Each year, we are supposed to be at the peak of civilization, yet we are not. Recurring themes of famine, poverty and war plague us. It’s imperative for us to learn from the past and move forward from it, not get sucked back into it.
That’s been the struggle this year with society, even in music.
This isn’t a list trying to be all hipster. There is a new era we must embrace and some just did it better than others.
This is the humblest approach to find who and what defines the age we live in – musically, lyrically and so forth. There’s a common thread to most of the albums you will see and it sums up the premise of 2010: liberation.
10. Jason Mraz – Life is Good EP
Track of Choice – “Freedom Song”
It only took four tracks to do it, but Mr. A-Z’s latest EP surpassed just about everything any singer-songwriter could muster this year. You’d think at some point this whole mentality of spreading joy and love would get tiresome, but it’s more invigorating ever. Again, the EP is only five live tracks and four of them are new. This was not even considered to make the list. But in going with theme of the album set in “Up” and “Freedom Song,” there are no limitations on what should and shouldn’t be on this list. That’s the lesson: let all you do come without restraints.
9. Janelle Monae – ArchAndroid
Track of Choice – “Cold War”
Don’t pretend to understand the story about the futuristic android queen that accompanies this album. Just enjoy the fantastical, Alice in Wonderland-esque world she sows. There are several elements to this album like a Technicolor patchwork quilt. With inspiration derived from Outkast to the Beatles, this Kansas City native shows she has some pipes.
8. Kid Cudi- Man on the Moon 2: Legend of Mr. Rager
Track of Choice – “The Mood”
Scott Mescudi tapped into a dark reality for this one. With tracks that seem to alter the dimensions of genre, we learn first-hand about his drug addiction and getting locked away. It’s not the most enjoyable listen because of its obscure nature, but I’m not going to knock a guy for bearing himself so fully into an album.
7. Gorillaz- Plastic Beach
Track of Choice – “Some Kind of Nature (feat. Lou Reed)”
When Snoop Dogg starts the album welcoming you to the plastic beach you just washed up on, you know something bizarre is just around the corner. The Gorillaz are one of the best bands at concocting fresh sounds that take you on an inexplicable voyage, taking their pick from hip-hop, funk, rock, synth-pop and even coming up with some new sounds along the way. By the time the album is over, you can’t remember where you’ve been or how you got there. All you know is you want to do it again.
6. Keane- Night Train
Track of Choice – “Looking Back”
Keane is not Coldplay. They are not Radiohead. Those comparisons drove them to the point of redirecting their sound. They struggled with their previous two albums to find some style that would set them apart, and this 30-minute EP is the destination they need to stake as their own. With the help of Somalian rapper K’Naan, Keane discovered a way to mix sick beats with piano ballads while improving the quality of the lyrics. It’s only eight-tracks, but the charming delivery of hope and prosperity makes Keane an intriguing band to watch, moving forward.
5. KT Tunstall – Tiger Suit
Track of Choice – “Uummannaq Song”
There’s something to be heard in the environment with the elements, the sky, the earth. KT Tunstall takes it to another level putting those ingredients into a melting pot of dance-floor beats. That’s really the best way to describe her third studio album. “Nature techno,” as she called it. It’s hard to put country and folk albums on lists like this because they have difficulty changing with the times. The blend of organic folk and dance-mixes of the 21st century creates a whole new breed of audible enjoyment.
4. B.o.B.- B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray
Track of Choice – “Ghost in the Machine”
B.o.B. (aka Bobby Ray) might have set the bar a little too high for himself. As 2010’s breakout artist of the year, B.o.B. spends his debut album discussing his climb to the top and the price of the fame that comes with it. Surrounded by an A-list guest list including Eminem, Hayley Williams, Rivers Cuomo and T.I., it’s a diverse display of radio-friendly hits while not being to bubble-gummy. B.o.B.’s multiple talents are a breath of fresh air, something lacking in today’s new artists. His rap potential shines on the two “Airplanes” tracks and his vocal range, in songs such as “Don’t Let Me Fall,” proves this guy is for real. Get to know him because he will be around for a while.
3. Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Track of Choice – “Runaway”
There exists a creativity only accessible through madness. We may never know what goes through the illustrious mind of Kanye West, and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is as deep as we can get. And that’s a shame.
These masochistic trips of douche-baggery and repentance start with the man himself, but end up as a reflection as all of us. Kanye owns up to every controversy he has stirred and vows to be a better human. But the man hasn’t killed anyone, he hasn’t committed heinous crimes and his music is not fabricated. His music is a work of art. And you have to accept that, no matter who you think you are.
The first track, “Dark Fantasy” paints us right into the picture as the wordplay is immaculate and the phrase “Can we get much higher” echoes throughout all the pieces of the song. “Runaway” is the shining gem on the album, nine minutes addressing Kanye’s own errs while trying to salvage some respect from all the rubble caused by himself and the media.
If “Monster” and “Hell of a Life” weren’t big enough ego trips for you, “POWER” goes beyond them claiming to be his superhero theme music. Near the end of the song, he spits one of the most debilitating yet captivating lines of the year: “This would be a beautiful death – jumping out the window, letting everything go.”
Interpretation: Nothing can stop Kanye except himself. If anyone is going to end this T-Swift interrupting, fish-dick eating, Bush-bashing brigade, it’s going to be him.
2. Eminem- Recovery
Track of Choice – “Talkin’ 2 Myself”
Eminem is the best rapper alive. And it’s not even close.
This is not the same bleach-headed groin-grabber who wrote songs filled with hate, trashing his mother and threatening to do vicious acts to his ex-wife. This isn’t the same goof-ball who went through a streak of cheesy, Jamaican-accented tracks that made no sense.
