Welcome back to the end of 2010. I’m your host, Dagan, and… okay yeah, that was lame. Anyway, yes! On to part two of my top 100 countdown of the best albums of the year. Excited? I don’t blame you, neither am I. Well, that’s enough aimless rambling for now, let’s just go ahead and get down to business. “Finally,” says the reader…
80. Robyn – Body Talk
What with all the clamor about Robyn being the next big pop star and all that, it was quite easy to be skeptical… and after giving Body Talk a few dozen listens, I can honestly say that yeah, she just might. She harnesses that oh-so-important skill of singing about the most asinine things possible, but actually getting you into it. How many female singers go on about boy troubles, to which all you can think in response is “I don’t really give a rat’s ass what’s going on with you, lady”? When Robyn worries that her fuck-buddy might be getting too close, or that whoever she’s dating on the sly won’t dump his current girlfriend, you can’t help but dance and think, “aw, well I hope she gets all that sorted out.”
Recommended track: Love Kills
79. Fear Factory – Mechanize
I really didn’t think they had it in them. After two missteps, and then the (second) split, and Arkaea being as… well, as terrible as they were… hearing this album kick as much ass as it does was one of the year’s many pleasant surprises. Burton C. Bell sounds as vital as he ever has, and the legendary Gene Hoglan hasn’t made Raymond Hererra’s presence feel missed at all. Not to mention that Dino’s riffs, the very heart of the band, are finally back! Forgive my fanboy-isms, but it feels like they picked up right where they left off with Digimortal, and it’s all quite exciting for me.
Recommended track: Christploitation
78. Eels – Tomorrow Morning
One of the last musicians I ever expected to put out something this cheerful, E has decided that maybe life isn’t so bad after all, and made a smug-free tribute to it on record. And what’s more is that it’s actually really good! He’s still got his quirky sense of humor, but not the miserable loner armed with a wisecrack anymore, so much as the witty guy who’s too quiet to tell his jokes to more than one person at a time. It really is a bit startling to hear something so genuinely self-affirming as What I Have to Offer coming from him, but it works very well, simply because he actually seems to mean it.
Recommended track: This Is Where It Gets Good
77. Simian Mobile Disco – Delicacies
After the near-disastrous pop flirtation that was last year’s Temporary Pleasure, the electro duo decided to take a step in the opposite direction, and go a bit more subtle. …make that a LOT more subtle. Delicacies is a bass-heavy, rhythm dominated album with its tracks taking their time to build up and reveal more of themselves. It’s still a dance record, for all intents and purposes, but it’s a challenging one that requires an attentive ear for all the details – and this album is rich with them.
Recommended track: Casu Marzu
76. The Flashbulb – Arboreal
Pretty, ambient music is all well and good, but why not try and mix it up a bit? That seems to be the proposal behind Benn Jordan’s most recent outing, and the results are largely astounding. As with his last album, 2008′s Soundtrack to a Vacant Life, his compositions are unfailingly beautiful, but this time around he’s tried throwing in shuffling, glitchy beats, mildly abrasive synths, hip-hop beats, treated guitars, and… well you get the idea. What’s also impressive is that with all the different elements he’s applying with different tracks, there’s still a remarkable flow to the album. Both sprawling and emotive, Arboreal is not something you want to miss.
Recommended track: A Raw Understanding
75. M.I.A. – MAYA
Maya is incredibly abrasive and confrontational, which is a huge part of why I like it as much as I do. All the talk of conspiracy theories, global inequalities, and other unpleasantries go along with the power drills, chopped up samples, and smarmy wordplay (tell me you can’t see her smirking during the chorus of Lovealot), all to force an opinion out of you. It’s little wonder (you little wonder, little wonder, you) how it’s come to be one of the most (if not THE most) polarizing albums of the year; I can’t help but imagine that she wouldn’t want it any other way.
