03 January 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2010

Let me preface this by saying that these are my favorite albums of 2010, not the best.  I don't know what the best albums are, nor do I believe anyone does.  There is simply too much out there that I don't have time to hear.  And, of course, my favorites might be utter crap through your ears, while yours may sound like a planeful of screaming kids to me.  Especially if you like Nickelback.  

The other caveat is I expect this list would look different if I were to redo it in February and again in April.  I picked up a bunch of new albums this week thanks to the sweet MP3 sale at Amazon right now.  Those might find there way on this list after a few more listens.  Without further ado:

1) B.o.B. - B.o.B. Presents the Adventures of Bobby Ray - I bought this CD this summer because I had heard some good things about it, but mostly because it was on sale at Best Buy. My expectations were minimal. The one song I already knew, hit single "Airplanes", made me think B.o.B. was just going to be another pop/rap artist I would listen to a few times and ignore. After two songs, all preconceptions were gone. B.o.B. is a rapper, but more in the vein of Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo, as he has more of a sing-songy quality to his vocals. This style fits album opener "Don't Let Me Fall" perfectly, as he effortlessly alternates between rapping and singing. "Nothin' on You" follows, with guest Bruno Mars taking the singing parts, in one of my favorite love songs in a long time. Every song on the album is high quality, but I want to get through this before the night is over, so time to start skipping tracks, even though I never do that when I listen to this one.

The first time I heard "Bet I", it sounded like something they'd play at The Hawk in Lawrence (tip your servers and bartenders well, especially my cousins Sam, Grace, & Kelsey), with the college kids all going nuts. Those songs usually get on my nerves (hello, Souljah Boy), but every time I hear "Bet I" a giant smile crosses my face. Great beat, fun lyrics, and a catchy chorus gets me every time.

"Ghost in the Machine" goes back to the style of "Don't Let Me Fall", with a simple piano intro leading into a synthesizer loop (I think) that plays throughout, before the song really begins. The melancholy feel makes it my favorite track on the album. Then we come to "The Kids", my other favorite track. KCK native Janelle Monae guests on this Vampire Weekend "cover". It's more a reimagining than a cover, but both B.o.B. and Janelle bring an element of weirdness to an already fun song, turning it into something great. Maybe my love of Ms. Monae clouds my judgment, but I can't imagine anyone not liking this song. Okay, maybe you, Dad.
Enough about B.o.B. for now, but give this album a shot.

2) Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - I'm pretty tired of hearing about Kanye at this point, but I will never tire of hearing his music. The official release happened in December, but he released songs as early as June, making for a massive buildup. The buildup did nothing to dampen anyone's enthusiasm, as it seems to be on 98% of the year-end lists I've seen. The enthusiasm is warranted. Between "Power", "Runaway", "Lost in the World", and "All of the Lights", some of Kanye's best songs in a remarkable career are here. Then we have the Nicki Minaj verse from "Monster" that overpowers everything on the album. On a drive to the Lake of the Ozarks last month, I played "Monster" for Fletch and Quance, who immediately made me go back to the beginning of her verse again. It's absolutely jaw-dropping. The fact that she does so on a song with Kanye, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z is amazing for someone who didn't have an album out a month ago.

3) Jonsi - Go - Anyone who has seen the Icelandic band Sigur Ros in concert understands my love of that band and their brilliant/crazy/crazy-brilliant frontman Jonsi (pronounced like Yon-see). They have a sound that is difficult to compare to anyone, since they don't sound like anyone else. They sing in a mixture of English, Icelandic, and something they made up called Hopelandic. Regardless of how weird it is, it's beautiful music. Jonsi's first solo effort brings a little more fun and energy to the more subdued yet intense Sigur Ros sound. That is apparent from the first moments of opener "Go Do". That weird energy permeates from start to finish. I only wish I could have caught his show in Lawrence this past spring.

