Oh. And also, there was some really good music this year…
1. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles II (allmusic)
When all is said and done, and if they keep up what they’re doing, I’m serious when I say that Crystal Castles may go down as one of, if not THE, most important electronic acts of our generation. Up there with 1990s Daft Punk. They started as merely another 8-bit oriented male/female hipster duo with a boy doing the beats and a girl hopping around on stage and shouting incoherently into a microphone. I say “merely another”, but honestly, they basically started it, and even if they didn’t, they were the first to really make it work. Ethan Kath’s beats are a perfect combination of sheer noise and infectious grooves and when they don’t make you want to dance, they make you want to move in any number of other ways. Jump. Bang your head. Pound the steering wheel. Anything. It’s music that possesses you. And it’s really something special.
Crystal Castles also took my top honors in 2008, which was, at the time, a somewhat gutsy move because they hadn’t really made that big a name for themselves. They had only just begun to dazzle festival audiences with spectacular live shows that featured energetic frontwoman Alice Glass climbing high up on speakers and shouting at them “THIS IS YOUR BAPTISM” amid seizure inducing strobe lights. But that debut album was unmistakably on to something and I knew it. With their anticipated follow-up, they’ve taken everything that worked with the debut and expanded on it and it’s a rare thing for logical progression to sound so fulfilling and exciting.
Part of me wishes that they were still basically a secret that I had more or less to myself. But I’m certainly glad that they’re doing so well and that so many people are hearing and appreciating what they’re doing. It’ll be copied many times, but it’ll never be duplicated. It’s real, honest electro and it’s ambitious and raw and inventive and unrestrained and for something like that to have the kind of mass appeal that Crystal Castles currently enjoys…well, that’s good news for all fans of electronic music.
2. Alaska - The Mesozoic Era (Magiska DL)
Wow. From start to finish, this is absolutely STUNNING drum’n’bass. A true vision that reveals something new with every listen. It flew totally under the radar for a couple of reasons. First, this isn’t a particularly popular kind of music. Second, even among people who profess to like electro, drum’n’bass is essentially considered to all be more or less the same. Alaska, with this album, goes beyond proving that to not be the case. The Mesozoic Era is atmospheric, melodic, haunting and downright beautiful without sacrificing even a little of those signature drum’n’bass hard, fast, pulsing beats. And he keeps it up for the entire length of 10 tracks. Just an outstanding, outstanding album.
3. No Kids - Judy at the Grove EP (Magiska DL)
Pitch. Perfect. Indie. Pop. That’s all there is to it. There’s nothing really innovative or mind-blowing about the music here. It’s just four tracks of bookish, melancholic ditties that really don’t demand to be noticed. And thus, by and large, they were looked over by the general public. But I absolutely wore this EP out since I discovered it around May. It hasn’t gotten old in the slightest and it truly was one of my favorite things about music in 2010.
My god it’s charming. My GOD it’s charming! I defy you to keep from tapping your foot or singing along to the gorgeous harmonies of “I Want To Be Around”. I defy you not to repeat “The Jazz Singer” several times in a row because it’s just too short. This whole EP, really, is a very well-executed expression of a vacation that ends before you can even appreciate that it began. The two tracks I just mentioned are the catchy, upbeat filling of the EP that is bookended by the two subdued, wistful tracks “At the Grove” and “In Dreamland” that resonate with simple platitudes like “What’s the use in saying spring is here? / What’s the use in saying I love you, dear?” and classic Mary J. Blige hook, “I’m searching for a real love / Someone to set my heart free.”
This feels like a lot of gushing for a basically by-the-books cute indie pop EP. But there’s just something about it that really impressed me and I know I’ll be listening to these songs for years to come.
4. How To Dress Well - Love Remains (allmusic)
This album is extremely evocative. And the fact that I really don’t know exactly what feeling it captures, but deep down I also know precisely what feeling it captures though I can’t quite articulate it, is what made this album so compelling. It reminds me a lot of Burial, not just in the way it sounds, but the way it made me feel when I first heard it. Like I fundamentally hadn’t heard anything quite like this before. Like there had been a tonnage of artists trying to achieve this sound and I was hearing someone finally get there. A beautiful achievement.
5. Oriol - Night and Day (XLR8R)
This album is a drive around the outskirts of your city as the sun is going down and you’re trying to find something to get in to. You’re making calls and nothing’s materializing yet, but you’re not worried. You know something’s going to come up and it’s going to be perfect no matter what it is.
6. Burning Love - Songs For Burning Lovers (Random blog review and DL link)
The savagely, criminally, unjustifiably underrated and under appreciated band CURSED broke up not too long ago and it was a real blow to the world of metal because they were easily one of the most talented and important groups in the genre. Their masterful album Two was my #1 album of 2005 and when they split, it really bummed me out. They parted ways after a series of harsh misfortunes and later advised simply, “Never name a band Cursed.”
