For the last few weeks, I’ve been doing some Best of 2010 stuff in relation to television. Probably too much. But before I started TV Surveillance I spent a lot of my time at the Indiana Daily Student doing music criticism. I am by no means a great or even good music critic, but hey, I got paid to do it for three years and won the staff award for “Best Reviewer” three or four semesters in a row. I think that says something. ANYWAY, since I’ve started TVS, I haven’t been able to really scratch my music itch. This list is my attempt to do that.
Again, I am nowhere near a final word on music. I have my specific kind of tastes just like anyone and my musical tastes are certainly less in-tune with critical thought than my take on television. That’s fine, this is really just a place for me to get some thoughts down on the year that was in music. Maintaining your own web site allows you to do such things. This write-up will be less expansive and detailed as well. A few sentences or two on each album.
So, without further ado, my top 25 albums of 2010.
25. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream: Listen, I’m not immune to catchy-as-hell pop music. Teenage Dream found its way near the top of my most played in 2010 and for the most part, I’m not ashamed of that fact. There are some dumb, over-produced songs on here, but enough stand-out tracks to make up for it.
24. Childish Gambino, Culdesac: My love for this album might have something to do with Donald Glover’s place in my favorite television series, Community. Or it has something to do with the fact that Glover can actually flow and more importantly, write good lyrics. It’s not the kind of hip-hop record that everyone can enjoy, but because I don’t really keep track with what is supposedly “good” and “bad” in that genre of music, I’ve had no problem jamming to this album since the summer.
23. Circa Survive, Blue Sky Noise: I’ve always respected Anthony Green’s vocals and Circa Survive’s sound, but haven’t particularly enjoyed their albums. Blue Sky Noise is different, but I’m not fully sure why. It’s more confident and probably includes a few more soaring choruses, which maybe makes me pop music-loving idiot for loving it more than the others. Oh well.
22. My Chemical Romance, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: Pretentious title aside, My Chem’s first album in four years is more or less worth the wait. Killjoys lacks the narrative cohesion or emotional heft of The Black Parade, but features an otherworldly amount of soaring hooks and some of Gerard Way’s strongest lyrics.
21. Motion City Soundtrack, My Dinosaur Life: Motion City never fails to churn out a rock-solid pop-punk album and Dinosaur Life is no exception. It discards some of the softer edges found on 2007’s Even If It Kills Me and feels like the band is fully confident in its ability to write upbeat, but slightly dark pogo-inducing 3-minute pop songs.
20. Hellogoodbye, Would It Kill You?: I’m as shocked as anyone that the new Hellogoodbye album, which is literally five or six years in the making, is fantastic. The band’s first official full-length came out in 2006 but was full of songs Hellogoodbye had written years before and it seemed like there might not ever be another record at all. But Would It Kill You? sees the band ditch the synthesizers and childish lyrics for a more mature and surprisingly, catchier output.
19. Jimmy Eat World, Invented: Jimmy Eat World just keep chugging along putting out great records. I’ve adored every single effort the band has ever put out and Invented is no different.
18. Valencia, Dancing With A Ghost: As it is probably obvious by now, I’m kind of a sucker for pop-punk. It’s the music of my teenage years and though I have grown out of a lot of it, there are a few bands out there still doing it well enough that I can’t help myself. Valencia is one of those bands. Dancing is their most complete album thus far, featuring great vocals, musicianship and one anthem after another.
17. The Graduate, Only Every Time: The Graduate continues its sonically expansive brand of pop-rock on Only Every Time while improving its overall sound. Corey Warning’s lyrics are even better this time around.
16. The Black Keys, Brothers: The Black Keys’ sixth album includes more hooks to go along with the duo’s regular brand of muddy, dark grit.
15. B.O.B., The Adventures of Bobby Ray: Though it took a while to grow on me, B.O.B.’s debut record has grown on me because it is thoughtful, charming and diverse while still providing enough pop radio-friendly hooks. There are a lot of genres at play in this mix, and with little exception they all play together nicely across Bobby Ray.
