These are hard times. These are dangerous times. But the best albums of 2010 offered the old promise that music can be redemptive, vital, and important. So as we move into 2011, Crux of the Biscuit submits its picks for the 11 best albums of 2010.
Now, there were albums I would have liked to put on this list that, for one reason or another, just didn’t make the cut but are totally worth your time: Surfer Blood’s Astro Coast, Broken Social Scene’s Forgiveness Rock Record, The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Genuine Negro Jig (check out my review here), and Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame are all highly recommended.
Other albums that didn’t make the cut were critical favorites that I admit to still trying to sort out: Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz, Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me, and MGMT’s Congratulations. These are artful and ambitious albums, but I confess that I don’t quite know what to make of them yet. To be honest I've only given these albums a cursory listen. Either I just don’t dig them or their charms have escaped me somehow. Ask me next December about them, and maybe I’ll have something more to say.
There were absolutely brilliant releases from veteran rockers, like Neil Young’s killer Le Noise, Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, and Roky Erikson’s triumphant return with Okkervil River on Love Cast Out All Evil. All highly recommended.
We were also blessed with important and insightful re-issues like The Rolling Stones’ masterpiece Exile on Main Street and Bruce Springsteen’s intense Darkness on the Edge of Town which offered new and shimmering perspectives on these classic LPs.
And, of course, there were albums which seemingly everybody in the free world liked except me: Robyn’s Body Talk, twee-pop Vampire Weekend’s Contra, The National’s flat (though highly praised) High Violet, and Kanye West’s self-indulgent My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. These albums are all interesting and artful, and may be worth checking out, but somehow left me cold and uninspired.
Inevitably there were albums I missed (or maybe you can tell me why Vampire Weekend is worth listening to or what I’m missing with The National’s High Violet), so feel free to tell me where I’m wrong or list your favorite albums in the comment section!
Here we go! Crux of the Biscuit’s Album Picks for 2010:
11. Erikah Badu - New Amerika Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh
All hail Erikah Badu. 2008’s New Amerika Pt. 1 focused on the political world while 2010’s Pt.2 focusses on the politics of the heart and soul. The songs, aided by samples and electronic effects, are at once ethereal and grounded. The grooves are so smooth it is at times downright slippery wet. This is a gorgeous and generous album with many beautiful spaces and surprises. Badu is free flowing and open here, accessing an inner personal honesty over these groovy tracks of love.
10. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker
A perfect and wonderful synthesis of Todd Rundgren, Revolver era Beatles, and the most interesting elements of shoe-gaze pop. The groove is rock solid, yet threatens to splinter off in a thousand different directions, while the vocals float somewhere in the stratosphere. The best headphones album of the year. Brilliant debut album--keep your eye on these Australian lads, they’re going places.
9. Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier
This was a surprise. Iron Maiden, that old war-horse of a metal band, released one of their best albums and one of the best albums of the year. No kidding. I'm totally serious. Final Frontier is complex, fun, grand, mythical, and engaging on a level that most rock bands don’t have the talent or inclination to aspire to anymore. Final Frontier is perhaps Iron Maiden’s magnum opus.
8. The Roots - How I Got Over
How I Got Over finds the Roots meditating on these dark and cynical times while turning toward hope and light and redemption. Black Thought continues to be one of the most underrated MCs in the history of hip-hop. The complex and thought-provoking rhymes he lays down here will keep you intrigued and intellectually stimulated for some time. And the band has never been more supple. Deep, buttery grooves and sparkling, searching rhymes for your heart and soul.
7. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
I haven’t figured out how to read the album title yet.
Is it ‘This is Happening’ like, “oh my gosh, this music is occurring at this moment, this is really happening, right now!”?
Or is it ‘This is Happening’ like, “wow, this album is groovy and hip daddy-o! This is happening man! It’s what is current with the young people at this moment!”?
Well, anyway, electronic disco-punk music has no business swinging like it does on This is Happening.
6. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
From my review of Sigh No More in March: This is honest and true music that, even during the ballads, make you feel good, make you want to sing. Standout songs like “The Cave,” “Winter Winds,” and “Little Lion Man” manage to find hope and passion even within the themes of loss and fear. And I think we could all use a bit of hope and passion right about now…
Technically Sigh No More was released in England in late 2009, but it wasn’t released in the United States until 2010 so I’m counting it on this list.
5. Gil-Scott Heron - I’m New Here
From my review of I’m New Here in February: ...a major artistic statement as well as an important return by a brilliant poet. I’m New Here is everything that is right and good with modern-day art, poetry, and music. It is electronic soul-art. You should own this album.
4. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The Suburbs is a pulsing, searching, and ambitious album. It’s not really a statement about living in the suburbs as much as it is a impressionistic musical painting about existing and striving in an in-between and fractured place. The music is wonderfully fractured, recalling the various strains of rock music one might hear rolling out of the windows of any suburban teen’s bedroom. The Suburbs is a big rock n roll album, at once nostalgic and current.
3. Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do
With The Big To-Do the Drive-By Truckers released the album that seems to be imbued and imprinted by the state of our political and private lives in 2010. Suicide, murder, broken relationships, broken towns, drinking, under-employment--yup this definitely speaks to the era. With big, driving guitar riffs and tight playing, there’s a catharsis in the music that makes the honky-tonk heartbreak go down like a snort of good bourbon.
2. The Black Keys - Brothers
Brothers is kind of a miracle; somehow The Black Keys make garage blues sound fresh and new. The Black Keys have always been great at the primitive garage blues, but there’s a nod to classic R&B in the attitude and musical phrasing which gives the music airy sonic spaces to inhabit. But what really sets this album apart is the energy crackling from each track. Brothers is simply a great rock n roll album. Do yourself a favor: buy Brothers, crank it up as loud as possible, and shake yo’ ass.
1. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
“This is a war we can’t win/after ten thousand years, it’s still us against them/and my heroes have always died at the end/ so who’s going to account for these sins?”
I haven’t been this excited and enthusiastic about a rock album in years. Just when I begin to think that popular music doesn’t aspire to change this fucking, stinking world anymore, along comes an album like The Monitor.
New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus have created a sprawling and lasting work of rock n roll art. And God bless them. I mean that.
If Bruce Springsteen and The Clash had decided to record an album under the influence of Ken Burns‘ The Civil War documentary it would have sounded like The Monitor. Titus Andronicus are open with their debt to both 19th century orators like William Lloyd Garrison and 20th century artists like Bruce Springsteen, reincorporating and reusing quotes and lyrics to great effect on this 21st century album.
As we prepare to remember the 150th anniversary of our disunion, we coincidentally find ourselves mired in an era just as fractured and dangerous. The Monitor invokes the imagery of The Civil War to perfectly comment on our current state of disunion, our fearful and uncertain era.
“The enemy is everywhere/ I’m sick and I’m scared/And the enemy is everywhere...”
There’s blood and guts on this album. There’s fear and loathing. There’s triumph and hope. We shall overcome...?
“The things I used to love, I have come to reject/The things I used to hate, I have learned to accept...”
The Monitor seems created by the fear of terrorism and the sadness of a hopelessly fractious and divided citizenry. It is an album created by young people who yearn to live and breathe and build, but find themselves blocked at every turn by the selfishness and self loathing of those who came before. This is timeless and primal American Rock n Roll. Forget about the best album of the year--The Monitor is a great rock album. Period. Inspired, important, and triumphant rock music.
“Because where I’m going now, no one can ever hurt me/ Where the well of human hatred is shallow and dry/ No, I never wanted to change the world, but I’m looking for a new New Jersey/ Because tramps like us, baby, we were born to die...”