2010: New Music For A New Decade

by Ken DiTomaso

There was a lot of excellent music put out this year, so why not compile it all down into list form? All the cool kids are doing it after all, so I might as well get my say in. Below you will find my top 10 albums of the year, along with some unranked honorable mentions and albums that either surprised or disappointed me. I must say, the decade of the ‘10s is off to a great start.


10.  OK Go - Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky

Finally proving that they were more than their music videos, OK Go put out their best album to date this year. Prince-like vocals and producer Dave Fridmann’s characteristic overdriven drum sound make for a better combination than anybody might have thought. There are some really great tunes on here, and of course, the music videos have been pretty darn good too.


9.  The Like - Release Me

I got turned on to this group only very recently, but better late than never, right? What we’ve got here is retro-pop of the highest order. These girls sound straight out of the ‘60s with their catchy songs, groovy rhythms, Beatlesque-sound, and fun snarky attitude (OK, maybe the attitude is more modern). This is an album that isn’t trying to be anything it’s not. It’s a simple throwback but a great one. Songs like “He’s Not A Boy” and “Wishing He Was Dead” just bring a smile to my face every time I hear them.

8.  Joanna Newsom -
Have One On Me

For some folks, one album of Joanna Newsom is more than enough, but this year she gave us three! The length will almost certainly try the patience of more than a few people, but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded plenty. These songs aren’t the kind that necessarily jump out at you with their greatness, but they’re all quite lovely in their own way. She is in peak vocal form, but she’s also toned down her eccentricities just a tiny bit. That would make this more accessible than her previous work had it not been ridiculously long. It’s got great lyrics, too. I feel that this is the kind of record that will float under the radar for a long time, while people still fawn over her shorter (though no less inaccessible) albums. It’s not an album for everybody by any means, but if you’re in the right mood and you’ve got the time, Have One On Me makes for a lovely way to spend an evening.  


7.  Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty

Continuing their decade-long streak of not really putting out any new Outkast albums, the half of the duo known as Big Boi put out his debut solo album this year. Unsurprisingly, this record sounds just like Outkast, but that’s not a problem in the slightest. It’s got great hooks, clever rhymes, and nothing you need to take too seriously. It’s too bad that Big Boi wasn’t allowed to include the tracks featuring his partner in crime Andre 3000 on the album, as they’re both at least as good as anything else here, if not better.

6.  Kanye West -
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Things move quickly in this modern internet age; the backlash of folks reacting to the massive praise that this album quickly garnered arrived not a month after its release. No matter, this is a major album by a major mainstream artist, so the attention it’s been receiving is about par for the course. Though no masterpiece, it’s still got some pretty darn good stuff on it. And to those of you who refuse to listen to Kanye because of his ridiculous outbursts and pretentious attitude, many other artists have done way worse stuff than him without being ostracized, so just get over yourselves and dig the music.

5.  Animal Collective - ODDSAC

I don’t buy the claim that this isn’t really an album for a second. There’s 50 minutes of top notch Animal Collective music here. They mix together both their older experimental style with their newfound pop influenced approach to great effect. Sure, it’s not “new” per-se – this material was recorded sporadically over the last several years – but it’s new to us and that’s good enough for me. Trippy sound collages alternating with brilliant songwriting is certainly my kind of thing – it’s modern psychedelia at its best. And, oh yeah, there are some pretty sweet visuals, too.

4.  Vampire Weekend - Contra
I have to confess, I wasn’t much of a fan of Vampire Weekend’s first album at all. Their whole attitude just seemed so uptight and obnoxious to me. But I can’t deny good songs, and their sophomore effort has them in spades. Twisty little hooks abound throughout, and the arrangements are very creative. Vampire Weekend never settle for the tried and true drums-bass-guitar-keys model; instead, they’re always tossing something special in there. They’ve take the style of their debut and improved on it in every regard. I’m very glad they’ve mostly gotten over that wannabie faux-African phase that so much of their debut album was bogged down with. Contra is just a collection of short, creative, to-the-punch songs, and it is all the better for it.