4) Zac Brown Band - You Get What You Give - If you think I'm going to try to find any similarities between Zac Brown Band and the rest of my top ten, you're nuts. ZBB couldn't be much different from the rest if they tried. Their debut album, "The Foundation", features some of my favorite country singles of the last few years, especially "Where the Boat Leaves From" and "Toes". Strong debuts are often followed by flops, so I tried to keep my expectations low for this one. My worries were obviously misguided. Zac Brown Band doesn't really fit the country prototype, as they veer from a Jimmy Buffett-esque sound to a jam band sound to a backwoods feel from one song to the next. There's no need to pigeonhole them, since the band can play, and they're rolling in catchy tunes. Jimmy Buffett guests on one of the many highlights here, "Knee Deep". The big single is the other collaboration, "As She's Walking Away" with Alan Jackson. While both songs might be seen as record company-mandated sales boosters, it doesn't matter since the songs are so damn good. For the sake of brevity, "Let It Go" and "Colder Weather" are two of my other favorite tracks.

5) Beach House - Teen Dream - This album haunts me. The whole album is tremendous, but closing track "Take Care" singlehandedly puts it in my top five. I haven't put a list together of my favorite songs of the year, but it's a good bet to take the top spot. They brilliantly meld feelings of longing, heartbreak, and hope into six minutes that somehow take me to another place every time I hear it.

6) Morning Benders - Big Echo - I'm a sucker for what I like to call California music. Even if it doesn't come from California, some music sounds like you should be listening to it on a beach, and that applies here. They mix elements of 60s pop with indie rock with sublime results. It was a favorite from the moment "Excuses" opened the album. The below video of Morning Benders performing "Excuses" with a bunch of their friends is really cool. My favorite track, however, is "Cold War", which clocks in at one minute, forty-four seconds. Oh, how I love a catchy sub-two minute song. I'm a little pissed at myself for not putting this one in the top 5, but I don't know which one I would bump.

7) Robyn - Body Talk - Swedish dancepop is not typically my thing, but years of strong reviews finally convinced me to buy this one in November, and I played it more than anything but Kanye for the last month of the year. My experience with it was as a full album, rather than in the three EPs she released throughout the year before putting them together into one package. My favorite part of the album is, without question, her use of DeLorean in the chorus of "Time Machine". Awesome. There's a lot of fun wordplay here to go with all the catchiness. I love the Snoop collaboration "U Should Know Better", as well as album opener "Dancing on My Own", which sounds like it could be a remix of a late 80s Debbie Gibson/Tiffany song.

8) Wild Nothing - Gemini - Like the Beach House album, this one is all about feel. One of my favorite bloggers, Whitney Matheson of Pop Candy, described this as "shimmering summer make-out music", and I had to get it. It's definitely music for a lazy day. I look forward to seeing them in Lawrence next month.

9) Darker My Love - Alive as You Are - The only crappy thing about seeing Darker My Love open for Delta Spirit in November is the fact that KU had a basketball game that night, causing Huntley and me to miss the beginning of their set. Having not heard a note of their music before the show, I felt no need to hurry. I've been kicking myself ever since. I keep hearing The Byrds, with a little more focus on the rhythm section, every time I play this album. Listen to "Backseat (Heaven Loves the Driver)" and let me know what you think.

10) Janelle Monae - ArchAndroid - Concept albums aren't normally my thing, but Janelle may have convinced me otherwise. Back-to-back tracks "Cold War" and "Tightrope" floored me the first time I heard the album and kept me coming back for more. Ms. Monae can do little wrong in my eyes.

Laziness and sinus congestion will keep me from commenting on the rest of the top 20, but I will be back soon with a post on my favorite songs of the year. Here are my next 10 albums, which are sort of in order:

Chief - Modern Rituals
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Michael Franti & Spearhead - The Sound of Sunshine
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Phosphorescent - Here’s to Taking It Easy
Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song
Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Besnard Lakes - Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
Delta Spirit - History From Below
Easton Corbin - Easton Corbin

I'd love to hear about everyone else's favorites for the year.


    1. Wait, no Justin Beiber? wtf? sorry I couldn't resist.

      Nice work, I am in the process of building my playlists for our Mexico trip in February. This makes me even more excited for the trip - to have an awesome new playlist to listen to.

      Jonsi I think makes my top ten for the decade. Having seen the show live - I will travel out of state to see them again if they come close.

