2010! What a sneak surpriser of a year. Until I sat down and started compiling this list, I had a suspicion that 2010 had been kind of a bust. But once I really took a hard look at the records that came out over the last twelve months, I realized that this was, in fact, a kick-ass year for the art form known as music. In fact, I could expand this list to 25 records without batting an eyelash. But I won’t, because neither of us has the time. Or maybe I’ll just toss the final 10 in at the end as a bonus beat for all you hardcore readers who really want to know what’s up.
So then! On with the show!
15. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest is a difficult record to critique, because it sounds like a completely different album every time I listen to it. It’s not the kind of record that normally gets high marks from me … as an avowed fan of the pop hook, I generally gravitate toward music that gets stuck in my head. And every time I listen to Halcyon Digest I immediately forget what the songs sound like, making every listen a fresh experience. It has nothing to do with the hookiness of the songs … there are plenty of hooks, from the 60s radio shimmy of “Don’t Worry” to the Brit-pop of “Memory Boy” … but the hits rise up like sneaky venus flytraps out of the foggy audio swamp that permeates the record. Or swamp is a bad word, because that makes it sound like the record is muddy or bluesy, which it isn’t at all … if it’s muddy at all, it’s angel mud. And the venus flytraps are those Super Mario flytraps that climb up into the sky when you hit the right block.
14. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I totally don’t care; I LOVE me some Kanye. I know people love talking about how he’s a lunatic and a total asshole and what not, but all that shit is overblown if you ask me … really, anyone who is regularly unleashing his unfiltered thoughts upon Twitter, (which is a thing we’re all supposed to do right now, btw), is going to look like an idiot at some point. If Ernest Hemingway was around in the age of Twitter, people wouldn’t be like, “man, what a Twitter genius,” they’d be like, “remember when Hemingway sent out that dumb-ass tweet about how girls were like chocolate bars?” But regardless, I would so much rather the world were full of pop stars like Kanye who say things that are both ridiculous and amazing than people like Taylor Swift who never say anything in the slightest bit interesting because their brains are full of Beanie Babies.
And all that has nothing to do with the music, which everyone pretty much agrees is the tits. This record might rank higher if I had more time to listen to it, but seeing as how it just came out a few weeks ago and I’ve been mucking about with a baby during that time, Kanye’s going to have to accept the fact that he didn’t top EVERY poll that came out this year.
On the other hand, it might not rank higher, for three reasons: 1) there is one track right in the middle of the album (“Devil in a New Dress”) that is completely unnecessary and has no hook and goes on forever and doesn’t say anything interesting; 2) wow! is this record dirty. I mean, I’ve got nothing against a dirty record, but I’m amazed that, in all the glowing reviews of this album, I haven’t read any reviews saying, “wow! is this record dirty!” I guess we just live in a dirty world now and it doesn’t shock anyone anymore. I don’t care that it’s dirty, but I care that it doesn’t matter to anyone that it’s dirty, even though it doesn’t matter to me that it’s dirty, but I have a daughter now, and I have to look out for people like Kanye with their potty mouths and their fancy, daughter-luring Jesus necklaces; and 3) this thing is CRAWLING with product placement. I know hip-hop is all about the merchandise, but really, Ye, I think Prada’s gonna give you free shoes whether you namedrop them or not. But no hate; obviously, I like you well enough to hand you the 14 spot with no reservations, even though Midlake came out with a kick-ass record this year, too.
And btw, Taylor Swift? Kanye was totally right; that Beyonce video was WAY better than yours.
Also, you look like a chipmunk.
13. Beach House – Teen Dream
GOOD LORD is this a beautiful record. I liked the last two Beach House records quite a bit, but this record really floors me. Teen Dream sounds like cloud cupcakes sprinkled with sunshine and wrapped up in a sleeve of first-night-at-summer-camp-nobody’s-going-to-like-me terror. You know, like some kind of crazy cupcake-fear burrito. What I mean to say is that it’s so, so gorgeous and heartwarming but also lonely and melancholy and devastating. One of the most aptly named bands around, too … is there anything as simultaneously exciting and depressing as a beach house? No specific track recommendations on this one … I tend to favor the first two songs, but probably only because they come first and I’ve heard them more times than the others. I would recommend waiting until 2:30 AM and putting the record on repeat until 6:00, right when the sun is starting to come up and you’re taking the last sip from the last Tecate and there’s really nothing left to do but fall asleep in the bathtub with that weird Panamanian chick who your cousin swears isn’t retarded, even though her haircut is undoubtably questionable.
12. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Hot Chip are the sweetest because they’re totally normal-looking old dudes doing like the best techno-pop on the planet. If you saw Hot Chip walking around at the farmers’ market or whatever, you’d be like, “look at those old dudes.” You wouldn’t even say, “look at those old dudes trying to look like young dudes,” because Hot Chip doesn’t give a shit. They just throw on whatever, go buy a bunch of kale and honey sticks at the farmers’ market, and then hit the studio and effortlessly pump out boxes full of jams to make the kids murder themselves on the dance floor from exhaustion.
You wanna talk hooks? This record’s got ‘em. First of all, “I Feel Better” is the best song of the year and one of the best songs of all time, and if you don’t agree, then you should be punched in the mouth. “One Life Stand” is composed from the devil’s own secret earworm scale, and “Brothers” puts the moral of any given Judd Apatow movie into song form (and is Elton John’s favorite song of the year, according to Rolling Stone). And it’s not all dance floor ravers … the boys bring the beat down for a couple of slow jams that round the record out in a way that shows their diversity without bringing the party down. Robyn got all the props this year for her mastery of the smart-dumb dance song, but for my money, Hot Chip is where it’s at. Terrible album cover, though.
11. Cornershop – Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast
Who would have ever guessed that the most immediately appealing record of the year would come from a one-(almost)-hit wonder of a band that hasn’t recorded a damn thing in seven years? In case you weren’t in college between the years of 1996-1998, Cornershop is the band that sang that song “Brimful of Asha.” Never heard of it? How ’bout the lyric “everybody needs a bosom for a pillow”? Yeah, that band.
In 1997, Cornershop released their breakthrough album When I Was Born for the Seventh Time. The record was a critical smash, topping Spin‘s best of the year list & coming in at #3 in the Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop poll. They waited five years to release the follow-up, Handcream for a Generation; by that time, no one really cared, and the record was largely forgotten. Now, seven years later we have Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast — and while it doesn’t quite reach When I Was Born‘s heights, it is a far better record that could have ever been expected. The rollicking opening track, “Who Fingered Rock n’ Roll?” starts the album off in high-form, and there’s scarcely a misstep after that. The record’s a genre-hopping gas, from the opening track to the disco-interlude “Half Brick” to the Bollywood-flavored “Free Love” to album standout “The Roll of Characteristics.” Given the amount of time they’ve been gone, one might expect Judy to feel labored; but there isn’t a moment on this record that isn’t pure, easy-going, genre-hopping fun. Welcome back, fellas!
(Note: although this record was officially released in 2009, it didn’t hit the States until this year. Forhence its inclusion on this list.)