album. Victoria Legrand’s voice is something that I can never get tired of. I could just put this album on repeat and zone out for hours.
The best thing this duo has going for them is that they have found an original signature style for themselves. There have been comparisons to the Cocteau Twins, Nico and Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. However, though there may be echoes of those musical greats, Beach House have created a dynamic and intense sound of their own.
The album kicks off with “Zebra” which immediately lets you know what sort of brilliance you are in for. From there the genius doesn’t stop with “Silver Soul,” then “Norway,” then “Walk in the Park, ” then… well, I’ll just stop instead of giving you an entire track listing. There’s not a skippable track on this masterpiece. Plus, they get bonus points for including a DVD with the album that has a music video for each song. They really went all out.
02. Valley Maker – Valley Maker
I was a bit jealous that our talented writer Beth Yeckley beat me to writing about the wonders of Valley Maker in her Top Ten. I agree with her comments one hundred percent and can’t really add much to her observations about this masterpiece.
Basically, Austin Crane’s song writing is nothing short of genius. Amy Godwin’s hauntingly beautiful background vocals are nothing short of heavenly. Could there be any better way to create a concept album about the narratives of the book of Genesis?
I half-jokingly asked Austin if he had any plans for a Sufjan-esque project – a series concept albums about the books of the Bible instead of the 50 states. He laughed and said “No.” I forced a smile and cried a little bit on the inside.
01. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
After my first listen to THATH’s debut album, there was no doubt in my mind it was going to my favorite album of 2010. In fact, I’ll admit that I’m already considering making it my Best of 2011. You see, just last week the big news broke that this troupe of musical masterminds had signed to Sub Pop and re-released a remastered version of their debut. The new album also features a new track and one that was completely re-recorded. So technically I can declare it best new album of 2011.
Seriously though, after my first listen I thought to myself “why aren’t these guys signed to a major label?” Their harmonies are pitch-perfect, their songs are brilliantly arranged, they have hooks that you’ll be humming all day, and most of all their lyrics will strike a cord and make things personal.
The emotional tug sneaks up on you. After a couple listens, you’ll be singing along to the chorus and suddenly realize that the words are so relevant to you, to your past, to your feelings. That is when you fall in love and claim the album as your own. That is when you decide to declare it the best album of the year for two years in a row and you don’t care what any else says.
Here are the albums that almost-but-not-quite made my Top Ten list. Consider these my #10-25. I only bother listing these because of my own personal obsession with others’ “Best of” lists. I love reading these sorts of lists because I discover so many great artists I’ve never heard of before. Maybe you’ll find a gem in here that makes your own Top Ten list.
- Age of Adz/All Delighted People EP – Sufjan Stevens
- Broken Bells – Broken Bells
- Bridge Carols – Laura Gibson & Ethan Rose
- Swim – Caribou
- The Medicine – John Mark McMillan
- Black Noise – Pantha du Prince
- Subiza – Delorean
- Freelance Whales – Freelance Whales
- All Alone in an Empty House – Lost in the Trees
- Crystal Castles II – Crystal Castles
- Small Craft on a Milk Sea – Brian Eno
- Sign No More – Mumford & Sons
- Autumn, Again – A Sunny Day in Glasgow
- Twin-Hand Movement – Lower Dens
- Disconnect from Desire – School of Seven Bells
Albums I Was Certain Would Be In My Top Ten But Didn’t Even Come Close
- The Orchard – Ra Ra Riot
I was late discovering their debut LP The Rhumb Line and loved every bit of it. “Boy,” the single release for The Orchard, along with their making-of mini-documentary had me over-excited about their sophomore release. Unfortunately, it seem a bit flat compared to the energy their debut had.
- Volume Two – She & Him
Volume One made my Top Ten of 2008 and I had high hopes for its sequel. I don’t think it’s bad, it just seemed like more of a Volume One Side B.
- Admiral Fell Promises – Sun Kil Moon
I rank Mark Kozelek up there with singer/songwriter greats like Damien Jurado. He starts this whole album off with the line, “No, this is not my guitar. I’m bringing it to a friend.” That guitar apparently causes him to play differently than he has in the past and just didn’t do it for me like his old strumming ways.