In 2010, the big story was that rap is dead but its corpse smells like flowers. Also, there were some great free releases and even some wonderful new Christmas classics (Kanye’s “Christmas in Harlem,” Atlas Sound’s “Artificial Snow”). From dreamy pop to misanthropic noise and soupy beats, it was a strong year for popular music. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t cringe about any of my picks or had trouble fitting in all of my favorite albums. And for the first time ever, I agree with Time Magazine about anything at all.
10. Pantha du Prince – Black Noise It tinkles, shimmers, shines rings, and finally makes good use of Noah Lennox, best known as Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. If you’ve got 70 minutes you want to spend in a techno-percussive daze, then you’re in luck. If you’re interested in actual songs, then German electronic music probably isn’t your thing anyway. I hear that new Spoon album is pretty good.
9. Tyler, the Creator – Bastard Once upon a time there was a group of young working class men without a future. The one thing they cared about, their music, was being overrun by fashion-obsessed 40-year old men. In order to reclaim what was rightfully theirs, they took matters into their own hands by cursing at you, incorporating far-right (even NAZI!) imagery into their aesthetic, and creating some easy-to-do innovative music that gave their sissy sheltered patriarchs a run for their money. Violence and destruction. Boom-clap-boom-boom-clap. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? At least this time you don’t have to pay for it.
8. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach … in which our hero, Sir Damon Albarn, becomes self-actualized. The highlight on this album is “On Melancholy Hill,” where Albarn plays David Bowie via Scott Walker, and you really begin to understand how sad artificiality is. There’s also some message about the environment here, but don’t ask me because I refuse to understand. Synth loop upon synth loop, a chance to hear Lou Reed sing-speak about protecting the girls (I don’t believe him, and neither should you) and enough surreal sci-fi imagery to convince you that you’re witnessing something profound. And hooks. A lot of pop hooks. Just skip the song where Mos Def fucks up the flow and you should be fine.
7. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (II) Noise, rave beats, and dreamy melodies. I think this is radio-friendly stuff, but then again I think that Vampire Weekend are far too smart to appeal to so many people (including myself). If you really want to know what I think about the record, check out my essay “Death and the Maiden,” which was published back in May on the Ithaca Post.
6. Beach House – Teen Dream It’s pop music, but don’t be fooled by the title. I don’t know one teen who understands what it means to be “better off without it.” So maybe this is the kind of nostalgia I can finally get behind, which reflects those days we imagine actually existed before the culture machine got smarter than its consumers. On the other hand, Christine Legrand is probably just filling the Stevie Nicks-shaped hole that’s inside each and every one of us.
5. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma Steven Ellison is a Coltrane in more ways than one. He’s also holding the blunt passed on by MadLib, who still hasn’t received the props he deserves. FlyLo incorporates 50 years of avant-garde music into his electro-space opera. It would come off as being too cerebral if it weren’t for the soul factor. Yeah, I’m talking about the groove on “Do the Astral Plane.” But I’m also talking about Soul (note the capital S). Ellison manipulates Thom Yorke’s refrain “I need to know you’re out there” on “… And the World Laughs with You” so that Kid A finally becomes a real boy.
4. Women – Public Strain This album was overlooked for a number of good reasons: The name of the band falls uncomfortably between Pavement and Girls, and a casual first listen might bring to mind the woozy noise that handfuls of bedroom saps have been reintroducing to Pitchfork glo-fi afficionados for the last several years. In actuality, this is a cold, dark, and beautiful post-punk album, well sequenced, touching, and creepy, with 60s melodies that are more Zombies than Beach Boys. There’s a dreamy guitar interlude ripped from SY’s “The Sprawl” and angular guitar riffs minus the fashion that was imbued in the 00s. In “Penal Colony,” it sounds like marble-mouthed vocalist, Matthew Flegel says, “You see her designer / and the horror / that’s what you came for.” Yep. Well, that, and “Eyesore,” the six-plus-minute closer that churns, swirls, and barely makes it off the ground. If Interpol turned Ian Curtis’s second-wave prophecies into an atrocity exhibition, Public Strain is the repentance.
3. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest I seem to remember Bradford Cox saying that The Strokes were one of the greatest bands ever. I also recall that he performed a cover of “Cortez the Killer” with Jim Jarmusch and No Age. He’s teamed up with Bob Mould and Spoon, though not at the same time. Southern Man even has a thing for Lil’ Wayne, but who doesn’t. Point is that the prolific, sickly Cox effortlessly embodies the zeitgeist, ejaculating doo-wop and drear with a pleasure as primal as it is delicate. He also has one of the best voices in rock (for evidence, listen to his desperate croon in “Helicopter”: “These drugs, they play / on me in these terrible ways”). Lockett Pundt’s got a couple pretty ditties here too. See “Memory Boys” from October 6 for more.
2. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot … The Son of Chico Dusty Jive Records dropped this album because it was “art” and they didn’t know what to do with it. Anyone who’s heard “Shutterbug” or “Tangerine” in the club knows exactly what they’re supposed to do, so I’m not sure I follow the executive logic here. At the same time, sales for the realer half of OutKast’s first proper solo outing were a lot lower than they should have been. Maybe the Jive executives had a point. Except they gave up one of the tightest rap albums ever made.
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Some of the songs (i.e. “Runaway”) go on for about 3 minutes too long, but that’s what makes them so darned painful. This isn’t his masterpiece – that’s Late Registration. This is the early 21st Century masterwork, and if you think I’m being hyperbolic, then you need to put down the Franzen and watch some more TV or check the latest tweet from your favorite celebrity. An album about personality from a man whose personality is so dense that it’s taken on black hole-like properties. Can you dig it? You’re not supposed to. If this album isn’t an assault on some of your more human sensibilities, then maybe you should be reading Franzen after all. I mean, he writes in a language that’s easy to understand. Right? Check out “Double Fantasy,” my two-part exploration of this album, on the Ithaca Post.
Spoon – Transference It’s not the best Spoon album and it’s not the worst. It may be the most interesting. I’m unconvinced that the album was supposed to be as experimental as it sounds, especially when it comes to the sequencing, though deliberateness was never an excuse anyhow. I’m also pretty sure that “Mystery Zone” and “Got Nuffin” are two of the best examples of how this band slips you hooks that are so thin you don’t even know you’ve been caught. That’s meant as a compliment.
Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid The lady’s got talent, but she’s not nearly as original as she thinks. The vocals are sincere, the lyrics are not. No one should outright surrender to Of Montreal when working with Of Montreal. No one should sing about being an android in 2010 and pretend that this somehow makes them different. If you’re looking for chance-taking, I suggest “Oh, Maker.”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today “Round and Round” is a heartbreaker. “Beverly Kills” makes you freakier just for listening to it. “Revolution’s a Lie” is downright uncanny. I miss not understanding him. That’s all. A man like Ariel should be under House Arrest. I never thought it was a gimmick, but I’m starting to second-guess myself.
No Age – Everything In Between The pop-punk ex-hardcore, art rock blah blah blah duo are spinning their wheels on this one, but why fix what’s already broken. Listen to “Fever Dreaming” while watching Obama furrow his brow in frustration on MSNBC and you’ll be rewarded. I promise.
Male Bonding – Nothing Hurts It was the album of the summer, so if you haven’t heard it yet, you’ve already missed the moment. In summary: Vaselines + Nirvana + Nirvana covering the Vaselines = Male Bonding
These are free, so you have no excuse:
Girl Talk – All Day They tell me it’s just another mash-up album, but all forms reach a point of perfection right before the point of saturation. Get hip before you look silly in front of your kids.
Atlas Sound – Bedroom Databank Volumes 1-4 Evidence that what Bradford Cox does when he’s alone is infinitely more interesting than what you do when you’re alone. There are almost 50 tracks here, so of course there’s some filler, but there’s not nearly as much as you’d expect. It never stops.
White Denim – Last Day of Summer “You’re the kind of girl I like ‘cause you’re empty, and I’m empty:” that was Malkmus on the end of summer in 1994. This Austin threesome turned foursome go to minimal lengths to prove that not much has changed.