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.



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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.

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See also, previous Album of the Year posts:
2006
2007
2008
2009
The Aughts

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