10 Warpaint, The Fool
If music were vapor, Warpaint's would be a smooth, tasteless black and grey haze, clouding your latenight thoughts and sending you into a sublime stupor. This album is just the perfect concoction of mood and style, constantly aloof, perfectly crafted, sexily austere. Album highlight 'Undertow''s masterstroke is a lifted line from Cobain, "what's a matter, you hurt yourself" - though it has no debt to anyone, be it Nirvana, Interpol, Joy Division, or any others you might care to name. They simply they slide off - "open your eyes and see there's no one else".
And so yes, it is cosmopolitan stuff, its sexiness an entirely stately thing that is built into the very DNA of the music. If it is sexy, it does not give a fuck, in other words. -- Clayton Purdom
9 Drake, Thank Me Later
On first blush I wasn't very taken with Drake's melodrama, but after overhearing 'Best I Ever Had' again recently I decided to make a return, stumbling on the perfect time and place for Drake in the process: at night, through laptop speakers. Because even though Kanye has been called the pinnacle of emo-rap or pain-pop, next to Drake, West seems like a stony ascetic. Drake's whole MO on his 2009 So Far Gone mixtape was these ambient-laced beats over digi-croons about how hard his not-gansta-but-still-rich-rapper life is. The lyrical sentiment hasn't changed much - he's just added to it with musings on how he might be thanked and remembered - but musically, his debut is much tighter, less of a drift - switching from meandering chills to properly sequenced, well constructed pop in the disguise of hip-hop. And to the extent he maintains the same woe-is-me drama and synthesises it with just really great hooks and lines, Thank Me Later deserves a thank you right now.
@tabloidsores: Drake's a synthesis of early 00s emo-rap, the lessons of Kanye's 808s and Heartbreak and post-weezy mixtape hype
8 Owen Pallett, Heartland
Just like Kanye West and Drake, Owen Pallett is obsessed with thematising the act of creation itself. But whereas for Kanye this means an aesthetics of ego and for Drake a lyrical preoccupation with his own uncertainty over 'making it', for Pallett it's a far more academic affair - a bristling, lavishly adorned concept album about the fiction overcoming its creator. Or, as Pallett explaions it, "a narrative [of] one-sided dialogues with Lewis, a young, ultra-violent farmer, speaking to his creator". It's already getting crazy I know, but consider this: on the first album Pallett slaps his own name on (dropping the Final Fantasy moniker at the threat of libel, or ridicule, or both), he kills himself. Well Lewis kills him, in 'Tryst with Mephistopheles', driving an "iron spike into Owen's eyes". Triumphant, he sings:
I draw a bruise on your brawny shoulder,Pallett takes Roland Barthes a tad too literally here, but the irony is that he is the one doing all the killing, Lewis belongs entirely to Owen. And in the end the former cannot help but re-erect the latter, not at least given how much 'Owen Pallett' there is all over this album - brimming with his best arrangements and some of his most playful and clever moments yet. Yet that's also why this album is so great, because it works as a piece of music as much as it does as a concept. A rare union, and a joy to listen to.
Scratch my fingers over your tattoos
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If this all sounds too much like homework, it's worth re-reemphasizing that, whatever his protests against casual poignancy, Pallett has crafted an absorbing gem of a record, one that delivers substantial emotional payloads by means of incredibly intricate pop music. Rather than striking a blow against emotionally captivating music in favor of the album of ideas, Pallett makes a compelling case that the two need not be antagonists -- Matthew Cole7 Joanna Newsom, Have One On Me
Joanna Newsom has gone from eeking out sly but poignant little solos (The Milk-Eyed Mender), to constructing flourishing, expansive longform pieces (Ys) to something that's is kind of like a combination of the two of them - Have One On Me is like an intricate set of little rococco monuments all pieced together into something much bigger, and longer, but happy too - like a casual sprawl. There's a sense that Newsom is taking her time here, and she's asking us to do the same - by all means I'll oblige if it means that at almost every corner I get to be struck and taken along by some beautiful little gem of a moment. Everything on here just sings, a celebration of confession.
Have One One Me, in all its unprecedented Tolkienian sprawl, may be a two-hour love letter to the guy who wrote fucking “Dick in a Box.” Someone more ambitious than I will have to take on the [massive] task of analyzing that one -- David Greenwald
6 Die Antwoord, $O$
Many people I think would be too embarrassed put this album anywhere near their top ten for the year, what with it's ridiculously dodgey sexual politics, KLF / The Manual style genesis, and, let's face it, abundance of dud tracks - most of which were thankfully exorcised from the American release, replaced by the quite good 'In Your Face' and fucking rad 'Evil Boy'. But $O$ deserves it's place here for two reasons. The first one is pretty simple, a lot of these songs are just fucking great - sick beats and hooks, Ninja's crazy flow, how great Yo-Landi Fi$$er sounds swearing in Afrikaans. The other is just how hilarious and inspiring the whole cook-up itself is, the detail with which they went about concocting a backstory and aesthetic, not to mention the fucking commitment - Watkin Tudor Jones has literally embodied his Ninja persona, marking his body with prison tatts to complete the street look. Then there was their intensely savvy use of the internet, willingly turning themselves into a meme for everyone outside South Africa. But after the curiosity wore out, there remained some highly original and catchy music. It won't last, it's not meant to, but it was fun riding the Zef zeitgeist all the same in 2010.
