The Best Music of 2010 [Albums #10-#6]
January 8, 2011 6 Comments
And we’re back. Check back throughout the weekend for the rest of the countdown. I’m still taking recommendations of individual songs for the series’ conclusion, so hit me up on the Facebook page or via email.
#10. Wavves – King of the Beach
This album makes me feel old, but I’m able to deal with that because its songs are so awesome. Wavves was first recommended to me by Nils Coq au Vin and recently co-signed by Goodbye Sage — and they did not lead me astray. This band is led by (and essentially composed of) an early-20s San Diego stoner named Nathan Williams, who recorded his early works out of a rundown shack behind his parents’ house. On King of the Beach, the band’s third album (the first two were entitled Wavves and Wavvves) he received guidance from producer Dennis Herring and the sound backing of veteran rhythm sectioneers Billy Hayes and Stephen Pope. The result is a record packed full of energetic and shredding pop gems.
Check out this insanely good song, “Post Acid.” It speaks for itself, and the video is great too.
King of the Beach reminds me of the quotation from the doughy recording studio owner who first got Pavement on wax: “This Malkmus idiot is a complete songwriting genius.” I’m not saying Nathan Williams’ music is reminiscent of Malkmus’ compositions, but rather that while his material may seem kind of idiotic on the surface, Williams’ songcraft is basically flawless. And even though he sings with those annoying emo-style vocalizations that all the kids are doing these days, I’m 100% willing to give him a pass. I haven’t heard California pop punk/indie this tasty since Dookie. Maybe that means I need to get out more…I don’t know, judge for yourself:
In conclusion, when I listen to this record, this is my reaction:
#9. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Damon Albarn is basically my musical god right now. Most people would be content with having served as the charismatic, pretty-boy frontman of the massively successful 1990s Britpop band Blur. With Blur, Albarn cranked out some classic albums, made one of my favorite videos ever (“Coffee and TV”), and created in “Song 2” a jock rock anthem that will stand the test of time; he had fine ladies, excellent credibility, and even a record-sales-juicing rivalry with the Gallagher Brothers of Oasis. When Blur wound down, most frontmen would go gently into that good night. But not Damon Albarn.
Instead, he created the indie rock collective known as Gorillaz, which began as a collab with animator Jamie Hewlett and eventually drew a universe of geniuses into its efforts. The first record featured Dan the Automator on the boards and Del tha Funkee Homosapien on the mic. The second record, Demon Days, is one of the best alt-rap records ever made and features brilliant work from Danger Mouse, MF DOOM, De La Soul, Bootie Brown and Shaun Ryder. It was an effort essentially impossible to top, yet with Plastic Beach Albarn has returned with an album that’s more cohesive, and in many ways more interesting, than its predecessor.
Albarn handled the production himself on this record and did so admirably. While it lacks the pop genius of Danger Mouse’s touch, it’s more textured and complex than Demon Days. It’s an album that doesn’t grab you at first but slowly grows on you, taking over your mind, like barnacles covering the rocks at the ocean’s edge. Plastic Beach soars on the strength of songs like “Sweepstakes,” which Mos Def says is one of the best things he’s ever recorded. It’s simply wondrous to hear the veteran MC twist his verse around a slowly mutating beat.
The guest appearances on this album are so diverse, it’s incredible. Who better to introduce your album, welcoming listeners to the world of the Plastic Beach, than a wizened Snoop Dogg? Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash play on the album’s title track, with Simonon delivering a particularly inspired performance on bass. And while the track that features Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys and De La Soul (“Superfast Jellyfish”) is disappointing, the album more than makes up for it with insanely good performances by Lou Reed (“Some Kind of Nature”) and Bobby Womack (“Stylo,” “Cloud of Unknowing”).
Albarn remains thoroughly in command, however, and brings forth some of the album’s best tracks on his own, including the magnificently evolving “Rhinestone Eyes,” which grows from a meandering tune to a fist pumper, and the melodically mournful “Broken.” I especially love “On Melancholy Hill,” which served as the basis for this great Jamie Hewlitt video. I also went nuts when I heard this single featuring singer Daley, which trailed the album and will be included in the re-release.
I wish I could have embedded either of those videos, but VEVO is being a bitch. So let’s close with “Pirate Jet,” whose lyrics sum up the cynical, ecopocalyptic theme: “It’s all good news now, because we left the taps running for a hundred years.”
#8. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Straight up and down, I did NOT expect this album to be this good. It’s absolutely awesome. Nobody ever doubted Big Boi’s talent or questioned his credentials as a legendary MC, but when you’ve done most of your greatest work with a partner (if you just landed on this planet, I’m referring to his partnership with Andre 3000 as part of the Hall of Fame group Outkast) you have to prove yourself all over again when you go solo. And he does, folks. Proves it like a motherfucker.
