December 14, 2010

My Top 25 albums of 2010: #10 - #1

My Top 25 albums of 2010:
#10 - #1

10. MGMT - Congratulations
//Country: US
//Favorite tracks: It's Working, Someone's Missing, Flash Delirium, Congratulations

mp3: MGMT - Congratulations

MGMT bashing has been all the rage across the Internet all year long, but I'm not one of the fans who hated the sophomore record. In fact, I think it's fantastic! To be fair, though, the band did bring the bashing onto themselves: After scoring the absolutely massive radio hit 'Kids', and packing their debut album full of equally danceable and dangerously addictive tunes, such as 'Electric Feel' and 'Time to Pretend', the two psychedelica-electropop-new wave-disco playing Brooklyn hipsters dressed in 60s hippie clothing were expected to continue their safe success formula, but it seems like they decided not to out of pure stubbornness. Instead, they threw away all late 70s new wave and disco influences, and instead started playing music that matched their clothing: vintage 60s hippie psychedelic rock with organic instruments. Not only did they change their sound, they also seemed to write songs with a strong focus on the fixed goal of never producing another hit song again. A friend of mine who went to Coachella this year reported that MGMT apparently flatly refused to play 'Kids', even after their fans begged them to do so. They seemed to have reached a position where they felt they could do whatever they wanted, and they decided to don't worry too much about the reactions from their fans.

While Congratulations isn't terribly unaccessible or experimental, it definitely isn't an album with any catchy radio material either. The songs are more progressive, and often straight-out weird, and quite impossible to dance to. The amazing second track 'Someone's Missing' builds up and builds up, nearing something that could have become a danceable, euphoric climax and then … just ends. Right there. 'Flash Delirium' takes us through a jungle maze of ever-changing melodies and rhythms and styles, in a freakish several-songs-in-one-experience that ends up close in style to Beatles tracks like 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun', or close MGMT friends of Montreal's 2007 album Skeletal Lamping (I never understood all the bashing of the latter, either - I loved the unstable songs, the rapid mood and melody changes and general schizophrenia throughout the album, and think is underrated in the same way as Congratulations). In the album closing and title track, MGMT manage fine without the synthesizers of the first album, and the flutes and horns and I-don't-know-what of 'Flash Delirium', and deliver the album's finest track with few more instruments to rely on than an acoustic guitar. With their immense talent, they can pull that sort of thing off easily. They're capable of catchy pop songs as well as progressive and semi-experimental rock, of bombastic synth as well as modest acoustic guitars, and this year they've proven this to the entire world.

9. Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid
//Country: US
//Favorite tracks: Faster, Tightrope (Feat. Big Boi), Oh Maker, Mushrooms & Roses, Make The Bus (Feat. Of Montreal)

Monáe's sound is said to be 'futuristic', but to me, she's more of a time traveller, revisiting all kinds of ages, including the future. For the charismatic singer's amazing debut LP, she serves us a concept album that refuses to limit itself to any single genre or style, taking us both forward and back in time through 70s rock and Jackson-esque funk pop, contemporary R&B, classic soul, futuristic soul-punk and afrofuturism, and more. The concept album tells the science-fiction tale of a Messias-like android called Cindi Mayweather, Monáe's alter ego, in the city of Metropolis. From the ridiculously addictive guitar riff of 'Faster' to the slow ballad 'Sir Greendown''s excellent showcasing of Monáe's incredible voice, to the absolute pop genius and funky horns of 'Tightrope', to the long prog-rock guitar solos and robotic voice filter on 'Mushrooms & Roses', the album is a true masterpiece filled with so many excellent ideas, so much sprawling creativity, such limitless artistic inspiration, and such rare flat-out refusal to confinement into any single musical style, that I really end up with nothing more to say than: The ArchAndroid can't be explained. Give it a listen, now.

8. Broken Bells - Broken Bells
//Country: US
//Favorite tracks: The High Road, October, The Mall & Misery

mp3: Broken Bells - The Mall & Misery

I absolutely loved Beck's new sound on Modern Guilt (2008), which I believe he owed much to Danger Mouse's excellent production work. When I first heard that The Shins' James Mercer were to collaborate with Danger Mouse on a new project, I was very excited - another ingenious alternative rock songwriter and beloved artist of mine was to team up with Danger Mouse and his pop production skills! While Mercer kept almost exclusively within the confines of mellow acoustic pop on the first two Shins albums, he carefully explored entirely new soundscapes on the third album Wincing The Night Away (2007), like on the excellent opener 'Sleeping Lessons'. With Broken Bells, he seems to have let himself even more free to explore new styles and sounds thanks to the different project name. Mercer's always-present characteristic voice does give us a constant reminder that this is in some ways is the next Shins album, but this is something more than just a Mercer project: while the Shins is a project that revolves around him, with him writing all the songs and playing them with an ever-changing backing band, the songwriting on Broken Bells was a true collaboration, a two-man effort. Listening to the album gives you the impression that the two great songwriters truly had fun working together. The meeting of the mastermind who wrote 'New Slang' and the mastermind who wrote 'Crazy' has resulted in one of 2010's most fresh-sounding and catchy pop albums.

