ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 10-6
To begin, let me say that with respect to albums, I’ve decided I’m not that great at “best of” lists. I’m very much more pleased with my, as of yet, uncompleted songs of the year rankings. An individual song is both easier to digest (i.e. shorter) and, frankly, a particular song is the (at least ostensible) reason I write and the reason you read each week. I think, for the most part, it’s difficult to judge albums in a way that’s anything more than “this one had the most songs on it I really liked.” Maybe that’s how one (watch it) is supposed to judge albums (at least when ranking them against each other). Maybe that’s how the authors of most “best of” lists you may read as this year comes to a close went about their tasks. But that’s not how I want to do it, so I’m not. The end result of this decisions means as I’ve listen to and reacted to entire albums this year I’ve looked for something deeper. Thereby, after discovering it (or not), I hoped to rank said album according to that deepness value (DV) (I’ll be the first to admit that DV may not really be there (or worse, may just be complete hipster bullshit that I’ve fallen into) (N.B. Suddenly I’m reminded of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs)). It’s probably best to think about DV simply as something (artful, huh?) that makes me appreciate an album in more than in a “bunch of good songs” way. I don’t know. DV may be different for every album. Suffice it to say that not every album (less than 10 this year, anyway) even had DV (to the extent that I appreciated it, at least).
Above was my long way of me telling you that after the top 5, these rankings really don’t mean anything (assuming they mean anything at all). Maybe this really just means that my absolute favorite albums are my absolute favorite ones for absolutely concrete reasons (DV) that I will try and convey. In my opinion, they are objectively The-Year’s-Best. (I’m proud of myself for even writing the previous sentence. Re-read it.)
I swear I won’t do this with the songs. But following are the honorable mention albums of the year. Junky Star by Ryan Bingham; The Broken Dreams Club by Girls (this would actually be ranked but for my insistence that only full albums, (what the industry refers to as LPs as opposed to EPs) be on the list. You’ll hear more about this); Plastic Beach by Gorillaz; Lisbon by The Walkmen (I just got into this. It’s good. Give it a spin.); Astro Coast by Surfer Blood; Broken Bells by Broken Bells; Tell’em by Sleigh Bells; Expo ’86 by Wolf Parade. (this just got kicked out of the Top 10. This is what I had initially written about it: I wrote about my high expectations for this album. I landed right in the middle of them. There are individual tracks on it that are as good as anything they’ve ever done. But there are some experiments that I can’t quite get behind or maybe its them trying to sound like themselves. I don’t know. It’s just not quite there.) OK, without further ado, 10-6:
10. Ten by Jason Moran. (Fitting, huh?) This is where you catch me in total music-dork-ville. This is my Saturday morning album. Jason Moran is a jazz pianist. By every metric, he is a virtuoso. This year he was awarded a MacArthur Grant. This grant is awarded to U.S. citizens who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” Ten, if you at all like jazz or piano, is just a great piece of work. He is a really, really talented dude, and I really enjoy this album.
9. Contra by Vampire Weekend. Album-cover-wise, this is easily the most creepily hypnotic one of the year. Contra was without a doubt the album I listened to the most in Q1 2010. I was really into it for a while. I’m certain that there’s some part of me that is adamant I shouldn’t enjoy Contra as much I do. The thing is, I don’t know if it’s the part of me that really wants to listen to musically critically or the part of me the that gets a little embarrassed when someone catches me “You, oooh, oooh, oooh” section of Run. Regardless, VW crafted a lot really beautiful songs about a lot esoteric subjects. They made me learn what Horchata was. I’m not sure there is a phrase lead singer, Ezra Koenig, could sing that wouldn’t sound melodic when surrounded by the VW Upper West-side Soweto. Well, maybe not any phrase, I’m sure Kanye could come up with few.
8. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. I feel like this list loses all credibility if this isn’t represented. It’s good. It’s really good. It’s not ranked higher than The Roots, frankly, because I like The Roots more and because I feel (in a Radiohead sort of way) that there is some “Emperor’s New Clothes” to Kanye that merits more study. There is not an immediate Earth shattering single and that may actually make it more thorough, better. The entire album sounds like he’s aiming for greatness and he probably gets there. Certainly MBDTF will win a majority of album of the year accolades, and it probably should. Maybe I’m just being stubborn. Personal favorite, so far, is the WD, So Appalled. But, the tracks with Rhianna, especially, All of The Lights, are the truth. Regardless of the track, though, Kanye’s ego explodes through every sound. That’s both good and disturbing.
7. How I Got Over by The Roots. This is probably my favorite hip-hop album since Speakerboxx/The Love Below, probably even the best album The Roots have ever made. How I Got Over meanders through and couple different styles of music, but I love the multi-instrumentality (made up word). It’s another Saturday morning chill-out album that they went and dressed with solid rhymes. Highlights are Dear God 2.0 and Right On, with Joanna Newsom singing the weird cadence/chorus throughout. Her voice will distract you, but you’ll catch your head bobbing throughout.
6. The Big To-Do by Drive-by Truckers. Big surprise, huh? However, it’s telling from a WD’s-love-of-DBT perspective that this album wasn’t in the top 5. ’cause it’s really just a lot of songs I like. But it’s a lot of songs I like a lot. My initial love of DBT was for the songs written and performed by Mike Cooley. He’s the sardonic caricature laden wise-cracking story teller to straight-man Patterson Hood’s blunt force trauma lesson teacher. However, Hood’s songs on this album led me to re-introduce myself to the rest of his stuff that I had erroneously passed over for Cooley’s more accessible stuff. I was missing a lot. The first two songs on the album really hit hard. (1) a son’s reaction to his father’s death, (Daddy Learned to Fly); (2) a guy on a bender destined to end badly (The Fourth Night of My Drinking). They reasonate through the album. But, I swear my favorite song (outside of the WD, Birthday Boy) is The Flying Wallendas, a song about the life and death of the famous troop of trapeze artists. It really gets me. The music, the words, the fact that someone would even write a song about them. It’s worth a listen. The entire album is. But I can give you better introductions to DBT (even if no one is heeds them).
5-1 next week. Enjoy.