The Best Albums of 2010…

Posted: December 3, 2010 in Album Reviews, Commentary

…in no particular order (actually, in alphabetical order)

The Acorn – “No Ghost”
This album crossed my desk a few months back, and i don’t know, i guess i was just in the mood to check something new out, so i popped it in. It instantly became a contender for one of the best of the year. It’s mostly acoustic, but not in a lame James Taylor kind of way. Plenty of percussion and backing vox. Imagine The Shins, but without the Indie culture bullshit, and with better tunes. Perfect for Fall listening and looking out the front room window. If you can, get in on vinyl…

They say videos are making a comeback! I grew up watching music videos, but now i find myself getting sick of ’em. This one, however, is pretty good!

Avey Tare – “Down There”
I love Animal Collective, and i love just about anything the guys do outside of Animal Collective. Well, to be honest, i’ve only heard the first couple of Panda Bear albums, and one that Avey Tare did with Kría Brekkan, but still, i like it all. That is until Panda Bear started to release 2 songs at a time earlier this year. Like most fans, i was waiting, anticipating, and while i didn’t expect Person Pitch, pt. 2, i DID expect to get some actual tunes (do you see a theme here?). Perhaps that is why i feel so madly in love with this Avey Tare record? Or maybe it’s because it is just so fucking good! AC fans will enjoy, as it’s not too big of a departure from say, ‘Strawberry Jam’ or ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, but it is a bit darker (see AC’s earlier material). Every song is worth listening, which is rare these days for an album in our iTunes driven marketplace, but i especially love “3 Umbrellas” and this track, “Lucky 1″…

Badly Drawn Boy – “It’s What I’m Thinking”
I already blogged about this record earlier this year (HERE), so i’ll keep it brief. i was listening to this earlier today and it’s still very good, even though it’s been replaced in my car stereo (the testing ground).

It’s really a shame that an album like this goes unrecognized in this country. I mean, maybe if he had a duet with Jay-Z on it, or perhaps if he showed his tits a bit more the kids would get it, but then again, i doubt it. The public are, for the most part, brainwashed by shiny plastic things. I am too, i mean i’ve got all the gadgets and i’m writing this blog on a lovely iMac, but at least when it comes to music, i’m not as easily duped…

Bryan Ferry – “Olympia”
I adore Bryan Ferry! Roxy Music is my number 2 fave band, right behind The Beatles (of course). I will forever buy and listen to anything this man puts his name to, and i couldn’t have been more anxious to get my hands on this new album. That being said, it’s not all that i’d hoped it would be. It makes this list, because in perspective, it deserves to be here, but i wish it were better. There are just too many mediocre songs on this collection. That’s not to say there aren’t some great ones, like “Heartache By Numbers” which is just lovely and also a co-write with The Scissor Sisters. Another is “Me Oh My” which sounds like, and probably is, a throwback to the old Roxy days. The cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren” deserves special mention here as well, and though you’d never know it, features FLEA on bass!

Need a few other reasons to check this album out? How about these: Phil Manzanera, Andy Mackay and Brian Eno? The press have jumped all over the fact that Eno is on this record, but he’s actually been on almost every Ferry album since 94’s ‘Mamouna’, but then what do the press know?

Eels – “End Times”
Eels have released 3 full length albums in the span of 1 year! I can’t think of many artists that have done that since the 60’s. Maybe it’s the state of the industry, or maybe the public just don’t demand as much from their artists anymore. Whatever the reason, it’s a remarkable feat, especially given that all 3 records are really quite good. ‘End Times’ remains my favorite though. It’s the darker of the 3, being the one that deals with the breakup of a relationship (the 1st, “Hombre Lobo” is about falling in love, the 3rd, “Tomorrow Morning” is about a new beginning).

I’ve written about Eels a couple of times over the last year, so you can dig those up if you want to, but let’s just have a listen, shall we?

Harold Budd & Clive Wright – “Little Windows”
Another very prolific artist is the one and only Harold Budd! I’ve been listening to this man’s music for the better part of 25 years now, and most of his stuff is fantastic. It does border a bit on the New Age’y realm of things, but then again so does Eno, so there you go. I first fell in love with his music when a friend turned me on to ‘The Moon & The Melodies’. If you don’t know that album, go find it now. If you do, and you like it, go buy the new one ‘Little Windows’, you won’t be disappointed.

Not the kind of artists to make accompanying videos for their music, we are left with the sometimes fantastic imaginations of our YouTube filmmakers; enjoy!

