Rat Boy's Braindump
the adventures of a nerd who never learned to shut up

Top 12 Albums of 2010

Top 12 Albums of 2010

Wow, what a year! What a bunch of consistent, timely, well-written and equally well-received blog
posts! It was crazy, you and I, the way I made all those updates
and you read all those updates as I posted them. I think both of us
deserve a commendation for staying so consistently on-task and
totally not spacing out and forgetting to update this blog for
months on end. You agree? Awesome. Let’s move on!

Unless you’re a houseplant, a pine cone, or a writer too lazy to come up with a third thing to mention here, it’s a safe bet that you were pretty busy during at least a few parts of 2010. Fortunately, (or perhaps
unfortunately in the case of certain individuals) so were a bunch
of recording artists! A friend of mine made a Tumblr post outlining
his top twelve albums of last year, and it occurred to me that it
might be worthwhile for me to do the same, if only because of how
drastically different our two lists would be. The following albums
are my twelve favorite musical selections released in 2010, and
they are in no particular order, just like the months in a year
(TEACH THE CONTROVERSY!). And so, without further ado, let’s talk
about my weird taste in music.

1. Rekreatur – Equilibrium

My enjoyment and appreciation of
folk metal is one of the many things that sets me apart from most
of my contemporaries, but most of them can muster up at least a
passing appreciation of some aspect of Equilibrium’s work, whether
it’s the composition of the instrumental portions or the growly
German screaming of the lyricists. Both of these things are fun for
me to listen to – there’s something innately thrilling about
hearing a language I have no idea how to speak, and the more I
listen to the lyrics the more I start to make out individual words,
and even if I don’t know what they mean, getting to the point where
I can sing along is still a lot of fun. Rekreatur is the second
album released by Equilibrium, and despite a restructuring that
left the band without their original drummer or one of the singers,
the essential sound of their folk metal is preserved. The main draw
to this album is, for me, the way the nigh-unintelligible lyrics
mesh with the guitar riffs and the rest of the instrumental parts
to create a feeling of dramatic, pivotal battles in some
mysterious, foreign place. It’s easy for me to imagine the lyrics
as the chanting of giants or some barbaric warrior tribe, and it’s
always very easy to picture the battle scenes that this music could
serve as the backdrop to. This album is obviously not going to be
everybody’s favorite, or one that most of my readers even like,
probably, but I really enjoy it.

Favorite tracks: In Heiligen
Hallen, Der Ewige Sieg, Die Affeninsel, and the bonus acoustic
versions of songs from their last album, Blut Im Auge and
Heimwarts.

2. Scott Pilgrim vs The World – Original Soundtrack

Both the soundtrack and musical score from this movie are available on
iTunes, and they come highly recommended. The movie has a great
sense of humor and an eager willingness to incorporate as broad a
range of music and artists into the soundtrack as possible. The
Rolling Stones, Beck, and Frank Black share album space with an
inspired chiptune piece that originally played over the end credits
of the film, as well as songs from the two main fictional bands
from the film: Crash & The Boys (“Is that girl a boy too?”
“…yes.”) and Sex Bob-Omb, who are alternately here to make money
and sell out and stuff, or to watch Scott Pilgrim kick your teeth
in, depending on the night. The movie itself kind of tanked at
theaters, because it wasn’t marketed that well and is
nigh-inaccessible to those who didn’t grow up during the late
eighties or the nineties, but the soundtrack has such a wide
variety of music on it that I find it hard to imagine a person who
couldn’t get into at least one or two songs on the album. One of my
favorite things about the album is how the tracks on the album
aren’t segregated from one another, all the songs from a specific
genre clumped up together in some boring way. The songs are simply
played in the order they were heard in the film (aside from the two
tracks composed by Beck) and it works a lot better – Scott Pilgrim
is, aside from a martial-arts comedy, a love story – and the shift
from genre to genre could be seen as the shifts in mood that come
from relationships that take a lot of work, if you want to get
insanely pretentious about things. And I always do.

Favorite tracks: Garbage Truck, Summertime, Black Sheep, Scott Pilgrim, and
Threshold.

