Best of 2010: Music

I listen to a LOT of music. I check out dozens of new artists weekly, trying to find a new band or singer to love. 2010 was full of a lot of good music for me, but here are my top fifteen albums. I’ve also listed my top 25 tracks of the year.



15. Kacey Johansing — Many Seasons

It’s albums like this that make me realize how privileged I am in this changing… how do I put it… changing music scene, in the sense of how we hear, discover and connect with artists. Don’t think that the MP3 is anything less than a revolution. I have these conversations sometimes, with certain friends and family members who don’t spend as much time trolling for new music as I do. I start talking excitedly about an artist I’ve just discovered, or they check my iPod touch and see what’s playing and go “Eh? I don’t even know who that is,” and they say it like it’s a bad thing that I’m listening to someone they don’t know. WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU LIMIT YOURSELF THAT WAY? How else will you find the artist you’ll love tomorrow without taking the plunge today? There was a first time you listened to Lady Gaga, too. Sometimes you have to take the plunge. I take the plunge a lot. Every week I plunge through a laundry list of music blogs, trying to find something new and moving. I am so lucky that I can do this. WE ARE SO LUCKY. (What would I have done before? Hung around record shops more often, I guess.)

That was a long prologue to saying that I had no expectations or preconceptions about this album- it was a random download that I put on and was then instantly hooked. Kacey’s voice is warm and curls around you, it’s almost jazzy. There’s a note of wistfulness tempered with the wisdom that maturity brings- The first time I was in love / was the last time I was in love she sings. The overall sound of the album is simple but not too sparse, I found it inviting and invigorating instead of boring. Enchanting even, from the driving piano edged with strings in the title track to the instrumental “Good Mourning” with its delicate wordplay. There is a lot to love here!! Not going to lie, there were several albums good enough to fight for this spot, but she gets the edge because I really want to promote her to everyone. I have found myself listening to this album a LOT.


14. The Walkmen — Lisbon

This statement will be my firing shot: rock as a genre is stuck in a repetitive, lazy self-satisfied parody-of-itself rut. Remember when this genre was once in the forefront and helped to shape the entire landscape of popular music? It’s long since been supplanted by rap, because rap has artists that pop up every few months doing fresh things that revitalize and reinvigorate and shake up everyone else. That’s why it amazes me to see what I’ve seen lately about rap being dead as a genre. ARE YOU JOKING? Direct your criticism towards rock, which is content to have new artists that sound exactly like the old ones. Even bands that have some kind of promise or sharpen their hooks to pierce sound tired by the sophomore album. Poor Kings of Leon, they at least averaged two good tracks per CD before now. But for as hard as I have just been on rock, I know I can look to the fringes and find satisfying bands. I don’t listen to indie rock because I want to be cool, that’s stupid. I listen to indie rock because mainstream rock is largely shit and I need to be fulfilled somehow.

Anyway, this album is epic(ally sad) surf-tinged rock music. It sounds like a beach album, but in the deceptive sense because it’s not for a beach in summer. More like an otherwise deserted beach in the late fall/early wintertime when you have to keep your pants and shoes on or you’ll freeze, but you keep on partying bravely. I say epically sad because the music feels full and weighty with nostalgia. It’s like the process of thinking about someone you used to love or someone that used to love you is dragging you backward like the tide going out. You’re all prettier now than the last time / But the words aren’t coming through / And I’m stranded / And I’m starry-eyed / Oh why, oh she’ll wash out of me

13. Broken Bells — Broken Bells

We all know that Broken Bells is really James Mercer from The Shins and Dangermouse, right? Anyway, what I associate with The Shins is music that’s strummy and floaty, a jangly pop-guitar fueled sugar rush often with a dash of melancholy in the coming-down. What I associate with Dangermouse is adding sick beats. I feel that with a lot of his previous independent projects, he’s worked at perfecting this kind of fusion of sounds. The outcome here is like something you’d want to dance in outer space to. The music grooves, but also floats free, drifting out into the ether. The art is in how they play with the space to make it not a contradiction.

Also, Mercer gives good lyric. Love is turning you out / Sliding worry round / I try to warn its waiting game / To bring that specter down / Would it be wrong / To clamp down on your racing heart? Love / And if they’d known, what sifted down to be found out? / It’s not what you deserve

12. Mimicking Birds — Mimicking Birds

I feel so weird talking about this album! Because I’m pretty sure that it is one of those ‘dude records alone in his bedroom’ affairs, and I love that it is; Mimicking Birds is best appreciated in isolation. Dusted all over the songs is fragility, but a specific kind of fragility: the dreamer who has to grow up but not quite yet. Call it ‘peterpanning’. It’s lilting, intimate, and at times melancholy, and I like to think that he was making a quilt of music. Quaint, dusty, private, warming. Literally wrapping you up in melody. Ugh you guys, it’s such a gorgeous CD. Snap on your headphones and prepare yourself.


