My Favorite Music of 2010

It’s been over a year since my last blog post. A lot has happened since then: we finished moving into our townhouse in Tustin, Calif., we traveled all over the place, and we started our family (my wife, Katie, is pregnant with twin girls, due in May 2011).

I figured now, the day after xmas, would be a good time to “reboot” the blog for a few reasons. We’ll have a lot to write about in the months ahead as we progress with our baby adventure. We’re currently in Chicago celebrating xmas with Katie’s awesome family. And this is normally the time of year when I play taste fascist and force my picks for the best albums of the past 12 months onto anyone who will pay attention.

Outside of my wife, my family and my job, music is the personal passion that consumes my life. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. Katie and I go to dozens of concerts a year, including an annual pilgrimage to the Coachella Festival in Indio, Calif. (which, sadly, we’re skipping in 2011 so we can tend to the job of giving birth to babies, due on nearly the same weekend as the event). I spent a brief stint as a college radio DJ and an even briefer stint as a music journalist (both amateur and professional), so participating in the vast and meaningless tradition of year-end list making is just one of those things I do.

Anyhow, enough with the preamble. Here’s the list. I would love to see yours, too. Maybe you loved something – or several things — that passed my ears this year).

  1. The Black Keys: Brothers

    This wasn’t my absolute favorite album of 2010. That honor goes to Beach House’s Teen Dream (which I played obsessively all year long). But I try to order this list not just by what I love, but by what I think is important and what other people should make an effort to hear. And, at the end of the year, Brothers is the one album I’d like to foist on absolutely everyone. Old people, young people, hipsters, conformists, indie purists, mainstreamers, people who normally don’t give a crap about music — man, EVERYONE should own this album. It has real heart, real soul, masterful technique (without overproduction), authenticity (not the manufactured kind), low end swing and just flat out guts. It will make you hungry for similar music, and lead you down roads that are just bountiful with rewards, from garage rock to soul to the entire Stax and Chess catalogs. If “Next Girl” doesn’t make you feel like an absolute bad-ass while playing at top volume in your car, then at least the cover of “Never Gonna Give You Up” will melt your cold, black heart. Get it.

  2. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening
    I love this band beyond all sense and reason. James Murphy returned my love not just with a beautiful, brilliant album — but by also making it possible for me to see his band live 3 times this year (twice in landmark settings — Coachella and at the Hollywood Bowl) and also generously released a live-to-tape studio session e.p. and a live album this year. That on top of helming DFA Records, which disseminates his studio and pop culture aesthetics far and wide. LCD is arguably the best band in America right now (see them live if you want to dispute that), and they picked this album to call it quits. Sad and triumphant all at the same time.

  3. Beach House: Teen Dream
    I mentioned above that I listened to this album obsessively this year, and it’s true. This is one album I was never not in a mood to hear, no matter what my mood or how many times I’d heard its songs. Lush, romantic, reminiscent of ’80s classics from the Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush while still cultivating the band’s own aesthetic, Teen Dream was the one album I heard this year that I felt I could just live inside. The band’s performance on Pitchfork TV was really what sold me on the album. Check out this clip if you’re ready to fall in love too.

  4. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
    A commercial success that was also defiantly independent (Arcade Fire release on the artist owned and operated Merge Records, which also houses Spoon and many other great bands), this was one of those records that could have collapsed under the weight of both hype and its own sense of importance. Both failed to diminish the album’s emotional resonance for people like me though, because — as author Chuck Klosterman pointed out — it mined the rich vein of its listeners’ nostalgia for their past (particularly their youth). I was one of those kids who grew up in the suburbs, writing long hand and riding my bike around the neighborhood with my friends, watching the sprawl voraciously and brutally unfold while I dreamed of a permanent escape. I’m now on the brink of fatherhood, waiting to bring two new children into a world that, while far more advanced, is not better than the one in which I grew up. I’m excited, I’m worried, and I hope that my children follow a similar narrative arc — with all the joy and pain and yearning for something better. If you grow up some place you always love, how will you ever find the ambition to “go” that drives adventure and success? All of this floods my mind when I listen to this album, a testament to its very real emotive powers. And you know what? It’s just flat out good music, too.

