Avery Island’s Favorite Albums of 2010

Well, we’ve spent an entire week teasing it, so here you go: our favorite albums of last year. 2010 was a spectacular year and many albums came out that we might not feature here; this is list is the highlights of our year. These aren’t necessarily what we believe are the “best” records of 2010, but rather just the ones that we think of as our new favorites.

25. No Age – Everything In Between

Energy is something many young acts thrive on since most of the members have more of it than older acts might. However, this rarely translates itself into anything other than a wild live show. But sometimes, albums are able to do something with it, and on Nouns, No Age’s previous album, they utilized youthful spirit and focused dexterity to create an album that felt young.

Everything in Between is the perfect follow-up, an album that takes this spirit and articulates it. It matures it, but it’s not older by any means. With tour fatigue probably finally catching up to the dynamic duo, Everything in Between joins the ranks of Aesop Rock’s Labor Days and even Springsteen’s own everyman rock to become an album that celebrates not the day-by-day but rather the people that live it.

24. Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here?

What Happened, composed of five dense songs loaded to the brim with shimmering atmosphere, led the world to instantly corral Emeralds with the cloaked guitar gods of Sunn O))) as “drone.” That may be partially the reason why Does it Look Like I’m Here? took everybody by surprise earlier last year: the fog that dominated their past LP has cleared and now this new album is populated by electrical blips, fluttering arpeggios, and enough space to make you feel like you’re floating in, well, space.

This LP shows a much more melodic side of Emeralds, especially on tracks like “Double Helix” that host repetitive rhythms and guitar-like chord accompaniments. Certainly, Does it Look Like I’m Here? bears more resemblance to Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport than the continental Monoliths & Dimensions, yet it functions like both records simultaneously: as a piece with both musical direction and endless depth to immerse yourself into.

It’s something to wrap yourself in during slow-wave sleep, or, in your waking hours, something to contemplate the immensity of the universe to. Yeah, I know, super-cheesy, but you’ll understand once “Science Center” hits you.

23. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

To be honest, I was never the biggest Crystal Castles fan. Their debut, while good, isn’t an album I revisit often or really at all; couple that with a new report on Alice Glass being a violent bitch every week and it doesn’t create the best image for a band that I was already not that into. This all changed with the release of their second self-titled album, one that is not only vastly superior to their debut, but also oddly personal.

Song titles and lyrics all point towards childhood imagery, but with two catches: it’s the childhood of a young girl and it’s not pretty. The album shifts between clear, lucid dance music with trance and synth influences (best exemplified by “Celestica”) and fuzzed-out violent dance-punk like in opener “Fainting Spells” or on “Doe Deer”. The album, while it doesn’t seem like it at first, gives Alice Glass a new vulnerability to compliment her violent fits of peak and its all the better because of it.

22. Avey Tare – Down There

Down There is an album that makes perfect sense after certain information falls into place. When first released, most thought it was an interaction tour fatigue and faulted it as such. Now with news of his recent divorce, Dave Portner’s solo effort makes perfect sense, giving songs like “Ghost of Books” or “Lucky 1” a personal foundation that is only now clear to the general public.

Not that the album needed an entire divorce proceeding to show Portner was having problems, from the vocal samples on “Oliver Twist” that refer to dark days and a glass bottom boat ride across the River Styx. “Ghost of Books” and it’s lyrics about finding a ghost land and it feeling like “a perfect dream” illuminates an uncharacteristically fatal statement from the leader of Animal Collective, making Down There an album that is unlikely to happen again.

21. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

For an album that sold really and was liked by critics, Plastic Beach pissed off quite a few people. Maybe it’s the lack of any kind of obvious singles (though “Stylo” and “On Melancholy Hill” fit that bill easily given the right circumstances), but people still cling to Demon Days as “the Gorillaz” release. I say forget that. Plastic Beach is easily the best thing Damon Albarn has done since Blur’s Think Tank.

Demon Days had great singles, but they pockmarked a baggy and otherwise unimpressive record. Albarn essentially forgoes all efforts for chart-topping on this outing and prefers each song to sink in and mesh with the others. Borne on 80’s synth and 90’s hip-hop, the record traces a circle around this half-fictitious island of garbage in the Pacific, leaving breezy summer snoozers (“Empire Ants,” “On Melancholy Hill”) in just as much abundance as its party crashers (“Glitter Freeze,” “Stylo”). It may be winter already, but I have a feeling I’ll be spinning this again come June.

