Introducing “Albums of the … Teens, I guess?”: Five Great Recordings of 2010

Dessa with guest Aby Wolf at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, May 5, 2011, taken on a crappy flip phone.

One of my favorite things I did way back when I was a newspaper reporter was a weekly series of blog posts about my 50 favorite albums of 2000-2009. I spent hours lovingly crafting each essay, which in aggregate probably made my employer about 3 cents because there were only like two other dudes in town who were interested in reading an essay on Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornados), and those who lived elsewhere could read about all the Cloud Cult albums they wanted on The A.V. Club. Still, it was a lot of fun, and it got me quoted on Sigur Rós’ Wikipedia page—which probably says more about the quality of sourcing on Wikipedia than anything else.

Ten years on, any music (or urbanism) writing I do is on my own time between work hours and child rearing (which is why there’s an average of 1.01 updates to this blog annually). But lately I’ve been thinking about that old project and doing something similar on my favorites of the last 10 years—more for my own entertainment than anything else. Although … given the flaming wreckage that is professional music criticism in 2019, there’s not nearly as much competition in adding something incisive to the conversation.

On the other hand, I’m now a card-carrying member of the “dad rock” demographic (as opposed to someone whose musical tastes just made him seem like a 40-something with kids). And no one actually cares about any best-of-the-decade list that doesn’t just confirm their priors.

Still, you three dudes are with me, right?

OK, so let’s set some ground rules: Exactly five albums per year, no artist repeats, presented in order of U.S. release date, running list at the end of each post. This time, I’ll be breaking them up the posts by year and keeping each album’s write-up short and to the point. Or at least shorter and to the point-ier.

And so, we kick off with…

Five Great Albums of 2010

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

OK Go

Released: Jan. 12, 2010

Turn back the clock to the first month of the decade, and OK Go was basically still “Hey, aren’t those the guys who did that treadmills video? I think I saw them open for TMBG.” I certainly won’t argue with anyone who says the band’s success is 99 percent due to its visually elaborate music videos, but musically this album is a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, too: a contraption constructed from pieces of funk and melancholy and fuzz and handbells that somehow manages to move you.

For folks who … always wondered what the lovechild of Prince and The Flaming Lips would sound like. Moment that gets me every time: “You loved everyone like a sovereign / Half magnanimous, half unimpressed / And I was talkin’ too much, and I was tryin’ too hard / In the dream it was just like it is.” If you listen to just one song: This is a case where I gotta recommend a bonus track: the alternate version of “This Too Shall Pass,” recorded in the field with the Band of the Fighting Irish.

 

A Badly Broken Code

Dessa

Released: Jan. 19, 2010

“Forget the bull in the china shop, there’s a china doll in the bullpen” is a pretty clever turn of phrase, but I’m not sure it’s the best metaphor for the Minneapolis emcee/poet/torch singer on her  full-length debut. Delicate she’s not. Smart? Obviously. Passionate? Yup. Brave? You gotta be a bit brave to drop references to Gabriel García Márquez and the Chicago Manual of Style in hip-hop songs.

For folks who … like sharp, intimate lyrics and dark, propulsive production. Moment that gets me every time: Choosing just one is impossible, so here’s the album’s first gut-punch, from her tribute to a younger brother who is “nearly twice my age”: “Then you came in five years behind / We thought you couldn’t talk, turns out you were just shy / Mom said it was serious, Dad said you’d be fine / I thought you were the prophet of 1989.” If you listen to just one song: You literally cannot go wrong with “Matches to Paper Dolls.”

 

Plastic Beach

Gorillaz

Released: March 3, 2010

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett‘s third musical-animation collaboration never quite caught fire with a huge single like “Clint Eastwood” or “Feel Good Inc., but it was more ambitious than both the virtual cartoon band’s previous outings. It’s probably easier to list folks who didn’t have a cameo on this album, but it features prominent turns from such disparate contributors as Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, among others.

For folks who … appreciate a good pseudo-narrative about overconsumption, disposability, and air pirates. Moment that gets me every time: “Yo, pretty package is of frosted delights / look, it comes with a toy / hehe, I like that / I wanna number four, a number six, and throw in a plastic doughnut.” If you listen to just one song: Ten years on, and I still can’t get over the way that “Sweepstakes” sounds like a chaotic mess until the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble enters the fray, and suddenly everything clicks into place.

 

Together

The New Pornographers

Released: May 4, 2010

HOT TAKE ALERT: This is the best New Pornos album. No, I haven’t forgotten Twin Cinema exists. Yes, I am drinking right now, but, no, I’m not drunk.

It’s not that it chugs along from one great pop hook to the next, because all of the Canadian super-indie-group’s releases do that. I think the answer is that “Together” is so seamless. Never have Dan Bejar‘s contributions slipped so easily into the stream. More than any other album, Neko Case’s vocals seem less like a highlight piled on top of an already scrumptious offering and more like crucial ingredient elevating the whole affair.

For folks who … insist that any ELO revivalism be built on a foundation of sawing cellos. Moment that gets me every time: “If I’m honest you come to mind, but baby I’m not.” If you listen to just one song: Make it the opening track, “Moves.”

 

The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monae

Released: May 18, 2010

Between Dessa, Gorillaz and Janelle Monae, 2010 was a pretty darn good year for ambitious, personal debuts by fiercely feminine singer-rappers and/or dystopian high-concept R&B/dance albums with orchestral flourishes.

In my days as a small-town entertainment reporter, I’d gotten all kinds of strange pitches, but nothing like the PR packet for The ArchAndroid. It read like the rantings of a delusional mind—as if the voices inside the head of some Fritz Lang-obsessed cinephile had convinced themselves that Puff Daddy had given them a record deal and a time machine. Then I played the album, and not only was I immediately blown away, but that batshit press release somehow made sense.

For folks who … don’t mind if their R&B is decked with symphonic overtures, Princely guitar solos, and classy brass. Moment that gets me every time: Big Boi with the assist: “And whether we high or low, we gonna get back-up / like the Dow Jones and NASDAQ / sorta like a thong in an ass crack.” Come on! If you listen to just one song: Folks, there’s a reason “Tightrope” was the lead single.

 

2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 |2018 |2019

The list thus far

  1. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, OK Go, (Jan 12, 2010)
  2. A Badly Broken Code, Dessa, (Jan 19, 2010)
  3. Plastic Beach, Gorillaz, (Mar 10, 2010)
  4. Together, The New Pornographers, (May 4, 2010)
  5. The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae, (May 18, 2010)
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