the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

20/10 Best Albums, 10-5

In music on December 6, 2010 at 10:24 pm

The countdown continues. Today: Best albums 10-5; tomorrow, 4-1. I’m presenting these in twos—album pairs that, like actual couples, can be mirror images of each-other or completely different, but always seem to reveal, when presented together, something new about the individuals.

10. / 9. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” / Das Racist’s Sit Down, Man – DR: “Call me Dwight Shrute the way I eat beets(beats)!” KW: “Choke a Southpark writer with a fish stick.” While most of this year’s hip hop tended towards the cinematic, the two best rap albums of 2010 drew their format from the small screen. Through this lens, West’s Fantasy is like a HBO miniseries—dripping with elaborate pop production (“All of the lights”, but not scared to experiment (“Monster”);  filled with a star-studded cast, but inevitably carried by a single, and singular, performance (ie, Mr. West). Sit Down, Man adapts the successful “Daily Show” model of pop-culture/political skewering (“Return to Innocence”) and self-deprecating humor (“Hahahahaha J/K?”). And these albums both point to and (importantly) question a creativity-diluting meta-cultural shift: the line between the internet and TV has been irrevocably blurred—when it’s all one continuous meme, what happens to originality? Fantasy and Sit Down, Man set out (and succeed) to prove that music need not follow in the same direction.

8./ 7. Caribou’s Swim / James Blake’s CMYK & Klavierwerke EPs – How do you create music like this? The answer might be easier for Swim, the latest from Dan Snaith’s ever-evolving group. On tracks like “Bowls” and “Sun,” you can hear the Caribou frontman’s mathematician brain (dude has a PhD) at work—even as melodies spiral to unexpected places and the intricacy of the the beats builds, there seems to be a higher order to it all. Snaith corralls the dark and emotional and chaotic, and—amazingly—channels this energy into something downright danceable. James Blake, the young british producer, is a harder nut to crack. His music seems beamed down through multiple radio stations, scrambled like a kid with ADHD had a hand on the tuner, with gaps and static filling the spaces between gorgeous riffs and haunting dub-step. “I don’t know,” an ethereal voice sings in the beautiful Klavierwerke standout “I only know (what I know now)”—and maybe that’s the point of Blake’s two brilliant debut EPs: these fragmented and propulsive beats, these other-worldly melodies, suggest that there’s always more beauty in potentiality, and perhaps it’s the artist’s job to suspend our understanding of a fully-formed musical idea.

6. / 5. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs / LCD Soundsystem’s This is Happening – Both of these bands last released albums in 2007, and their respective efforts (Neon Bible, Sound of Silver), while often enjoyable, seemed a little too constructed—they sounded afraid of having a single note out of key, or single lyric not witty or referential enough.  Their shared strategy for The ‘Burbs and This is… could be described as: put a mic in a room and jam out. These are not mini best-of albums—both drag a bit on their second halves, but pull out superb set closers.  What’s revelatory about these veteran bands’ 2010 albums is that James Murphy & Co, as well as the Win Butler Nonet, have finally learned how to take some of the songwriting weight off their frontmen. The result is two of the best group efforts of the year, and two unique treatises on how to reinvigorate (w/o reinventing) a band’s sound.


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