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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com

Best Albums of 2010

(Warning: this post is not about movies.  Proceed with caution.)

I don’t claim to have the same knowledge about music (historically or currently) that I do about movies.  (I am NOT an expert on music.)  But I do have a passion for listening to new music.  In fact, I find it damn near impossible to write anything without music playing in the background.  Music inspires me and I find the best lyricists today to be some of the best poets; writing poetry is difficult enough without having to set it to a particular beat or rhythm.  This year I spent a lot of time listening to music that was new to me, but wasn’t necessarily new, but I’m going to focus this list on albums that came out in 2010.  As a reference, my favorite artists of all-time are: David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, The Strokes, Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, The Beatles, The Clash, The Doors, The Streets, Fiona Apple, and about a million others – but if you appreciate that cross-section, then you may or may not agree with my choices below.

(Note: I’m going strictly with LPs, but the best things I listened to this year was the EP by The Rassle and the music of Jared Evan.  Full Disclosure: the members of that band are some of my best friends and I’ve known Jared since he was 11.)

10.  Arcade Fire – The Suburbs


I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Arcade Fire‘s first two albums, finding them a bit meandering, pretentious and overly wrought.  I felt with this album, they had a focus which helped me connect to it on an emotional and visceral level; more than that, they created songs that really lingered.  Songs like “We Used to Wait” or “Sprawl II” evoked feelings of emptiness and nostalgia while “Month of May” is just a really good straight-up rock song.  Overall, as a band, I find them to be a bit boring but undeniably talented.  And while I didn’t love this album, at least I can finally see why everyone went nuts over them after Funeral.

9.  Gorillaz – Plastic Beach


Damon Albarn is just a twisted genius and with this album, he’s finally lifted Gorillaz to the same plateau as Blur.  At first, it seemed like Gorillaz would be a one-off gimmick, but now they seem more relevant than ever.  The two previous Gorillaz albums seems to be trying really hard to blend a lot of different styles of music, while Plastic Beach blends those genres seamlessly.  Cuts like “Stylo” and “Sweepstakes” get an assist from hip hop artist Mos Def and they flow incredibly well with a song like the hypnotic “Some Kind of Nature” with a guest vocal by the legendary Lou Reed.  Snoop Dogg, Mick Jones, and De La Soul also make appearances on this undeniably fun record.

8. Wavves – King of the Beach


I was a fan of Wavves last record, which relied heavily on “noise” and feedback and distorted vocals.  I was wondering if Nathan Williams, the man behind Wavves, would be a one-trick pony and if he’d continue to use those same noise elements in his sophomore record to hide his deficiencies.  Well, King of the Beach is a much cleaner album and Williams had nothing to hide.  This is an out and out beach record, as the album’s title suggests.  The title track, “Post Acid,” and “Super Soaker” just make you want to rock out with a few friends in the sand.  But what I found really fascinating were songs like “Linus Spacehead” and “Idiot” which are about alienation, loneliness, and depression.  The lyrics aren’t that incisive, but the way Williams sings them and the way he hides his emotions inside of “upbeat” songs, really resonated with me.

7.  Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


I didn’t really care about Taylor Swift and I don’t particularly care that Kanye is brash and full of bravado.  Like any great artist, all that should matter is the art that they put out there.  And for me – as someone who listened exclusively to hip hop as a child but grew weary of the direction it went int – Kanye West is the only artist that matters in the rap game right now.  Nobody else sings about their own securities quite like he does and on this album, he puts it all out there.  He talks about getting cheated on, cheating, lying, what his dreams and fantasies are, the whole ballgame.  But what makes this record so special is that it isn’t derivative of anybody else’s work.  No other rapper would have the insight or the gall to sample an Aphex Twin track for a heartbreaking cut like “Blame Game.”  No other rapper would admit to his douchebaggery so candidly, as West does on “Runaway.”  And no other rapper would talk so insightfully about fame, as West does on “Power.”  People can talk all they want about Jay-Z‘s guest appearances or Nicki Minaj‘s insanely brilliant verse on “Monster,” but this is a peek inside the brain of a genius named Kanye West and he’s the first to admit that it’s not always pretty in there.

