My original 2010 music review was bleak, and since, I've grown to love a lot of music from that year, including the Album of the Year, "Fields" by Junip. Here's the original post:
In 2010, I found myself rather bored by contemporary music like never before and focused almost solely on collecting back catalogs of classics. I did hear all the choices on folks' top tens, and for the most part, felt total ambivalence towards them, sometimes resulting in a bitter hostility towards extremely overrated bands (see Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem), sometimes ending in the question, "Wait. That was the record? I thought that was just buzz from the appliances?" (see Beach House and Cotton Jones).
Frankly, I feel like we've been inundated with so much mediochraty, that we're grasping at straws just to find some moderate or benevolent soundtrack to represent what has become anything but a moderate or benevolent era (see Local Natives, Broken Bells). Maybe we're just hibernating right now, incubating a whole new progressive litter of vital and vibrant art, sifting through the vast junkyard of sounds of the last 50 years to maintain our makeshift crapshack until we explode with glittering magnificence. I sure hope we emerge soon, but it won't be soon enough.
Ten years ago, things were similar. We were rought with anxiety, slipping into a new millennium of untold political upheavals and boneless cultural identity. Yet, in the months leading up to 9/11, the music released was so consistently exciting and quality that 2000-2001 was the best musical period in 3 decades, a celebration of renewal that hurled us into the new millennium with courageous abandon. Now, on the edge of a new decade, its time to solidify the greatness that first glimpse promised us. Its time to stop recycling, and start reinventing.
2000's catalog hugely helped me define the criteria applied to my Top Ten lists. To be on my list, something has to be innovative, yet accessible. It has to be unique, yet alluring. It has to be bold, yet sustainable. And its gotta be judged against the best works of all time, not just against the sea of adjacent releases.
To that end, my 2010 list is a bit of a downer. Its limited. So much so, that I broke my usual rules (no compilations, no EPs, no live records, no best of's, no rereleases) just to fill the list. I concede, down the road, I'll inevitably find 2010 releases that I adore, or understand ones I wrote off herein. My friend Mike wrote a great post about the gestation of art and the impossible task of quickly and accurately assessing recent output. All that aside though, here goes:
Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void - brilliant songwriter, just never quite focused enough, and little innovation. Still, better than the myriad other southern rock influenced bands of the northwest hipster's preferred fad. Plus, I can't stop listening to it
Jon Hopkins - Monsters Soundtrack - the gorgeous but sleepy film owes most of it's ethereal beauty to its composer
The Books - the Way Out - get hella high points for innovation and have been refining their sound over four albums
The National - High Violet - these guys never produce the most creative songs, but on this effort, they finally nail the mood all the way through. And the lyrics make everyone else look like school children
Black Keys - Brothers - bold and original, this is a welcome and overdue record from the boys who bring balls back to rock
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest - not solid all the way through, this at least illustrates how good drug pop can sound now
Matthew Dear - Black City - if he turns up the accessibility a few notches, this fella could be HELLA!
Caribou - Swim - still out-innovating everyone else in his sleep, Dan Snaith made dance REALLY cool again. Not his best effort, but better than nearly everything anyone else is doing
Tame Impala - Innerspeaker - what is it about this record? Its just so damn infectious while being unpretentious and uncompromising. This one will outlive any other on this list.
Sufjan Stevens - the Age of Adz - now THIS is what I'm talking about with reinvention. Lose the St. Vincent imitation and he'll have it in the bag with his next one.
Tradi-mods vs. Rockers - despite not being a studio album by an artist, which is my typical criteria, I have to give it to this compilation for having the best music on it. Its not solid throughout, but its so long, its got plenty to keep me enthusiastic, and is the ONLY entry on this list truly pushing the boundaries of current music.
Junip - Fields
My favorite album this year, "Fields" is getting more consistent playtime on my speakers than any record I've heard in a long time. True, it just came out, but it'll stick, trust me. If you don't know it, it's Jose Gonzales' new band.
This record sounds like what I want my new house to look like. Raw wood nylon-stringed guitar, blown-glass delayed Rhodes, wrought iron-edged steady beats, all filtered through over-sized windows and burlap panels of sunblasted, overdriven tube warmth, softened by greyish-white wash compression.
This is one of those records that works as both background and foreground, which are harder and harder to find lately. This will work in anyone's collection.