James – “The Morning After The Night Before”
Ah, James. Another of the great bands that most of America will never get with. This release actually came out as two separate mini-albums, ‘The Night Before’ and ‘The Morning After’, so it’s difficult to review it as a whole, as it wasn’t really meant to be listened to that way. However, i’ll give it a shot. There are some great songs on this release, and there are a couple of not-so-great ones, but like Bryan Ferry’s record, it exists in this list partially because it’s James, and also because it’s still better than most of the stuff that came out this year.

I remember thinking to myself that singer Tim Booth must be going through some tough times, as the lyrics are very sad and introspective, which is a change from the usual “we’re all in this together” vibe he puts out there. Turns out i was right. Someone very close to him was having a rough year, which impacted his songwriting. I’ll leave it up to him to let you know, though…

Killing Joke – “Absolute Dissent”
Killing Joke has always been my go-to music when i feel like the world, or my job, is unjust. There have been many moments like that this year, from the election results, to the continued dumbing down of America, to just everyday frustrations in my life. Now, there are many “heavy” bands out there, but very few of them have anything beyond 8th grade poetry to say, and even fewer can marry that heaviness to an actual song structure. It’s not about volume and ferocity, it’s about trying to get through to those that either refuse to listen or just don’t realize they need to be listening…

From the destruction of the environment, to corruption in politics (which is also a global problem), to a New World Bank, Killing Joke’s got you covered.

Oh, i almost forgot, they’re not too keen on religion either…

The National – “High Violet”
A surprise pick this year! I go back and forth with this band. Sometimes they sound like they’re phoning it in on their records, and when i saw them live a couple of years back, and spent their show thinking about all the other things i could be doing at that moment. But that was yesterday, and this album is a solid effort.

It starts off strong with “Terrible Love”, but it’s the stretch from “Anyone’s Ghost” through “Lemonworld” that rivals most of the albums on this list! Still, it doesn’t make me want to see them live again…

Neil Young – “Le Noise”
I have already reviewed this record (HERE), so i’ll let the me from the past do the talking here, but i will say;

If you love Neil Young, go out and buy this record…

If you are a fan of Daniel Lanois, go out and buy this record…

If you have never heard anything by either artist, you should still go out and buy this record…
It IS THAT good!

Peter Gabriel – “Scratch My Back”
This is another album from a classic artist that i’m just a bit torn on. I mean, the good stuff is fantastic, but it’s the shitty stuff i am struggling with. Why anyone likes Arcade Fire, let alone someone like Mr. Gabriel, is fucking beyond me. It’s garbage at best, and adolescent and insipid at it’s worst.

I bring this up, because ‘Scratch My Back’ is an album of covers, featuring some truly great material with a fresh, orchestral take, as well as featuring some crap, like Arcade Fire, The Magnetic Fields and Regina Spektor.

Enough of the garbage, the great stuff is Peter’s spin on Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble”, Bowie’s “Heroes” and this one, Elbow’s “Mirrorball”…

Sade – “Soldier Of Love”
How great is it to hear some new music from Sade?! ‘Soldier of Love’ is a solid offering, with some good feelings happening, and while it’s no ‘Love Deluxe’, it is a great amendment to her/their legacy.

Sade is not breaking new ground here, with the possible exception of the title track which comes on powerful and knowing, while maintaining the sexiness, but the rhythms are fantastic while the rest of the group play their parts expertly.

Most people think it’s all about Sade Adu, but Sade is a band, and the jams are solid. Most of this record is great, with “Skin”, “Bring Me Home” and this track, “Babyfather” being my go-to tracks…

Surfer Blood – “Astro Coast”
Wow, that was 3 major artists in a row! well let’s get down to some Indie stuff, as the last artist is the biggest yet. Surfer Blood is one of the most interesting bands to come along in a long while. I was first turned onto them by a guy here at work before this album came out. They’d been around the country doing various in-studios, and they showed up here at KEXP.

I guess it’s Surf Music for the new millennium really, with a definite nod to the past. This came out early in 2010, so it’s been awhile since i’ve listened to it, but as i sit doing that now, it may end up back in the car! Not sure when a new one is coming out, but i’m hoping they don’t blow it the way some of the more promising acts over the last couple of years have (see MGMT)…

Tame Impala – “Innerspeaker”
I already gave a preview of this band awhile back (HERE), but it’s the full length that gets a mention on list this. A full length that unfortunately is STILL unavailable in the US, so you’ll have to use your imagination on how to get a hold of it.