      Here is one song this year that puts me in a good mood over and over again.

      Chemical Brothers - Another World

    2. Been waiting for this one. Well done. Lots here that I haven't heard and will check out. I'm fighting my preconceived, cynical, elitist notions that B.o.B. could possibly be that good given how much airplay he gets on top 40 radio.

      I had this queued up:

      2010 was a banner year for music in my book. How else to explain Arcade Fire or The National not getting the top spot, or a new Spoon album slipping to #8? At the end of the day, the Kanye album was just too strong. I realize that puts me in company with Pitchfork and the AV Club (and every other hipster critic). It makes me uncomfortable, but I'm mostly over it.

      It'll be interesting to see how this list holds up. I have a sneaking suspicion that Sleigh Bells could be the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah of 2010. Fun and interesting at the time, but very little durability. Maybe a few more listens to the self-indulgent batshit-crazy Sufjan opus will be enough to bump them from the list.

      1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West
      2. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
      3. High Violet - The National
      4. Broken Bells - Broken Bells
      5. Brothers - Black Keys
      6. Sir Lucious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty - Big Boi
      7. Contra - Vampire Weekend
      8. Transference - Spoon
      9. Teen Dreams - Beach House
      10. Treats - Sleigh Bells

      Age of Adz- Sufjan Stevens
      The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night - Besnard Lakes
      The Reluctant Graveyard - Jeremy Messersmith
      Relayted - Gayngs
      How I Got Over - The Roots

      1. Runaway - Kayne West
      2. Rill Rill - Sleigh Bells
      3. Giving Up the Gun - Vampire Weekend
      4. Sinister Kid - Black Keys
      5. Too Much - Sufjan Stevens
      6. Fuck You - Cee-Lo
      7. Tightrope - Janelle Monae feat. Big Boi
      8. Cameras - Matt & Kim
      9. England - The National
      10. The Dog Days Are Over - Florence and the Machine

      Little Lion Man - Mumford & Sons
      The High Road - Broken Bells
      This Too Shall Pass - OK Go
      Monster - Kanye
      Ready to Start - Arcade Fire
      Freefallin - Atmosphere
      I Learned the Hard Way - Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
      Shutterbugg - Big Boi
      Rhinestone Eyes - Gorillaz
      All of the Lights - Kanye
      Bloodbuzz Ohio - National
      The Best Day - Atmosphere
      I Walked - Sufjan
      Tighten Up - Black Keys
      Conversation 16 - National

    3. Also, Nicki Minaj's spot on "Monster" is the best minute-ten of music of 2010. Just amazing.

    4. Nicely done. Really enjoyed this. There is a lot of overlap with my personal list. Or, I should say, what mine would be if I could narrow it down. On any given day, I might say one of these 3 were my favorites: Body Talk, Teen Dream, or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I agree with Mark, there was just so much good music this year, I feel like I was (and still am) playing catch-up to hear it all. As much attention as Kanye received, and deservedly so, Robyn absolutely killed it this year. Her variety, consistency, and sheer quality of songs was rivaled only by the Louis Vuitton Don himself. Whereas Kanye was flying high on everybody's radar, Robyn's success/resurgence was a welcome surprise.

      Finally, Here are a few albums I thoroughly enjoyed, but didn't see on the lists above (for whatever reason):

      Twin Shadow - Forget
      Titus Andronicus - Monitor
      The Drums (self-titled)
      Delorean - Subiza

    5. Nate - "Another World" is getting the ol' download right now. Love it.

      Mark - Give in to B.o.B. You won't be able to resist.

      Anthony - Agreed all around. I picked up The Drums last week and have been meaning to get Titus Andronicus, as I've seen nothing but raves.

      Songs are up next.

    6. Another album to check out is "All Day" by Girl Talk. You can download it for free on his website. Not sure if a DJ is allowed on the list, but worth a listen to. My favorite track is probably "Let It Out."

    7. I keep forgetting to download to the new Girl Talk. Time to go back to the old standby reminder: writing a note on my hand.

    8. Nice to see Besnard Lakes get a mention. I love that album.