Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Top 10 Albums of 2010

Always the list everyone waits for on the DMS blog: the Albums of the Year. Because no one can take something arbitrary and subjective like music and assign an order to them quite like DMS.

We gave serious consideration this year to not assigning said arbitrary numbers because each of these albums are incredible in their own right. And really, how do you rank Gorillaz vs. The Black Keys? Is that even possible?

YES! Of COURSE we rank them by number! We're not going to puss out like some other year-end lists.

Basically, the final measuring stick we use here to rank our albums at DMS is "which album will I still be listening to in 3-5 years?" That tends to serve us really well. I wouldn't change very many of our past rankings. And with that in mind, here are the Top 10 Albums of 2010 (what, did you expect a number that isn't divisible by 5?), each accompanied by a 3 song sampler (side note: if an album included a track from our Songs of the Year posts, it's not included in the sampler. Go back and read those posts you lazy bum).

10. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

While high concept albums got a ton of attention in 2010, The Tallest Man on Earth was proving that the man-and-a-guitar formula still sometimes works, and works well.

9. The National - High Violet

I very nearly booted this album out of the top 10, which would have been a huge mistake. I guess my "qualm", if you can call it that, is this: the best song on the album is so far and away the best song, it sort of overshadows the rest of the album. And that's a bit of a mistake, because the rest of the album is fantastic. Even without our #1 song of the year, "Bloodbuzz Ohio", High Violet would still stand strong (listen: below). This is sort of the same thing that happened on "Boxer", where "Fake Empire" cast a shadow over the rest of the album (ROTA). It also happened (in my opinion) to Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" where it was such an undeniably awesome song that the rest of St. Elsewhere doesn't get much credit (same thing happened again to Cee Lo, re: The Lady Killers and "Fuck You"). It's weird and counter-intuitive, but I almost wonder if I'd appreciate High Violet more if it didn't include "Bloodbuzz." Then again, I guess that's my own shit I need to get over. Because fuck if there isn't a cooler song in 2010 than "Bloodbuzz Ohio."

8. Jonsi - Go

I can't really describe this album better than the following from NPR's All Songs Considerd's Stephen Thompson who says, "the whole record is this weird Icelandic gnome, empties out his entire toy box."

7. Menomena - Mines

Menomena is really starting to crank it up now, cashing in on their huge potential. While "Taos" certainly stands out as an amazing single track, much like "Wet and Rusting" was on their previous album, Mines works from start to finish.

I think I found out what I like so much about Menomena: it's their spacing. Like a painting that effectively spaces out objects, Menomena spaces out the instrumentation and lyrics perfectly, leaving plenty of time for both. They clearly write the vocals and instrumentation in conjunction with each other so the mesh perfectly. Listen below for perfect examples.

6. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

The announcement that Danger Mouse would be producing U2's next album is the only thing that could have gotten me excited about U2's next album. While it's an odd pairing, if DM can mesh with The Shins' Justin Mercer, getting the absolute best out of Mercer while minimizing his weaknesses/annoying tendencies, then I have faith that U2's next album might not be totally discardable.

5. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

Snoop Dogg's shitty rapping aside, the Gorillaz have somehow managed to carve out a brand new genre of music. I'm not sure what to call it exactly (post rock-rap? nouveau guit-R-and-B? techno-infused spider punk?) but they've definitely staked a claim on it on Plastic Beach.

4. Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Having come out early in the year, Yeasayer has been overlooked in a lot of year-end lists. I'm not sure how they've flown under the radar so much. Yeasayer's "Ambling Alp" should have been the MGMT's "Time to Pretend" of 2010. I honestly have no idea how it didn't find the purchase that MGMT did. Regardless, the album is earnest and convincing from top to bottom, and Yeasayer has carved out a unique sound that bridges the gap between the 80's and the 10's.

