Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Playlist: 10 Albums in 2010

1. Caribou / Swim:  Yes, it was a tough call, but Kanye West didn't quite make it to number 1.  Know that, if we were operating with decimal points, the difference would be minute.  The fact of the matter is, though, that Caribou's Swim has been my go-to soundtrack for most of 2010; a shift in the twilight of the year would ultimately make me a turncoat.  Even now, sandwiched between the Kanye tracks on my current iTunes playlist, the Caribou songs remain.  Caribou is mathematician/musician Daniel Victor Snaith, who previously recorded as Manitoba (until he, like Santigold, got served with a lawsuit by a man with a similar name), and there's something of a precise logic to the rhythms of his organically electronic music.  Swim is a beautiful album built up from a fluid arrangement of cross-genre instrumentals.  At times danceable, at times perfect for slipping into mellowed out coma; the songs seem to possess an undertow inherent in their basic composition, they suck you in and pull you through.  Glorious.
  
2. Kanye West / My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:  True fact: any 2010 best of music list that does not include Kanye West's truly outstanding album somewhere near the top should not be trusted.  Every song on here, including the Gil Scott-Heron outro "Who Will Survive in America?"  feels revolutionary.  This is not The College Dropout.  It is not Graduation.  It is not 808s and Heartbreak.  This is an entirely different breed of hip-hop that uses the full orchestra, the entire range of what this genre can be and what it could be which, while showcasing West, also includes some of the most inspired guest appearances in memory.  Kanye lives up to his own mythos, delivering the musical goods that give him some claim on his ego.

3. Janelle Monae / The ArchAndroid: All hail the arrival of a new breed of R&B queen: 24-year old Janelle Monae, a tiny dynamo with slick style who plays the game with her freak flag flying.  The ArchAndroid is a musically mature blast of tripped out funk bent through sci-fi instrumentals, pure Bowie glam rock, and a sort of psychedelic jazzed out fusion.  It's a hybrid helmed by someone who absolutely knows where they're going.  If you can, see her live.  Like now.








4. Robyn / Body Talk pt. 1 and 2:  It was a good year for pop music, particularly if you were living life off the top 40 grid.  Swedish chanteuse Robyn made a triumphant return five years after the release of her self-titled knockout to release two candy-coated EPs and a sort of best-of wrap up.  Dropping clever lyrics, killer ice cold hooks, and surprisingly genuine heartbreak ballads, Robyn could do no wrong this year; throwing down as much swaggering attitude as down-to-earth accessibility. Pure pop gold.







5. Grinderman / Grinderman 2:  On the opposite side of the coin, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis side project Grinderman returned with a sequel LP.  The result is a glorious, down, dirty, ultra gritty wallow in the sexed up, feral id of its creators.  I love Nick Cave, he conjures up some mean images in his lyrics, and the Grinderman side project feels like a shadowy continuation of the sound built up on the Bad Seeds album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!.  The menace is almost always palpable (least of all perhaps on "Palaces of Montezuma," which has the distinction of being a sort of beautiful love song), the prowling violence best characterized by the album's cover art: they are the fairy tale big bad wolf, the beasts waiting in the Black Forest to lead you down the bramble path.



6. LCD Soundsystem / This is Happening:  James Murphy's album grew on me.  I put it in my car stereo and it sat there for awhile, spinning on repeat.  This is neurotic dance music.  It's a strangely present, forever self-assessing mash up of a jangly Talking Heads new wave conversation with krautrock by way of Eno's work on David Bowie's "Heroes" and alongside Iggy Pop.  Granted, there are points where the album hits critical cacophony for me, but for the most part, I find myself enjoying its clustered influences and dancey art party agenda more with each repeat listen.  






7. Deerhunter / Halcyon Digest:  Deerhunter is that band I've always rather liked, but been generally dispassionate about.  Tracks from Cryptogram and Microcastle were good, but not the type I could latch onto or necessarily dissociate from a really pleasant background noise (there are a few exceptions to this).  Halcyon Digest changed that.  It would seem to me that this is the quartet's most accessible album.  It's not lonely sounds and melancholy any longer, instead we get a touch of nostalgia, but with a beat and some subtle rock and roll swagger







8. Hot Chip / One Life Stand:  Just as with Deerhunter, my enthusiasm for Hot Chip had been a wavering one in the past.  One Life Stand, however, surprised me.  I entered into it largely for the oddly bombastic single "I Feel Better" and left thoroughly seduced by the album's crafty electronic wiles.  There's a pounding, disco cohesion that I didn't find on Hot Chip's previous albums; a polished up sound that doesn't seem as concerned with subverting sonics or simply being a smartass.




9. Flying Lotus / Cosmogramma:
Flying Lotus is the stage name of Steven Ellison, the great-nephew of John and Alice Coltrane.  Appropriately, his sound is a sort of free-form electronic experiment.  It is a wild variation on jazz via laptop, and the bass  line is bizarre.  At times, Cosmogramma sounds as though it's at risk of spinning out of control, as if it doesn't know where it's going but urges you to stay put.  The result is something absolutely manic, not made of individual songs, but running wild from track to track through industrial zones and dulcimer tones.  The closest comparison I can come up for in regard to Flying Lotus might be Amon Tobin, but FlyLo is operating on a different level.  



10. Lindstrom and Christabelle / Real Life is No Cool:  Surprise?  Yeah, I'd imagine so.  I'm sure Norwegian duo Lindstrom and Christabelle's album won't make it on to too many best of 2010 lists, but in assessing the albums I've enjoyed most in their entirety (after all, that is what this is about), Real Life is No Cool just edged out the bevy of competitors. The thing about this album is that it's just so effortlessly cool.  If you put it on in the car, it's like everything is immediately  transformed into a mid-80's, jet setting world.  Your car will feel like a Ferrari.  You will suddenly be wearing yellow Wayfarers.  All of your clothes will be ultra tailored and immaculately white.  You will wonder, out of the clear blue, why it is you can't drive with a cocktail in one hand.  That's what this album does.  Somebody mix me a drink.  Right now.  Make sure there's plenty of gin in it.

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