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The top 20 albums of 2010 that I failed to mention earlier: #10 – #1 December 16, 2010

Posted by gwyoung in Album Reviews, Lists, Music.
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Err… you know the drill. Read my last if you don’t. And stay tuned for a lot more year-end coverage now that I’m done with final exams. And by a lot I mean what I did last year plus a few more fun things. Enjoy albums 10 through 1!

10. Clive Tanaka Y Su Orquesta – Jet Set Siempre 1

Despite the artist and album name, this cassette-only release sounds neither Japanese nor Spanish. What it does sound like is a lo-fi version of Daft Punk that abandons vocoder dance pop halfway through the record and transitions into mellow, easy-listening tropicalia. That being said, the best moments happen when Clive lets down his guard (and his mask of electronic manipulation) and sings from the soul on tracks like “Neu Chicago” and “Lonely For The High Scrapers”.

9. Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

Gold Panda makes its own brand of ethnically-infused minimalist electronica, tossing together elements of Glassian piano repetition, traditional Chinese music, and the sitar. Apparently Derwin Panda, the brains behind the operation, studied at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies at the University of London in Japan, which perfectly explains where this bizarre yet incredibly functional combination was born. “You” and “Same Dream China” are perfect examples of his craft, and the non-album single “Quitter’s Raga” is also worthy of a download.

8. CocoRosie – Grey Oceans

Grey Oceans wins this year’s award for best musical-quality-to-quality-of-cover-art ratio, but that’s not surprising considering how ugly this sister freak-folk duo looks with shittily photoshopped blue facial hair. Luckily, they put way more attention into crafting a new sound for themselves on this album, combining the rustic with the electronic in a way post-Adz Sufjan would really appreciate. The album feels like a melancholy trip through some mystical, whimsical forest full of shiny glowing things and nymphs with a soft spot for Joanna Newsom, all in the best way possible of course. See for yourself.

7. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter Of Mixed Drinks

Emo rock was a big part of my musical tastes back in high school, which I guess partially explains why I found Frightened Rabbit’s latest so appealing. This is Scottish emo at its finest, and the band’s incredible songwriting and all-engrossing stadium appeal really sound wonderful to my ears at least. There’s nothing exciting or new about this, it’s indie rock tried and true and it’s been done a million times before. But it sounds good, and that’s all that music should ever really hope to do anyway. “Nothing Like You” and “Foot Shooter” are the best picks, especially if you feel like wallowing in your misfortune with extra grandiosity for a little while.

6. Kumon Plaza – Cliff

Chiptune; 8-bit; Legend Of Zelda; boss battles; white people rapping over electronica. If you like any or all of the above, this album is for you. And indeed it does have all of those things, and more: a reinterpretation of the Ocarina Of Time old-school Saria’s Song, three different versions of a song called “Hans Kruger”, including two with women who sound like Joanna Newsom and one with a couple busting rhymes about bicycles, picnics, sun chips, and strawberry wine, and a song called “Final Boss” inspired by all those “hold on I have to beat this guy so I can save the game” moments from your youth. It also packs in some remixes by KP and remixes of KP, and it’s all available for free on his bandcamp. What more could you ask for in a debut EP?

5. Women – Public Strain

Women have a lot in common with Neutral Milk Hotel. Only in a cursory indie rock way in terms of sound, true, but, after the events that transpired this year (a shockingly good, inspired sophomore effort followed by an on-stage bandfight then probable indefinite hiatus), it’s become clear that this fantastic upstart band has taken quite the downward spiral into NMH-style nonexistence. And it’s a real shame, too, because, also like Neutral Milk Hotel, they started things off easy with a decent debut and then totally killed it on the follow-up, only to have it all end in tears right when fans crave more the most. But hey, look at the bright side! At least we still have Public Strain to cherish for the eternity it will take for a follow-up.

4. The Books – The Way Out

If you haven’t seen the Books perform live, do yourself a favor and get tickets. Seeing their collagist video accompaniments, which they have for almost all of their recorded “songs”, will change the way you think about this band. They have quite the sense of humor, and yet their melting pot of comical elements taken from some crate-digging of meditation tapes and interviews with violent children (just some examples) often fuses into deeply affecting and emotional compositions. The Way Out is more of the same quirky experiments with language and sound from a “pop” duo who will never cease to challenge the way we listen to music, and thus, by nature of the group, is not more of the same at all.

3. Blue Hawaii – Blooming Summer

Blue Hawaii is a duo consisting of a sad and, at times, sexually starved girl with one of the most expressive voices you’ll ever hear and a guy who’s really good at producing atmospheric electronics. The description could fit a lot of breakthrough bands this year (Beach House and Memoryhouse come to mind) but you’ll have to believe me when I say that Blue Hawaii reign superior over all of them. This short set of eight songs packs more punch than almost any full-length I’ve heard this year, with the added plus that you can listen to it over and over again since it’s runtime is only 23 minutes. And trust me, you’ll want to.

2. James Blake – Air & Lack Thereof/The Bells Sketch/CMYK/Klavierwerke

James Blake hasn’t yet released a debut full-length (that comes in February), but he’s certainly kept busy and made quite a name for himself in 2010. Over the course of this year he’s put out enough solid material to put out an album and then some, but it’s been split across a single and three different EPs. In a way, it’s kind of cool to get to know James Blake through random bursts of his classy, R&B-tinged art-dubstep approach to electronica throughout the year rather than having it poured down our throats all at once. Gives it more time to settle into the brain, which music like this really needs. But once you hear how creative this guy can get with his samples and beats, you’ll agree that three EPs and one single just aren’t enough. Thankfully more is on the way.

1. Avey Tare – Down There

What a surprise that this album tops my list. While many of you may have expected this giving my history of unrequited love for all four members of Animal Collective, my prior statement is anything but sarcastic. When I first heard this album, I thought it was a huge disappointment: I had trouble getting into any of the melodies because they were so obscured by murky, warbling beeps, whirrs, and distorted vocals, and I felt like Avey had let me down without Panda Bear to keep his weirdness in check. But, faithful fan that I am, I stuck with it to give it a chance to shine, and boy did it. This album is an incredibly subtle work of genius from a man who I have now learned can do no wrong. New patterns, textures, rhythms, and sounds emerge from the murky depths with each listen, and the random intelligible portions of lyrics drip with such melancholy as to capture Avey’s dark emotions better than on any Animal Collective album proper. It’s a shame that it’s release was overshadowed by all the clamor for Panda Bear’s new album, Tomboy, because Down There is just as masterful as Person Pitch or any other album associated with the collective and deserves attention as such.

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