Thursday, December 23, 2010

BS Awards: Top 10 Albums of 2010

There is a big difference determining the best album of the year and the best songs of the year. To really stand out as an album, the whole listening experience must be critiqued. The best albums will be able to transfix me for 35 to 55 minutes and earn the right to be listened all the way through and in the official track listing order. Here are my top albums of 2010.
1. The National – High Violet. I never did a review of this album when it first was released. The reason… I knew I would like it the more I heard it. Usually, it is wise to listen to an album at least 5 times before forming an opinion. With The National, that number is closer than 20.
High Violet is more of the same that produced the wonderful Alligator and Boxer albums from previous years. High Violet is full of clever metaphors and deep, melancholy stories sung with the rich baritone of Matt Berninger. The best way for me to enjoy The National is to read the lyrics and really try to put together what Matt is trying to tell me. Once I get an understanding for it, I can really feel the songs at a deeper level. Matt is now married with kids and many of his songs tell of his emotional struggles with his new life.
I don’t think I can put this album in quite the same class as those The National’s previous albums. On those albums, there are few up tempo songs and High Violet doesn’t quite have anything that you could consider a rocker. The closest would be Bloodbuzz Ohio, which barely scratched the Top 20 of 2010. This is still an excellent album that I have probably listened to three or four times a week all year long. It is and has been my go to album when I really feel like a need a solid, soul touching, listening experience. Hearing the first strum of Terrible Love makes my blood tingle and my heart slow. Any album that can make your body, soul and heart react in such a positive way has to take the top album award.
2 . The XX – XX. In April, this album was named album of the first quarter of the year here: Surprisingly, the album hung on to finish this high. I find myself still going to it, despite the fact that I first heard it at the start of the year. Not one song cracked the Top 20 songs of the year, but there were probably 5 in the top 50 and a couple in the top 10 cool out songs of 2010. There is just a really good feel about the whole album. Like any good album, I don’t like to shuffle the songs when I listen to it and I don’t skip to certain songs. I start with Intro and listen until my ipod stops. I feel better at the end then I do at the start. I don’t know what more you can ask for from an album.
3 . The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever The Hold Steady might be my favorite band. That’s hard for me to actually place. That’s like me trying to pick a favorite son or a favorite beer. It can’t really be done. THS is up there though. I really liked this album, but it didn’t quite hit as high with me as their previous albums did. Still, an excellent album that earns high praise. Here’s what I said when the album was released.

4. Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown. Despite giving this album 4 stars in my initial review (found here, I feel I gave the KOL a bit of a rough ride in my prose. However, the more I have listened to this album, the more I have listened to it. It really is very good. I just needed to readjust my expectations. I also had to overcome one of the worst album covers of 2010. The worst part about it is how incongruous it is. Here’s the list of the 3 worst covers of albums I have in 2010.

1. Ok Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. Not only a horrible cover but a horrible title. Seriously, WTF?
2 .KOL – Come Around Sundown. Stolen from Jack Johnson’s rejected covers.
3. Weezer – Hurley. A picture of the big guy from Lost? Really?
Of course, I need to keep it positive… here’s the top 3.
1. Gorillaz – Perfect for the band and album
2. Everyone Was in the French Resistance – Nice Casablanca reference
3. The XX – So simple, it’s beautiful
At the end of the year, as with all good albums, I like to listen to Come Around Sundown front to back without skipping songs.
5. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This really shouldn’t even make this list as I didn’t own it until after the Big Sexy fiscal year ended. However, it is such a powerful and notable album, I couldn’t keep it off. See the review immediately below. This is number 1 on a lot of year end lists. Even with better fiscal year planning, I don’t think this would’ve finished any different than it does now on the BS List.
6. Gorillaz – Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach. The more time I spent on Plastic Beach the more I enjoyed it. The Gorillaz do not hook me with lyrical content. They hook me with hooks and fun phrases. Damon Albarn has lined up many guests on this album, especially on the standout tracks. On the title track, which opens up the album, Snoop Dogg lays down the vocals in his own way with genius lyrics such as "click clackin, crack-a-lackin, full packin, mo’ stackin, actin’ a fool when I teach. Welcome to the world of the Plastic Beach". Snoop has several other choice lyrical cuts. De La Soul spits out the jams on Superfast Jellyfish. Lou Reed brings his voice to Some Kind of Nature. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash rock on Plastic Beach and I’ve seen them playing live with Damon Albarn during the Gorillaz tour.
The back half of the album misses a little more for me. It’s a little more of a sonic flow for me. I don’t skip the songs when listening to them, but I never come to attention. The first half does impress. Starting out with an orchestral intro into the Snoop song really sets the mood. I feel a little bit like I am traveling to a different crazy world while listening to the whole album. Each guest singer is someone I encounter along the way. When Damon sings, I feel like I’m back on our vessel heading to a new destination. Odd feeling for an album, but I like it.
7. The Black Keys – Brothers. You can find my original review here: . As I previously stated, I love the start of this album. The first 5 or 6 cuts from this album are some of the best songs I have heard from the Keys. I never was able to embrace the second half of the album. A great album will grow on me and I will like it better 6 months after I first hear it then I did after the first 6 days. This album never did and I honestly haven’t fired it up lately.

8. Ok Go – Of The Blue Colour of the Sky. There were some very good songs from this album, but some very skippable ones, too. None of the songs were instant classics like Ok Go produced on previous albums. But they ran the spectrum (see what I did there?) of songs from very upbeat to mid tempo to ballad with success. Unfortunately, I could never get into a good rhythm on the album as a whole. There would be a couple good songs, then I’d have to skip one. They needed a better mix. Overall, there were enough very goods songs to crack the top albums of 2010 list. If Ok Go dropped the song count from 14, it might have made a better album. They promised to do one of their signature videos for every song of the album. So far, those have been like this album… some very good, so not so good.
9. Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee. This falls to this low as both albums were released years ago. Plus it is two different albums. They are new to me so they get recognition in 2010. The Mountains Goats are very much a lyrical band. I would call if folk music, but it rocks a little harder than that. What makes these albums stellar are the stories they tell. They are both heart wrenching albums that the vocals and the music emote wonderfully. The Sunset Tree is about growing up in a home with an abusive stepfather. Tallahassee is about the unraveling of a marriage. Thankfully, I never had to live with a stepfather and I am happily married, but John Darnielle weaves the stories so beautifully and tragically that it is very touching. At the same time, the music reflects the highs and lows of life.
10. Kate Nash – My Best Friend is You. This was just good enough to sneak onto the list above those below. As mentioned in the Top Songs of 2010 post, I don’t think I’d actually like her as much if I lived in London. But I don’t, so I do. Her songs paint her as the brainy but sad girl who stays home along on Saturday nights, which is highly unlikely. They are pop songs but I can feel the twinge of real heart in the songs. That must be why I elevate her above typical pop fluff. I like her accent and most of the songs are catchy.
Honorable Mention: Travie McCoy – Lazarus (Uneven, but good when good), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Best Soundtrack!), QOTSA – Rated R (Excellent re-release), Weezer – Hurley (too soon after a strong ‘09??) and Jack Johnson – To The Sea (More of the same: good beach tunes).

2010 was a bit of a musical downer overall. 2011 will likely produce a much bigger flow of excellent albums. I’m already excited for new albums from Cake, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, Foo Fighters and maybe even The White Stripes and Them Crooked Vultures. Most exciting is knowing that I will have new bands that I cannot imagine as I type this.

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