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Sterfish’s Favorite Albums of 2010

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The year 2010 is over and that means it’s time for my annual “favorite albums” list. This time around, I found it more difficult to narrow my list down to a workable amount. I liked a lot of music that was released in 2010 and it really became a matter of what albums I returned to the most, what albums made me smile as I listened to them, and what albums had an emotional effect on me.

This year’s list has 15 albums on it but before I rattle them off, here is a short list of music I liked that’s ineligible: Lungs by Florence and the Machine (released in 2009), `+` by Wise Blood (EP), Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Fridays (various tracks), and the 2010 releases of Pogo (various tracks).

The albums are not ranked and appear in alphabetical order by artist name.

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty: Big Boi’s long-awaited solo disc is an absolute blast from start to finish. While it’s a shame that Andre 3000 couldn’t appear on the album due to label issues, Big Boi proves himself to be just as funky and inventive as ever. This isn’t merely a stopgap until the next OutKast album…it’s a great album in its own right.

Aloe Blacc – Good Things: Aloe Blacc’s voice is not one made for contemporary R & B. It isn’t one that I can imagine ever singing about trendy alcoholic brands. His voice is made to sing soul music and he does it very well on this album. You can hear everything he may have ever been through in every single note he sings. Whether he’s begging for help on “I Need A Dollar” or bringing you close to tears on “Mama Hold My Hand,” Blacc always lets the emotions shine through.

Tom Caruana – Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles: Enter The Magical Mystery Chambers: Despite its title, this is not a retread of Danger Mouse’s Grey Album. It’s so much more. Caruana brilliantly mashes up songs from the entire Wu-Tang oeuvre with covers of Beatles songs, archival interview audio, and actual Beatles songs. While this mixtape is no longer available from its original source, it’s worth searching out online.

The Chemical Brothers – Further: Sometimes, artists need to shake things up to get their mojo back. In the case of The Chemical Brothers, removing featured guest stars from the mix is just what they needed. They sound positively rejuvenated through tracks like the 11-minute-long “Escape Velocity,” the (somewhat) silly “Horse Power,” and the amazing “Another World.” With the lengthy career this duo has had, it’s nice to know that they still have the power to surprise.

Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Daft Punk’s score to TRON: Legacy is the lifeblood of the movie and it impresses just as much even without the imagery. The combination of electronic and orchestral sounds is wonderful. I also really appreciate that it’s a score with recurring themes and not a collection of instrumental tracks. Now, I can’t wait to see how the duo apply what they’ve learned from this work to their next studio album.

Girl Talk – All Day: I wish I had more words to describe what Girl Talk does because at this point, “mashup” doesn’t seem like it’s worthy enough. This release combines more songs (and a greater variety of them) than ever. Anybody that can successfully combine Big Boi with Portishead, Miley Cyrus with M.O.P. and Soulja Boy with Aphex Twin deserves all the praise coming his way.

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach: Damon Albarn and crew have crafted another fantastic album with Plastic Beach. While the album’s sound is a little less hip-hop than before (Albarn did much of the production himself), it’s still great fun. Tracks like “Stylo,” “Empire Ants,” and “Sweepstakes” really hit the mark. The array of guest stars ranging from Snoop Dogg to the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music keep things fresh and interesting from start to finish.

Cee-Lo Green – The Lady Killer: Cee-Lo Green seems like an artist who enjoys new challenges. He’s done hip-hop and R & B as a member of Goodie Mob and a solo artist. He’s done pop as one-half of Gnarls Barkley. With this album, he decided to go retro. Just like his other endeavors, he succeeded with flying colors. Whether it’s Michael Jackson-esque pop (“Bright Lights Bigger City”) or a modern-day spin on old-school R & B (“Fuck You”), The Lady Killer is always entertaining.

Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager: Nobody really puts himself out there the way Kid Cudi does as proven by his second Man on the Moon album. He doesn’t care whether or not the music he’s making is hip-hop or not. This results in some great genre-defying music like the more rock-oriented “Erase Me.” While some of the tracks are a bit dark, each one just draws you in and takes you along for the ride.

Janelle Monae – The Archandroid: Janelle Monae is fearless. She will do any and everything she wants to do in her music. That’s why she can shift effortlessly from R & B to pop to rock and even to the short orchestral pieces that appear throughout The Archandroid. Then, there’s the fact that this is a concept album that continues the themes from her previous EP. There is just so much energy and creativity flowing from this artist that you can’t help but enjoy yourself especially when you’re not sure what’s coming next.

Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives: When artists from different genres collaborate to make an album it can either be brilliant or a complete disaster. Thankfully, this album is a lot closer to the former than the latter. Even though it’s more of a case of Nas visiting Damian’s musical world than the other way around (Damian and Stephan Marley produced the album), the collaboration works very well. Combined with some meaningful messages, you have one of the better hip-hop albums released in 2010.

