Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Taking on 2010 - Albums

It has been a while, the grass has grown, now we are back to being processed. With the year drawing to an end I have found myself compiling lists on top of lists in an attempt to make sense of the past twelve months in all venues of culture. Well, the ones I I feel comfortable discussing. Now I should probably do a Top 20 Tracks first, but I am still working my way through the Pitchfork list to make sure I have filled in my blind spots. Albums I think I have a fairly comprehensive list, and I can certainly expand on last year's list. I have not gotten a chance to listen to a few records I would still like to check out, but 33 records are probably enough for now, right? Right. Let's get to counting down.

33. Taylor Swift - Speak Now

Swift's follow up to her Grammy Award Winning record has the songstress treading familiar territory, an aspect that plagued her previous record as well. While the track list is robust the monotony from song to song has each track spilling over to the next rather than transitioning or blending to form a more comprehensive whole. Much like on her previous record she shines on one or two songs, likely a testament to the energy brought to those tracks rather than lyrical prominence, but the whole affair seems completely phoned in and not only lacks signs of growth, but is mostly categorized by nothingness.

32. Beach House - Teen Dream

The record is mellow, and ambient, and all that shit. Kind of relaxing. Kind of interesting. Kind of dull. This record is an enigma.

31. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

Danger Mouse turns in an enjoyable, yet mostly uneven, record that is marked equally by highs and lows. I was prepared to love this record to pieces, but despite the short length it seems to drag, which is not a great way to describe any record.

30. Various Artists - Sonny With A Chance OST

In 2009 Demi Lovato nearly owned the list, and her tracks are the ones that stand out on this grouping of songs from her Disney Channel series, but glimpses of Demi are not enough to outweigh mostly uninteresting secondary stars and starlets filling out a sloppily constructed compilation.

29. Justin Bieber - My World 2.0

America seems to be all caught up with Justin Bieber, and during a few songs I think I understand why. But all the music is so base and surface level, sticking to broad topics without much personalization that Bieber's singing cannot compensate for very often. Enjoyment can be had, but the CD is best handled in bursts, an aspect telling of its many deficiencies.

28. Guilty Simpson - OJ Simpson

I love hip hop. It is likely the purest form of artistic expression in music on a contemporary level if used correctly and conventionally. Whether you look for entertainment, escapism, or enlightenment the genre can provide it through the sheer amount of lyrics and ideas able to be tackled on a single track. Unfortunately Guilty Simpson's CD has too much space, so much free time that serves little to no purpose in regard to the whole, and I cry for hip hop.

27. Miley Cyrus - Can't Be Tamed

This CD is Miley's proper follow up to Breakout. I would urge most of you to take some time to think about that statement, but I realize that for the most part I am in the minority of being baffled by that, and to also have had high hopes for the CD prior to release. And Miley knows how to turn out the hits. But the majority of this record comes off as desparate, a calling out to be taken serious, to not be Hannah MonMiley. She showed on Breakout she can assemble a stunningly enjoyable record without aiming to create some 'mature' persona, a freedom that is lost here. It all, perhaps somewhat ironically, comes across as far too manufactured.

26. Bun B - No Mixtape

A collection of what seems like an endless flow of tracks, Bun B's latest does not really show him stepping up his game, but the sheer amount of content and the relentless manner in which he delivers the lines is enough for me to get lost in about half of this CD before it all becomes too much to handle at once. Perhaps that's my fault, maybe I am part of the machine. Still, a valiant and enjoyable effort from one of rap's under appreciated figures.

25. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

I have had little experience with Arcade Fire in the past, but this CD is solid. I seem to be complaining about length over the past few entries, so I will claim that this record simply has pacing problems. But when it paces, damn does it pace.

24. Weezer - Death to False Metal

Weezer have gotten back on track recently. This CD does not hinder their dominance of mainstream power rock awesomeness based on the quality of songs. What this record does not have going for it is any sort of coherence, it is simply a group of songs, not unlike Kidz Bop or NOW That's What I Call Music. And that is a damn shame, because album artwork this good should not be wasted on a fairly lackluster product.

23. Various Artists - Camp Rock 2 OST

For the most part this will be the last time I am able to sing the praises of Demi Lovato on this list, so instead of talking about how this film is nothing special or how some of these songs are incredibly odd yet always catchy, I will take this time to say that Demi shines. When she writes her own material, as she has in the past, she becomes great; however, her ability to bring such precision to the work of others is a testament to her talent as a singer. I wish her the best and I look forward to her future recordings whenever they may happen.

22. Selena Gomez & The Scene - A Year Without Rain

When I wrote about Taylor Swift's record I noted a lack of growth, with Miley I noticed a sense of desperation. On Selena's sophomore CD she grows musically, clearly developing a more refined and focused sound, yet the record still meanders and, as was the case with her first CD, she does not seem to have an identity as a vocalist. The talent is there, and a few of the early tracks are fantastic, but on the whole the follow up proves to also be underwhelming, which is a shame, but damn is she a great actress!

