The Top 5 Albums of 2010

Here we are, 18 days into the new year and I haven’t given you the best albums of last year yet! How have you survived? Before you do anything drastic, please read on. I’ll let you know what’s good and why.

5. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

There is something to be said for an artist vomiting his-or-her-self out and into their art. Kanye has always been a polarizing figure and his past year has been a turbulent one for sure. In this album he takes all of the craziness of his ego and the way people perceive him and lays it down in wax. His production has always been top notch (“Gorgeous” has a really awesome sound that seems more at place in my number four album but totally works here, too) but on this release he’s got some really killer lines: “Too many Urkels on your team / that’s why your wins low” (Family Matters!) and pretty much the entirety of “Runaway” prove that he’s still a force to be reckoned with no matter what he does in his personal life. 

4. The Black Keys – Brothers

I’ve liked The Black Keys since Magic Potion (after which I promptly went back and enjoyed Rubber Factory). I even saw them in concert, no small feat for living in the nowhereland between Boston and NYC. Brothers is the best album since Rubber Factory because it finds the duo going back to what made them so great while retaining a bit of the adventurousness that they found while having Danger Mouse produce their previous album. The revelation here is Dan Auerbach’s falsetto found on a couple of tracks. I never expected him to sing in such a fashion but it totally works. The rest is all blues and rock and all. It’s great fun. 

3. Vampire Weekend – Contra

From this album on to the end there’s a bit of a trend. My top three are albums from bands that I have not heard before but fell in love with upon listening to their 2010 efforts. I’m not usually one to get in on the ground floor of a band’s work (2010’s Local Natives is the only “new” band that I really liked) but when I do find a band I like I’ll go back to the beginning and see how they developed. Anyways, all of this is kind of meaningless, when it comes down to it.
Vampire Weekend is a love ’em or hate ’em kind of band. I fall into the former. Yeah, “Holiday” got overplayed this Christmas – which is funny because it’s a song about the summer as far as I can tell – and they have songs about Horchata and balaclavas. They get really into their own thing and I admire that. The final song on this album “I Think Ur A Contra” (and damn if I don’t hate that whole shortening thing) is freaking perfect. It’s got an end-of-summer vibe to it which works wonders at describing the way a relationship works. It’s lazy and intense at the same time. 

2. The National – High Violet

A friend of mine hates The National. He can’t stand the constant mellowness of their sound. I can’t really argue that they are a super-diverse group. Their songs do sound kind of similar. Their subject matter doesn’t vary all that much. But they are the best at what they do. Every song on this album is fantastic. Whether it is the sad reflection on familial and home-town ties of “Bloodbuzz Ohio” where we learn that still owes money to the money to the money he owes or the sad song from the perspective of a man in love with sorrow (on the aptly titled “Sorrow”) The National know melancholy and know it well. Probably the best song is “Lemon World”. We get the portrait of a man back from war (“It was the only sentimental thing I could think of”) and dealing with his friends and family not understanding how he feels. He ends up “try[ing] to find something on this thing that means nothing”. It’s a wonderfully touching song and resonant even for people that haven’t gone to war.

1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

Before I listened to this album I could have sworn that I wasn’t really a fan of the technologically inclined music. Daft Punk never did much for me. I guess this album isn’t full on techno. It is full on awesome. What really appeals to me is the cleverness. “Dance Yrself Clean” (there it is again) starts the album and it begins quietly. James Murphy whispers some lines about “Talking like a jerk / Except you are an actual jerk / And living proof that sometimes friends are mean.” There’s a very basic beat for a good 3 minutes and then the song explodes into crazy energy and loud noises. The song sets the tone for the rest of the album. The way Murphy plays with words and production really makes this album great. In “Drunk Girls” Murphy extols the virtues of the titular beings, telling us that they “know that love is an astronaut / It comes back but is never the same”. It’s a song that seems like one of those drunk anthems but is really about waking up the next morning and talking about the weather.

His kiss-off to the record labels/music journalists/fans, “You Wanted a Hit” is a lot of fun, too. Murphy knows what he is doing in every sense of the word and when he tries to do something for somebody else, “it ends up feeling kind of wrong”. That’s an artist. That’s the best album of the year.

I’ll return soon with some odds and ends from the year in music. Some good songs and albums that didn’t make the cut.

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