Robyn – Body Talk: I was pleasantly surprised by Robyn’s appearance on Royksopp’s “The Girl and The Robot” but never imagined she’d pull off what she did with Body Talk. While I prefer the three individual EP’s, the album-length compilation is quite good too. There is just a ton of great pop music here from “Dancing On My Own” to “Call Your Girlfriend.” It’s amazing she isn’t more popular.

The Roots – How I Got Over: Any qualms about The Roots’ gig on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon softening them up were obliterated by this album, which is grown folks’ hip-hop. It’s not quite as bleak as their last two but it’s not the happiest album either. Still, it’s an amazing piece of work from a group that continues to create great music.

Royksopp – Senior: This instrumental album from the duo has them turning their affinity for mood and atmosphere towards darker territory. This work (best listened to as a whole) is fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever heard acoustic guitar used quite the way it is here. It’s amazing how they can take a club track like “The Drug” and deplete it of any real joy or they add funk to the horror movie feel of “The Fear.” Senior is not an easy album to deal with at first but it’s gets better and better each time you listen to it.

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Kanye West manages to do a lot of things others probably couldn’t on this fantastic album. He surprises us even though he gave us several tracks from the album via G.O.O.D. Fridays. He combines elements of every album of his career into this one from the soul samples of The College Dropout to the soul searching of 808’s and Heartbreak. He makes an album where most tracks range from four to six minutes long never feel slow or boring. He even makes sure the incredible roster of guest stars never overshadow him. This album really is about as good as everyone says it is.

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About Sterfish

  • El Bicho

    Really enjoyed Girl Talk. Have plans to see him in March.

    I need to check out The Roots album.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree about MBDTF.

  • zingzing

    kanye, gorillaz and robyn made fine, fine albums this year. kanye’s is incredible. it’s like prog-pop-rap. and his good friday series was amazing. (it’s like a whole other album, some of which i’d say is better than the stuff he released on the record.) those who can’t get into it seriously need to reevaluate their relationship with celebrity. it’s just damn fine music. preconceptions be damned.

    gorillaz latest is the best damon albarn album since at least the mid-90s. later blur albums were great, but this is his best effort both song- and sonic-wise since blur’s heyday. (there’s also another gorillaz album out as of christmas called “the fall,” which i haven’t heard yet).

    robyn has proved herself to be the best pop artist of the last few years with her 2010 output. i like body talk pt 1 better than pt 2, but put it all the highlights together and it’s an incredible album.

    but this is a pretty pop-centric list. (as maybe someone’s “favorite” albums should be.) there was plenty of non-POP stuff that came out this year that could be ranked among this stuff, although this was one of the best years for great pop in recent memory.

  • El Bicho

    It has nothing to do with a relationship to celebrity but rather a reaction to some of the dumbest lyrics ever recorded.

  • zingzing

    well, i’ll agree he’s no lyricist. some of the lyrics are effective, if only because they’re so emo. but. i’m assuming you speak of kanye’s verses. he’s got plenty on the album, but probably 50% of the verses are by other, more talented rappers. and it’s kanye’s productions and structuring that i find so goddamn awesome. he’s trying shit that has never (okay, rarely,) been tried in a hip hop context.

    i must say that i’m drawn to three things in hip hop: production, flow and experimentation. lyrical content follows far behind. rakim is one of my favorite rappers, but what the hell did he ever have to say? but that man could flow. kanye doesn’t have much flow, but he’s got masterful production and a great pop sense on top of it. and he experiments.

    the album is one of the strangest pop-rap albums i’ve ever heard. it goes all over, with winding structures, beatless sections, string sections, posse cuts, pure pop moments, spoken word (by gil scott heron, no less), usually unplaceable samples, and nary a fucking skit to be found. let me point out that last fact just to be sure you caught it. skits suck.

    and… i do think that if some new-comer, or someone without the baggage of kanye’s name had released it… well, you’d probably be more open to it. do you doubt it?

  • El Bicho

    “well, you’d probably be more open to it. do you doubt it?”

    No I wouldn’t. His name carries no baggage with me so you are barking up the wrong tree with that theory. I’ll give you that the music sounds interesting but he and almost everyone else who speaks/sings ruins the songs with their idiotic lyrics. They sound like children swearing on the Internet when their parents aren’t looking.

  • zingzing

    i figured you say as much. (not just “YOU,” but…) a lot of people do attach baggage to his name. my brother, who has excellent music taste, is one.

    i dunno. listen to the music rather than the words then. as i said, i rarely care about lyrical content. so your basic criticism doesn’t sway me very much. it’s got little to do with the reasons why i like the album. as i listen to it, those things might get more on my nerve, but they haven’t yet, and in my listening to hip-hop, those things rarely weigh on me.

    i admit it might be a problem. but it’s not a problem i’ll have anytime soon.

    in the meantime, as music, rather than as poetry or meaningful lyrics, give it another shot, just listening to the music. view the vocals as just another instrument, rhythmic counterpoint if you will, and see if that gets you anywhere. it’s just an hour(+) of your time.