3. Night Work – Scissor Sisters

Scissor Sisters are, according to Bono of U2, the “best pop group in the world”. Much as
I hate to agree with Bono, he might be on to something there – this
is an album that’s really, really hard not to hum along with or
dance to, if you allow yourself to indulge in such frivolity. The
band is pretty popular for their openness about the sexuality of
its members – the founding members of the band met while in New
York, and built a huge following in the gay and gay-friendly
community there – and because of this some of the songs in the
album are a little more risque than most pop groups are willing to
put on their albums. Wal-Mart doesn’t even sell Scissor Sisters
albums, but really, there’s no reason to shop there ever. The point
I started to try to make was that if you don’t really care for
innuendo or outright description of sexual activity on occasion,
this album might make you a little uncomfortable. Or you might just
smirk and feel very proud of yourself for getting the references in
the lyrics. For me, the main draw of the album is that it pretty
much saved the band: they recorded an album prior to this one, but
shelved it because it just wasn’t working for anybody in the group.
They took some time off to do a lot of underground, secret gigs,
and when they got back to the studio they released Night Work,
which is quite possibly their best album. The willingness to use
synthesizers, string instruments, drum machines, and just about
everything else that makes musical noise, really appeals to me. At
this point, Scissor Sisters might not be the biggest band in the
world, but they’ve reached a point where they can try new things
and experiment with music and not worry about suddenly going broke
and becoming obsolete. Listening to the first album where a band
really sounds like they’re free is always a great experience for
me.

Favorite tracks: Night Work, Fire With Fire, Skin Tight,
Something Like This, and Sex and Violence.

4. My Dinosaur Life – Motion City Soundtrack

Okay, confession time: I bought this album solely because I liked the title (it had the word “dinosaur” in it)
and the cover art (it had a drawing of a dinosaur on it). I was
relieved and pleasantly surprised to discover that the album was
also very good. My Dinosaur Life is the first album released on the
Columbia records label, and if it’s any indication of the direction
the band (which I had never heard of until this album) is going in,
I think they’re going to do pretty well. The album is, like just
about every other album in the world, about relationships: how you
feel when they end, the uncertainty they cause sometimes, the
frustration and anger of how they end, how devastating they can be,
and how sometimes they’re the only things that keep you going. In
short, it was the perfect album for the last few months of 2010.
One of the main draws for me, aside from the guitar playing, which
is that fast-paced rock I tend to prefer, was the lyrics: the songs
are pretty open and honest about both how incredibly frustrating
and saddening relationships can be at times, and how amazingly
nerdy the band’s members are. The mentioning of things that are
arguably not major parts of pop culture, like Inspector Gadget or
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, does a lot to make the band feel
relatable (for lack of a word that isn’t an annoying buzzword) to
me. I could talk about zombie movies and have a beer with these
guys, if that wouldn’t ruin my career as a professional designated
driver. I enjoy the fact that the band’s sound pretty capably
switches from punk rock to acoustic “I am sad” music and back
without being jarring or feeling inconsistent. It’s merely the
shifts in mood that people go through, or so I think, and it works
really well to put across the message the band was going for:
relationships really really suck, but are also very nice.
Sometimes.

Favorite tracks: Delirium, Disappear, Worker Bee, and
Stand Too Close.

5. Prepare the Preparations – Ludo

Ludo is an awesome band. Aside from the fact that they are named after one of
the main characters in Labyrinth, they also wrote a rock opera
(Broken Bride) in which both the Antichrist and pterodactyls are
prominent figures. This album sort of came out of nowhere for me –
I had no idea Ludo was working on anything new, but being a huge
fan of their earlier work (of which Broken Bride and You’re Awful,
I Love You is the most prominent) I had to buy it on sight. The
fact that the cover art had a bunch of robots on it was just an
added bonus. Ludo is another group that, like Motion City
Soundtrack, is more lyric-based than musical. The music seems to be
crafted to allow for the words to flow in the most effective way
possible, rather than the words being something to fill the space
between solos, as some bands seem to consider lyrics. It’s also
kind of an uplifting album, in an odd way: “We’ve come so far, even
if we don’t know where we are” speaks to the sense of
accomplishment one might feel despite not having done anything all
that impressive. Sometimes, it’s okay just to be proud of yourself
for being alive, and for making it this far in life without being
horribly miserable. Ludo doesn’t get preachy, though – they are
just as comfortable writing songs about relationships and devotion
as they are writing songs about robots, The Wonder Years, skeletons
terrorizing a small island town, the stalker who lives in your
apartment complex, or how badly a guy wants to sleep with some girl
he just met. The versatility that they display in Prepare the
Preparations is a good indicator that regardless of the direction
they take their sound in next, their artistic integrity and very
enjoyable sense of humor will go with them.

