Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top Ten Albums of 2010, extended version

Every year I ask myself: What are my criteria for the best record of the year? For all of the top 10 and even 20, really, but especially for the one in first. And every year I give myself a different answer.

This year there was no shortage of contenders for the top slot, unlike last year where it seemed more like a big clump of awesome #2-6s or so. The album that won out then would not have done so against this year's list. But last year was a very different year.

2010 in many ways was about new beginnings and reinvention. From the obvious quantum leap forward of Flying Lotus to the galvanization of power and sound on The National's High Violet (and to a different degree, on In Evening Air from newcomers to the Hess library Future Islands), the artists here started the year off on a different footing, with a different purpose of step.

Bradford Cox has become one of the most consistent artists in rock music. No Age have grown up, lost a little edge, and gained a huge amount of skill and a great instinct for a hook. The Walkmen finally got through to me, the Arcade Fire came back in a big way, and LCD Soundsystem just keep getting better.

But when it came to picking the best, stuffed though it may sound, I went with what seemed the boldest of steps, the most important-feeling of new directions.

Sufjan Stevens comes as close as one can come to internalizing and distilling the swirl of musical forms and sounds in his world in his time and producing something that's entirely new, but that leaves nothing out, subjugates nothing to novelty status or mere badge of credibility. His music is impressively complicated and endlessly listenable, referential but never ironic, brainy and fun, sincere and never cloying, comfortably Christian, brilliant and accessible.

The Age of Adz marks a significant point in his career. Not only has he finally abandoned the put-on ambitions of being this nation's state-by-state freak-folkie laureate, but he shocked us with the surprise release of the All Delighted People EP, and followed it closely with his most accomplished single album to date.

This is not the record I've listened to the most this year, but this is the one that offers new insights and yields new rewards with every single listen. "Impossible Soul" practically earns the honor on its own, and not solely due to its staggering length (nearly 24 minutes!). It's serious in its affirmations, but it's not heavy handed or melodramatic and doesn't take itself too lightly or too heavily. That's the thing about Sufjan Stevens' music: It does so much, reaches so high, in a way that's so unabashed and hopeful that you can't help but get swept up.

It strikes me that, in some ways, Sufjan Stevens is the David Foster Wallace of indie rock, and this album his Infinite Jest. It's everything at once, overwhelming sometimes, concise and poignant most times, not always superficially enjoyable but always yielding wisdom and rewards.

Give it a chance--or better yet, give it about 5. That's when it really started to dig in for me.

And so, with no further windbaggery, here's this year's Top Ten Albums, plus a whole lot more.

Top Ten Albums of 2010
1. Sufjan Stevens ~ The Age of Adz
2. The National ~ High Violet
3. Deerhunter ~ Halcyon Digest
4. Future Islands ~ In Evening Air
5. The Walkmen ~ Lisbon
6. Flying Lotus ~ Cosmogramma
7. LCD Soundsystem ~ This Is Happening
8. Arcade Fire ~ The Suburbs
9. No Age ~ Everything In Between
10. To Rococo Rot ~ Speculation

The Next 10
11. Andreya Triana ~ Lost Where I Belong
12. Pantha du Prince ~ Black Noise
13. Josh Ritter ~ So Runs the World Away
14. Teebs ~ Ardour
15. Matthew Dear ~ Black City
16. Shearwater ~ The Golden Archipelago
17. Les Savy Fav ~ Root for Ruin
18. Department of Eagles ~ Archive 2003-2006
19. Sin Ropas ~ Holy Broken
20. The Morning Benders ~ Big Echo
Tonea2ing enders ~ Big o
Some other really good to great stuff, sort of in order
Atlas Sound ~ Bedroom Databank Vol. 1
Balmorhea ~ Constellations
Four Tet ~ There Is Love In You
Flaming Lips ~ Dark Side of the Moon
Brian Eno ~ Small Crafts on a Milk Sea
Lali Puna ~ Our Inventions
Frightened Rabbit ~ The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Surfer Blood ~ Astro Coast
The Ponys ~ Deathbed +4 EP
Spoon ~ Transference
Best Coast ~ Crazy For You

Songwriter/troubadors/past and future legends
Shinyribs ~ Well After Awhile
Gil Scott Heron ~ I’m New Here
Sufjan Stevens ~ All Delighted People EP

I got all excited about it and thought I really dug it but I sure haven’t put it on much:
Owen Pallett ~ Heartland
Women ~ Public Strain
Holy Fuck ~ Latin
Tame Impala ~ Inner Speaker
Sam Prekop ~ Old Punch Card
White Denim ~ Last Day of Summer
Interpol ~ Interpol
The Black Angels ~ Phosphene Dream
Superchunk ~ Majesty Shredding
The Corin Tucker Band ~ 1000 Years
ck ~ 1000 Year

New (new to me, anyway) and exciting
Meursault ~ All Creatures Will Make Merry
Gauntlet Hair ~ “Out, Don’t” (single)
Cults ~ “Go Outside” (single)
Shimmering Stars ~ “East Van Girls” (single)

Great expectations; just kinda meh
JJ ~ No. 3
Avey Tare ~ Down There Now
School of Seven Bells ~ Disconnect from Desire
Blonde Redhead ~ Penny Sparkle
Caribou ~ Swim
The Hold Steady ~ Heaven Is Whenever

Captivated me
Loscil ~ Endless Falls
Dean & Britta ~ 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol's Screen Tests
Take ~ Only Mountain
Bonobo ~ Black Sands
Tokimonsta ~ Cosmic Intoxication EP
The Gaslamp Killer ~ Death Gate EP
Shigeto ~ What We Held Onto EP

Distracted me
Gold Panda ~ Lucky Shiner
Baths ~ Cerulean
Mount Kimbie ~ Crooks & Lovers
The Sight Below ~ Murmur EP
The Album Leaf ~ There Is a Wind
Tokimonsta ~ Cosmic Intoxication EP
Local Natives ~ Gorilla Manor

Maybe I’m just sick of them...
Band of Horses ~ Infinite Arms
Vampire Weekend ~ Contra
New Pornographers ~ Together
Broken Social Scene ~ Forgiveness Rock Record


NuggetNoggin said...

except for what i might happily find on the radio, i didn't pick up on a lot of new rock this year, so as you can see, with great power comes great responsibility. ;)

i did however happen to pick up a few sides here and there in 2010. among those that got significant time in the rotation were the following in no particular order:
- charlie hunter: public domain
- geri allen:flying toward the sound
- nels cline singers: initiate
...and the hold steady: heaven is whenever...had a chance to see them live this summer, and that added to my listening appreciation. i liked how their music matured but also gained in dynamics. fun and genuine.

Christopher Hess said...

ALREADY with the stuff I missed. Nels Cline Singers, dammit. Also I've heard great things about that Geri Allen. Earlier this year I swore to spend a 3 month period buying and listening to nothing but jazz. That never happened and I'm a horrible person. 2011 baby!