I read this post by John Roderick of The Long Winters for Seattle Weekly, and it made me rethink end of year list-making. I highly recommend the read, and he makes some fine points, especially that we don’t experience music in the way list-making would suggest or demand. That said, I think non-list-makers will never truly understand list-makers, and vice versa. We list-makers are well-aware and (usually) in command of what a list is: a framework, a guide, a tool for mapping and exploring. That, and we really have no control over whether we make them or not. So that in mind, here’s my favorite music from 2010.
If I had to project a narrative onto my favorite music this year, it would have to be the album prevailing. There are six or seven on this list that are better as a whole than parts. The other side is that many of my favorite songs aren’t on here because I didn’t like the whole album as much. So, what you will. Anyway, enough jabber. Onto the jabber.
10. Titus Andronicus, The Monitor
Song: A More Perfect Union
Self-indulgent, punk bar band rock epic with 7-14 minute songs, and a loose theme of the Civil War. That’s right, as in The Monitor and The Merrimac. This band far exceeded its last album, with an invigorating set of songs that almost lives up to its aspirations, which alone make for a pretty great release.
9. Morgan Packard, Moment Against Elsewhere
There may be better ambient releases from 2010, but this one came at me from nowhere and I think it’s really beautiful on headphones, at work or at home. The minimalist piano reminds me of some Erik Satie or even jazz. Just enough melody to keep it interesting.
8. Robyn, Body Talk
Song: Dancing On My Own
Robyn put out more good dance pop in 2010 than Katy Perry, Kesha, and Christina Aguilera combined. The subject matter isn’t pandering, and the music is complex enough to satisfy rock snobs. And there’s Dancehall Queen.
7. Pantha Du Prince, Black Noise
Song: Satellite Sniper
The number of sounds in this album or on each track would be staggering if they weren’t all so gentle and organic. Wood and metal, clicks and jingles, very pretty. That said, there’s a lot going on and plenty of moody tracks, so it’s no easy listening. A hefty minimal electronic record.
6. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Song: All of the Lights
There are many superlatives being thrown around about this release, but that song has the best drum beat in the history of hip hop music. It’s not nice music. A lot of these songs make me very uncomfortable, as all good music should.
5. Sharon Van Etten, Epic
Song: Don’t Do It
Sharon Van Etten’s first record was beautiful, and crushingly dark. Epic is no ray of sunshine, but the range of emotions suggests someone who can see at least a bit of light in the distance. Van Etten has soft, gorgeous voice, and her second record has even better songwriting. (It’s the second record we’ve all been hoping would come from Bon Iver.)
4. The National, High Violet
This isn’t the breakthrough that Boxer was, but more music like that 2007 tearjerking chamber rock was a pleasure to listen to this year. They continue to be among my favorite bands.
3. Grinderman 2
Song: Heathen Child
The video for Heathen Child is nightmarish, psychedelic, sexy, terrifying and funny. All can be said about Nick Cave’s second Grinderman album. It even has some tender moments, setting it apart from the first. I love everything about it.
2. LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening
Song: Dance Yrself Clean
I, along with many other aging men trying to analyze their lives while remaining somewhat cool, feel a kinship with James Murphy. Of course, none of us are like Murphy, who at 40 is now an official rock star. He remains bold, funny and insightful. And he’s cranking out dance beats that draw those losing their edge and young clubgoers alike. I hope it’s not truly the last LCD record, but if it is, “Home” is a great note to end on.
1. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Song: We Used To Wait
“The last defender of the sprawl Said, ‘Where do you kids live?’ Well sir, if you only knew What the answer was worth Been searching every corner Of the earth”
The Suburbs explores the lives of people who don’t recognize their homes and live worlds away from friends. When I watch Arcade Fire perform, they look alien, but I know them. It’s that conflict with origin and change that makes their music so powerful. Such a concept album could have been horribly trite, but each song is sad and triumphant. It’s full of eerie, sincere, celebratory rock anthems. This made the top of my list by leaps and bounds, and Arcade Fire continues to be the most unique, intelligent and emotional band around.
So that’s it. And a bunch more, and a bunch that I’ll remember and regret not including. And several others that I’ll grow to like more and more in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Maybe even some of these I end up disliking down the road. Never know.
But for now, painful sadness at not including The XX, Suckers, Yeasayer, Mount Kimbie, Besnard Lakes, Brian Eno, Daft Punk, DEERHUNTER!, Girl Talk, Gorillaz, High On Fire, The Hold Steady, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Neil Young, Red River, Rogue Wave, Rufus Wainright, Shout Out Louds, on and on…curse this list and you Roderick.