A quick sketch I did today from a photo in National Geographic…
It’s about that time of year – my
annual top ten albums list. 2010 was a weird year, mainly because a
lot of albums that should have been right up my alley were ones that
I hardly listened to at all. I chalk that up to being largely tired
of the “indie” sound. I have albums by The National, Ted Leo +
the Pharmacists, the Hold Steady, and several more critical darlings
that I did buy, but I just could not get motivated to listen to them
at all. I’ll put it this way, in 2010 I purchased the entire Led
Zeppelin catalog, the entire Doors catalog, finished off my
collections of Iggy & the Stooges and the Velvet Underground, and
racked up about a million greatest hits albums. If there was much
interesting going on in guitar-based music, I must not have heard
But let’s not be negative, let’s
celebrate what was awesome this year. I’ll start off with a pair of
albums that are completely free, and you should download them
These are both remix albums of sorts.
Brad Smith’s “Moon8” is a chiptune version of Pink Floyd’s “Dark
Side of the Moon,” and Max Tannone’s “Mos Dub” is kind of a
mash-up between dub instrumentals and Mos Def’s vocals. Both come
off great. Moon8 works for me partially because I’m in that age
group that grew up on the original Nintendo, more so than Pink
Floyd’s work. The combination of the two ends up being more trippy
than the original for me, largely due to the countless hours spent
absorbing the blips and bleeps of Super Mario Brothers. Moon8 might
end up being a one-spin curiosity, or you might end up really digging
it, like me.
As for “Mos Dub,” I found the
vastly different feel to the instrumentals has a huge effect on how
Mos Def comes off. I’m a big fan of his work, but I wouldn’t
describe a lot of his work as danceable or airy. But backed by dub
(a reverb-laden instrumental strain of reggae), the content of his
lyrics pack nearly the same punch, but he bobs along the music in a
way that sounds less didactic than triumphant – a willingness to
play in the face of a problematic existence. “Mos Dub” is what a
remix project ought to be in my mind; a complete retextualization of
source material that shines a new light on them as well.
Most bands break up in the midst of
making an album like this, and that’s what makes this album
interesting enough to crack the list. And sure enough, bassist
Carlos D left Interpol once the album was complete. Interpol’s
history isn’t an uncommon one; band gathers a ridiculous amount of
buzz, goes major-label, doesn’t sell like the label hoped, band gets
dropped. At least for the moment, that’s not the end of the story.
Critically speaking, both their major-label debut (“Our Love to
Admire”) and this album were not treated with the same kind of kid
gloves their first two albums (on major/indie Matador) were (witness Pitchfork’s 4.6 review of this album). Yet, I can’t find a bigger
hook on the first two albums than on “Our Love to Admire’s” “The
Heinrich Maneuver,” and neither is the early lyrical content any
better than on this self-titled album.
The best way I can think of to describe
the tone of this album is an exasperated “what do we do now?”
There’s a tough, tested tone to this album that finally matches their
sound – if “Interpol” sounds melancholy and at the end of their
rope, that’s because they are. If that doesn’t yield a single, so be
I’m pretty excited to finally see
Interpol play next month. Part of that is that I’ve liked all of
their albums, but there’s also part of me that wonders if this is the
last hurrah for the band. The Julian Plenti solo album didn’t take
off, this album hasn’t been particularly warmly received, I wonder if
they’re likely to stick it out and keep struggling against the tide.
