music, voreplay

2010: The Year In Music

As detailed in our most recent Voreplay, our music consumption was down this year. We had a baby. Babies need diapers. CDs aren’t absorbent. Neither are iTunes gift cards or ticket stubs from our favorite concerts.

What does this mean for our best of 2010 list? That it might appear slightly less eclectic than years past (2009 and 2008). With less to spend, we were less inclined to take risks on new artists or anything too off the beaten path.

A reminder about our methodology: We compile a list of all the albums that came out this year which we devoted our ears to. Then we rank them numerically, from 1 [favorite] to 10 [tenth most favorite]. Any album which does not chart in the top ten is assigned an 11. The lower the score, the better the album.

This is not a perfect system. If, for example, one of us wanted to use his warped sense of musical appreciation and give a crap 80s Eurotrash retread like Robyn a high score, it would skew the rankings because the worst the other half of Voreblog could do is assign it a still-all-too-favorable-and-not-nearly-damning-enough-score of 11. So we freely admit there are flaws.

Two disclaimers before we get to the list:

1) Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy has made just about everyone’s list, often in the top spot. We like Kanye’s music. We think he’s a hilariously egotistical jerk who’s also kind of a dork, but we’ll acknowledge that his outsized ambition is also what makes him a great musician. We debated whether or not to contribute to Kanye’s bank account by purchasing his album, or whether to burn it from someone else and have the satisfaction of withholding our financial support. Today we purchased the album — with a gift card. This means we have not had sufficient time to review it, which explains its absence in the list below. Should we fall in love with it, we will retroactively amend this list to conceal our critical negligence.

2) The album we enjoyed as much as any other this year was David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches. It came out at the end of 2009. Therefore, while we cannot technically include it on our 2010 list, we also cannot recommend it heartily enough. And we will bend the rules by including one of its songs on our Ten Best Songs of 2010. You cannot stop us.

The five albums which narrowly missed the final cut were (in alphabetical order): Beach House, Teen Dream; Best Coast, Crazy For You; Local Natives, Gorilla Manor; The New Pornographers, Together; She & Him, Volume 2.

Enough throat-clearing. We present you with: Ten for ’10!

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10. Robyn, Body Talk. One of us strongly likes this album. One does not. We split the difference and rank it tenth. The one who likes it highly recommends “Dancing On My Own” and “Tell Your Girlfriend.” The one who doesn’t highly recommends shredding your ears with a cheese grater instead.

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9. Surfer Blood, Astro Coast. Guilt-free surf rock that recalls early Weezer, with a dash of Pavement thrown in. Surfer Blood’s appeal stretched from its intended demographic (Ben’s brother Dan, child of the 80s, lover of guitar rock and surfside sensibilities) to a more highbrow crowd (Jerry Grit, who skipped his prom to see Pavement). That this album won them both over says something about its charm.

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8. Vampire Weekend, Contra. This album was a grower. We were cool to it initially, but it’s a superior follow-up to the band’s self-titled debut. Vampire Weekend has bypassed the sophomore slump with an assured effort that sounds like a band becoming even more (eccentrically) itself.

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7. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening. If this is James Murphy’s swan song as LCD Soundsystem, he went out on a good note. While This Is Happening has turned up on everyone’s Best Of lists, it’s interesting that every reviewer tends to hail a different song as the standout track, a testament both to the album’s top-to-bottom consistency and Murphy’s musical (and lyrical) range. For us, the best track was “All I Want” — see the Year’s Best Songs below — though we won’t begrudge anyone for picking “Dance Yrself Clean” or “I Can Change” either.

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6. Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone. What angel put Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy in one another’s paths, who knows, but it was an inspired collaboration that allowed Staples to reinvent herself by covering some old Staples Singers songs (and CCR’s “Wrote A Song For Everyone”) and adding soul to modern hymns like the Tweedy-penned title song, a balm to soothe the soul.

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5. The National, High Violet. Dark, rich, adult pop to match lead singer Matt Berninger’s melancholy baritone. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” put a lyrical bent on being crushed by debt, while “Sorrow” reads like it’s straight out of a therapy notebook. All this would be a downer (the lead track is called “Terrible Love,” for Pete’s sake) if not for the tremor of energy and passion that runs throughout the album. These guys are bummed out, but they demonstrate that it’s possible to mope and rock at the same time.

