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Top 10 Albums of 2010

Every January we here at The Blogulator compile this list (though this is the first year without our dearly departed Lady Amy's input - cue sad emoticon) and every January since Qualler and I wrote those first two posts about Nada Surf and Death Cab for Cutie we tend to offer up some variation on the same preliminary disclosure: we rarely talk about the music that matters most to us in this here blog space. It's not because we don't have anything to say about it (check Qualler's Twitter space or Chris's work on Audiosuede), but rather simply because the universality of the populist stuff of TV, movies, Top 40 pop music, and well, more TV typically ends up being more ripe for discussion and debate. Deep music loves, on the other hand, seem to always be more personal and intimate and find themselves cloistered around a different subsect of geek if not just simply glowing from a soft nestled spot within the listener's heart. Also, we're emo, in case you couldn't tell by that last sentence. Regardless, we love sharing what we love, so here's ours. Written by yours truly except when indicated otherwise.

10. Pyramid of the Sun by Maserati - Whether we like to admit it or not, the death of a celebrity, whether revered en masse or only in our elite circle of the indie music kingdom, colors how we view their art, and especially how we view their last remaining vestige of talent. Cobain and Ledger proved this with Unplugged in New York and The Dark Knight respectively with a contingent so large it may not seem possibly in a microcosmic scenario, but the passing of drummer extraordinaire Gehrardt Fuchs and the posthumous release of his band's latest record certainly does so, even if not to the point of universal accolades and awards. And even if there wasn't a deeply caring and passionate underground post-rock following that mourned him and his unyielding prowess on the skins and cymbals, it would only take my good friend and blogmate Qualler to come to band practice last night with drumsticks in hand and tell me, "I was listening to that Maserati record and I was just like...why even try?" Arguably, it's even more affecting when it gets that close, that personal, that the passing of a true unsung legend can cut so deep.

9. Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom - (Qualler) Joanna Newsom is an acquired taste. I totally get that. Her first record The Milk-Eyed Mender coulda been called The Milk-Eyed Meanderer (zing!) (aside from the instant classic "Bridges and Balloons") while her follow-up Ys demonstrated a growth in her songwriting abilities, albeit with that same warbly voice that so instantly turns many people off. Have One On Me, then, is her biggest step forward yet, dropping an album that immediately feels timeless. The triple(!!) album is full of nine-minute magnum opuses, like the title-track that concludes with a final movement that still raises the hairs on the back of my neck, or the orchestral penultimate track "Kingfisher". Giving her listeners an ambition break, though, are straight-up folk tracks like "'81" or the gorgeous lullaby "On a Good Day". Better yet, Newsom eases back on the quirkiness in her voice and delivers a mature, perfect vocal performance. Haters should hate a little less after this record.

8. The Five Ghosts by Stars - Honestly, when I heard 2007's In Our Bedroom After the War, I simply didn't think I'd every give accolades to the once-loved Canadian troupe Stars, much less offer them a spot on a Blogulator year-end Top 10. But alas, such is the great gift of the passage of time. It can allow things like an ego-driven non-pop-star (Torq may have helped craft a beautiful album this year, but he's still an Internet troll) to thrive and dash my hopes for another great Stars record, but it can also completely floor me despite any past evidences of crapification. And that's exactly what The Five Ghosts did. Not only does it largely make up for past misgivings, it also is basically an aurally constructed Broadway musical about dead and/or resurrected love, something that just yearns to be manifested into a stage production either in real life or at least in the listener's imagination. It's vivid, vital, and aching all at once, and it's more than cause enough to hope for a new streak for the band in the future.

7. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West - (Sean) If you find yourself at a party this January and someone asks you which album you loved best in 2010 and you don't really have an answer just say this one. All those critics and compilation lists cannot be wrong.. No, you won't impress anyone with your individuality or unique opinions, but who tries to express their self by the obscure music they listen to anyway? No one. Tracks to know are the following: "Power", the one with the music video like a painting. "Monster", the controversial one? And opening track, "Dark Fantasy", the one with the hilarious line about "too many Urkels on your team, that's why your wins low." If for some crazy reason you are judged harshly for naming this album your 2010 number one, just remind people that Pitchfork gave it a 10.0. Then tell them to kiss your asshole and/or black balls. Respectfully, of course.

