5 Treats – Sleigh Bells
Closing out the year, Sleigh Bell’s album Treats is the best representation of the good of the 2010 electronic craze. The opening track “Tell ‘Em” feels like a round of laser bullets being fired at your brain – but believe me, it’s quite fun and flows brilliantly into “Kids,” which has a deeper soul to the sound, a hard thing to accomplish on an album that is almost entirely made up of electronic sounds. Much like The Gorlliaz’ (in theme, not sound of course), Treats music makes you feel totally upbeat while somehow highlight a strange unease at the core of the music. This is why Treats is better than any other electronic album of the year – it isn’t just a smattering of pop electronic sounds to dance to, instead it feels more like a real musical compilation. If you sit down and listen to the words, you will be creeped out – I promise. But what better way to feed that to an audience than over the beautifully crafted electronic sounds that Sleigh Bells manages to make? I can’t think of one.
4 The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
Every once in a while Canada gives us something truly amazing – and Arcade Fire are living proof. The Suburbs’ amazing combination of deep dark sentiments mixed with upbeat indie-pop guitar, makes it sound and feel as strange as the modern world really is. The Title Track has a weird whining guitar behind the sort-of-idyllic-yet-mildly-dystopic lyrics. This makes “Ready to Start” feel like the real beginning of the album – as if the title track was a prologue (with final track “The Suburbs (Continued)” as the epilogue to the hour long genius that is The Suburbs), setting the stage for the real energy and passion of Arcade Fire to shine through – which it does tenfold. Third track “Modern Man” is a lamentation of the loneliness all us modern folk feel – with our ear-buds and Bluetooth headsets. If there was ever a critique of modern life, The Suburbs is it – but what makes it so brilliant is that it doesn’t feel like a critique. Instead, it feels as if someone has finally figured out all the things you, the modern day iEverything loving yuppie/hipster/counter-culture/twenty-something person, feel and put all those feelings into a an hour of musical explosion. Wow. So, hands down to Arcade Fire for creating an album as close to perfection as anyone can get.
3 This is Happening – LCD Soundsystem
Alas, the final album by breakthrough band LCD Soundsystem rightfully deserves a spot on the top five list for 2010. Part dance punk, part indie rock, and part electronica – LCD Soundsystem was a truly unique group. This is Happening sounds like what Woody Allen would make if he started writing music. “Dance Yrself Clean” is a modern lament and party anthem that you want to dance to yet… maybe want to cry to as well? “Drunk Girls” is a hilarious track that rings so true it almost hurts. The slightly discordant tones of “One Touch” prove that LCD Soundsystem’s abilities extend beyond their ironic lyrical abilities, and into true experimental genius. “All I Want” feels more like an indie rock song than a dance song, but LCD Soundsystem’s unique soul is still the underlying sound. Final track “Home” exhibits all of LCD Soundsytem’s talents at their best – guitar, dance, and lyrical prowess. It also makes you wish they hadn’t disbanded after the musical masterpiece that is This is Happening.
2 Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter
The sheer concept behind this album makes it undeniably unique. Nostalgia is the word that comes to mind – the real, and imagined, memories one creates of their life as they live it. Opening track “Earthquake” sends you back in time in your mind, while your heart is tugged along by the almost painfully slow (in a good way) beat. Tracks like “Don’t Cry” and “Revival” bring you back up to the light with their upbeat, warped-Beach Boys-esque sound. But not for too long, as the lament in “Sailing” brings you back to earth. Then up again, with “Memory Boy,” despite its strangely lonely lyrics. The whole album plays between these two ups and downs, realities and fantasies, making Halcyon Digest an epic album – a novel in its own right, and a brilliant one at that.
1 Brothers – The Black Keys
With the soul of a true blues group, The Black Keys are surprisingly two white guys from Ohio. Whatever. That doesn’t change the fact that Brothers is one of the only mainstream modern blues albums to have such a high level of significance with “the general population.” And for good reason. From the second it starts, your soul jumps to at the strong and steady drumbeat of “Everlasting Light.” It’s the kind of song that you can’t help but sway to, the kind of song where the music seems to take over your central nervous system. “Next Girl” harkens back to a classic-rock style love song in its lyrics, with that same electrifying blues rhythm. “Howlin’ For You” propels blues into the twenty first century in the best way possible. Sleek electric guitar on “Ten Cent Pistol” feels like the 1970’s (only without all the horrible interior design choices), and finally “These Days” (a song reminiscent of Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses) shows The Black Key’s melancholy side – proving that, all around Brothers is a diverse, incredible blues album worth listening to again and again.
So, even though 2010 pretty much sucked, these five albums are hands down outstanding musical achievements. They highlight the unease that 2010 seemed to have with itself. As if we weren’t quite ready for the technology we were putting out there. Never the less, these five albums cover a broad range of genres, each with their own exceptional outcome.