Artwork by Adam Sarpalius
If there's anything positive to take from 2010, it's the incontrovertible truth that music spoiled us rotten this year. We've tried to keep up with most of the interesting releases this year every weekday (and some weekends) here at Pretty Much Amazing, and after spending some time with the music (true story- I've listened to our #1 at least 60 times), we find ourselves reflecting on 2010's greatest long-form musical moments. We've narrowed a year with a flurry of great releases to a list of forty albums that have stuck with us and flourish in an industry that has all but abandoned the format. We're also throwing in a monster giveaway at the end, so go on and check out our list:
Joanna Newsom resides in a space all her own – it’s safe to say that there isn’t another artist like her currently producing music, at least not that I’ve come across. Perhaps that’s why we stretch for comparisons, familiar markers that serve as jumping off points to understanding a unique sound. But it’s only after letting go of those guides and letting Newsom take the reins that I truly began to appreciate her craft. Try to shove her into a box, and she will not fit. Throw the box away and just listen. Full Review ?
When I first heard Love Remains, I was certain Tom Krell was hiding his flaws behind the murk of lo-fi studio trickery, as an unskilled pop singer would hide behind the false gloss of Auto-Tune. The truth is, the album’s production is the co-star on Love Remains. As near-perfect as these songs are, the whole overshadows its parts. Love Remains sounds like a transmission from another dimension, one permanently frozen in 1992, where ghosts not only exist but also record radio hits. These songs are incredibly familiar yet never-before-heard. Full Review ?
"Ready For The World"
James Murphy has a reputation for creating electronic music with heart and soul. After penning decade defining, introspective songs that will surely stay with us for years to come, you’d think James Murphy is done with the snarky, hipper-than-thou music geek vibe that so defined LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut, right? Not entirely. This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem’s third and potentially final album, is literally split down the middle. Not loaded from front to back with with witty, biting reality check jams that made up the self-titled LP, nor crammed with the dance-fused, 70?s art-rock anthems of Sound of Silver — Happening is half and half. LCD Soundsystem’s brief, but influential discography summarized neatly, in just over an hour.
"Dance Yrself Clean"
The title Halcyon Digest is, in the words of Bradford Cox, “a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones…The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that’s kind of sad.” That description alone is enough to re-contextualize the album’s eleven tracks, explaining the sort of beautiful melancholy found throughout. Songs like “Don’t Cry” and “Revival” sound a bit like eavesdropping on a sad old stereo playing Beach Boys songs from memory and thinking about days past. There’s more edge than that would imply – hints of the distrustful snarl of Sonic Youth or the broken Deftones creak can be heard – but the sentiment stands. Halcyon Digest brilliantly mixes immediate pop familiarity with world-weary malaise. Full Review ?
Teen Dream is made of the most accessible and impressive songs Beach House has recorded; lead single “Norway” and previously released “Used to Be” are notable standouts, but all of the songs maintain a baseline of accessibility that hasn’t been present in previous efforts. The tunes are quicker, without seeming rushed. They are thicker without sounding overproduced. They are poppier without sacrificing lyrical depth. “We belong by the stream to the dawn,” sings Legrand on “Real Love,” the album’s penultimate track. That’s exactly where Teen Dream takes you – deep in a dream, floating pleasantly toward daybreak. Full Review ?
The Suburbs is perhaps the most coherent schizophrenic you will ever meet, for though the guidance offered in its songs may be contradictory, the subject matter is never under discussion. Maybe that’s the point – that no matter which direction we turn, there’s no escaping the onset of modern suburbia and all that it entails. “I wonder if the world’s so small that we can never get away from the sprawl, living in the sprawl. Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains.” It’s a desperate outlook from a band that gave us songs like “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and “Wake Up.” By all counts, The Suburbs is Arcade Fire's most somber album yet, dwelling on darkness, wasted hours, and endless, inescapable monotony. But don’t lose hope, oh suburban youth, because Arcade Fire wouldn’t have it any other way: “If I could have it back, all the time we wasted, you know I’d only waste it again.” esides, who knows? The Suburbs may someday inspire you to make a beautiful record. Full Review ?
"Ready To Start"
Treats more than just loud. The album has a pop sensibility that transcends the sheer visceral guts of the music. The building and breaking of beats and rhythms is impeccably timed to pick you up and then drop you from great heights. I dare you to sit still when you listen to these songs. I challenge you to find better situated blasts than those found on “Infinity Guitars” and “Crown on the Ground.” It’s hardcore you can dance to. It’s bubblegum pop that makes you want to head-bang. The confluence of genres and influences create a beautiful mess of music that goes far beyond amplification. Some have decried the album as simply trading on novel production techniques rather than musicianship. I reject that notion flat out – there’s a body beneath these clothes that would look just as good naked. Full Review ?
Albums that are long in the making tend to be disappointments. Fair or not, it’s tough to live up to years of hype. And when the purported lead single for Sir Lucious Left Foot – which, I might add, leaked in 2008 – was barred from the final release, I did not have high hopes. Perhaps that’s what makes the success of Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty all the more satisfying. From Big Boi’s opening announcement that “It is on!” on “Daddy Fat Sax” through the end of “Back Up Plan”, which closes out the album, this is a comforting reminder that sometimes, just sometimes, good things come to those who wait. Full Review ?
I feel like books could be written about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but this is not the medium for it. So I’ll stick with statements and leave you with the album. This album is a benchmark, a high water point for mainstream conceptual rap. It’s Kanye’s most complex and complete release and one of the most consistently impressive hip hop albums in recent years. It pushes the genre to new places. Surprise, surprise, Kanye West refuses to play by someone else’s rules, instead choosing to created his own set. Surprise, surprise, the result is phenomenally impressive. Full Review ?
The song titles of High Violet suggest a bleak existence, a world full of evil and malice. “Terrible Love” and “Little Faith.” “Afraid of Everyone” and “Runaway.” In the lyrics, Berninger hints at an apathy toward life, detachment described in lines like, “Living or dying in New York it means nothing to me.” In reality, though, this album proves the opposite – that there is beauty to be found even in the darkest times of our lives. These guys are sensitive, almost to a fault; are we supposed to believe that they really don’t care?
The National care about capturing life without its sugar-coated shell. They care about making music that is best enjoyed fully and slowly. They care about crafting complete songs that make complete albums that deserve second and fifth and tenth listens. After that many spins I still haven’t gotten a handle on all the minutiae that make High Violet special, but I do know this: Everyone keeps saying that this is a sad album. It’s not. It’s an honest album, a real album. And it’s breathtaking. Full Review ?
"Afraid of Everyone"
Like last year, we are giving away our each album on our list on vinyl (or CD if vinyl not available) to one lucky reader. New this year, however, is the inclusion of a brand new turntable to play these records on. To enter, share this list on Facebook or Retweet it on Twitter, then head over to our Facebook page and tell us what your favorite album(s) of the year is. If you don't "like" us on Facebook (why not?), you can Tweet @ us your favorite album(s) @pmablog. Make sure to include this link: http://t.co/g8BTx2O so I can find the tweet later on. Contest will end January 21st and is only open to US North American Residents. Apologies to the rest of you..