Recommended track: It Takes a Muscle
74. Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers
So, have you noticed how popular dubstep has gotten? ….no, that pick-up line doesn’t work, but I’m still trying. In any case, what with this genre’s different ends (particularly the bone-rattling bass obsessed end and the haunting atmosphere obsessed end), it’s quite refreshing to see somebody trying something different. Dominic Maker and Kai Campos make wonderful use of chopped up samples in particular, making songs that threaten to drown in their own ambiance come alive with a makeshift hook, probably displayed best on the outstanding Mayor. Mount Kimbie are able to come across as fun as well as ethereal, which could well be one of the best combinations to achieve in this style of music.
Recommended track: Ruby
73. Be My Enemy – This Is the New Wave
There’s something about good old fashioned crushing music tailor-made for industrial dancefloors that makes me want to neglect proper comma use. I’m not sure what’s better about this album, the fact that half of the much celebrated Cubanate put this together, or that it makes waiting for the promised new Cubanate material so much more tolerable. Phil Barry hasn’t lost a beat – pounding beats, brutal guitars, and an unwavering danceability to even the most aggressive moments.
Recommended track: Helter Skelter
72. Actress – Splazsh
Splazsh plays like a trip through different types of electronic dance music, from complex techno to electro bangers, but all with Actress’ individual stamp. What keeps it all from unraveling is his ability to weave together elements that shouldn’t really go together; Bubble Butts and Equations, for example, sees an almost IDM (God I hate that term) sounding jumble of melodies meander on until they hit a solid four to the floor beat, and suddenly it sounds like a subdued electro house number. As the album progresses, these pairings pop up more and more, each one more clever than the last, and it keeps things more than just a little interesting, wondering where he’ll go next. A huge grower.
Recommended track: Maze
71. Godzilla Black – Godzilla Black
“I’m the kind of girl that makes you want to get a sex change.” So begins Godzilla Black’s gleefully bizarre self-titled debut, which is stylistically all over the place, but somehow unified in the sheer oddity of it all. The group’s chaotic brand of indie rock visits surf rock (From Here to Clare), psychedelia (imaresident), experimental noise (The Drought), and so on, leaving an utter mess behind them each time. This flew under the radar a bit, but really needs to be heard, even if only for people to scratch their heads over.
Recommended track: The Bad Place
70. Ceephax Acid Crew – United Acid Emirates
Bleep bloop bleep. Acid and 8 bit, together at least! And they make for quite the cheerful little dance party, let me tell you – the melodies are so bright and bubbly that it’s nearly impossible to listen to this without cracking a smile at some point; hell, just give Sydney’s Sizzler an ear and try not to get sucked in by that infectious giddiness. There are also several other more low-key moments on United Acid Emirates that are excellent in their own right, such as the tranquil pair of Trabzonspor and Denizlispor. Bloop.
Recommended track: Castilian
69. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
What with the intense political overtones found in New Amerykah Part One, it’s so nice to hear Erykah Badu sounding so playful on her latest. Just around every corner, some facet of love is embraced, and what’s better is that it’s rooted more in simple moments and fleeting feelings than anything direct, like how she details the elation that comes with a new love in the infinitely charming Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long. Return of the Ankh is a very warm, pleasant record, and whether you’re feeling any of the things she’s singing about or not, it’s a lovely listen all the same.
Recommended track: Fall in Love (Your Funeral)
68. Prometheus Burning – Displacement Disorder
Some seriously savage industrial (or rhythmic noise, if you prefer) that’s got groove and rage to spare. It’s an interesting thing when an album can utterly kick your ass, but at the same time make you feel like dancing – well, maybe just mimic that zombie looking kid from the Peanuts with the outstretched arms, but dancing all the same. The production is absolutely fierce, with abrasive yet head-bobbing, addictive beats, and it sounds more crushing and dense than most guitar-based heavy music.
