Pop Music :: Best of 2010
Now that the new year is almost upon us, it’s time for devoted music lovers everywhere to shuffle CDs, flip through vinyl, and scan iTunes libraries in order to compile their favorites of the past twelve months. Your fearless critic has just completed the task at hand, and is eager to share the results. 2010 was a pretty good year for pop music - it might not have reached the giddy height of 1983, but at least we avoided the dismal depths of the late 1990s!
Before we get to the lists, a few reminders are in order. All featured albums and tracks received their domestic release on CD, vinyl, or legal download this year. In addition, I specifically chose songs not already found on any of the top ten albums, simply to facilitate variety. Alas I was *forced at gunpoint* to break both of these self-imposed rules, for reasons emphatically stated below. Finally, I feel compelled to (re-)state the obvious - this list is the product of one writer and reflects the taste of one music lover alone. Please forgive any exclusions you may find inexcusable, but remember that not everybody shares your love of death metal, free jazz, or Katy Perry.
And so, in alphabetical order, are this man’s top ten albums of the year:
Delphic - Acolyte
Dreamy, mysterious, rave-y, New Order-esque - all appropriate adjectives to describe the debut from Manchester’s Delphic. Take your time with this one, as several tracks sail past the six minute mark but rarely outstay their welcome. Forget the random shuffle; Acolyte is best enjoyed in its 52 minute entirety.
Divine Comedy - Bang Goes the Knighthood
Neil Hannon, sometimes solo and sometimes with a shifting cast of bandmates, is the fabulously witty Irish pop act the Divine Comedy. For his steller tenth album, Hannon has concocted twelve delicious, string-laden tunes, each one boasting perky (often 1960’s-evoking) melodies. Newbies should zero in on stand-out track "At the Indie Disco." What new wave girl could resist the ultimate come-on contained within?
"She makes my heart beat the same way
As at the start of Blue Monday
Always the last song that they play
At the indie disco."
The Drums - The Drums
This band found early favor in Britain, receiving all the attention and hype which the notoriously fickle UK music press can lavish on its unwitting recipients. Both sunny and gloomy, the Drums are reminiscent of classic British post-punk (Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order). Simple sentiments ("oh mama, I wanna go surfing," "you’re my best friend, and then you died") are encased in sturdy little tunes; perhaps the Drums have been studying New York City’s finest (the Ramones) along with England’s.
Goldfrapp - Head First
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have spent the past decade genre-hopping from trip-hop to electro-sleaze, glam rock to folktronica, and have done all of it with skill and panache. 2010 saw the duo land solidly in the land of 80’s synthpop - the 80’s of dayglo, headbands, and Xanadu. Head First opens with the big fat synthline nicked from Van Halen’s "Jump" underpinning the fab kiss-off of "Rocket," and takes care to wink heartily at Abba with the title track while journeying breathlessly all the way from 1980-82! Enjoy the trip.
Hurts - Happiness
Hurts are Brits Adam Anderson and Theo Hutchcraft, and they quite simply created one of my favorite albums of the year. Annoyingly, it was only released overseas, with no domestic CD or download scheduled at all. Happily, imports are readily available (WAKE UP, American labels!) for those interested. Basically, this is top-notch electropop of the stylish, moody, suave, tuneful, elegant sort. Most redolent of Vienna-era Ultravox, or perhaps a more dour Pet Shop Boys, Hurts are reviving the new romantic aesthetic for a new generation of fashionable drama queens. "Better Than Love" and "Wonderful Life" are just two of the tightly constructed, emotional highpoints of this classy album.
Little Boots - Hands
Yet another electro-pop gem, Hands is chock-full of catchy shoulda-been hit singles. Really, there is no justice in the world when radio can’t embrace "Remedy," "Meddle," or "Stuck on Repeat," and play them back to back with classic Madonna or Kylie. Victoria Hesketh (for she is Little Boots) is a tunesmith extraordinaire, and her followup to Hands is eagerly awaited. Bonus points for getting Phil Oakey of the mighty Human League to duet on the decidedly old school synth-jam "Symmetry."
Marina & the Diamonds - The Family Jewels
Singer/songwriter Marina Diamandis has crafted one of 2010’s more intriguing albums. The Diamonds are not her backing band, but actually Marina’s fans (in her own words - "I’m Marina. You are the Diamonds."). Her vocals appealingly reference such idiosyncratic female artists as Lene Lovich and Kate Bush. The Family Jewels contains such varied high points as the quirky piano ballad "I’m Not a Robot," dancefloor stomper "Shampain," and the poppy, satisfying search for fame outlined in "Hollywood."
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - History of Modern
OMD were crucial members of the nascent electronic scene of late 70’s Britain, gradually evolving into a hit-making entity before the band eventually imploded and limped to a finish. Fourteen years after the last OMD album, the classic line-up has reformed and released History of Modern, which fittingly could pass for a vintage 1984 recording! Still concerned lyrically with such unusual subjects as science, Catholicism, and history, Misters McCluskey and Humphreys continue to impress as both experimentalists and pop practitioners. Vintage 1984 has matured nicely, so drink up.
Robyn - Body Talk
Our Swedish heroine was no slacker this year, releasing two separate EPs (Body Talk, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2) before combining five songs from each along with five new ones into one big ol’ bad-ass Body Talk album. These songs just reek of attitude, strength, swagger and vulnerability. Highlights include...well, it’s all highlights. Uniting dance, pop and indie rock fans, Robyn gets my nod for artist of the year, and "Dancing on My Own" is surely THE defining song of 2010.
Scissor Sisters - Night Work
The Sisters return to the discotheque big time with Night Work. This cohesive album is all business - the business of pleasure. Nightlife, dancing, sex, more sex, yeah, there’s a theme here. The beat throbs lustily, synths percolate, and pulses race, while Miz Ana Matronic coos on the saucy "Skin This Cat" and provides a hilarious rap for "Any Which Way." Yes, the album could use more Ana! One misstep - limp power ballad "Fire With Fire" is sorely out of sync with its high-energy surroundings. Night Work concludes with the extravagant fantasy of "Invisible Light" - a deliriously over-the-top production which conjures up no less than Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s "Two Tribes" boinking Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" in an Amsterdam backroom.
Honorable mention goes to Tracey Thorn’s Love and its Opposite, V.V. Brown’s Travelling Like the Light, Josie Cotton’s Pussycat Babylon, and of course Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite.
Following page features the ten best singles of 2010.