Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Most Played Albums of 2010

This humble website is a diary, the place where I document the music that gets under my skin and leaves a lasting impression in my heart and mind. Therefore, as 2010 comes to a close, I feel compelled to discuss the albums that got the most play this year at Casa de AZ. This is not a compilation of the best albums released this year, but you will find plenty of those from various music magazines and bloggers.

This is not a "Best Of" list because I do not enjoy reviewing albums; the critical dissection of an album's components tends to take the fun out of the listening experience. But also, I do not believe that an album must be perfectly written or flawlessly produced to become a meaningful soundtrack to a time and place in your life. Rather, an album can become special to the listener for a various subjective reasons; perhaps it plays background to joyful times spent with people you love, or offers comfort during anxious or troubled times. So, with that, I give you the albums that made up my 2010 soundtrack. Some I consider near perfection, others… let’s just say were perfectly imperfect. Each of them found a place in my mind, some a place in my heart, and a few will still stay with me for many years to come.

Two albums this year stood apart from the rest, and it comes as no surprise that those two albums are popping up on all the rock critics’ year-end lists. One album offered the ideal blues-rock soundtrack to a sunny day barbecue and drinks with friends, and turned a long-established-but-little-known working band an instant household name (The Black Keys). The other highly acclaimed album once again verified that the world’s biggest indie band continues to bleed out thought-provoking themes with passion and integrity (Arcade Fire). Those albums were a cut above the rest.

Most of the albums I enjoyed this year were met with lukewarm reception by critics and have not been featured prominently on year-end lists. To be perfectly honest, despite keeping them in heavy rotation throughout the year, I admit to my own less-than-totally-awestruck reaction to a few of them. But love and loyalty – to a voice or to a style – kept me playing them again and again. One near and dear band produced the soundtrack to my Summer 2010 road trips (The Gaslight Anthem), while another album was a highly anticipated solo effort to which I was sentimentally attached before the very first play (Brandon Flowers). One album, a sophomore effort, did not stack up to the artist’s debut, but her talent and wordsmith ability kept me listening anyway (Laura Marling).

Fortunately, the year introduced me to a number of new bands that caught my attention and made me excited for future releases. A couple of newcomers produced catchy “retro” albums that put a refreshing spin on decades-old music genres by including brass and organs to their sound, one in the style of 1940’s big-band (April Smith and the Last Picture Show) and the other channeling a 1960’s Motown sound (Fitz and the Tantrums). Another new favorite dealt out gritty blues-garage rock with catchy hooks and harmony (TAB the Band). A criminally harsh rating from Pitchfork - the most cynical online publication in the music world - piqued my interest in one new band (Mumford & Sons). As I anticipated, that album’s greatest crime was its overtly romantic themes and overuse of the words “soul,” “love,” “heart,” and meteorological metaphors. I, however, found those flaws to be endearing and beautiful. Lastly, came the “dark horse” album, swooping up my attention in this final month of the year and dominating my holiday playlist with it’s grabbing intro song and surprisingly coherent mix of post-punk, indie, folk, and soul genres throughout the album (Transfer).

A year ago, I had never heard of half of the bands that turned out my most played new album releases. Therefore, 2010 was year of discovery, and I hope that many of the bands that made up my year’s soundtrack have the staying power to continue to produce great new music in the future. It is exciting to think of the new talent that 2011 may bring; as with the start of each new year, I eagerly await to be sonically amazed.

My 2010 Most Played Albums:

1. Brothers, The Black Keys
2. The Suburbs, Arcade Fire
3. American Slang, Gaslight Anthem
4. Songs for a Sinking Ship, April Smith and the Last Picture Show
5. Zoo Noises, TAB the Band
6. Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons
7. Flamingo, Brandon Flowers
8. I Speak Because I Can, Laura Marling
9. Pickin’ Up the Pieces, Fitz and the Tantrums
10. Future Selves, Transfer