Rather than eulogize the preceding twelve months with some conjectured opinion, I figured I’d let the lists do the talking. That said, you’ll note this list contains my “Top 12.” I suppose 10 seemed like too few, and 20 too many, so there you have it.
12. Vampire Weekend – Contra
“In December, drinking horchata, I’d look psychotic in a balaclava”
You could certainly call the dapper boys of Vampire Weekend’s second record a facsimile of their first, but you’d be missing the point. By taking their Graceland inspired sound and refining it, the band managed to actually exceed the catchiness of their debut, and expand it to include elements of new wave pop.
11. The Weepies – Be My Thrill
“Don’t say words, the you don’t mean, and when I’m gone, please speak well of me”
If there is a more heartbreaking song to come out this year than “Please Speak Well of Me,” I don’t want to hear it. This record was made for repeated listens, back to back.
10. Prince – 20Ten
“From the heart of Minnesota, here comes the Purple Yoda”
Being a card-carrying member of the purple “fam” can be a bitch. With his uneven output of the last 15 years, you either end up defending his motives, or saying “I told you so.” This year was an anomaly, as his Royal Badness released a record — not in the states, mind you — that genuinely didn’t suck. I wouldn’t put it on par with his classic releases, but there is definitely something there that we haven’t seen in years.
“I slip my hands into warmer gloves, and play the good girl charade”
I’m not going to mince words: this record will seduce you, wrap you in Petty’s smokey vocals and promptly demand you to pay attention; because she has a story to tell you, and you are going to listen. The songs are intimate confessions of heartache, overheard conversations between lovers and friends, that you know you shouldn’t be listening to … but are compelled to, anyway.
8. Robyn – Body Talk
“Will you tell me once again, how we’re going to be just friends”
Released over the course of the last year in three parts, Robyn’s Body Talk stakes her claim as the top of the dance-pop pack.
7. The Roots – How I Got Over
“The darker the covenant-slash-trainwreck for you to rubberneck, You ain’t felt the true pain yet so you be loving that”
For those who thought becoming the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” would somehow diminish the Legendary Roots Crew, 2010 was the year you were all proved wrong. How I Got Over is possibly the groups most consistent work yet; not a second is wasted, giving the record a real sense of urgency.
6. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
“Heaven is whenever we can get together, sit down on your floor, and listen to your records”
I hadn’t really connected with Brooklyn’s The Hold Steady previously, but something about this record resonated so deeply with me that I actually had to take a break from listening to it, for fear of over-exposure.
5. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
“I love the morning, I like to listen, to 4am birdies, begging to feed”
For their major label debut, Ben Bridwell and his Band of Horses collaborated to hone their southern influenced brand of dreamy rock to a finely tuned point.
4. Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard
“Oh oh I’ll wake up in a thousand years, with every ghost I’m looking through “
Much like their compatriots in Vampire Weekend, the ladies and lads of Ra Ra Riot have taken their already strong formula of oh-so-twee chamber pop and built upon it to achieve the perfect version of themselves at the moment.
3. The Guggenheim Grotto – The Universe is Laughing
“‘Cause this sorry old world needs diamonds like you”
Based on my last.fm statistics, I listened to this record more than any other in 2010. They are also the band that I saw live more than any other in the past 12 months — save for the exception of Acoustic ’80s. A late ’09 discovery, the duo has quickly become one of my favorite acts.
2. The Silver Seas – Château Revenge!
“Baby I need a long walk, off a short pier”
Another late ’09 discovery — again, thanks to Jason Hare — The Silver Seas are likely the best band you’ve never heard. As I said in my review earlier this year, the irony of juxtaposing downright depressing lyrics against a backdrop of joyful tunes is nothing new, but the Silver Seas do it so masterfully you’d think they were the first. Château Revenge! is pure pop perfection!
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
“Let’s have a toast for the douchebags”
You could try to rationalize the theory of Kanye the celebrity versus Kanye the artist, but when it comes right down to it, Kanye is his art. Nothing is off-limits: almost die in a car crash, turn it into a hit song, spit through a jaw wired shut with a chipmunk speed Chaka Kahn hook; suffer the loss of a parent, turn it into a cold and detached statement; get called a “jackass” by the newly elected President, and turn it into an anthem. Kanye is possibly the most unfiltered talent in pop culture, and provide he keeps turning his trials and tribulations into compelling art, he’ll keep appearing on these lists.
There were a few releases that deserve mention, but didn’t quite fit into the “Top Albums” list for one reason or another.
Bird and the Bee – Interpreting the Masters, Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street (Remastered)
The Black Crowes – Croweology
Chic – Nile Rodgers Presents: The Chic Organization Box Set, Volume 1 / Savoir Faire
Frank Zappa – Hammersmith Odeon