Earlier this week, we kicked off our obligatory year-end coverage with the 10 best songs of 2010, as decided by, well… me. As promised, we continue today with the much-anticipated “Part Two” of that post. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Best Records of 2010… also decided upon by me (in case that wasn’t clear). Enjoy.
Best Records of 2010:
10. Games – That We Can Play
Can I put an EP on my “Best Records of 2010″ list? Of course I can, it’s my list and I make the rules. Games‘ That We Can Play is 5 tracks of vintage ’80s synth-pop bliss (plus a remix). The observationally astute amongst you will recall “Strawberry Skies” was already #2 on my Top Songs list. It’s the clear jam of the bunch, but the remainder of the EP isn’t too far behind. While the duo, Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never and Tigercity’s Joel Ford, clearly play in the throwback end of the pool, their sound can’t be mistaken for anything but contemporary. It is as much 2010 as it is 1984. Also, rumor has it that Games will be recording a 2011 full length in Jann Hammer’s studio (yes, he of Miami Vice theme song fame), which, in a weird and awesome way, makes a lot of sense.
9. Buke & Gass – Riposte
Because I just wrote about Buke & Gass for a Lagmag piece, I’ll let my earlier self do the talking here for a bit: “Yes, that sound you hear coming through your speakers (or from that stage) is made by two people. Granted, these are peculiar sounds, but it’s the complexity that belies their true number. To an extent, the peculiarity can be attributed to their self-built instruments. Arone Dyer plays the “buke” (a modified six-string baritone ukulele), and Aron Sanchez the “gass” (a guitar-bass hybrid), which are both filtered through various invented pedals and amps. Combined with complex percussion (played simultaneously with their feet, of course), Dyer’s intricate vocal melodies, and other miscellaneous hand-claps and snaps, and you start to see where this impressive racket comes from.” Fair warning, that impressive racket digs into your brain and doesn’t let go, and you’ll eventually start hearing Riposte loops in your head. The only remedy? Putting the record back on.
8. Grinderman – Grinderman 2
I couldn’t have been the only one who wanted 2007’s self-titled debut release from Nick Cave’s Grinderman to be more seedy, more snarling, and more unsettling than it actually was. Everything about it, from the name to the monkey on the cover to the first single, “No Pussy Blues,” made me think the full final product was going to be that kind of Cave record. Sure, some of that scuzz was present, but there were also an awful lot of ballady shit. I don’t want Grinderman to be pretty; I have a stack of recent Bad Seeds for that. Grinderman 2, however, is that record I wanted. It is a dirty, dingy, and ominous affair, and I love it. A huge amount of that atmosphere comes from letting Warren Ellis loose on a giant battery of pedals and effects, but Cave is also at his howling, lecherous best. There is still beauty to be found here, but it’s mixed up in the filth where it belongs.
7. Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here?
Cleveland’s Emeralds have made a lot of records (and cassettes, and cdrs, and mini-discs, maybe a lathe-cut or two, etc.). And by “a lot” I mean pushing 50. Does it Look Like I’m Here is mainly a collection of synth loops and patterns that, by Emeralds’ standards, is comparatively straightforward. The drone and experimental side of earlier Emeralds takes a backseat here, and for that reason I guess you could say this is also their most accessible release. It reminds me a lot of mid-era Tangerine Dream, with a specific touchstone being “Love on a Real Train,” the theme from Risky Business. Also, this is the one record on my Top 10 that is an absolute must-own on vinyl. The mastering by James Plotkin is second to none, and is as much a part of this record’s beauty as the compositions themselves.
6. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
This is Happening basically combines all the things I love about Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Berlin-era David Bowie, Brian Ferry, and most importantly, LCD Soundsystem. It is a rare creative force that can take pieces from all those distinct styles and influences and successfully filter them through its own lens to create something that’s still fresh and exciting. Ryan Dombal, in his review of This is Happening on Pitchfork, said, “Murphy is remaking essential ’70s art-rock in his own hyper-modern, self-aware image.” While I think it’s a pretty fair approximation of what’s happening here, it downplays the excitement and freshness the album actually delivers. If it’s true that LCD will cease regular output from here on out, at least he went out on a high note.
