I decided to, like all the music mags, make a list of my best albums of 2010 (and a few turkeys too), complete with short explanations as to why I chose them. I’m not saying this is by any means a definitive list because, firstly, I obviously haven’t listened to everything and, secondly, music is notoriously hard to judge because it’s emotional, abstract, personal and generally subjective. So, feel free to praise, suggest albums you think I have missed or berate my ‘terrible taste’ or pretension.
1. My beautiful dark twisted fantasy – Kanye West.
Kanye West finally perfects the album he seems to have been trying to make for about 4/5 years, with the help of a who’s who of the ‘urban’ music industry, if not THE music industry. Using a painful break-up and the backlash at his often rude, outlandish behaviour as inspiration, his widescreen hip-hoperas, if you will, are intelligent, thrilling, beautiful and often all at the same time. Arrogant and distasteful that he may well be, it’s hard to dispute his big character makes for great music. The album also works brilliantly with his utterly insane, fantastical feature-length film ‘Runaway’
2. Total live forever – Foals.
Leaving behind their cooler-than-thou, angular Indie; technically brilliant but not always the most accessible to anyone with an IQ less than 150, Foals relax a lot more on this album and they are all the better for it with this funky, psychedelic Indie rock. It can still be hard to decipher what Yannis Phillipakis’ lyrics sometimes, but his newly-found falsetto (as opposed to the previous ‘bark’) carries you with them with the lush sounds that are far more inviting than riffs hitherto hardly played anywhere above the 13th fret.
3. Magnetic man – Magnetic man.
Three of the best Dubstep producers in their own right, combine to find the notoriously hard balance between the very loud and basslines low and heavy enough to cause tremors in surrounding objects (for the dubstep purists) and actually having some discernible tune, melody and even ‘real’ instruments (for everyone else).
4. One night stand – Hot chip.
In which Hot chip give even more proof to being one of the select few ‘dance’ acts who make songs with more than a great beat, catchy hook and an attractive female guest singer. Intelligent, poppy, soulful and funky.
5. The defamation of Strickland Banks – Plan B.
Ben Drew proves he can do Motown-y soul just as well, if not better than his brand of angry, stripped-down hip-hop with a brilliantly-realised concept album which tells the fictitious story of the titular soul singer’s concerts, fall from fame, trial and (false) imprisonment.
6. B.o.B – B.o.B presents: the adventures of Bobby ray.
Rare is the artist that can rap and sing, let alone float as effortlessly between the two as B.o.B/Bobby ray (or whatever he wants to be called) does on this album and, indeed, many other songs that did not even make the cut. He also manages to avoid the tired old ‘guns ‘n’ hoes’ hip-hop cliches without falling into the cringingly American ‘we can change the world’ anti-cliche..cliche.
7.The suburbs – Arcade fiire.
Win, Regine et. al. take a break from rallying (moaning?) against death (‘Funeral) and the global destruction (‘Neon bible’) to emote about the ennui of their formative years in suburbian Houston, Texas. ‘The suburbs” theme isn’t the only thing that’s changed, harking back as it does to the bands they listened to in the titular suburbs, such as Neil Young, Depeche Mode and Bruce Springsteen. The end result is a big departure in style which, while not always as exhilirating and immediate as their previous two efforts, is just as sophisticated and will win them many new fans for whom their previous work was maybe a little too heavy-going/’Art-student Emo’. Constant doom-mongering on the death of their family and, as they hint, the world, may have got a little tiresome if they had continued to plough that particular thematic furrow, anyway.
8. Immersion – Pendulum.
The Aussie six-piece continue to make ‘banging’ D’n’B with a rock ethic, thus managing the difficult balancing act of pleasing the D’n’B ‘heads’ and boy racers as well as the ‘Indie kids’ and music critics. Detractors will no doubt point to the group ‘selling out’ and leaving ‘their more jungle roots’, but I don’t see what’s wrong with some catchy hooks and aiming for the stadium, which this album does so well. Ambition in itself is no bad thing as this album shows.
9. Contra – Vampire weekend
More of their unique brand of ‘Indie’ (?) seemingly sent from England to sub-Saharan Africa then thrown back with bells on and put together in America by a bookish, whiter-than-white Ivy-league quartet who, to look at them, seem more at home in a niche book-shop or leading freshman philosophy seminars. Yet, somehow, this all works! And not just for similarly ‘bookish’ aesthetes, as the crowds at the festivals attest. I, and no doubt many others too, haven’t a clue what they’re talking about half the time (songs about punctuation, anyone?) but they most assuredly make you believe that THEY do.
10. Come around sundown – Kings of Leon.
Kings of Leon continue on their path to become Tennessee’s own U2 with more wannabe lighters-up, stadium-fillers. So, yes, of course they’re not reinventing the wheel by any means, but whisper it, to these ears at least, the riffs, hooks and Caleb’s charisma render this irrelevant. I would venture that, if they made this album as their third, people would rightfully love it as much as ‘Because of the times’. A perfect case for the age-old adage: ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’?
