Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best Albums of 2010

Wow. It's over already, huh?

It seems like just last month that WOXY went off the internet after playing "Answer to Yourself" by the Soft Pack as its last tune.


So looking back, 2010 was pretty good for music. Aside from the whole surf rock "slapping an echo on my voice is awesome" craze that bands like Best Coast reintroduced to us in the Big Dime, 2010 will go down in the record books as a solid, if not stellar year, for indie rock.

Here are some of the albums I had on heavy rotation this year....

1. Beach House, Teen Dream

Like The Wire, it's always awesome when something comes out of your hometown and completely knocks your fucking socks off. That said, Beach House could be from Iowa and that would not stop Teen Dream from being the absolute best album of the year and it's not even close. I discovered this album in January while painting a room in a blizzard and it will be something I remember for the rest of my life. It was one of those instant connections between an album and an action. Yeah, painting a room isn't as cool as cruising for chicks or a summer of baseball, but it will still always take me back to a moment in my life. On Teen Dream, Beach House took their cheap Casio keyboard drum machine sound and made it bigger without selling out. Now, instead of wishing Beach House songs were bigger, they are. It was like watching that scrappy shortstop come back after an offseason of hard work and hit 40 homeruns.

2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

I know what you're thinking. This album should be #1. And you may have a good argument as to why it should be. But #2 is still good, is it not? On The Suburbs, Arcade Fire strung a clothesline across the length of the album and hung their grievances with suburban sprawl on it. Although it's more restrained than their previous work, the band still knows when to turn it up and let it loose. This is the album we'll all come back to when we're forty, balding, with children who don't know us, and say "Fuck. Did these guys get it right or what?" And at the same time, our kids may be listening to the album thinking, "I'll never turn out like my parents" when we all know its inevitable.

3. The National, High Violet

If ever there was an album that upon first listen prompted disappointment and the feeling that "they'll never be like they were ever again" before giving way to acceptance and pure enjoyment, High Violet is it. For months, I couldn't get past a few songs on this album. The melancholy subject matter, the monotone way in which Matt Berninger delivers his lyrics, and the restraint the band showed throughout the album...it wore me out. It still does. At times I still think "this is the point where they're going to let loose" and then comes "Afraid of Everyone" and the band does the complete opposite. But in the end, I've come around. This is a great album to throw on when you're driving home after a hard day's work and you don't feel like feeling anything. And the National make that seem so easy.

4. The Walkmen, Lisbon

Lisbon, is basically High Violet times ten. If you know me, you know that The Walkmen can practically do no wrong, and with Lisbon, the same is still mostly true. But I still can't help but feel a little let down after what I thought was their best album, You & Me, where they reinvented themselves as a Sun Records revival act. On You & Me, everything worked. On Lisbon, there are hits and misses. Songs that were performed live a year ago are different on the record, and IMHO, different for the worse. "Juveniles", which was a country western tune, complete with whistling (!) when I heard it live in the fall of 2009, is now an almost cheesy lounge-act Rod Stewart wannabe tune. "Angela Surf City" was also much different live, but for whatever reason, the band changed it and it is what it is now -- one of my least favorite tracks on the album. But aside from that, Lisbon continues The Walkmen's evolution away from "The Rat", and whatever they got wrong before is made right with "The Sky Above". In the end, Lisbon is a great album, one of the best of the year, but an album that could have been better. The Walkmen, by default, usually have the top spot reserved when they make an album. Just not in 2010.

5. Wolf Parade, Expo 86

Maybe I didn't listen to enough music this year because Expo 86 fails to ignite much passion in me like the other four albums do. Yeah, that must be it. Maybe I need to go check out Kayne West's new album. Now that I think about it, Wolf Parade has let me down ever since their stellar 2005 debut, Apologies to Queen Mary. Maybe it's the dozen side-projects between them. Maybe it's just because their debut was just that good. Whatever he reason, Expo 86 is the band's most sonically crowded album to date, which is a change from a band that sounded like it was performing on the top of a scrap heap after an apocalyptic event with just a guitar, a crashing symbol and a synth keyboard straight out of a John Carpenter film. Now, there's too much drumming going on, as if every verse needs a breakdown ripped from the intro from "Hot for Teacher". Overall, Expo 86 reminds me that the bands I love will not always make music I love, and that I should be thankful for the ones that still do. There are some bright spots on Expo 86, but it's gotten to the point where this supergroup has stopped being super, and the band members' original/side-projects are where they make their best music.

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