This is a man built on inspiration and redemption. Em knew he wasn’t at his best for the past couple albums, as he iterates in “Talkin’ 2 Myself” and “Not Afraid.” His purpose for this album isn’t to diss on anyone. It’s to give everyone including his fans, critics and friends the best work of his career: “I’ve come to make it up to you, now no more fucking around. I got something to prove to fans ‘cause I feel like I let ’em down.”
Marshall Mathers didn’t lose any skill after his stint in rehab. His writing is pristine. His flow is ice cold. In fact, he hit an entirely new level no longer fueled on hatred and regret. The power of love – for his ex-wife; for his daughter; for his best friend Proof, who was shot to death – heightened him to new plateaus.
The raw fury and passion Eminem spits on each track is hip-hop at its absolute finest. From the hydraulic thumping “Won’t Back Down” to the boxing champion theme of “Cinderella Man,” he doesn’t slack on even one word. The beats in “No Love” featuring Lil Wayne are hot enough to melt the headphones off your head. Even the less serious songs, “W.T.P.” and “On Fire,” avoid becoming weak links of the album.
His newfound application of love in his music is on full display in “You’re Never Over,” the track he dedicates to Proof. The second verse is one of Em’s greatest, sincerely thanking God for all his blessings. He then begs to Proof for help of getting through his depression while still having the strength to raise his daughter. The simple “I love you, Doody” at the end of the track is the most heartfelt line on the album.
Whether you’re an Eminem fan or not, this album will shock you. Some songs cut so deep into his heart, you may find yourself startled or even appalled. But there is no hatred there. They are emotions many of us can’t comprehend.
Em has a heart. It just took him a while to show us.
1. Linkin Park- A Thousand Suns
Track of Choice – “The Catalyst” *
In destruction, there is salvation.
The human species has been doomed by the lessons it has failed to learn over the years in terms of war, hatred and greed. The message in etched into our heads from the get-go: “God bless us everyone, we’re a broken people living under loaded gun.”
Linkin Park reiterates the sins we have yet to repent through the words of activists Martin Luther King, Jr., Julius Robert Oppenheimer, and Mario Savio. It’s amazing that some of their quotes are a century old and still hold relevance today.
But there is one thing we do have that can save us. One thing that the greatest technology man can create is in capable of: love.
In both their musical construct and content, Linkin Park hits 2010 in stride. The genre of this music is defies genre, as each track redefines the band and what they stand for. The future of six billion lives are at stake. “A Thousand Suns” is an album for all of us, and Linkin Park sacrifices any thing resembling their old sound to prove it.
With layer upon layer of interchanging facades, LP takes you on a 50-minute expedition of both lucid and hardcore dreamscapes meant to be experienced the whole way through. Changing at every turn, each song is built upon multiple layers (“When They Come For Me” has more than 100), structured unlike any song out there.
For every atmospheric synth-based “Robot Boy” that addresses moving past distress, there is a pulsating homage to Public Enemy fighting the power with “Wretches and Kings.”
Tribal beats and the catch line “Try to catch up motherfucker!” propel the raunchy “When They Come for Me” while “Iridescent” humbly tells you to “remember all the sadness and frustration and let it go.”
Even with the vocal grenades Chester Bennington launches in “Blackout” (which is one of the most unique rock/ hip-hop/ punk songs you will ever hear), “The Messenger” is Chester’s shining moment. With simply an acoustic guitar accompanied by piano, Chester belts out his soul, raw and alone, into the overbearing message of the album and 2010 as a whole:
“When life leaves us blind, love keeps us kind.”
There is not another album like this in existence. Taking almost every genre to new extremes in just a handful of tracks seems daunting, but somehow Linkin Park pulled it off. More importantly, there’s an overwhelming sense of hope for all of us.
Thus, we come back to the moral we started with. If we can learn to move past the hardships and grow while keeping our sense of love, nothing is too difficult to overcome.
—*”The Catalyst” is the song of the year. It encompasses the most out of any other in it’s lyrics and style. So devastating, yet so beautiful.
Also, I took the liberty handing out some other awards. Thank you, to those who made it this far.
Best Pure Pop Album-
Miley Cyrus- Can’t be Tamed
Forget the bong. You know Miley is maturing when she doesn’t use the word “curfew” in any of her lyrics.
Best Pure Country-
Darius Rucker – Charleston, SC 1966
Kid Rock – Born Free
Two different styles, couldn’t pick just one. Go America.
A Silent Film- The City That Sleeps
Out of all the weirdo alternative bands that received high remarks, this one didn’t get any. Well, it’s better than all of those regardless. “Aurora” is one of the most beautiful songs of the year.
Best Pure Rock-
Disturbed – Asylum
It was slim pickings for rock this year. At least Disturbed still has guitar solos.
Best Pure Hip-Hop-
The Roots- How I Got Over
Great year for the Roots. Really helped put some issues into persepective.
Best Folk/ Bluegrass-
Mumford and Sons – Sigh no More
Sounds old school, yet oddly fresh.
Bruno Mars- Doo-Whops and Hooligans
Top down, sun out – these are the tunes you’re kicking.
Good Album or Bad Album? Too Hard to Tell-
The Dead Weather- Sea of Cowards
Sujan Stevens- The Age of Adz
I couldn’t decide how good or bad these were. It’s in the ear of the beholder, I guess.
Most Addictive Audio-Crack of the Year-
Robyn- Body Talk
After one listen, you know every word to every song. Then, like nicotine, you need it. You crave it.
P.o.S. of the Year-
Christina Aguilera- Bionic
Blessed with a magnificent voice and all you do with it is rap and sing about boys being icky. “You Lost Me” is the only salvageable track. She lost me on everything else.