Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Top ten of 2010, etc.
A list of my top ten albums of 2010 is up now on the TONY site, along with choices from my esteemed colleagues. Following are a few thoughts on my selections and some haphazardly culled multimedia.
1. Francis and the Lights It'll Be Better
Francis Farewell Starlite and his ever-evolving "and the Lights" enterprise had a phenomenal year careerwise, opening shows for MGMT, Ke$ha, La Roux and Drake, and even contributing a tune to the latter's pop-radio-warhorse debut. But for whatever reason, people seem to have slept on Francis's own first full-length, It'll Be Better. It didn't grab me at first—I was initially pretty down on it, actually. Where was the sleek, cheeky funk that had made previous Francis releases like A Modern Promise so very much fun? And what was up with that loping, countryish opening track?
When I revisited the record, though, it all clicked into place. A lot of people are going to (if they haven't already) misfile Francis as a purveyor of kitsch. I think he's a dead-serious soul man, one whose sizable eccentric streak only accentuates the emotive power of his music. My favorite track is "Knees to the Floor" (stream it above, along with the rest of IBB). Dig the Steely Dan–level lead-guitar wizardry of "Jump Back" Jake Rabinbach on the pre-choruses (1:07, e.g.) (if you're feeling that, there's tons more to be found on the album). And dig the nocturnal sizzle of the whole song, its chilly warmth.
I guess in a way, It'll Be Better as a whole does have a certain retro appeal, almost Miami Vice–ish and certainly extrapolate-able to the realm of kitsch, but to me, it's a release unmoored from time and unfiltered by irony or any other kind of aesthetic distance. It's just a record that makes you want to drive and think and feel and live and love. It's that unbeatable combination of melancholy and dance-floor fuel that you find in the best, say, Michael Jackson. And then there are these odd twinges of borderline-corny humor that leave you scratching your head in delight. (Dig this show-tune-ish nugget from my second-favorite track, "Going Out": "If you've ever seen a movie alone / Then you know what I'm sayin'.")
I must have listened to this record 100 times in 2010, and I don't anticipate the play count diminishing in 2011. For some context, here's a TONY profile I wrote on the man behind the Lights.
2. Drake Thank Me Later
As mentioned above, Francis also wrote a song ("Karaoke") that ended up on Drake's Thank Me Later:
This track tears me right up. "Put the tea in the kettle and light it / Put your hand on the metal and feel it / But do you even feel it anymore?" See what I mean? No wonder Francis thought twice before letting it go. Thank Me Later as a whole sustains this murky yet lucid late-night-ness—it's a killer record on which cocky hits ("Up All Night") sit beside ultra-ambitious postsoul sound poems ("Shut It Down").
3. The Bad Plus Never Stop
Never Stop placed at number nine on my year-end jazz list, but as I prepared my pan-genre top ten, the album just wouldn't quit—I realized I'd underestimated it, and it shot to number three. There's an openheartedness to this album that really grabbed me, once I lived with it for a while. So much feeling, tunefulness, groove, abandon, refinement. It's great jazz, but more importantly, it's great music. "People Like You," a devastating ballad, is above. The more uptempo/energetic material ("Never Stop," e.g.) is every bit as impressive. You'll be humming these songs in the shower and carrying their sparkling, autumnal beauty with you.
I think my blurbs on the TONY page—and the attendant links you'll find there—do decent justice to the rest of my list, but here are some breathless reflections:
4. Buke and Gass Riposte
Folk-prog champions emit a joyful noise on the 21st-century urban backporch.
5. Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Just about as worthy of your time and attention as everyone says it is.
6. Graham Smith Accept the Mystery
He's always brilliant, but this might be the most streamlined, re-listenable KGW album I've heard. (Full details via kgw.me.)
7. Ludicra The Tenant
Sad, grueling, epic and heavy as fuck.
8. Sia We Are Born
The hooks on this album will not go away.
9. Charred Walls of the Damned Charred Walls of the Damned
I've never been a huge power-metal guy, but this subgenre-straddling rager sounds to me like the perfect send-off for the late, great Ronnie James Dio.
10. Dan Weiss Trio Timshel
Following are a handful of full-lengths I was heartbroken to have to leave out. (The first three are annotated with blurbs I'd composed for possible TONY-list inclusion.)
Kayo Dot Coyote
Postmetal mastermind Toby Driver released the latest, greatest chapter in his own beautiful dark twisted fantasy.
Killing Joke Absolute Dissent
British veterans unleashed an industrial-goth juggernaut, firing a warning shot at their buzzy descendants.
Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth Deluxe
Seven years after his last album as a leader, a jazz bassist issued this rapturous set of wordless songs.
I thought Atheist's comeback effort, Jupiter, ruled. Some were not sold, but I adored the manic spazziness on display here—it seemed like a expertly calibrated updating of the band's classic death-fusion vibe, i.e., what they might have ended up sounding like in 2010 had they never left.
Deathspell Omega Paracletus
I will definitely be going back to Paracletus, a consuming monster of an avant-garde metal album. The guitar playing on this record falls somewhere between horrifying and exalted—to hear what I mean, listen to the riff that breaks through at 1:32 in the track above. The album is filled with moments like this: mournful, gemlike melody floating above a high-tech musical firestorm.
Look for a best-singles-of-2010 round-up once Pazz and Jop rolls around—for now, I'll nod to a few stand-alone tracks not shouted-out there.
Free Energy - "Free Energy"
This song destroys, plain and simple: instant-classic neoclassic rock.
Katy Perry - "California Gurls"
Despite the lame Snoop guest spot, "Calfornia Gurls," with its glimmering neodisco sheen, was another bubblegum favorite.
Janelle Monáe - "Oh, Maker"
Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid dazzled me on a first listen, but lost a bit of luster as the year wore on. Nevertheless, "Oh, Maker" stuck with me throughout 2010. It's a masterful soft-soul song, tender and bittersweet, with a strange, appealing halo of British folk-pop.
Danzig - "Deth Red Moon"
There was no getting around the spottiness of Danzig's Deth Red Sabaoth—there are just too many skippable tracks on there. But the standouts, "Hammer of the Gods" and "Deth Red Moon," were truly great, easily fit to mingle with the highlights of Glenn's stellar back catalog. "Deth Red Moon" in particular is shockingly good—a brooding, midtempo goth-blues wail that ranks with sleeper Danzig favorites like "Dominion." (Check out my exceedingly brief Danzig Q&A here.)
Nicki Minaj - "Right Through Me"
And lastly: Nicki. My 2010 round-up wouldn't be complete without at least a name-check. You know the story by now: She ruled other people's hits (Drake's "Up All Night" and Kanye's "Monster," e.g.), but didn't deliver once the spotlight was on her (the Pink Friday full-length). I can't say I disagree too much with this now-pat narrative—it's pretty much how things have gone down. All the same, Pink Friday's "Right Through Me" is a beautiful song, an undeniably genuine portrait of the twisted love/hate matrix. (Interviewing Ms. Minaj was definitely one of the highlights of my journalistic year.)