  5. The Roots: How I Got Over
    I have loved The Roots since Organix, and they remain one of a handful of bands whose albums I buy sounds unheard on the day they release. This may be their finest record yet — soulful without getting sappy, fiercely angry without becoming alienating, the first album in the band’s career that evokes the “great us” of all classics. Liberating in its outward focus (rather than oppressive and suffocating in its introspection, like Kanye’s latest), and unafraid to build bridges to other genres (without sacrificing an ounce of The Roots’ own aesthetic) this may be the most transcendent hip hop record of the decade, much less the year.

  6. The Walkmen: Lisbon
    Another impeccable album from the band that is slowly soundtracking my late nights and elbows-on-bars moments of intoxicated self-reflection. These guys are clearly ready to pick up Tom Waits’s torch, should he ever drop it (odd in a way, because they have one of the most distinctive sounds of any band in their general oeuvre). Until then, it’s almost unfair how good these guys have gotten at making raw yet accessible, romantic yet pulsing indie rock.

  7. Best Coast: Crazy For You
    Simple lyrics sung right. Best Coast’s music conjures up all the greatness of ’60s girl bands and piles it over top of all the greatness of 21st century garage / surf rock. Drenched in reverb, raw where it needs to be and covered in just the right amount of candy coating, this came dangerously close to being a perfect first record and established frontwoman Bethany Cosentino as a major new voice in rock.

  8. Spoon: Transference
    Austin’s finest knock out another great one. The band, lead by weed-wonked genius Britt Daniel, pushed its aesthetic a bit this time, playing with song structure and adventuring into abrupt endings, dissonance / resolution and off kilter time signatures in order to add some weight to their song’s emotional punches — all without ever descending into the impenetrable sonic dungeons of pure art rock. Also, if you didn’t catch them on stage this year, Spoon has become one of the tightest live bands in rock.

  9. Surfer Blood: Astro Coast
    What a band baby would sound like if it had been made by Vampire Weekend and the Pixies. These Florida freshman pounded out one of the riffiest, hookiest and least cheesy rock albums of the year, while also selling one of the indie scene’s best t-shirts (a parody of the omnipresent Joy Division Unknown Pleasures cover).

  10. Hot Chip: One Life Stand
    Where this failed as an album (it’s quieter moments ironically overshare while failing to connect, and just sort of fall apart in places), it soared as a collection of dance singles, each better than the last, and each solidifying Hot Chip’s immediately recognizable, completely unique nerd-dance sound. Honest, emotional but funny as hell, Hot Chip also ruled as a live band — which, given that they toured with the unstoppable LCD Soundsystem, they sort of had to do in order to avoid getting blown off the stage.

Honorable Mentions:
Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest
The Joy Formidable: A Balloon Called Moaning e.p.
Quantic presenta Flowering Inferno: Dog with a Rope
Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid
Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
Local Natives: Gorilla Manor
Morning Benders: Big Echo
New Young Pony Club: The Optimist
Girls: Broken Dreams Club e.p.
Broken Bells: S/T
Dum Dum Girls: I Will Be
School of Seven Bells: Disconnect from Desire
Cut Chemist: Sound of the Police
UNKLE: Where Does The Night Fall?
The Black Angels: Phosphene Dream
Tame Impala: Innerspeaker
Stereolab: Not Music
Off! The First 4 e.p.s

Overhyped Album of the Year
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
You know what? This is a great album, despite the fact that it’s a colossal downer to listen to from front to back. It’s also unforgivably sloppy in spots, packed with songs that are too long by half and consumed by its own sense of self-importance. As such, it’s nearly a perfect mirror of Kanye West as a person as well as an artist. So what? All of its contradictions and flaws help make it something of a masterpiece. You don’t need me to tell you that though, because every single music blog and publication in the history of the universe has already slobbered all over it with praise. Buy it or don’t. But you can’t ignore it, even if you’d really, really like to.

~ by Sean Flinn on December 26, 2010.

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