No, of course 2010 wasn’t the best year for music ever. But depending on how you look at it, the suggestion might not be as outlandish as it sounds. Although 2010 only offered up one or two stone-cold classics, the year gave us 50 or 60 (and counting) truly great records that we’ll still be playing and talking about for years to come.
Get Boards of Canada, Madlib, Miles Davis and Bernard Herrmann in a room together, and you’d have some idea of the creative breadth hinted at on 2008’s fantastic Los Angeles and now brought to full fruition on Flying Lotus’ staggeringly great Cosmogramma. At a time when the notion of originality is often considered a myth and its pursuit a fool’s errand, Steven Ellison has created something undeniably unique by adapting the techniques and sonic palettes of artists past and present to his own freewheeling, unpredictable “more is more” musical philosophy.
The most overlooked album of the year, Completely Removed, the first album in five years from DC’s Medications, is a thrilling beast of a record that combines the rabid, jittery post-punk of Les Savy Fav with anthemic power-pop vocal melodies that Rivers Cuomo would sell his soul for (if he had one left to sell).
In addition to becoming the best live act in the world, James Murphy continued to balance intelligence, emotion, and danceability like nobody else since Talking Heads.
About a month ago, Robyn released a collection of the “best” tracks off her three 2010 mini-LPs. Not to take anything away from that Body Talk anthology, but it jettisoned all of Pt. 1’s most vulnerable moments: the acoustic version of “Hang With Me,” the delayed tragedy of “Cry When You Get Older,” and the unhinged “Girl and the Robot.” By all means, download everything Robyn put out this year, but Pt. 1 is the perfect distillation of her singular brand of heartbroken dance-pop.
Sleigh Bells’ debut is the most ragged, unique clandestine-pop-album since Clinic’s Internal Wrangler.
The first two records by Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House were soaked in nostalgia, thanks to the submerged production qualities that perfectly captured the hazy, half-formed nature of childhood memories. On Teen Dream, however, the band emerges into the sunlight, and what the album lacks in nostalgia, it more than makes up for with the duo’s strongest songwriting and most beautiful arrangements to date. Beach House bet the house by embracing a more hi-fi sound and came up with their greatest record yet.
Think early Eminem, but more cold-blooded. It’s repellent. It’s nauseating. And it’s recorded with more creativity and fire than any other rookie release all year. The guy will be winning Grammies with Rihanna by the end of the decade.
When Big Boi announced his first “official” solo album, there was little reason to expect anything other than greatness. The fantastic singles that crept out over the past three years confirmed these expectations, and then the album itself exceeded them. Sir Lucious Left Foot restores our hope not only in hip-hop, but in pop music in general. It hearkens back to a time not so long ago when what Americans chose to call “pop music” was as sonically adventurous as it was instinctively enjoyable.
No one’s got a voice like the National’s Matt Berninger, and I’m not just talking about his otherworldly baritone. Berninger’s narratives are at once absurd and heartbreaking, alternating between childlike innocence and crushing regret. His mind works like that of a true outsider, selling bizarre like, “I was afraid I would eat your brains,” with total sincerity. Oh, and the music is no slouch either; the National crafts densely layered epics without ever veering into the bombastic territory of some of their orchestra-happy peers. High Violet is the National’s darkest and most captivating record yet, and like all their albums, it’s best enjoyed after midnight and one too many drinks.
Kanye finally makes his masterpiece. If My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the future of pop music, I think we’re in good hands.
The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)
Curren$y, Pilot Talk and Pilot Talk 2 (Def Jam)
Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy)
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL)
Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
Gorillaz, Plastic Beach (Virgin)
The-Dream, Love King (Def Jam)
Yeasayer, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Before Today (4AD)
Freddie Gibbs, Str8 Killa No Filla (self-released)
10. Drake, “Over”
While Thank Me Later wasn’t the classic most wanted it to be, this song was damn near perfect. And that opening horn/guitar salvo gets me every time.
9. Arcade Fire, “We Used to Wait”
A great song that happened to have the coolest, most groundbreaking music video of the year.
8. Freddie Gibbs, ““National Anthem (F*ck the World)””
Technically impressive, but never flashy, and with a hook to make the hitmakers salivate. How long will it take for the majors to get wise to this guy?
7. Janelle Monáe (featuring Saul Williams), “Dance Or Die”
It could be 3050 and this song would still sound futuristic. It’s got that flying-car feeling that suggests a future too predictable to be true, but fun to dream about from afar, where soul-bots and android rappers have taken over the galaxy’s pop charts.
6. Rick Ross (featuring Kanye West), “Live Fast, Die Young”
Don’t get me wrong: Rick Ross’ “B.M.F.” was massive. But “Live Fast, Die Young,” gave his Teflon Don album an unexpected shot of pathos without detracting from the rest of the album’s outsized hedonism.
5. Yeasayer, “ONE”
“ONE” was the bridge between old Yeasayer and new Yeasayer, where their legit world music flirtations crashed head-on with their new identity as an electronic band. The results sounded like nothing else that came out this year. The beauty of Yeasayer is that the further they go down experimental rabbit holes, the catchier they actually get.
4. The-Dream, “Yamaha”
Outright imitation is never a good thing, but when an artist so accurately recreates the sound and vibe of one of the greatest albums ever made (in this case, Purple Rain), it’s hard to complain too much.
3. Vampire Weekend, “I Think UR a Contra”
People, let it go. Forget about the preppy clothes, the trust funds, and the Ivy League degrees: Vampire Weekend is a very good band that often writes very great songs. This is one of them.
2. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, “Round and Round”
It only took one listen for “Round & Round” (heard it in a Gap of all places) to burn itself into my brain. It’s the kind of song you know you’ve heard before, but you just can’t place it. That doesn’t make it unoriginal, it makes it universal.
1. Joanna Newsom, “Good Intentions Paving Company”
Ambitious, infectious, and poignant, “Good Intentions” showcases the young harpist at her best. Although Newsom is known for her flights-of-fancy and impressionistic storytelling, her best songs, like this one, are also her most direct and focused.
Fourth of July, “Friend of a Friend”
Wild Nothing, “Live in Dreams”
Willow, “Whip My Hair”
Big KRIT, “Country Shit”
Local Natives, “Airplanes”
Kellis, “4th of July”
Sufjan Stevens, “I Want to Be Well”
Das Racist, “Rainbow in the Dark”
The Roots, “How I Got Over”