In that vein, let's kick off our 2010 Summary with a Top Albums Countdown.
Best Albums of 2010
Key track: "The Good Shepherd"
An awesome pairing of Rhymesayers artists on a truly surprising record. Wasn't sure if I wanted to buy this album until I saw these two rock my favorite venue. An outstanding and dynamic performance. Freeway shows a great deal of flexibility on this record, and Jake One (unsurprisingly) continues to dazzle with big beats that interact with The Philly Phreezer's verses, rather than cover them or lay calmly beneath them.
Key track: "Throw Your Hands Up"
I didn't intend to buy this album, but I'm glad that I clicked the wrong button. The happy accident lead me to a really interesting record that combines fantastic electronica, hip-hop, and a slice of techno. Or maybe not because I'm absolutely terrible with labels. But the point is, this NYC duo has busted out a really great record of innovative hip-hop that's definitely worth a careful listen to.
Key track: "Primor"
My favorite modern jazz piano trio turned out another really great album. With some of the most top-shelf musicianship I've heard in any genre of music, these three completely deconstruct everything you think you know about their instruments. Only disappointment? No super-amazing-awesome covers of classics from other genres, something that has become a staple of their catalog.
Key track: "Beryl Loves to Dance"
Members of Doomtree made three major releases this year (two of which made this list), and this has to be the most surprising. I had no idea that Beak went so deep into so many genres, and his work on this record proves a level of musical knowledge and prowess that puts him head and shoulders above pretty much every other DJ/producer in the game (and right in line with everyone else in Doomtree). Hardly a hip-hop record, because it's so much more. I know this was hella vague, but I just don't know where to begin on this one.
Key track: "Dream Team"
#20--"Sigh No More" by Mumford and Sons
Number one reason to love hipsters and the music they make? Their ridiculous obsession with vocal harmony and a classic folk sound. Thanks to my good buddy Shelly Jahn for turning me onto these guys this summer. This is one of my new favorite chill out records from 2010.
Key track: "Roll Away Your Stone"
A bunch of Los Angeles kids buy a house in a hipster neighborhood, make an absolutely beautiful record featuring some of the best vocal work I've heard since (as much as I hate to say this) Grizzly Bear. Usually I refuse to trust Pitchfork, but these guys have really mastered the "what-if-the-Beach-Boys-popped-Ambien" sound really, really well.
Key track: "Warning Signs"
My favorite hip-hop duo from NYC busts out a fantastic mixtape featuring rap-ified remixes of songs by Metric, The White Stripes, and Grizzly Bear (STOP SHOWING UP IN MY DAMN COUNTDOWN, YOU FOOLS!). Not only is the production quality absolutely mind-blowing, but the lyrical work is brilliant. Keep your eyes on these guys. They opened for Doomtree at the NYC show and I wouldn't be surprised if they start striking it big. Get it here.
Key track: "Yellow Tape (Grizzly Bear remix)"
Not my favorite Black Keys record of all time. That being said, I don't think these guys could ever put out a bad record. More bluesy rock 'n roll. More of the same. It wasn't anything they haven't done before, but you can tell that they're still putting in an amazing amount of work and sweat into each track.
Key track: "Tighten Up"
My favorite rapper/folker/singer/genius turns out big beat and fuzzy remixes of a few of his tracks, drops more of his masterful freestyling work and completely changes the sound of nearly everything he's ever done before. But rather than sound like he's in uncomfortable territory, he sounds right at home with gangster growls and an occasional Young Jeezy impersonation. Get it here.
Key track: "Do You Believe in Life After Thugs?"
Another one of my favorite live performances of the year. This electronic/post-noise quartet turned out a simultaneously danceable and musically captivating record. These guys use everything from live drums and bass to a 35 mm film somethingorother to make beep-friendly noise pop rock stuff. Plus, they're called Holy Fuck. Gotta love it.
Key track: "Sht Mtn"
MOAR HIPSTERS! MOAR VOCAL HARMONIES! Shameless poppy goodness interwoven with a bell kit and a few other quirky sounds. The entire band is composed of instrumentalists, which is fascinating to see live (something I've done three times). Musically, it's not groundbreaking, but this is some really outstanding stuff. Also, the bassist is a pretty good kisser. Wait, what?
