This has been a while in the making. At least 365 days. And what a glorious 365 days they were. 2010 has been a gold mine for great music, so much that I had a really hard time narrowing it down to just 10. Honourable mentions include Four Year Strong's Enemy of the World, My Chemical Romance's Danger Days, Jimmy Eat World's Invented, Circa Surive's Blue Sky Noise and The Five Ghosts by Stars among others. That's not to say they were bad albums. It's really just a testament to how great this year was in music. Let's begin with number 10.
NOTE: A LOT OF READING IS AHEAD OF YOU. IF YOU HATE READING, STEER CLEAR OF THIS!
Sufjan Stevens - Age of Adz
I like weird things. Bizarre comedy is my forte. I love learning all sorts of odd things that really don't matter and when it comes down to it, I'm a little bit crazy myself. That's why this album is a perfect compliment to my screwball mind. With its electro ambience, blip-bloops. swelling strings, acoustic guitars, breathy vocals and auto-tune (yes, autotune) Sufjan Stevens creates an album that will scare off lots but is still oddly accessable. Well, as accessible as an album with a 26 minute song can be. Strange noises galore rattle and hum through this record that just go to show that being normal is dull. I honestly can't sya I've heard anything quite like this. It's definitely an original album from the music to the crazy album art. Be sure to give it a listen that is, if you're ready for it.
Fang Island - Fang Island
Another thing I like to do is dance. Not in front of people though. That's just insane as my moves are whiter than Vanilla Ice eating a white rice sandwich on white bread during a Candian winter in the Yukon. However, if this album were played in a public place like a subway or a Subway, there's no doubt that my amazing moves would make their debut. Not many bands made up of three guitarists, a bassist and drummer are that dancey but Fang Island makes every day a party with their cheery synths, varied drumming and guitar attack. They don't even really sound funky. It's the whole experience that the music makes. Heck, the guitar playing could fit just fine on any number of regular rock records but Fang Island isn't regular rock. They're here to have a good time and you should too with their infectious indie rock. 'Dasiy' is one track to definitely check out. If you learn the lyrics, its great fun to shout along to and the synth/guitar combo is too much fun for even the most party hardened to handle. They've said that they sound like "everyone high-fiving each other" which couldn't be more apt. I want to high-five them all for this great record.
Foxy Shazam - Foxy Shazam
"There sure are a lot of dogs out there. Perhaps they could assist me.. in a song!" Eric Nally sings in the opening tune 'Intro/Bombs Away' accompanied by a dog choir. This one is for those unique kids who don't really fit in. Foxy Shazam's self-titled album is the perfect album for all the kids who fall through the cracks, a rally cry for the odd-ones out. Foxy Shazam sounds like alt-rock Queen and they love to make grandoise rock 'n' roll, the type that deserves to be heard in every stadium worldwide. Whether they're making theme songs for the outcast ('Wannabe Angel') or giving inspired blasts of gospel-tinged pop with a dash of beatboxing for good measure ('Connect Me'), Foxy Shazam wants to be the biggest thing in rock music and judging by this album, you want to believe they can make it happen. While Sufjan Stevens made weirdness into a cool, electronic journey, this album lets its freak flag fly in 70s rock 'n' roll style. This album deserves to be sung as load in the quirky kid's bedroom as much as it does in a stadium.
Steel Train - Steel Train
Woo, another self-titled album! This one is especiallyl though. Steel Train create perfect alternative pop rock. The pop sensibilities displayed here are so nice. I'm a sucker for those that know how to create something original but still retain popiness. 'Turnpike Ghost' is a perfect example. When the chorus pops into your ears, you'll sure as hell be singing along and the guitar solo is made for air guitar. Another example of why this album succeeds is 'Touch Me Bad'. It's just pure fun and I really think it would make a great opening song for a movie. That would detract from the movie however as people would be too busy dancing to notice that there's a film going on. A lot of people were worried that they would have a hard time topping Trampoline but Steel Train conquers this by upping the catchiness and making it a hell of a lot less depressing. There should be no sad faces when listening to this album as Steel Train have created pure ear candy. Even when the lyrics get melencholy ('Behavior'), the music wins every time. Listen to this now!