7. Foals - Total Life Forever
//Country: UK
//Favorite tracks: Miami, Spanish Sahara, This Orient

Foals' 2008 debut album Antidotes was an intense three-quarter hour of fast-paced and danceable post-punk-esque music in the same alley as, for instance, early Bloc Party. This year's follow-up Total Life Forever is much more introverted, slower and my opinion actually much better. Emotional ballads like 'Spanish Sahara' and '2trees' show a new and more mature side of the band, but tracks like 'Miami', with its addictive riff, still gives us something to dance to. From the mood-setting and perfect opener, 'Blue Blood', to the anthemic chorus of 'This Orient', Foals show that they're something much more than just another hip, danceable post-punk band out to score a few hits in the world's indie club dance floors. My top ten is almost completely dominated by North American bands, but Foals manage to save Europe's honor, and released what in my opinion is one of the disappointingly few really interesting British records this year. The Brits seem to give the band the recognition it deserves: UK magazines NME and The Fly recently crowned Total Life Forever sixth best and best album of the year, respectively.

6. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
//Country: US
//Favorite tracks: Home, You Wanted A Hit, All I Want, Dance Yrself Clean

On his third and allegedly final album as LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy gives us another hour of pure dance floor gold. Beats that make you want to dance and wry hipster poetry that make you chuckle - it's LCD Soundsystem like we've learn to love it, and Murphy doesn't give any impression of having 'lost his edge' yet - quite the contrary. The opener 'Dance Yrself Clean' initially just slowly builds up, until about 3 minutes into the track, when it explodes into a floor-filling dance track. The album never looses steam from that point, and takes its 00s dance formula through clear 70s and 80s influences such as David Bowie ('Drunk Girls'), Iggy Pop ('All I Want') and The Talking Heads ('Pow Pow') before it climaxes in the mind-blowing ending track 'Home' - which I honestly think is the best song Murphy's ever written. Through almost 8 minutes, the track's hypnotizing beats and Murphy's voice guides us through everything that's great about LCD Soundsystem. Please, Murphy, don't let this final track be the very final track! Thankfully, new statements by Murphy towards the end of the year indicated that the LCD Soundsystem project may live on somehow after all.

5. Eels - End Times
//Country: US
//Favorite tracks: End Times, Little Bird, On My Feet, In My Younger Days

mp3: Eels - In My Younger Days

Mark Oliver "E" Everett actually released two new Eels album this year, within just about a half year. Just for this unique case, I needed to invent a special rule for my end-of-year list: No more than one album per artist. Deciding which one of the two albums to choose was easy, however - while August's Tomorrow Morning was quite good too, I still think January's End Times is vastly superior. On previous Eels albums, frontman Mark 'E' Everett has dealt with sad topics such as death and suicide with his melancholic, but still uplifting, wry tongue-in-cheek lyrics, combined with beautiful and addictive melodies. On End Times, the topic for his lyrics is one that he quite rarely explores: love. And, more specifically - unhappy love. The recipe is the same as before, however: His frank and sad tale of the woman he loves leaving him is peppered up with his trademark talent for funny everyday observations. As when he in the title track describes an encounter with a crazy guy standing on the corner of the street shouting 'End Times Are Near' - while everyone else ignores him, E for once agrees with the poor guy - his woman is gone, so he also feels like "end times are here". On several track on the album, E is in my opinion back to songwriting on the same level of excellence as on the Eels' golden age of 1998-1999, where the two masterpieces Electro-Shock Blues and Daisies of the Galaxy were released back-to-back. E has a lot on his mind again this time around, and he presents it in an unpretentious and direct way.

