Friday, December 3, 2010

Best of 2010

A brief introduction: this is purely opinion. I particularly enjoyed (and still enjoy) these five albums over the rest this year. But bear in mind -- I haven't listened to EVERY album this year. Not even close. So this isn't the best list ever, but it's mine. Read it anyway.

5. LCD Soundsystem's This is Happening- The songs occasionally test your patience, but there are many moments when everything clicks into place, and the result is nothing short of wonderful. James Murphy's third (and possibly final?) album as LCD Soundsystem further refines the style he's worked at on his previous albums while expanding it and bringing in a host of new influences. It doesn't quite match the greatness that is Sound of Silver (his second album), but this edgy dance-rock really works.

Standout Tracks: Dance Yrself Clean, I Can Change, Home

4. MGMT's Congratulations- It's fairly concise, but it's a hugely compelling psychedelic tour de force. Fans of the more accessible debut will balk at this follow-up, but it's hard to deny that Congratulations is much more intricate and involved. There's a bit of indulgence -- the lengthy surf rock epic Siberian Breaks and the instrumental Lady Dada's Nightmare come to mind -- but overall this album is much fresher and much more innovative. It may take a few listens to fully appreciate it, but with this one, it's worth it.

Standout Tracks: It's Working, Someone's Missing, Congratulations

3. Vampire Weekend's Contra- Engaging, adventurous, and sadly, brief. It's an album that doesn't let up until its final track. The band's list of influences grows drastically on this album, as they shuffle diverse styles seamlessly and stamp their brand on various musical templates. This is smartly-written pop music with plenty of energy to spare. Each punchy track leads into the next effortlessly, and by the end of the album, you're left wondering how these preppy kids can manage to do no wrong.

Standout Tracks: Horchata, Run, Diplomat's Son

2. Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy- Totally ridiculous in every way. A tightly-constructed album that is consistently innovative and boundary-pushing. West gets emotional on this album -- he digs deep, and the brutally honest lyrics show this clearly. But he's also the most creative he's ever been musically. Sampling everyone from King Crimson to Bon Iver and inviting artists onboard as diverse as Rihanna and Elton John, West simply refuses to believe anything is impossible. And he starts to make us believe it, too.

Standout Tracks: Dark Fantasy, Power, All of the Lights, Lost in the World

1. Arcade Fire's The Suburbs- Arcade Fire at their finest. It's an expansive album with some sonic experimentation and a whole lot of heart. The themes on this album -- childhood, the fear of losing our memories, the oppression of the modern world -- are instantly relatable and endlessly compelling -- even sixteen tracks doesn't feel like enough to fully explore them. But Win Butler and company give it a try, and the result is a winning album that is both hummable and deeply moving.

Standout Tracks: The Suburbs, Ready to Start, We Used to Wait, Sprawl II

And now for a list of albums that didn't crack the top five...but they're still albums I checked out this year (and you should too).

Mark Ronson and the Business Intl's Record Collection

M.I.A.'s /\/\ /\ Y /\

Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz

Spoon's Transference

Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid

Beach House's Teen Dream

Avey Tare's Down There

Scissor Sisters' Night Work

Hot Chip's One Life Stand

Dr. Dog's Shame, Shame

Neon Indian's Psychic Chasms

The Pop Star You Haven't Heard About in 2010

OK, so in 2010, electropop is pretty much the only route to go if you want to make it big as a [female] pop star. And there have certainly been some big hits this year that fall in that category: Your Love is My Drug, Only Girl (In the World), California Gurls, Alejandro, etc. But the electropop songstress who rises above the rest (and has been doing this genre since 2005, thank you haters) is Robyn. Who? Exactly.

If you remember the hit "Show Me Love" from the late '90s, you know Robyn. She started out in R&B, then started selling poorly, so she rethought her style and ended up leaving her label. Then...she started her own label! And she's been going hard with synthpop longer than Gaga or Perry or Ke$ha (I cringe every time I press shift for that third character). She stands out because not only is she Swedish and awesome, she also writes her own songs, and they're (GASP!) brutally honest.

Her newest LP, Body Talk, is an amalgamation of tracks from Body Talk Parts 1 and 2, which were released earlier this year, along with five new tracks. It's synthpop heaven. Body Talk is stuffed with great melodies and (obviously) glorious synthesizers. It also has its share of heartbreak, regret, and uncertainty with standout tracks like Dancing On My Own, Time Machine, and Hang With Me. It's not life-affirming pop music like you're used to. But it's the best pop music of the year, hands down. Lady Gaga is set to release her next album in early 2011, but until then, rock out to Robyn. You'll be glad you did.

--Robyn's Body Talk collection gets a 7/10 from me.