By Scott Kayser
Since another year has come and gone without another Radiohead album, I’ve been forced to expand my musical horizons in order to satisfy my hunger for lyrics that don’t let go, to quench the thirst for beats that don’t allow me to sit still, to keep me musically fresh in a stale world. While I would like to think that my opinion is better than everyone else’s, I recognize this just not the case. With that in mind, this list is simply the best albums that I have listened to this past year. This is not the world’s best albums ever. There is no punishment for disagreeing with me. I’m just giving you a glimpse into my world, musically speaking. Seeing the other top lists posted across the internet, I have realized that I did indeed miss out on a lot of music this past year and I intend to fix that problem, but not before I write this list. If you have a problem with that, go listen to Justin Beiber.
HONORABLE MENTION (in no particular order):
Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Royksopp – Senior
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II)
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Girl Talk – All Day
10.) Plastic Beach – Gorillaz
“I ain’t Jesus but I’m walking on water.”
Fade in crashing waves. Cue symphony orchestra. Enter Snoop Dogg. This is what the first step into the Plastic Beach sounds like. And it only gets better from there. Damon Albarn does it again with his merry band of apes. Not only does he succeed in creating a nearly seamless album experience, but Albarn creates a lush, vivid world in the Plastic Beach. Filling this world with countless guests, the Gorillaz stay true to themselves while moving their sound forward. I can’t keep myself for coming back to the Plastic Beach again and again.
Highlights: Stylo, Empire Ants, On Melancholy Hill
9.) Recovery – Eminem
“Don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I just keep on going through changes”
Its obvious Eminem has had his share of struggles and then some. But it seems that he’s put them all behind him. And what better way to prove you’ve overcome some of your biggest demons than to put out an album like this? Eminem lays it all out to a beat and puts out some of the best music this year. His flow is unparalleled and his lyrics are both clever and powerful. I challenge you to try and find any rapper with better flow. Who else could use antidisestablishmentarianism in a rap and make it sound good?
Highlights: Not Afraid, Space Bound, Almost Famous
8.) Cerulean – Baths
“Think of the life left when we’re gone”
For me, 2010 felt like a fairly stale year when it came to discovering new electronic artists. At least until I found Baths. While utilizing complex beats and flowing synths, this album remains both refreshing and light-hearted. When you can listen music with little to no lyrics and still illicit some pretty powerful emotions, you know you’ve struck gold. This album does that. Even with a minimal amount of lyrics, this album seems to have profound themes of love and human connection.
Highlights: Maximalist, Aminals, Rafting Starlit Everglades
7.) Hidden Lands – Candy Claws
This is one of those albums that if you’d told me I would listen to this and enjoy it, even a year or two ago, I would’ve said you were f**king crazy. The fact that such an ambient album can maintain my attention for an entire album continues to astound me. This heavily synth based album creates a soundscape that lives up to the title, Hidden Lands, and the soothing vocals serve to ground the music around it. And the amazing thing about this album is that every song contains a sample from every other track on the album. Not entirely sure how that works but its impressive nonetheless.
Highlights: Sun Arrow, Sunbeam Show, The Breathing Fire
6.) Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter
“The devil has come for me and helicopters are circling the scene”
I’ll admit the cover for this album really creeps me out, but when you come out with an album like this, you could use a screenshot of a Nicolas Cage movie as their album cover and I really wouldn’t care. While having a fairly non-traditional sound, Halcyon Digest has to be one of the most organic albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Every note seems to be floating on its own predestined path through the sky. I believe I can be quoted as saying “I feel like I’m floating in the stratosphere” while listening to Earthquake. Not my most proud analogy but I think you get the point. P.S. I haven’t heard saxophone like that since National Anthem.
Highlights: Helicopter, Earthquake, Desire Lines
5.) The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
“Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains”
One of the best musical discoveries I made this year was Arcade Fire. The Funeral is up there as one of my favorite albums. Lucky for me, they put out a new album this year. When you set the bar as high as you did with your debut album, its hard to follow up. But Arcade Fire was firing on all cylinders when they put out Suburbs. With 7 band members playing a variety of instruments from cello to violin, French horn to hurdy-gurdy (I don’t even know what that is). Suburbs chronicles the lifelessness and disconnection of suburban sprawl peaking in the epically beautiful penultimate track, Sprawl II. (By the way, they put on one hell of a live show.)
Highlights: Sprawl II, Ready to Start, Half Light II, We Used to Wait
4.) Broken Bells – Broken Bells
“Don’t run, don’t rush, just float”
Who could’ve ever imagined the lead singer of the Shins and DangerMouse would form a band? Well, they did. And it doesn’t get much better than this duo. (Hint: There are still 3 albums better.) Being such different styles of musicians, they create some of the freshest music around, bending genres of hip-hop and alternative rock. Yet they still lay down some of the catchiest songs this year. The first time I heard “High Road” I wondering WTF I was listening to, but it was oddly compelling at the same time. Kept it on repeat and eventually fell in love with the whole album. I look forward to seeing what these guys put out next.
Highlights: High Road, Ghost Inside, October
3.) Ø (Disambiguation) – Underoath
“Eventually we will sink or swim, sink or swim”
Normally I indulge in hardcore/screamo music as a guilty pleasure, yet I can safely say Underoath is much more than that, having put out some of the most cohesive, hard hitting, and emotionally charged albums I’ve heard. Needless to say they’d set the bar high for this album. Add to that the loss of their drummer/vocalist/lyricist and only original band member, Aaron Gillespie. Needless to say, I was skeptical coming into this album. But all my worries were wasted energy. From the opening track to the last, this album is relentlessly powerful. It grabs a hold and doesn’t let go. The lyrics are passionate, the guitars are flawless and Underoath continues to define breakdowns. There are countless moments throughout this album that don’t allow me to sit still. I don’t expect this album to be for everyone, but if you are into post-hardcore or thinking about giving it a try, I can’t recommend this album enough.
Highlights: In Division, Illuminator, A Devine Eradication, My Deteriorating Decline
2.) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
“I’m living the future so the present is my past, my presence is a present kiss my ass”
I will just say right out of the gate that I think Kanye West the person does not impress me at all. This article is not an endorsement of Kanye the human being, but this is most certainly an endorsement of Kanye West, the musician. Never have I been as dumbfounded by the high production level of a rap album. Fantasy covers the entire spectrum of instruments: electric guitar in Gorgeous, violin in All the Lights Interlude, horns in All the Lights, piano in Runaway, a hilarious skit by Chris Rock in Blame Game, not too mention boatloads of bass and synth. There is so much complexity to each and every song but nothing ever seems out of place. It all fits together perfectly and turns out a nearly flawless album.
Highlights: Power, All of the Lights, Monster, Runaway
1.) The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens
“I must do myself a favor and get real”
Sufjan Stevens said it best. “I’m not f**king around.” And after 5 years without a new album, he gave us this masterpiece. He wasn’t f**king around. Sufjan takes his typically folk sound and layers it with electronica, and against all Adz, makes some of the most beautiful music this year. While this album is based on the art of Royal Robertson, the album is really a transparent look into Sufjan himself and the struggles he’s gone through. The spiritual evolution Stevens has gone through is mirrored so well in the evolution of his music. I’ll admit I struggled to decide which album to put as my #1 but as I listened to last track on Sufjan’s album it all became clear. “The Impossible Soul” is a staggering 25 minutes of perfection (complete with auto-tune), in which Stevens transformation is most clear. Stevens packs more emotion and talent into this song than most musicians fit into their entire career.
Highlights: Too Much, Vesuvius, Impossible Soul