3.  Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People / The Age Of Adz

I’m kind of cheating here a little, but it’s my list so I make the rules. These two albums came out so close together that they’ve become inseparable in my mind, which is strange, since they’re really very different from each other. One acts as a clearinghouse for Sufjan’s leftover material in his “epic indie” persona, and the other acts as the large-scale introduction to his electro-pop direction. You get to see both sides of Sufjan’s talents on display here, and each side has quality music to its name. Plus, I’ve got to give major props to a guy who can pull off albums filled with odd time signatures, weird instruments, and 20 minute songs without making people think he’s gone prog on them (of course, that would be just fine with me).




2.  Janelle Monáe - The Archandroid

She’s not really a “new” artist in fullest extent of the term; she’s done some guest vocals here and there and released a few EPs and singles in the past, but the vast majority of music listeners at large (myself included) were introduced to Monáe through this album. Her vocal skills are formidable but not overwrought like some of her modern R&B contemporaries (I’m looking at you, Beyonce), and if you’ve seen videos of her live, you know she totally brings it on stage. But the thing that gets me the most about her is how ambitious she is. She doesn’t settle for throwing together some upbeat tunes about physical love with some ballads about emotional love and calling it an album. She’s written a stinking science-fiction rock-opera here! I’ve grown to like the longer tracks, like “BabopbyeYa” and “Say You Go,” on which she really stretches out best. But the shorter songs all have their charms too; especially the medley-like stretch that opens the album. This girl has got big things in her future for sure.  
1.  Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Like some of the other artists I’ve mentioned on this list, I wasn’t particularly enamored with the first two Gorillaz albums. I feared that since Blur’s breakup, Damon Albarn would just coast along making decent records but not great ones. Thankfully, he’s proven me wrong in a huge way this year. With Plastic Beach, Albarn hasn’t just made the best Gorillaz album ever, but quite possibly the best album since his glory days with Blur and most definitely my favorite of the year. It’s diverse, yet cohesive; polished, but not overproduced; serious and fun at the same time. It’s packed with guests, but they add to the atmosphere of the album rather than detract from it. This album mixes genres left and right to great success. Orchestral sections snuggle up alongside rap songs, electronica sits next to pop, and it all works. I’m a sucker for diversity, and when it’s coupled with brilliant songwriting and creative…well, everything, that’s a ticket to my #1 spot right there.

Honorable Mentions

Magnetic Fields - Realism

Frontman Stephin Merritt tosses off great little pop tunes like they were nothing, and Realism is no different. It’s also The Magnetic Field’s most quiet and folky album to date,  so it’s not too surprising that it’s been overlooked. The word “quaint” probably describes this album better than anything else.

Cee-lo Green - The Ladykiller

“Fuck You” is the single of the year bar none, as far as I’m concerned. Even if the rest of the album sucked, it would still be worth it for that song. Thankfully, Cee-lo knows his stuff and this is a fine modern soul album.

The New Pornographers - Together

AC Newman and company continue to do what they do best, and that’s make power-pop better than anybody else. I wish they’d let Neko Case sing more lead vocals, but then again, I wish that with every album that they release.

Steven Page - Page One

I was unsure the direction Page was going to go in since his tenure with The Barenaked Ladies has come to an end. Thankfully, his debut solo album shows that he’s going to keep doing his thing and doing it well. Some very solid pop here, it doesn’t particularly take any risks, but since when has that been a requirement for a good solid album?



Phil Collins - Going Back

When I heard Phil Collins was putting out a covers album, my reaction was probably the same as pretty much anybody’s might have been. Knowing Phil’s recent solo album track record (bad) and the track record of cover albums in general (also bad), I didn’t think there was any fathomable way this could be good. But, hey, what do you know? It’s actually pretty darn decent. Sure, this album doesn’t have any particular reason to exist – none of the covers here eclipse the originals – but they don’t have any reason to. The point of this album is just to sit back and chill out for a while with some classic Motown tunes. Collins performs them all professionally, and a good time is had by all.

