50 Favorite Albums of 2010: #30-21

The Books – The Way Out

Four albums in, and there’s still no one making music like The Books. They add some new elements to the mix, with subtle nods towards Reichian minimalism (“Thirty Incoming”), funk (the masterful “I Didn’t Know That”), and even country (“Free Translator”) and hip-hop (“The Story of Hip-Hop”). But their sound is still that entrancing blend of electronically-manipulated string instruments, found audio, and a smattering of vocals from Nick Zammuto. And even with this album’s forays into some uncharted sonic territory, their approach to music-making is still permeated by such a sense of humor and pathos that you feel like, with each album, you’re getting a pocket-sized capsule of the human experience.

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

I can’t say I waited for the third Gorillaz album with bated breath. But somehow Damon Albarn keeps finding ways to make this one-of-a-kind, bizarrely successful project work. Even if you thought Demon Days sounded a bit stale, don’t hesitate to give Plastic Beach a chance; if nothing else, the guy is a master at aiming a spotlight on guest collaborators and giving them the perfect song to shine on, be it De La Soul or Lou Reed or Snoop Dogg or Bobby Womack. But Albarn gives his own voice plenty of spots to show off as well, and the way he and Jamie Hewlett have stacked this album with a deep roster of alluring electro-pop curios gives quite a bit of weight to the argument that Plastic Beach is their best album to date.

The Black Keys – Brothers

Who would’ve thought that 2010, the year of their sixth proper album, would be the Big Year for The Black Keys? I thought we might have reached a point of BK saturation–they’d already stretched their highly specific brand of blues rock over five albums, a Dan Auerbach solo release, and the Blakroc rap collaboration. But wouldn’t you know it, they sorta blew up, backed by the strength of singles like “Next Girl” and “Tighten Up”, a good viral music video or two, and a marketable advertising aesthetic (see album cover above). So Brothers received an unprecedented level of attention for The Black Keys; not only for those reasons named above, but also because this is the freshest they’ve sounded since Magic Potion or even 2004’s Rubber Factory. Turns out with just a little bit of stylistic tinkering, their simple two-man approach to blues-inflected rock still has a lot of juice left in it.

Rick Ross – Teflon Don

In his own way, former corrections office William Leonard Roberts II, a.k.a. Rick Ross, is a teflon don; he brushed off the revelation of his law-abiding, non-drug-kingpin background and kept spinning tales of extravagant wealth and illicit activity with relative ease. And after demolishing that obstacle in 2008 and 2009, he had nowhere to go but up, and Teflon Don finds him bragging about money, cars, yachts, drugs and women better than almost any other rapper currently in the game. He makes us question whether the authenticity of a rapper’s background is even that important at all; in fact, knowing that it’s all a fiction might even make his boasts a little more enjoyable (at least for white dudes from New Hampshire like me). Whether you agree or not, the fact that Rick Ross is even prompting these questions with an album that’s so damn effortless and breezy is quite a feat.

Bonobo – Black Sands

I’m shocked by how little attention this album by British electronic producer Simon Green got in 2010; I’d call it one of the most criminally overlooked albums of the year. He branches out from downtempo to dip his toes in instrumental hip-hop, dubstep, trip-hop, and jazz, backed by a variety of production techniques and the better part of an orchestra–most of the instruments played by Green himself. The result is like the album cover: a lush, soothing, detailed, slightly enigmatic landscape that I never tire of. Some might find it a little too buttoned-down, too on-the-nose, but there’s a lot to be said for tidy, workmanlike music when it’s executed with the perfection of Black Sands.

Tame Impala – Innerspeaker

There’s something comforting in knowing that there’s still ways to take guitar, bass, and drums, some reverb, and a little wah-wah pedal and emerge with something sounding as fresh and invigorating as the debut full-length from this Australian four-piece. (How many other bands on this list do you see doing the same?) As Kevin Parker croons away in his remarkably Lennon-esque voice, his bandmates crank out murky, proggy grooves that rest somewhere between Cream’s heavy churn and the completely stoned-out, languid vibes of Brightblack Morning Light. That recursive tunnel created on the cover seems to beckon entrance to the world of the album; a world of effortless melody, endless grooves, and absolutely no filler.