Shad - TSOL
I was going to serenade Shad with accolades about how he is the greatest MC in Canada and is among the top lyricists in the game but I thought, why not just show it? Here's some prime lines from his album TSOL which is really all you need to know when seeing his genius. "I'm not in the zone, there's too much in the way/I weigh two bucks and if I had two slugs to spray/Like raa raa, Glenn Beck better duck like foie gras/Make shots poke his face like Gaga", "Got the finesse and the prestige/And more mac than ten tech geeks dissiní XP/Best in the league of vets like ex-Marines/Highest pedigree", "Human beings start wars/But I believe in peace, even for Darfur/From hardcore to humour to here/Where we stare in confusion at a future so near/Gotta take the speck outta your eye it clear", "Fit but no six-pack cuz I wonít do sit ups or give up Big Macs/With Shad you always get a mixed bag/Sadness and joy, wins and mishaps/Healed wounds and picked scabs/More ups and downs than a Six Flags/Music with a message I left after the click/Donít go..." Yaa, you get it.
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Haters gonna hate but as Kanye says (with some editing), "Haters marry hater bitches and have hater kids". I tell people I love Kanye West and they ask if I'm serious. I have to defend his music to my mother of all people. However, the music publications in magazines and on the internet as well as his many fans know exactly what's up. Kanye West may be the most creative person in hip-hop and this album is his greatest triumph, a concentrated blast of ego, introspection, excess and honesty. I could focus on the faults: Jay-Z's embarrising verse in 'Monster', Kanye being shown up by Rick Ross on 'The Devil in a New Dress' (though this is also a good thing. Kanye gets destroyed though), or the sheer repition of 'So Applled'. Howeve, for ever bum note, there's at least five things done right. Jay may flounder on 'Monster' but the sheer swagger of Kanye coupled with Nicki Minaj's show-stopping verse make it an album highlight. 'Runaway' is perfect with its minimalist beats (at least, minamalist for Kanye) and pure, honest lyrics where Kanye shows a side that we don't see much. 'Dark Fantasy' and 'So Appalled' are ego trippin' at its finest. Many find Kanye's egotistical and hedonistic bravado extremely offputting. Without Kanye's ego though, this album would be not nearly as bombastic as it is. Kanye says on 'Power' "I don't need yo pussy, bitch/I'm on my own dick" which tells all you need to know. Kanye's greatest hero is himself and what's not to worship when you release albums like this?
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Another critical darling of 2010, Arcade Fire nontheless deserve it for their in-depth portrayal of life in the suburbs. Some might just be cool with writing a few songs about how repetitive life is there or that there's nothing to do (read: your average pop-punk band) but Arcade Fire gets right down deep into the emotional impact and feelings that one finds when living in a place that looks the same for miles with no variation. It's a concept record about the human experience and I'm sure many suburb dwellers can relate to the themes of hopelessness, subtle optimism and longing captured in this record. The arrangements are lush and perfectly tailored to every song whether it's 'Ready to Start's surging stomp, Sprawl II's engaging synths or the punk-rock influenced 'Month of May'. Win Butler's vocals are earnest as always and while he has limited range, I can't imagine any other person singing lead in the band other than his wife Reginne. Whenever I listen to the opening tracks of this album, the title track and 'Ready to Start', I get a funny feeling that I can't really describe. Arcade Fire may be scoffed at for being 'hip', 'pretentious' and '****' for those with not much brain capacity for anything better but this album shows that behind the cool exterior that Arcade Fire aren't robots. Only people could make something so heartfelt and -for lack of a better word- human.
