Here is what you have all been waiting for. The top 15 albums of 2010. Broken down into 3 parts. (15 thru 11) – (10 thru 6) -(5 to 1)
Today we present our second batch.. So enjoy numbers 10 through 6..
10) Gorillaz- Plastic Beach
The year is 2001. Commercialism in music has reached a fever pitch. Corporation-designed music groups like the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, and Destiny’s Child have all topped recent Billboard charts. The tug of war between digital music consumers and media conglomerates is in its infancy. The initial Internet explosion, which made millionaires out of college dropouts in the ‘90s, is only a fading spark. MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter (and the dreaded return of tapered jeans to fashion) are only distant rest stops on the road to come.
In the middle of all this is born the self-titled debut album from a virtual band composed of a ragtag quartet of computer-animated anti-superheroes playing a unique, infectious mishmash of hip-hop, rock, and electronic music—the popular music styles of the day.
And so we were introduced to Gorillaz, the brainchild of rock musician Damon Albarn of Blur fame and Tank Girl cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. On the surface, Gorillaz was a project that quaked with the commercialism of the day. Was it a subversive artistic declaration on the state of music? Was it a blatant attempt to sell records? Was it the first significant Internet-ready commercial exploit of the 21st century? These questions, which the Gorillaz’ debut elicited to varying degrees from music fans, are what made the band such a successful experiment and what led me at the time to join the masses in hailing the group as the future of music.
It is now nearly a decade later and the future of music has arrived. The Gorillaz’ debut effort, of which over seven million copies have been sold, did indeed foreshadow much that has happened in music over the last nine years: the increasing reliance on Internet media, including video, games, and social networking, to promote bands; the melding of hip-hop, rock, and electronic elements in pop music; and the collaborative nature of modern commercial album production.
While much in music has changed since their 2001 debut, Gorillaz, now with the release of their third full-length LP, Plastic Beach, have essentially stayed the same. The band is no longer the future of music. Indeed, 2D, Murdoc, Russel, and Noodle—the band’s animated members—are simply purveyors of the craft they originally developed, which is practiced today by countless other artists. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, the Gorillaz stand head and shoulders above most of their progeny and have further perfected their art on Plastic Beach. The album includes even more great collaborations than its predecessors—Lou Reed, Mos Def, and Bobby Womack are just a few of the guest artists and this time around, the band’s trademark brand of electro-funk-hip-pop is more focused, with tighter production and more sure-fire hooks. Also, Plastic Beach continues Gorillaz’ tradition of utilizing animation and technology to great effect—the centerpiece of the group’s Web site is an adventure video game featuring band members, each band member stars in a YouTube album teaser, and there’s a music video in which a maniacal Bruce Willis engages in a crazy desert car chase with the group. All that being said, Gorillaz, by remaining “virtually” the same, are no longer in a position to make any grand artistic statements about commercialism in art. Instead, the band’s creators seem content to rest on their very real—not virtual—laurels.
Plastic Beach contains some of the best Gorillaz’ songs to date and is the best place to start if you’ve never heard the band. The album’s first single, “Stylo”, is a ‘70s-esque electro funk gem featuring Mos Def’s understated rhyming and Womack’s soul crooning. “On Melancholy Hill” takes a page out the Pet Shop Boys’ book with blissful, fuzzed-out pop that would sound perfectly at home in the ‘80s. The warm fuzzies continue on “Broken”, which contains some of the album’s best production. Enjoyable chill-out ballad “Empire Ants”, with a heavy trip-hop swizzle stirred in, borrows from the playbook of bedroom electronica producers like Moby and Mylo. “Some Kind of Nature”, perhaps the most intriguing collaboration on the album, juxtaposes Lou Reed’s trademark halting talk-singing with Albarn’s syrupy sweet harmonies over a buzzing hip-hop beat.
As with its predecessors, and most albums that contain such a large cadre of collaborators, Plastic Beach sounds uneven on occasion. The introductory track, which features a full orchestra, comes off as pretentious and superfluous with Albarn flaunting the now-immense resources at his disposal. And “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach”, the theme song of the album, with guest rapper Snoop Dogg, comes off more as adolescent play than satire.
