Stuart's Albums of the Year 2010

As Chris is taking his time before we finally announce our album of the already ancient decade, it seems I can put this off no longer.

It's odd to look back at my year in music. I ended last year looking for anything immediate and new and fun, within a month I was swept away by musical forces I couldn't have predicted. Four months later, caught up in some new violence and romance I declared 2010 an important year, said if anything was going to happen it will happen now. Not that my declarations mean anything, the bands rule the state of the scene, I do not. The summer passed and I felt independent music had abandoned me, gone soft and complacent, one hundred bands releasing records described by the press as "hazy, nostalgic", so I took refuge in british beats and electronics. And now I wake up and the year is gone.

And so I find myself unable to turn any kind of objective view on the past twelve months, I was too much of a victim of the sounds to find any impartial distance. Not as much of what hit me stuck as had last year, but what did hit deep, and that's all I have to share. This is the personal list. This was the year to me.

1. Four Tet - There Is Love In You
(SB review)

It's July and I'm sitting in my friend Jackie's apartment in Oakland and me and Adrian are trying to convince her to drop her plans and to come see Baths tonight in San Francisco with us. She said I don't want to go because I don't like electronic music. Bull shit we called! We both used to have that position, but to think that the instrument has necessary stake on the content is crazy! Besides, it'll be fun! We'll dance. Look she said, electronic music doesn't touch my soul.

And at first I scoffed in my mind because that is generally a bull shit self indulgent statement. Doesn't touch my soul! Ha! but then I remembered that this was not some 14 year old on the internet, this is not someone who would just throw that around. This is my best friend who I respect, she wouldn't say that vainly. So then I was a bit shaken, me and Adrian scrambled for Something at least.

Adrian shrugged. Said It doesn't touch my soul either I guess, but its fun and its interesting and its exciting and that's all you can ask for sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes. I agreed with him but in my mind I faced a small crisis. Electronic music doesn't touch my soul. I realized. It doesn't touch my soul.

Except Four Tet.

And certainly my year was kick-started by his masterpiece, like Jackie's sentence, uncensored, not trying to look cool, not concerned with avoiding cheesiness, just concerned with telling it like it is, Unadulterated music about love. About beauty. Innovative, sure, Minimalistic, Experimental, Danceable even sometimes, but never takes it's eye off the prize. There Is Love In You. It swirls everywhere in my head, all the time, my background radiation. It became associated with my person. It's all I talk about.

There is no story. There is not initial seduction, or boy looses girl, boy gets girl back. There is just the emotion of love. There is just the high feeling. There is just 4/4 beats and swirling guitar lines.

She Just Likes To Fight closes the album, an explanation, Look, four tet seems to say, I Don't Want To Leave Her Now, You Know I Believe. Look, he seems to say, It's Ok. She Just Likes To Fight.

2. The National - High Violet
(SB review)

Baring Four Tet, all my favorite albums of the year fall together in terms of a certain mindset. desperation, abandon, bravery of emotion that does not stem from actual courage, but from the belief that the world is fucked. That nothing matters. That looking cool and removed is no longer important. That they are falling into a void. We all take this different ways.

For The National it goes "The World Is Fucked So There Is No Time For Avoidance." the world is fucked so we can only be direct. As Boxer was the screaming behind your eyes as you went about your daily tasks, High Violet is screaming. There is no time for restraint. What made you think I enjoy being left to the flood? Instead of crafting poetry for the feeling you get afterwords they just went ahead and said "I don't want to get over you" instead of metaphors about despair they wrote songs called "Sorrow", called "I'm Afraid Of Everyone" called "Terrible Love". High Violet was the sound of screaming as you fell down into the pit.

3. Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring
(SB review)

If anyone in the world is no longer concerned with trying to look good its Los Campesinos. You think they don't realize that they sound like young teens, strung out on minor social woes and mild narcissism? They realize it. And they don't think it's good, or mature, or alright for 7 grown people to be perpetuating, but they are feeling it, and so they believe they must commit it to music.

And so if We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was a cry out, realizing that the world doesn't love them, Romance Is Boring is the cry of realizing that there is no love, even on a personal level. Its the cry of giving up on the whole concept of romance, of empty beds, of playing straight chicken with gay girls (spoiler: it's never enough).

Los Campesinos have such a habit of churning out line after line, resonating with immature depth. Claims that he would take your heart, with ease, by any means necessary, just in order to crush it, just out of bitterness. Saying he'd rather be dead than spend his time being selflessly cared for by you. Demanding that romance is boring.

And as the music shifts between noise and catchy melodies, you find that he doesn't believe a word of it, and that really he just wants someone to lie around with, counting the moles on their back. But it doesn't matter. Because there is no love. There is no post-coital, there is just post rock. There is no love and he's not even getting off. That his saddest and most depressing break up doesn't even crack the top 100 list.

