David G: Top Albums of 2010

Philadelphia, PA

Another year, another day to defend the album’s primacy. The defense of a work longer than a single idea, a single form. A series more whole than a short story collection, less cohesive than a novel. But ultimately, it’s less about form, than about release. A date. A musical event to wrap ourselves in. An excuse to argue. An excuse to lose ourselves in music for an hour. To steal away from silence, to give ourselves over to sound’s vision. But, if anything became clear to me while compiling, it’s that my patience is limited. My list rails against album bloat, in some vague idea that more is better, that seems to plague even some of this year’s best albums. Give me length, but make it concise. What’s a long player for if not that?

top ten albums

10Girls: Broken Dreams Club EP

I’m bound to regret this. Up until the very last second before publishing, this spot was occupied by The Black Keys’ Brothers. But that album is 52+ minutes when it should be 42-. The last Girls album ran out of steam for me, and I listen to it less and less. And their performance at Making Time in April was… questionable. But with the expansion of their sound, bringing in horns, and dialing up the ’50s crooner vibe, I’ve fallen for this small gem.

Standout Track(s): Carolina

09MGMT: Congratulations

Oh boy. I’m going to get flak for this. Seems like the critical consensus on this album is “sophomore slump.” Thing is: I never liked them the first time around. And I know… the 12 minute ADD “Siberian Breaks” is a bit of a chore. But some chores yield pleasure, and this album if chock full of progged-out pleasurable moments. It’s been a long time the radio has brought me into the fold of a band, but I have to admit WXPN, of all places, sucked me in with “Something’s Missing.” Let this album’s freakprog work its non-hook hooks into your brain and “slump” will be the farthest thing from your mind.

Standout Track(s): Something’s Missing

08LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening

Like many of LCD Soundsystems albums, I have mixed feelings on this. There are at least two songs on this album, “All I Want” chief among them, that are instant classics. But the album’s uneven, “You Wanted a Hit” and “Pow Pow” are overshadowed. But maybe that’s unfair: listening to them outside of the context of the album I don’t mind them. In a city’s downtown, shadows fall even on late three point-threat Manute Bol.

Standout Track(s): All I Want

07Blood Feathers: Goodness Gracious

It’s possible I can’t justify this as a “best” album of the year. But it’d impossible to leave off an album I love this much. Warm and fierce, it wraps me with its overdriving beat. This album is making out at their shows, ’50s hops, the nervousness of first love. Am I biased by shared love, Philadelphia, numerous great shows? Should I not be?

Standout Track(s): Sugar in Bed

06Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record

There’s an argument to be made that this album shares the length problem of the Black Keys’ Brothers. But the varied style and the warm laziness of its extremities makes this record’s overindulgence (cough) forgivable. By far, BSS’s best album. Note to Spoon: not only did this album contain the best of Broken Social Scene, they also made the songs that should have been on Transference.

Standout Track(s): World Sick, “Sentimental X’s”

05Phosphorescent: Here’s to Taking It Easy

By far my most played album of the year. And it’s easy to see why: gorgeous, sticky Southern summers run through it. Country’s heartbreak in Brooklyn’s form.

Standout Track(s): Mermaid Parade, Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)”

04Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

It’s surprising to see an “indie” band crack Billboard’s nut and sell out MSG. It’s not surprising that this album was the nutcracker to do it. If it has its fault, it’s length, which can make the album feel plodding. But even so, it’s pedestrian gait is fitting, an album that floats over the suburban mindscape, sentimental while it attacks. And then dances, to Abba, over the suburbs’ grave.

