Monday, 6 December 2010

Albums of the Year 2010

So what a year for music it's been huh? The amount of great releases this year has been absolutely astonishing and it speaks volumes that there doesn't seem to be any form of consensus on what has been the best this year. There were so many albums that I wanted to have on here but had to miss out that it's ridiculous. For me, this year has been all about electronic music with some absolutely incredible albums being released during the year. It also seemed to be the year for the older musicians too but more on that later. Anyway, without any further ado, here are, in my opinion, the thirty best albums that 2010 had to offer:

30. Gonjasufi - A Sufi and  A Killer
29. Liars - Sisterworld
28. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
27. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
26. Salem - King Night
25. Curren$y - Pilot Talk
24. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network Soundtrack
23. Twin Shadow - Forget
22. Ceremony - Rohnert Park
21. Throats - Throats
20. Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here 
19. Foals - Total Life Forever
18. The Body - All The Waters of Earth Turn to Blood
17. Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers
16. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
15. Grinderman - Grinderman 2
14. Pulled Apart By Horses - Pulled Apart By Horses
13. Four Tet - There Is Love In You
12. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
11. Gold Panda - Lucky Shiner

10. Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
In the last few years there have been so many bands reuniniting but probably the most surprising was that of Swans. Michael Gira hardly ever seemed the type of man for nostalgia and, quite frankly, seemed to have more self-respect than to take part in a tour, playing the greatest hits to earn himself some extra money. This reunion was made even more worrying for Swans fans when Gira announced that he and the newly reunited Swans would be releasing new material. If he treaded out an album that sounded exactly like old Swans it would feel like a complete cop out for a band that were renowned for their constant ability to evolve between albums. If he released something that sounded completely different it would completely alienate Swans fans of old and would feel like a pointless effort to have resurrected the Swans name. However, Gira took the third, and best possible, option and created an album that sounded exactly like Swans would have sounded like in 2010 if they'd kept going. Doomy as fuck, folk-influenced, Post-Punk/Noise/No Wave as only Gira can do.
 

9. Pantha Du Prince - Black Noise
While technically being a minimal house musician, Hendrik Weiber doesn't really fit in to the scene. In a genre, which to many, seems tried and stale, Weiber constantly adventures in to new and unfound territory. This is a record that will completely drag you in and not let you got for the full hour and ten minutes of its duration. Through incredibly delicate minimal beats, backed up by various percussive instruments like a glockenspiel, Pantha Du Prince has made one of the most dreamy and textually beautiful albums of the year. However, the highlight comes on the most un-Pantha Du Prince moment, Stick To My Side. Featuring the vocals of Noah Lennox (AKA Panda Bear from Animal Collective), Stick To My Side is the closest that Black Noise gets to Pop but is also, arguably, its most beautiful moment.
 

8. Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Diamond Eyes sounds exactly like a Deftones album, e.g. like nothing else. They were always different from their 'Nu-Metal' counterparts because of their desire to experiment and their massive palette of sounds. This palette has grown even further on Diamond Eyes thanks to their range of influences from '80s Post-Punk bands like The Smiths and The Cure to recent electronic musicians like Kode 9. These range of sounds make a profound and incredibly forward-thinking listen, adding a beauty and melodic aspect to their, otherwise, heavy sound. The fact that Diamond Eyes was not even the album we were supposed to listen to is a mind blower. Deftones were originally supposed to release the album Erors but it was postponed after bassist Chi Cheng was in a serious car accident which left him in a coma and has now been indefinitely shelved as they felt it is not a good example of their current sound. The idea to axe Erors was clearly a good idea as Diamond Eyes is an absolutely phenomenal album and a fantastic return to form for Deftones.


 7. Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here?
Does It Look Like I'm Here? is a tricky one to describe. Firstly, its an album of contradictions. It is an album of the gradual build up of layers of electronics that develops in to a drone yet Does It Look Like I'm Here? has a feeling of urgency throughout. It is an experimental electronic drone album yet from start to finish it is nothing but beautiful. This album is the definition of a grower yet feels accessible from the moment you put it on. Maybe its these contradictions which have led to Does It Look Like I'm Here?'s widespread acclaim which seems so rare for this type of music. Maybe it is Mark McGuire's beautiful guitarwork under the layers of electronic which keep this on the ground. Or maybe it's just how damn forward thinking and experimental this album is which has led to it being so widely loved.
 