20. Liars – Sisterworld

As one of the first albums to leak last year, it feels like we’ve had Sisterworld for an eternity by now; it’s tight yet unhinged take on their formula (as formula as you can get with Liars anyways) post-punk and art-rock takes the band to a whole new level. While it lacks the obvious ambitions of Drum’s Not Dead or the full-bodied excess of Liars, Sisterworld manages to awe with a terrific sense of atmosphere and some just plan creepy moments.

The album’s shining moment is “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant”, a textured, claustrophobic punk rave with lyrics about unmotivated violence and massacre that takes the innuendo and hinting of prior songs (“Counting victims one-by-one” served as the first tracks’ most obvious and creepiest moment) and reveals it’s grotesque face. The rock equivalent to a Silent Hill game, Sisterworld wields an odd evil that sounds as dangerous as it does terrific.

19. Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise

Genuine beauty in music is a trait that’s getting harder and harder to find in the wake illegal downloading and Lady Gaga. Making yourself known is easier than it’s ever been thanks to the internet, but this accessibility comes with a price: dilution. That’s why I find it so refreshing to see an artist like Hendrik Weber, who shirks any obligations to insert any corny crescendos or mathematically precise phasers into his sets. Pantha du Prince is pretty for pretty’s sake, and with no remorse.

As an album attempting to reflect the serenity of nature, Black Noise is a collage of many moving parts at any given point, like an audible fingerprint that distinguishes any one song from the other. From the sound of crunching snow to the echoes and pings of wind chimes, Black Noise is one of the singular most breathtaking listening experiences I have casually picked up in the past year.

18. Four Tet – There Is Love in You

Kieran Hebden, the musician behind Four Tet, has frequently crossed paths with friend and former classmate William Bevan, or Burial as is his stage name. If you’ve known one, you’ll know the other; the two are like kindred spirits when it comes to the subtlety of their grooves. Their collaborations, of which there are several, including the excellent “Moth” and “Wolf Cub,” demonstrate both Bevan’s subtlety and Hebden’s finesse.

Whether it’s by coincidence or some consequence of their collaborations, Four Tet’s 2010 record There Is Love in You shows a totally different side of Hebden, a softer, more accessible, maybe even more refined side of Four Tet, probably a fortunate consequence of all his hang-out time with Bevan.

There Is Love in You holds pretty, unobtrusive, and totally organic beats that fill you with elation like a cool evergreen breeze rather than like a needle of amphetamines. It’s unfocused on human carnality, not necessarily in rejection if it, but in reverence for a sensation greater than what the typical dance track has to offer. It’s something you can definitely get down to, but at the same time it’s something that will reward you for just sitting back and taking it all in.

17. Kylesa – Spiral Shadow

Taking the formula nailed on their last album (the excellent Static Tensions) and throwing in Doom and Psych influences seems like a sort of half-assed development for a band that seemed to finally perfect their own style of music. However, Spiral Shadow is anything but tired; it’s an excellent, monolithically-sized beast of an album full of wide-open guitar textures and full-bodied dynamic drumming that’ll hit you on both sides of the brain.

The great thing about Static Tension was its pacing and self-awareness; it seemed like the album knew when to cut a song off meaning it was an easy repeat-listener. But Spiral Shadow actually feels like it has weight and force to it while sounding less rough-around-the-edges. The title track is the highlight of the album where their psych, doom, and sludge influences all ease together in one gigantic opus, making Spiral Shadow this Georgia band’s best album to date.

16. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

Black metal may have been on its way to becoming an armor-clad, face-painted, goat-sacrificing relic of the past if it wasn’t for forward-thinking groups like Agalloch. By fusing black metal’s breakneck speed and macabre imagery with post-rock’s passionate delicacy, these four Oregon natives have managed to transcend the stigma associated with the genre’s self-immolating ritualism that forever turned the world away from Mayhem, Colosseum, and possibly all of Norway. Agalloch serve as a pharos for all that black metal was originally supposed to stand for: soul-devouring melancholic atmosphere, social disillusionment, and most importantly, skull-crushing heaviness.

The Mantle was considerably clearer in both production and message than Pale Folklore, and Ashes Against the Grain was more melodically potent than either that came before it. Now Marrow of the Spirit is perhaps the most confident work the group has ever delivered. Poetically written and yet never faltering beneath its own weight, Marrow of the Spirit is a starkly beautiful portrait of man, nature, and the death that will inevitably smother them both. And it fucking rocks. Can’t beat that.

