In order for this site to be what it is, we listen to a wide variety of music. That’s just how music is lately, we find strength in our diversity. So needless to say, jazz wasn’t the only thing that found our ears in 2010. Tomorrow, we’ll list what we consider the best jazz albums of 2010 but today, here’s the best of every other genre.
10. Girl Talk – All Day
I think the first thing that needs to be said is this album isn’t for anyone who considers themselves a musical purist. All Day crams five decades of popular music into one album length track. This album will be appreciated most probably by those old enough to remember when urban stations had actual DJ’s mix and scratch on weekend nights in lieu of going to a club. It also is for those who are interested in the “mash-up” episodes of Glee, if for no other reason to show them what mixing sounds like when you have a limitless breadth of knowledge and appreciation of music. If you listened to the radio at all since the end of the Second World War (heavy emphasis on the last three decades) you’ll smile at some point during this record, and really that’s the most you can ask for in an album. Fair warning, some of you will be compelled to dance.
9. John Legend and The Roots – Wake Up!
From time to time, we stop thinking about certain genres, thinking they’ve gone away. Too often, we hear from the generation before us that they just don’t make music like they used to. Folks may have been mourning the death of soul music without realizing there are still folks around bringing it back in full force. Among the best efforts of the return of soul music comes from the hardest working band today– The Roots. This is truly a brilliant soul album, loyal to its musical origins, relevant to today without seeming hokey, and giving every musician and frontman John Legend, the chance to shine with the same sort of veneer all music from the 70s is known to do.
8. Bonobo – Black Sands
Often at Nextbop, we ask how do we trick people into listening to jazz. Many times, the answer tends to be to call it downtempo and hopefully folks will make the move on their own. Ten years ago, folks would look at St. Germain the same way they now likely look at Bonobo. We could care less what you would want to call it, Black Sands is a jazz album. Sure, it’s track upon track of Simon Green’s multi-intrument playing and electronic sequencing, but as the album spools on, more live elements and flourishes shine through. It’s a brilliantly crafted jazz album for folks who don’t like (or know they like) jazz music.
7. Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP
Normally, when an artist releases an EP, it’s a short collection of works, probably no longer than a half hour of moderately good music. They’re often made for the faithful fans and the gullible fools. Yet, if there’s anyone who knows how to shirk conventions, it’s Sufjan Stevens. While there probably aren’t many people who were clamoring to hear “The Owl and the Taneger”, the mere notion that Stevens released an EP nearly an hour long filled with songs that would at the time give ardent fans a tip of what his impending sound would be is a massive good faith effort that made the greater community rethink the value of music much in the same way Radiohead did one humdrum day in October, two years prior. Is this weird, lengthy music any good? Is it unexpected? Is five bucks a good price for this? Too good of a price considering its length? Do people really like “Djohariah”? (I certainly did) How beautiful can a song about suicide (“Arnika”) be? (About a beautiful as “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is the catchiest song about a possible date rape and “Mack the Knife” is the swingingest song about a murder.) Conceptually, this “little” collection is a curiosity with a purpose large enough and music inventive enough to be considered the best of the year, which once again is a testament to Stevens’ talent– even his stepping stones are better than practically everything else on the scene.
6. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot – The Son of Chico Dusty
To be perfectly honest, this album had no choice but to be spectacular as it has been in the works since everyone gave up waiting for a new OutKast LP. But with all of the tracks by longtime collaborators Organized Noise, this album is basically the return of OutKast without Andre 3K’s usual dose of indie/hippie hyper-reality overshadowing Antwan Patton’s vast skills on the mic. Including some of the least forced sounding collaborations on a modern hip-hop record, Big Boi demonstrates not only his ingenuity at crafting good and listenable tracks, but also the diversity of his tongue. For regional purists, tracks like “General Patton” and “Shine Blockas” are sure to sate, while songs like “The Train, Pt. 2” and “Be Still” are made to excite the indie crowd who only dip their toe in commercially released rap records. But all-encompassing is the Atlanta rap supergroup penned gritty and delightfully nasty stripper anthem “Tangerine”. Despite the current split in hip-hop (or every other musical genre) between it’s corporate and alternative artists, this record has the power to unite them all under one big haze of mutual satisfaction.
