Monday, December 27, 2010

Best Albums of 2010

This year I reviewed around 50 albums, quite a bit more than the amount I've done in the last 2 years. Below is my 30 best albums of 2010, albums that missed the mark and albums that just plain sucked. There were quite a lot of albums I really enjoyed this year, however for me British rapper Plan B delivered the years best album. Click on the album art to see the full reviews.

The 30 Best Albums of 2010

1. Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks. For his second album British rapper Plan B adopted a new personality, Strickland Banks, ditching the foul-mouthed grime of his debut for a more exquisite blend of old-school soul and motown. From its sleek production to its gripping storyline to its daring lyrics, Plan B nurtured a successful transformation, delivering a winning body of work, thus delivering the best album of the year. What I said: "Its solid mix of soul, R&B, jazz and hip-hop sure does not disappoint." Best track: She Said.

2. The National - High Violet. I described The National's fifth album High Violet as a "dizzying clash of rock-orientated sounds" almost re-calling the same grungy rock as Arcade Fire. It's the unusually driven alternative rock that I love. The Brooklyn based band delivered a wildly gripping set built around that sound, it was also the years biggest grower for me. What I said: "strange but gripping fifth album--one of the more interesting albums I've heard all year." Best: Sorrow.

3. KT Tunstall - Tiger Suit. Scottish acoustic-pop singer KT Tunstall delivered a phenomenal third album. Pursing a more edgier take on the acoustic rock sound than her first two, languished with layers of folkish pop, alternative rock and techno-ish dance influences, Tunstall capitalized on fun ("Come On Get In") subtlety ("Still A, Weirdo") and intrigue ("Golden Frames") tying her work together with a wall of lyrical depth. What I said: "a fun record without having to weigh in too much on risk taking and pushing the envelope but just delivering an enjoyable strong set." Best: Uummannaq Song.

4. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid (Suits II & III). As eclectic as ever, American singer Janelle Monae delivered a monster debut, sewing together influences from pop, R&B, rock, hip-hop and old school funk. It's an ambitious set, admittedly at times too ambitious, but enough of it strikes the right chords for it to be a winning mix of different and interesting sounds and the most well-rounded modern R&B album I've heard in awhile. What I said: "cohesive and generally consistent without the dramatic switches in genres seeming overwhelming." Best: Tightrope.

5. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Following the experimental detours of 808's & Heartbreak, American rapper Kanye West returned to prominence with this daring set, weaving together both sounds stemming from both the experimental outlook on hip-hop as well as well-crafted beats with a commanding lyrical approach, in fact making this his best effort since 2005's Late Registration. What I said: "West reigns as one of world’s greatest lyricists and another thing that hasn’t changed is I still think he’s a douche." Best: Monster

6. Delphic - Acolyte. Alternative dance band Delphic was my favorite discovery this year (sorry Two Door Cinema Club), delivering a captivating spur of upbeat rock lined with cool climatic electronic undertones, some tracks too lengthy for their own good (but its all in the dance-studded fun) through their widely impressive debut Acolyte. What I said: "A very unique sound interesting enough to spawn a solid full-length album whilst still captivating my interest." Best: This Momentary.

7. The Roots - How I Got Over. American hip-hop band The Roots's ninth album was a refreshing listen. It's not the archetypal beats and lyrics of today's generic hip-hop, they find their spark with more complex arrangements as well as throwback to the old school, exuding a vintage sense of hip-hop. Like I said in my review, nine albums deep in their career, The Roots deserve to be put on the same pedestal as Jay-Z and Eminem, especially when they are arguably churning out better work than the both combined. What I said: "sometimes complex arrangements, exuding a more vintage sense of hip-hop." Best: Right On.

8. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs. Canadian rock band Arcade Fire followed up their dark critically acclaimed second album, with a richer, brighter more varied indulge in rock, delivering a nostalgic warp of confined rock as well as showcasing different approaches to the genre. What I said: "deliveres a varied, coherent set—more musically interesting." Best: Ready to Start.

9. Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday. American rapper Nicki Minaj flew the flag for female rappers this year, ultimately rehashing the whole perception; pink wigs, comical rapping styles, attitude tied in with a commercial egde illustrated with this highly anticipated debut which put her behind Lauryn Hill as the female rapper with the biggest first week sales. What I said: "in-all it’s an admirable set, a sturdy balance of hip-hop and pop." Best: Save Me

10. Hurts - Happiness. Synth-pop duo delivered an electrifying debut, showcasing a charming blend of soundscapes, synths and dance beats re-calling the sounds of '80s pop. It's another that wasn't really a critics favorite despite hot tipping prior, but I sure loved it. What I said: "it's consistent as nearly every track is a winner and a good handful are knockouts." Best: Better Than Love

11. Maroon 5 - Hands All Over. Maroon 5 took the laid back pop/rock of their debut Songs About Jane and the confident outlook of its follow up It Won't Be Soon Until Long to make their most well-rounded offering to date, their third Hands All Over. Clambering with upbeat funk, pop, rock and even some country thrown in the mix. What I said: "winning mix of both a confident and solid bowl of fun upbeat funk, pop, rock and even a bit of country." Best: Misery.

12. Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite. For her eleventh album, Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue pursued her love for feel-good electro dance-pop, re-calling the same vibrance and fun as 2002's Fever. It's where she shines brightest, which is probably why the more urban/pop moments on 2008's X didn't work so well. What I said: "crammed with synths, upbeat fun electronic soundscapes and instrumentation's all eluding a sence of celebration." Best: Get Outta My Way.

13. Rihanna - Loud. Barbadian singer Rihanna's fifth album acted as cheerier counterpart to 2009's dark Rated R. It was frothier, happier and wildly optimistic underlined with a recurring theme of sex for that raw edge ultimately illustrating that she may be in a happy space right now, but she's still horny as hell ("S&M," "What's My Name?" and "Skin"). What I said: "acts as the perfect counterpart to Rated R, as well as being yet another solid pop album. " Best: California King Bed.

14. Mark Ronson & the Business Intl - Record Collection. British producer Mark Ronson, explored a more eclectic variety of sounds for his third album and whilst the '80s inspired pop were fun ("Bang Bang Bang") the album shined best the more experimental numbers ("Glass Mountain Thrust"). What I said: "deliverers the side of eclectic mix of sounds you would expect from a producer like Ronson." Best: Bang Bang Bang

15. Brandon Flowers - Flamingo. Critics may have passed on Killers frontman Brandon Flowers' debut but I loved it. It may have cut a bit close to the sound Flower's had already pursued with The Killers but ultimately was a solid body of work. Indulging in a stirring front of '80s new wave, synth-rock sheeted over layers of imperturbable pop influences. What I said: "It's just as good as anything the The Killers have put out." Best: Crossfire

16. Underworld - Barking. British house duo's Underworld delivered a fantastic psychedelic dance album. It was supposedly the most mainstream the duo had been in comparison to their seven other albums, but I loved their unearthly blend of different dance-oriented sounds. What I said: "It's very vibrant and fresh; ultimately a riveting dance album pulled over some cool pop influences." Best: Scribble.

17. Rumer - Seasons of My Soul. In a year chock-full of electro-pop and alternative rock, British singer Rumer's soulful debut was a refreshing switch-up in sound. Oozing with layers of enticing, sultry jazz as well as an emotional heart-warming outlook on bluesy folk re-calling the same relaxed atmospheric ambiance as Sade and Norah Jones. What I said: " warming blend of enticing soul and emotional outlooks on bluesy folk." Best: Slow.

18. Sade - Soldier of Love. Following 10 long years since their critically acclaimed fifth album, Lovers Rock, sultry four-piece Sade finally delivered its follow-up. Just as cooling and heart-warming as ever, subtly trailing its calming blend of soft-rock, atmospheric soul and R&B as well as exploring growth. What I said: "heart-warningly cooling, the harmonies and melodies still as captivating." Best: The Moon and the Sky.

19. Hot Chip - One Life Stand. English electro-pop five-piece explored softer and more serious sounds, successfully indulging in a light mix of alternative rock with electronic overtones, more personally appealing than 2008's critically acclaimed Made in the Dark. What I said: "evokes a more emotive feel through its more sonic surface." Best: I Feel Better.

