Thursday, December 23, 2010

50? Yes, 50! - Part 2 (#10 to #1)

For me, it never feels like Christmas until two things happen: seeing the video to Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and finishing up my Top Albums list. This is the day that both will happen. Last night, was part 1 and now, I finish up my über-geeky Top 50 Albums of 2010 list with the Big 10 of '10. Yeah, I'm still ok with calling it that.

First, a refresher course or in case you missed Part 1: #50 - #11

Now onto the show:

DJ Brian L.'s Top 50 Albums of 2010 (#10 - #1): The Big 10 of '10 

10. Expo 86 - Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade has become one of my favorite bands in a very short span of time. All it took was one listen to their first album, Apologies To The Queen Mary and they instantly became all I talked about to my friends. They balanced rock bombast with art-prog weirdness thanks to their two primary songwriters, Dan Boeckner (the scruffy rocker) and Spencer Krug (the one with the Bowie-like waver.) And just like its predecessors, Expo 86, the band's third album, finds the two splitting things down the middle. There are Boeckner's chugging guitar anthems ("Pobody's Nerfect") side-by-side with Krug's enigmatic keyboard romps ("What Did My Lover Say?") But even though they give in to their individual quirks, the two sound more united, as the lines separating them are blurred just enough resulting with the band's most cohesive album. It's just too bad that they recently announced a dreaded "indefinite hiatus." At least they left us with one last flash of greatness.

9. Barking - Underworld
Even though they got lumped in with the late 90's electronica scene, I always thought Underworld was a step above the rest. They weren't just a faceless set of DJs specializing in big beats and flashing lights. Underworld had actual songs. They had more in common with Depeche Mode or New Order than with most of their peers. On Barking, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith come up with their best album since the departure of Darren Emerson back in 2000. They get a little production help, turning over some songs to the likes of Paul Van Dyk and Dubfire but the bulk of the work is undoubtedly all Underworld, focused more on adding pop hooks to their swirling techno. Now their songs aren't just hypnotic, they're also memorable. 

8. Body Talk Pt. 1 - Robyn
There are some instances where I just can't resist pop music. I can't help but like it when it's done just right. Whether it's done with a little power like Cheap Trick or Fountains Of Wayne, or all glossy and electro like Kylie Minogue, I just can't say no. Falling for Robyn is a no-brainer. With her teen pop moment in the sun under her belt (1997's "Show Me Love"), she would practically reinvent herself as an icy synthpop diva convincingly singing about heartbreak as if she knows it all too well. To her, the dancefloor is the cure for everything and with each volume of Body Talk, Robyn would become stronger, perfecting her empowering pop anthems along the way. But it's on Body Talk Pt. 1 where she was defiant. One minute she's spouting off a laundry list of the things that are killing her (the pulsating "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do") and the next she's got ultracool swagger (the Royskopp collaboration, "None Of Dem.") Dance-pop didn't get better than this.

7. Everything In Between - No Age
In addition to pop divas, it turns out I have a thing for two-person bands. Especially, ones that incorporate drums and guitar. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that I wanted to be a drummer as a kid then a guitarist as a teen. I wasn't good at either. Anyway, everything about LA's No Age practically screamed for everyone's undivided attention with its unlikely mixture of punk and shoegaze but somehow they made it work. On their second proper album, Everything In Between, the band (now expanded to a trio in a live setting) even improves on their formula adding some new found urgency not wasting any time with noise-scape build-ups and jumping right into the pop-punk sugar rush of "Glitter" and "Fever Dreaming." They still find time to tinker with their effects pedals but now those noise interludes serve as a moment to catch one's breath rather than tension-builders.

6. Teen Dream - Beach House
Teen Dream was one of the first new albums I listened to at the start of 2010 and I have to say, I'm sort of surprised it stood up this well for an entire year. Sure, I would come across plenty of dream pop acts this year, but none of them had a singer like Victoria Legrand. The way she stretches out the word "Norway" well beyond its two syllables is damn near intoxicating. Beach House had always been dreamy, but on Teen Dream not only was Legrand's vocals pushed to the forefront, but songs were accentuated allowing everything to shine through the haze.

5. Go - Jónsi
I'm not exactly what one would call a "Sigur Ros Fan." As a matter of fact, I went into listening to Jónsi's solo material with the intent of making fun of it. But after hearing "Go Do" I was completely won over. It was upbeat, uplifting, and most surprisingly, it was sung in English (mostly, I think.) His voice is full of child-like curiosity and the songs were packed with layer upon layer of sonic texture that it felt like it could all come to life. One of the most gorgeous and vibrant sounding albums of the year.

  Go Do by Jónsi

4. High Violet - The National
If 2007's Boxer was their breakthrough, then High Violet is The National's masterpiece. With this one album they went from "next big thing" to actual big thing. And it's a well-deserved place for them as nearly every song on High Violet is worth geeking out over. Simply put, it's brooding indie rock with a dark romantic twist, but they do it so well that it sounds like they invented the sound. For me, I lean towards "Bloodbuzz Ohio" because whenever I sing along to it, I feel like I sound exactly like Matt Berninger. 

3. Treats - Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells are loud. So loud, in fact, that they make my insides vibrate. On paper, they shouldn't even be as good as they are: Derek E. Miller, formerly of Poison The Well is the musical half of the duo, and Alexis Krauss sings, coos, chirps, shrieks, and screams her way through these short, sassy pop songs cranked all the way up to 11. The beats are set to pummel and Miller's metal guitar riffs are so distorted they turn into static. In spite of all that, or maybe because of it all, Treats ends up being the most addictive album of the year.

2. This Is Happening - LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem is a force to be reckoned with. Not only has he helped set the standard for cool, post-millennial dance music but he also gave it a heart. He still gives in to his snarky side in the form of the winking party jam, "Drunk Girls," and the self-aware 9-minute opus, "You Wanted A Hit." But it's when his tough exterior softens up that songs like "Home" and "I Can Change" transform into heartfelt dancefloor confessionals.

1. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire
No big surprises here. Arcade Fire has always been good at making grand gestures seem intimate. Here, they aim for the heavens, armed with soaring, arena-ready anthems full of sweeping string arrangements and choruses made for huge sing-along moments. They even pull a couple of unexpected turns with the punk romp of "Month Of May" and the surprising New Wave swirl of the excellent "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)." A perfectly stunning album, The Suburbs  proves that all that high praise is warranted.

There you go. All done. I didn't think I could pull off a comprehensive Top 50 list of music that I had been obsessed about over the last year, but I did it. I'm sure there are some omissions and I'm sure that some of those will be worth bringing up in the next day or so. But right now, I'm sticking to these 50 as being the soundtrack for my 2010.

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