14. Sufjan Stevens, The Age of ADZ: The 50 States project may be over, but Sufjan Stevens’ newest effort suggests the artist isn’t close to being done taking risks and making bold choices. See ADZ‘s closer “Impossible Soul,” which is a 25-minute opus that some called bloated and others called genius. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but it’s hard to deny how compelling the track — and the album itself — are.
13. Anberlin, Dark Is The Way, Light Is The Place: After a commercially successful fourth album, Anberlin could have continued down the path of 2008’s New Surrender and become an ever bigger rock band than they already are. Instead, the quintet produced a spiritual relative to 2007’s Cities. Dark Is The Way is darker, moodier and ultimately more artistically successful than any of the band’s previous albums — all of which have been pretty damn good.
12. Broken Bells, Broken Bells: I apparently like this album more than almost anyone else in the world, but a lack of anticipation for it probably helps a great deal. Broken Bells probably would have been well-received had it just been a new Shins album, but the added pressure of Danger Mouse’s involvement raised expectations oh so high. The album isn’t as innovative as most people probably wanted, but it’s still creative and diverse.
11. Titus Andronicus, The Monitor: A band name based on a Shakesperian tragedy, an album named after the United States Navy’s first ironclad ship and 65 minutes of Civil War-era concepts seems like one of either the dumbest or most pretentious combinations ever. However, Titus Andronicus somehow makes it all work on their sophomore effort. Full of sprawling seven-minute-plus opuses full of rage and frustration, The Monitor never lets the conceptual replace the raw emotions underneath.
10. Drake, Thank Me Later: Amid all the (rightful) Kanye hype, it seems people have forgotten about Drake’s debut record. Sure, it’s not as good or nearly as innovative, but Thank Me Later is still a complicated and sometimes oddly frustrating album from one of the biggest names in hip-hop.
9. Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard: Ra Ra Riot is a band whose hype I never really bought into for whatever reason, but The Orchard caught me by surprise. It probably has a lot to do with my changing tastes, but I found Ra Ra Riot’s newest effort to be bouncy and fussy in a charming mid-tempo kind of way.
8. Yeasayer, Odd Blood: I didn’t really care for Yeasayer’s debut album, but on their sophomore effort, the band melds their worldly jams with a more appealing pop aesthetic.
7. Beach House, Teen Dream: Lush and well, dreamy, Beach House’s latest record is one of the sleepiest and most enjoyable listens of the year.
6. Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More: Sure, it actually came out in the UK in 2009, but Mumford and Sons’ Sigh No More has rocketed up my most played since I first caught wind of the band after the Lone Star pilot. I might be a little late to the party, but that doesn’t negate the fact that this record features an excellent combination of folk, twang and hokey.
5. The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang: The ’59 Sound is one of my favorite albums of all time and American Slang is a worthy follow-up. Brian Fallon relies less on Springsteen-ian references to the 1950s but still remains overtly depressing and heartbroken. Thankfully, he’s also an artful storyteller who just happens to use music as his backdrop. The hooks are more defined, but the music is still aggressive and nostalgic in the best kind of ways.
4. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs: The third go-round, Arcade Fire figured out how to combine its high-concept goals with a more popular aesthetic. Sometimes, The Suburbs feels a bit bitter and dour, but ultimately, it’s continuously rewarding on each new listen and always seems eager to expand outward past the band’s previous bounds.
3. Vampire Weekend, Contra: This album is just flat-out pretty. The arrangements, the kooky lyrics and a general sweetness makes Contra a more moving release than Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut.
2. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: There is little I can add to the heaps of praise bestowed upon Kanye’s latest. It’s a hip-hop masterpiece of indulgence, expressionism and artistry that we will probably be talking about in 20 years.
1. The National, High Violet: Kanye’s album is probably objectively “better,” but there is no album I have personally felt connected to more than The National’s third release, High Violet. The album lacks a soaring single like Boxer‘s “Fake Empire,” but is still the band’s most complete effort to-date. High Violet is another 11 songs for those of us trapped in the middle who make big deals out of the little things because that’s just what we do as people. It’s never overly bombastic or full of radio-ready choruses, but the record is honest, relatable and thematically coherent from start to finish.
There you have it folks. Again, as much as I’m not an official television critic, I’m even less of a music critic. But this was the year in music for me.