My Top Ten Albums of 2010
It’s that time in the calendar when the Village Voice gears up to publish its annual Pazz and Jop Poll, and as one of the 1500 odd journos whose opinions they solicit, I finally get round to compiling my Top 10 Albums and Singles of the Year. I don’t freelance much anymore, and I’m certainly not on top of new music the way I once was, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it as much as always. In fact, though I had to get my Voice poll in before Christmas, I used the holiday respite to go through the hundreds and hundreds of new songs I’d acquired on iTunes over the year (most of them through entirely legitimate promotional means, I should add), and the dozens of CDs I acquired while in the UK (some of which were burned for me by friends, I don’t mind admitting) and compiled a massive 150 song Best of 2010 MP3 list which I carefully sequenced, like the DJ I still sometimes like to be, and promptly burned across two CDs to hand out as New Year gifts. You can take the boy out of the clubs, but you can’t take the clubbing out of the boy. I’ll post that list separately. Here are my top ten albums of 2010, in descending order of personal perceived greatness.
HOT CHIP – ONE LIFE STAND
THE ARCADE FIRE – THE SUBURBS
PAUL WELLER – WAKE UP THE NATION
VAMPIRE WEEKEND – CONTRA
ROBYN – BODY TALK
JAMES – THE NIGHT BEFORE/THE MORNING AFTER
EELS – TOMORROW MORNING
JONSI – GO
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – THIS IS HAPPENING
UNDERWORLD – BARKING
Looking at this list, it’s evident that I do still feel for the dancefloor, even if I rarely see it any more. My favorite music, typically, tends to be that which mixes relatively conventional songwriting with modern studio techniques, meaning that I have no aversion to hearing unusual digital sounds, squiggly or phat beats, and all manner of high-end production trickery, as long as there’s a song underneath it all. And, if you want to keep my attention across the course of an album, your songs need to have meaning. I’m a writer, after all.
At the same time, you could easily accuse my tastes of being conservative. The majority of my top 10 albums acts here have shown up in previous years’ lists. They are for the most part already proven critics’ favourites. And there are, perhaps to my shame, no debut albums. To that last omission, I would say that this reflects less any paucity of exciting new acts than the struggle I have to keep up with them all: my 150 strong Best of 2010 compilations includes dozens upon dozens of brilliant new bands and individuals whose names I can barely match to their song title let alone tell you that I’ve heard any more music by them.
Indeed, popular music seems to be thriving at the moment. Sure, the major labels are hurting, new bands can no longer aspire to the kind of advances that once kept them in wages, and nobody I know (with one exception!) pays the same attention to acquiring hard copies of singles or albums the way at least some of us used to. We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift, and it’s been intensely gratifying to see so many new acts find ways of monetizing their talents other than relying on those advances. Those methods are discussion for another day. But in summary, for all the talk of major label bailouts and global recession, my personal experience tells me that there are as many performers out there as ever, as many people go to gigs as always, and the playing field is more level than perhaps it has ever been.
This last detail occurred to me (again) as I put together a YouTube playlist to accompany my Top 10 Albums. I don’t spend much time on YouTube. Of the ten videos that make up this list, the only one that I actually saw in 2010 (honestly) was that for Hot Chip’s “I Feel Better.” But I like the fact that there is still an audience for music videos, and that it has shifted from MTV and VH1 to YouTube and Vimeo. In this digital social media age, a good video for a good song can find a healthy audience without the inevitable payola that accompanied the old-fashioned journey from promo man to programmer to consumer.
Having said that, there’s a certain similarity in production style to many of the videos that accompany my Top 10 albums of the year, and I admit that I removed one of them, that for Vampire Weekend’s “Give Up The Gun,” because it was a bunch of expensive and, frankly, embarrassing old toss. (The video for their song “Cousins” is marginally better.) Still, most of these clips will tell you enough about the artist in question that you’ll know if you want to hear more. I hope you do. I certainly did.
Note: My Village Voice Top 10 includes a vote for Uncle Rock’s album The Big Picture in place of Underworld’s latest, Barking. Uncle Rock, a Catskills-based kids’ musician who has brought so much joy and happiness to our community, and who this past year released his most mature album to date, with songs that appeal, intellectually and musically, to adults as readily as children, does not have a video available to accompany any of the new album’s songs. The replacement vote for Underworld could as easily have gone to several other acts who are no longer in fashion but who continue to make consistently good albums, like the Chemical Brothers and the Charlatans. It could as easily have gone to Edwin Collins’ comeback record. I suspect that if I had a copy of their full albums, it might have gone to Four Tet or Matthew Dear, Junip or John Grant. Too much music, not enough time. Enjoy!