Favorite tracks: Whipped Cream, Skeletons on Parade, Too Tired to Wink, and Battle
Cry.

6. Let’s Get Associated – Killola

In the world of bands I love that really, really, really need to be more popular, few are as
close to my heart as Killola. They combine two of my very favorite
aspects of music – a girl with a really powerful voice, and a bunch
of awesome guitar riffs – to create a sound that’s mainly punk but
veers dangerously close to metal when Lisa, the lead singer, really
gets going. It’s a wonder she hasn’t killed her voice. I originally
discovered Killola on a shelf in my bathroom
when I learned that Skullcandy, the company that makes my favorite
headphones, had teamed up with them to release their new album
online for free, with brief commercials for the headphones in
between tracks, but the commercials were actually
funny
. Consisting entirely of the band talking, doing
bad impressions, or generally being silly and only occasionally
even bothering to mention the headphone company, these commercials
were my first intimation that I’d found something special here. Two
years later, in 2010, they released Let’s Get Associated, an album
with some unfortunately weird cover art and possibly their best and
most developed sound to date. I can listen to just about any
opening riff from the songs on this album and know that it’s a
Killola song. The lyrics of a typical Killola song are alternately
silly, vulgar, confusing, or just blatantly made up on the spot,
and it all works. It’s really very difficult to listen to one of
their songs and not end up grinning like a dork because of
something hilarious blurted out in the middle of a song or solo.
Regardless of the song, you always get the vibe that the band is
having fun, and to me that fun is incredibly contagious. I wouldn’t
have it any other way.

Favorite tracks: Gimme Gimme, Cracks in the
Armor, The Doctor & His Son, and Traffic.

7. All Day – Girl
Talk In the fall of 2010, the internet exploded and then folded in
on itself when Girl Talk released an entire album for free, one
that was composed of remixes and mash-ups of other popular songs.
The album is an hour long, and really should only be listened to
from start to finish. I have never skipped or rewound a track on
this album, because I still have no idea where the separate tracks
begin and end. All the sounds blend and flow seamlessly into one
another in a way that keeps everything fresh and interesting all
the way through. As a huge fan of mash-ups, I get such a kick out
of the album: it’s great hearing the bassline from one song
combined with the chorus from a completely different genre in a way
that works and feels entirely natural. Spending two hours digging
around on the internet and then half an hour waiting for the album
to download was well worth it in my book: according to iTunes I
have spent over twelve hours just listening to the twelve tracks on
this album, without skipping one of them during that time or
stopping to listen to something else halfway through. The
experience that this album offers is one I highly recommend: a very
enjoyable hour spent listening to a master DJ create what I can
call without any hyperbole a musical journey.

Favorite tracks: If you’re expecting some here, you really didn’t read the last
paragraph very closely.

8. Nifelvind – Finntroll

Another folk metal album has graced my list, this one hailing from Finntroll, the
Helsinki-based masters of death metal. Finntroll is notorious for
being both incredibly silly and ridiculously weird, both on their
albums and in concert. Their music videos almost invariably feature
the band dressed as trolls and goblins, and the lyrics of their
songs are about everything from glorious battles with savage
Norsemen to two priests sitting in a sauna who are ambushed by
trolls, who beat them up and then explode. My all-time favorite
Finntroll album is Visor Om Slutet, mostly because of the story
behind it: the band locked themselves in a cabin in the woods with
folk instruments, their guitars, and kazoos, and when they came out
they had a new album. Since those days, the kazoo has been a
popular backing instrument in Finntroll’s music, and pops up in all
kinds of dramatic, pivotal songs that sound like the score for the
final battle in some majorly popular fantasy film. They have also
used tubas and accordions to great effect in their albums, all
while singing about trolls eating people or just about bread, for
reasons entirely unknown to me. This album never fails to put a
huge smile on my face and make me feel as though I could do
something incredibly silly or inspirational and dramatic with no
provocation whatsoever, or maybe even both at the same time.
Finntroll is, sadly, another band that few people “get”, and it’s
always difficult for me to find people who actually like them at
all, but I remain unashamed of my love for them. In the music
world, few artists have my money as soon as they announce that
they’re going to do anything, anything at all, as Finntroll does.
Favorite tracks: Solsagan, Den Frusna Munnen, Fornfamnad, and Under
Bergets Rot.