The biggest part of what made CURSED such a good band was that the anger, despair and nasty intentions of their insightful lyrics was so effectively sold to the listener by Chris Colohan, who is far and away the best vocalist in metal today. His new band, Burning Love, has a slightly dirtier, more southern rock bent, but it’s still unmistakably metal and the guttural, authentically angry screams are still unmistakably Colohan. The genre is better off for having his voice and this is a great disc here.
7. Zola Jesus - STRIDULUM II (allmusic)
Zola Jesus is almost single handedly shaping and defining the future of goth music. STRIDULUM is the best thing she has done thus far in her career and recently this year she added 3 more solid tracks to it for STRIDULUM II, making it seem like a more fully realized album. Gorgeous stuff.
8. Drake - Thank Me Later (allmusic)
There goes all the underground, hipster cred this list had. Seriously, though, this album really surprised me with how good it is. There was so much hype and expectation and rappers, especially ones as young as Drake, rarely live up to it. But this kid is genuinely hungry and undeniably talented and that always makes for a formidable combination. Back in college, teen drama show Degrassi was one of my guilty pleasures and I watched it religiously. My favorite character was always Jimmy Brooks. Always looking so cool with his Triple Five Soul wardrobe, always saying something smart and mature in the midst of his peers being stupid, not giving up on his dreams even after becoming paralyzed. Drake retains a lot of that Jimmy Brooks character in the smooth, wise-beyond-his-years persona he portrays on this album and it really works. The best rappers always make you want to be like them. I always wanted to be like Jimmy. Now I kind of want to be like Drizzy.
I’m always going to tie this album to the summer of 2010. The last half of the album, starting with “Up All Night”, is all but flawless and I listened to those songs a lot while going for aimless, caffeine fueled night drives around June.
9. The Black Dog - Music For Real Airports (allmusic)
They take their name from the British euphemism for imminent doom, so it makes sense that The Black Dog’s take on Brian Eno’s 1978 classic Ambient 1: Music For Airports adds a nefarious layer of brooding atmospherics to engender a slow but palpable kind of paranoia, insecurity and anxiety. After all, this is not music for airports. This is music for real airports. It’s an ambitious, but very well done modernization of an old masterpiece.
10. Daughters - Daughters (allmusic)
I had to give a top 10 nod to this disc because these guys have always been a band I never thought much of. They were always “just okay” for me, but I always kept my eye on them because I felt like they were sort of on to something if they could focus their efforts. This album is what they were on to. They finally did it and it’s fucking great. But alas, I think I read somewhere that this is probably their last album.
Those of you who don’t have the stomach for spazzed out, noisy grindcore are still advised to give this disc a chance because here they make their sound about as accessible as it can possibly get. It’s fucking grindcore, but there are honest to god head-nodding, almost danceable grooves. But it’s still recognizably Daughters so there is also a whole lot of frantic, heavy, erratic blasts of noise. It makes for a fun listening experience and it was a very welcome surprise this year.
11. The Golden Filter - Völuspà (allmusic)
Easily the dance record of the year. This debut album from a duo of New Yorkers (I mention that because I felt like they might have been from Sweden at first…they remind in equal parts of Robyn and The Knife…not to mention their, you know, foreign looking album title) features plenty of impeccable grooves, catchy hooks and infectious bass lines. I eagerly look forward to seeing what they come up with in the future.
12. Toro Y Moi - Causers of This (XLR8R)
So this is basically just an album of the glorified Adult Swim bumper music that people began referring to as “chillwave”. But you know what? Adult Swim bumper music is fucking good. It’s always stuff like Flying Lotus and J Dilla. Nothing wrong with that. So while this may not be as innovative at it’s leading you to believe, Causers of This remains to be a very, very enjoyable and satisfying album. It flirts with hip-hop, flirts with dubstep, flirts with R&B and on the last track it even flirts a little with new jack swing and while I’ve never been a big fan of the whole “check out this hipster with an annoying pseudonym dicking around on his laptop in his bedroom” recent craze, I found it very hard to resist this album and I honestly found Causers to be very endearing.
13. The Ruby Suns - Fight Softly (allmusic)
Okay, I don’t know what happened with this one. I straight up don’t get it. When I first heard this album in like, February or whatever, I thought Pitchfork and the rest of the indie music community would cum all over it. Like they not only came all over the Animal Collective album last year, but jj and Delorean and the rest of those “balearic” acts. If you like any of those things, it seemed like Fight Softly was made for you. I suppose that hip, hip indie crowd doesn’t appreciated being directly catered to. Pricks.
But fuck ‘em. This album is fantastic. Pitchfork (who, I know, I shouldn’t care about this much but I can’t help it) actually said in their review that they preferred the idiosyncratic, somewhat experimental work that defined the Ruby Suns’ previous albums. Again, don’t get that shit for a second. To me, this album is where the Ruby Suns really found their voice and it made for an incredibly charming and impressive listen. I especially enjoyed the relatively subdued “Closet Astrologer" and "Two Humans”.
