Five years is an eternity in the life of a record.
When it comes to plans for Gorillazâs future, Damon Albarn simply cannot be trusted. In 2006, a year removed from the virtual bandâs triumphant Demon Days, Albarn said Gorillaz had made their last record. Yet 2010 brought us Plastic Beach, an album that may not have reached the commercial heights of its double-platinum predecessor, but nevertheless blends a high-minded concept with a sensibility that Albarn has described as âthe most pop recordâ heâd ever made, despite a concept that went deeper. Albarn has said that he imbued Plastic Beachâs pop sensibilities with the âessential melancholy of buying a ready-made meal in loads of plastic packaging.â Albarn would even go on to say that he gained some of his inspiration for the album by watching both people and animals interact with landfill rubbish.
As baroque as it may be, Plastic Beachâs pop approach doesnât require much unraveling. The album brims with big name featured guests. Bolstering Gorillaz hip hop cred are Snoop Dogg (âWelcome to the World of the Plastic Beachâ), De La Soul (âSuperfast Jellyfishâ) and Mos Def (âStyloâ and âSweepstakesâ). The album also features two iconic music veterans who have since left us: Bobby Womack (âStyloâ and âCloud of Unknowingâ) and Lou Reed (âSome Kind of Knowingâ). The Fallâs Mark E. Smith even adds some ominous spoken-word flare on âGlitter Freeze.â But the album shines brightest on the unassisted tracks. âRhinestone Eyesâ is emblematic of that definitively loping Gorillaz bounce. And âOn Melancholy Hillâ serves as one of the most wistfully effective pop songs in recent memory.
After a 2012 falling out with Gorillaz cohort Jamie Hewlett, Albarn said that a future Gorillaz album was unlikely. But, as previously mentioned, Albarn cannot be trusted. This past October he told Rolling Stone weâll get a new Gorillaz album in 2016. If itâs anything like Plastic Beach it will be something to behold. â Josh Goller
Beach House emerged in 2006 with their melancholic, dream-haze sound fully formed, but that languid mystique didn’t come into its own until their third album, Teen Dream. Victoria Legrand’s lilting keyboards and Alex Scally’s distorted guitar took new form when paired with more effects pedals and churning synth lines. The album marked a turning point for Beach House in which Scally’s drum machines and Legrand’s low, sensual voice became something grand and romantic. The melding of Scally’s repetitive guitar lines, the simple kick drum and cymbal percussion and Legrand’s whispers build to such a dramatic finale on opener âZebraâ that it set the tone of the entire album. This transformation occurs track after track, with hypnotic opening bars shifting into shimmering main sections before devolving into noisy, resonating outros. â10 Mile Stereoâ may be the grandest example, encompassing muted guitars, a strobing combination of cosmic synths and jittering percussion while creating a fitting climax for Legrand’s impassioned contralto.
Whether it was the added visibility of being signed to Sup Pop, or the added breadth such a label afforded them during the album’s production, this was, most importantly, the first Beach House album to chart in the Top 100. Teen Dream may have changed little of Beach House’s lethargic, droning melancholia, but it opened up the duo to the systematic amplification of their moody dream-pop, a characteristic of all three releases since.
– Katherine Springer
The National always made exquisite sadness, but they had never made it this big. It was arena-ready sorrow, the same shape and scope as U2âs âOneâ or Samuel Barberâs âAdagio for Strings,â so massive in size that it could flood a state with tears. The Ohio men had preferred nooks and crannies to hide their depressionâdimly lit bars (âFake Empireâ) or hushed apartment hallways (âAdaâ). But High Violet makes a stage out of a whole city, then an entire country. It is all encompassing.
Matt Berningerâs drunken bass-crooning still finds the devil in the details (âLean my head on the hood of your car/ I take it too farâ), but he had been painting with wider and wider strokes from Alligator to Boxer, and his warm baritone finally finds a way to reach stratospheric emotional heights with High Violet. He carries the one-two chorus of âConversation 16â singing âI was afraid Iâd eat your brainsâ and âIâm evilâânearly comical until you realize heâs talking about how even the most passionate relationships eventually decay into a zombie-like routine.
