Zach Baron's Top 10 Albums of 2010
Alright, let's do this, before I change my mind. With apologies to The-Dream, Sleigh Bells, Ted Leo, Kylesa, Swans, Zola Jesus, Marnie Stern, and all other vestiges of my punk rock past, and especially you Nicki Minaj, who missed both of my lists this year. How that happened I still don't understand, but onward, before it's too late. Half of these records are about mental breakdowns; the other half are about beating the whole world. I relate to both sentiments:
Guess who? Photo by Rebecca Smeyne.
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
In year when American culture's primary product seemed to be the minutely chronicled celebrity life, Kanye lived bigger and weirder--messily high profile breakup, profoundly petty feud with a rival, and smirking nude photos very much included. That he wedded all that to a record reverently grounded in East Coast rap classicism, of all things, is just one of the myriad reasons to applaud (rather than, say, run howling from) the fascinatingly weird ways his mind works. Did the raps and the tracks, triple-double, no assists, plus found time to self-diagnose on the B-sides: "You know what? I figured out I'm not a nice guy." Yeah, and so what?
A record about being devoured whole by the things you love--not unlike My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in that way, except instead of straying porn stars and national disapprobation, it's endless European tours and a shared New York apartment James Murphy can never quite manage to actually come home to. "Tell me a line, make it easy for me," he pleads, knowing it's never gonna work. "Open your arms, dance with me until I feel alright." The effects of that particular drug have worn off for Murphy as well--cf. downer closing track and retiree mission statement "Home"--but it did just fine for me this year.
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor
No surprise really that a punk rock record about being alone and heartsick in places as varied as suburban New Jersey, eastern Massachusetts, and Civil War-torn America circa 1861 doubled as 2010's most ecstatically communal. Repeat after Patrick Stickles: "It's still us against them." And that's OK.
Not for nothing did she give this one her own name--/\/\/\Y/\ meditates on motherhood, money, and perhaps most confusingly for headhunters who had her figured for the globe-trotting terror scion of Arular and Kala, what it means to stay in one place for longer than six months. (That that place was Brentwood only surprised people who hadn't been paying attention back when she was getting Marc Jacobs and Jude Law money.) It's less abrasive than you remember it being, too, though all the clowns who didn't hear a "hit" were right in their own hopeless, moralistic, conservative way. Fuck 'em.
Superchunk, Majesty Shredding
A gift from a band that had no reason to keep giving, especially now that Merge has become a regular in the Billboard top ten. And yet there they were, giving anyway. I like the line about time and transition being a wave that'll put you over, but it helps when you put eleven straight anthems on your ninth record, too.
Vampire Weekend, Contra
Glad there is a lyricist out there bright enough to come up with a Richard Serra skatepark ("White Sky") and one empathetic enough to write muted odes to poor little rich girls ("Taxi Cab") and fading fellow rock stars ("Giving Up the Gun"), and I'm even gladder that Ezra Koenig can do both at the same time. Throw rocks at your peril; you and he probably share a lot of the same interests, plus it's not like it's their fault that those two "Holiday" ads are so loathsome.
Too many lines to quote here, though "Body Bag" will give you the gist. A defiantly relaxed, funny, virtuoso performance by a rapper who will never make a great album but will happily borrow your best song and never give it back.
An impressionistic, atmospheric, at times hallucinatory take on fame and the fake friends, girls, and money that come with it. Whether that interests you probably depends on the degree to which you've ever fantasized about being young, rich, and famous yourself--I have, so I appreciated hearing from someone willing to talk about what the whole thing was like. Didn't mind the hashtag rap, and liked it when Jay-Z descended from the clouds to offer him some advice. He doesn't do that for everyone, you know.
Because what's better than a bare-chested fat man in the midst of a cataclysmic identity crisis rapping nimbly over the silky sound of oceans of money being lit on fire and subsequently set to music?
Das Racist, Sit Down, Man
Ethered Deborah Solomon, rap critics, and Enigma in the same year, plus had barbs to spare for frat dudes, crooked politicians, and the dispiritingly large number of people who still can't seem to tell the three of them apart. Let's all write a letter to England asking them to let these dudes into the country next time.