10. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
9. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
8. Women - Public Strain
7. Pomegranates - One of Us
6. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
5. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
4. Caribou - Swim
I recognize that I am predisposed to love Dan Snaith's (aka Caribou) music. Ever since 2003's Up in Flames made me weak in the knees (read: ears), I've anticipated and mostly cherished each release since as if it were nectar from the gods. Swim threw me for a bit of a loop, though. I didn't anticipate the mutation of Snaith's song sense toward a dance-ier, more angular direction as in tunes like "Found out" and "Sun." What I've enjoyed so much about past Caribou albums is the saturation of melody. Songs like "Desiree" or the more psychedelic "Hendrix with KO" pushed the melodic elements to their limits. Restraint, or, perhaps more precisely, standoffishness, did not appear much in Snaith's repertoire before. Upon hearing the first single, "Odessa," I was skeptical about an entire album of this "watery dance music" (as Snaith has aptly called it). Later, after several listens through, I found that the more economical sound of the dance-ier tracks like "Sun," "Leave House," and "Odessa" left room for the more melodic-leaning tracks to stand out. "Kaili" swirls colorfully, growing and retreating, dancing between the ears, yet always spinning away. Listening to the "chorus" in headphones is an out-of-body experience, and the entrance of the saxophone near the end does inexplicable things to my body: I twitch, I shake my head, I squirm, I breath deeper... exhaling now - anything to FEEL all of this song. It may be my favorite song of the year. My hair stands on end; chills spring up and down my spine. "Lalibela" meditates further on "Kaili"s excellent melody. "Jamelia" reaches similar heights, climbing upward, surging chaotically before suddenly receeding. I cannot explain my connection to Snaith's music, but it almost always makes sense to my ears. It gets me, and I it.
Must hear: "Kaili" Other highliths: "Odessa," "Sun," "Leave House," "Jamelia"
3. Fang Island - Fang Island
"Fun" is not a word I have ever associated with shredding prog-metal bands, but there's no mistaking the significance of the distant snapcrackling of fireworks as the album begins: Fang Island are here to celebrate. Fang Island have described their music as "everyone high-fiving everyone." Pick any song here, and you'll listen to a moment or two that made me jump off my couch, whip my air guitar around my back, catch that air guitar and go down on my knees in total RAWK OUT MODE. It's an instinctual reaction. This album was made for guitar hero; it makes you feel like a rock star. I tried to control this response, but no: traveling with the fam in the car during the holidays did not stop Fang Island from sending my entire body into rock out mode alone in the back seat. Yes, I am 28. Yes, my parents asked what was going on, but I don't think the metal fists I showed them really said much. You try listening to this circus of high-flying guitar shredding, death-defying drumming and lion-taming jams. It's not hard to imagine the band smiling their way through all ten tracks. The only speed they know is EPIC-speed. Tenacious D must love these guys. Let there be rock.
Must hear: "Welcome Wagon" Other highlights: "Daisy (fav video of the year) " "Sideswiper," "Davey Crockett"
2. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today
What a weird album! Why do I like this so much? At some point during my first listen through Pet Sounds, I remember thinking that I was experiencing timeless music. A scroll written in a strange yet familiar language was unrolled, explaining all the music that I had enjoyed and thereafter was to yet. The language of pop, or, a history and future of Aaron's liking music by The Beach Boys, it was called. Before Today isn't nearly as monumental, but it was a similar experience. Before Today is ultimately a pop album masked in its diverse draw of influences and styles. As some sort of artifact containing the last four decades of pop music, the album sounds at times like a corroded, thirty year-old battery which, having been exposed to the elements, has become a jumbled timeline. Some moments surface from the past; others point toward the future. The corrosion damage is ascertainable: fuzzy production, singers unconcerned with intelligibly pronouncing all lyrics, songs veering in unexpected directions, and the foolishness of the word "genre" to define the wash of sounds. The pop instruction manual checked out this morning. This oddball world that Ariel Pink has put to tape, replete with unpolished gems, centers on "Round and Round," a song that works as a kind of collage of all musical styles represented on the album. It's indescribable for me in terms of sound, so i can only praise as wonderful these partially decomposed songs whose pop souls show through the virtual decades of dust. I hear Stevie Wonder, Bowie and Talking Heads to name a few. Hear the past, hear the future. Hm!
Must hear: "Round and Round" Other highlights: "L'estat," "Fright Night," "Butt-House Blondies," "Can't Hear My Eyes"
I just said to myself: "I feel so warm when I hear this album." Wait, isn't this dance music? I have no idea. In my musical ignorance or inexperience, I've found this kind of music (dance? I'm not sure yet) to be alienating, often too distant in its precision to affect. So 2010 has shown me through a couple albums on this list that this music can have power over more than my spinal cord and hips. Where One Life Stand succeeds for me is in the welcome mat of hooks that unfold slowly, or spring from nowhere as if from a pop-up book. "Hand Me Down Your Love" throws jerky jabs for 1.5 minutes, and right as I'm reaching to skip tracks the tender, melodic heart of the song is revealed. The strings reach in and stretch our chests open wide. The title track is similarly standoffish until the two-minute mark when the song's bouncy lurch is replaced with sweet sentiments and molasses-thick melody. Stretch it over your toes when it gets cold. "Brothers" is also a standout and personal favorite for its heartfelt tribute to brotherly love. The song's mild verses are, once again, shot through as the song accelerates, but the sentiment grows softer, more human. It's a shift that knocks me off my feet even though I know it's coming. If there is an album this year that I would say reminded me how carefully to treat songs, it's this one. One Life Stand knows when to let them smolder, when to let them grow, and when to flip them on their heads. The dynamic of cold giving way to warm and vice versa is what has kept this album so fresh all year. It's season-less, or, maybe more appropriately, season-full, and the seasons of life from my 2010 have only proved its breadth.
Hooray! That's it for 2010!