5. Seu Jorge and Almaz – Seu Jorge and Almaz
The most chill album of this past year (yes, even moreso than Toro Y Moi’s Causers of This) comes from that awesome guy from City of God and The Life Aquatic. Yes, Jorge and the band Almaz came together to make an album whose only allegiance is to the groove. It would seem there’s no other artist or work out of Brazil that’s as poised to become the nation’s international star (perhaps to the chagrin of Bebel Gilberto), but the easy surf rock, bossa nova (clearly), and jazz twinges make this a suitable album for anyone looking into why the world should set its eyes on this group.
4. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
The chickens always come home to roost, such is the case with the great-nephew of Alice and John Coltrane. Cosmogramma is still an electronic album but what brings it over the edge is its jazz and funk influences. FlyLo is stated to have had his great aunt’s album, Journey in Satchidananda, on the brain when making this album. Add his cousin Ravi Coltrane to the mix and what we have here is a jazz album in disguise, bigger in scope, concept, and influence than any other masquerading jazz album that released this year. The fact that this album is a catalyst for a new jazz band featuring the aforementioned Ravi Coltrane, drummer Gerry “The Thrasher” Gibbs, and violinist Miguel Atwood-Fergusson is even more cause for celebration around this work.
3. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
Sufjan Stevens may have made some of the most challenging work this year. After spending some years biding his time with various projects and testing his mettle on different forms of music, Stevens ultimately put together an album that sounds like everything his fans knew and did not know him for. He made an album with the electronic complexity that defined his early career with the grandiose complexity for which we’ve always loved him. The Age of Adz is like the highly satisfying punchline for the witty but still befuddling setup that is the All Delighted People EP. The two albums are linked together but one can clearly see how The Age of Adz is the clearer idea of a complete album put into fruition whereas All Delighted People is that foundational work. The house built on top, filled to the brim with more closely personal lyrics and songs with more room to grow in unforseen directions, is certainly a sight… um… sound to behold.
2. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
2010 seemed to be the year of the concept album, and no one seemed to have mastered the form better than Monáe. The ArchAndroid, a continuation of 2008’s Metropolis: The Chase Suite, continues the narrative of a dystopian land in which andriod Cindy Mayweather fights for a future of love. Yet, the true strength of this album is that it also works independently of this framing. When the singles “Tightrope” and “Cold War” dropped, these songs were immediately pleasing and swept the nation, but when heard in the well-woven context of the album as a whole, one can’t help but bob one’s head, not only caught in the groove but also in the understanding of Monáe’s ideas. Add upon this the various soundscapes Monáe is making with elements of rock, folk, jazz, hip hop, soul, R&B, and likely other genres that no one music critic can name, and one can only marvel at how this album works and says all it is saying wtihout faltering. Undoubtedly The ArchAndroid is a brilliant piece of art, albeit a funky piece of art.
1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
It’s no secret that we here love this album. One may wonder how exactly West made the best album of the year. Technically, Erykah Badu made the same album this year (we strongly considered her for this list but she just didn’t make the cut, hopefully this shout out helps). Both are well produced with a great group of producers. Both dealt with tangled relationships and tenuous fame. Both function as a collection of the best elements of each artist’s prior works (MBDTF = the bombast of Graduation + the song structure and order of Late Registration + the emotional honesty of 808s and Heartbreak; New Amerykah Part II = the direction of New Amerykah Part I + the inventiveness of Mama’s Gun + the freewheeling funk of Worldwide Underground). Maybe it’s that the adoration (and vitriol) surrounding West is part of a cult of personality, maybe it’s West’s proper use of the $3 million advance from Def Jam, maybe melting down with Matt Lauer carries more weight than stripping naked in Downtown Dallas, but while these two produced spectacular albums, West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy makes those who listen to it ask “how can he possibly top this?” It’s new canon and new classic hip hop. If that doesn’t make it the best album of the year, we can’t figure out what the other qualifications could be.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.