20. Bombay Bicycle Club - Flaws. British alternative band Bombay Bicycle Club watered down their raw alternative rock sound for their second album, stripping away piercing electronic guitars to fathom more folk and complex acoustic guitar arrangements. What I said: "There's enough melody and cohesion to make this collection of tracks work and work well." Best: Rinse Me Down

21. Bruno Mars - Doo Wops & Hooligans. R&B crooner Bruno Mars had a stellar year, landing three massive hits ("Nothin' on You" and "Billionaire") as a guest vocalist and his own "Just the Way You Are" from his light reggae and pop-studded debut capitalizing on his increasing popularity. What I said: "The album lays on a thick slab of pop underlined with hints of Caribbean and reggae inspired flavor." Best: Just the Way You Are

22. Devlin - Bud, Sweat & Beets. London-based rapper Devlin delivered quite an invigorating debut re-calling the same aggressive stature as Plan B's debut, ignoring the hip-hop/electro-pop trend demonstrated by his peers such as Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah and sticking to his routes, rapping about the slums of London over relentless hip-hop beats. It's not that accessible but it's a worthy listen--even more so if you're into British hip-hop. What I said: "It's refreshing to see Devlin sticking to his roots for his debut." Best: Brainwashed.

23. Eminem - Recovery. As a genuine fan of Eminem, it was hard to ignore the apparent lack of quality in last years' Relapse. Thankfully this year he returned with a much more concrete body of work, although nothing that holds a candle to the rappers' glory days with The Marshal Mathers LP. What I said: "It's not brilliant as its current commercial success would suggest, but it does enough to patch up the gaps Relapse left." Best: Love the Way You Lie.

24. Eliza Doolittle - Eliza Doolittle. British singer Eliza Doolittle's self-titled debut packed in a big acoustic punch, packing in a cool laid back collection of coherent acoustic-pop, soul and folk. Lyrically blunt in the same vein as fellow British singer Kate Nash. What I said: "soulful collection of coherent acoustic-pop, soul and folk influenced songs." Best: Pack Up.

25. Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown. Showcasing a more dynamic approach to rock, American rock band Kings of Leon's fifth album still trailed the mainstream influences of 2008's Only By the Night; shimmering productions and alternative rock grandiose, only not as well--but there were still some good moments. What I said: " does showcase a more dynamic approach to rock than the last album." Best: Radioactive.

26. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma. I wasn't familiar with Californian producer Flying Lotus before, his third album was the first I'd really given a chance, illustrating different layers of stimulating experimental electronic fronts--it works more as an invigorating clash of interesting sounds than a solid body of work. What I said: "an interesting mix of sounds, not as groundbreaking as critics and fans alike seem to think." Best: A Cosmic Drama

27. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach. Whilst not as gripping as their self-titled debut nor as coherent as their last release Demon Days, animated alternative band Gorillaz still delivered an enjoyable set of songs shining particularly on the more on the more experimental sounds. What I said: "The Gorillaz sure delivered one heck of a third album and whether it's perfect or not doesn't matter as surely there is something here for either an experimental or hip-hop listener of the Gorillaz." Best: Stylo.

28. Drake - Thank Me Later. American rapper Drake was the year's most hotly tipped rapper however his debut album was more built around hype than substance, but did deliver a handful of decent tracks. It wasn't the hot rap record I was expecting but nothing too bad. What I said: ""doesn't necessarily present him to be a great rapper nor lyricist however appeal lies in his commanding of the beats he flows over and the solidarity of the tracks." Best: Find Your Love

29. The Wanted - The Wanted. I wasn't largely impressed with Britain's newest boyband The Wanted's debut album, however for the most part it did hit all the right notes, delivering a standard bag of bass-heavy pop with soaring melodies and harmonies; a handful of solid tracks. What I said: " standard bag of bass-heavy pop with soaring melodies and harmonies." Best: Replace Your Heart.

30. Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy. While fellow British rap acts such Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder mastered the art of successfully matching grime and chart-friendly rap/pop for their debuts, Tinie Tempah tampered with the formula, delivering a solid set of easy-listening (I say easy-listening...), radio-friendly pop. What I said: "delivering a handful of great pop -influenced tracks, which could land the rapper another batch of hits." Best: Pass Out.

Also recommended:
Yeasayer - Odd Blood
Duffy - Endlessly
Olly Murs
You Me at Six - Hold Me Down
Robyn - Body Talk, Pt. 1 (I wish I had gotten into Robyn a bit more, but that electro-pop sound is getting a bit worn-out now.)
Take That - Progress (I didn't get around to doing a review for this, but I did like it a lot although I didn't love it.)
Michael Jackson - Michael (Another absent review. I didn't like this as much as I'd hoped but it's a solid set.)