11. Fleshtone – Kelis.
The birth of a musician’s son/daughter, amazing as bringing new life into the world is all lovely ‘n’ that, but usually results in saccharine, even, vom-inducing ballads. Evidently not for Ms Jones’ on the basis of the ultra-modern (see: ’22nd century’) brand of dance by way of soul, on display here.
12. Body talk – Robyn.
Like Kelis above, the Swedish songstress continues to push pop and dance music forward with immaculately produced songs, kookiness and bittersweet lyrics (see: ‘Dancing on my own’).
13. The Lady Killer – Cee Lo Green.
Cee Lo proves to all those unaware of his work pre- Gnarls Barkley going, literally, ‘crazy’ big (myself largely included), that he doesn’t necessarily need the golden touch of a certain Mr. Dangermouse (helpful as it is) to produce funky, foot-tapping, ’60’s soul anthems.
14. Lights/Bright lights – Ellie Goulding.
Compared to this time last year when she was topping all the cooler-than-thou tastemakers’ sound of 2010 lists, Ms Goulding has gone very ‘Radio 2’, but this shouldn’t detract from the quality of this album. Combining folk and electronica, allied with Ellie’s unique voice it’s a winning formula. Folk/electronica ‘lite’ it may well be but there are some good pop songs here.
15. Disconnect from desire – School of seven bells.
More pretty art-rock instrumentalism from the U.S trio. Hardly going to change world, but that’s perhaps the point of their dream-like songs… ‘songs’ being used in the loosest sense of the word.
16. The preview – Chiddy bang.
An EP rather than a full album, but the Philly duo’s distinctly ‘2010’ brand of hip-hop that, if one didn’t know better, may think originated from a drunken “Caal-lidge”‘ joke to reference (in lyrics and actual sound) as many different elements of modern pop culture, paradoxically, seems to find it own niche. Thus warranting its inclusion…just.
17. High Violet – The National.
More pretty, earnest, orchestral-ly stuff from the American quintet that grows on the listener like a stately tree, which, indeed, is a reasonable analogy for the National and their music.
18. Man on the moon II: the legend of Mr. Rager – Kid Cudi.
KiD CuDi’s sophomore offering offers more of his innovative, trippy, soul-searching, hip-hop (‘space-hop’?). While it may not quite reach the heights of his freshman effort, it is definitely a step in the right direction. That direction presumably, being towards mars… from the moon. Or, at the very least, “taking off” to the ‘outer limits’, if you will, of one’s mind, as he sings on ‘Marijuana’.
19. Plastic beach – Gorillaz.
Fascinating concept album from Albarn and co. and a plethora of guests, with the vague theme of global warming. It doesn’t have as many stand-out, great singles as its predecessor ‘Demon days’ (perhaps, only ‘Stylo’), but it is just as experimental and perhaps much what The Beatles would have sounded like in their more ‘happy’ periods, shall we say, if they had had access to the technology we have today. Indeed, some ‘special cakes’ may be precisely the thing to turn this album from merely ‘good’ to “flippin A…MAY..ZING, MAN!”
20. Wake up! – John Legend and The Roots.
Brilliant collaboration between the crooner and the rappers with a social conscience, urging the youth of America to ‘wake up!’ to their political situation. The Roots help lend Mr. Legend some backbone and he in turn offers them some….well, tunes, which are both occasionally lacking on their lonesomes.
Soundtrack of the year:
1. Inception – Hans Zimmer
Probably the only soundtrack I’ve heard so not much competition but these epic, orchestral soundscapes were the perfect soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s mind-fuck masterpiece.
Video of the year:
Chemical Brothers – Swoon.
Silhouettes of people dance across the black background revealing amazing moving images within. My words don’t do it justice…just do yourself a favour and watch it for yourself. Good song too.
Turkeys of the year:
1. Progress – Take that.
One of the most ironic album titles in recent memory….
2. Celebrations – MGMT.
…until this, given how spectactularly these New Yorkers have succumbed to ‘that difficult second album syndrome’. Or perhaps, that’s the point; maybe they ‘celebrated’ the success of their soul/funk/electro masterpiece freshman offering so much they were knackered, complacent and so, crawled up their own arses and composed these self-indulgent, dull, muso workouts.
3. My worlds – Justin Bieber
A cheap shot, no doubt, and don’t get me wrong; I love great pop as much as the next pre-pubescent girl, but this is just crap, no other word for it. I think I’ve singled out this particular faecal matter because of how odiously young Justin came across in the trailer for his film…and even, the fact that he is even releasing a… ‘biopic’ I suppose, as a teenager. And, indeed, one with so little of discernible talent to speak of and with so little of interest to say beyond his latest kill/death ratio on CoD. In it, he was being portrayed as some sort of messianic inspiration to his generation when all he does is smile and sing…or, more typically, smile and mime.
4. Endlessly – Duffy.
Must be honest; I have not actually heard any of this but, given that I thought ‘Rockferry’ was decent, perhaps that’s the point.
5. I speak because I can – Laura Marling.
Not a ‘turkey’ by any means, but an album I consider overrated. Sure, she’s ‘matured’ and is a great talent but I just didn’t hear any of the great, singalong songs of ‘Alas, I cannot swim’.