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Five Years Later: The Best Albums of 2010!!

Five Years Later: The Best Albums of 2010!!

Five years is an eternity in the life of a record.

Five years is an eternity in the life of a record. When coming up with this feature, the question the Spectrum Culture staff pondered was this: “How well do these albums play NOW!” Not five years ago, but how have they aged in our memories. While some acclaimed albums of 2010 remain strong on our list, some critically-lauded ones didn’t have the staying power. Halcyon Digest, Sir Lucious Left Foot and Contra all didn’t make the cut. This list is designed to give new perspective on things five years old. Thank you so much for reading!

flying_lotus_-_cosmogramma11. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma [Warp]

Flying Lotus’ magnificent third album Cosmogramma is one of the most dorm-ready albums this decade that also immediately scans as experimental. It’s not because of any stylistic concessions on FlyLo’s part, however. In fact, this is certainly his strangest and most abstract album—an unrelenting whirlwind of drums, arcade bleeps, samples and buzzsaw synths. Simply put, Cosmogramma’s strengths are so obvious that nearly anyone could find something to enjoy here.

This album is a brave and unconventional fusion of genres that mixes the free jazz that FlyLo’s great-aunt Alice Coltrane pioneered, the warped beats of J Dilla and an intriguing ’80s-baby videogame aesthetic. But this isn’t some hodgepodge. Rather, it’s a sonically uniform piece with a level of control and precision that allows the variety of sounds utilized to achieve an odd sort of synchronicity. It feels like a baroque song-cycle that demands your full attention front to back— not dissimilar to the likes of Dark Side of the Moon or Abbey Road.

Cosmogramma, along with much of the LA beat music FlyLo has influenced, has developed a reputation as stoner music. It’d be insulting and inaccurate to say Cosmogramma holds no merit independent of the substances consumed by either the listener or the musician. It loses none of its power sober, though it’s perhaps a bit more difficult to get lost in. But stoner albums also don’t come much better than this. That fact is a true testament to Cosmogramma’s beauty and creativity, which is still as powerful today as it was five years ago. – Daniel Bromfield

brothers10. The Black Keys – Brothers [Nonesuch]

Jack White may still bray about the Black Keys ripping him off, but five years after Brothers catapulted the Keys into an echelon of mainstream success rarely enjoyed by grassroots rock bands, it’s clear that Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have left the grimy garage-blues that earned them the White Stripes comparisons far behind. Which isn’t necessarily something to celebrate—there’s good reason why so many continue to lament the loss of the sound that resulted in Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory. Fortunately, Brothers was so relentlessly funky and incredibly resonant that it made that loss much easier to take.

While Brothers, and the Keys’ success since, is often associated with Danger Mouse, the majority of the album is defined by a slew of dense, creative and naturally progressive arrangements. Juxtaposed with the band’s previous ascetic approach, Brothers can only be considered a product of Auerbach and Carney’s musicianship and inherent need to experiment. With so many new tricks up his sleeve, however, Auerbach fortunately didn’t completely abandon the hot guitar action that dominated the Keys’ earlier records. In fact, those wailing riffs on “She’s Long Gone” and the absolutely filthy slide on “Sinister Kid” have yet to be bested.

Sure, Brothers may be too long by a track or two, and oversaturation may have dulled fan enthusiasm since—“Next Girl” and “Howlin’ for You” were in just about every other commercial on the air—but there’s no denying the album’s ubiquity. It wasn’t an accident. Nor was its staying power. And five years on, Brothers still holds up to all the praise and hype. – Jeremy Winograd

tallest man on earth9. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt [Dead Oceans]

Every generation seems to have its “New Dylan.” It’s a mantle hung on scores of aspiring singer-songwriters with unique voices and prescient worldviews. There can, of course, ultimately be only one true Dylan, so these critical tags become little more than a sort of shorthand for “guy with a guitar and a weird voice.” And while both certainly apply to Kristian Matsson, the strangled, feral voice behind The Tallest Man on Earth, it ultimately sells him short as both an artist and genuinely unique musical voice.

As was the case on his debut, The Wild Hunt relies almost solely on Matsson and his guitar, the lone exception being the piano-based closing anthem, “Kids on the Run.” With his utilitarian approach to guitar and utterly unique vocal timbre, Matsson creates an instantly recognizable sound, one full of heart-on-sleeve emotion and an intimacy that proves universally relatable. It’s this un-teachable songwriting quality that separates Matsson from the rest of Dylan’s supposed heirs apparent.

Five years on, The Wild Hunt still stands as the pinnacle of Matsson’s recorded output. The logical continuation of Shallow Grave, The Wild Hunt brings an even more fully realized batch of songs, each of which easily stands on its own. From the opening title track on down, The Wild Hunt serves as The Tallest Man on Earth’s mission statement. It’s an uncompromising, unpretentious and utterly raw approach that functions best because it was stripped to its barest essentials. Having gone to a more band-oriented setup over subsequent albums, his raw aesthetic has been somewhat tempered, and the intimacy of The Wild Hunt’s best moments has been lost in translation.