These are our immature cries.

4. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

So the National's nihilism amounts to unrestrained despair, and the Los Campesinos' fell on unrestrained lust and bitterness. Kanye's went two ways. The first states, to paraphrase one reviewer, "Let's party like the world is fucked because the world is fucked", and certainly he is good at that. Fuck everything, he says, I'm gonna marry a porn star, I'm gonna have a different girl every night. Fuck the haters, their screams are my theme music. Fuck the world because I win anyway, I have all the fucking power, I don't need you. And he does this brilliantly, with swagger, taking the stance of a wrathful god.

But he keeps rubber banding between this and the realization of what an awful person he's been to everyone around him. He snaps between everything is fucked so I will party, and everything is fucked and it's all my fault. He tells girls he love to run far away from him, confessing that he's never going to give them an ounce of anything honest. He confesses to his sins of flesh, his constant infidelity. He confesses how much he needs her, calling her at two AM, making a fool out of himself on record. He knows how much he's not worthy of it. And he fucking hates himself. And then he snaps back. So that's his life, fuck me, then fuck the world, then fuck me again. He can't get much higher.

5. These New Puritans - Hidden
At the beginning of this year These New Puritans swapped the dance floor for the battle field, giving up their "we are cool as fuck" fashion post-punk beats for war drums and violins, and in doing so they created what has to be the most original sounding album of the year. They still have their little insidious turns of words, "Without a doubt I don't believe the stars are symbols, but lets find out", but gone is the self conscious cleverness. Everything about this album screams business, and these screams sound fucking good.

6. Mount Kimbie - Crooks and Lovers

As the indie world seemed to crumble beneath my feet I stumbled upon the land of british dance music, with Mount Kimbie beginning their reign as the young kings. Their virtuosic blend IDM and sub-bass heavy dubstep is absolutely breathtaking, both immediate and staggeringly interesting, I would spend my whole life at clubs if they played stuff like this here.

7. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

Mostly Crystal Castles were assholes, and mostly that was fun. Occasionally it was much more than that, I wasn't the only one to find catharsis in the screams of "I live. As Alice - I die" but for the most part it was fun. It was dishonest, it was ironic, it was nihilistic, it was a great party album. Their second self titled is none of these things. Amazingly enough the two canadians released a slow churning gothic record. They didn't loose the four on the floor beat but ever ounce of this feels heavy with honest despair, and though its no longer catchy it only took a few listens for it to seep deep into my skin. Not to mention the non-album version of Not In Love where Robert Smith takes on the vocals - the absolute best track to be relieved this year. Because as long as it's true anyway, we might as well have a chorus of it to shout along to.

8. Baths - Cerulean

There was certainty too much talk of what the perfect summer record is this year. And really, I generally don't think "summer" records are that important to begin with, most things season specific tend to be awful. That being said, this is the perfect summer record. Nervous, stuttering beats over shimmering electronics. It's relaxing, it's beyond original and interesting, it's just fucking lovely. In mid July it's everything I had ever wanted.

9. Yellow Swans - Going Places

Yellow Swans broke up and left us the most beautiful noise album that has ever existed. Paradox. Almost coming at it from a post rock perspective, Going Places builds and tugs at you, focusing on subtle emotionality rather than the broader strokes the genre tends to aim for. And yet, it's still noise, still dense and impenetrable. Still the most inaccessible thing this side of Merzbow. Still beautiful.

10. Sleigh Bells - Treats

If you can take Crown On The Ground sitting down then fuck you. Fuck off. The most devastatingly original banger that's hit wax in ages, it can't be denied. And Sleigh Bell's blend of dance, hip hop, and noise rock just tears apart with energy, the first real feeling of violence to arrive on brookyn soil in years. Though the song writing doesn't always back it up, who cares? Get on the floor. Mosh. Shout. Amen.

Honerary Mention: James Blake and Joy Orbison - The Bells Sketch, CMYK, Klavierwerke, and The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow EPs

These two brillient innovators of the genre that's come to be known as post-dubstep (an awful title, anyone will admit, but simple and accurate) turned out some of the absolute best tracks of the year, both for the headphones and the dance floor. Neither came out with an album (though Blake is due for one this February) but it would be beyond a shame for these four EP's to go overlooked.

Bonus list: the best movies of the year

1. Black Swan 2. Inception 3. Exit Through The Gift Shop 4. Enter The Void 5. Biutiful 6. Scott Pilgrim 7. 127 Hours 8. Never Let Me Go 9. The Kings Speach 10. The Kids Are Alright

string ourselves up for love

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