At the start of each year, I anticipate all of the good music that is to come. I like hearing “the return” of my favorite artist, and when I say return, it means “to hear new music from them again”. I want to hear new treasures from personal favorites, but I also enjoy making new discoveries. I also want to be pleasantly surprised by someone who I wouldn’t have paid attention to before, but I also enjoy coming across something that blows me away out of nowhere.
Maybe these year-end lists are elitist, but I consider them a way for my readers to know what I consider as “some of the best”, because 2010 featured a lot of great music. There were albums that were underwhelming (Nicki Minaj‘s Pink Friday) while others were more hype than substance, which became more of a nuisance when the artist seemed to believe in its own hype, coming off as mockery (take your pick.) So yes, it is “elitist” for me to say “these are the best” because it’s you, the reader, wanting to know what albums I felt were elite. It’s my personal best, albums I returned to for different reasons. One particular album, Kanye West‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, received a lot of hype in the second half of the year and while it was a personal favorite, it ended up not being my top pick. It may be elitist for me to say “I already selected my top picks long before Kanye dropped the album”, but it had nothing to do with the music or west himself. However, the album is indeed in my Top 10.
Each year I tend to want to round things off towards a nice list, a Top 5, a Top 3, etc. It’s the “Best Of The Best”, the albums I know I will go back to next year. This year was difficult because there were a lot of albums that were, in my mind, fighting for the top. When I knew an artist was coming out with a new release, I would set aside time to listen, appreciate, and “marinate”. In other words, I wanted to let the music soak into my consciousness so I’d be able to taste its revealing flavors later, and then perhaps lick its creamy center, Ren Höek style.
I’ll talk about my choices after the graphic and list, and the first list will be my choices from #2-#9 in that order. The hardest one for me was the Top 2. These artists I have high respect for, and their music blew me away, a continuation of the musical fabric they contribute to the world. I honestly could have went either way with the #1 and #2 spots, and perhaps it’s not a surprise that they both have something in common: they are collaborators and appreciate each other, sometimes in more ways than one. That’s an in-joke but if you read their posts on Twitter or know of their work together, you’ll know exactly what I’m speaking of.
You’re probably saying “dammit, we see the graphics already, just talk about the fricken music” and I will. Let’s go, my picks for albums #2-9, with links to my reviews for all but two:
2. The Roots-How I Got Over (Def Jam)
3. Bone Dance-Snakecharmers (self-released)
4. Tobacco-Maniac Meat (Anticon)
5. The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble-Miles Away (Stones Throw)
6. John Legend & The Roots-Wake Up! (Columbia)
7. The Seven Fields Of Aphelion-Periphery (Graveface)
8. Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
9. Kylesa-Spiral Shadow (Relapse)
10. Richy Pitch-Ye Fre Mi Richy Pitch (BBE)
The power of How I Got Over placed The Roots at #2, which means one of two things: I felt it was the best hip-hop album of the year, in a year that had its share of crappy hip-hop but a nice amount of quality music. Was it balanced? I don’t know, there’s a wealth of hip-hop I have no urge to listen to. I’ve been a fan of The Roots for 15 or so years, can one say that for any hip-hop artist who has been around for that long, still making music? Probably not.
So how in the hell did a young band from Idaho get their 3-song EP ranked at #3 for me? I had no idea who they were, but in the last few months I’ve been listening to a lot of stoner metal and stoner rock, sludge metal, doom metal, crust metal, and hardcore. I’m no stranger to any of it so it’s not as if I was discovering new and interesting sounds, but when certain styles of music get boring to the point of where you wonder how the music can corrupt itself so bad, I found myself going back to music I may have pushed to the side. Bone Dance are a group from Boise, Idaho who perform an intense brand of music that sounds like someone brutally punching their family during a Thanksgiving dinner, and then laughing at the spectacle and disgrace of it all. The lyrics are more sensible than that, and with their 3-song EP, I found myself wanting to know and hear more. They have a healthy DIY ethic that is honorable too.
I love the music and productions of Tobacco, and Maniac Meat was his follow-up to his debut on Anticon, Fucked Up Friends. Tobacco has released a number of other collections of music that it’s hard to say which is a proper album and which isn’t. Add to that the work he has done with Black Moth Super Rainbow over the years, and it’s as if he never stops creating. Maniac Meat could be his second album, it could be his 21st album or whatever number, but it stood out for me.
