I have always been a fan of albums. Some may say that albums don’t matter anymore, its all about singles, but the album is the work of art, the outcome of an artist’s hard work and agility. The album gives the artist a chance to tell a story, to create something meaningful, and to create a cultural impact on the world.
2010 produced many great albums, enough to counter the argument that the album medium is dead. Most end of the year ‘best albums’ lists count down or count up from best to worst, but in order to break the mold and to narrow down my choices, I have decided to list my favorite albums of the year by picking my favorite album of every month.
As a famous 80’s icon once said, Vampire Weekend just want to have fun (or something similar). Indeed, their first release from the album ‘Cousins’, was an upbeat, fast-paced, whimsical song that really didn’t have much substance. It wasn’t until the groundbreaking ‘Giving up the Gun’ that I knew this album was very good. The song is packed full of powerful lyrics, “but if the chance remained, to see those better days, I’d put the cannons down,” is only one example. The album contains the best of the old, the African guitar rifts and unique drum beats, but includes new electronic sounds and studio tricks. The album has spawned several hits including ‘Horchata,’ ‘White Sky,’ ‘Run,’ and even the holiday hit ‘Holiday.’
Yeasayer’s debut album ‘All Hour Cymbals’ is a very experimental 11 track album, that, frankly, sounds like background music. The fact that the same band could, 3 years later, create something like ‘Odd Blood’ is amazing. ‘Ambling Alp,’ a song that tells the story of boxing legend Joe Louis and his bouts with famous boxers such as Primo Carnera (nicknamed the Ambling Alp) and Max Schmelling is nothing short of genius. Although the story may apply to Mr. Louis, anyone can relate to such lyrics as ‘Now the world can be an unfair place at times, but your lows will have their complement of highs, and if anyone should cheat you, take advantage of, or beat you, raise your head and wear your wounds with pride.’ Their compilation of instruments and exotic, foreign feel make Yeasayer one of the most talked about bands of 2010.
Damon Albarn’s virtual animated project Gorillaz released their third album in 2010 and it marked Albarn’s most successful foray in the United State’s music industry. The concept band become even more conceptual with Plastic Beach by following in the footsteps of greats before them and by packing the album full of talent to create their best album yet. The imagery in ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ would give John Steinbeck a run for his money. The song boldly starts with ‘I’m a scary gargoyle on a tower,’ and floats through a series of vague observations that are powerful enough to bring the listener into their own world. The intro to ‘On Melancholy Hill’ is the kind of hook that will become a timeless fixture in pop culture and who could resist a lyric like ‘cause your my medicine when your close to me,’?
Plan B-The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Now my American readers will probably be scratching their heads about this one, but Plan B, also known Ben Drew is a UK rapper turned soul artist whose second studio album went straight to number one in Britain. The album tells the story of Strickland Banks, a famous singer convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. The songs follow Strickland’s time in prison and his subsequent personality change as he attempts to cope with prison life. Not only artistic, but a foray into the psychological, Plan B also manages to create a unified album where the individual songs also manage to stand out on their own. For a rapper, Plan B’s soul singing is melodically sweet and stands up to the giants of soul.
The minute ‘Tighten Up’ comes on the speakers, I can’t help but get excited. There has not been an album this good in a long time. The album marks the Black Keys graduating from blues rock connoisseurs to rock n’ roll superstars. Dan Auerbach and Pat Carny present an album that is radio friendly, but doesn’t give up the raw sound of their instruments or the realism of their lyrics, ‘Living just to keep going, going just to be sane, all the while I know it’s such a shame.’ Its a throwback, but modern at the same time. ‘Howlin for You’ sounds like it came right out of 1950’s Memphis, just pure simple Blues. The Black Keys give the world a reason to get excited about music again.
We Are Scientists-Barbara
California duo We Are Scientists return to the world of music in 2010 with Barbara after a foray into the world of mini-television series. At the end of 2009, We Are Scientists wrote and starred in ‘Steve Wants His Money’ to show off their comedic sides that their fans have come to know so well. Barbara is a return to the fast-paced indie rock that gained them so much popularity in the first place. The album produced perfect summer hits such as ‘Nice Guys’, ‘Rules Don’t Stop,’ and ‘I Don’t Bite,’ that were sure to please.