Hot Hot Heat - Future Breeds
Happiness Ltd. was a disappointment. There, I said it. I tried to make myself feel better by lying about how every song was great when only half was even ok. Now that I've had some closure, let me continue. I honestly didn't know what to expect when I first heard Hot Hot Heat's latest album. At first, I thought is was maybe just a bit TOO quirky. There's a fine line of quirk and Hot Hot Heat bounded over it immediately when 'YVR' started playing. Then as I listened closer, I realized exactly what they're going for. Free from stupid major labels, Hot Hot Heat could finally loosen their belts, let their hair down and through a raucous party the likes of which has never been seen before. You will dance to this album. Oh yes, you will dance. With headphones on of course. This is the type of album that rewards those who listen closer. This album is like and ogre: it has layers. One of the things you probably shouldn't do is drive when playing a good chunk of this album unless you are street racing. 'Implosionatic' and 'JFK's LSD' are pull no punches, ridiculous gems of dance-punk goodness that quicken your pulse as you listen. I really love the song 'Goddess on the Prairie' because of it's spirited chorus that oozes longing and the fact that I am indeed living in the prairies and looking for a goddess (That means you ladies. Call me. I'm ever so lonely). '21@12' shows a restraint in compostion not associated with the rest of the album especially with 'Times A Thousand' telling you to get your face out of their face in an off kilter romp. I can't say I was all that hopeful for this album at first but guess what, they brought the good. Lesson: Never count out Hot Hot Heat.
The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
It's really tough to describe exactly what this album means to me. I'm seriously having trouble putting down exactly why I love this album so much. "And they cut me to ribbons and taught me to drive" ('American Slang') may be one of my favorite lines in song but I don't really know what it means. I've never experienced the loss of love, the cutting of ties from nostalgia and those American girls who want the whole world. This album makes me feel like I have though. Through every word that Brian Fallon sings in his gruff, soulful delivery, I become him. In 'Boxer', I am reminded all those songs that I've listened to that have healed my wounds and the lyrics I've written that helped me get things off of my chest. 'The Diamond Street Choir' may be one of my favourite songs on the album and not because of how it makes me feel. I'm a huge fan of 60s soul music and the heart of Motown beats strong inside of Fallon on this song. It has one of those sing-a-long choruses that just makes life feel amazing even when it's not. The closing song 'We Did It When We Were Young' is like an anti-'Backseat', the closer from their last album, The '59 Sound. It's a low tempo acoustic number that's all about growing up and letting go what was once done in youth and it's extremely haunting with its bells and raspy, echoed vocals. The Gaslight Anthem do rock music right without all that chauvanistic, two-faced songwriting that makes bands like Nickelback so bad (they started the school of "Oh I just want love but next song I'm singing about that girl's ass" songwriting). Radio rock is boring with all of its Daughtrys and Theory of a Deadmans so this albums is just what's needed to bring back rock 'n' roll. It's not dead, just re-incarnated into an independant band with New Jersey plates, big asperations and music so universal you don't even have to relate to feel something.
Now it's time for #1, in my opinion the best album of 2010.
Tokyo Police Club - Champ
It's hard to believe I bought this with American Slang in June. I had no idea that the top 2 albums of the year would be obtained so early but as soon as I popped this one in, I knew it was different from all the albums I owned. There's a reason I've listened to this more than any other album and it has to do with the fact that, unlike American Slang, I can relate to this album immensely. It's a celebration of youth and nostalgia, the Summer album that works as a Fall, Winter and Spring album as well. The opening duo, 'Favourite Food' and Favourite Colour' are the finest one-two punch of any record released this past year. The former works so well as an acoustic memory of childhood and getting older but not losing what was special about that time until the energy rushes in and it turns from a good song into an instant classic. 'Breakneck Speed' is the song for late-night drives and carefree nights on the town with your friends. It also has wonderful lyrics, the best lines being "I remember when our voices used to sound the same/Now we just translate". Along with its great video featuring trained dogs (they did it before OK GO), 'Wait Up (Boots of Danger)' also happens to be the best and hookiest song I've heard all year. 'I'm on your team/So introduce me to your friends' Dave Monks pleads in his distinct voice, bringing to mind the things teenagers do to meet girls. At least, that's what I think of when I hear this. Youth is a huge part of the entire album from the lyrics to the music to the name of the album, a word that sounds much like a childhood pet. The most musically expirimental song, 'Bambi', is an amazing rush of keyboards, tremelo picking, dance floor drum beats and Monks' croon. It could be played in dim clubs and make the transition to dance party raves with ease. The entire themes of Champ can be summed up in 'End of a Spark'. The good old days of being carefreee and dumb were just a quick spark and new beginnings with their challenges and growing pains are on the horizon, just like this New Year.
When you look back though and really remember all the good times and bad times, the rollercoaster that is growing up, all you can really think is "Wow, what a spark that was!"