11. Ellie Goulding — Lights

When I write Ellie Goulding, I always want to put several exclamation points after it. Ellie Goulding!!! Oh Britain, I salute you. Anyway, I’m glad this album is called Lights ’cause her songs sound like sparks going off in the darkness, they do light everything up with skittery energy and sweetness. Oh oh, and one of my friends once said her voice was scratchy shaky, apple candy, and I like that a lot, that’s a good way of putting what I was trying to say. Her sense of what makes pop music good is so unerring. This album feels really fresh and relevant and just… good. Youthful too, in the sense of her energy and perspective, and I don’t mean that in a way that’s condescending obviously because her craft is ON. This album makes me so stupidly happy about pop music.


10. White Hinterland — Kairos

If I only got to have three words to describe this, they would be: weird, wild, wonderful. But I get to have more than three words, so. Kairos is its own strange niche of pop and I love it. It’s like the album takes place in its own universe, with wary former lovers as hunters. Another CD came out this year with the name Love As a Hunter but I feel that title could have been this as well. Not that I’m complaining about Kairos. I like the sound of that word. In the Greek it refers to a sense of time to be seized, a supreme moment in rhetoric or dealing with fate. I won’t get boring on you (that is a lie actually, I find classics deeply interesting) but it’s like the newly found sense of freedom is an illusion and the singer is waiting for the moment when they will finally “get over” for real.


9. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

A word I tend to associate with BSS is ‘jaded’. It comes across so often in their discography in so many ways- their albums are very much adult in a kind of “looking-at-the-bottom-of-the-beer-glass” world weariness. I was really intrigued when I saw that this album was titled ‘Forgiveness Rock Record’, for that reason and because, well, you don’t tend to make songs about things or people you’ve forgiven, right? But the songs they tackle here suit them, each one feels so thoughtful. It’s not so much the forgiveness but the act of forgiving, and why. Broken Social Scene are a congregation of people (literally everyone awesome making music in Canada has popped in) and a congregation of styles, but they never miss the mark. They remain ambitious here, but also reflective in a relatable way for these modern times.


8. Lissie — Catching a Tiger

Lissie’s voice is clear and strong and good and refreshing, like mineral water. There’s an element to it that reminds me of Neko Case, maybe that is why I like her so much. I do really like Lissie. She sounds elemental, like she is meant for the outdoors. She sounds comfortable and worn-in, like your favorite pair of slippers that you’ve owned forever. This album has a rootsy Americana feel but sidesteps that genre’s worst tendencies for draggy anachronism and over-sparseness and goes instead for freshness. Songcraft sets her above other singer-songwriters as well.


7. Two Door Cinema Club — Tourist History

For me this album is a simple, glorious equation

= sunny day + espresso shot + bed to jump up and down on

The guitar strums and splashes of sound in the background feel so bright. You will listen to the whole album before you realize what happened. DID I TIME-TRAVEL? Yes you did, into an awesome future. Itssobrightyougottawearshades, etc. The songs are punchy and catchy, embrace them.


6. The Radio Dept. — Clinging to a Scheme

The Radio Dept. are magic philosophers! Wizards. Do you know alchemy? That’s what they do, they convert hazy reverb into a kind of ache. Or: modern life into a dream. I’ve loved them deeply for a while because they were one of the first indie bands I discovered in my early fumblings across internet communities in high school. This album is their most precise and effective, down to the cover. It expands wonderfully upon the earlier EP David and that song’s dazed churn- Asleep for twenty years with this feeling / but I was on your side / and he’s spent some 20 years with this feeling /of being lost inside / he was lost inside / of his mind / just like I’ve been holding on for all our lives / all our lives / Oh David won’t you look into my- / He turned too many heads for one lifetime. If the daily grind in the city is getting you down, causes you to gaze down at your shoes and blow smoke, you need new background music. This is it. Have good daydreams.


5. Quadron — Quadron

Quadron are all poised and waiting attitude. The kind of revenge that is happy to wait a while and then use its nails against your skin when you least expect it. I saw a photo of the band once, standing amid some exotic leafy greenery, and I’ve never been able to shake the image. This album is lush and full with leaves dripping water somewhere in the near distance. Sound, beautiful and sultry; affection, dangerous. If their physical landscape is a jungle, their emotional landscape is that of cruel lovers. Even when the songs have bright horns, the lyrics have a surprising bite. “Pressure” has a bit of a Motown-vibe to it but lyrically it’s a female-sung version of “Under My Thumb”.


4. Beach House — Teen Dream

Beach House is like one long dream you just don’t wake up from. And don’t want to. While I have liked their previous albums I think Teen Dream outstrips them all because it pairs the whimsy of their sound with whimsical… narratives should I call them? Song outlooks? A particular kind of haze that colors your adolescent years also colors these songs. This album has the feel of (but not the lyrics of, notably) a tranquility in looking back at them, but with a touch of wistfulness that almost edges into melancholy. The music itself is loaded with keyboards that could have sounded sinister or dreary in different hands but instead shimmer and float along. When I listen to Beach House I imagine myself falling back onto a bed with one of those thick winter down comforters.


3. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

I CAN’T TALK ABOUT THIS ALBUM WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE A HYPERBOLIC JERK. How do I begin to explain how Sufjan’s music always makes me fall more in love with other albums? I was actually going through a bit of a funk before this, I couldn’t concentrate and wasn’t finding any new music that I liked. And then all of a sudden it was different! This album was like the key. It was sweepingly majestic, yet personal in a way that Sufjan hadn’t been before. It blew the mists from my mind. That’s the power of Sufjan, I guess. His music is so invigorating, so full of life. There is life crammed in every sound, every note and chime and click and clink. I used to think that music can only be one aspect of life- a big one and an important one, sometimes, to certain people- but just one aspect all the same. But Sufjan doesn’t play by those rules.

Erase everything I just said. The Age of Adz = LIFE. There you have it.


2. Kanye West — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I love what Stereogum said about Kanye re: this album, I will quote a paragraph in its entirety because it is EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to articulate in the conversation I’ve been having about him here and elsewhere:

What makes Kanye West interesting and feel so relevant is that he’s got bravado mixed with a very current, generational need to be liked, as well as loved. He’s the kind of guy that answers the question, “What are your weaknesses?” with “I work too hard, I care too much, I try too hard.” He’s the kind of girl who shuts down her Livejournal because people are mean, only to start a new one a week later. His weaknesses are strengths, his real weakness is thinking we don’t already know that. He once rapped, “We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” It kinda sums up what drives West. He doesn’t know he’s the best, he thinks he’s the best, and the difference between that drives his furious creative output. He possesses a mixture of perfectionism and egotism that leads him to agonize and second-guess himself until he produces something he is convinced nobody can beat.


I love how furious and creative, and furiously creative, and creatively furious Kanye is. I admire his drive a lot, and I don’t think he’s ever made a bad album. I always want to defend 808s and Heartbreak to others because it fascinates me as his attempt at metamorphosis into robot to deal with personal pain and loss. There isn’t a single rapper besides Kanye who would have made an album like that (there’s some of Kid Cudi’s moodiness in there, but he’s certainly not the same). It was a crazy risk and I feel like it paid off, that album as a whole is criminally underrated. In contrast, his current album is B I G. Expansive and orchestrated. It doesn’t hurt that Kanye chooses his collaborators with care, and they ALWAYS rise to the occasion. Nicki Minaj blisters on “Monster”, John Legend sighs and sings (and, how awesome is the piano sample) on “Blame Game”- a song that I am frankly obsessed with. And Jesus Christ in heaven, Bon Iver on “Lost in the World”. I get chills up and down my spine.

What’s a black Beatle anyway? / A fucking roach / I guess that’s why they got me sittin’ in fucking coach

1. Janelle Monae — The ArchAndroid

I’ve talked about her a lot already to EVERYONE I KNOW and I will talk a bit more now because she’s worth it and I love this album. I still feel what she’s doing is really wonderful and important.

This album is just pop music. Also: it’s pop music as R&B, pop music as self-realization, pop music as storytelling, pop music as social reference, pop music that wears the sources it draws from (jazz and soul, orchestral pop) on its sleeve along with its heart, pop music as transcendence. There’s a track called “Neon Gumbo” and I like that phrase a lot as a way to sum up the sound of the entire work. It’s bright and varied, but somehow coherent, it comes together sonically and thematically in a way that makes you go !! Some tracks have a nervous frantic energy and bounce, some are seemingly tranquil and languid but still pack a lot of emotion, some tracks sound vintage, some tracks sound like the freshest thing. Best of all, this album is fun. Let me remind you, this is about an android who goes on a journey of self-realization and falls in love with a human, and then leads an uprising. I CAN’T TALK ENOUGH ABOUT HOW OBSESSED I AM WITH THIS CONCEPT. A FREAKING ROBOT. STARCROSSED LOVERS. SOCIAL REVOLUTION. The ArchAndroid: Better than The Matrix. Boom.




Bonus Top 25 Tracks

25. Jesse Woods — Sparks
24. Kanye West — Monster
23. Vampire Weekend — Diplomat’s Son
22. Gorillaz – Doncamatic (All Played Out) feat. Daley
21. Magnetic Man feat. John Legend — Getting Nowhere
20. Cee-lo Green — Fuck You
19. Jamie Woon — Night Air
18. Broken Social Scene — Sentimental X’s
17. Spoon — Who Makes Your Money
16. Laura Marling — Blackberry Stone
15. Diana Vickers — Once
14. Efterklang — Mirror Mirror
13. The National — Conversation 16
12. Lissie — In Sleep
11. Glasser — Home
10. The Radio Dept. — Heaven’s on Fire
9. Mike Posner — Cooler than Me
8. Land of Talk — Color Me Badd
7. Twin Shadow — At My Heels
6. Marina & the Diamonds — I Am Not a Robot (Clock Opera remix)
5. Kanye West — Lost in the World
4. Maroon 5 — Misery
3. Oh Land — Perfection
2. Sufjan Stevens — I Walked
1. Janelle Monae — Cold War


One Comment to “Best of 2010: Music”

  1. Hey, thanks for including me on your blog roll! I really appreciate it.

    This is a great list you’ve got here. I can’t believe that I forgot Mimicking Birds on mine… ugh.

    Happy New Year!

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