Key track: "Hannah"
My favorite post-rock warriors from Manchester, England, England have (finally) graced us with their sophomore release. A series of really outstanding operas of soaring guitars, hard-driving drums, and haunting vocals, as well as a slightly self-indulgent long track that clocks in at around a half an hour in length. But these guys are still blowing me away, and have still yet to tour in the States. Sigh.
Key track: "Alphaville"
Speaking of incredible instrumentalists, Minus the Bear has to be a collection of some of the most talented guitarists I've heard...period. Well, once you include all of their effect pedals and such, that is. But anyway, on "Omni," MTB has effectively created great pop music. Wait, what? Did I just say that? Yeah, I did. I'm serious. These songs get stuck in your head.
Key track: "Excuses"
Ok, now we're in "any of these records could be #1 in my book" territory. Cloud Cult put out their best record yet this year, and shows us true craftsmanship. Unfortunately, the inspiration for this masterpiece was the death of the two frontpersons' young son. The silver lining of this cloud (har har har), though, is a record that is really a long form tribute to a life cut short.
Key track: "You'll Be Bright"
Let's be honest. No matter what these guys came up with for this record, we weren't going to think it was better than their debut. That being said, once I got over this fact and opened myself to accept the album for what it is, I was really floored. A little less Afro-infused than the first one, but they certainly haven't lost their sense of shameless hook. No real musical complexity, but bright guitars get everyone through the roughest Midwest winters (or Claremont "winters," as some of us are blessed).
Key track: "Holiday"
Spent the first half of this year under the misconception that Flying Lotus was a post-rock band. Don't ask me why. I honestly don't know where that came from. But, in fact, this is an AWESOME trip-hopish record with an infusion of a little electronica. Also, a track featuring Thom Yorke? Seriously, this album combines a ton of genres into an unhummable but ultimately loveable sound.
Key track: "...And The World Laughs With You (feat. Thom Yorke)"
I was super skeptical about this record before I listened to it. The fact is that Neko Case and Co. have somehow managed to come up with instantly irresistible vocals and bouncy accompaniment for yet another LP. Didn't know they hadn't exhausted the world's supply of perfect hooks. Nope. Still kicking myself for missing these guys on their U.S. tour. Apparently, they were spectacular.
Key track: "Crash Years"
I know my descriptions have sucked so far. I'm sorry. They're about to start failing. Dessa (one of my favorite Doomtree MCs) writes with an unparalleled sense of self, but still manages to draw the listener in. Carefully straddling the line between Sage Francis overboard introspection and self-deprication and dishonesty, Dessa spins (largely autobiographical) tales of sadness and triumph and struggle. She'll make you laugh, she'll make you cry, but mostly she'll just make you want to propose to her.
Key track: "The Bullpen"
Yet another record that absolutely floored me. I first saw The Walkmen back in the summer of 2006 at Cincinnati's attempt at an indie rock festival. Ever since then, I've been madly in love with their ability to make heartbreak and loneliness sound so hopeful. Still blown away by Hamilton Letihauser's vocal acrobatics. Still blown away with how bands like this make tube amps and reverb not get old, record after record.
Key track: All of them. My iTunes has the exact same number of plays for every track on this album, and I can't bring myself to pick a favorite.
Usually, I'm against the very concept of a supergroup. Later in this post, I'll give a lot of evidence to the contrary, but please trust me on this one. Anyway, what do get when you cross Bon Iver, Solid Gold, a couple cats from Doomtree, and a few random dudes from the MPLS music scene? A fantastic record based on making songs at 69 BPM. Fantastic grooves are born from a rich diversity of musical backgrounds, and who could resist a song with Justin Vernon sharing vocals with Dessa? I hope that my children are conceived to this album.
Key track: "Faded High"
To be fully honest, I never understood what was so special about Girl Talk before "Feed the Animals" came out. On "All Day," he's raised the bar for himself once again. Sampling isn't easy, as I've learned, but this guy has really got it down to a science. Listening to this record and trying to see how many samples I can identify is one of my new favorite sports. He's never afraid to pull something from complete obscurity, and it's actually turned me onto a few records once in awhile. Get it here.