Ek wonder hoeveel mense besef hoe ongelooflik goed hierdie musiek vervaardig is -- Johan Swarts
5 Die! Die! Die!, Form
How is it that these three Dunedin ratbags, who tour relentlessly across Oceania, America and Europe, live barely above the dole-line when back home in their NZ hometown, and do themselves regular tineal damage at said shows (one memorable gig vocalist Andrew Wilson sung half his set head shoved in the floor-tom), manage to continually produce such brilliant albums? 2007's Promises, Promises focused their abrasive, kinetic punk ethos with an emphasis on songwriting and emotion. Form continues this combination but adds to it a new layer, heavily indebted to shoe gaze, a swirling, stormy, mood, an almost reflective patina. And it all comes to fruition on single 'We Built Our Own Oppressors', which feels like the culmination of everything Die! Die! Die! have been working towards. I listened to that track on constant repeat when it first came out, a month or two before the album, arm-hairs bristling everytime. I feared I'd drained that song's energy in those heady first days, but when Form arrived and it rolled around again I discovered that this band's well cannot run dry. There is too much life in it, sweaty, torn-up, im/mature, but it's all there, fuel for an eternal fire.
Form contains a sound most unlike many other bands on the planet. Their hyperactive rhythms inspire vivid imagery of movement, of change, of progress -- Andrew McMillen
4 Parades, Foreign Tapes
This is like a dream. Where did it come from? Aching, clamouring, soaring, and above all wildly ambitious, Sydney's Parades dropped easily the most surprising and arguably the strongest debut of 2010. Like a kaleidoscope projected widescreen in a darkened theatre, this album is unambiguously joyous and beautiful, but glitters with an enigmatic magic all of it's own. Foreign Tapes is destined to take its place among the greats of Australian underground pop.
Foreign Tapes is like a carnival, a fairground in lights. It’s one of those records where magic and mirage can come true like in the Flaming Lips and the music of Iceland: colours slip and fade and explode neon again, little soft bombs of sound gently burst. Great possibilities exist, a real sense of wonder runs through it. But great drama also waits -- Chris Johnston
3 Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles was great, but Crystal Castles is another thing altogether! Subsuming their glitch-tics into something much more ambitious, this album is fucking transcendent. It's cloudbursts, stars glittering, beautiful. That's right, a pretty Crystal Castles album. Of course Alice Glass is still screaming away in there, there's chop cuts, but harshness here always gives way to bliss. Gauze isn't just for covering up cuts.
beauty and clarity -- Ian Cohen
2 Sleigh Bells, Treats
I am 100% behind this album. You don't have to work hard to get it, in fact it's genius lies exactly in how simple, even dumb, it's idea and execution is. Literally: mix peaking hip-hop beats, ridiculously large guitars and some babe singing like a bratty yet motivational teenager to her fellow teenagers (and let's face it, we're all teenagers when we're listening to Sleigh Bells). The result: Treats - really yummy treats! Lot's of treats! It's easy, it's big, it's fun, it's also entirely unique and unrepeatable.
There’s a moment [on] “A/B Machines” when a condensed, almost inhuman scream bursts through a half-second gap between guitar breakdowns. It’s a small gesture, one that seems pretty insignificant on a cursory listen, but for me this says it all: here the band has taken an intrinsically repellent sound, something universally associated with violence and pain and just general badness, and have made it enormously satisfying. And not satisfying in the sense that a lot of traditional noise music can be, nor obliquely satisfying like confrontational Dadaism. This isn’t “challenging but ultimately rewarding” ... Sleigh Bells render noise legitimately delightful. This stuff is genuinely, earnestly satisfying, in the same way all great pop music is: these songs, simply and purely, sound fucking great -- Calum Marsh
1 Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
For a long time, Kanye West redefined hip-hop, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he transcends hip-hop. Not only that, he makes hip-hop transcend itself -and he does so by vacuuming everything around him, musical, political and emotional, into the centripetal force of his producer's maw. This album is unequalled in its omnivorous voraciousness, but just as much in the singularity and consistency of its aesthetic. Equally paradoxically, Kanye West is ravenous, he is all over this album, and yet at times what's most striking is that at times it's as if he's barely even there. This is the master project of the producer, the conductor, who speaks through other people's voices, verses, samples, in order to construct their art (and in the case of West, also an edifice to themselves). When he returns to his own voice, it's so often found wanting in its unadorned state, so that it's pushed through vocoders, distortion effects and so on, the recorded voice pushed beyond the limits of the 'natural' so that he might do justice to the excess that defines emotion. And yet he relents even here, knowing just one man cannot do this job (and West is exceedingly honest about his talents, his talentlessness is what fuels his talents - he recently told MTV "I do have a goal in this lifetime to be the greatest artist of all time, [but] that's very difficult being that I can't dance or sing"). So he relents, turning back to Justin Vernon to milk the sweetest, most hair-raising moment of the album for the opening of the astounding closing track. Kanye making the white-boy Auto-Tune of 'The Woods' even more impassioned. Speaking through others voices so that we all might hear what's vital. Can we get much higher?
Kanye West loves music. Only someone who loves music with every fiber of their being could put every fiber of every music they’ve ever loved into the music they make and have it make such ineffable sense. These six-minute bangers are haikus. Kanye West loved music better than any other artist this year and I loved his music better, too -- Chet Betz