6. The Walkmen – Lisbon


I’ve always had a soft spot for The Walkmen.  “The Rat” is just one of those instant classic songs that brings me back to a time and a place of my youth and still resonates with me, almost a decade later.  I’ve admired a lot of their work, a song here and a song there, but I hadn’t found a complete album of theirs that I liked from start to finish.  Lisbon is not a perfect album – the last three tracks are shrug-worthy – but it’s so beautiful and evocative for two-thirds of it.  It opens up with the song “Juveniles” and the lament that, “You’re with someone else/tomorrow night/doesn’t matter to me” and it’s clear that this is a break-up album.  And it’s a heartbreaking one.  The stand-out track is in the middle of the album and it’s called “Stranded” with the gut-wrenching refrain of “And I’m stranded…and I’m starry-eyed.”  If you want to lay in bed and think about your past loves, this is the album for you.

5.  Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today


I don’t often agree with Pitchfork, but we’re definitely on the same page when it comes to “Round and Round” as the best song of the year.  That song just has such a perfect bridge and chorus that I would have put Ariel Pink’s album on here even if the rest of it sucked.  But the truth is that the rest of the album is almost as good.  Songs like “Fright Night” and “Beverly Kills” are just stellar.  Pink’s music might not be to everyone’s taste, but this is certainly his most accessible music.  There’s a nostalgic quality to his music, as if it comes from some undefined era in your childhood that you can’t quite place.  This album is like a mixtape you made when you were ten years old and just found again recently; all of the songs sound familiar, but you can’t quite sing along to them.  “Round and Round” is a nice entryway into the album for those who aren’t familiar with Ariel Pink’s style because it’s the poppiest song he’s ever recorded.  If you haven’t yet, then give it a listen.

4.  Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Social Network Soundtrack


For someone who claims to be a film-loving lunatic, I’m not the kind of nerd that plays the scores for movies all day long.  I think there are only a handful of scores that I actually bought and I think two of them were by Clint Mansell.  The problem for me is that I like to listen to music with lyrics.  I mean, I love classical music as much as the next person, but when I come home at the end of the day, I want the music to literally speak to me.  But, as I said earlier, I’m an enormous Nine Inch Nails fan and therefore, I’m a huge Trent Reznor fan.  This is the best score for a film since Jonny Greenwood’s compositions for There Will Be Blood and it’s some of the best music period that I’ve heard all year.  In between seeing the film in theaters and getting my screener, I found myself re-living the experience again and again by listening to the score; the music and the images are married together in such perfect harmony that I couldn’t help but picture scenes of Mark Zuckerberg created FaceMash juxtaposed with images of Final Club parties while listening to the masterful “In Motion” which could easily be an instrumental track on a NIN album.  And I certainly re-lived the regatta race scene again as I listened to Reznor and Ross’ electronic cover of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”  This is moving, soulful, and rocking music and it’s what every score should aspire to.  If this doesn’t win the Oscar for best musical score, I may throw a shoe at my television.

3.  LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening


I really hope that James Murphy doesn’t make good on his promise that this, his third record, will be the last LCD Soundsystem album.  With each successive album, they are getting better and better and tighter and tighter.  The opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean” is such an assured, confident piece of music, lulling the listener into safety for the first three minutes until it explodes in a cacophony of bass, synth, and drums and all of a sudden your body is demanding that you move.  A lot of critics have made comparisons to David Bowie‘s Heroes, especially on “All I Want” and I think it’s an accurate assessment.  But songs like “I Can Change” are more reminiscent of early 80s New Wave groups like Devo than anything else.  But really, by the time you get to the finale “Home,” it’s pretty clear that LCD Soundsystem isn’t really like any other band.  Sure, they have influences and borrow some bits and pieces from the groups that have come before, but I can’t really think of any other band that sounds quite like them as a whole.  And I hope they continue to put albums, if only to see where they could possibly go from here.

2.  Best Coast – Crazy For You


A lot of people might point to some of the simplistic lyrics Bethany Cosentino uses as a sign that she’s not a talented songwriter.  I humbly disagree.  Yes, a lot of the lyrics are trite, but that doesn’t make them any less true.  And when she sings these pained lyrics with her soulful voice, it’s almost like they’ve never been sung before.  All of the songs on her first full-length album are, more or less, about wanting a guy, losing a guy, finding a guy, wishing a guy would like her, smoking pot, and her cat.  But the music is beachy (no surprise, she’s dating Wavves lead singer Nathan Williams) and fun, never allowing Bethany to mourn her situations for too long.  But the best thing Bethany has going for her is her humility; on tracks like “Bratty B” she talks about missing her boyfriend but then apologizing for being so needy.  One of the stand-out tracks for me is “I Want To” which starts out with the repetition of the line “I miss you so much” with the same chord plucked over and over again until  it erupts in a wave of emotion as she pleads for things to go back the way they used to be.  The single, “When I’m With You” is a good place for any newcomer to start, it’s a fun and yet poignant song about being lazy or crazy and having the best time with the person you love.  It’s a miracle that this wasn’t my favorite album of the year.