5. Tallest Man on Earth – Wild Hunt
In 2008, Shallow Grave, the unbelievable debut full length from Kristian Matsson, a.k.a. The Tallest Man On Earth, found itself at number 3 in my Top 10. Matsson may have fallen two spots to my number 5 record with this year’s Wild Hunt, but that’s not much of a sophomore slump. I tend to bore easily when it comes to singer/songwriter records, but the amount of nuance and diversity Matsson coaxes from his limited weaponry (in number, not skill) is astonishing. He has a commanding and captivating presence, on record and in person, and I look forward to the very real prospect of including him in many future Best-of Lists.
4. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Personally, there wasn’t a more anticipated record on this list, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The sheer amount of ideas, samples, and sounds skillfully stuffed into Cosmogramma is it’s greatest strength. But to be honest, it’s also the only reason it isn’t higher on this list (it coulda been a contenda!). At times, it’s almost too much–it’s difficult to latch onto any one direction before the esteemed FlyLo has you moving in a completely different direction. While that can make for an occasionally overwhelming experience, too many ideas is better than no ideas at all. Cosmogramma is still a supremely impressive undertaking by one of the most exciting artists working today.
3. Gayngs – Relayted
As mentioned in yesterday’s “Best Songs” coverage, Relayted remains a criminally under-appreciated record here in America. Yes, it got a ton of press (mainly due to the involvement of Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon), but it never seemed to be about praise. It was always about how many people were in the band, how Prince showed up at its release party, or how it was recorded entirely at 69 beats per minute–the tangential kitsch factors. Few press outlets seemed to be talking about how fucking good it is. Ringleader Ryan Olson’s production and sequencing are outstanding, and the musicianship is 100% on point. The British press are on board, with Relayted ending up on more than a few year-end lists there. Why the difference in opinion? My gut tells me it has something to do with America’s obsession with irony, or wanting to be “in on the joke”. But this record is no joke, it’s an epic slow-jam masterpiece that’s as modern as it is retro, and it belongs on more 2010 best-of lists.
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
There is nothing all that “beautiful” about this record. It’s angry, unsettling, chauvinistic, violent, sad, and crazy. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly fascinating. Yes, the production is an ante-upping gauntlet drop for mainstream hip-hop, it’s full of phenomenal guest spots, and the pacing is spot-on. I mean, there honestly isn’t a skippable track on the record. The album certainly isn’t perfect, but there is something openly flawed about it, and I no longer get the feeling that what we’re seeing is an act. The man has demons and seems to have no problem sharing them with us. I’m definitely torn about enjoying it as much as I do, because most of the things he says (and does) are simply indefensible. However, I have always been drawn to intersection of art and sanity, and there are very few records that seem to put that tenuous relationship on display like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Of course, it’s also possible I’m giving him too much credit–this could just be an asshole admitting he’s an asshole. But given the sheer audacity of this record, I’m willing to see where he goes with it… for now.
1. Beach House – Teen Dream
I’ve enjoyed every Beach House record since their first self-titled release on Carpark in 2006. But it always seemed like a duo that had their “thing” worked out–they had their market on hazy, organ-driven, semi-torchy late night vibes cornered. While each subsequent release did get a little cleaner, a little more realized, it didn’t stray too far from home. Then came Teen Dream, the first Beach House record I’ve flat-out loved. It’s not that Beach House or Devotion got old per se, but in so many ways, Teen Dream a substantial step forward. It’s decidedly more diverse, dynamic and elegant than either of its predecessors. It is, in my mind, the only perfect record that came out in 2010, and in a year so full of excellent music, that’s an accolade I don’t dole out lightly.