December 28th, 2010
2010 Bestus Prospectus: National Albums of the Year
There is no doubt that this year was a great one when it came to the music and albums we were blessed with. In fact, a list of ten (eleven in our case) hardly does it justice. Nevertheless, we’ve given ourselves the limit and we have to stick with it. Below you’ll find our favorite music of 2010. Later today we’ll publish our favorite music from the great state of Texas. There should be some overlap, but we’ve kept the two lists distinct.
11] Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening by Aziz Ansari
RAAAAAAAANDY! That’s eight As. Count ‘em. The character scripted for Aziz Ansari in the criminally under-appreciated “Funny People” was an immediate viral hit, but it didn’t mean that Ansari had any stand-up chops. In fact, the man most notable for Human Giant and Parks and Recreation, quickly took to the stages of America to impress doubters. The product of that was Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening which is definitely my funniest – if the only – comedy album of the year.
10] In the Dark by The Whigs
The problem with being a gritty, Southern garage band is that when you finally make it into the studio and a producer happens to shift a nob this way or that, you’re labeled as a sell out by the critics. In the Dark, the third album by The Whigs, gets trashed for such a reason. The fact that they traveled with Kings of Leon before making this record provides such an easy excuse to bash it as “arena-friendly” and “pandering.” Let’s just call it what it is, shall we: A damn good album in which we can finally hear Parker Gispert’s sandpaper vocals. The production value is appreciated. Just because a band comes out with an album that might be more appealing to a wider audience doesn’t make it a terrible effort, and if you have lost all hope that The Whigs have given up on their roots, just listen to “Naked” and “Someone’s Daughter” and breathe a sigh of relief.
9] Fang Island by Fang Island
The best way to define the sophomore effort by Fang Island is an assault of electric guitars. The vocals on the album don’t do as much to compliment the barrage of riffs as they provide an interlude between another crashing wave of chord play. There is an empowering feeling to the eponymous Fang Island album. It’s inescapable that each song could provide the backing for celebration at the end of the battle in which the ne’er-do-well of your choosing is defeated soundly. In fact, all 35 minutes of Fang Island play together as one continuous jubilee. There are no songs on this album inasmuch as there are parts, or acts, of the whole.
8] Total Life Forever by Foals
The debut album by Foals, Antidotes, was at times a chaotic mess of unrefined energy and crazed lavishness. It wasn’t possible to discern how the band would progress to their next effort, but it’s reasonable to say that the final product of Total Life Forever is far from any reasonable prediction. Foals’ second album doesn’t completely abandon the elements that made their first exciting, but it pulls back the wall of noise that was “Cassius”. It seems like the band has calmed with age and our ears have benefited most. The band even takes their favor further slapping the calming sprawl of the seven-minute “Spanish Sahara” right in the middle of the album. On that song alone, Total Life Forever can rest its laurels. Fortunately, the final half of the album carries you the rest of the way to that happy place where music envelops you.
7] The Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green
It was a hit before it even made its way to the album racks. Putting a song with the title “Fuck You” on the top of the charts deserves commercial success, if only because it’s a reminder of how irrelevant censorship has become. There is nothing novel about the rest of the album. The blend of retro and nuevo has been done plenty of times before, but Cee Lo isn’t trying to tap into the fad. In fact, he is the fad personified. The Lady Killer is at least a biographic album and at most a perfect mix of languishing odes (“Fool for You” and the Band of Horses cover, “No One’s Gonna Love You”) and tunes full of hope for tomorrow, or better yet, tonight like “Bright Lights, Bigger City”. Then again, “Fuck You” is the epitomizes both of those personalities.
6] Perch Patchwork by Maps & Atlases
Perch Patchwork doesn’t sound like a first full-length album, but that’s exactly what it is. There is a certain technical sophistication to the album especially within the constructs of Erin Elders’ guitar riffs and the drums of Chris Hainey. The voice of Dave Davison might take a little while to get used to – it’s both brooding and shrill, but a confidence in that dichotomy shines through each song. All in all, Perch Patchwork feels like a combination of elements from such bands as Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear and Blitzen Trapper, but definitely has an identity all its own.
5] Together by The New Pornographers
It’s never surprising that The New Pornographers produce complicated and adventurous songs; nearly every member has multiple musical projects outside of the band. It’s only surprising that they can pull off the complexity consistently and fruitfully which was apparent again this year with the release of their fifth album, Together. Even at its simplest, as it is in a song like “Valkrie in the Roller Disco”, the record is pleasant, melodic and beautiful. The best moments, however, are when The New Pornographers release the roar of music that seven distinct collaborators working in unison can create as they do in the opener, “Moves”, and “Your Hands (Together)”.
4] Mines by Menomena
Experimental rock is usually a convenient niche in which we place bands that over-complicate songs with no other purpose than to punish you for trying to anticipate each subsequent bar. Menomena always got away with it. In their third album (or fourth, however you want to count Under an Hour), Mines, they strip back a couple layers while concentrating on the versatility of each member of the trio that was never in doubt. The songs, while still complex, are stronger, if only because they have an individual identity and don’t seem like nine different ideas mashed together. Menomena sacrifice nothing to arrive with an effort that sounds like a natural step for a band that will become irrelevant the day they halt their progression and experimentation altogether.
3] Brothers by The Black Keys
In the early oughts (2000s) you were either a fan of The Black Keys or you weren’t. The gritty garage rock of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney was polarizing at best. That all changed with the release of their sixth studio album. Brothers was the big pay-off for long-time fans and a lightning bolt revelation for those that hadn’t paid enough attention to the Akron, OH duo. Even though Brothers doesn’t take a step away from The Black Keys usual yearning, distorted guitar and patient drums, there is an extra shot of soul and depth to each song, not to mention each one seems destined to top the charts.
2] Odd Blood by Yeasayer
The lead song, “The Children”, sounds like walking through a smelting factory on acid. If you can get through it, you will be rewarded with each subsequent track on Yeasayer’s Odd Blood. They never get too far away from the industrial sound, but they blend a healthy dose of the earthy chanting and jungle harmony that made All Hour Cymbals a critical success. Yeasayer is as much a visual band as anything else, proven by their mind-bending videos for “Ambling Alp”, “Madder Red” and “O.N.E.”. Even though Odd Blood is a great record on its own, it feels like a build up to something greater which leaves you wanting, but in the best way possible.
1] Gorilla Manor by Local Natives
Their coming out party was at SXSW and Local Natives never looked back. Their first LP, Gorilla Manor, does much of the same. It sucks you in with gentle guitars, driving drums and compositional complexity that they compliment with playful harmonizing vocals. By the time you reach “Sun Hands” , the third song on the album, you know you’ve found a truly amazing album. Even as the album slows down during the second half, it doesn’t disappoint. It slips you into a blissful music-coma that you don’t want to try to escape.