If there’s one thing any self-respecting critic enjoys more than anything else, it’s list-making. So here are my top 5 albums for 2010 which any music fan would be a fool to miss out on.
5. Curren$y – Pilot Talk
It’s probably not unreasonable to accuse New Orleans rapper Curren$y of lacking in versatility. Where other rappers may have plenty of tracks detailing the mistakes they have made or the women they have conquered, Curren$y is more than content in dealing exclusively with his long time love affair with weed.
Whilst this may sound like a massive turn off, he manages to turn this to his advantage and puts across an affable every-guy persona and much like Mike Skinner before him is able to make the mundanity of everyday life seem exciting and original.
The album is produced almost solely by New York producer Ski Beatz who worked with Jay-Z in the nineties and has done little else of note since, but has effortlessly returned to form with beats sounding as futuristic as any track from The Neptunes glory days that switch from towering epics to spaced out electronica. For this reason Pilot Talk is more of a collaboration than a solo album as Curren$y’s lines are just as central to the record as the beats he builds upon. With collaborations from Mos Def, rising star Jay Electronica and strangely Snoop Dogg, Pilot Talk is the best purist Hip-Hop album this year.
Come through with that killer weed / Alfred Hitchcock in the zip lock / Zig Zags and a Jones soda / Let shorty twist one up for the pit stop
4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
There were a lot of highly anticipated albums set for release in 2010 but none more so than Kanye Wests self glorifying epic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Having spent the year on a Henry Kissinger style good will generating mission playing at any award show that would have him, producing on more or less every high budget hip-hop album and releasing at least an albums worth of free tracks with most of the genres biggest names, he capped off the year with an undeniably excellent album filled with excellent tracks and at least a dozen well judged collaborations.
The structuring and production of the album make it almost transcend Hip-Hop and it ends up bearing more in resemblance to a high brow pop album than Kanye’s earlier work which lends it enough accessibility that it can and should be enjoyed by anyone who can get their hands on it.
I’m livin’ in the 21st century, doin’ something mean to it/ Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it/ Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it/ I guess every superhero need his theme music
3. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
For anyone that hasn’t been studying the minutia of lo-fi blogs in the last decade it would have been fairly easy to have (much like myself) missed out almost entirely on the rise of Ariel Pink. He is the only non Animal Collective member to be signed to their exclusive Paw Tracks imprint and this piece of trivia is perhaps the sole reason he’s been able to generate any kind of publicity for himself. Beginning with hundreds of self produced bedroom recordings that were almost exclusively distributed within New York, Ariel Pink steadily built up a cult following in much the same vein as The Velvet Underground and has become one of the scenes most influential artists. Before Today seemed to come from almost nowhere with its emphasis on pop-song style structuring and a very high production value that has lead to some of the best pop singles of the year, albeit ones that you’d be unlikely to hear on MTV. The whole record oozes with a cool that is exclusive to New York records as it captures the sound of the city that birthed it, in a way that despite the seemingly great attention to detail comes across as effortless and unique.
I’m afraid, you’re afraid/And we die and we live/And we’re born again
2. The National – High Violet
Bryce Dessner, one brother in two sets of twins in The National once said something along the lines of the band only seem to have hardcore fans. This point was brought home when I travelled to see them play at the glorified business park that is the University of Warwick last year. The couple to the left of me had once travelled to Germany to see them live and the two hammered lads on my right kept getting so emotional that they spend mot of the gig embracing each other in between riotous cheering. A little extreme I thought, but when the band unplugged all of their instruments, microphone included, to play the closing song from the their fifth studio album, High Violet, and the lead singer came to the front of the audience and took my hand for support as he climbed upon the separating fencing before coming to sing along with the crowd I think I understood what everyone around me was feeling.
It might seem like I therefore have some vested interest in ranking the album so highly but in reality High Violet is simply an excellent indie rock record. The songs are constructed in a way that is completely original but still never stray from pop accessibility. The well-documented laborious process of recording the album can be heard in the extreme attention to detail displayed by each band member who each play superbly complex parts that never interfere with the quality of each track or the cohesion of the entire record.
With High Violet, the original point that the band only have hardcore fans is either no-longer true, as the internet is ablaze with praise for the album as it’s come to reach all corners of the musical community (even including radio 1) or just about everyone who has the heard the album can now count themselves a hardcore fan. Either way, it’s a record not to be missed out on.
I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/ The floors are falling out from everybody I know
1. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
I really didn’t want to put this album at the top. Believe me, I didn’t. There’s a definite responsibility when writing for a non specialist publication to make sure that everything is at least partly accessible to the casual reader. Every album on this list can be enjoyed with little to no context and can be dipped in and out of with very little commitment on the part of the listener.
This cannot be said for Joanna Newsoms opus, Have One On Me.
The album is roughly two whole hours in length and is split into three CD’s worth of music. And the main instrument is the harp. Needless to say it’s a rather divisive record but will reward any listener that braves even one of the three discs. As you may have noticed I tend to bang on about structuring and there’s a whole separate article worth of material on that topic when it comes to this album. Never have I heard songs that are of such great length made up of so many movements with no regard for convention that still manage to sound seductively concise and dare I say at times poppy.
I’ve written at length about this record before in these pages so to save repeating myself I’ll instead demand that you do everything in your power to hear this record before you die.
I don’t care if you have to murder a hipster to get a copy of it, just find someone in skinny jeans reading French poetry; they’re bound to have it. Even take it from me if you must; you can find me at literally any hour in the Tolansky Building ready to fight you to the death for it.
And if you come and see me you will upset the order/You cannot come and see me for I set myself apart/But when you come and see me in California/You cross the border of my heart.
So that is (without a whiff of subjectivity) five of the best albums of 2010. Just promise me you’ll go out and listen to one of them and in return I’ll review the Kings Of Leon or something. Deal? Good.