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

So... maybe Arcade Fire's 4th album will be their first stinker. I mean, doesn't a band have to produce at least one flat album? I keep expecting Arcade Fire to fall off, but they inexorably keep getting better. While the album perhaps lacks a typical Arcade Fire style anthem ("No Cars Go," "Rebellion (Lies)", etc.), the continuity of the tracks, the dynamic instrumentation, and the sharpness of the writing creates Arcade Fire's most complete, conceptual album. And while the album is a shakedown of the sprawling, pale suburban landscape it doesn't feel rushed, nor overlong.

2. The Black Keys - Brothers

I'm not sure if there's much else to say besides "this album is fucking badass." It's not that it's just "badass" but it's "FUCKING badass." Our favorite entity from Akron (ahem) channeled their inner Jimi Hendrix blended with The Strokes and came out with an album that is more entertaining anything Jimi did and with more teeth than anything The Strokes have done.

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

It just had to be this album, didn't it? Sure, most of these albums could lay claim to the top spot, but really only one of these albums has the potential to change the musical landscape. Also, when we compile our decadal album list in 9 years (see also: Aughts), this is the one album that I'm absolutely 100% positive will be on there.

Fantasy is a rap-album proper, an unparalleled piece of introspection, a polemic, a manifesto, an admission of guilt, a rallying of the troops, etc. In a year when the president called him a "jackass", West was a pariah, followed by being heralded as a genius. I'm not sure if he's any or all of those things. I do know that this is the Album of the Year. Whether it's the BEST album of the year, well, that debate will continue to be played out and discussed for years. And if that in and of itself doesn't mark it as the Album of 2010, I don't know what does.


Conspicuously Absent: Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

Clearly a blog named after a SS song - and a psuedo-B-side no less - should revere the guy. And we do. But I hope to God that Stevens "got it out of his system." Look, I understand the need to make an album that differs greatly from the rest of your catalog (though, in truth, it doesn't differ that much from his first two albums, which are both inherently unlistenable and drew virtually no critical acclaim). As we've mentioned, the final metric is simply "will we be listening to the album 3-5 years from now?" That question is easy to answer. Since I listened to Age of Adz, I've listened to C'mon Feel the Illinoise more.


See also, previous Album of the Year posts:
The Aughts

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Top 25 Songs of 2010 (#1-15 1/2)

While you can’t count on much from this blog, you can always count on a bunch of lists being compiled at the end of the year. Couple that with a massive snow day and you’re bound to get a bunch of lists that I came up with while showering.

So here's the rest of the Top 25 Songs of 2010 (#1-15 1/2). For #16-25 go here. Be sure to let me know what I missed this past year! As always, enjoy yourself a nice little playlist here.

15 1/2. Fol Chen - "In Ruins"

This track goes out to Jonny G. The 1/2 is for the extra half of the show that I missed.

15. Jonsi - "Tornado"

This is the music that you hear when you die and go to heaven. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is also the music you hear right before you hurl yourself off a cliff.

14. Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt - "Ride Friendship"

This track goes out to Mrs. Supercomputer. I posted TPDR's 2010 album title in it's entirety ( I Love You. I Love You. I Love You and I’m in Love with You. Have an Awesome Day! Have the Best Day of Your Life!) as my FB status and Mrs. Supercomputer thought I was being affectionate online to her. Nope. Just posting an album title, because, as you know, I am a prick.

13. Wye Oak - "I Hope You Die"

The consistent, underlying flutter of woodwinds give a strong undercurrent to Wye Oak's "I Hope You Die." Eventually, the title of the song is liberatingly uttered in the last line of the song, and you realize the rest of the song has been building up to this point. It's weird, but for a song entitled "I Hope You Die", it's incredibly romantic and touching.

12. Vampire Weekend - "Diplomat's Son"

What I love about Vampire Weekend is that everyone has a wildly different opinion on what the best song is on their albums. And frankly, it's hard to argue with them. I chose "Diplomat's Son" due to its subtleties and general low-keyness. Vampire Weekend can be overwhelming at times. "Diplomat's Son" is incredible refreshing on an otherwise frenetic album.