Other albums I reviewed, but wouldn't recommend:

Cheryl Cole - Messy Little Raindrops
Example - Won't Go Quietly
Joshua Radim - Simple Times
Kesha - Animal
Magnetic Man - Magnetic Man
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark - History in Modern
Professor Green - Alive 'Til I'm Dead
Toni Braxton - Pulse
Tinchy Stryder - Third Strike

Albums that missed the mark:

Kate Nash - My Best Friend is You. Admittedly, I did really like this at first. It wasn't the fun of her first album Made of Bricks nor did it have the witty lyrical humor and cut-throat story telling that made that album such a joy, but Kate Nash's second album showcased growth and a rawer alternative feel, whilst for the most part I enjoyed it, I felt excluding the fun and wit shadowed over everything I found appealing about her in the first place. Best: Don't You Want to Share the Guilt?

Ellie Goulding - Lights. Topping BBC's Sounds of 2010 list, Ellie Goulding's debut Lights delivered a host of good shimmering electro dance-pop moments, but wasn't the solid pop it could have been and didn't quite match the quality of previous list-toppers Adele and Little Boots. Best: Starry Eyed.

Lady Antebellum - Need You Now. Country trio Lady Antebellum definitely banked on commercial success with their sophomore album, which was ultimately a more cohesive turnout than the self-titled debut and whilst it did deliver a handful of great numbers, I still didn't hear anything that separated them from their fellow country bands, such as Rascal Flatts and Dixie Chicks. Best: Need You Now.

The Script - Science & Faith. More lyrically compelling than their self-titled debut, but The Script failed to be more varied in their sound which ultimately made Science & Faith a boring record with the same rock/pop being re-hashed over and over again. Best: For the First Time.

Disappointing albums of the year:

Black Eyed Peas - The Beginning. Are you kidding me with this album?

Lil Wayne - Rebirth. Lil Wayne thought rapping odd lyrics over a mash of electronic guitars and drums would rightfully make this a successful rap/rock album. Wrong!

Usher - Raymond vs Raymond. It still fascinates me how Usher can go from releasing a knockout like Confessions to releasing two duds in a row.

Vampire Weekend - Contra. Not necessarily the biggest disappointment this year, but I didn't enjoy it as much as their self-titled debut. It came down to personal taste in the end.

Jason DeRulo - Jason DeRulo. I panned this for being a weak pop album, but I really enjoyed the singles and even some of the album cuts later on in the year but it's still a weak debut.


Paul said...

we share 10 to 12, 15 and 17. I am also spending more time with Eliza Doolittle now the Christmas rush has gone by and want to get more invested with Bruno Mars. I have (you will not be pleased to know) been totally won over by Ellie Goulding!!

Let me know what you think of my top singles (up now!) and top albums (up Tues!) Happy New Year!

J.Mensah said...

Happy New Year Paul! :)

ww_adh said...

1. Great album, but after I reviewed it, I never listened to it again this year, so that's why it didn't end up higher on my list.

2. You know I love this one. Fantastic album.

3. A gutsy choice, as she was pretty much ignored this year. Way to be out there.

6. Another gutsy choice, but I know you like this one.

9. One of the year's biggest surprises for me was how much I enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) this album.

11. I took a pass on this one. They just don't excite me anymore.

14. Another one I took a pass on, after none of the singles really did it for me.

16. I remember when you reviewed this, you encouraged me to listen to this. I couldn't find it streaming online, so I didn't get to check it out, although I did later acquire the song "Always Loved a Film."

20. I haven't heard of this.

23. I try to like Eminem, but save for some of his singles, he's just not my thing.

26. I remember when this came out the critics loved it, but I never listened to it.

Usher - It's amazing how much life his album has had after the false starts. "More" is breaking out big now. His next album will probably be a dance one, since those are the songs that became big.

Vampire Weekend - Big disagreement here, although the funny thing is that I didn't like their first album at all, and I thought Contra was a lot better.

mandolin picks said...

From this list, all I have are Doo Wops & Hooligans by Bruno Mars, The Wanted, and Hands All Over by Maroon 5. I really love these but I believe there are some incredible tracks from the other albums on your list. Thank you for this post.