4. Beach House - Teen Dream
//Country: US
//Favorite tracks: Silver Soul, Norway, Walk in the Park, 10 Mile Stereo

Baltimore duo Beach House left the modest, toned-down, lo-fi indie sound of their first two records behind, and are on this third record strutting with confidence and a new high-production, polished pop sound. Singer Victoria Legrand also seems to sing with a stronger and more confident voice than ever before. I have no doubts where the confidence of the band comes from - they're written their best album by far, and they know it. It kicks off with no less than four amazing pop songs - the sequence of 'Zebra', 'Silver Soul', 'Norway' and 'Walk In The Park' is one of the strongest and most impressive album openings you could imagine. Towards the album, the high-soaring, anthemic and haunting '10 Mile Stereo' presents us with an almost shoegaze-esque wall of sound, and is the definite proof of departure from the toned-down lo-fi music Beach House was known for in the past. Teen Dream is by far the band's biggest success so far, and they've reached tons of new fans worldwide – the proof of which I could see with my own eyes at the two live shows I saw with them this year (in February and July), which were both packed. I can't wait to see how the band follows up this exciting breakthrough album!

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
//Country: Canada
//Favorite tracks: The Suburbs, Modern Man, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), We Used To Wait

For their hugely acclaimed third album, Arcade Fire left the pompous church organs and the political messages of Neon Bible behind, and returned to their childhood for inspiration again. Lyrics-wise, they once again have a clearly defined theme (Funeral's was death, Neon Bible was church and state): memories about growing up in the suburbs. Musically, however, they're everywhere - and so many places they've never set their foot on before. 'Month Of May' is the most straightforward rock song ever, and on 'Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)' they've moved further than ever from the organic retro sound that made them famous, and fully indulge in electronic disco beats. An Arcade Fire song with pumping bass that you could play right between two eurodance tracks at a party without anyone noticing? Welcome to 2010.

The title track's melody is so good that I don't care that the band used it for two separate tracks, only altering the tune's pace and lyrics. The only other example I can remember of that idea working was on The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, where they in the exact same manner revisited the title and opening track's melody for less than two minutes towards the end of the album. Yes, there I did it - I made the Sgt. Pepper comparison. But judging by the almost exclusively positive feedback on this album, and the fact that Arcade Fire have managed a second time to make a hugely successful follow-up album to an outrageously hyped predecessor, and with the Arcade Fire fever's end nowhere near in sight after their seventh year in mainstream spotlight, I no longer think it's unlikely that their songs will still be remembered decade after decade from now on, much like the Beatles'.

2. of Montreal - False Priest
//Country: US
//Favorite tracks: You Do Mutilate?, I Feel Ya Strutter, Enemy Gene, Sex Karma

mp3: of Montreal - Sex Karma

I've already covered this album extensively, and have declared my love for it in oh so many ways through the past few months. If you read Norwegian, head over to my very long review here. If you're not too fluent in Norwegian, try this automatic translation of the same review, courtesy of Google Translate - and get a good laugh, if nothing else. Here's an alternate version of one False Priest's best songs (although the whole album has nothing but strong tracks):

On the album, Kevin Barnes sing this track in duet with the 9th place artist on my list - Janelle Monáe.

1. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
//Country: Canada
//Favorite tracks: World Sick, All to All, Romance to the Grave, Sweetest Kill

mp3: Broken Social Scene - Romance to the Grave

The Canadian indie collective returned with their first proper record in five years. In the last five years, the careers/projects of several key members, notably Feist and the members of Metric and Stars, took off so completely that they're no longer able to make time in their busy schedules to contribute fully to Broken Social Scene anymore. The result: Broken Social Scene has shrinked to a band of no more than six core members. This could have made their latest effort more tame compared to their previous release, the loud and massive self-titled 2005 album, but I honestly don't think it shows - the two de facto frontmen of the band Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning truly are on top of their game on this record, and the two talented musicians' main project is Broken Social Scene and Broken Social Scene only. Opening track 'World Sick' is as massive and 'epic' in its sound as any of the most memorable BSS classics, and on tracks like 'Sweetest Kill' Drew's songwriting shines as bright as ever, spilling his guts to us with his typical frank, direct and touching lyrics. I managed to catch Broken Social Scene live in May, and the enthusiastic 9-piece live band gave me the impression that they were truly enjoying playing together, and that we can expect many more years of new BSS material. The rumors of BSS's death that floated around during the band's 5-year hiatus were definitely nothing but rumors.


Anonymous said...

great list!

Anonymous said...

Amazing list!!
Seen Of Montreal, Janelle AND Foals live my favs!!

Vizitrone said...

Thanks to both of you!

And Anonymous #2: I'm so jealous that you've seen Janelle live! I saw Foals in early 2008, and saw of Montreal in the fall of 2008 and 2010. They're both amazing live! Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.