9. Zodiac – Electric Six

Electric Six are most popular for songs like Gay Bar and Danger! High Voltage!, which are both
very good songs but are decidedly not the only songs they ever
wrote. It’s gotten to the point where in their songs, they have to
reference Gay Bar and how often people demand that they write a
‘sequel’ to the song. Electric Six are a comedic band along the
lines of Tenacious D, though the humor comes entirely from the
lyrics rather than the skit-based comedy Tenacious D primarily
employs. According to Wikipedia, lead singer Dick Valentine has
estimated that “90 percent of our songs, maybe even higher than 90
percent” are “about absolutely nothing.” That sounds about right to
me. Electric Six are very skilled at being very, very silly, and
they have never been ashamed of that fact. Their songs are
alternately inspiring, depressing, and absurd, and discovering that
they had released a new album last year was great news for me.
Zodiac is a little different from their previous albums, in the
sense that it is the only album they’ve released with less than
thirteen songs in it, and also has the first cover they’ve recorded
since their tribute to Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, which is actually a
very good cover (the one in Zodiac is a cover of Rubberband Man, by
The Spinners). Their sound has always been very unique and easily
distinguishable from other pop-rock bands – they use a lot of
different musical styles, including disco and the occasional jazz
riff, when the lyrics suit it or even when they don’t. The best
lyric on the album is “Is this really happening? Yes it is! (Yes it
is!) Are we really doing this? Yes it is! (Yes it is!)”. That
should prepare you for the unexpected silliness that can pop out of
even the most dramatic or serious of their songs. Not that there
are really a lot of those.

Favorite tracks: I Am A Song, Love Song For Myself, American Cheese, and Table & Chairs.

10. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

No other album is as close to this one is to attaining Album of the Year status (a totally coveted and
meaningful award) in my mind. It is a powerful concept album that,
to me, demanded repeat listens before I really “got” it. The
opening song features phrases and words that don’t make much sense
or seem connected right off the bat, but then are repeated
throughout the later tracks in the album. Pieces gradually begin to
fit together and make more sense, and eventually the album’s nature
is revealed: it’s a revisiting of the band’s collective childhoods,
mainly taking place in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Neither an
indictment or praise of the suburbs, the album serves a different
role, that of introspection and reflection upon events. It’s not
negative or overtly positive, because the album is mostly about
growing up and changing, events which in and of themselves are so
inevitable and so universal that it’s difficult to ascribe positive
or negative meaning to them. Rather, it is the individual events of
growing up, and the causes of change, that give reasons for regret
or happiness. Arcade Fire is well aware of this, and rather than
dwell on pain or frustration, simply mention it in passing, in an
open and honest way (“The summer that I broke my arm, I waited for
your letter / I have no feeling for you now, now that I know you
better”). As the most defined example of the sound that the group
has striven to create, and their best-reviewed album to date, I
believe that The Suburbs deserves to be the album that makes Arcade
Fire a hugely popular band and lets them break away from indie
status, at least for a little while. The album’s sound is refined
to the point where any track from this album feels, to me, just as
good as entire albums they’ve previously released. If you can’t see
through all the gushing I’m doing, just know that I really do love
this album and it’s taken up permanent residence in my car’s CD
player.

Favorite tracks: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),
The Suburbs, City With No Children, and Suburban War.

