Last year, 2009, was such a snooze fest in entertainment that there was that hint of doubtful optimism that this year will fail to represent a good start of the new decade. Fortunately, just like any new beginnings promise with, 2010 manages to provide the right level of innovation and creativity and overall excellence.
My list is comprised of returning artists and bands that not only have succeeded from the predicaments of follow-up albums but also were able to become transitional to better their musical growth and at the same time advance and break through modernity. There are many surprises actually. In Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens hid his banjos, utilized synthesizers, cursed (yes, foul words), included cheerleaders and whole different ambiences you’d never thought Sufjan Stevens would use. M.I.A takes a beating from critics and even her followers from her take on electronic sonic splices. Corinne Bailey Rae shows depth and growth into her musical style and lyrics. Vampire Weekend lets loose on what they really are about and added more influences to their introductory sound. Cee Lo Green on solo flight wears new blings and flashes, and this time its his voice that shines on. That is his album’s real treat, the impressive crooning vocals that’s fitting for retro-R&B and often even serenades coming from a big guy.
Truly, Excellence is a name of 2010 in music. And if the word hasn’t been dissected enough, it’s that quality of furthering limitations, forwarding steps, elevating heights, bringing new level without ruining previous works rather, at the same time keeping or extending quality and remains to be of a great standard. It’s the ability to excel; one common thread that connects most of the albums in my list.
Sufjan Stevens never ever have anything to prove. He had shown 360 degrees brilliance on his 2005 album “Illinoise”. Much to everyone’s surprise, he experimented something to completely someone else. Much more to everyone’s surprise, Sufjan Stevens delivers. He made quite a statement. He gained a sealed, licked and laminated bragging right of being a true recording artist that even when he was presenting new materials and style he is still so darn good at what he does.
If I am to list my favorite or best third albums ever recorded, I definitely have this year’s This Is Happening (LCD Soundsystem) and The Suburbs (Arcade Fire) always in mind. It’s not their individual masterpieces, but it’s certainly their most refined. The Suburbs is Arcade Fire’s most cohesive album to date. It is thematic and consistent, a complete record. The Suburbs uses more foreign sounds than mere Arcade Fire’s. It’s so happened that the most celebrated track from the album, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), also is the most non-Arcade Fire they ever created. Adding The National in the mix of the two bands, their common theme is leaning towards on melancholy lyrics, about despair, life’s dilemmas and crises, crestfallen subjects, etc. Although, This Is Happening’s delicate lyrics are sort of hiding behind the LCD Soundsystem’s groove. This Is Happening words are masquerading in irony, fun and sarcasm when under peruse attention unmasked their always sincere notions. LCD Soundsystem seemed to have accumulated their strengths from previous works as if they have studied what worked best and utilized their best tools. To me, This Is Happening sounds like their two previous albums cut in half then combined into one excellent album.
Clearly my list is high on testosterone level, but there is one female whose name rings the most booming of all —Janelle Monae. Monae, Monae, Monae. She is largely the contributor of such newfangled innovation in music. It was quite a while that I get to be really impressed with a very satisfying album. The first time I listened to her album, it was as if I missed how it feels like to open a newly bought CD, put in a player and unexpectedly be in such great awe.
An album is an album for all kinds of reasons. You can recognize true artistry when recording is delicate, thought-through and even more if it’s well conceptualized, and not just throwing out random mediocre songs. Sure, Janelle Monae’s singles are great. But nothing, not anybody, can be prepared of what her album has stored for her audience. You can not fully appreciate Jonalle Monae by knowing a song or two. You got to listen to her album sequentially and entirely. The Archandroid is well-arranged, it is organized in a chronological fashion connecting one end of the song to the start of the next song. Something about those songs that the album made one song dependent to the rest of the tracks.
Another band where a close harkening is a must- The National. The National begs for patience from every of its listener. A single song won’t make any first timer to appreciate their music. They’re the kind of a mature band that people are distant of. One sitting on any of their albums won’t give you license to draw any kind of conclusion. Their music is somber, haunting and dark. It’d be either that you’re iffy of them or completely be blown by them.
Stuffs like that make you know who the real, serious, genuine artists are. Ironic how “Proof”, a track from I Am Kloot‘s self-titled album and my most favorite from them, again is included in their new album. Well that just provided (for lack of a better word) solid proof about I Am Kloot- that they are not just throwing any generally favorable passable songs and are actually envisioning a consistent album that they see beyond the unexpected to make their creation even more fuller.
12. Sky At Night – I Am Kloot
A band that never gets louder in so many ways. They remain ducking in the basement hushing their contemplative deep quiet songs to a handful few while the rest of the crowd are upstairs going gaga over Lady Gaga. A lot in the indie community are making names all over place and are tuning in with the mainstream. But not this band, this band has never been widely known.
11. The Sea – Corinne Bailey Rae
The death of her father brought new depth to her writings. Moreover, as a second album she ventures on putting more edge to her style without overkilling both.
10. The Lady Killer – Cee Lo Green
He owns yesterdecade’s top song listers with his insanely popular “Crazy”. This beginning of a new decade, he challenged the decade very early and give others a run for another critically acclaimed chart-topping hit. Cee Lo Green’s brand new style didn’t leave room for us listeners to sink things in. He just had his entrance, nothing dramatic to it really, just the suit-big money figure. Only in the back of our heads we’re thinking how dropping the F-bomb in a song is accepted exclusively like never before. All the while, it’s so impressive that we forget. F*ck You is frigging good with a frigging awesome video that we didn’t notice anything else. As if nothing happened, like he wasn’t a part of Goodie Mob or one of the duos that was Gnarls Barkley.