6. Teen Dream by Beach House - (Sean) "I'm a sensitive guy; I listen to Beach House!"
-Some douchebag at a bar trying to seem like less of an asshole. Baltimore, Maryland's own Beach House have become the darling duo of indie rock's Dream Pop sub-genre. With catchy guitar melodies, soaring foreignish-sounding vocals, and sweet-albeit-bizarre lyrics, their third album is a rad one. The first three tracks are excellent: blending strange concepts with lovely, feminine soundscapes. What exactly is "happening again" in Silver Soul? Who is the "hunter for a lonely heart" in Norway? I don't know, but the songs are still great. Btdubs, I call dibs on playing album-closer "Take Care" at the first dance of an indie wedding.

5. Fang Island by Fang Island - Do you remember running through the wet grass, falling a step behind? No, that's not just a Better Than Ezra reference, it's also seriously what I think to myself every time I think about this record. And it's not because Fang Island sounds anything like the semi-forgotten New Orleans alterna-dorks. It's because it's one of the most youthful albums that I've fallen in love with in recent times, harking back to a past that was boisterous and just not quite caught up with the pack, but completely in love with the world (and the slippery grasp thereof) all the same. The above video (my favorite of the year) only emphasizes this further, and while its tone and timbre may merely be a conglomeration of nostalgic obsessions for the Rhode Island rockers (pop metal, first/second wave emo, math rock), there's just enough disregard for verse-chorus convention that it sounds as brazenly truthful and adventurous as it does familiar and warm.

4. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi - (Qualler) This summer, I needed a record to fuel my runs training for the Twin Cities Marathon. Big Boi became my go-to record when I was in the middle of slogging through mile four of ten and I needed a jolt. Then, the more I listened to it, the more Boi's wicked rapping style, outrageous beats, and jaw-dropping production value became perfectly clear to me. By the end of the year, Boi's record was the one I listened to the most and has become a sparkplug in my further interest in the genre of hip-hop. Unlike other slightly more noteworthy hip-hop artists (Kanye, duh), Boi never gets into any woe-is-me-cuz-I'm-rich-and-
lonely stories. He's all about the love.

3. Stuck on Nothing by Free Energy - (Sean) Remember those bands in the 80s and 90s that were just bands? Like, when someone asks you to describe them you go, "Oh, they're this band with guitars and drums and stuff, and they're good. Yeah, you should listen." Free Energy is that band for 2010. Stuck on Nothing is a most excellent set of rocking guitar-driven tunes. Crunchy riffs and crisp fills: yes. Popping drums: for sure. Reminding you of The Cars in all the right ways?: Totally. Stand-out tracks include the opener "Free Energy", second track "Dream City", and mid-album groover "Dark Trance." If you are not in love with this band by track 5 there is no hope for your soul. Nahh, j/k. Have a listen anyway. Not convinced yet? The genre-listing on my mp3s in iTunes for this one is in a bunch of Japanese characters. Whoa. Seriously.

2. Periphery by The Seven Fields of Aphelion - Ever since I fell in love with ambient music I have waited for an ambient album I've truly loved as much as the genre itself. How does that make sense? Well when you have a genre that's based as much around its ability to be ignorable as much as its uniquely minimal textural and melodic qualities, you're often going to end up with your Stars of the Lid (whose mastery of the genre provides the listener with many brilliant short pieces but mostly just fragmented compilations for albums) and Brian Enos (whose founding and expertise led to near-flawless whole meditative works but nary a standout song) of the world. But what Maux Boyle does with her debut solo LP is craft is a game-changer, even if it's one of the quietest game-changers ever: grab our attention with the very first track and never let go, but also allow us space to breathe and just soak it all in with our eyes closed and our stresses launched into outer space.

1. Body Talk by Robyn - (Qualler) What gives Robyn the edge over her other Europop counterparts is the way she wears her heart on her sleeve. Sure, her songs are impeccably produced, her dance beats immensely danceable. But in singles "Dancing On My Own" and "Hang With Me", the Swedish star utilizes raw emotion (and, dammit, great songwriting) to make you want to dance all night. The Body Talk I and II EPs she released this Summer and Fall featured naked acoustic versions of "Hang With Me" and "Indestructible", but when the third record dropped, she threw us all for a loop and released a full-length. For a year of digging Robyn's tunes, this move was most appropriate.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 10:22 AM |  

    I realize I sound like a d-bag when I say this since we chose all these albums, but...THIS IS AN EXCELLENT LIST! Well done, music in 2010. Well done.

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