11. Cee Lo Green - "Fuck You"

Well that should put to bed the whole Gnarls Barkley one-hit wonder talk. Much like you never turned off "Crazy", you certainly didn't switch away once you heard the first three piano chords of "Fuck You." The thing is, even without the novelty of the swearing in the title and chorus, it's an amazing R&B soul song. And if a horribly auto-tuned Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee can't ruin this song for me, nothing can. (Seriously, fuck Glee).

10. Arcade Fire - "The Sprawl II"

This is the musical and emotional capper for an album that really must be listened to in its entirety. Regine rules.

9. Tallest Man on Earth - "King of Spain"

For all the talk about how technology has been irreparably fused with music, many of these songs could have been written and recorded any time in the past 50 years. And with Tallest Man on Earth, it could be 70 or 80 years. It's not a "retro" feel so much as a "ubiquitous" feel.

8. The Black Keys - "Everlasting Light"

This is some fucking awesome shit. I defy you to listen to this song and not think it's awesome.

7. Yeasayer - "Ambling Alp"

Having come out so early in 2010, I had sort of forgotten about Yeasayer as a Best of 2010 candidate. My bad. "Ambling Alp" goes well with driving, good times, bad times, and defiant times.

6. Gorillaz - "On Melancholy Hill"

Much like "Diplomat's Son" for Vampire Weekend, the Gorillaz's "On Melancholy Hill" is a nice respite from the DJ-esque conscious excess of the album.

5. Broken Bells - "The High Road"

This is probably the first track I loved in 2010. Pretty much immediately. We'll probably be revisiting this in the Albums of 2010 post, but Danger Mouse is the most prolific music producer working today.

4. Menomena - "Taos"

This is the most kickass song to ever feature the saxophone. Sorry Clarence Clemens.

3. Kanye West - "Runaway"

The most compelling song from the year's most compelling album. It's tough to separate the song from the song's backstory. We're all familiar with the VMA Taylor Swift - Kanye West incident where Kanye rushed up on stage and RUINED THIS POOR WHITE GIRL'S LIFE. SHE'S A PRECIOUS FLOWER. Then Kanye debuts "Runaway" the following year at the VMAs minutes after Taylor Swift gives some sorry-ass melodramatic forgiveness-soliloquy in the form of a song she wrote right after John Mayer dumped her (seriously, Taylor Swift is shit). Kanye, of course, crushes with "Runaway".

2. Sharon Van Etten - "Love More"

Here's a list, in no particular order, of the five pieces of media that turn me into a sobbing, blubbering mess:

* The opening montage of Up.
* The final scene in Toy Story 3.
* The scene in Toy Story 2 where Jesse the Cowgirl gets left at at the dump.
* The scene in Millions where the kid meets his mother's apparition by the railroad tracks.
* Sharon Van Etten's "Love More"

1. The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

Not only does "Bloodbuzz Ohio" have the finest lyrics of the year, it's tough to choose what's actually the best line from the song:

I still owe money to the money to the money I owe / I never thought about love when I thought about home.


I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees / I never married, but Ohio don't remember me.

It's simple and devastating the way Bon Iver was a couple years ago. I'd say from the moment I first heard this song, it was one of my favorites ever and certainly of 2010.

Bonus Kanye West section!

Best unreleased track:
Kanye West - "Never See Me Again"

The story goes that this was recorded essentially on the fly a week after the VMAs incident, in which in my opinion, the only thing Kanye did wrong was that he wasn't effusive enough in just how much Taylor Swift sucks. It's kind of a shame this wasn't properly recorded and produced. But at least it got leaked, even if in the lo-fi quality heard here.

Best cover of Kanye West's "Runaway": Wonder Bear
You know you produced an interesting song when it's on a end-of-year compredium three times.

Best cover of Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You": William Shatner

It's tough to decide which will be the most covered song from 2010: either West's "Runaway" or Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You." I have a feeling every one who plays music and has even a teensy bit of irony will be playing these in coffee shops ad-nausium in the next few years.