Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2010 (1)

I've made it a small new year's resolution to blog more here - and about other things besides music. However! This is the fun time of year that I get to delve into music nerditry and talk about why certain albums made my ears have a great year. This has taken the form of a top 10 list, but in reality it's nothing more than an ordered catalogue of music that has worked its way into my life, invariably but somehow staking a claim on how I experienced 2010. Here is the first installment:

10. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
"Huh? -Actual thought as I read all the year-end lists from magazines, e-zines, friends, etc. So many of them had Kanye on top. Admittedly, I kinda despise the guy, but I guess we probably all do just a little bit. He's like me in a lot of ways, and that scares me. So despising him makes me feel as if I have control over those things. I picked up this album half out of morbid curiosity and half out of genuine hope that it was awesome. Well... It took a few weeks. Immediately, "All of the Lights" was a favorite, as well as "Who Will Survive in America," a brief segue track that features some passionate/bizarre Allen Ginsberg-esque poetry reading, but I left it there: content to be unimpressed. Something happened though: I started to like MORE of it. If you know me, you know I'm not into the rap/hip-hop that much. Even the most classic of the classics in the genre have probably never graced my ears. So there I was stuck in a car with people that wanted to rock this album all the way to Colorado (eight-hour drive from Nebraska), and somewhere along the way I let me guard down. "Lost in the World" was allowed to sound its anthemic YAWP in my ear, unobstructed by my resistance. Putting this album at 10 on the list is not simply a token acknowledgement of an album that so many others have praised. I experienced it and loved it in my own way.

9. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Arcade Fire became, through Funeral and Neon Bible, many people's favorite prophets of the 21st century apocalypse. On this record, as Win Butler has alluded to, the band seems to step back a bit from the exasperation of earlier albums. I hear what Butler means when he says that this album is simply meant to be "from the suburbs," and not a critique of them. There is less satire here, less irony, and this translates to more earnestness, happily. "Modern Man," among others, communicates adult paranoia in more personal and less political ways, and Butler's quivering vocals have never sounded quite so hopeful and helpless as on the title track: "I want a daughter while I'm still young / I want to hold her hand, show her some beauty before all this damage is done / But if it's too much to ask... / Send me a son." It feels like Arcade Fire is ageing well. It's easy to forget - probably because of the emotional and critical weight of the previous two - that The Suburbs is only the third major release from the group. As an evolution of the riotous passion that Arcade Fire is capable of expressing, this album sees them move inward toward the more personal - away from overindulging the socio-political. For me, the inward turn produces some of the more poignant expressions of the corporate experience of suburban life. Artistic success does not lie solely in how convincingly the subject is rendered, however, so it's to their credit that they've conveyed that subject through this great collection of songs.

8. Women - Public Strain
Haha... OOPS! I put a song from this album in my not-top-10 list! I know. That was before Women completely took over my iPod, car stereo, computer and the musical part of my brain. You must blame them for this! The first time I listened, I thought, "I loved one song (see previous post) and was bored by the rest." I heard a voice saying, "Give it some time, Aaron!!" "...OK VOICE!" I said. And, then, two weeks later: "Good GOSH, thank you, voice!!!" The thing is, I dont' think my first impressions were all that off; there isn't a lot to grab your attention here, honestly. But slowly, surely and unintentionally, I started to hear things I liked - no, wait... - loved. First of all, I hear so many other artists I love throughout this album: Sonic Youth ("Drag Open"), Embryonic-era Flaming Lips ("China Steps"), Strokes ("Locust Valley"), Velvet Underground ("Narrow with the Hall"), and Television (all over). But Women hold it together and are able to forge their own sound from these parts. The guitar interplay is one of my favorite parts, as the crunchy hooks seem to surface form nowhere. In much the same way, melody bubbles up somehow from the seeming a-melodic, and the atonal reveals its tonality. Much like the album cover, it's a blurry, dizzying blitz of noise, but there's still living breathing people behind it all if you care to pick them out.

A close few that will miss the cut this year:
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Vampire Weekend - Contra
Tame Impala - InnerSpeaker
Girl Talk - All Day


Laura said...

aahh!! my eyes! thanks aaron. ;)

Kate Lechler said...