The best (and worst) albums of 2010
OW’s music critics pick the best from a banner year in sound
Published: December 23, 2010
Weekend: Sports – This year saw the beautiful rise of a new wave of really good shoegaze bands, and this young San Francisco outfit is definitely in the vanguard. Merging Psychocandy buzz saws and My Bloody Valentine’s blissful haze with stately post-punk melodies that swoon with dark pop loveliness, Weekend hits that impeccable balance between noisy power and tuneful precision.
Freebass: It’s a Beautiful Life – If it’s not the year’s worst album, it’s definitely the most pathetic. Formed by Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order), Mani Mounfield (Stone Roses, Primal Scream) and Andy Rourke (the Smiths), this group of indie superstars is over the hill but intriguing nonetheless. But instead of turning this bass-based concept into something charged and powerful like Basements of Florida, they just sound like cheap, vague knockoffs of their respective bands. The group has had well-documented internal strife, but the real problem is the material. Maybe it’s their age, or maybe it’s their true pedigree as secondary figures from primary bands really showing, but this junk’s just flaccid. Pass the blue pills.
1) Janelle Monae: The Archandroid – At no point since it was released in May did this album budge from its No. 1 spot on my list. This is what soul music should have sounded like for the past two decades: playful, weird, conceptually rich and genre-agnostic, not to mention completely amazing in concert.
2) Chemical Brothers: Further – This album was, by far, the biggest surprise of 2010. With almost 20 years under their belts, the Brothers have no need to even try at this point. Yet Further shows a confident duo that has nothing to lose, abandoning completely their Big Beat past in favor of squelchy, krautrock-inspired, electro-noise suites that are challenging, weird and future-proof.
3) Serena-Maneesh: S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor – Noise annoys, but in the case of this record, it can also be used to dizzying, assaultive effect. This album is the meth-addled inversion of Loveless, a brutally beautiful batch of psychedelic thunderstorms.
4) Viernes: Sinister Devices – In a year filled with beautiful and evocative dream pop records, it’s pretty great that 2010’s most beautiful and evocative dream pop record just happened to have been recorded right down the street from me. It’s ethereal without being wispy, substantial without being heavy.
5) Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday – Sure, Kanye West made the consensus favorite hip-hop album, but let’s be real for a minute: It’s exactly what you expected it to be. Pink Friday, on the other hand, was a complete disappointment. But after the disappointment faded, it soon became clear that Minaj was not only a gifted rapper but also a weirdo pop star in full bloom, and that combination means that she’s the only lady out there who can do flouncy, why’d-he-break-my-heart ballads and rhyme “punt” with “cunt.”
Salem: King Night – I hate Salem. I hate that the term “rape gaze” was coined to describe them. I hate their conspicuously druggy public persona. I hate that they co-opt a 5-year-old hip-hop remix style. I hate that they sing/rap/mumble about some truly execrable shit. But what I hate the most is that, after I played it at an appropriately loud volume, King Night made me enjoy, repeatedly, something that could be described as “purple drank shoegaze.”