"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Better Late than Never: My Top 5 Albums of 2010

ONE: Beach House - Teen Dream
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It’s breathtaking.  If you haven’t been converted to Beach House yet, you owe it to yourself as a New Year’s resolution.  Teen Dream, released at the very beginning of 2010, is the culminating manifestation of a slow and mad confidence developed over several years and two other LP efforts.  Victoria Legrand’s voice has grown into a powerful and heavy orange force among the black and brown and grey thumps and crawlings that constitute Beach House’s sound.  It’s more than music to get lost in; it may help you find yourself again.  It’s nostalgic enough, unsteady enough, romantic enough, jaded enough… with wisdom and as humorless as a heart attack… but innocent.  It’s the best album of 2010.  It is one of the most profoundly important albums of our generation.  Personally, not many albums I’ve ever heard have felt quite so genuinely and powerfully moving, so warmly magnetic and ruminant.
TWO: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
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“If I ever wasn't the greatest, I must’ve missed it” boasts Kanye on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s opener “Dark Fantasy”. To be honest with you, I think that goes too far; that fool was never really the greatest rapper or producer… but maybe the greatest character.  Anyway… the fact that this line goes too far is important.  The whole album goes too far.  In fact, if you’ve followed Kanye throughout this year then you know that he has, more than ever, made a living out of going too far- and he seems to be forgiving himself and becoming more authentic in the process.  This album, and the G.O.O.D. Friday songs that led up to it, are impressive in their scope, their sheer imagination and their swagger.  Kanye has successfully let his ability to see himself catch up with his ability to see what people want.  He is now giving us what we really want from him, from many of our rappers: reality… no bullshit, “what the fuck do you want bro this is me”, never scared, mature and witty… reality.  Of course, part of the entertainment and awe value comes from the fact that Kanye’s reality is so far removed from anyone else’s.  But he still has weaknesses and he is not afraid to explore them in art, openly.  He’s not afraid to be romantic, tongue-in-cheek, boastful or self-deprecating.  He’s become a rare example in the mainstream rap community of how a dude can be everything; whatever the fuck he wants to be.  All of that becomes a part of this album- this album which is musically diverse and complex and jarring, lyrically fresh and brilliant, socially timely and absolutely bursting at the seams with energy and the kind of really-really aware self-confidence that we all gasp to see at work.
THREE: Pill Wonder - Jungle/Surf
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Underwater Peoples (the label that released Jungle/Surf) is one of the record labels that inspired and impressed me the most this year and this album is the kookiest, most leftfield, most ‘underwater’ example of why that’s the case.  In a survey of mine and Felicia’s listening habits over the course of 2010, this album looms significant in content and in attitude.  Jungle/Surf is one of the several compelling reasons that this year has wanted so badly to be a never ending summer:

a bro walking towards the ocean in lime green shorts, cabanas in the background fading into dusk and into the smoky insect circles of summer night. You stand while your tired legs, still dripping, dance of their own accord to the pull and bass of the ocean. The winds pick up sand and swirl it around the neons of the falling sun… we can ALL remember standing naked at the edge of eternity…it feels just like this.
FOUR: Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
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I do not feel that this album signals any new directions or great innovations for Indie rock’s most popular band.  In fact, I was tempted not to like it at all when, in the depths of a gritty and hot summer of irreverence and lightness, I was confronted with its heavy and serious demeanor… like “great Bruce Springsteen decided to wear his jeans and khaki workshirt to our beach party”.  Then, however, I really listened to and heard the album’s title track.  Feli fell in love with it first and in its repetition I began to, I suppose, remember just how well its themes of sour heat and paranoia and disillusion and ennui do belong in any decent summary of summer’s soul.  Slowly, in a way that we rarely are courted by songs these days, Felicia and I found ourselves connected to and enthralled with another (“Rococo”) and another (“Sprawl II”) and even more (“We Used to Wait”, “Deep Blue”, “Ready to Start”).  The album may very well be the last thing that can come out of the band’s serious infatuation with the decay of the modern community and communication, but that doesn’t make it any less troubling… that doesn’t make it any less of a catharsis.
FIVE: The Roots – How I Got Over
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It is a shame, and surely indicative of some great societal/cultural flaw, that hip-hop foundationals The Roots ninth album How I Got Over has been so overlooked by critics (coverage) and laymen (sales) alike.  The album features some incredible details that far overshadow the fact that The Roots body of work can sometimes seem excessive at the expense of its power, its vitality.  Featuring members of the Dirty Projectors, Jim James and Joanna Newsom; this Roots album is smarter, more elegant and seems altogether necessary and even prescient in this historical moment.  2010 was a year where the negative in the newsfeed seemed to dominate the positive.  How I Got Over is a thoughtful and wise sonic and lyrical argument that it doesn’t need to be that way… we CAN take greater control, through greater discipline and further noticing, and create better lives for ourselves and those that will come after.

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