December is a month for making lists. Shopping lists, guest invitations, New Years resolutions, and so on. It seems pretty natural to list things you need or want to accomplish in the future, but rarely do you list things that were useful to you in the past. The list below is exactly that. At some point throughout 2010, these 10 albums were absolutely perfect for me.
1. LCD Soundsystem –This is Happening
Has playing an album ever become so essential to your daily routine that it becomes compulsive? This Is Happening consistently soundtracked my best nights and inspired most of my worst decisions during my final months as a teenager. Before I hopped in the shower and donned a thick flannel for a night at The Keg Of Evanston, I ritualistically danced myself clean. And after three big-cups and some serious introspection about my decision to rage on a Monday night, I always knew that I wanted a hit before the seven-minute-and-fifty-three-second trek back home. But just calling This Is Happening a 19-year old’s anthem would rob the album of its battered wisdom and genre-combining nuance. The album parties until sunrise, but never ignores consequences. In doing so, This is Happening finds itself in the inscrutable gap between making mistakes and gaining experience. So looking back on those boot-and-rally Monday nights and bed-ridden Tuesday mornings, I know that I should change; but I don’t think I want to just yet.
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
You hate Kanye West, I hate Kanye West, even Obama hates Yeezy But what makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy my favorite hip-hop album of 2010 is the fact that Kanye West hates Kanye West. Although “Runaway” most poignantly captures the self-effacing/self-important dynamic that pervades the album, every song is as articulate and neurotic as the last. “Power,” a song ostensibly about Ye’s invincible ego, is at its core a vulnerable appraisal of his own creativity. By the song’s end, Kanye has diagnosed himself a “21st century schizoid man” and admits, “I embody every characteristic of the egotistic.” This acute self-awareness strips the beloved, loathsome hip-hop icon down to the talented man (child) that no one expects him to be. Kanye, there is a reason we’ve been puttin’ up with your sh*t just way too long; it’s because you are a g(enius).
3. Beach House – Teen Dream
Shove it Katy Perry, Beach House had you by like 7 months. But in all seriousness, Victoria Legrand doesn’t need skintight jeans to get my heart racing: her regal, smoky voice is enough. Teen Dream does everything a Dream Pop album should with eerie, cathedral haze and spacey hooks. However, Legrand’s vocals lend the album the genuine emotion that makes it stand out from other bands in the genre. Throughout Teen Dream’s melodic miasma, Legrand’s voice is a guiding light. On a completely unrelated note, It astounds me that the same place that his chilled-out pop duo call home is the backdrop for the television show, The Wire. I think it’s a safe bet that Omar has never listened to Beach House.
4. The National –High Violet
This Cincinnati-based band consisting of 2 pairs of brothers has been on the scene for 10 years, issued 7 releases, consumed god-knows-how-many gallons of wine, and are just now getting the acclaim they deserve. Although I see how The National could have remained a cult-band, they put in way too much time not to get noticed. High Violet is a brooding, melancholy album that depicts the wisdom one has before the onset of middle age. Every aspect of the album is exceedingly deliberate, but never overdone. You can always tell that the band slaved over certain songs until they sounded just right. Take for instance the guitar’s fuzzy tone on “Terrible Love” or its bright shimmer on “Lemonworld.” And I haven’t even fawned over Matt Berninger’s baritone yet. The National is a band of discretion and they made all the right decisions on High Violet.
5. Lower Dens –Twin Hand Movement
On their debut album, Lower Dens do something peculiar with their instruments: they create vast amounts of space. Amidst the pockets of silence and reverb, Jana Hunter’s voice, with its forlorn drawl, stands as the focal point of each song. Not surprisingly, this album became my travel soundtrack: when I was cramped on a plane or a MegaBus between Cincinnati and Chicago, I took refuge in any space I could find.
6. California Wives –Affair
This Chicago-based quartet is little known and unsigned; but that shouldn’t last too long. Affair is a quick album whose hi-hat driven pep will get you dancing in three seconds flat. If this Phoenix-influenced EP is any indication of how their first LP will sound, then these guys might be on my list in 2011.
7. Sharon Van Etten –Epic
I saw Sharon Van Etten this past summer and all I can say is that she has the voice of an angel. Just listen:
8. Wild Nothing –Gemini
Shoegazing is something that Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum was born to do. This unassuming dude from Blacksburg, Va. created one of the most complexly layered pop albums of 2010 with the motive of making music that he would actually listen to. I don’t know if it worked for him but I am definitely hooked. There is a bleary, delirious quality to his instrumentation that serves as a contrast to the cloyingly sweet vocals throughout Gemini. As is a common practice in shoegaze, Tatutm’s voice serves more as gasping, chirping instrument than a cerebral layer to his song structures. This allowed me to inject my own meaning into the lyrics of each song. Maybe that is why this was one of my favorite album’s of the year; it was exactly what I wanted to hear.
9. The Besnard Lakes –The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
Canadian people are good at making music, especially if two of the band members are married (Yes, I omitted The Suburbs from my list, unless you count this parenthetical reference). On their sophomore album, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, the Montreal-based couple Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas blends prog rock with indie sensibility. To put it succinctly, the album sounds huge. Roaring guitar drones underscored by swirling synths produce an arena-sized soundscape. And if the aggressive instrumentation weren’t impressive enough (especially coming from a couple who fit the profile of pacifists) they manage to make their lyrics and coos unbelievably catchy. If you have a 45-minute drive coming up, play this album start to finish; you won’t be disappointed.
10. Beck’s Record Club –Kick
What happens when Beck hangs out with some dudes from Wilco, Sonic Youth, Liars, and then St Vincent decides to come hang too? They decide to cover arcane and long-forgotten albums in one sitting –that’s what. Beck’s Record Club was a continual source of joy for me throughout this past year, and when they decided to cover INXS’s Kick I was about as stoked as a person could be for a cover of INXS’s Kick. But man was I in for a surprise when Beck went avant-garde and made an album that is, in my opinion, better than the original. From St. Vincent’s ethereal cover of “Never Tear Us Apart” to the raucous, almost unrecognizable rendition of “Tiny Daggers,” Beck revamps INXS’s new wave with a dose of modernity. In one day, Beck’s Record Club managed to rival the sound of a classic 1980’s album. Bravo, Beck. Bravo.
Image: Kanye West/Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam