50 Favorite Albums of 2010: #40-31

Sleigh Bells – Treats

What is there to say about the debut album by this Brooklyn duo that hasn’t been said already? It pairs playground-chant-style lyrics (appropriate, because singer Alexis Krauss used to be in a teen pop group called Babyblue) with face-exploding metal guitar riffs (appropriate, because guitarist Derek Miller used to be in a post-hardcore group called Poison the Well) and blown-out Jock Jam beats. It takes Loud to a new level. And it’s exhausting to listen to all the way through, so I’d put it on some time when the adrenaline is already pumping. Like when you’re driving your convertible at 120 mph down the freeway. Or, say, beating the shit out of someone.

Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer

The first reaction I had to this new album by Atlanta’s favorite chunky oddball soulman was to how “expensive” it’s production sounded–I posted about it here. And we all know the story of The Most Viral Song Of All Time, which I am still convinced was created in a laboratory by marketing experts, behavioral psychologists, and audio scientists to be as catchy as humanly possible. But despite 30 million YouTube views for the “Fuck You!” video and that widescreen, Blockbuster production, the album’s sales have been merely modest, reinforcing my belief that I am a horrible predictor of pop success. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t tempted to sing his melody in falsetto whenever they say “fuck you,” or that this album’s mix of classic soul (“Fool For You”) and future-funk (“Bright Lights Bigger City”) are any less of a blast to listen to.

The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

In my opinion, few bands are doing a better job of carrying on Led Zeppelin’s legacy than this Montreal crew–I’m actually reminded of them now when I listen to “When The Levee Breaks”. Granted, they take some cues from shoegaze and post-rock as well. But there’s something undeniably Zeppelin-y in the satisfaction derived from the sprawling electric psychedelia of tracks like “Glass Printer”, “Like the Ocean, Like The Innocent”, “And This Is What We Call Progress”, and “Albatross”, which are reminiscent of not only “Levee” but also “Kashmir”, “In My Time of Dying”, and other later-career Zeppelin. If it sounds like I’m making the causal assumption that “if The Besnard Lakes sound like Zeppelin, they must be really good,” let me clarify: they are.

Sun Airway – Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier

What’s really amazing about this aptly-titled debut album is that Sun Airway managed to make a work of such shimmering, crystalline beauty with such a limited bag of tricks–little more than echoing synthesizers, a drum machine, and Jon Barthmus’ splendid, yearning vocals. But in a video posted on pitchfork.tv today, Barthmus himself says that the mark of a good song is that it can be taken outside of that very specific context and still work. Then they do just that, taking album highlight “Oh, Naoko” and transforming it from chugging, starlit bliss-pop into a lilting, country-fried tune. It’s at least as good as the original (go watch it!!), and it shows that the actual songs at the heart of Nocturne are just as good as their gorgeously produced arrangements.

Matthew Dear – Black City

What better way to show the vast differences in possibility for “electronic” music than by placing this album next to Sun Airway’s? They could hardly be more different. From the vocals to the synths to the electronic handclaps, Sun Airway’s uplifting music all lives in the treble range. Dear’s sludgy beats and vocals live on the other end, and the music is appropriately darker and murkier for it. It’s suggestive and seductive in an almost animalistic way, quite different from your typical electronic dance tunes. But it still follows much of dance music’s conventional wisdom about the use of builds, ebbs, flows, and pauses, to great effect. Before you know it, you’re down in the swamp with Dear, and then he’s lifting you back up with gorgeous ethereal closer “Gem”.

Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

Strangely, one of this year’s greatest guitar albums has basically no solos on it. And unlike Fang Island or The Walkmen, it doesn’t even use guitars in a very interesting way–there’s a pretty standard crunch on all the axes on Surfer Blood’s debut. That’s why it’s so astounding that they craft such addictive songs just by piling one meat-and-potatoes riff on top of another with a bit of strategically-employed reverb. The opening one-two punch of “Floating Vibes” and “Swim” are perfect examples of this, and late-album epic “Anchorage” may be the most no-frills of them all, but every time, I find myself completely engrossed by the time that wordless vocal harmony fades in around the 5-minute mark.

Curren$y – Pilot Talk

Is New Orleans rapper (and former Young Money signee) Curren$y a little too obsessed with weed? (Not to mention that ‘ey-yuh’ noise he makes on almost every song.) Sure, it wouldn’t kill him to rap about something else every once in a while, but if it allows him to keep making music with beats as deliciously hazy and verses as unexpectedly fierce and lucid as those found on Pilot Talk, I guess I’ll give the guy a pass. I haven’t been able to spend enough time with Pilot Talk II for it to make it onto this list, but let’s just say that it doesn’t disappoint. Here’s hoping that Curren$y and marijuana continue their happy marriage, for his sake and ours.

#33 – Holy Fuck – Latin

A simple premise: dance music, just played on actual instruments. Spoiler alert: it works. And more than a little credit is due to Holy Fuck’s insane tightness as a group, particularly the incredible chops of drummer Matt Schulz. Over the course of the album, they take us through heist-movie funk (“Red Lights”), sweeping stereo-pan techno (“Latin America”, “Silva & Grimes”), and the theme music for some racecar-driving video game made in 2023 (“Stilettos”). It’s an exhilarating ride.

The Walkmen – Lisbon

Much hay has been made over how Lisbon‘s “Angela Surf City” comes closest to replicating the glory of what is almost universally agreed to be The Walkmen’s best song to date, “The Rat”. But to me, that seems to be missing the point: “Stranded” is the real centerpiece here, and it seems to capture the essence of this album best. On both songs, Hamilton Leithauser sings of monumental apathy and sadness, but where “Angela Surf City” gets a little drunk and messy in its fury, “Stranded” keeps its shirt buttoned up tight, stumbles home to bed without causing much of a fuss, and even gets up for church in the morning. And at this point in The Walkmen’s career, this reserved approach to songwriting is more effective and possibly even more heartbreaking. When you’re young you can get away with yelling and acting like a fuck-up if you’re sad, but the stately songs on Lisbon sound more mature, more responsible, and maybe even a little passive in the face of the world’s cruelty.

Das Racist – Shut Up, Dude (and Sit Down, Man)

I love the two mixtapes released by Das Racist this year more or less equally. But forced to choose one, I’d have to go with their first (just look at the salvo that opens the album: “Who’s That? Brooown!”, “You Oughta Know”, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”, and “Rainbow In The Dark”). But they both have some mindblowing songs, and a release that took the best songs from each of these two slightly overlong mixtapes would land even higher on this list. They can’t help but be completely hilarious (just watch any interview with them), and even if most of their songs are partially a racial critique, it’s a racial critique wrapped in a weed-n-food rap wrapped in a meme and then drenched with irony. They may be struggling to come out from under the shadow of a fast food novelty song right now, but watch out. These guys may not act like they give a shit, but they’re for real.

Back to #50-41 | Onward to #30-21

~ by toren on December 14, 2010.

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