Standout Track(s): Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

03Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Fantasy

On any given day, this album either drops me with its brilliance or bugs me with its inanity. From the very first beat, the Kanye nursing rhyme, it’s obvious that hip hop was changed forever when this album dropped. I heard an NPR commentator comparing it to the rock star albums of the ’70s, where persona was essential to substance. And Kanye’s meld with the popular culture and image is both exalting and depressing. “Monster” is its pinnacle. And I’m charmed even by this album’s worst moments (see the last five minutes of “Blame Game”), though I can’t pretend weakness doesn’t exist. I’m wrong to not make it #1, and you’re wrong for putting it there. But in the end, I’m left only with questions. Why the Chris Rock nonsense on “Blame Game”? How did Kanye cajole Rick Ross into dropping his best lines on this album and not this own? Ditto, Nicki? Could any idea seem worse than bringing Justin Vernon onto a Kanye album? Could the resulting “Lost in the World” be any more sublime? Does Kanye know who he is, or what this album *is*, any more than we do? Bubbling, bubbling, bubbling, bubbling.

Standout Track(s): Monster, “Lost in the World”

02Beach House: Teen Dream

Take off the headphones and close your eyes. It’s been years since I’ve heard an album with Teen Dream’s ability to flow into every sonic nook and cranny. Wave upon wave of impossibly slow and aching sound. The most beautiful album of the year.

Standout Track(s): Norway

01Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

Is this a makeup? I sincerely regret not placing Atlas Sound’s Logos higher on my 2009 list. In ten years, “Sheila” will be unpacking my brain while It’s Blitz and Veckatimest live in cobwebs. But this album needs no help to be the best of the year, track after track of burning, unyielding incredulity that we will all die. All packed into pitch perfect craft, gently deformed. That Deerhunter would be better with an expanded sound (even horns!) is a revelation. It’s an album haunted by youth’s loss, in a way that Arcade Fire are not gifted enough to articulate in their suburbs. But not satisfied with moaning over mortality, it drives and claws towards a manufactured other-ness, a distorted skeleton of life to hang its weary flesh on. Kissing a friend, a suicide, an in-the-end nihilist goodbye with a baroque, pedaled guitar that hints at harpsichord and pearly gates autoharp. “I won’t rest until I can’t breathe / I can’t breathe when you’re looking at me.”

Standout Track(s): Desire Lines

honorable mentions

The Black Keys, Brothers: An incredible effort, marred by a belief that more songs would produce better results.

Sufjan Stevens, Age of Adz/All Delighted People EP: Between the EP and LP, there’s the material for a serious contender for album of the year. But far, far too much uninteresting flotsam.

Vampire Weekend, Contra: A great album, but not as great as it’s cover.

Neil Young, Le Noise: Parts of this album are as good as anything in the Young canon. Which is saying something.

Sun Airway, Nocturne of Exploded Chrystal Chandelier: Thankfully, far better than its title. A Philly gem.

Twin Shadow, Forget: File under, can’t wait to see what he does next.

The Roots, How I Got Over: The most slept on album of the year, and the best Roots album in a stone’s age. They also created an album with John Legend, scored a soundtrack, and, I can only assume, helped little girls get their cats down from trees.

Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty: The highs are high, the filler is frequent.

similarity to overall top ten: 53.5%, 5 matches

top songs

Don’t care about the songs listening nearly as much as I do the albums. I agonized for weeks over the albums. I put the songs list together in five minutes.

10Loscil with Dan Bejar (Destroyer), “The Making of Grief Point”A spoken word track. Some atmospherics. Completely magnetic.

09Sun Airway, “Put the Days Away”With the perfect complement of a video to boot:http://levay.info/noisenarcs/2010/10/25/this-is-philadelphia/

08Standard Fare, “Philadelphia”Simply. Perfect. Pop.

07Arcade Fire, “”Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”Abba.

06Sufjan Stevens, “Heirloom”Everything that Sufjan could have been in 2010, but wasn’t. “And when you walk inside I feel the door”

05Beach House, “Norway”Seriously, what has Norway done to deserve this song?

04Phosphorescent, “Mermaid Parade”Give me a beer, this song, and a dock/porch/roofdeck.

03Deerhunter, “Desire Lines”I’ve said all I can say above.

02LCD Soundsystem, “All I Want”James Murphy channeling Bowie and Neu! Repeat that three times.

01Kanye, “Monster”Titular truth: it’s a monster track.

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