21. Big Boi - Sir Luious Left Foot The Son of Chico Dusty

Big Boi can make a fun CD. I reckon that is nice. There is a lot of fun to be had on this CD, but the title sets up for some grandiose display of talent, and I do not think we ever really get away from the fun to tap in to something deeper, and then it just gets dull, picks up, and repeats.

20. Jonas Brothers - JONAS L.A. OST

I shall not attempt to make excuses, the show that spawned this record is not very good. On a theoretical level it is interesting, and it is a huge improvement over the previous JONAS show, but it is not very good. However, this CD is a damn fine display of JoBros classic. Last year's Lines, Vines, and Trying Times showed the brothers taking risks, and while I would have preferred to see them continue in that direction this CD still stands out as enjoyable and pretty expertly crafted.

19. Robyn - Body Talk 1 & 2

I have not heard Body Talk proper yet, but these glimpses in to Robyn's relentless pop remind me of last year's release from Annie, and that is a good feeling. I think that Robyn works better when she has someone to help her along, as the song with Snoop is likely the best on both records, but she delivers in droves on the myriad of solo tracks.

18. Best Coast- Crazy For You

iTunes tells me this is Surf Rock. I don't really surf, and I probably don't rock, but this Best Coast CD is like concentrated joy. I have not had a chance to dig much deeper in to the record to see if it holds up beyond the pure ecstasy (I need to get through so much to even generate this list, and the way my brain handles music I tend to need to see lyrics as well as hear them), but!

17. of Montreal - False Priest

In the past I heard a few passing conversations about this band, but I am not very well versed in their history. I think that makes for the better because it allows me to better react to this CD on its own merit rather than in a larger context. The record tends to work more than not, and the high points are damn high. Whereas a record like Arcade Fire's was not all that well paced I think that the of Montreal CD makes up for its faults through its excellent pacing.

16. Lady GaGa - The Remix

I stand by my choice to not put GaGa at number one last year. She is a fantastic artist, the CD is great, but it was no St. Vincent. As the CD's title implies this is a collection of redone versions of songs I have heard dozens of times before. The new spins all mostly work and revisiting GaGa in a new aural flavor is delightful, but when it comes down to it the CD does not really offer much new to grapple with, so this seems to serve as a stop gap until her new CD is out in 2011.

15. Atmosphere - To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy

I am not sure if this CD is the follow up to When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint that Shit Gold or if it is a collection of LPs ala Lucy Ford, so I am going to say it is the latter because as a follow up to one of the best CDs of the last decade this one is technically not up to snuff. Still, Slug's signature style is present and he continues to grow as a storyteller while still remaining deeply personal. Hip hop is dead, long live hip hop.

14. Miranda Cosgrove - Sparks Fly

Miranda surprised me. The CD is probably about half good, the bottom half being a good deal more cumbersome than the fantastic top half. When the record is only 8 songs that is likely a problem, but damn are those first four songs good. This CD gave me a Selena vibe at first in the way that Selena's debut album seemingly had her throwing a myriad of styles at the wall in hopes that she could latch on to one. While that CD felt disjointed, the brisk pace of this album, acting more as a sampler than anything else, makes it much more tolerable. And once again, those first four songs are incredible.

13. Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People

Spoiler Alert! This is not the last we will be hearing of Sufjan on this list. This EP came seemingly out of nowhere, as did his full length record from this year, and it come incredibly sharply. I do not have the affinity for Stevens that many do, but the songwriting, and even the song composition, is so refined here, especially on the titular tracks, that I was immediately taken by the scope of this patchwork collection of tracks. Just as the artwork suggests, Stevens tosses together a scrapbook of beauty, festering ideas, and puts them to music.

12. Various Artists - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World OST

Serving as a blend of contemporary music, mostly composed and performed by Beck, alongside classic rock and modern indie (stupid label), the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack not only brings life to Sex Bob-Omb, but it works outside of the film as an exciting and engaging listen, following in the footsteps of last year's Adventureland soundtrack. Also, "Black Sheep" is probably the best song/scene/visual exercise of the year.

11. Das Racist - Sit Down, Man

Das Racist seem self aware, in fact I probably do not even need to use the word seem. The group takes that awareness and crafts an MF DOOMian level of comedy on many of their songs alongside a delightfully honest admiration of hip hop. Now the CD does not have the understanding or the markings that come close to even many of DOOM's middle of the road records, but there is a refreshing quality about less serious, pop culture heavy (and deep) reference laced lyrics that occasionally go beyond simple entertainment. The style may not be all that engaging, but damn is it rewarding.

10. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

The latest from Gorillaz is a thrilling experience, a variety of sounds that come together for an exciting journey. Perhaps taking a slight step back from their previous CD, the absence of Danger Mouse tends to do that with anyone, Plastic Beach does show the band practically perfecting their sound while still maintaining the charm and attention to detail that has come to define the band.

9. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

LCD Soundsystem come firing on all cylinders, keeping a brisk pace on this CD by limiting the number of tracks while bringing, for the most part, a number of longer tracks that are all fully realized. Once again, the sound is what stands out on this record, acting as a way to enhance the vocals and lyrics. As we near the top of the list this quality becomes of incredible importance.

8. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

While Sufjan's EP was delightful, nothing really compares to his ability to actually craft an album from top to bottom. Taking a theme and expanding upon it as he has often done in the past. The record is grandiose and expansive, but still manages to remain focus and moving, rarely falling off or losing steam from track to track. Sufjan develops one of the most complete records of the year, sweeping and contained, a truly spectacular accomplishment.

7. Japandroids - Collective Works

Technically Japandroids did not really release a record this year because they had been touring, but aside from the re-release of nearly lost tracks and the three EPs they released while touring are more than enough to get a spot on the list, and high at that. Littered with hits, No Singles is a collection of previously nearly lost tracks. These are interesting and enjoyable, but the newer songs found on the EPs are what really stand out. Each record comes with a new recording and a cover, and all six tracks released so far are stellar. Distortion at its finest, and energy mixed with humanity almost perfectly.

6. Weezer - Hurley

I wrote earlier that Weezer has been on a roll lately. Last year's Raditude is the band's best CD so far, which means I naturally had lofty expectations heading in to this record. At first I was not sure that it was up to snuff for the band, but subsequent relistens have solidified its greatness. It doe snot show the variety of sounds or thematic consistency and complexity of last year's release, but damn does Rivers write well. The record is held together by longing and destruction, two fantastically fleshed out themes. Also, it contains some Michael Cera, so yeah, excellence!

5. Sleigh Bells - Treats

I do not know how I missed this CD for the majority of the year, but in the past few months the distortion and pseudo electronic vocals pummeled forth by Sleigh Bells is much more than a treat. The CD is relentless, blow after blow of excitement and enthusiasm. It is an experience.

4. The Extra Lens - Undercard

John Darnielle is the world's best living poet. He understands the art form tremendously, he captures emotion, he captures theme, he inspires dissection and discussion. The follow up to The Extra Glenn's record comes well appreciated as it also provides a stopgap between the Mountain Goats' previous release and their next one, likely/hopefully in 2011. With tracks like "How I Left the Ministry" and "Communicating Doors" Darnielle once again proves to have an understanding of humans that is even greater than his understanding of the English language, which is a lofty statement.

3. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Let it Sway

I used to think the whole world would sink. And then SSLYBY's latest, produced by some guy from Death Cab for Cutie, released like a shot of lightning in a bottle. From the opening track to the end the band constantly attempts to ramp up their energy. It is easy to say that the record explodes too early, that the bar is set too high from the opening to maintain and build on that energy, and perhaps that assessment is correct, but it never really loses steam, and damn is that energy exciting. I spent the majority of the year thinking that this piece of plastic delight would be the year's best record.

2. Kanye West - G.O.O.D Fridays Collection

This 16 week long reveal of Kanye's recorded musings is not technically a record, but the man's G.O.O.D Friday releases made each week simply fly by as the quality from week to week seemed to amp up. Some of the tracks were later reused on the actual record, but this was the first time people heard "Monster," and it all leads up to "Chain Heavy." With each song clocking in close to 6 minutes Kanye's collection of free downloads were not only worth the wait, but acted as one of the best semi-albums of the year while offering a glimpse of things to come.

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

What more can be said? The record is the single greatest mainstream record released since 1999. It is one of the best, most complete, most indulgent, most realized, most cathartic, most honest, most relatable, most insightful, most entertaining, most expertly crafted records ever made. Each line drives at a greater realization, at the sense for identity and self understanding. The record is not only perfect, it is a masterpiece, one of America's, one of the world's greatest artistic accomplishments. No longer a fantasy, Kanye West has made it reality.

And with that the year in albums has been wrapped up as effectively as I can. These 33 records are all I have listened to, from the worst to the best, from Taylor to Kanye, it has been a great year in music. I will try to catch up with a few other major releases I have missed, but it would take a lot to change that top spot. I find this year's list odd when compared to the last, as last year the top was dominated by females, while this year very few were able to make a lasting impact. With many of last year's artists possibly releasing follow ups next year it may all change, but only time will tell.

Let the assault on 2010 continue!


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure. Or if video games are more your thing, I have a blog dedicated to all gaming news, reviews, and opinions.

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© 2011 Richard James Thorne

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