Following is Feed the Dog’s favorite albums of 2010. This list includes some mixtapes and an EP, and was truly a challenge to compile, considering it forced me to ask questions like, “Who do I like more, Fat Joe or Here We Go Magic?” Again, in the interest of keeping it lax this vacation, I’m not going to do full write-ups for each album, just write a few notes of my thoughts. It’s really disappointing to me that I wasn’t able to write full reviews for all (a.k.a most) of these albums over the course of this year, and I was hoping that this year-end feature would be a good time to elaborate on some of my favorite records of 2010. Unfortunately, there were far too many releases that caught my attention this year, and I have neither the time nor the will power to fully explain each album’s significance. The main things you should know are: this was a great year for garage rock, Kanye and Big Boi released two of the best hip hop albums of the decade, Beach House fully realized their potential this year, and a few up-and-coming indie rappers threaten to stir up some real controversy in this dark age of hip-hop we’re living in.
1. Wavves – King of the Beach
The first time I listened to this record, I was struck with a kind of musical excitement that I hadn’t felt in years, the same exact feeling that used to well up inside me listening to Weezer’s Blue Album on my CD player, riding home on the bus in middle school. Jack White in interviews has stated that the first self-titled White Stripes album had an energy he has yet to be able to reproduce in any release since — I believe this is exactly the energy Wavves were able to harness on King of the Beach, a kind of raw, young, unadulterated momentum that persists throughout the record and holds it together. This is my favorite album of the year because it reminds me of why I fell in love with rock’n’roll music in the first place. An instant classic.
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
What can I say about this record that hasn’t already been said, that I haven’t already said myself in painstaking detail in my overlong column The Dark Age of Hip Hop? This is an album that alters the trajectory of hip-hop as a musical genre. This is potentially the most important release of the year, from a historical perspective. This album is a pop icon becoming fully realized, of disjunct and unsuccessful trends and stylistic bents within pop and hip hop coming together into what it was always meant to be. This album is perfect synergy. It’s something even bigger than Kanye’s massive ego could ever believe it to be. Amazing verses, amazing production. Fuck the bullshit, Kanye did it.
3. Beach House – Teen Dream
Beach House’s Teen Dream may be the most polished and consistent release of the year. It’s an utterly flawless record, virtually devoid of duds, filler, or sleepers. This is a cohesive collection of pure pop bliss, reminiscent of the classic album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. A really amazing, somewhat underrated LP, that wows and dazzles me every single time I listen to it. This is one of those records that inspires you, that fills you with hope for the future of music and mankind. Beautiful vocals, beautiful productions. Moving. Genius that cannot be overstated.
4. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
I was a huge fan of the first Crystal Castles album, but this one blew me away. This record is a masterpiece. Loud, ugly and screaming; melodic, dreamy, and beautiful. These guys are able to harness raw emotion was such force and magnitude, rage and heartbreak, the disturbing and the familiar. The cries of Alice Glass over the cold, electronic tones and thumping, insistent beats is very much in the tradition of electropop, but the emotional resonance is amped up to the nth degree, like The Knife on DMT. On their debut LP, Crystal Castles hadn’t quite reconciled their affinities for thrash and beauty, but on their sophomore attempt, these elements come together in perfect harmony over and over, and the result is an incredibly moving, addictive piece of electronica.
5. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo
Avi Buffalo are a band that make me angry with their talent. Partially because they’re only nineteen and released an album this year that I am in complete awe of, and know I could never come close to imagining something like it myself. Songwriter and bandleader Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg is a rare talent with a unique voice, guitar playing abilities and intricacies that betray his young age, and a naive, refreshing sense of love and young romance. This is a record unlike anything else to have come out in the past year, or, well, ever. Also, maybe the only cool indie rock band left that shreds guitar solos and gets away with it.
6. Hanoi Janes – Year of Panic
For a full review of this album, you should check out my post from a few months ago — but I’ll summarize. One eclectically talented German dude produces a record that sounds like it was recorded by three or four dudes from Brooklyn or Los Angeles. Garage-y, beach-y vibes with jangly, twinkly instrumentation and yelpy vocals. Somewhat lo-fi. Somehow more successful than any of the American bands, East coast or West coast, that stylistically Hanoi Janes are attempting to imitate. Beating us Americans at our own game. Incredibly charming record, devoid of filler.
7. Big Boi – Sir Lucius Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
He may have always been the underrated half of Outkast, ignored behind Andre 3000’s undeniable star power, but with his solo debut Big Boi has created an album that rivals some of the duo’s best, in both creativity and consistency. With singles like “Shine Blockas” and “Shutterbugg”, the Atlanta legend proved the versatility and timelessness of his particular talents, tracks that sound completely unique from anything else coming out of the Southern hip-hop hotbed, but are undeniably ATL. It may have taken him three years to do it, but Big Boi managed to create a true classic with Sir Lucious Left Foot, making the case that Atlanta is still in contention for hip-hop capital, equally capable of changing the game.
8. El Guincho – Pop Negro
Every El Guincho record is different, with the young Spanish artist exploring different areas of his broad songwriting and production talents on each release, but Pop Negro feels less experimental than his previous full-lengths. Here, El Guincho has taken the most valuable nuggets from his tropical soundbank and formulated them into fully-realized songs, rather than just compositions. Pop Negro was one of the most consistent releases of the year, maintaining a cohesive sound while remaining completely original. El Guincho has no peers in the genre of experimental quasi-psychedelic sample-based tropical-sounding Spanish dance music, but that doesn’t stop him from exceeding all expectations and continuing to raise the bar on every new release.
9. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Bradford Cox, leader of Deerhunter and also known as Atlas Sound, is without a doubt the most prolific songwriter of our generation, and one of the most talented. Every album he releases, either with Deerhunter or as Atlas Sound, is an evolution from his past works into something new and groundbreaking. On Halcyon Digest, Cox continues his band’s descent from shoegaze-y drone into fuzz-drenched powerpop, reaching a point where by Deerhunter standards, the production and instrumentation seems almost minimal. What shines through is solid songwriting, 60s pop nostalgia, and an effortless kind of magic that pervades the haunting, mysterious songs on this record.
10. Best Coast – Crazy For You
Again, look to my full review on this blog for a more complete analysis of Best Coast’s debut, but here’s the summary. Formerly noisy feedbackophile Bethany Cosantino strips away lo-fi aesthetic for debut LP, following a string of scratchy 7″s, leaving behind thick, sticky reverb that completely saturates the listener in good vibes. Although when Crazy For You first came out, I was quick to judge the abandonment of their previous sound, Best Coast’s debut proved to have a great deal of staying power, and grew on me more than any other release this year. This is an incredibly solid pop record, and before too long I had fallen in love. Stupid lyrical content aside, listening to Crazy For You makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside — and isn’t that what’s really important?
11. Sleigh Bells – Treats
Looking at the mixer while recording Sleigh Bell’s Treats, every single track would be in the red. Overblown, overdriven guitar lines; blasted, distorted cymbal crashes and drum loops, and singer Alexis Krauss’s sweet, soft voice murmuring through several filters and an amp with the gain turned to 11. If there’s one element uniting the Hey-Mickey-you’re-so-fine stomps and claps, chunky distortion, and interplanetary squeaks and sound effects that make up a typical Sleigh Bells composition, it’s volume. Of course, the success of Sleigh Bells’ debut and their rise to indie stardom is indebted to being much more than loud. The band’s formula is a careful combination of rock, pop, hip hop, and electronica, using elements of rock and electronica to drive the instrumental intensity, and utilizing a pop sensibility, built in the space between thumping hip hop beats, to give drunk girls something to dance to while the punks are getting ready to mosh. This is one of those rare cases when genre-bending and exploration has yielded something completely original, standing on its own and doing justice to its formative parts, and in masterminding such a beast, Sleigh Bells created one of the year’s most buzzworthy records.
12. Das Racist – Sit Down, Man
Das Racist have been quickly dismissed as joke rap by many, but with the release of two mixtapes in 2010, Shut Up, Dude, and Sit Down, Man, they’ve proven themselves to be more than just something to laugh at. Shut Up, Dude included a number of older hits from 2008-2009, but Sit Down, Man is all new, including a number of impressive collaborations with folks like Diplo, El-P, boi-1da, and Blue Scholars. In the time between the mixtapes, they’ve done more than just make some heavyweight contacts — they’ve completely honed their bizarre style, a kind of mish-mashed, vulgar word-association rhyming game. They’ve gotten tight and their productions are tighter, and although their lyrical content is still completely absurd (e.g., “New school, old school, Cocoa Puff coo-coo, choo-choo, choose to be half-Lisa Simpson half-Ralphie, flip my TV to Pacino falling off the balcony…”), their flow is undeniable and at times, brilliant. Look for 2011 to be Das Racist’s breakout year.
13. Gayngs – Relayted
Here’s another album that I’ve reviewed more fully on this blog a few months ago. Again, the details are fun to summarize – musician Ryan Olson founds 25-member super-group including Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to play homage to late-70s era psychedelica-infused soft rock. Of course, the results are incredible. Relayted is an incredible cohesive record that still manages to explore a range of dynamics and cheese-levels within soft rock, displaying a true appreciation and understanding of one of the most hated and critically lambasted musical genres of al time. In an era when it seems every artist is drawing inspiration from 60s pop or 80s dance music, Gayngs make a strong case for being more explorative with your influences, creating something completely new and praiseworthy drawn from a set of ignored and oft-overlooked artists.
14. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
Speaking of creative use of varied influences, here’s Ariel Pink’s master work of 2010, Before Today. Ariel Pink has been around forever, but suddenly this year he was everywhere. Put a little bit of attention into sound quality, move a few steps away from lo-fi, and suddenly everyone notices what a musical genius you are. But aside from cleaner productions, Before Today is certainly a new evolution in Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, completely worthy of the praise its been receiving. This record is pure nostalgia, disparate elements of 60s pop leaking from every corner of this 2010 release. Really incredible album. Greatness that cannot be described in words.
15. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Although there are quite a large number of publications declaring it so, this record is not the best album of the year. It is not without its imperfections, lulls in the excitement, boring “rock” songs like “Ready to Start” and “Month of May”. But if you allow The Suburbs to draw you in, that undeniable beauty in melody and composition that you’ve begun to expect from the Arcade Fire starts to emerge. While lacking in the epic drama and size of previous Arcade Fire albums, on The Suburbs the Montreal seven-piece prove themselves every bit as capable of breaking your heart with simple, stripped-down pop melodies, as they are with ornate, lush orchestrations.
16. Born Ruffians – Say It
17. Tyler, The Creator – Bastard (mixtape)
18. M.I.A. – /\/\/\Y/\
19. Papoose – Papoose Season (mixtape)
20. Girls – Broken Dreams Club EP
21. Miami Horror – Illumination
22. Avey Tare – Down There
23. Lloyd Banks – H.F.M. 2 (Hunger for More 2)
24. Die Antwoord – $O$
25. Fat Joe – The Darkside Volume 1
26. Here We Go Magic – Pigeons