Fortunately, Plastic Beach‘s weaknesses are few and far between. Overall, while the album isn’t an artistic triumph or grand satirical gesture, it is an enjoyable ride and is the best place to start if you just want a taste of Albarn’s post-Blur musical prowess and Hewlett’s animation wizardry. Gorillaz are no longer the revolutionary squad they once were: the band that rejected a Mercury Award nomination, shared the stage with Madonna at the Grammy Awards, and promised us an eye-opening full-length motion picture is long gone. In its place is an entertaining multimedia product and a reminder of a time when four music-making cartoon characters had the potential to raise eyebrows and wreak political mayhem.
9) SURFER BLOOD – ASTRO COAST
Surfer Blood are JP Pitts, Tyler Schwarz, Thomas Fekete and Brian Black, four men in their early twenties from Palm Beach, Florida. No surfers themselves, despite their band’s name, the music that they produce does nonetheless seem, on some level, informed by the ocean besides which they grew up.
Titles like Floating Vibes, Swim and indeed the album title Astro Coast undoubtedly reference the seaside. More than that though, the music itself has, in large part, an open-hearted, summery vibe that conjures days spent hanging out on the beach in the sun. The musical elephant in the room of course is the (nowadays seemingly near-obligatory) Beach Boys influence. This is heard most strongly on the terrific future single Swim – expansive, wonderstruck, lush and lovely. Echoes of the Wilson brothers et al can also be heard on Slow Jabroni and closing track Catholic Rangers.
But this is a band that has a lot more going for them. Their fiendish way with a tune is demonstrated from the off with the cracking opener Floating Vibes. Its catchy melody, served on a bed of mellow guitars and sweet background harmonies, actually recalls the college-rock 1990s more than the 1960s. Anchorage too is a tale of small town Slackerdom that is more Reality Bites than Surfin’ Safari. Decades meet and merge on Twin Peaks, part British Invasion vocals, part Times New Viking or No Agenoise from nowadays. It is also, along with Take It Easy, one of two tracks featuring afrobeat-style guitar: appropriately upbeat and cheery.
Lyrics are often romantic: “I need you in the here and now”, “Dreaming of your warming touch”, or Catholic Dragon’s lovely “When I met you I broke the mould / I fell apart and combed my hair”. Other themes are more downbeat, like Harmonix’s plaintive “We could have been the best of friends / Now I’ll never see this place again”, or Fast Jabroni’s “We can find a hole to crawl into”. But this is music where the words mostly play second fiddle to the sounds in which they are couched – a sound equal parts mellow and dissonant guitars, the occasional bit of psychedelia or afrobeat, a few incidental shimmering synths from time to time. The vocal is good-natured and optimistic sounding too – still more reason to warm to this most likeable of music.
The album is strewn with highlights. The aforementioned Floating Vibes and Swim; Twin Peaks’ tale of relationship woe and TV; Anchorage – all jarring chords, cymbals and early-twenties small town angst. Catholic Pagans too is great, and a lovely way to close an album: sweet but not cloying, honest, tuneful and touching. The band are least enjoyable on the more downbeat numbers. The melancholia of Harmonix seems to sit less successfully with the band’s sound, and Slow Jabroni too is a serious song: “Take some time to figure it out” they implore gravely, in a manner that (just slightly) jars with the rest of the album.
Yet with a timely June release, and a recent presence at events like Barcelona’s Primavera Sound and the Pavement-curated ATP, Surfer Blood have made an archetypal “soundtrack for summer” album. Its youthful sense of noise and joy and wonder are heartening, its way with a tune addictive. Would that all summers were as warm, as happy and as big-hearted as this music.
8) Sufjan Stevens- The Age of Adz
After abandoning his much-touted 50 States project (in which he was going to write one album about every American state), Sufjan Stevens has presented us with The Age Of Adz, a nearly complete about-face to his former shtick that has more in common with 2001’s Enjoy Your Rabbit than anything from Illinois or Michigan.
Let’s start with the fact that opener “Futile Devices” and the “John Wayne Gacy”-esque “Vesuvius” are pretty much the only tunes here resembling the Stevens of yore. Right after “Futile Devices,” you’re hit with the almost entirely electronic “Too Much,” which is full of synthesizers and bleeps and bloops.
If anyone else had done this, it would have been the kind of jarringly schizophrenic turn that would have immediately destroyed an album. But Stevens somehow gets it right. The trick is the tune also happens to be backed by sweeping orchestral arrangements, making it familiar enough to his listeners that it’s not going to alienate anyone.
The push and pull between old and new (orchestra and electronics, that is) continues throughout the album, and it’s pretty easy to see why Stevens named it after a painting by schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson. The Age Of Adz’ best moment, though, is the 25-minute (yes, you read that right) “Impossible Soul.”