Twickenham locals, the Mystery Jets, released their follow up to 2008’s hit ‘Twenty One.’ Although they are still a brilliant blend of perfect indie pop, Serotonin is an album that has been aged to maturity. Hits such as ‘Dreaming of Another World’ and ‘Show Me the Light’ are easy sing a long songs, but show an evolution from previous hits. “Just try, try to spread the sky. Only once, once before you die. Do something that will make your mother cry.” Quite a bit darker than ‘Half in Love with Elizabeth.’
Arcade Fire-The Suburbs
Arcade Fire brought out their most ambitious album yet and at the same time its pop genius. The album describes suburban life and the conflict between boredom and ambition that comes with it. The album deals with the hardships of the modern world and conflicts that go beyond simple love stories. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ is a beautiful, anthemic synth pop tune that sounds like Depeche Mode if they had a female singer. Single ‘Ready to Start’ brought us genius lyrics such as ‘All the kids have always known, that the emperor wears no clothes, but to bow to down to them anyway is better than to be alone.’ Hit song ‘We Used to Wait’ also generated the Wilderness Downtown, a music video, directed by Spike Jonze, that includes images, using Google street view, of the home the viewer grew up in.
Mark Ronson & the Business International-Record Collection
Mark Ronson’s new project, the Business International, is Mark Ronson working from his comfort zone. Made famous by his eclectic producing and many collaborations, Ronson doesn’t let any of his fans down with this album. Each track has hit single potential and many of his songs have already gotten radio play in the UK; Bang Bang Bang, The Bike Song, and Somebody to Love. Each song includes a blend of UK pop stars including, Q-Tip, MNDR, Kyle Falconer (the View), Spank Rock, Boy George, and Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow). Mark Ronson manages to create a throwback pop album that doesn’t manage to become over produced.
Kings of Leon-Come Around Sundown
It may feel like, these days, Kings of Leon have betrayed their indie roots. They sell out massive stadiums in the United States, become divas and refuse to play just because of a few pigeons. Their first hit, Radioactive, is nowhere near up to par as their previous material, but take a closer look at the rest of the album and the old Kings of Leon begin to emerge. Their second single, Pyro, is a much better signal of the evolution that Kings of Leon have experienced between the previous albums. Kings of Leon should be a win for the indie community so hopefully they get their attitude in check and continue to educate the main stream masses.
I Blame Coco-The Constant
Eliot Sumner, also known as Coco Sumner or even I Blame Coco is the daughter of famed musician Sting of the Police. Coco Sumner is now a musician in her own right with the release of The Constant in November. First single, ‘Selfmachine’ was a summer hit, but fans had to wait ages to hear the follow up. Coco’s unique voice and synth pop sound returned to us in November with an album release and ‘In Spirit Golden.’ The UK is bringing out a lot of talented pop stars, most of whom are not even drinking age in the United States, and Coco Sumner breathes the kind if electro pop that has become to popular in the last few years.
Daft Punk-Tron Legacy Soundtrack
French electro pioneers, Daft Punk, return to the world of music after more than five years with out a studio album. Although their latest release is meant to be the soundtrack of a movie far less superior than its background music, it still shows Daft Punk’s uncanny ability to create great beats. Although Rolling Stone gave it a bad review for being too ‘Hans Zimmer.’ However much we would have all liked to see a real album from the duo, Daft Punk set out to create a score, not a dance album and as a score it is brilliant. Daft Punk manage to create sound that creates an image, the mark of true artist.
My 2010 Playlist
1. Giving Up the Gun-Vampire Weekend 2. Ambling Alp-Yeasayer 3. Rhinestone Eyes-Gorillaz 4. She Said-Plan B 5. Tighten Up-Black Keys 6. Rules Don’t Stop-We Are Scientists 7. Show Me the Light-Mystery Jets 8. Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) 9. The Bike Song-Mark Ronson & the Business International 10.Pyro-Kings of Leon 11. Self Machine-I Blame Coco 12. Derezzed-Daft Punk