15. Shining – Blackjazz

Anybody who knows me will know I’m a sucker for three things: complex time signatures (coming from a fan of both Dave Brubeck and Meshuggah), thrashing beats, and the saxophone. If you happened to read that and think “You too?,” I suggest you check out Shining immediately. They might dress like some 80’s industrial goth Germans at their live sets, but if you’re not repelled by the fact that half of them look vaguely like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, then I’m sure you’ll have the patience for the blistering cacophony that is Shining’s masterpiece.

They rock sax and keyboard right alongside distorted guitar like free jazz and heavy metal being forged together in some twisted factory. Texture-wise, and I type this with reservation, they bear resemblance to any number of ignominious nu-metal bands, but their song structures and composition, and particularly songs like “Helter Skelter,” remind me more of avant-garde setups like Zu or Original Silence. I always said that there’s got to be at least one good nu-metal band out there; maybe I just found it.

14. Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me

I find that the most frequent complaint people have with Newsom is “that voice.” I’ve heard her twangy voice compared to old ladies, breeding goats, and an 8-year-old doing a Gollum impression, none of which do the fine lady justice. One thing people with a hair trigger on the “skip” button are often quick to miss about her is her strength as a narrator, as a relater of didactic, rustic tales. This strength ferried her across her critically acclaimed, Steve Albini-produced opus Ys and it’s one she preserves on her ambitious triple album Have One on Me.

Songs like the title track or “Good Intentions Paving Company” aren’t traditional ones; they function as elaborate portraits of love stories. Each song feels like an antique romance novel filled with references to counts and countesses, soldiers, and old-fashioned courtyards. The language is reserved and dignified, in perfect symbiosis with Newsom’s piano, harp, or whatever she may be playing at the moment. For fans, she’s at the top of her game. For acquaintances, prepare to hear this gifted nostalgia-loving dame do her thing.

13. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Critics seem to have forgotten about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; most quote his twitter feed or talk about his dickhead persona that has flashed up everywhere from the MTV awards to FEMA responses. However, we haven’t. We still remember how the album drags as soon as “Blame Game” hits. How “Lost in the World” is a lyrical low-point of West’s career. How the sketch with Chris Rock hauls it’s lifeless, humorless corpse for over two minutes. We remember all of this.

However, we also remember “Gorgeous” and it’s intense wordplay, “Monster” and how Nicki Minaj still blows us away, and the first time we heard “Runaway”; we hated it. Then we liked it. Then we loved it. The first listen is a dazzle, the second is a disappointment, and after a while, you just “get” the album. Is it his best? No, but he damn sure tries. What the album does have is some of the best tracks of his career, the best lyrics of any hip hop album released this year, and the best guest verses we’ve heard in a long while. Good job Kanye, you finally got us on your side too.

12. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

With the announcement of LCD Soundsystem’s final show, I looked back at the cover of This Is Happening; back to James Murphy staring at the ground, avoiding my eyes. “This Is Happening” once sounded declarative and immediate. Now it sounds melancholic; it really is happening. Thankfully, Murphy left us with what might be his best album yet, an album full of daring dancepunk anthems and heartfelt lyrical turns of immense relatability.

“Dance Yrself Clean” is a perfect opener, its muted frustrations being released in a whirl of cathartic synths and drums. “Drunk Girls” is easily his best single and might be the most overlooked political innuendo of the year. However, if we’re talking highlights, “I Can Change” might be the best song of his career; its intimate knowledge not just of how synthpop works but your own empty promises to a loved one is something that we won’t soon forget. Let’s have one on the Godfather.

11. The National – High Violet

Matt Berninger’s skill as an urban poet have allowed him and his band to rise to fame in the jungles of Cincinnati and New York over the past 10 years. It was their album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, an unpolished document of heartbreak and desolation, that would garner them the attention of the online listening community. But even after excellent albums/breakup remedies like Alligator and Boxer, it wouldn’t be until 2010, upon the release of their opus High Violet, that The National would score articles in Rolling Stones and generally enter the public eye.

The Dessner brothers manage to pull his melancholia together with a conservative finesse, reflecting their experience with “neo-Classical” outfit Clogs. Wafting on an orchestral cloud, Berninger sings “I never thought about love when I thought about home,” reminding us of times when coming home to a warm bed felt like swinging shut the doors of a cold steel cage, with nothing but glimpses of distant blue through a narrow window.

10. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All Catalog

Back when they first released their Odd Future Tape back in 2008, not many people heard it; the few that did championed it’s creativity despite its glaring flaws. We gave them the benefit of the doubt because, hey, the kids were only 17 when they made it. Props, now go back to class.

