We continue with the second installment of our favorite albums of 2010. It’s been a year marked by such amazingly diverse releases, and today’s selection (artists from D to K, if you’ve been following) bears testament to that. Surely now, there’s something from everyone.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Unleashing their most focused album to date, Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest is the kind of canonical record that gives fresh meaning to our daily music obsession. From the neon-wilderness ambience of opener “Earthquake” to the breakaway reverie of epilogue “He Would Have Laughed”, Halcyon Digest takes great strides in expanding their sonic template. Bradford Cox may not be the first to have created anthems out of angst and wounded disaffection, but how many others can plumb the depths of silted memories both real and imagined – the cocooned fragility of “Helicopter”, based on a Dennis Cooper story about a young Russian male hustler; the haunted solitude in “Basement Scene” – and transform them into exhilarating pop music quite like this band do? – Keith.
Deftones – Diamond Eyes (Reprise)
The year needed a heavy album, and this was it. Could the Sacramento-based hardcore outfit that rode the wave of nu-metal in the late nineties still produce a relevant album, especially when bassplayer, Chi Cheng remains lying in a coma after a horrible car accident? Well, I think the answer is YES. The Deftones are heavy, but more than that, their unique brand of cathartic anguish sounds exceptionally mature with singer Chino Moreno sounding better than he’s ever been, and the band’s sludgy grooves making head-banging this year’s sex on fire. – Brian.
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego)
Beautiful, suspenseful, engaging. Perhaps it’s because I’m only just getting my head (and heart?) around electronic music, but Emeralds is such a delightful discovery of the year simply because it sounds so much like what I could never expect. Does It Look Like I’m Here? does just that by weaving together an intricately layered work without ever losing sight of the child-like wonder contained within. – Dan.
Four Tet – There is Love in You (Domino)
Rounds remains my favorite Four Tet album, but There is Love in You comes a close second. Kieran Hebden has always had a magical touch that imparts an expressive vocabulary to electronic sounds, and in this latest installment he manages to carve out a soundtrack that makes the dancefloor an intimate venue while also transforming bedroom listening into a communal experience. – Dan.
mp3: Four Tet – Sing
Hot Chip – One Life Stand (EMI)
Fashioning together something that is perhaps more mature and emotionally circumspect than before, Hot Chip successfully reined in their usual merry-making eclecticism to deliver a surprisingly coherent album, and One Life Stand makes a good fist of showcasing the supple side of the band’s songwriting gifts. Pace-pushing singles “One Life Stand” and “I Feel Better” ignite the pop momentum but the album’s best spots are reserved for its more serene moments: glowing melodies that shine through the band’s organic song arrangement on “Alley Cats” and “Slush”; the 4 a.m. wakefulness of “Keep Quiet” evoking the darkest murmurs of the heart. – Keith.
Jamiroquai – Rock Dust Light Star (Universal)
It’s a return to form with the seventh Jamiroquai album. No more mass appeal disco funk: while it made the band more popular than ever (with record sales to prove it), it left something behind when it came to soul. And you can’t do acid jazz / funk if you ain’t got no soul. The style was explored in the last album, Dynamite, but I think the band really nailed it this year with some of the most confident tunes they’ve written. It even shows in the lyrics, with Jay Kay being a lot more introspective instead of waving the flag of the high life and fast cars. Well, at least they’re still singing about girls being ‘fast persuaders’. – Brian.
Janelle Monáe – The Archandroid (Bad Boy)
Not to take anything away from the explosive brillance of “Tightrope” which really is the highlight of the album, but The Archandroid is so much more than one hit single. Here, Janelle Monáe follows up her debut EP with two more suites, further developing her Cindi Mayweather character in her Metropolis world while showcasing her versatility as a singer capable of the widest range of deliveries. Great fun and depth. – Dan.
Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City)
Clocking in at around 120 minutes of music over three CDs, Have One On Me is a behemoth of songwriting eccentricities that can be hard to take on even for fans. But maybe Joanna Newsom needed the whole two hours to properly flesh out her folk-inflected poetry, as cryptic traveling songs such as “In California” and “Good Intentions Paving Company” instill her wayward vision of America as an old weird country replete with doe-eyed maidens, uneasy riders and japing leviathans. – Keith.
John Legend and the Roots – Wake Up! (GOOD Music)
Perhaps the most important collaboration this year. Being backed by the best live hip-hop band on the planet is a tall order, and Mr John Legend holds fast and rides high on the wave of tasteful soul that The Roots deliver to a “T”. It was refreshing to hear a breath of positivity in the album’s message amidst the depressing state of the world, and their counterpoint definitely stands as a zeitgeist of what America has gone through this year. – Brian.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Rockafella)
The magnitude of Kanye West’s musical achievements may be overshadowed by the steady stream of very public controversies surrounding him but the grand ambition of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would not be denied. There is a twisted fairytale quality to West’s fifth and finest album, and this 13-track spread is about as diverse and creatively inspired as the various George Condo portraits alternating as the cover artwork – silvery soul guitars that inflame the rap alchemy on “Gorgeous”; celebrating his own hedonistic heroics on “Power” and “Monster”; the nine-minute opus “Runaway”. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy manages to sum up all his boastful outbursts and insecurities into one formidable whole. – Keith.
mp3: Kanye West – Monster