Even with Berningerâs brilliant lyrical and vocal work, High Violet is just as likely to tug at the heart strings on the instrumental side. Bryan Devendorfâs rolling and complex drum work has always been underappreciated, but it canât be ignored here. His steely 16th note work and the thunderous line on âBloodbuzz Ohioâ propels the songs along. And, of course, when you have twins Aaron (whoâs produced every National album since Alligator) and Bryce Dessner (who composes alongside the Kronos Quartet in his free time) behind the music and the boards, itâs impossible not to sound immaculate.
High Violetâs finale âEnglandâ is where it all coalesces into one shimmering tower of gorgeous sorrow. Over vamping organ and hammering drums, Berninger asks for the âFeeling that I lost todayâ before the strings enter into the mix and he sighs âYou must be somewhere in London/ You must be loving it out in the rain.â The song grows into a shout along chorus that Coldplay would have been proud of and carefully tows the line between outright depression and the silver linings of hope and nostalgia that tangle themselves into High Violetâs central emotion. Because thatâs what High Violet does best. It makes sadness grand. – Nathan Stevens
Arcade Fire has known a lot of critical success. Both Funeral (2004) and Neon Bible (2007) were critical hits and the band has managed to remain relevant since. But nothing cemented their career quite like 2010âs The Suburbs. What maybe sounded like a simple concept album concerned with a rather boring subject turned out to be the bandâs most pensive, exploratory and power-soaked album to date.
It is âneither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbsâit’s a letter from the suburbs,â Arcade Fireâs frontman Win Butler said in a 2010 NME interview. âUnfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I didnât grow up in proper suburbs; maybe as close to suburban as you can get in New Hampshire.â But listening to the album gives you an instant sense of the angst, anxiety and emotions a suburban childhood conjures up. Arcade Fire attenuated their past idealism into pragmatic, question-asking art.
The album, which won the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year, and is a critical success in every sense, is neither a hackneyed concept album on a banal subject nor a harsh indictment of the comfortability American conformity. It is thoughtful and sentimental, and more than anything, a powerful journey through aging that continually expands to veer down unforeseen avenues.
The Suburbs continues, five years on, to be one of Arcade Fire’s most dominant releases. It showed us the maturity the band was able to cultivate whilst continuing to craft epic and fully-realized songs. I remember when it came out. It was sort of an event. There were articles everywhere that all pretty much agreed that it was one of, if not the best album of 2010 at the moment of its release. And listening to it today, it still retains the power it had five years ago. – Nicodemus Nicoludis
There are two Kanye Wests in the eyes of the public. Thereâs Music Kanye, who is rightfully lauded as a genius, and there is Tabloid Kanye, who appears on Kardashian shows and interrupts Taylor Swift after downing a bottle of Hennessy. When this album was released, the press covering Tabloid Kanye expected this to be a contrite, humble record after a series of public gaffes. But Music Kanye has no place for humility, for Music Kanye knows how great he is. So, he asks us right at the outset of his masterpiece: âCan we get much higher?â
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the sort of mad, bloated gambit that shouldnât work in any way whatsoever. It would be a disaster in anyone elseâs hands, but there is a method to Kanyeâs madness. He isnât throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks; thereâs a definite arc and process to how these tracks fit together, from the hedonistic celebration of âPowerâ and âDark Fantasyâ to the brutal, harrowing comedown of âRunawayâ and âBlame Game.â His lowest ebbs and his highest highs are writ large, and even when his guests upstage him (like when Nicki Minaj spits hot fire on âMonster), the album remains sternly focused on Kanye.
While Fantasy isnât a great leap forwardâthat would come a few years laterâit is a culmination of everything that Kanye had been working with up to its point in history. The soul samples of his early work, those first dabblings in electronica: It all led to this one beautiful, outsized moment. This is the Kanye that Kanye cares most about; this is the Kanye we should be lending our attention to. And it would be a shame if weâd missed out on a moment of brilliance like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy because of some tabloid nonsense.
– Kevin Korber