The delightfully titled Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is clearly the product of years and years of hard work. Rhymes like “Assassin’s bullet might be waitin’ for Obama / Do you think they’ll have a brother before Billy’s baby mama?” (“Daddy Fat Sax”) make evident that some of these tracks have been in the can for a long time. Big Boi had to leave Jive Records and sign with LaFace to get this album released, which makes Jive Records look like a bunch of jive turkeys.
It pains me to say this, but the track produced by the doucheodious Scott Storch is one of the best hip hop bangers I heard all year. The beat is slamming, Big Boi’s rhymes are tight, the hook is locked in, and there is a Soul II Soul reference that slayed me the first time I heard it. (You may have to click through for this but it is worth it.)
This article from the Guardian has some awesome insights into the recording process, not the least of which is Big Boi’s love of Kate Bush. (Good Lord…if they ever made a beat out of the chorus from “Wuthering Heights” and he rapped over it, I could pretty much die happy right then.) Anyway, the recording sessions were apparently lubricated by “some candles, a little red light, maybe some crunk juice and a cigar; every now and then perhaps a little ‘purple’.” Oh indeed, Mr. Patton.
The result of these good times is amazing cuts like “General Patton,” which samples Aida to brilliant effect, “Shine Blockas,” which has a chorus you’ll be repeating over and over (hopefully not in business meetings, although it depends on what kind of business you’re in, I guess), and the sledgehammer known as “Tangerine,” which includes a great guest spot from T.I.
I was driving when I first heard this, and when they dropped in the “hoodie hoo!” at 1:14, I felt like if I pulled the steering wheel towards me I might be able to put my ride in flight.
The truly insane thing is that there were tracks recorded with Andre 3000 that had to be left off the album because the Jive jerks still own the rights to everything recorded by Outkast. Can you imagine how good this album would have been with Andre in the mix? Additionally, as fantastic as this album is, it’s not even the best album that Big Boi was on this year. And you can consider THAT a teaser for the top 5 albums.
#7. The National – High Violet
Can I just say how great it is that one of the best bands out there right now has a baritone lead singer? What is up with our musical culture that fancy lads with high pitched voices always rule the day? I’m tired of blowing out my pipes trying to sing along with the boymen that front most rock outfits. That’s why I thank Allah for Matt Berninger and his deep, manly voice.
This album is no joke. It’s substantial in every sense of the word. Berninger’s powerful vocals and keen lyrics are brilliantly enhanced by the melodic skills of Aaron and Bryce Dessner and the rhythmic chops of Bryan and Scott Devendorf. It’s a mood piece that’s perfect for a rainy day, never more so than on the brooding “England,” which is one of the standout tracks.
While Southern rappers spin tales of debauchery and purple drank, and West Coast indie rockers sing songs of love and fun, these Cincinnati transplants recorded an album in Brooklyn that dwells on melancholy and debt, sometimes literally, as on “Bloodbuzz Ohio”: “I still owe money to the money I owe.”
There’s also an amazing song called “Conversation 16” with a slew of great lines and the unforgettable refrain: “I was afraid I’d eat your brains…’cause I’m evil.” Just try to beat that, lyricists! And when you give up in frustration remember that I told you so.
High Violet is an astoundingly good album that only gets better as it unfolds. The National keep getting better with each record and I’m pretty sure the next time they release an album it will cause me to lock myself in my basement and listen to it over and over until I fall into a coma.
#6. The Black Keys – Brothers
Another band from Ohio whose 2010 album made the world a better place! While The National and The Black Keys may hail from the same state, they recorded their albums in very different places and mindframes, and the results were quite different, if almost equally awesome.
The Black Keys, though newly shorn and hipsterized by a stint in Brooklyn, headed to Muscle Shoals to record. This record was championed by quite a few of our jurors, especially Mikey Jones and Izzie B, who both represent Brooklyn and obviously do not resent the band’s departure to points south. The soulfulness that’s in the water in that Alabama music mecca certainly comes through on Brothers. Look no further than the sauntering opener, “Everlasting Light.” The percussion and backing vocals on this one are face-melting. (I love the comment made by the guy who uploaded this video to Youtube: “Yes, you did just cum in your pants.”)
Both of the “brothers” in Black Keys are locked in on this album. Patrick Carney’s beats are simply nasty, and Dan Auerbach shreds on axe and wails with the best bluesmen. There are a bunch of songs I could cite to demonstrate this — the terrific “Next Girl,” with its commendable Gang Starr influence, the soaring “The Only One,” with some killer organ mixed in, and “Unknown Brother,” with its tasty guitar riffage.
But I particularly love the Danger Mouse-produced “Tighten Up,” not least because the video the guys made for this track is hilarious and awesome. Their reaction when the fight breaks out is priceless, as is their Gulliver v. Lilliputians battle against the kids.
The album probably could have been tighter, but I would have hated to see them lose “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a Gamble-Huff track that fits in perfectly with the band’s originals. All in all, Brothers is a fantastic slab of soulful rock that stacks up well against anything else released this year. Well done, Black Keys!
NEXT POST: Albums #5 through #1 in our countdown.