14. The Sight Below - It All Falls Apart (XLR8R)
The linked review above, I think, describes this album perfectly with the words “dazzlingly melancholy”. This is an excellent disc of ambient dub that really grew on me the more I listened. Setting this group apart from their peers is their cover of one of my favorite Joy Division songs, “New Dawn Fades”, which was surprisingly well done and which they really made their own.
15. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (allmusic)
Like most people, I’ve been a fan of Mr. West for years now. Like most people, I think he’s unbearably pretentious. Like most people, I also understand that he’s a genius. Geniuses are often misunderstood eccentrics that don’t get the credit they deserve when they’re alive. Kanye, obviously, is mooooore than getting the credit and attention his work demands. And that’s great. This album got over-the-top positive reviews and I liked it too, but not nearly as much as those others. I’m certainly VERY glad he got back to actual rapping because 808s was total trash and I was sick of deriding him with the nickname I gave him, “Captain Autotune.”
But there’s an awful lot of intangible factors that surround this album that are essential to understanding in order for you to fully appreciate it. Understanding the pop culture icon Mr. West has become and all the public tribulations he’s gone through and blah blah blah. I never care about that kind of stuff. I only care about the product itself. Thus, I didn’t really like arguably the two most talked about tracks here, “Power” and “Runaway”. Straight up don’t like ‘em. Doesn’t matter to me how ambitious or whatever else they are.
That said, there were more than enough undeniably great hip-hop moments on this disc to make me put it this high on the list. Given the terrible album title and all the obnoxious hype surrounding its release, I expected it to be another letdown like 808s. I’ll never forget the grin that crept over my face upon listening to the first bars of the opening track. “I fantasized about this back in Chicago / Mercy mercy me that Murcielago…”
Oh, shit. Yeezy’s back.
16. Sleigh Bells - Treats (allmusic)
The youthful, energetic exuberance of this album was as hard to ignore as the thumping bass. And I mean, THUMPING. It was a lot of fun to blast this record at full volume while driving around this year.
17. Parallels - Visionaries (Magiska DL)
A contemplative, introspective synth pop album perfect for a late night drive home.
18. Twin Sister - Color Your Life (allmusic)
A very warm, inviting, domestic brand of electronic oriented indie pop.
19. Clubroot - II - MMX (allmusic)
My dubstep album of the year.
20. Abe Vigoda - Crush (allmusic)
21. The Books - The Way Out (XLR8R)
22. Grum - Heartbeats (Magiska DL)
This album is pure fun. Just great, catchy, danceable electro pop.
23. Karen Elson - The Ghost Who Walks (allmusic)
24. White Hinterland - Kairos (allmusic)
25. Actress - Splazsh (allmusic)
26. Onra - Long Distance (Magiska DL)
27. Four Tet - There Is Love In You (XLR8R)
28. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - Before Today (allmusic)
29. Fear of Tigers - Cossus Snufsigalonica (Last.fm)
Released in late 2009. Oops. Great electro dance album, though.
30. Mimicking Birds - Mimicking Birds (allmusic)
I don’t go for acoustic singer/songwriter stuff very often, but when I do, it basically has to sound exactly like this. Beautiful album.
31. Salem - King Night (allmusic)
The whole witch house thing is going to be over really soon. Because there really isn’t anyone that interesting doing it beyond Salem. And mayyyyyyybe 3 or 4 others, but they all have obnoxious, unpronounceable names. This was a good album, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like I was hearing anything that I really hadn’t heard before in witch house. You know?
32. Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (allmusic)
I feel like I’m underrating this. I’m only just now in the process of discovering and appreciating Michael Gira and his back catalog because I’m an asshole. Give me a couple of months and I’ll probably want to bump this album higher on the list.
33. Delorean - Subiza (allmusic)
34. Shoppers - Goodbye To All That. (Tumblr / DL)
This is a really good demo from a very promising new band and I’m really looking forward to what they’re gonna do in the future.
35. Beach House - Teen Dream (allmusic)
36. The Radio Dept - Clinging to a Scheme (allmusic)
37. Caribou - Swim (allmusic)
38. Who Knew - Bits and Pieces of a Major Spectacle (Magiska DL)
39. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (allmusic)
40. Games - That We Can Play (allmusic)
All Saints Day - All Saints Day
Casiokids - Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar
Calories - Basic Nature
Chad Valley - Chad Valley EP
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Blacastan - Blac Sabbath
Dangers - Messy, Isn’t It?
Former Ghosts - New Love
Games - That We Can Play
James Blake - 3 EPs
Kvelertak - Kvelertak
Kylesa - Spiral Shadow
Newspeak - Sweet Light Crude
Owen Pallett - Heartland
Rasputina - Sister Kinderhook
The Samps - The Samps
Scuba - Triangulation
Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises
Sundowner - We Chase The Waves
Trap Them - Filth Rations
Veil Veil Vanish - Change in the Neon Light
Violens - Amoral
The War On Drugs - Future Weather
White Denim - Last Day of Summer
Xenia Beliayeva - Ever Since
80kidz - Weekend Warrior