At the least, it’s fascinating to me to get such a raw document from
a point in most band’s careers that doesn’t often yield a finished
album is on the list mostly for the cover of Los Lobos’ “Angel
Dance.” That’s not to say that the rest of the album doesn’t bring
the goods, but “Angel Dance” is the goods. Beyond that, it’s
interesting to see Plant re-invent himself and his sound in an
interesting way. Many performers of his vintage may go the acoustic
route and gently strum themselves into the sunset, but Plant’s album
isn’t necessarily gentle or precious. And I have to admit, that’s a
relief. This album represents an adaptation of his skills, not an
abandonment of them.
nearly pulls off the impossible – recreating a “Greatest Hits”
package of a fictional band in one go. It’s not a perfect album, but
most greatest hits packages aren’t really that full of hits anyways.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Russell Brand can sing (or at
least do a reasonable facsimile of a rock star). I wouldn’t claim a
ton of artistic merit on behalf of this album, but I have listened to
it a ton. There’s a side of me that never gets tired of a note
perfect 80’s pastiche “The Clap” or Brand’s fictional ex Jackie Q
singing songs about her bunghole. Pop careers have been built on
Nick Cave is out
of his fucking mind. That’s probably the best compliment I can pay
the man, and this album is the proof. He practically growls his
sexual drama from his bowels – this is music straight from the
crotch. And I don’t mean in a pleasant, love-making, smoothing it
out for the ladies way. This is not dignified, grown-up music, it’s
nasty, wry, funny, mean stuff. I’m glad that Nick Cave is making
albums like this.
This is a popular
critical choice this year, and for good reason. I generally don’t
listen to pop/dance music, but I own this album. I don’t know how
everyone else stumbled upon it, but I was up late, watching
“Letterman” and Robyn was the musical guest. I was blown away by
her performance – she brought it. I mean, it was the kind of
performance where I immediately got on my computer and bought the
album. That’s some serious thunder, especially by someone with a
80’s Brigitte Nielson haircut (what is it about Sweden and that
haircut? I think the chick from Roxette even had that same ‘do).
In any case, I’m
pretty sure Robyn could beat up Katy Perry, and that’s a basic
requirement for me to buy a pop album. It doesn’t have anything to
do with how good this EP is, but you’ve got to have standards.
What, you thought
this one wasn’t going to kick ass? There’s kind of a natural
three-way comparison of albums this year between Big Boi’s, Kanye’s,
and Cee-Lo Green’s (which I’ll get to). Kanye didn’t make my top
ten, mainly because even though it’s a good album, the subject of the
entire album is himself. Big Boi’s album doesn’t have much of a
subject, it’s the product of a supreme talent without a ton to talk
about, which is a little frustrating. Only a little, because the
album’s really, really good. In fact, “Shutterbugg” is so good
that I didn’t even get around to listening to the rest of the album
for months. I would just play “Shutterbugg,” and it was like a
buffet on its own. And, like I said, I’ll get to Cee-Lo’s album in a
I did eventually
listen to the whole album, and I really like it. I’m not going to
hold it against Big Boi that he’s not tackling deep subjects –
that’s par for his career. He’s just really, really, really good at
what he does. So this is also really, really good.
Of course I want
more material by Jimi Hendrix. Short story – three seminal studio
albums (well, four if you include the Band of Gyspys live set, which
you really should count), and that’s it. Absolute brilliance
expressed over a tragically short span of time. Hendrix recorded
more material than was covered in the aforementioned catalog, and a
lot of that trickled out haphazardly over the years. So some of the
music on this album has been heard before, but this is the first such
collection since the Hendrix family regained control of Jimi’s
estate. The bulk of what’s here would have been on his unfinished
fourth studio album, so while it’s not necessarily as coherent as it
might have ended up, it’s still pretty damned good.
include, well, the whole thing’s a highlight if you haven’t heard it
before. I was very curious about the instrumental cover of Cream’s
“Sunshine of Your Love,” as well as the new titular track. I
wouldn’t say this is as flawless as the initial three studio albums,
but if you’re into Hendrix, I don’t think this is going to be a
This might be the
biggest surprise for me for the year. If you had asked me a few
months ago if I was excited about a new Devo album, you probably
would have gotten one of those WTF looks. Sure, like everyone else,
I like “Whip It” and “Girl U Want” and “Jerkin’ Back and
Forth.” But that was an eternity ago – kids conceived to those
hits are old enough to vote and drink and rent cars now. Devo hadn’t
put out an album of new material in probably a decade. Oh, and Devo
apparently market-tested the tracklist, as well. Honestly, it sounds
like a train-wreck waiting to happen.
