November 26, 2010

Year In Review: Top 50 Albums of 2010

ithinkx is about to publish its 'Top 50 Albums of 2010' list and I have to say it has been an amazing year for music! This may sound a bit rash, but for my money this has been the best year for music in about a decade. 2007 is the only year that comes close and even that has nothing on 2010 in terms of number and quality of releases and general musical activity.

The influence of Africa was heard very strongly this year throughout a lot of music, both from Africa itself (Mali in particular) and elsewhere on albums by varied artists under the influence such as Vampire Weekend, To Rococo Rot, Mice Parade, The Budos Band and Germany's Ethio-jazz band Woima Collective. There were Fela Kuti reissues, the Tradi-Mods vs Rockers: Alternative Takes On Congotronics remix album which featured remixes of contemporary Congolese bands by indie staples such as Animal Collective and new albums by Konono NÂș1 and Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen.

It looked like an amazing year for hip hop and it wasn't bad, with the new Kanye album measuring up well against high expectations and much hype and a return-to-form from The Roots. We also had quality albums from Big Boi and Reflection Eternal, but we still have to wait until early 2011 for the official debut albums by Jay Electronica and J.Cole, leaving us having to sate ourselves with their latest mix-tapes instead.

It was a tall order to keep list this year's list just to 50, given the breadth and quality of releases so I want to give credit to a few releases that missed the top 50 but in a weaker year may have pierced the top 20! N.B. Re-issues, compilations, remix albums and EPs have been disregarded in the making of this list.

The Ones That Got Away!

Ninjatune celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and as well as the XX boxset and related celebratory releases there were also notable albums by newcomer Eskmo as well as albums from Bonobo and Norwegian progsters Jaga Jazzist.

Electronic music in general was especially healthy this year. Walls and Baths released notable albums and Hamburg's Dial records (whose Pantha du Prince found wider success for himself and the label by signing to Rough Trade) continued to release high-quality techno and minimal house albums by artists such as Efdemin and Pawel. Type Records' Sylvain Chauveau released "Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated)" where he fused his sparse piano pieces with a vocal style he honed on his Depeche Mode tribute album (with Ensemble Nocturne, released in 2005). James Blake made waves with a couple of great EPs that gained him a lot of exposure and deservedly so. Ambient legend Brian Eno released "Small Craft On A Milk Sea", a decent but unremarkable album on Warp, with the help of Jon Hopkins.

The Canadian music scene looked as healthy as ever with a two-album release by techno-head and Archipel label boss Pheek, as well as a solid album from fellow Montrealers Plants & Animals. Eighties electro-pop throwback Diamond Rings made instant waves on release of his debut album "Special Affections". Black Mountain, Broken Social Scene and Wolf Parade delivered more of the same, which was enough to please the majority of their die-hard fans. French Canadians Karkwa released the gorgeous Les Chemins De Verre, which deservedly won this year's Polaris Prize.

Pitchfork darlings Yeasayer and Vampire Weekend both released solid albums this year. Sleigh Bells, Wavves, Frightened Rabbit and Villagers all released enjoyable albums but whether they will pass the test of time remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Stereolab's Leticia Sadier released "The Trip" - a gorgeous album of solo material.

Big disappointments this year came from !!!, whose album Strange Weather, Isn't It? seemed mailed-in, failing to live up to the standard of the excellent Myth Takes in 2007. Die Antwoord's official Interscope release of $0$ was a huge disappointment, managing to lose almost everything that was great about their demos, lending credence to the insinuation that they are nothing more than an amusing one-liner.

Joanna Newsom overstretched herself with a 3 CD boxset Have One On Me (one would've been great, three not so much) that contained some real gems but eventually collapsed under its own weight. Gil Scott-Heron released a potentially interesting yet ultimately disappointing, and short, album that felt all too much like he had been wheeled into the studio against his will and M.I.A. released an album that somehow was far less than the sum of its parts.

All in all it's been a fantastic year for music and the fact that so many great albums didn't make it into the Top 50 just goes to prove just how good a year it was!

Top 50 list coming soon!