Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Albums of the Year List

Indie Rock finally has a face...
2010 was the year of Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Kanye West. Yet, for me, it will be the year in which indie rock finally found a face in the Arcade Fire, iTunes finally made the music industry complete its transition from selling albums to selling singles by acquiring the Beatles catalog, and Twitter took over music marketing.

Not a lot happened this year that wasn’t style-related. Lady Gaga dressed in a meat gown, Katy Perry put on some Daisy Dukes, and Willow Smith taught us how to whip our hair.

Meanwhile, not much seemed to be happening musically. So little, in fact, that both Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster, a supplemental collection of songs and re-mixes to her album The Fame, and Katy Perry’s abysmal Teenage Dream are nominated for album of the year at the Grammys. The best music of the year went mostly under the radar, with the exception of Kanye West, who finally unleashed his Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

So, despite having a fairly weak year in popular music, there were some definite gems out there that I found worth listening to on the album front. Here’s my list, in alphabetical order by artist, of the best albums of 2010.

The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

An introspective, yet anthemic look at suburban life. The music is larger-than-life, sweeping and moving. It is becoming increasingly rare for bands to make complete albums in this modern era, but Arcade Fire defies convention and has put together the most complete album this year. Not every track shines with the luster of “The Suburbs,” “We Used to Wait,” “Modern Man,” and “City with No Children,” but as a whole experience, The Suburbs is 2010’s album of the year.

The Sea – Corinne Bailey Rae

This album will no doubt be overlooked and overshadowed by bigger names in R&B/Pop, but Corinne Bailey Rae’s follow-up to her self-titled debut is both accessible and incredibly personal. The death of her husband inspired her to write some of her best ballads, from “I’d Do It All Again” to “Love’s On Its Way,” bringing out the lush tones in her jazzy, soulful voice.

Brothers – The Black Keys

Fun, fuzzy, and free-spirited, this is the best album yet from The Black Keys. I fell in love with the breezy “Tighten Up,” but found repeat listens in “Everlasting Light,” “Black Mud,” and “Too Afraid to Love You.”

Something For Everybody – Devo

80s New Wave wasn’t dead; it was just hibernating. Mark Mothersbaugh and the boys from Devo came back in 2010 with a pulse-pounding, groovy, and super-funky flashback album, Something For Everybody. There is something infectious about “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” and “Human Rocket.” It’s crack for the ADD brain!

Lungs – Florence and the Machine

Britain’s best import of 2010, Florence and the Machine are a cross between 10,000 Maniacs and The Flaming Lips. “Dog Days are Over” is one the year’s best songs, but the rest of the album is just as hypnotic and enchanting.

The Lady Killer – Cee-Lo Green

Cee-Lo Green is the love child of Al Green and George Clinton. Nothing he did as a partner in Gnarls Barkley prepared us for this coming-out party. The Lady Killer is a party album, filled with catchy R&B/Soul tunes pumped up with Hip-Hop/Funk rhythms. Check out the brilliant “Fuck You,” but stay for “Bright Lights Bigger City” and “Cry Baby.” In addition, he puts his personal spin on a stunning cover of Band of Horses’ classic love song, “No One’s Gonna Love You” that simply kills.

The Guitar Song – Jamey Johnson

At 105 minutes, Jamey Johnson has made one of the longest country albums I’ve ever heard, and one of the best. His voice sounds stained by booze, cigarettes and hard living, and as he honky-tonks his way through the album’s 25 tracks, it’s hard not to believe every word he growls. With the songs “Lonely at the Top,” “Playing the Part” and “Poor Man’s Blues,” he seems devoted to bringing back the hardcore country of old, rejecting the modern polished bullshit of Lady Antebellum, Sugarland, and Taylor Swift. That’s exactly what Country Music needs to be relevant again: rebel swagger.

Fortress – Miniature Tigers

This Arizona band was an indie revelation for me this year. They are melodic, powerful, and soulful. I love pulsing rock tracks like “Rock & Roll Mountain Troll,” but it’s the song “Dark Tower” that makes me realize this is a group with a huge future ahead. They are original and inspiring.

Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys – My Chemical Romance

The Black Parade was a tough act to follow for this Emo/Rock outfit, but follow it they did with a more focused, more exciting album in Danger Days. They have stepped away from the darker edge of the emo sound they had been cultivating and embraced the alt-pop sensibility that’s always underscored their best work. As a result, they’ve given us an album that is pure fun. I love the first single, “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na),” for its contagious chorus, but its tracks like “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” that have stuck with me.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West

Call him a douchebag, call him an asshole, call him what you will, but Kanye West is, at heart, a musical mad scientist who is not afraid to explore the nooks-and-crannies of the musical landscape to create his Hip-Hop masterpieces. On Fantasy, he gives us a series of sprawling tracks that may not always work as a whole piece, but individually are catchy, clever and demand repeat listens. “Runaway” is the clear-cut masterpiece here, with its haunting piano rhythm and self-referential chorus, but the songs “Power” and “Monster” make this the greatest of Kanye’s already amazing discography.

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