So how much music did Madlib actually release this year? Stones Throw made it an unofficial plan to give me heart attacks each month with a new album from Madlib, but then Madlib felt like releasing more. Miles Away by The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble did it for me, and when was the last time you heard this type of funky, free jazz being tossed around? If this was the 1970′s, it would be on a lot of lists. Instead, it becomes that hidden gem for the next generation, just as quality soul, funk, and jazz was for our parents, uncles, and aunties.
The Roots had a goal to dominate in 2010, and they did. Wake Up! was their collaborative effort with singer/songwriter John Legend and at first I was skeptical as I was not that big of a Legend fan. He was alright, but as I said in my review, I always wanted more from him as an artist, felt he was phoning it in all the time even though he was getting a lot of attention. Wake Up! is the album I had been waiting for, as he and The Roots went back to the past, dipped into their collections, and were offering messages of hope through their subliminal music. Why subliminal? Maybe they were telling the songs to wake up, maybe they were telling fans of soul music to wake up, or maybe they were telling people that music like this isn’t dead just because it’s collecting nostalgic dust, they are still songs of merit. It was music originally recorded for its time, presented in a new time, showing how quality songs can remain timeless, at a time when it seems artists don’t care about being artists or artistry anymore. It was recorded and mixed in a classic fashion, complete with panning and mixing that compliments the original songs. Neo-soul is a term that suggests newness of the past, but good music doesn’t need a timestamp. Wake Up! just is.
As a member of Black Moth Super Rainbow, keyboardist The Seven Fields Of Aphelion (Maux Boyle) released an album when no one expected. While Tobacco has often been considered the main focus of BMSR, fans also wanted to hear what other contributors did. Periphery is very different from the trippy electronic funky chunks that Tobacco is known for, as it’s soft and delicate, kind of like what Pink Floyd fans heard when keyboardist Richard Wright released solo work. The album also came with artwork and photographs from The Seven Fields Of Aphelion herself, and it’s surprising because for me, I expected perhaps a variation of what BMSR are about. It is, but not the variation I expected. It’s anti- everything, and yet what exactly does that mean? It’s ambient, laid back, trippy, and yet a lot of that is based on how simple it sounds. I look forward to more music from The Seven Fields Of Aphelion in the years to come.
Enough has been said and continues to be said about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but it’s an album that holds up incredibly well. Some seem to be turned off by the length of these drawn-out epics, but they’re epics for a reason. We all know he has something to say, but West feels a need to dress it up before it walks out the door. This is the outfit, what’s in the pocket, and the door. With someone with a personality as big as his hype, he had a lot of balls putting someone whose single verse has arguably overshadowed the hype, the videos, and the album as a whole, and that’s Nicki Minaj’s verse in “Trouble”. Sure, Jay-Z was talking about Satan and making people think he’s a warlock or something, but as good as his verse is, it’s Nicki’s verse that is the center point on an album with a lot of content to dig into.
I’ve been a fan of Kylesa for a short time, buut Spiral Shadow blew me away because of the different textures and styles. It’s not just a clutterfuck of heaviness, but there are elements that may sound distant at first (especially the different types of keyboards used) but fit in perfectly. It’s psychedelic, it’s poppy, and yet it’s an incredibly heavy album that will please fans of the stoner/sludgy way of metal. These guys (and lady) know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it… if not “right”, then very well.
Picking the #10 album was hard, but I went for Richy Pitch Ye Fre Mi Richy Pitch because it’s a standout album that I feel needs more attention than it has, and I want to shine a spotlight on it. I feel my review speaks for itself, but if there was one underlying theme in a lot of albums this year, it was that it felt as if people had urgent messages to say, and they were going to say it in as many ways and styles as possible. I loved the feel of this, as a healthy exchange between artist and listener who would come out of this album feeling satisfied. I was.
Then there’s my #1 album of 2010, and as soon as I heard it and played it from start to finish, I knew it was my top pick, even in the spring with nine months of music awaiting. I knew who would be releasing albums in the year, but it was set in stone.