Baths – Cerulean

Right off the bat, critics came up with an easy label for the music of electronic producer Will Wiesenfeld (a.k.a. Baths): a halfway point between the L.A. broken beats scene helmed by Flying Lotus, and chillwave (particularly the music of Washed Out and Toro y Moi). But while that may describe some of the tracks on his captivating debut album, the actual results are much more varied: witness it in the Passion-Pit-in-a-blender of “You’re My Excuse To Travel”, the mesmerizing duet between pulsing piano and white noise on “Rain Smell”, or the angelic “Apologetic Shoulderblades”, which employs broken beats to an end far removed from any FlyLo track. Both that L.A. crew and chillwave certainly have their own merits, but the music of Baths is far more melodic and earnest than either, and is simply too idiosyncratic to be lumped into such easy categories.

Drake – Thank Me Later

I don’t know about you, but I had little interest in Drake as his hype grew bigger and bigger over the past couple of years. His punchline-heavy rapping strayed a little to far to the corny side of the line that Kanye has so expertly straddled for years, and none of his breakthrough hits did too much for me. (“Over” still doesn’t.) But, for whatever reason–probably after seeing some good reviews from trusted sources (the Village Voice review is especially good)–I decided to download this album, and shocked myself by loving it on first listen. It’s not at all the record I expected–“Over” is practically the only track that even comes close to resembling a “banger”, if you could even call it that. This is a quiet, unexpected, personal album; the beats are muffled, the synths gentle, and even guests like Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj seem to wipe their feet on the doormat before they enter. Maybe this stylistic turn is just sort of a one-off for Drake, but for me, it was certainly a welcome introduction.

The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

On his second LP, Sweden’s Kristian Matsson branches out sonically just enough to keep things interesting without leaving his comfort zone; hearing piano at the end of this album on “Kids on the Run” is a welcome addition (as is his first electric guitar ballad, “The Dreamer”, which appears on his new EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird). He also pushes his vocals a bit closer to the edge, in terms of pitch and dynamics, and is it just me, or does “Burden of Tomorrow” have a definite poppy twinge to it? But his lyrics are no less wizened and abstract than on his debut Shallow Graves, and at their best, Matsson takes on the guise of some ancient storyteller relating to us his travels in some abstract landscape filled with birds (a major motif), meadows, and various other flora and fauna.

Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

Each mini-masterpiece of a song on Gold Panda’s debut LP has the feeling of some pretty, fragile family heirloom discovered in a drawer at a grandparent’s house–dusty, mysterious, precious, and a little bit exotic. His sampler is the best tool in his arsenal, and almost every song is built around some particularly evocative sample: the word “you” spoken extra-fast or extra-slow, a sitar’s distant drone, or a playful pattern struck on a wooden xylophone. He’s taking some cues from Four Tet, without a doubt, and his music can also occasionally resemble the cold, distant beauty of The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime, as on “Snow & Taxis”. But mostly it’s permeated by a sense of warmth and intimacy, proving that sample-based music can present the personal as much as it can the blatantly artificial.

Back to #40-31 | Onward to #20-11

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~ by toren on December 15, 2010.

3 Responses to “50 Favorite Albums of 2010: #30-21”

  1. wild hunt is only 22nd? i thought top 15 for sure. also. i hope you arent planning on putting kanye at no. 1. also please d.box the bonobo album. k thnx. also. a pocket size capsule of human experience? really. really… but thus far i find your reviews interesting and illuminating. i have been going on a downloading spree and cleaning up my libz.

    • i think the books aim to do no less than that.

      also, 22 is a pretty damn good spot.

      also, so what if i put kanye there. EVERYBODY’S DOING IT.

      thank you for your cynicism-drenched comment

  2. […] oh boy. Just as I surprised myself by loving Drake’s Thank Me Later, I’m now surprised by just how excited I am for Take Care. Check […]

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