How wrong we all were.

Odd Future is not a bunch of kids who make beats and raps for giggles. They’re microphone fiends with an appetite for forced penetration. They’re incendiary time bombs waiting to blow up all over White America. They’re uncompromising, hilarious, sickening, and the best thing to happen to hip hop in years. Throughout 2010, Bastard, EARL, Blackenedwhite, and Radical have come to represent the very best-of-the-best for the group; that’s almost 4 hours of album of the year quality hip hop for free. If that’s not fucking swag, I don’t know what is.

09. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Album of the Year? Not really, but that didn’t stop everyone from parading in the streets when this can-do indie band from Canada beat out the two biggest pop stars of the year and two hacks for Album of the Year at the Grammies. While it might not be our favorite album of the year, or what we might consider the best, it’s still one spectacular piece of music.

No longer is Arcade Fire living under the shadow of Funeral; they’re now free to explore, and between every genre crag, they pull out gems. The baroque-folk wonder of the title track, “Empty Room” and it’s advancement of the propulsion system from “No Cars Go”, and “The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains” synth balladry; it all just works. And with “We Used to Wait”, the band might have its most satisfying moment of crescendo catharsis.

08. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

On The Age of Adz, Stevens finally gives us a proper follow-up to Illinois. It’s not a multimedia project on the glory of a highway system, it’s not an electronic experiment, and it’s not an EP that’s longer than most people’s LPs. Adz is a claustrophobically dense, catastrophically large, and sometimes absolutely gorgeous album that reveals that Stevens, as he says at the climax, is “not fucking around.”

On opener “Futile Devices,” Stevens echoes as if from around the corners of a cave before a series of drippy whirs and pops open up the mathy half-industrial-half-All Delighted People-outtake “Too Much.” 8-bit blips and 808 slaps soak singles like “I Walked” while elegant violin sections dart up and down scales like schools of fish for a waterlogged match made in heaven. With an melodic mind and the skill to realize literally huge music, Stevens proves yet again that he is as uncompromising as he is brilliant.

07. Sleigh Bells – Treats

If you’ve been looking for a speaker-shattering, dirty-dancing, neighbors-calling-the-cops party soundtrack, then look no further: Sleigh Bells. The album sports nothing but gutbusters that are about as simple and as dirty as you can get. With a little grit and a lot of volume, songs like “Riot Rythem” reveal themselves as grungy pop gems while the highlight of the album “Rill Rill” stands out with it’ simple beauty.

And while Treats may be loud, it’s not stupid. It’s a heavily-calculated, almost scientific pop album that wrings hooks and melodies out of anything it can. This means lots of guitar-chugging, hip hop beats, and of course the versatile voice of Alexis Krauss. We usually don’t tend to champion very straight-forward records, but in the case of Treats, it’s just too damn good to pass up.

06. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

Halcyon Digest is a perfect example of an album that simply works. It’s not out to blow your mind or revolutionize a style. It’s just continuing where its predecessor left off and making it better in every way. Where shoe-gazing wander once slowed the band down, it now takes center stage and reveals more of the gorgeous pop sensibilities that Microcastle sometimes only hinted at.

Listen to “Helicopter”: it’s reverb-drenched hallways, its androgynous vocals, and it’s moist, dripping percussion. This is My Bloody Valentine through a fisheye lense, dispersing the entrancing atmosphere to reveal a no-longer vague beauty. The album nails a bevy of styles and genres with precision and heart in a way that not many bands are capable of proving yet again why Bradford Cox might be the Kevin Shields of our generation.

05. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

First thing’s first: this is the best hip hop album released this year. It might not be as shocking as Bastard, as ambitious as Kanye’s Fantasy, or as vicious as Teflon Don, but its also the best pop music I’ve heard all year. Sure, the album is front-loaded, but when was the last time you heard of an album front-loaded until the eighth track? “Shutterbug” and “Tangerine” might be the best songs produced by any Outkast member in almost a decade.

Sure, the album’s political statements might be dated back to pre-election days, but most of the time the album is just having too good of a time with itself to even notice. It’s an album from 2007 that parties like it’s 2020. For production touchstones, look back as far as Rick James and as recently as the Neptunes and Gucci Mane. Ultimately though, it’s the smooth, experienced charisma of Big Boi himself that makes the album the funnest thing released last year.