Key track: Not to pull a cop out again, but this is really one big song. Sorry, guys.
The kings of despair have outdone themselves. "Boxer" made me feel ok about being from Cincinnati for the first time in my post-toddlerhood life. But this album somehow manages to be even better. Only Matt Berninger's deep baritone could write songs dripping with loneliness like this. I saw these guys debut a bunch of these tracks at Treasure Island Festival in October, and actually started tearing up. True story. Listen to "Terrible Love" and start musing on your last breakup.
Key track: "Bloodbuzz Ohio"
HAHA! You actually thought I was gonna have a definite answer to the whole Kanye vs. Arcade Fire debate? I have no interest in debating this issue any further.
Yeezy's new album isn't altogether groundbreaking as much as it is eye-opening. This guy isn't just a rapper, just a DJ, just a producer. He's the greatest single hip-hop/pop songwriter on the circuit today. Armed with some killer guest verses from Nicki Minaj and Hova, as well as instrumental work from John Legend and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Kanye crafts an epic piece that's just as hard to understand as his persona. Whatever you do, though, don't watch his film.
Key track: Also a tie. "All of the Lights" and "Lost in the Woods" are both standout songs.
After their largely disappointing "Neon Bible," I had forgotten how much I loved these guys. But this new album is to Arcade Fire what "OK Computer" was to Radiohead: a statement of stability. This band isn't going anywhere. Urgent but contemplative, this album brings that same echo-y glory, but also offers a much more 2010 perspective on it all. Slightly disillusioned and pretty pessimistic about this whole "future" thing, this record asks a lot of questions with really tough answers.
Key tracks: "City With No Children"
Wow. That was nearly impossible. And I'm already in disagreement with myself on a lot of these rankings. Crap.
Best One-Shot Musical Releases of the Year (unranked)
Yeah, you read that right. This guy threw some Clipse verses over top of some really well done remixes of tracks off of "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." And it works really, really well.
Get it here. Now.
A couple days ago, my favorite Seattle DJ/Producer Sabzi (of Blue Scholars and Common Market fame) teamed up with some local female vocalist with incredible pipes to lay down some really funky and hip R&B. Her voice melted the snow in Cincinnati. Thanks for that, by the way.
Get it here.
So far this hip-hop supergroup has only release one song (a remix of Lupe's "We Beamin'"), but they've established that they're a serious force to be reckoned with. And with a lineup like this, how could they not be? Asher Roth, Lupe, Pharrell, Charles Hamilton, J. Cole, Diggy, Wale, B.o.B., Blu, and The Cool Kids. Now that 7:55 long song sounds a lot more bearable, doesn't it?
Get it here. Seriously.
Top 3 Stories I Wish I Had Addressed on "Anthems":
There was a lot going on in the months I wasn't writing for this blog, and a helluva lot happened in that time. I'd address these things now, but I'd feel like such a total n00b for doing so in such a tardy fashion that I'm just going to gloss over them and not even explain them individually. If you can't guess where I'd come down on these issues, then I'd love to discuss them with you. But I'm way too tired to discuss them at length and it's 4:00am and I enjoy sleep.
3) WIKILEAKS! Julian Assange! Bad hair! Anonymous! DDoS attacks!
2) HAPPY MEALS UNDER ATTACK! The People's Republic of San Francisco! Overruled Mayors! Libertarian-in-the-making toddlers! (hah.)
1) BODY SCANNERS! Nudity! TSA Agents! Don't grope me, bro! The statist media!
2010 has been a great year. And if I wasn't already late on this post, I'd go more in depth about the year's events. Sorry for any disappointment this may have caused.
Anyway, expect a lot of changes in the future for "Anthems." I plan on posting more frequently, obviously, probably on a weekly basis or so. Expect a mix of cultural criticism, political observations, and music suggestions and tipoffs. Also expect a few new contributors. On that note, if you're interested in writing for this blog, let me know! I'd love to collaborate.
Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful New Year in 2011. I look forward to sharing it with you.