The vote that determined which albums would make Popdose’s Top 20 albums of 2010 made one thing abundantly clear: everyone should stop listening to me.
I am so far out of step with everyone my age – and younger, and older – that I have become the very thing that I loathe about today’s ultra-fractured musical climate: I don’t have anything in common with anyone. I relished that in high school, but back then all you had to do to be “different” was listen to INXS instead of Judas Priest. These days, I became a fan of lots of new bands that received no airplay or TV exposure, but since none of them are what the hipster tastemakers would consider cool – the same way that, say, Deerhunter or Fleet Foxes or Arcade Fire are cool – it basically means I listen to uncool music. Is there anything worse you can say about a critic than that? No. No, there isn’t.
So yes, this new freedom of not giving a shit about my hipster credibility comes with a price, but that presumes that I had any cred in the first place, which I highly doubt, so no harm done. The only potential harm I guess I stand to do is to the bands whose work I praise, since my endorsement doesn’t really mean much, but hopefully someone else who still values the currency his or her opinion might carry happens to agree with me here and there. Either way, I refuse to embarrass myself by pretending to like some bearded guy who sings murder ballads about confused Oregonian lumberjacks. That’s just not who I am or what I like to listen to. I like hooks, sing-alongs and energy, because, well, that’s all I can really play around the house without making my kids cry.
Top 10 Albums of 2010
1. Mark Ronson: Record Collection
Ahhhhhh. If I get to heaven, this is what the radio station will sound like. Tasteful drum beats paired with even tastier synth tracks, highlighted by brilliantly chosen guest contributors from Q-Tip and D’Angelo to Simon Le Bon and a devastating performance by Boy George. Definitely gonna ride this bike until I get home.
Mark Ronson – Somebody to Love Me
2. Hey Champ: Star
I’m a sucker for any band that justifies my love for New Order and the Buggles, and this Chicago trio threw down synth pop/rock that, in an ideal world, would have Passion Pit opening for them, not the other way around.
Hey Champ – Shake
3. Prefab Sprout: Let’s Change the World with Music
Man, what a sweet surprise this was. Originally scheduled to be the follow-up album to 1990’s Jordan: The Comeback, the album was scrapped despite Prefab leader Paddy McAloon already finishing studio-quality demo versions of every song. Eighteen years later, the songs finally see the light of day, and the result is instant nostalgia. He supposedly has dozens more albums on his shelves from the same period. Please don’t make us wait 18 years for the next one, Paddy.
Prefab Sprout – Ride
4. The Hours: It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish
This one is knocked down a few rungs on a technicality, in that it’s a Franken-album consisting of the best songs from the band’s two UK-only releases making their US debut here. But hot damn, are those songs good. Shimmering, sky-high, piano-driven pop that addresses the darkness in people’s lives but strives for hope and change. No wonder Nike used one of these songs for their unforgettable “Human Chain” ad earlier this year. Favorite lyric: “I can understand how someone can go over to the dark side, ’cause the Devil, he’s got all the tunes.”
The Hours – These Days
5. The Silver Seas: Chateau Revenge
I’m still pissed about this one. I got a sneak peek of the record months before its release because our publicist is tight with the band. We played the daylights out of it, and couldn’t wait to sing its praises when it came out in April…only April never happened. Then it was July, and when it came out, the damn thing was buried. Why, why, why? Not enough irony or cynicism? I see no reason why the Shins can sell millions while the Silver Seas still toil in obscurity. The phrase ‘criminally underrated’ was written about bands like this.
The Silver Seas – Help Is on the Way
6. Midnight Juggernauts: The Crystal Axis
The back half of “Lara Versus the Savage Pack” makes me positively giddy. Armed with a hypnotic six-note riff, this Australian trio lays on the strangest chord sequence before finally landing on the song’s original chord in spectacular fashion, then sending one note climbing the walls, guaranteeing that everyone lucky enough to be in the club that plays this song will do the same. A little odder and more groove-oriented than their (awesome) alt-dance debut Dystopia, but one gets the sense that the Midnight Juggernauts are just getting warmed up. Sweet.
Midnight Juggernauts – Lara Versus the Savage Pack
7. Codeine Velvet Club: Codeine Velvet Club
The lead singer of the Fratellis hooks up with his wife’s friend (not in that way) and makes what is arguably his best album yet, a collection of ’60s-minded boy/girl songs that could be spy anthems or ballads that Nancy Sinatra would have killed for. They even had the guts to cover a song from one of the most hallowed English pop records of all time (that would be “I Am the Resurrection” by the Stone Roses), and pull it off. Fun fact: Fratelli wrote “I Would Send You Roses” for Roger Daltrey.
Codeine Velvet Club – Vanity Kills
8. Scissor Sisters: Night Work
It’s officially time to recognize Jake Shears as one of the most versatile singers in music today. He has a baritone that would give Chris Difford pause and a falsetto that would give Barry Gibb a hissy fit. His band, meanwhile, chugs out the most awesome disco pop the world has heard since, well, disco. I get why these guys aren’t chartbusters in the States – they’re far too comfortable with their sexuality than most Americans are. Still, you’d think that their craft as songwriters would rise above what they do in their private lives. Sigh.
Scissor Sisters – Invisible Light
9. Trashcan Sinatras: In the Music
Ah, my beloved Trashcans. I hope they will forgive me for not putting them at the top of my list, but let’s face it: they’re in a different musical place now, and so am I. I still love them – I even made good on my promise to buy guitarist Paul Livingston a drink after their show in Chicago the weekend of Lollapalooza last year – but not quite like I once did. It’s a beautiful record – it’s just not the record I needed this year, hence its ranking in the bottom part of my list. I’ll definitely play it more when the kids get older, though.
Trashcan Sinatras – Morning Star
10. Home Video: The Automatic Process
I’m shocked that, in the Internet age, any band would give themselves the name Home Video. I even teased the lead singer for the Australian band Oh Mercy for the same thing earlier this year – who the hell is going to find your band among a million Google hits about Bob Dylan album reviews, or in the case of this electro-pop duo, old VHS titles? But when you’re armed with a song that sounds like a modern-day take on Seal’s “Future Love Paradise” (that would be “Beatrice”), then you can probably name your band any old thing you want. If you like the idea of Radiohead more than the band itself these days, definitely give this a listen. Doves fans should take note, too.
Home Video – The Smoke
Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
Any question that “Fuck You” is the single of the year?
My Chemical Romance: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
Any question that “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)” is the song title of the year?
Findlay Brown: Love Will Find You
The title track has my vote for video of the year that wasn’t made by OK Go. So sweet I want to pinch his cheeks.
Divine Comedy: Bang Goes the Knighthood
He had a hand in my favorite album from last year (that would be the concept album about cricket, The Duckworth Lewis Method), and that album’s playfulness spilled over to his day job.
Devo: Something for Everybody
Absolutely better than it had any reason to be, and they killed at Lollapalooza.
The Coral: Butterfly House
This was the first I had heard from them in eight years. Nice to see you again.
OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
My 19-month-old daughter still asks to see the doggie video.
Editors: In This Light and On This Evening
Good for them for getting out of their comfort zone.
Other notable songs that kicked ass
“He’s Not a Boy,” The Like
It’s like a female Strokes, only fun. And check out this video. Those ’60s outfits just slay me. Va-voom.
The Like – He’s Not a Boy
“I L U,” School of Seven Bells
Breakup song of the year. It’s also the best song My Bloody Valentine never wrote.
School of Seven Bells – I L U
“Closer,” Kylie Minogue
I’m still baffled as to how this hasn’t been released as a single. This is the most epic three-minute bubblegum pop song I’ve heard in years. I bet Muse would do a killer cover of it. This version is a little sped up, to keep Kylie’s label from throwing the hammer down, but you get the idea.
“Hot ‘n Fun,” N.E.R.D. featuring Nelly Furtado
How on earth was this song not huge? It’s a modern-day “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” for crying out loud.
“Burn It Down,” Awolnation
Little Richard surely loves this song, though I’m betting he opts for the version that doesn’t say “motherfucker” in the chorus.
Awolnation – Burn It Down
“How You Like Me Now,” The Heavy
A bit of a cheat, since the album came out last year, but the single came out this year. And it made for a hell of a Super Bowl commercial.
“Remedy,” Little Boots
My pop star crush of 2010. She makes me tingly.
“Numbers Don’t Lie,” The Mynabirds
The video for this one totally won me over. Clever low-budget clip, and the lead singer is a total cutie.
“DHDQ,” Andy Bell
Think Eurythmics’ “Would I Lie to You” on synth steroids, about a Debbie Harry drag queen. Yep, that’s what “DHDQ” stands for.
Andy Bell – DHDQ
“From Above,” Ben Folds & Nick Hornby
Best song Ben Folds has sung in nearly a decade, and quite possibly the definitive song about ships passing in the night.
“Back in Time,” Keane
Holy Gary Numan, Batman.
Keane – Back in Time
“Bitter Pill,” Mt. Desolation
Essentially a double dose of Keane, as this is the countrified spinoff group formed by Keane pianist Tim Rice-Oxley and Keane’s new fourth member.
I still love you, only slightly, only slightly less than I used to
Some of my favorite bands put out albums this year. Albums that I thought were merely…okay. Sigh. I hate it when that happens.
Massive Attack: Heligoland
Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
Chemical Brothers: Further
New Pornographers: Together
Bryan Ferry: Olympia
Sneak peeks into 2011
In a nutshell, Dan Bejar has made a better Bryan Ferry album than Bryan Ferry just made.
Destroyer – Chinatown
Exit Calm: Exit Calm
Liam Gallagher and Mani from the Stone Roses love ’em. Big, loud, epic indie guitar rock.
Diego Garcia: The Girls Are Yours
If the first track from the former Elefant man (oh, I hate myself for typing that) is any indication, we have a guitar pop classic waiting in the wings.
Diego Garcia – You Were Never There