That closing track turns Stevens’ two most recent studio albums on their heads and features what might just be the only acceptable use of Auto-Tune to date, at a time when it’s become ostracized and made a pariah in the business.
One might argue the presence of this track pushes The Age Of Adz over the top and is entirely unnecessary, but the thing is… it kind of sums the entire disc up. It’s like the final piece of a puzzle; if it wasn’t there, there would be a big, gaping hole at the end of “I Want To Be Well.”
With The Age Of Adz, Stevens has successfully reinvented himself and done what few in the indie rock scene are doing these days: he’s made an album that’s actually an interesting listen.
7) Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest
Deerhunter have become masters of the gentle 180. They regularly take themselves in completely new directions, all the while staying completely recognizable. Maybe it’s the elegantly simple, fuzzed out guitar interplay of Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt, maybe its Cox’s floating, ethereal falsetto or every band member’s unparalleled ability to do a lot with a little. It’s incredibly difficult to pin down, and maybe it’s that implacability that makes them great. They can record albums that are clear homages yet manage to sound brand new, but with Halcyon Digest they have ceased with the tributes and finally embraced the core of their sound, the basic influences Cox has discussed for years. 50’s and 60’s pop is fully embraced and wrapped in shoegaze fuzz, Cox’s stream of consciousness lyrics have never been better, and the always creative and locked in rhythm section of Moses Archeluta and Josh Fauver is the best it’s ever been.
The album is far less immediate than their preceding masterpiece, Microcastle/Weird Era Cont., and opener Earthquake brings them closer to Cox’s Atlas Sound project than they’ve ever come before. It’s a slower, more contemplative song that sets the stage for a slower, more contemplative album. Earthquakeis simplistic and beautiful, with waves of guitar noise washing over the song and then retreating.
The album then fully realizes the sounds first explored on Rainwater Cassette Exchange, bringing in jangly, fuzzed out pop with Memory Boy and Revival. They’re pure 1960’s pop, and I’d call them album highlights, but that would be frivolous on an album full of them. I’d be typing “album highlight” after every song I discuss. It’s a series of stunningly gorgeous pop songs; it takes the peaceful, relaxed feel of Atlas Sound and improves on in ten fold. That’s not an easy task, but it should be of no surprise that Deerhunter managed it.
They’ve never disappointed before, and why should they start now? Desire Lines takes Nothing Ever Happened and strips away the noise, leaving the beautiful, simple shell, with Pundt’s enchanting vocal melodies and Cox’s angelic backing vocals wrapped in psychedelic guitar work. Desire Lines is the centerpiece of the most pleasant listening experience of the year, and one of the best. I’ve been listening to it on repeat for two weeks now, and I’ve yet to find a flaw. It’s Deerhunter’s second masterpiece in a row, and most natural record, a one-two punch for the books. They’ve established themselves as one of the best bands in the world, and I can only see them getting better. Halcyon Digest goes by like a breeze, and when it’s finished there’s nothing better to do than play it again.
6) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
You barely detect it at first, but something miraculous happens on Arcade Fire’s revelatory third album. The songs breathe — occasionally in long exhales, sometimes in staccato gasps. It’s a surprise given the Montreal septet’s previous predilections for tightly wound indie-rock that carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. The band’s 2004 debut, “Funeral,’’ focused on loss and grief, and “Neon Bible,’’ its epic follow-up three years later, suggested the apocalypse was upon us.
While those albums looked in the rear-view mirror, “The Suburbs’’ fixates on the future in a broad exploration of how where we’re from directs where we’re going. On the title track, a mother wants “a daughter while I’m still young/ I want to hold her hand/ Show her some beauty/ Before this damage is done.’’ On “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),’’ singer Régine Chassagne laments how we’re “living in sprawl, dead shopping malls.’’
The music, too, cracks open in wide and unexpected ways, from chamber rock (“Empty Room’’) to synth pop [“Half Light II (No Celebration)’’] to ’80s post-punk (“Month of May’’). Frontman Win Butler has had a tendency to steamroll Arcade Fire’s songs with an agitated vocal delivery just shy of screaming, “We’re all gonna die!’’ He’s more measured and intuitive here, finding his place in the songs rather than driving them. It’s clear that in Arcade Fire’s world, the suburbs — no matter how suffocating — are simply a microcosm for society at large