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4. The Black Keys, Brothers. Another Ohio band hits the big time. Brothers is The Black Keys’ seventh album and the one that put them on the map of commercial (Brothers hit #3 on Billboard) and critical (Rolling Stone ranks Brothers the second best album of 2010; Spin named the band Artist of the Year, slightly atoning for last year’s Kings of Leon debacle) success. They’ve picked up where the White Stripes left off; Patrick Carney, though uglier than Meg White, is definitely a better drummer.

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3. Belle & Sebastian, Write About Love. The best these Scots have given us since 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap. Stuart Murdoch and company took the energy of 2006’s The Life Pursuit but reined in its excess, channeling it into a more consistent, less scattershot album, from the slow burn opener “I Didn’t See it Coming” to the gorgeous “The Ghost of Rockschool.”

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2. Broken Bells, Broken Bells. James Mercer and Danger Mouse make perfect sense together when you listen to the debut album from Broken Bells — which we did, over and over, for a good part of our spring and summer. The music shape shifts in all directions; you’re struck by how much it reminds you of things you’ve heard elsewhere, but by the end, it’s clear these two have made something distinctly their own.

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1. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs. An ambitious, mature, triumphant effort from a band that seems unafraid to take on anything. Arcade Fire mines the suburbs for rich material about youth and adulthood, aging and maturing, nostalgia and regret. What surprised us was how hopeful they sound coming through it all. Perhaps it’s because the husband-and-wife team of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne sang about material that’s close to home — becoming parents, fear of change, a longing for community — but everything about this album struck a chord with us. And it was, hands down, the best we heard this year.

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THE YEAR’S TOP TEN ELEVEN! SONGS

“We Used To Wait” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” Arcade Fire. The first of these songs — an ode to old-fashioned letter-writing (“I used to wait” being a lament for a time and place when everything was not so instant) — would not be so out-of-place on a prior Arcade Fire album. But “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” is a song that mashes together styles ranging from disco to dance pop while sounding completely of a piece with the rest of The Suburbs. The miracle is not just that it fits; it’s that it’s the best song on the album.

“All I Want,” LCD Soundsystem. A propulsive, infectious song that shuttles between aching lament and kiss-off rejection (“All I want is your pity/All I want is your bitter tears”), with a sound so euphoric (and, eventually, cacophonic) that it’s near impossible to withhold your affections.

“I Didn’t See It Coming,” Belle & Sebastian. We’ve pledged our love for this song before. We too would be entranced hipsters swaying zombie-like had we been invited to appear in this video.

“F*** You,” Cee Lo Green. Has anyone ever made those two words sound so jubilantly alive? If you’re not one of the 34 million people who has already seen this — well, you know where to find it.

“Hard To Be,” David Bazan. There’s an astonishing amount of theology, wisdom and lament packed into this six minute song. We’re still not tired of it.

“You Are Not Alone,” Mavis Staples. A heartbreaking song about brokenness and consolation, almost Biblical in its fierce devotion to offer refuge. “Open up this is a raid,” Staples sings with a sad but insistent heart, “I wanna get it through to you/You’re not alone.”

“Everlasting Light,” The Black Keys. This song gave us our favorite lyric of the year: “Love is the coal/That makes this train roll.” (The single “Tighten Up” narrowly missed our list.)

“In The Sun,” She & Him. We’ve embedded this before, but there’s no good reason not to do it again.

“Cameras,” Matt & Kim. The antic, hip hop flourishes Matt & Kim added to its third release, Sidewalks, fade to the background when the disarmingly simple chorus (“No time for cameras/We’ll be gone when we’re dead”) kicks in.

“The Ghost Inside,” Broken Bells. Christina Hendricks unscrews her hand! And floats around in space! Then sits poolside sipping a martini! We have no idea what any of it means, but it sure sounds good!

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5 thoughts on “2010: The Year In Music

  1. I always feel a little cooler when I’ve even heard of some of the music y’all listen to. I don’t know if I’m improving or if Sam was really dragging you down, but there’s some good overlap on our playlists this year.

    And, no joke, Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy’s “You Are Not Alone” made it into my sermon for this week. (And given that it’s 5 a.m. and I’m still working out the last details, this sermon’s going to be either sheer genius or a hot mess.)

  2. Frederick Buechner, The New York Book Review, Mavis Staples, and Jeff Tweedy all in one sermon. My work here is done. (Except that David Foster Wallace is on tap for next week, so I guess my work continues.)

    Also: ζεστό χάος

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