6. Caribou - Swim
Caribou's biggest advantage on Swim is probably its ability to be danceable and fun. It manages to be the complete opposite of pretentious while being experimental, ambitious and forward thinking which is a rare feat in modern music. On Swim, Caribou draws in a massive range of influences from modern pop to psychadelia, there is even a huge krautrock influence on the percussion throughout. Even Caribou's instrumentation is unusual for dance music, using not only a full band but also even having a flute on opener Odessa. While the band goes through their 'intelligent' dance music, Dan Snaith's voice is only a whisper or a murmur over the top and it sounds fantastic. Smith claimed that he wanted to create "dance music that sounds like it's made out of water" and I can't think of a better description for this than that.
 

5. James Blake - Klavierwerke/CMYK
Well Gorilla Vs Bear counted them both as one release on their list so I've decided I'm allowed too. James Blake is a 21 year old electronic producer from London who is often linked in to the whole 'dubstep' thing but he is, quite frankly, so much more than that. Burial is probably the closest you're going to get to James Blake's delicate and minimal arrangements with plenty of room to breathe. That is, however, about where the similarities between them stop as James Blake really is an individual with a complete sound of his own. Blake also includes his own vocals, which are quite frankly breathtaking, and piano playing into his tracks. James Blake is the most promising new musician of the year and I simply cannot wait to hear his album in the new year.


 4. The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter
 
The Fall really are a phenomenal band. Not many bands after twenty eight albums and thirty four years can still be constantly developing and morphing their sound and also releasing some of the best albums they've done to date. Maybe the secret is The Falls' rotating door of members (there have been over fourty different line-ups) or maybe it's just Mark E Smith's incredible ability to adapt. Your Future Our Clutter sees Mark E Smith and Co develop their krautrock tinged garage rock in to even further territories, even including a Daft Punk sample in the song Cowboy George. Mark E Smith's literary genius is on mark yet again with brilliantly undecryptable lyrics and references to Murder She Wrote. Your Future Our Clutter is a bundle of energy and doesn't stop throughout, from the pounding drum opener to Mark E Smith's finishing whispers of 'you don't deserve rock and roll'.
  

 3. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
 
On Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter are not messing about. They have cut the ambient bits and scrapped the noise parts and just left what they are at heart, an Indie Pop band. Halcyon Digest is 45 minutes of catchy fuzzy pop songs which, while sounding like a waste of Deerhunter's talent for noise, really isn't. These are songs that will get stuck and swirl around in your head for days. Halcyon Digest's greatest moment might not come until its final track, He Would Have Laughed, a dedication to the late Memphis musician Jay Reatard who died from drug use earlier this year. The song starts off with beautiful electronics and ambiguous lyrics ('I'm a gold gold diggin' man/I won't rest 'til I buy your land') only to break down into a fantastic acoustic part which is a definite competitor for the greatest two minutes of music in 2010.


 2. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
What is there to say on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that hasn't been already? After the events of recent years (the death of his mother, the split between him and his fiancé, the lukewarm reception to the incredibly underrated 808s and Heartbreak, 'Taylor Swift gate') many thought that Kanye was down and out. But sure enough, here is, not only, Kanye West at his best but also mainstream hip-hop at its best. You will not hear a mainstream album as ambitious as this in 2010. From the samples (everything from Aphex Twin to King Crimson) to the guests (everyone from Elton John to Bon Iver to the RZA) there is so much thought and effort in to this album that it is almost impossible to fault. It is also an album where it is impossible to pick a highlight; is it the nine minute tearjerker Runaway? Is it the fantastic single Power? Or is it the incredible closing duo of Lost in the World and Who Will Survive in America featuring samples of Bon Iver and Gil Scott-Heron? In fact, when I think about it, it could literally be any of the thirteen tracks here. Amazing.


1. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
So here it is, my favourite album of the year. While Flying Lotus hasn't massively changed his sound in any way here he has still managed to develop everything about it. He has introduced a much larger jazz influence and even video game sounds in to his instrumental hip-hop sound. He has also broadened his sound palette even further by adding samples from some of his friends. Several of the songs on Cosmogramma include some fantastic live bass by Thundercat and even vocals by Thom Yorke on ...And The World Laughs With You. Cosmogramma sees FlyLo pushing his sound in to even more experimental territory, playing around with some fantastically bizarre sounds and time signatures. Flying Lotus has always made beautiful songs but Cosmogramma pushes that to a whole new level. Cosmogramma's sound is a difficult one to describe; it sounds 'aquatic' (for need of a better word) but also like it's from the future at the same time. This album just proves that Steven Ellison has to be one of the most consistent musicians out there.
 

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