Actually, it makes absolutely no sense that you cannot get it here. They’ve been creating a buzz for months now, and i’ve even turned my little brother onto this band! Maybe he’ll do his job and turn HIS friends on to it? But if his friends dig it, how are they to find it? Gee, i wonder why music piracy is such an issue…

Anyway, dig on this video! As far as i can tell, it’s the real deal.
Something to do with a weather balloon or something…

Teenage Fanclub – “Shadows”
This might just be the best album of the year. Teenage Fanclub are rarely disappointing, but this album is just fantastic! Now, this is music for grown-ups, i’m not gonna lie. Maybe if you’re young, and you smoke a bowl, you can get into this, with it is NOT ‘Bandwagonesque’.

I actually failed to see them when they were in town recently (too broke), but i’m kind of glad in did. I heard they were good, but they are no longer the long-haired Indie rockstars of the early 90’s. They are grown men, with kids, in 2010, making lovely and timeless music. Gee, i wonder why i like it? If you are part of the Fanclub, then you know what i mean!

I keep trying to find this on vinyl, but alas, no luck. Any ideas? Did it even come out on vinyl? If ever there was an album vinyl-worthy, it’s this one.

3 Singers, 3 Songwriters, but my fave is Raymond McGinley.
Actually, i’m waiting impatiently for your solo album Raymond…

U2 – “Wide Awake In Europe”
This is actually an EP, so maybe it shouldn’t be on this list. But since i call the shots around here, i’m going to allow it. I’m also going to review it. This was released on Black Friday, which was also Record Store Day, and for a month prior I was biting my nails trying to figure out a way to guarantee myself a copy. I pre-ordered at 4 different sites, only to be un-pre-ordered by said sites. Resignation that I would have to pay out the wazzu on eBay set in, but as i was driving around on Friday, I thought, “just lemme pop in here and check”. They had about 30 copies, and it cost $8.

Why so manic? Well, U2 is a favorite of mine. Also, it’s a collectible. It is also a sequel of sorts to the great ‘Wide Awake In America’ EP, released 25 years ago!
How does it measure up? Glad that you asked…

Of the 3 songs, 1 is new, 1 is a remix and all are live, record in Europe (duh!)

The first track, is the new song “Mercy”. To be honest, it’s not their best. It’s not bad either, but it sounds like a demo. I suspect that if it makes it to an album release, it’ll sound much different. Which another good reason to have this EP.

The second track, is the 360Remix of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”. I actually like this version. It reminds me of the band’s great “Pop Mart” shows, and Bono manages to sneak Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” and “Relax” into the song. I also love the end when the beat drops out, and it’s an ambient call for peace in the world. You know, the kind of thing U2 does a lot of, and the kind of thing that makes the hipsters hate them. Ever wonder why the hipsters hate Peace, or Change so much? I guess when you are a Trustafarian you don’t have to worry about such issues. Or maybe they just are too cool to feel music, unless of course they can feel the too-small April Wine t-shirt they’re sporting…

The third and last track, is the gorgeous “Moment Of Surrender”. Perhaps U2’s best song in 20 years, or maybe their best ever? It’s so good, that i can even overlook Bono’s rapping at the end of it…

Dishonorable Mentions…
This is the section of the blog where i bash otherwise beloved groups, that managed to put out shit albums this year…

Belle & Sebastian – “Write About Love”
3 words…

Norah Fucking Jones

Time to hang it up ladies and gentlemen. You’ve had a good run, but the last 2 (3 if you count Stuart’s solo album) have been God-Awful…

Brian Eno – “Small Craft On A Milk Sea”
I read a few years back that Eno was thinking more about Vocal albums again, as he thought (and i concur) that anyone with a laptop can make electronic music these days…

What, did you change your mind Eno? This is a bunch of shit. Why not just reverse ‘Music for Films’ and call that new music? It would certainly be more interesting than this. 3 old farts up their own asses, pretending their doing something new…

Gorillaz – “Plastic Beach”
Before this album i used to tell people that everything Damon Albarn touches is genius. Well, i’ll have to stop saying that now.

There are a couple of gems on this record, best of which features Little Dragon, but the rest is just unlistenable. And i love Snoop Dogg, but when you start asking him to be on your own records, you’ve run out of ideas…

Grinderman – “Grinderman 2”
Dear Nick, there is a reason The Bad Seeds don’t allow this kind of thing within their ranks. Stop moonlighting and pretending you’re still the guy from The Birthday Party, and get back to work on music that doesn’t suck. Thanks, ToeZoo

Interpol – “Interpol”
I reviewed this album, twice in fact, earlier this year. While not a terrible album, it certainly isn’t one of the best by a long shot, and i can’t help noticing that the best thing about this album quit the band before it’s release…

Hmmm, what now Interpol?

Still, that being said, ToeZoo loves You!


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