Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Doug's favorite albums of 2010

A week or so ago, my buddy Nick — another one of the co-editors at Silicon Sasquatch — threw down a blog-post gauntlet. He wanted each of us to write about our albums of the year now gone, as a way to reminisce on music and try to produce more content for our respective sites. One can't survive writing about video games alone, can they?

Of course, I instantly ran into a dilemma. Unlike others, I actually can't put together a top 10 albums of 2010 list solely with music from this year. I just checked my iTunes collection again, and I don't even know if I have 10 albums from 2010 on my computer. But since this is my damn opinion on things, I'm going to change the rules — here are 10 albums, both from 2010 and years previous, that I have listened to, been inspired by, discovered or just in general loved in this past year. Six are from 2010, three are from the 1980s or before, and one is from 2009, but they're all representative of my taste in music and what I've had on throughout the year.

So now, in no particular order BUT broken down into "2010" and "before 2010" groupings...

Six Favorites from 2010

The Roots - How I Got Over and Wake Up! - Okay, so I'm bending the rules again, but it's because The Roots released two great albums this past year. How I Got Over is the most recent studio disc that continues the band's descent into darkness, introspection, and philosophy, and it sounds great. Wake Up! is something different — a cover album recorded along with John Legend with a bunch of soul and R&B songs rotating around the theme of protest and social enlightenment. Regardless, this is the best band in hip-hop and one of my absolute favorite artists.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs - If pushed to decide, I think this is my choice for Album of the Year. Such a wonderful advancement of the Arcade Fire's sound, The Suburbs has great song-writing and fantastic sonic themes. As a child who spent teenage years in the suburbs, it's sad to relate to the album so much, but it makes it all the more resonant.

The Black Keys - Brothers - I feel bad it's taken this long for me to discover and appreciate The Black Keys. They're like the White Stripes but without the gimmick and, arguably, a better sound. At least, it's a sound that I like better. I love some down-home, dirty, old-fashioned blues rock, and the Black Keys provide that in spades.

Broken Bells - My favorite debut of the year. Okay, it's hard to say it's a true "debut" when one half of the group is the lead singer of The Shins and the other half is DJ/producer Dangermouse, but combined together and it's a slightly airier, poppier sound than Dangermouse has found in the past. I have something of a love/hate relationship with Dangermouse, loving his sound while loathing that it's so recognizable; I think James Mercer and his talents really stand out on the disc, though.

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach - I was down on this album for a long time. I've loved Gorillaz, Damion Albarn's private psychedelic reel, ever since I first heard "Clint Eastwood" almost ten years ago; however, it took me a while to wrap my head around what this disc was all about. It wasn't as dark as the previous album, Demon Days, but instead reminds me of the first self-titled debut album in that it's a mish-mash of pop styles. However, this time it's executed much, much better. It's hard to find standout singles on the disc, but let it flow through your ears as an entire album, and it's wonderful.

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Ah, yes, Kanye West. This album is....an album. It's certainly something. The beats and the topics are at once way out there (see "Monster") and on the other hand ridiculously personal and introspective ("All of the Lights," "Runaway"). The guest spots are great and, yes, Kanye's not the greatest rapper ever. Who cares; there's conviction and something captivating in Kanye. It's the rare piece of mainstream pop that delivers on the critical level.

Four Favorites of 2010

John Lennon - The John Lennon Collection - Just a week ago was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. Between continuing to listen to the remastered versions of The Beatles' albums and taking a trip to the John Lennon Museum while in Japan, I got a hold of his older greatest hits collection and listened to it quite a bit this year. This is quite possibly the great eye-opener for me this year; listening to some of Lennon's back catalogue and putting his solo career into context has been a great inspiration. That I went to the Lennon Museum is due to a friend from grad school who wanted me to visit and get him a T-shirt; what I left with, instead, was great respect for an artist and man.

Al Green - I'm Still In Love With You - My dad loves this stuff - old soul, R&B and funk. There's a timeless quality to a Reverend Al, and this is great music to listen to while driving or working on homework or doing anything else, really. I need to get the turntable out again if only to play this on vinyl.

The Beatles — Abbey Road - I have a favorite Beatles album, and it is this — their final album together. Some may point to the new territory broken by the earlier Beatles singles and albums, but man that stuff has not aged well to my ears. However, songs on Abbey Road and Let It Be clearly defined the next thirty-plus years of rock and alternative rock, and for that I am grateful. Sure, I bought this in 2009 and listened to it a bunch a year ago, but there's a good reason my copy of the remaster has a worn-out case — it's lived in my car because I never know when I need to listen to that B-side medley.

Mastodon — Crack the Skye - Sometimes you need a little blood and thunder in your life. I hate to say I've come around on metal, but a couple bands — Mastodon, Iron Maiden, and others — are in my regular rotation of music to listen to. Mastodon does a good job toeing the line between heavy and listenable (take your cookie monster sound-alike vocals and get the fuck out of here) while also being interesting sonically and, daresay, lyrically. It's heavy and drags and plods and shakes the earth with every step, then the solo starts up and the guitar lines soar. It's such a base and simple thing, but that doesn't make it less awesome.

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