Best albums of 2010 – Part 1

As promised! I’ve been surprised to see some bloggers saying 2010 was a weak year for music – I know I fell in love with a whole bunch of albums. I’m splitting my top ten list into two halves since it turned out a little longwinded. Where a song title is linked you can follow it through to a YouTube video if you want to listen! “Tighten Up” is definitely worth a look…

1. The Black Keys: Brothers

The cover kinda says it all – you don’t need to search for hidden meaning here. Which isn’t to say there aren’t delicious layers to discover in Brothers. From a whistled riff (“Tighten Up”) to a drum intro that could be another sequel to Gary Glitter’s “Rock n Roll” (“Howlin For You”), it’s hard to believe these are the same two guys that made Thickfreakness in 2003.

After producing their previous effort Attack & Release, Dangermouse pops up again at the helm of “Tighten Up”. And tighten up the Keys have, from their joyous garage blues mess of years gone by. They dabble in a range of genres here – blues, RnB, soul, rock, even a T-Rex style glam stomp. But their sixth album marks a return to their roots, and somehow for all their experimentation in different genres the Black Keys have made a record that only they could make.

There’s a hand-made, smoke-stained, bar-scuffed feel to the production, driven by Patrick Carney’s furious drumming. It sounds vintage (particularly when Dan Auerbach tests out his falsetto on sixties-style pop tunes like “The Only One”, or cover “Never Gonna Give You Up”), and completely fresh all at once. Brothers is a dirty, sweaty, sexy rock record with a wiggle in its rump and grime under its fingernails. God, I can’t wait to see these guys live again.

2. Beach House: Teen Dream

Another two-piece, this time from Baltimore, in my number two spot. Victoria Legrand’s voice is so luxurious I want to nestle into it like a bed; but it’s taut with strength as well. Just the name of this album is so evocative, right? Maybe that’s why to me, Beach House’s songs sound sunbleached and softened – like a memory of a summer holiday, viewed through a window pane caked with dried sea salt spray.

They’ve always nailed dreamy harmonies and gauzy production, but with Teen Dream Beach House have made their most assured, accessible record yet. I love the woozy, lazy guitar riffs lagging just a little, as though everyone’s feeling slightly sluggish after a long lunch. I love the whimsy and optimism of the refrain coming home / any day now in “Used To Be”. And I love when the piano changes up toward the end of “Real Love”. One for lazy, dreamy Sunday afternoons.

3. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

I’ve already written so much about The Suburbs, I won’t bore you again!

4. Menomena: Mines

Menomena sound like storms building, especially the wind-rattled percussion and rumbling piano at the start of my favourite track, “Tithe”. This is an album I’ve loved for months – it will always remind me of getting lost in the Hasidic back blocks of Williamsburg, feeling like an alien stumbling through another world – but I knew nothing about the band until I went to write this.

Turns out this trio from Portland OR broke out years ago when they developed their own software, called DEELER, to make songs from recorded loops. Do check out this review, which goes into detail about how the looping software works – it’s quite fascinating and gives a whole new insight into how Mines was probably written and recorded. The architectural construction of these songs, the spatial relationships between instruments and layers of sound, seem made for engineers. But for we mere mortals there’s still loads to love. “TAOS” is another cracking tune, playing out a tipsy flirtation and the vagaries of drunken lust:

I’m not the most cocksure guy
But I get more bold with every smile…
Underneath this fleshy robe
Lies a beast with no control
I fed it once look how it’s grown
Oh my god, bring me peace
From this wolf covered in fleece
I can’t shake loose from its teeth

5. Dan Kelly: Dan Kelly’s Dream

There’s so much going on in Dan Kelly’s Dream – lyrically and sonically. He’s a maximalist perfectionist in bringing his dreams to life. Sometimes I worry that Dan’s quick wit with a pop culture quip is holding him back from the timeless tunes I know he’s capable of writing… though I daresay Uncle Paul’s shadow is one he’s in no rush to step into. But come on. I love every track of this. The girly harmonies and tropical touches of 2006’s Drowning In The Fountain Of Youth endure, and there’s plenty of silliness but some genuine poignancy as well. “Gap Year Blues” is a sweet schoolyard love song, and “Bindi Irwin Apocalypse Jam” is suitably insane.

As ever, Dan shoehorns whole novels worth of narrative into single songs – an innocent discovers a new high in “Hold On, I’m Coming On”; a comely nun runs away with a lovestruck janitor in “The Catholic Leader”. The wordplay is joyously clever, and in many songs it feels like you can pinpoint the germ of a rhyme that infected Dan’s imagination.

She was framed in the window in a papal windcheater
His knees were knockin like a Mormon team leader
Under the moon the handyman freed her
Now read all about it in The Catholic Leader

Like another of my top ten (which will appear later), this is an album that I didn’t really want to like because of the arrogance I sometimes perceive in the artist. But like that bad boy you crushed on as a teenager, he wins you over with flashes of vulnerability; and ultimately you’re left dazzled by just how smart this kid is.

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