1. Erykah Badu-New Amerykah Part Two: The Return Of The Ankh (Motown Universal)
When you release an album called New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), you know there has to be a part 2. Part 1 had an album cover with an illustration of Badu within darkness. The release of New Amerykah Part Two: The Return Of The Ankh showed Badu in an illustration of her with purple surrounding her. Was the sun about to rise in her illustrated and musical world? In my mind I’m thinking “she has to release a third part in 2012, right before the end of the world, so if she reveals an epiphany, the cover would show her in the sun, maybe her bathing in the morning rays, but it would be a metaphor of sorts as if to say “why do I have to bathe in the sunshine as a validation for anyone, when I provide my own power?” Call it mephorical, call it a throwback to Graham Central Station vocalist Patryce “Chocolate” Banks, hell I was pulling anything out of my imagination in the hopes that there might be a chance for a Part 3 even though I hadn’t heard Part 2 yet. Rumor has it that this will not be a trilogy, but it didn’t matter. I fell in love with the music of Part 2 simply because it sounded good. The lyrics were honest and witty, and always with its share of stories and puzzle that are the life as Badu sees it. She’s not someone who is going to do anything by an established rule book, why remain established when you can write new volumes along the way?
Regardless of how I embellish this, I’ll just say that New Amerykah Part Two: The Return Of The Ankh reigned supreme for me this year. It’s an album that shows hints of the past with a passion for the future that is to be anticipated. There’s still the skepticism Badu is never afraid to express, and it is definitely not unlike what is expressed in the 1971 George Lucas film THX 1138, an obvious influence on the artwork:
As you can see, the sun rises at the end of the film, so perhaps Badu will reveal artwork with brightness for a tentative Part 3? Maybe not, but… enough. Badu takes my pick for my Album of The Year.
Here are my other picks for favorite albums of the year. Keep in mind there are still a lot of albums I haven’t listened to, and I have not listened to every single album that was released in 2010. Here’s a list, in alphabetical order:
Alaskan-The Weak And The Wounded (self-released)
Bamboo Diet-DSM-VI (self-released)
Black Bombaim-Saturdays And Space Travels (Lovers & Lollypops/Sonic Infusion)
Copywrite-The Life And Times Of Peter Nelson (self-released)
Dickkicker-Somnioquent (EP) (self-released)
Diesto-High As The Sun (Seventh Rule)
Dumhi-The Jungle (self-released)
Eastern Sunz-Corroded Utopia (self-released)
Fernandez & Wright-Unsung (New Market Music)
Get Rad-I Can Always Live (Hyperrealist/Gilead Media)
Lauren Hooker-Life Of The Music (Miles High)
Hypnos 69-Legacy (Elektrohasch Schallplatten)
Jazz Folk-Jazz In The Stone Age (1/Hr. Music)
Kill The Easter Rabbit-Apokatastasis (Trips-Und-Traume)
The Left-Gas Mask (Mello Music Group)
Greg Lewis-Organ Monk (self-released)
Pablo Menéndez & Mezcla-I’ll See You In Cuba (Zoho)
Serena Maneesh-Abyss In B-Minor (4AD)
Chris Massey’s New Jazz Project-Vibrainium (self-released)
Matta Gawa-Ba (Engine Studios)
N*E*R*D-Nothing (Star Track/Interscope)
Olde Growth-s/t (self-released)
PND-Dirty Words (Humble Beast)
Rusty Redenbacher & SPStar-Lazarus (Audio Recon)
The Souljazz Orchestra-Rising Sun (Strut)
Sugarland-The Incredible Machine (Mercury)
Summer People-Good Problems (Red Leader)
Zoon van Snook-(Falling From) The Nutty Tree (self-released)
Von Pea-Pea’s Gotta Have It
Roland P. Young-Istet Serenade (Em)
There’s still quite a few 2010 albums I haven’t heard yet (Donwill and Foreign Exchange for starters). In recent weeks I found myself liking albums by Ciara, Keri Hilson, and Keyshia Cole for different reasons, and I haven’t had time with Ghostface Killer‘s new album, Apollo Kids.
If you’re curious about my picks, go out and buy them. If you have an album you feel I should not have missed, let me know. You have an album coming out in 2011? Fill me in.
A cheers to an incredible year for music, and I look and listen forward to what’s to come in 2011.