9. Transference – Spoon
Spoon is awesome all the way through. Spoon is awesome now. They’re so awesome before. They’re awesomest when they released their commercial album “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”. You know what else is awesome??? Uhm … Spoon. They were just so awesome that listeners have so much to expect from them. Well, the group knows they’re awesome that they don’t get pressured from high expectations. What’s not awesome? “Trouble Comes Running” is awesome. “Out Go Lights” is awesome. “Who Makes Your Money” is awesome. “Got Nuffin” is awesome. This album, Transference, is (hmmm…what’s that word I’m looking for?) …it’s f–king awesome.
8. High Violet – The National
The National scored a turkey. For the third strike, High Violet is yet another “grower” type album. So for those who do appreciate the band, great things come to those who wait. Keep the loyalty in tact for The National doesn’t disappoint.
This album contains the saddest song of the year, the aptly-titled “Sorrow”, which is commonly enough a break-up song.
7. The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens
The old folk tune is out of the equation but the basic Sufjan Stevens formula is still in tact. For someone who completely took a wide turn from his old tune to a brand new experimental route, his music is shockingly sharpened than got rusted. This album is nothing else but amazing.
6. Body Talk – Robyn
Dance is all over the place big this year. But screw others. Robyn’s dance pop, yes pop, is the real deal. Dancehall Queen, she really is. Not only that Robyn is introducing Swedish electropop, she’s bringing us the best of it.
Instead of anticipating fans and herself possessing all these great tracks, Robyn then released these tracks broken into 3 albums. Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 appeared to be the B-sides. Pt. 3 then became the compilation, a full-lenght album. And as word have it, Body Talk happens so to be the most complete album out of the installments. The only grab here is that P. 3 is energy-filled. Robyn has “Eclipse” while Pt. 1 has “CRy When You Get Older”. In Body Talk Pt. 3, there’s not much breathing room. Even the first track “DAncing On My Own” cannot cut it. It is dance, body will talk, from start all the way through the finish.
5. Contra – Vampire Weekend
See other note: Vampire Weekend
4. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
3. This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem
How can music that’s somewhere in the dance genre can be so rocking, can be so serious and profound, can be so indie-ish, can be so incredibly great? LCD Soundsystem has all the answer.
Heard that This is Happening is their last serving. I don’t know. This Is Happening is too darn good that others seem to be okay with it. But I can’t quite accept it. This Is Happening is too darn good that I seem to want, expect and now just hoping that that is not happening.
2. The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monae
There are too many things enveloping Janelle Monae and her album The ArchAndroid. She has a wide range of musical influences and combinations of different genres that it’s a workload for any one to elaborate. Her music is futuristic but is nonetheless retro-R&B. She can be “like a schizo running wild” with a very sincere notion or intentions. She made imitable dance moves, dresses in odd fashion and she can be so mainstream. But she can be very characteristic and eccentric and can be so obscure. Not to mention, Janelle Monae has a killer voice that beats all cliche.
With these variations, she was able to create a well put together conceptual album. One that is theatrical in deliverance.
At the start you’d feel like you are actually watching a play. Then, it’d take you to a cafe or a inside an intimate bar somewhere in Europe. Then, it’d make you dance to her tunes. Then, be so intrigued, caught up with her main storytelling and about her coming from another dimension, from the future. It’s an album meant to listen to chronologically. An album where the whole is more appreciated than its parts.
1. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Can you really hate an artist and like his music at the same time? Forget about the Taylor Swift fiasco. (It’s not like it’s the first time he did that). Forget that he’d side comment about not receiving award, even while performing. Forget that he had to challenge another rapper to beat record sales just to prove he’s the best. Forget that he’d take his head out of the car and scream bragging about how great his album is and then announces the next day after how well received it is. The bottom line is that Kanye West’s music is a thing of grandeur, bigger than the issues, bigger than anything that are representing him and certainly bigger than his ego.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is pretty much the best reviewed album of the year. And I have no squat or any qualm of disagreeing.Interestingly, this is a pure rap album and Kanye West is never really fully concluded as rap. He’s more upfront; sometimes too upfront his lyrics get nasty filled with honesty. Here, Kanye West is a forward thinker. He breaks with tradition and sees beyond expectations. The use of instrumentation is unbelievably. Here, he mastered song sampling. It is strangely dramatic, too. How he quibbles his wordplays, humors out of misery and how he can be so opinionative, politically and religiously, on the razzle. He made rap and hip-hop into a clear art form, majestic, orchestrated… epic. The guest appearances is immeasureable not jut in terms of numbers but also in terms of their importance. Bon Iver, KID CUDI, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Charlie Wilson, Alicia Keys, JAY-Z etc. even the voice over of Chris Rock, all played crucial parts in the tracks.
Jaw dropped, spine tingled, major goosebumps! Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is any music enthusiasts’ beautiful dark twisted fantasy turned into reality.
I Speak Because I can – Laura Marling
Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter
xx – The xx
The Black Keys