50 Favorite Albums of 2010: #50-41

Before I start: it happens that there’s a tie for the place of #50. I promise this is the only time I’ll do this in this list.  What happened is that I didn’t listen to the new album by Swans until today, but I was amply blown away by it that I felt I needed to give it a place on my list, and couldn’t bear to get rid of my original #50. So there are two of them.

There was actually quite a bit of internal jockeying for the last five or so spots on this list–there were a lot of albums that I just barely wanted to include on the list, because there are things I love about them but places they miss, or they’re a bit overlong, or I just didn’t get to spend enough time with them. This is, of course, the consequence of listening to the absurd number of albums that I tried to listen to this year–and I’ll address this problem at the end. But first I just wanted to name a few honorable mentions and also-rans, those albums that almost-but-didn’t-quite make the cut, for those reasons I named, but albums I really like nonetheless:

TSOL by Shad, In Search of Stoney Jackson by Strong Arm Steady, Grinderman 2 by Grinderman, Love King by The-Dream, Subiza by Delorean, Fields by Junip, The Turquoise by Pop Winds, The Golden Archipelago by Shearwater, No Ghost by The Acorn, Love & War MasterPeace by Raheem DeVaughn, Say Us by Zeus, Good Things by Aloe Blacc, You Are Not Alone by Mavis Staples, Fallen House, Sunken City by B. Dolan and Expo 86 by Wolf Parade are all albums with some really splendid parts that didn’t quite make it. And I wish I could’ve spent more time with Have One On Me by Joanna Newsom, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here by Big K.R.I.T., Str8 Killa No Filla by Freddie Gibbs, Champ by Tokyo Police Club, and Eskmo by Eskmo.

Basically, I tried to listen to more music this year than I could possibly really digest and understand, but like I said, I’d like to write a little something about that at the end. For now, here’s my Top 50(+1):

Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

As I mentioned, I finally listened to this album for the first time today after being pressured to for a couple months by several sources. Its eight tracks are a thrillingly brutal listen–smashed percussion, mangled left-hand piano and guitar riffs from hell repeated at maximum volume until it becomes strangely hypnotic. You might call “Reeling The Liars In” one of the more easygoing tracks if it didn’t have lines about “removing their face, collecting their skin” and then “burning them in a pile”. My brother (a.k.a. Whiskey Transfusion) called it “the anti-chillwave”, but a little research revealed to me that Swans (dormant for 13 years until this album) were originally associated with the No Wave movement, which defined itself in opposition to New Wave.  Really, Swans is just anti-music; at their early shows, they were known to play so loud that members of the audience would vomit.  But still, as frontman Michael Gira once put it, their songs are strangely “soul-uplifting” while being “body-destroying.”

Wavves – King of the Beach

How could I leave Wavves off this list? I don’t try to hide the fact that I had no interest in Wavves until KotB‘s upgrade in sonic fidelity, and Nathan Williams’ notorious dickhead shenanigans certainly didn’t perk my interest. But weirdly, it’s Williams’ overflowing brattiness that makes this album so loveable. He sneers his way through perfect punk-pop hellraisers like “Post Acid”, “Green Eyes”, and the title track, while still finding time for some brave sonic experimentation on the stunning tracks “Mickey Mouse” and “Baby Say Goodbye”.

J. Cole – Friday Night Lights

Fortunately, 2010 saw me finally getting my act together and following some rap blogs in order to keep up with mixtapes, which have been a major hole in my hip-hop knowledge for a while. Unfortunately, this happened in the final quarter of the year, so I still missed out on some great mixtapes (with Big K.R.I.T.’s and Freddie Gibbs’, for instance, I was deterred by girth). But it didn’t take too many listens for me to realize that J. Cole’s third major mixtape deserved and demanded a spot on this list. Opinions of Cole seem pretty evenly divided between “he is The Truth” and “he’s technically sound but lacking in personality.” I’m inclined to land nearer the first camp, and I think he spits fire on almost every one of the 20 diverse tracks here.

Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo

The debut album by these youthful Sub Pop newbies was a slow grower for me, but as the late summer and fall drew on, I couldn’t deny their effortless mixing of lush atmosphere (on songs like “Coaxed”), incredibly natural melodies (as on single “What’s In It For?”), oddball lyrics, and nimble, daring guitar work (best shown on sprawling, Wilco-esque masterpiece “Remember Last Time”).  Seeing them display their significant chops at a free show at Middlebury didn’t hurt, either.

Yelawolf – Trunk Muzik 0-60

I first perked my ears up to Yelawolf’s tangly, gravity-defying flow on his verse on Big Boi’s “You Ain’t No DJ”.  And though “white trash Alabama dude rapping over Deep-South-808 beats” didn’t sound exactly like my cup of tea, I sure am glad I picked up this album. In Yela’s writhing, unstoppable flow I can hear traces of Eminem, Big Boi, Die Antwoord, T.I., and UGK, and this debut LP features some excellent guest spots from Raekwon, Bun B, Gucci Mane, and some actually-pretty-great dude named Rittz the Rapper. But, of course, the real star here is not the influences or the features, but Yelawolf himself, a rapper unlike any we’ve seen before.

