Top CDs of 2010 | Braden Abbott

This album does what great art does: bring us closer to the notion that nothing within the scope of the human condition is foreign.

1. Kanye West | My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella)
This year Kanye West did for hip-hop what Radiohead did for rock ’n’ roll ten years ago with Kid A: He breathed new life into a boring genre. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy reinvented the rap album, with West’s eloquence, technical brilliance and artistry all peaking on this album. His guest appearances are massive. He uses irony (a concept lost on countless anti-Kanye critics) better than any other pop artist today; he makes us uncomfortable. This album is a treatise on excess and opulence—if you’re not OK with a rapper grappling honestly with race, drug use, megalomania, sex and violence, the music will make you sick. This album does what great art does: bring us closer to the notion that nothing within the scope of the human condition is foreign, and our propensity to shun or cower from the ugly reveals our almost limitless capacity to be dishonest. Even though it’s by far the most bombastic album I listened to this year, it is still understated. The album ends with light, coffeehouse applause, a quiet moment to reflect on the best album of the year.
2. The National | High Violet (4AD)
There was a point this summer where everyone I knew who listens to good music was listening to this album at the same time. I personally listened to nothing but this album for more than a month. Its attraction is hard to define; it is simply a rock ’n’ roll album. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Afraid of Everyone” are near-perfect songs: each wears you out with the relentless demand that “you feel this, right now!” For all its complexity, the album’s brilliance comes from its almost British style reserve (although The National are from Brooklyn by way of Ohio). There is a certain Pink Floyd-ishness here; what’s not said and heard is just as meaningful and recognizable as what is. A wonderful contradiction.
3. Drive-By Truckers | The Big To-Do (ATO/RED)
Drive-By Truckers might be the best band in America that no one listens to. This album is a crowning achievement. While they are minimalist, they are extremely hard to pigeonhole: They could be country, they could be folk, they could be rock, they could be Americana (whatever that is). They are brilliant, though, and The Big To-Do serves up one classic track after another. The back-to-back “You Got Another” and “This Fucking Job” is as good as Drive-By Truckers have ever been. Shonna Tucker’s vocal presence is accentuated here, and she is absolutely magnetic. There were some big chances taken lyrically on this album, and they paid off. The Big To-Dois very similar to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska in that it is a collection of short stories: Characters are invented and lived through in the span of three to four minutes. Punctuated with a liberal dose of F-words and power chords, this album is simply a must-have.
4. Girl Talk | All Day (Illegal Art)
Gregg Gillis might be our finest contemporary artist. His works belong more to art than to pop music. An appropriator of the first degree, he works in deconstruction. But he doesn’t just leave a mess on the floor; he shatters another artist’s track, then picks up the pieces and reworks them to fit the framework of his idea, his reconstruction nearly genius. Although this is really just a dance party album, you get the thrill of having experienced something greater. “This Is the Remix” is the best dance track I have ever heard. Gillis pulled off a massive artistic achievement with All Day, something that is becoming a habit for him.
5. Belle and Sebastian | Write About Love (Matador)
I almost passed up this album; I wasn’t sure that I really needed to listen to another Belle and Sebastian record. What could they possibly do different? The answer: concentrate on a theme. And it’s a beautiful theme: the fiction, imagination and obsessions that construct a lover’s crush. The songs seem to mimic perfectly the curve of emotions and preoccupations we deal with while loving something we’re not sure really exists. “It’s fun thinking of you as a movie star/ and it’s dumb thinking of you as the way that you are”—these lyrics remind us that a good amount of our amorous yearnings are fictive and invented. The beauty of the music reminds us that the effort put into the invention is usually worth it.
Honorable Mention
Beach House | Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Yeasayer | Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)
LCD Soundsystem | This Is Happening (DFA/Virgin)
Arcade Fire | Suburbs (Merge)
Worst Album of the Year by an Otherwise Decent Act
The Sword | Warp Riders (Kemado)
 | Braden Abbott

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