Recommended track: Anonymous Death Threats
67. Year of No Light – Ausserwelt
Ausserwelt’s cover image is about as accurate a visual you’re going to get for Year of No Light’s latest: dark, bleak, brooding, and heavy. Opting to go instrumental this time around, the band embraces elements of drone, doom, and a hell of a lot of sludge to make an album that manages to pull off the ugly/beautiful dichotomy with striking ease. Even considering that it’s three guitarists and two drummers (!) playing on the record, it’s still a wonder how they got it to be so damn loud. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Recommended track: Hiérophante
66. MGMT – Congratulations
As I noted in my review of this album from earlier this year, it’s difficult to sympathize with people who found MGMT’s second album a bit jarring, as they obviously weren’t really listening to the bulk of Oracular Spectacular. The duo set out to make their own brand of 60s psychedelic rock, and they did a damned good job of it. Congratulations is the best kind of retro; making no qualms about its influences, yet updating it for the current era while adding their own panache. This is a seriously fun record, and I can’t help but feel bad for those who simply write it off.
Recommended track: Song for Dan Treacy
65. StrangeZero – Newborn Butterflies
Not to suggest that there was a STAGGERING race for the title of ‘Best Dark Ambient Album of the Year’ or anything, but this would clinch it in spades. It’s always remarkable to hear something so deceptively simple reveal its intricacies to you over the course of a few listens, and this is a quality that StrangeZero could write a fucking book on – the samples, the synths, the glitches, there is so much going on and so much to discover. Of course, this wouldn’t be of much use without the tremendous atmosphere that Newborn Butterflies uses to suck you in; it’s somehow both soothing and haunting, and able to evoke much more thought and feeling than you might expect.
Recommended track: Mirteaux
64. Mono/Poly – Paramatma
I’m still not sure whether or not it was a good idea for Charles Dickerson to capture the sensation of being in the midst of an intense, paranoid trip. Not because he failed to do this, mind you, in fact it’s because he was a little too successful! The first half of Paramatma plays out exactly like this, with insulated samples of religious and political rhetoric weaving in and out of hazy, psychedelic, half-wonky and half-subdued beats, peaking with the massive, nine minute opus Waters of Duality when the paranoia finally begins to fade away and the album takes on a progressively peaceful and laid back feel. A trip and a half.
Recommended track: Analysis (DNA)/Fire Passion
63. Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here
Seven years is a long time to wait for anything, and when it comes to new albums it’s a bit of a gamble; the longer the wait, the higher the expectations, and more often than not once enough time has passed it becomes a practice in setting yourself up for disappointment. Unless you’re waiting for the new Anathema record, it seems. We’re Here Because We’re Here sees the band dropping most of the metal from their musical approach in favor of atmospheric, progressive rock that is flooring in just how gorgeous it is. One of the most ridiculously sweeping and uplifting albums I’ve heard all year.
Recommended track: Dreaming Light
62. Rosetta – A Determinism of Morality
As much as the band may detest the post-metal tag, this album could well be its very embodiment. Opener Ayil is everything a great metal track should be – crushing guitars, clever breakdowns, roared vocals, and spectacular drumming, then it eases into more gentle, calculated sonic ventures only to explode again into furious bursts of emotion. And yes, it is startlingly emotional – not in the traditional ‘emo’ sense of course, but Michael Armine’s vocals just have such a fire behind them that they can’t help goading on the already extremely passionate music. Everything is meticulously set up, perhaps best illustrated by how the longing instrumental Blue Day for Croatoa fades into the raging (and appropriately titled) Release. It’s hard to imagine Rosetta sounding more fully realized than this.
Recommended track: Revolve
61. Deadmau5 – 4×4=16
Here’s another album (or collection of singles, I guess I should say) that’s getting way more hate than I can wrap my head around. After rising to prominence with his last two full-length releases, expectations were understandably high for his third. However, critics have seemed a bit too eager to sharpshoot the guy over this – Sofi Needs a Ladder is bad because of Sofi’s grating vocals. Animal Rights is bad because the hook is too blatant. Raise Your Weapon is bad because it has a dubstep drop. And so on, and so forth. While I’ll agree that One Trick Pony comes off a bit awkward, 4×4=16 is a solid exercise in progressive house, and a natural extension of the branching out that Joel Zimmerman started to toy with on For Lack of a Better Name. The high octane first half settles quite nicely into the more creeping nature of mid-point tracks I Said (Michael Woods Remix) and Cthulhu Sleeps, which in turn do a great job of leading up to his foray into dubstep. Not his best, but an excellent dance record nonetheless.
Recommended track: Some Chords