Jónsi – Go

The debut album by Sigur Rós singer Jónsi Birgisson is, aside from Birgisson’s famous falsetto, nothing like Sigur Rós, and I was surprised at first by how happy this made me. (For the record, I’m a huge Sigur Rós fan.) The changes in the music (percussion and orchestra seemingly played by a an army of hyperactive woodland animals) on Go occur almost too fast, and Jónsi sings blissfully innocent lyrics about simple things–in English! It seems revealing of this album’s sentiments, to me, that almost every song is sung in 2nd person, addressed to some nebulous “you”. I think that “you” might be the child in all of us, and the title’s Go a command to do just that; what you “Go Do” is up to you.

Four Tet – There Is Love In You

The latest full-length from sonic wizard Kieran Hebdan is one of the most subtle, patient electronic “dance” albums I’ve ever heard. “This Unfolds” is the most direct example of this restrained, sparse aesthetic, and on album highlights “Love Cry”, “Sing”, and “Plastic People”, Hebdan takes a single loop or sonic element and, using an almost jam-like mindset, lets songs sort of accumulate around them. It’s incredibly inspiring, not to mention soothing, to witness.

The Naked And Famous – Passive Me, Aggressive You

Go ahead, hate this debut by a band of young Kiwis–they dare you. They’re not going to make the guitars and drums any less stadium-sized, the vocals any less sugary, the lyrics any less sentimentally poppy. PMAY takes any pretense of subtlety that you didn’t know was there on Passion Pit’s Manners and completely eradicates it. It’s the second album everyone wanted MGMT to make, where every song has the blockbuster production of “Time to Pretend” and the too-catchy melodic hooks of “Kids”. You can hate them for it, but you’ll be missing the party when this album blows up big in the States.

Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

“I’m not fucking around,” insists indie’s delicate prince repeatedly on “I Want To Be Well”, one of the climaxes on his new album. Uh, dude, don’t sweat it, we believe you. Even when he seems like he is, has Sufjan Stevens ever really been fucking around? Every one of his projects seems to strive, in one way or another, for some type of comprehensivity–whether making a song for each sign of the Chinese Zodiac on Enjoy Your Rabbit, trying to unite every artistic medium under one umbrella in The BQE, or proclaiming that he was going to make an album about each of the 50 states–well, we saw how long that lasted. Now, on The Age of Adz, Sufjy seems to be trying to cram the entirety of music into one work, so the quiet, folksy moments that stunned on songs like “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” and his trademark triumphant orchestras now find a place alongside a wealth of crazy electronic ornamentations. I’m afraid Sufjan might have sort of gone off the deep end in the past five years, and the failures on some parts of the album, as in moments on microcosmic album closer “Impossible Soul”, corroborate this with their fatal overstuffed-ness. But both “Impossible Soul” and the album as a whole have other moments that are more than brilliant enough to make up for it.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

Like Sufjan, Ariel Pink crams a great deal of music (musical history, this time) onto Before Today, critically and commercially his biggest album to date. But unlike Sufjan, it’s much harder to pinpoint just what exactly he is doing so very right on this breakthrough–who wants to hear the influence of 70s and 80s AM-radio soft-rock, anyway? But these tracks have a propulsive, compelling weirdness that is perfectly wedded to some undeniable pop, like the universal chorus at the end of “Round and Round”.

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

The perennially sad Scotsmen of Frightened Rabbit have introduced some new sonic elements on their third album, but there’s no chance of any of these getting in the way of the irresistible, anthemic choruses that most of their tracks built to. Just when these climaxes begin to feel like they must be a little too cheap, unearned, a life-affirming song like “Skip the Youth” or “Not Miserable” comes along. Plus, there’s just no better way to do sadness-writ-large than in a rich Scottish brogue.

Onward to #40-31

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~ by toren on December 14, 2010.

7 Responses to “50 Favorite Albums of 2010: #50-41”

  1. Have you ever listened to Kendrick Lamar?

  2. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been actually found the time to listen to it or if it’s because I’m back in Jamaica Queens and well, Friday Night Lights takes me back to high school… but this album is dope. You know I love yeezy, ross and jay… but man there’s something so refreshing about this mixtape and j.cole as a whole. Think t.i. before he was hype. think shyne before he was locked up…. j.cole’s what hip-hops missing and I’m not talking about hip-hop in the sense of auto-tuning and yelling on a track real fast and callin it personality (that’s a nod to nikki)… i’m talking raw, honest, lyrics, insane flo and just head-pumpin’. find them in friday night lights.

  3. Junip 😦

    • nice album, just didn’t quite cut it. also, nothing as good on it as their cover of “the ghost of tom joad” 🙂

  4. […] time with many of these albums than I would’ve liked (as I mentioned at the beginning of my #50-41 post). It also meant that I got much better, out of experience and necessity, at recognizing on first or […]

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