11. Evelyn Evelyn – Evelyn Evelyn (with help from Jason Webley and Amanda
Palmer)

Before you read any further, you need to know that I am
almost irrational when it comes to my adoration of Amanda Palmer.
There are few things more appealing to me than a girl with a piano,
and Amanda Palmer is exactly that: a girl who plays the piano very,
very well. Her singing voice is deep and powerful most of the time,
but for the Evelyn Evelyn concept album she lowers it to an almost
frightened, quivering tone. The album’s backstory is that it is the
history of conjoined twins, Evelyn and Evelyn, who lead a fairly
miserable life before uploading one of the songs they made in their
spare time to MySpace, where Amanda Palmer heard it and decided to
produce an album of their work. The album has a haunting,
melancholy tone as it recounts the tragic history of the girls,
both of whose parents died violently the day the girls were born,
and the disappearance or tragic death or their only friends as the
girls go from a chicken farm to a brothel and finally to the
circus, before winding up in the hotel whose internet connection
gives them their link to Amanda Palmer; a more fun, whimsical, and
occasionally vaudevillian theme resounds through a good number of
the other tracks on the album, sung by the ringmasters calling
people to see the twin girls, or the girls themselves when playing
with their only friend at the circus, conjoined elephant twins
named Elephant Elephant. One song even approaches country music
status, a ballad to a boy who, it is believed, is only attracted to
one of the girls because he is actually attracted to her conjoined
sister. The album, alternately depressing and hilarious, stirred
controversy among people who have nothing better to do than be
offended about things based on its supposed “exploitation of
disabled people”. Aside from that topic, which frankly I could
write an irritated rant about but would strongly prefer not to,
there isn’t a thing about the album I don’t positively adore. This
is the main competitor with The Suburbs for Album of the Year in my
book, which is interesting because they have such drastically
different sounds and themes to them. It is highly recommended, and
not just because Amanda Palmer does most of the singing. It’s only
mostly because of that.

Favorite tracks: A Campaign of Shock and Awe, Elephant Elephant, Chicken Man, and Have You Seen My Sister
Evelyn?.

12. Asylum – Disturbed

My love of Disturbed began as the end credits of the Dawn of the Dead remake rolled, and I first
heard the strains of “Down With The Sickness”. Since then I have
followed the band’s work with great interest, enjoying both the
lyrics and the powerful, almost angry electric guitars that keep
Disturbed wavering between hard rock and heavy metal with every
album. Asylum is a great album because, like Ten Thousand Fists
(their previous work) it is inspirational and powerful, and a lot
of fun. Aside from some odd moment where the band lapses into
political commentary – this is an issue I encounter with all of
their albums, and I’ve learned to shrug it off and move onto the
next track on the album – the album is consistently solid and fun
to listen to. The choruses are very, very easy to get stuck in your
head, either as inspiring (if somewhat confrontational) mantras or
just as refrains that are amusing or dramatic and therefore fun to
repeat. Few bands in recent years are willing to do anything that
approaches the power ballad in length or story-via-lyricism status,
but Disturbed has never shied away from this. Ever since the second
half of Down With The Sickness, an occasionally frightening rant
directed at the lead singer’s mother, Disturbed has peppered their
albums with discourse or reflection upon things as varied as the
Holocaust to the lead singer’s abject terror at becoming a father
and his determination not to completely screw up as a parent. This
gives their albums an interesting feeling: they alternate between
just playing hard rock for the sake of rocking and playing songs
with deep (or at least less superficial) meaning, and it’s rare (I
won’t lie and say it never happens) that it feels forced or abrupt
when it happens. If anything, Disturbed has quite a bit of range,
and even though they are firmly in the rock/metal genre, they will
change their sound to suit the message, regardless of what said
message might be. Asylum is definitely not their farewell album, or
the first album where they truly break free and distinguish
themselves from other bands, but it is a solid and high-quality
entry into their discography, one that I am glad to own.

Favorite tracks: Warrior, Sacrifice, My Child, and Innocence.

Wow! That wraps up my recap of the best albums I listened to in 2010. I had a
couple other good entries written, but then I discovered that the
albums in question had been released in 2009 (or as early as 1994,
in one particularly embarrassing case) and I had only just
discovered them then.

Honorable mentions have to go to the Daft Punk-composed soundtrack to Tron Legacy, the genre-bending (and I
have never used that term before) self-titled Rock Sugar album, and
Devo’s Something For Everybody album, which they released for no
reason and at the demand of…probably nobody. But it’s still an
awesome album. The only other thing I want to add is that if you
only listen to one of my favorite tracks for each album (which I
recommend doing), here is the list of which track from each album I
think you should give a try.

Rekreatur: Der Ewige Sieg

Scott Pilgrim vs The World: Summertime

Night Work: Fire With Fire

My Dinosaur Life: Delirium

Prepare the Preparations: Too Tired to Wink

Let’s Get Associated: Gimme Gimme

All Day: N/A

Nifelvind: Solsagan

Zodiac: I Am A Song

The Suburbs: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Evelyn Evelyn: A Campaign of Shock and Awe

Asylum: Warrior

Well, there you have it! I’m gonna wrap this up before I hit 5000 words. I’m glad to be back,
though, and I’m hoping that 2010 will bring more frequent blog
updates with it. Only time will tell!

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