04. Beach House – Teen Dream

Teen Dream reminds me a lot of the trifecta of indie opuses we saw last year, namely Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, and Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Each carried a full CD’s worth of indispensable, inseparable songs of a rainbow’s variety of hues. Each was the pop opus that signified the culmination of the artists’ developing creative skills. The production was clear, the melodies masterful, and the balance between them like that of a martial artist.

Upon hearing the horizon-clearing crescendo in opener “Zebra,” I instantly drew memories of the opening tracks from each of those masterpieces. The ideal opening track is one that announces the glorious breadth of the album you’re about to hear without revealing any of its well-tempered secrets. “Zebra,” like “Southern Point,” like “Cannibal Resource,” like “In the Flowers,” it’s the beginning of an audio journey.

Though they play such simple music, it’s this charm that carries the album along with Victoria Legrand’s smokey, sensuous voice and Alex Scally’s layered, indispensible guitar lines. Melodies rise and fall like gospel songs, yet never abandon their nimbus aesthetic; it’s difficult not to respect music that is both so tame and so alluring. It’s this gift of songwriting that brought this record into light to be one of the great pieces of 2010, almost 2009.

03. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

Steve Ellison might be disappointed that he didn’t finally get the Grammy he’s dreamed of, but fuck that: Cosmogramma is the best electronic album released in years. It’s an album that actually feels big in a way most albums only insinuate. It’s not often that an album so claustrophobically stuffed feels so open and it’s not often that electronic music feels so organic.

Maybe it’s the massive jazz influences (Ellison is a Coltrane after all) or the bevy of eclectic samples (from locomotives to ping pong games), or maybe it’s the obvious love and confidence that you can hear in every corner of Cosmogramma. And for an album that starts so suddenly and loudly, it ends with a moment of easy beauty with “Galaxy in Janaki”, a song that accomplishes what the entire album did in just over two minutes, and you can bet your ass that’s beyond a Grammy.

02. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal

I know, it’s peculiar of us to pick an ambient album as runner-up for album of the year, but one that’s as mystifying as Returnal is too terrific to pass up. Among all the squelching cacophony that opener “Nil Admirali” contains, you can clearly hear what sounds like the echoing screams of a pained man. Yet despite all the noise, it’s hardly caustic, not even hard on the ears. In fact, it’s calming, even.  Perhaps the name, a Latin phrase meaning “to be surprised by nothing,” was chosen to reflect upon the serenity of the chaos

A subtle element of nostalgia pervades the atmosphere with names like “Preyouandi” and “Where Does Time Go” hinting at a desire to reflect on the past. Returnal’s concerns are totally human, and yet the music only tangentially so, leaving the impression of a realm that isn’t grounded in civilization, or perhaps even preceding it.

OPN is similar to the aforementioned Emeralds, yet Lopatin’s progress followed the opposite course up to this point; instead of casting off all the fog and exposing the arpeggios and chords that make it breathe as Emeralds did, OPN sinks into it, concealing its flesh beneath an embryonic cloud of space.

01. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

Avery Island is a construction between my good friend Mason and I; most of the time, we agree. However, this year didn’t have a Merriweather Post Pavilion or a Fleet Foxes, so for the first time since starting the site, there was no clear answer for our Album of the Year.

Originally, this spot was reserved for Ellison’s cosmic drama. Then it became the stomping grounds of Daddy Fat Sax himself. And for a while, Bradford Cox and crew won us over with their puppy dog eyes. But then Patrick Stickles and his band of merry men (and one woman) came. They saw. They conquered.

It has terrific song after terrific song: opener “A More Perfect Union” gives an immediate, vivid impression, “Richard II” hits a cathartic stride early on, and “…And Ever” is about as oblique as punk music gets.

But the best songs on the album are easily “A Pot In Which to Piss”, which perfectly separates the first act from the second with it’s riffs on Springsteen, and “The Battle of Hampton Roads” steals the best moment of self-immolation of 2010 from Kanye’s “Runaway” as Stickles takes the phrase “too much information” to a back alley in 14 awe-inducing minutes.

What really gives this album the top spot though is the fact that out of every album this year, there isn’t a moment we would change on The Monitor. Titus Andronicus, a band no one even knew about three short years ago, have accomplished something fantastic on this album; they advanced their talents, bettered their songwriting infinitely, and made an album that sounds like nothing else, and for this reason and a surfeit of others, The Monitor earns the top spot on the list and is Avery Island’s Favorite Album of 2010.

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1 Comment

  1. 02/25/11: Our Favorite Albums of 2010 « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

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