Al Jardine - A Postcard From California

This album had no business being good. A late period Beach Boys solo album from somebody other than Brian Wilson seemed bound to fail. Yet against all odds, it’s actually pretty nice. He managed to pull off an album that not only looks back at some of the great triumphs of his former band but actually brings them back, both literally (in his covers of “Help Me Rhonda” and “Honking Down The Highway”), and figuratively (on the brilliant reunion track “Don’t Fight The Sea”). Some of the tracks are kind of useless, (such as Alec Baldwin’s laughable spoken word interlude), and the album is very short, but there’s enough of that old Beach Boys magic here to perk up the ears of any fan.

Devo - Something For Everybody

When this reunion album was announced, I was baffled by how positive the reaction to the news seemed to be. Had all of Devo’s fans forgotten about how excruciatingly awful their last few studio albums were? Who’s to say that this would be any different? Well turns out it was. Featuring upbeat, well-written, and well-produced tracks, Devo doesn’t show their age here for a second. You could pack the dance floor with these songs and nobody would bat an eye (unless of course they listened to the lyrics and noticed that these songs might just have been mocking them a little). The marketing campaign for this album was brilliant and deserves special mention. From fan surveys to absurd board meetings to an all-cat listening party, the promotion was at least as entertaining as the album itself. Pity it seems to be over now. Anyway, Something For Everybody isn’t a great album by any means; some cuts go too far in trying to be modern and some of it is really repetitious. But it is a good one, and probably their best since 1980’s Freedom Of Choice.

Die Antwoord - $o$

Die Antwoord was revealed to the world through a handful of music videos that went insanely viral at the beginning of the year. They were treated as funny yet creepy one-meme-wonders who would soon be forgotten about. Who would have guessed that they would have turned out to be so darn good? Their image is so outrageous that some people still can’t get past it. But they’re missing out, since Die Antwoord’s brand of frenzied psycho-rap is ridiculously fun, catchy, and creative. Unfortunately, there are a handful of real duds mixed in with the gems which drag this album down. But they’ve still got my attention in a big way, and I can’t wait to see what they get up to next.


The Pipettes - Earth Vs. The Pipettes

This album isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but considering I lived and breathed their debut album We Are The Pipettes for at least an entire summer, I can’t help but feel enormously let down by this follow-up. It’s got a different sound then their old stuff had and that shouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. I’m all for changing things up, but the quality has to remain. Unfortunately, they simply just don’t do this new style as well as they did their old style. I still think they could pull through and make a comeback on their third album, but they’re really going to have to buckle down. And while they’re at it, stop all the ridiculous lineup changes please!

Sleigh Bells - Treats

It’s really difficult to enjoy a band whose greatest asset is also its greatest fault. Take away the ear-destroying noise and distortion and there isn’t much left. Leave it in and, well, it’s grating as hell. The overdrive in overdrive attitude Sleigh Bells have can be infectious, and their songs are quite catchy and certainly loaded with energy. But I have to firmly put my foot down and say that the way this album approaches music offends my sensibilities as both a musician and as a fan of music in general. I suppose, in a way, they kind of deserve just a little praise for getting that result out of me.

Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back 

The polar opposite of Phil Collins’ covers album, Scratch My Back takes itself deadly seriously and implodes in a steaming pile of awful. It’s strange because if any former Genesis member seemed like he could pull of a covers album, it was Peter Gabriel. He’s done covers before and they’ve all been fine, but the problem here is that he didn’t want to just play the songs straight. These covers rearrange every song for Gabriel to sing with a small chamber orchestra, and in the process they’ve made every song seem deathly boring and pretentious. Not only that, but for an artist whose vocal skills have regularly been one of his strongest points, this album has terrible vocals. A flaming disaster on all counts is what this album is, and it is a black spot on an otherwise very respectable body of work.

The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Arcade Fire is quite possibly the biggest band in indie right now, and for their first album in three years what do they give us? A proto-concept album about one of the most done subjects in rock history, filled with nothing but mid-tempo monotony. The cathartic emotions that their music used to stir are all but gone. And for a band with so many different instruments in their arsenal, you’d think they might actually put them to good use instead of shoving everything into the mix in the background and calling it a day. There’s nothing bad on here by any stretch of the imagination, but when the strongest emotions a band can stir in me is “meh,” I think it’s time for them to get their priorities re-straightened. Arcade Fire may have set the bar with their previous work, but it’s so high that even they can’t reach it anymore.


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