1. Vampire Weekend – Contra


I know, I know.  I hated them too.  Or, at least, I wanted to hate them too.  They seem so pretentious and posed, with their Ivy-League educations and well-to-do backgrounds, what could they possibly know about love and life and suffering?  Well, apparently a lot.  I gave this album a listen and was absolutely floored by it.  The depth of their lyrics, the boldness of the music, the way lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice hits these amazing high notes – no, no, no, I can’t possibly be loving this band, could I?  Contra is the rare sophomore album that actually made me go back to the band’s first album and realize that I had them wrong all along.  Contra actually makes their debut album better because it shows that they are committed to a certain sound and style and they are capable of growth.  Most of their music happens to deal with rich kids with rich kid problems, but hell, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about rich people, it doesn’t make The Great Gatsby any less heartbreaking, does it?  The song I listened to the most this year is Vampire Weekend‘s epic “Diplomat’s Son” which is a six minute song about having a crush on your friend and the one night that the feelings are reciprocated.  A close second is the song “Run” which is about a couple growing older together and never leaving their mundane lives but keep telling each other that they could always run away.  At least, that’s what I think it’s about.  Like I said, the lyrics are deep and dense and there are many possible meanings.  People listen to the shake of the music and think that Vampire Weekend is just a silly little band, not realizing that what they are accomplishing is extremely difficult.  This is what rock should do: the music draws you close enough to pay attention to the lyrics, which add a whole other layer of enjoyment.  I’ve listened to Contra upwards of fifty times this year…I’m still enjoying new layers.

Okay, so what did I miss?  What should I have put on this list?

8 Responses to “Best Albums of 2010”

  1. established 1962 says:

    beach house, liars…

    you’re a goober

  2. Keil Shults says:

    I’m only recently catching up on some promising titles that I missed earlier in the year (this goes for both film and music). Here are my favorites, off the top of my head. I’ve decided to restrict it to 20 titles, since I really haven’t heard too many more than that anyway.

    The Best:

    – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (Before Today)
    – Beach House (Teen Dream)
    – Deerhunter (Halcyon Digest)
    – LCD Soundsystem (This Is Happening)
    – Tame Impala (Innerspeaker)
    – West, Kanye (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)

    The Rest:

    – Arcade Fire (The Suburbs)
    – Dungen (Skit I Allt)
    – Eno, Brian (Small Craft on a Milk Sea)
    – Gainsbourg, Charlotte (IRM)
    – Grinderman (Grinderman 2)
    – Local Natives (Gorilla Manor)
    – Male Bonding (Nothing Hurts)
    – Monae, Janelle (The ArchAndroid)
    – Newsom, Joanna (Have One On Me)
    – No Joy (Ghost Blonde)
    – Spoon (Transference)
    – Surfer Blood (Astro Coast)
    – Tallest Man on Earth, The (The Wild Hunt)
    – Vampire Weekend (Contra)

  3. Noah Forrest says:

    1962 – I’m not crazy about the Beach House album at all…the songs don’t feel sufficiently different from one another for me. A little too “sad bastard” in my view, but I can understand other folks digging it. The Liars record is pretty good, though, I’d put it in my next ten. And yes, I’m a goober.

    Keil – Lots of good ones on your list. I think Deerhunter and Surfer Blood probably just missed the cut for me. And the new Spoon record is really good and deserves some love as well.

  4. Keil Shults says:

    I’ve known about Deerhunter since Cryptograms, but never listened to them until recentl buying Halcyon. Now I want to own everything by them, as well as the lead singer’s solo records (under the name Atlas Sound).

    Some I might like but haven’t heard include: Best Coast, Liars, Sleigh Bells, Wavves, etc.

  5. Brian says:

    Good List! I would of included High Violet by the National, Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter, Teen Dream by Beach House, Brothers by the Black Keys, and Legend of Mr. Rager by Kid Cudi

  6. Eldrick says:

    you should probably listen to more hip hop if you think kanye is the only one that matters. i know the whole hip hop went the cars, money, girls route argument and even if i dont agree with that analysis, there has definitely been a culture change recently. you have Kid Cudi, Drake, Wale to kinda complement what Kanye is doing. you dont have to like them, but that blanket statement about only Kanye matters is kinda ignorant with all due respect.

    and to be honest, anyone with Best Coast in their top 10 is suspect imho.

  7. Eldrick says:

    nevermind

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