December 31st, 2010 at 12:31 pm
Choosing the best albums of the year is an imperfect science, and it’s not easy.
I realize my music-listening deficiencies, most notably, that I don’t listen to much rap or country. And I further realize that there aren’t a lot of surprises here, and that you can find a lot of these albums on other Best-of-the-Year lists.
These are what I listened to, and these are what I liked. That’s good enough for me.
In descending order, with No. 1 being my favorite:
10) âThis is Happeningâ by LCD Soundsystem
Weâve been told this is the last album from LCD Soundsystem, and thatâs a shame. If LCD Soundsystem brainchild James Murphy knows anything, itâs how to make a groove-thick dance party of a record.
That happens again on âThis is Happening,â the third offering from LCD Soundsystem. Itâs all delivered in Murphyâs half-talking, half-rapping banter, but that only adds to the sheer joy of songs such as âDrunk Girls,â âDance Yrself Cleanâ and âI Can Change.â
9) âTransferenceâ by Spoon
Britt Daniel and company have produced another catchy, power pop record, as fans of the Austin, Texas band Spoon have come to expect over the groupâs 15-plus year career. Accurately capturing both the pain of a broken relationship (as captured in the snarling boogie âWritten in Reverseâ) and the power of love (âI Saw the Lightâ), Spoon proves they are little if not consistent.
8) âExpo 86â by Wolf Parade
From the driving pulse and heavy riffery of âPobodyâs Nerfectâ to the quick-tempoed, punk-fueled burst of âCloud Shadow on the Mountainâ to a touching bit of balladry on âYulia,â a song about an astronaut lost in space, Wolf Parade has created an eclectic album in âExpo 86.â Donât take that as a complaint, though. The band alternates songwriters, and thatâs evident, but it fails to get in the way. This album is a ride, but a fun one.
7) âThe Suburbsâ by Arcade Fire
Perhaps there will never be a better record about urban sprawl ever recorded. Thatâs faint praise, considering the subject matter, but this is the territory Arcade Fire choose to invade on the August album âThe Suburbs.â Itâs a slight departure for the Canadian indie rockers, and not only because it contains their most radio-ready single â âReady to Start.â It doesnât mesh perfectly with their two previous outputs, âFuneralâ and âNeon Bible,â but songs such as âWe Used to Waitâ and âMonth of Mayâ contain enough harmony and fire-and-brimstone style bombast that the band can be permitted to explore whatever territory they choose.
6) âAmerican VI: Ainât No Graveâ by Johnny Cash
âI see a band of angels, and theyâre coming after me,â Johnny Cash sings in the title track of âAinât No Grave,â the sixth and (allegedly) final of the Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings series. As Cash recorded these songs, the angels were chasing him, as he was in his final days of life. He confronts death and the afterlife straight on, offering songs such as âAinât No Graveâ and a cover of Sheryl Crowâs âRedemption Day.â With the rich back story, and with the lifetime pass earned by Cash, it might be tempting to stop the analysis there. But there is a delicacy here, a sparseness, that warrants more than one listen. The emotional cries here are real, and Cashâs swan song would hold up if it were his first recording, too.
5) âI Learned the Hard Wayâ by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
The first song on the album âI Learned the Hard Way,â the new release by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, âThe Game Gets Old,â starts with a beat, a horn blast and then the siren-like call of Jones. Thatâs just the first few seconds, and there are 39 more minutes of powerpacked, emotive soul. On most of the tracks, Jones is a woman scorned, but there are no wimpers here. Sheâs equal parts contemplative (âIf You Callâ) and resolved to get over it (âBetter Thingsâ). Jones has a fantastic voice, and she may have managed to outdo her own fantastic 2007 album â100 Days, 100 Nights.â
4) âGorilla Manorâ by Local Natives
Despite their terrible name, the Local Natives were responsible for one of the tastiest party pop albums of the year. Itâs not all sunshine and roses, though, and buried beneath the tribal drumming rhythms, harmony vocals and bright hooks are sullen tales of abandonment, like âAirplanes,â perhaps my favorite song on any album released this year.
3) âBrothersâ by The Black Keys
The Black Keys, perhaps because of the songâs connection to its producer, Danger Mouse, pushed the song âTighten Upâ â a song that reached No. 1 on Billboardâs Rock Chart â as the single for their May release âBrothers.â Itâs interesting, considering it may be my least favorite songs on âBrothers,â an album the Ohio duo recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Thatâs a fitting location for the recording, considering that townâs soul and blues connections. The Keys have created a living homage to that sound, one that sounds fresh and important, especially during the killer come-on âHowlinâ for You.â The Keys may have taken a step back with âAttack & Release,â their 2008 offering, but theyâve rebounded nicely here.
2) âHigh Violetâ by The National
At a concert in Kansas City earlier this year, Matt Berninger, vocalist for The National, joked that his band is considered to be âdad rock,â the indie worldâs example of refined, somber songwriting. In some ways, they earn that billing with âHigh Violet,â the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Ohio bandâs fifth full-length. Songs on the album discuss fatherhood (âAfraid of Everyoneâ) and financial insecurity (âBloodbuzz Ohioâ), all told in Berningerâs hard-to-find-comparisons-to droning baritone. That might sound boring, but the album is full of lush, carefully orchestrated songs that are as gorgeous as they are melancholy.
1)Â âSigh No Moreâ by Mumford & Sons
This was, for all practical purposes, my favorite album of 2010 the first time I heard it. The debut album from Britainâs Mumford & Sons is alternately somber and uplifting, raucous and mellow, haunting and moving. The albumâs big single is âLittle Lion Man,â but the album also shines with tracks such as âWinter Winds,â âThe Caveâ and âWhite Blank Page.â Itâs an album about, among other things, a failed relationship, and lead singer Marcus Mumford spends time blaming both himself and his romantic partner. Itâs not always happy, but itâs always emotional and honest. And thatâs powerful.