But then, the
album doesn’t suck. Not only does it not suck, it’s pretty awesome.
The first single, “Fresh,” is peppy and weird, just like you’d
want Devo to sound. As you listen through the album, it’s apparent
that these guys haven’t been lazing around and getting dull. It’s
propulsive music, there’s no way to stay still while listening to
this album. Not only that, but the lyrics are pointed, clever, and
at least as interesting as the music itself. Devo sounds motivated,
which is something else that I hadn’t expected. That probably says
as much about me and my own musical prejudices, and I’ll own that.
But this album was an unexpected thrill, which are increasingly few
and far between.
Just like last
year, I had a very difficult time separating the top two albums of
the year. The top couple of albums usually separate themselves from
the pack quickly and easily, but it’s kind of matter of 1A and 1B.
Like I mentioned
before, this album begs comparison with Kanye’s and Big Boi’s.
Kanye’s gets docked for being about himself, Big Boi’s gets docked
(very minimally) for not being about much at all, and Cee-Lo pulls
ahead of the pack for at least offering some conceptual unity (and
not being about Kanye West). But ignoring all of that, this is a
beautiful album. It’s lush, it’s catchy as hell (I’m sure you’ve
heard about “Fuck You” by now), it’s a complete album. There’s
not a dud in the bunch. It’s a tight product from a true talent.
I’m not sure what
else to say about this album – it’s the best of the bunch this year
of the Motown/Stax revival sound (nods to Sharon Jones and the Budos
Band for also putting out worthy material in that vein.). But I
think what makes this such an excellent album is the sort of
likeability that Cee-Lo himself projects. There’s a very short list
of people who could get a song titled “Fuck You” any kind of
airplay at all. And despite the confrontational title, it’s not an
off-putting song, it’s inclusive and sung with a smile. As Cee-Lo
said on the Colbert Report about his tattoos, it’s about showing you
can take the pain. And if such a weird, round little man can swear
on national TV with a joyous smile about getting done wrong by a
woman, maybe we all can get through whatever we’re going through.
generally liked Superchunk, but I wouldn’t call myself a superfan or
anything. And call me nostalgic, but I’ve got a soft spot for
angular, punky guitar rock. This album is a perfect example of
coming back from a hiatus because you want to and the time is right,
rather than simply because you’ve got nothing better to do
(Soundgarden, I’m looking at you). And Superchunk is up to par here.
Their EP a couple of years ago was a nice appetizer, but this is the
full meal. You can even compare the EP version of “Learned to
Surf” to the more fully-fleshed out version on this album.
I hate to admit
it, because I was totally enjoying this album before I saw them play
on Jimmy Fallon, but that performance totally sealed the deal for me.
EDIT: Well, the video seems to have been blocked. Thanks for not letting me promote your show and a great band, NBC/Universal!
Look at the energy
and joy they’re playing with, watch the performance again just to see
how the crowd is reacting to them. It jumps off the screen. It made
me want to jump off of my couch. I can’t explain how disappointed I
was when I had to miss their show in Portland – I just wanted a
piece of that energy for myself. I can’t remember the last time I’ve
been that excited listening to a song, and for that, Superchunk gets
my album of the year.
…I’m back to work. I’d like to forget about a good portion of this year, to be perfectly honest, but there’s nowhere to go but up, right? That’s the attitude I’m taking anyhow. There are times when I think that I’m just going to have to get used to the fact that I may not ever be completely healthy, clear-headed, and pain-free again, but I also know that’s extremely pessimistic and untrue. But regardless, I’m going to have to fight a bit harder to take advantage of the clear skies when they present themselves, and muddle through when they don’t. I guess that’s as close to a New Year’s Resolution as I’m going to get.