"I think you should write for Pitchfork," he says and I laugh.
He proceeds for the next ten minutes to unfurl an encyclopedic knowledge of music history and current-cy into the air surrounding us, hanging observations on imaginary branches like ornaments for his elaborately constructed argument.* "How about you write for Pitchfork?" I suggest and he laughs.
"No way. I can't stand those critics."
My mom is telling me about how she's been meaning to catch up on my blog. As an apology, I offer that I've actually been doing quite a bit of writing.
"So long as it's not about your music...I can't understand that."
Deep breath and exhale. Your girl made it through another year she feared to be the mother of global calamity, pregnant with catastrophic possibility. There came floods and there came earthquakes, and the aftereffects of H1N1** grasped at the early parts of 2010, but by and large, the tenth year of the aughts was mercifully peaceful. Long Beach is still here, my house is still standing, and (most) of my friends still live within a stone's throw of me (2009 was the year of the mass exodus, after all). Biblically speaking, the plagues preceded the ushering out of the Israelites so if we want to walk this metaphor all the way to the front door, then I suppose that 2010 would be the year of milk and honey (which would make 2011 the year of...heathen sacrifices and idol worship? Or, wait...the exile? I'm spiraling. Must stop).
In many ways, but to be more specific, in musical ways, 2010 contained flowing rivers of the stuff. Especially after the grueling months of 2009 laid to rest a handful of stellar albums and more than a pyramid's share of mediocre bricks surrounding those royal offerings. Forgive me if I thought we'd be toiling in obscurity forever, but whatdya know; Somebody somewhere thwacked their staff to the ground and bellowed, "Let there be MUSIC!"
I...can barely follow that logic to be honest, but I'm still attached to it so I'm going to request that as your final gift to me before the year is through that you simply smile, nod, and say, "Not even Klosterman could weave so elaborate a metaphorical tapestry."
Or, you know, just make like Mrs. Dailey and skip the whole thing.
The year 2010 brought us offerings of every sort from nearly every band currently pumping out the jams on our collective iPods at the moment (or is that just me?). And though we might fear immersion therapy to cure us of the desire for all of our favorite bands to produce new music all at once, a year that could have been colossally disappointing actually, well, wasn't. Win Butler & Crew cast a longing gaze into their past and managed to craft an album that smartly faces off with the future. Deerhunter echoed the warm haze of nostalgia with an album that actually feels the way most firsts do; first kisses, first loves, first heartbreaks, first time driving alone, first taste of alcohol. The Walkmen covered their mistakes in a caramel drizzle of guitars and wailed about it in the most fetching and appealing way possible. LCD Soundsystem buckled under the burden of life on the road, whipped their dolor into a frenzy, and unleashed it with the force of a fire hose. Indie Boy Prince in Hiding Sufjan released not one, but two new collections of sweeping, orchestral hissy fits. The plebes rejoiced.****
And I rejoiced too, because there was a whole lot to be grateful for this year. The disappointments were few and the magnificent surprises were many. For every musical collective who returned to the worn stage with an armload of stellar material, there were also total surprises and unexpected offerings to arrest my car stereo speakers for weeks at a time. Lyrical themes ran the gamut from suburban discontent (Arcade Fire, Titus Andronicus), to baroque storytelling (Grinderman, Kanye, Tallest Man On Earth), to frenetic plagiarism (Girl Talk, humorously), to ruminations on adulthood and all its trappings (LCD Soundsystem, Sufjan Stevens). To top things off, we also got a heaping scoop of joyously sunny pop and dizzy coastal fuzz that subverted its lyrical themes or musical stylings to wicked effect (Sleigh Bells, Surfer Blood, Surf City, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti).
At the end of the day, I've kept a running list of bands who piqued my interest over the course of the past eleven-ish months, further narrowing the pile to resemble something of a list, and even then arranging and rearranging fervently as the weeks wore down to these last few days of 2010. Now, I could explain each and every choice to you in excruciating detail - about how Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles' unhinged desperation buoys his muscular anthemic yowling into something joyously fun, or how on his most deeply autobiographical album to date, Sufjan Stevens deftly festoons his diary-like revelations with glitchy robotic noise, and does this nullify or fortify the starkly personal nature of his lyrics? I could draw comparisons to James Murphy's ideas about home vs. the road and Stevens' similar Sufjan vs. Himself ruminations. There's at least a paragraph devoting itself within my artistic ether to the similarities between The Monitor and The Suburbs. And beyond those mountainous ideas, there's Kanye West-as-culture-monger: Is he a martyr or message-bearer? Gestalt-bringing emissary or Zeitgeist-forming superhero? Is he the message or the messenger?
But as with many annual lists, my interest isn't in a snippet-sized shout out distilling the passion surrounding a particular album into a Twitteriffic dictum. Sure, these are my favorites, and sure, some of you can participate in the conversation armed with a brain crammed with my musical points of reference. But others might only shrug and say, "Never heard of 'em. Don't care." (Or, if you're my mom: "Uh...skip.") But the reason I feel so compelled to thrust these preferences out there in plain view is twofold: I like to keep a record for myself to glance at in the coming years and most of all, it would be my hope that if there's something here you haven't heard of, that you'd do a little musical exploration of your own and discover what all the hype is (or isn't) about. I suppose my distant tertiary reason is for aforementioned musical discussion or arguments to take place. Disagree? Tell me why. I'm dying to know.
Ergo, here is my top then in list form, with nary a description to guide your musical assimilation:
8. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
7. Grinderman - Grinderman 2
6. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
5. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
3.5 LCD Soundsystem - The London Sessions*****
2. The Walkmen - Lisbon
1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Honorable mention: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today, The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt, Sleigh Bells - Treats, The New Pornographers - Together, Surfer Blood - Astro Coast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - Horse Power EP
*The Arguments, penned here with the capitals they deserve, range from the mundane to the sacred, but more often eddy in the hinterlands of Musical Discourse, and typically end with a seizure's share of eye rolling.***
**Supposedly. I'm convinced I had a touch of le swine. Those who weren't cultivating The Latent Evil in my lungs aren't as sure.
***That might have been offensive. All due apologies.
****I tried my hardest to feign emotional distress over his boyfriend-like absence but found myself begrudgingly enchanted all over again, the evidence of which is already a foregone conclusion due to Soof's inclusion in this entry.
*****Oh, DEAL with it. 3.5. I'm going decimalistic on yo ass.