The Wild Hunt is the best representation of Matsson’s talents. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the overriding themes of growing up, coming into one’s own and embracing a level of emotionality that is at once both individual and universal. In this, The Wild Hunt is The Tallest Man on Earth’s greatest moment. Yet. – John Paul

lcdsoundsystem8. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening [DFA]

As often as the name James Murphy continues to boil up in the blogosphere, it’s difficult to comprehend that 2010’s This Is Happening was the third and final studio full-length effort from LCD Soundsystem. With indie dance music in a near constant state of nostalgia-appreciation, the likes of “Drunk Girls” and “Pow Pow” have yet to be tarnished with a single wrinkle despite their hard partying lifestyles. Landing just after America’s great recession began to make a palpable impact on working-class millennials, these nine tracks offered a moment for an intellectually stirring release. But, more than acting as some marker for the conclusion of America’s economic naivety, it stands as a timeless milestone to the end of adolescent ignorance.

Five years prior, Murphy and company were celebrating the hedonism of a house party. With the new decade, however, the frontman promised a personal evolution to reenergize a fleeting relationship with “I Can Change.” Ironically, while the excesses might have led to some interpersonal turbulence, the innocence of a light-hearted dance party is also the proposed salvation to the chaos with “Dance Yrself Clean”. With politicians urging consumers to pull themselves up by the bootstraps (while bailing out the bankers), This Is Happening was an infectious reminder that no cubicle is worthy of containing a jubilant spirit.

Pulling together fans of post-punk, indie and Italo-disco, LCD Soundstystem were cementing themselves as the Talking Heads of a more plugged-in generation. And as the co-conspirator of DFA Records, Murphy was making sure the likes of Holy Ghost!, Yacht, The Juan MacLean and The Rapture were equipped to keep the flame of nu-disco burning in order light the hedonistic path of twenty-something uncertainty. It’s no wonder that fans old and new are cheering the band’s reunion come 2016. – Derek Staples

titusmonitor7. Titus Andronicus -The Monitor [XL Recording]

Perhaps no album has meant more to angsty, rebellious, intellectual millennials than Titus Andronicus’s Civil War themed magnum opus The Monitor.

While many concept albums employ a theme to jazz up otherwise dull music, for The Monitor, the Civil War is neither gimmick nor window dressing. It is a complex medium through which to explore the conflicting internal forces that guide a human’s life.

Relying on unrelenting, densely historical lyrics that reference everyone from William Lloyd Garrison to Bruce Springsteen, frontman Patrick Stickles employs the Civil War to tackle personal struggles of authenticity, loyalty and self-loathing, embracing the inevitability of contradiction and the possibility of triumph. Furthermore, while Stickles’ guitar work pays homage to his New Jersey rock heroes of old, the ever-rolling snare drum extends the wartime metaphor through the music, imbuing the often 7-minute songs with the pressure of a battalion march. This sonic embrace of the Civil War concept allows Stickles to further juxtapose combat values of brotherhood and camaraderie against the classic punk preoccupation with alienation. Every few minutes, Stickles punctuates a song with a rebellious battle cry or cathartic chant: “The enemy is everywhere,” “It’s alright the way that you live,” and the most famous, “You’ll always be a loser and that’s okay!” While The Monitor is an album that traffics in feelings of loneliness and solitude, it does so by embracing the universality of isolation through sing-along. We’re alone, but we’re all alone together.

This, in the end, is the magic of The Monitor: A Civil War-themed concept album doused in angst and anger that ultimately channels rage into hope, and seclusion into a sense of community. An album that believes hope can exist within despair. An album that says, if you have enough booze, cigarettes and friends to sing with, you can just tell life to fuck off. – Jesse Nee-Vogelman

treats6. Sleigh Bells – Treats [Mom & Pop]

Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats was an elixir to the innocuous, vacuous pop landscape of 2010. It was abrasive, catchy and hellishly fun in just about any circumstance. If you were in a bar, you threw their lead single “Tell ‘Em” onto the jukebox. If you were in your car, you cranked your stereo to “Infinity Guitars.” And if you were in a club, you hoped the DJ would spin “Crown on the Ground.” They borrowed the 808s and crushing club beats of the period, but didn’t stop there. Derek Miller, mastermind and ex-Poison the Well guitarist, infused his hardcore and metal roots into those beats and added an edge where there was none. Vocalist Alexis Krauss then yelled and sang her way through lyrics that became battle cries because of their infectious simplicity. Treats was medicine. It was exactly what 2010 needed.

So, why talk about it in 2015, you may ask?

Because pop music hasn’t learned a damn thing. It’s actually become even more vapid and useless over the past five years. And, unfortunately for the world, Sleigh Bells has so far been unable to recapture the magic of Treats on their two subsequent releases. But that doesn’t matter. To this day, Treats is a raucous window through which to view pop music’s potential future if ever those making the stuff would kindly remove their heads from their rear-ends. As such, do you know what you call a record that transcends the time and place from which it came? A classic. Treats is better than any pop record then and since then. And if you don’t think so, you’re doing it wrong. – Nick Gregorio

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