Eli Badra: My Favorite Albums of 2010

, Staff Writer

We had our writers take a stab at picking their favorite albums from 2010. Here, in no particular order, are staff writer Eli Badra’s picks:

ceo – White Magic: It’s been a good couple years for Swedish musicians: jj, The Tallest Man On Earth, Robyn – they’ve all been fairly successful in 2010. Something about that country just seems to produce the kind of pop music that Americans are hankering for right now, and White Magic is no different. The solo project of The Tough Allience’s Eric Berglund, ceo’s sound is predictably happy and pop-y, but throws a number of musical curveballs at the listener in its roughly half-hour duration. It’s also short enough that repeated listens are no big commitment, and it’s over before you know it.

The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs: After a predictable sophomore slump with Neon Bible, we fully expected the next album to make us all fall in love with the Arcade Fire again. Did it succeed? Well…yes and no. The Suburbs is a magnificent composition, tremendous in scope, symphonic, and with a clear underlying concept throughout. There are absolutely exquisite moments in the album, ones where you’ll swear Win Butler is singing about you. There are also moments when the album can’t its own weight – at 65 minutes, The Suburbs is long, I would say unnecessarily so. There are three or four songs here that hurt its flow flow, and while they may be thematically viable, they would have found themselves more comfortable on an extended edition, or a collection of B-sides.

Electric President – The Violent Blue: The Violent Blue is the third album from Electric President, a Jacksonville duo consisting of Ben Cooper and Alex Kane, and continues their stylistic evolution that lulled a bit in their previous effort, Sleep Well. What we have here is largely atmospheric music meshed with a dab of folk music and indie rock. Cooper and Kane have an especially acute sense of constructing these deep, beautiful soundscapes and laying a lonely guitar or piano over it. Cooper’s voice itself is unique, sleepy and thin, but with a certain timber that I find really intriguing.

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor: What I can most confidently say about The Monitor is that it is perhaps the most human recording I’ve heard in years: this is the album of a band playing their hearts out, top to bottom. The entire thing is rough around the edges, with loose vocals, unfocused guitars, and small studio hiccups throughout. Titus Andronicus have completely worn themselves out while putting this one together – it’s filled with punk-y ennui (“Smoking’s been okay so far, but I need something that works faster”), despairing love (the last few minutes of vocals are Ian Graetzer pleading “please don’t ever leave”), and assurances that “you will always be a loser.” Every minute of The Monitor is engaging on some emotional level, an amazing feat for such a long album.

The Magnetic Fields – Realism: Realism is the third and final album in the Magnetic Fields’ “no-synth” trilogy, which is exactly what it sounds like. It also goes hand-in-hand with their previous album, Distortion, aiming to fully explore the other end of the musical spectrum: where Distortion was all about noise and fuzz, replete with Jesus & Mary Chain influence, Realism very specifically attempts to eliminate as much electronic instrumentation as possible. In fact, there’s only one instance of an amplified instrument in the entire album. As a Magnetic Fields album, it’s not their best. Stephin Merritt’s vocals are still exceptional, and as a concept the album is sound, but compared to Distortion or 69 Love Songs it falls flat. (To be fair, most things fall flat when up against 69 Love Songs). Having said that, Stephin Merritt is the best lyricist in the country, and this album is worth a run-through if only to enjoy his absolutely delightful wordplay. It’s the sign of a successful album if I’m having a hard time not singing along to the songs.

Jónsi – Go: Go is the closest thing we’re going to get to a new Sigur Ros album for a while, and with the way this sounds, that’s just fine. Jonsi’s been busy, putting out Riceboy Sleeps with his boyfriend Alex, followed by this gem. Go can be considered a continuation of what Sigur Ros had been doing in their latest album, sacrificing some of the grand, sweeping climaxes for a much more whimsical, festive, and – alright, I’ll say it – pop-y sound.

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
: I could go off on how This Is Happening is important for James Murphy, personally, living up to the immense pressure that comes with every LCD Soundsystem release; how its widespread positive reception gratified for him that he’s still hip, even at age 40; how such a relevant and inspiring act continues to find success when the musical world has long since passed their original threshold. These are all true, but on a fundamental level, This Is Happening is just cool. Murphy is apathetic in all the right places, and passionate in the others. His beats are impeccably produced, with an astonishing attention to detail, and for a “dance-y” album, his third LP holds a surprising amount of material in songs disguised as simple dance pop.

65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway
: 65daysofstatic have been one of the few bands to actually keep post-rock fresh and interesting after the genre’s peak in popularity around 2006. Where others have simply rode on Explosions In The Sky’s coattails, bands like 65days and Caspian have been working to move the genre ever forward. In 65days’ case, their music is the perfect joining of traditional post-rock guitar trills and sweeping peaks with fierce, driving drums, and glitch electronica. They’re “heavier” than traditional post-rock bands, but so much more powerful, too. We Were Exploding Anyway is a bit more focused on electronics than the band’s previous works, but it comes off as a huge improvement.

Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern: I’ll be honest: this one is my throwaway choice. I do really enjoy Marnie Stern’s second album – she consistently does way more with the “indie” sound than you’d expect – and it’s definitely one of the top albums I’ve heard this year, but I just can’t muster up the same love for this as I do every other album on the list, and it’s January 3rd and I just want to get this list over with. “For Ash” is really the song you want to be hearing, but size limitations won’t allow me to upload it to this wiki. Marnie is an incredible guitar player, evidenced throughout the album: “For Ash” opens with some wild finger picking, and Stern is often plucking her way through some incredibly complex harmonic pattern. If you can get past the voice, which admittedly IS pretty grating, there’s a lot of musical rewards to find in the album.

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: I don’t need to tell you guys about this one, right? I don’t need an example song because you already have heard the album a billion times and think it’s as great as I do. Kanye’s new album is almost certainly the best of the year – maybe not my favorite, but still the best. It was a cultural tour de force on its release, and the culmination of Kanye West both as a musician and a famous personality. Opening himself up to outrageous criticism simply by virtue of his own outrageous behavior, West still managed to live up to the insane hype that he alone put on the album.

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