Bring in the New Fear
...because I couldn't make a top ten because that would entail pushing Flying Lotus off the list.
- All Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood / The Body: Not only is this the best album title of 2010, it's also the best album. It sounds much like the third item on this list in its use of vocals-only choruses to contrast with metal, except this metal is more drone or dirge-like whereas Liturgy are standard Black Metal fare. The Body's album is better because it nails the dynamic: it's truly frightening right from the start, where just a hint of dissonance in the chorus leads to a horror movie uber-climax of zombies, decapitation, and unending death. But in a good way.
- King Night / Salem: Loud, distorted dance music, chopped-n-screwed hip-hop, and even a sort of punk rock song at the end of the album. King Night is pretty weird and varied but maintains a threatening, dangerous dynamic throughout, whether it's a half-speed baritone talking about abusing you or ten layers of synths emitting beautiful drones. I look forward to hearing more of this, which apparently is in the "witch house" genre.
- Renihilation / Liturgy: While Black Metal is arguably my second-favorite genre behind experimental hip-hop, I rarely come across an album that captivates me throughout its entire runtime. Black Metal bands love long songs with incoherent screaming and neverending tremolo-picking; it's a defensible stylistic choice, but one which wears you down after ninety nonstop minutes (this is why Krallice's album is further down this list). Liturgy, however, takes expert advantage of Gregorian interludes and lo-fi production here, managing to tap both into primal anger but also mysticism in a way which Black Metal hasn't seen since Wolves in the Throne Room released the near-perfect Two Hunters.
- To Realize / Clipd Beaks: Noise rock that somehow sounds harmonized. What amazes about this album is that the noise never grates, the out-of-tune pubescent-voice-cracking vocals somehow insinuate a gorgeous and insecure melody, and the whole record has such astounding depth and coherence. It drags towards the second half of the album, where it becomes more instrumental and the melodies are buried, but that's also simply because the first half has the best songs released in 2010, like "Blood" and "Strangler".
- Sisterworld / Liars: This album is really solid but unspectacular, with most songs failing to evoke a unique atmosphere. The lyrics and melodies are some of the best Liars have done ("Scissor", "No Barrier Fun", and "Proud Evolution" are all exemplary), and they mesh well with the slacker-jazz noise rock instrumentation, but the whole doesn't coalesce so well as their 2nd and 3rd albums which were so transcendent in their synergy. Also, I actually liked the remixes (almost every one is enjoyable, despite Thom Yorke's being surprisingly boring) and found that the remixes and originals make a nice long-play together.
- All Creatures Will Make Merry / Meursault: This album has wind blowing throughout it, whether it be a distorted chord hanging over an entire song or simply a healthy dose of reverb. Combine the atmospherics with a delightful Scottish accent belting out emotive verses and you've got a really melodramatic but somehow excellent album. The instrumentation ranges from folky acoustic to orchestral pounding drums and strings but it's really the consistency of the vocals, always there alternatively either blowing you over or holding you up, that make the album so moving. The last song is perfect too, the vocals quiet down a bit as a piano mumbles some chords. It reminds me of the way Radiohead ends Kid A and In Rainbows, which is a good thing.
- Spirituals / Spirituals: Compelling blend of electronic and acoustic instruments, another album of sampler-jazz freak-outs, though much less beat-oriented than FlyLo. Actually better than the Four Tet album which came out this year, which is really saying something. Witness "Manzanita", where disjointed clusters of bells ring against a background of shuffling drums and analog synths, a Four Tet simulation that exceeds the original.
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy / Kanye West: I'm not a big Kanye fan but this album really is brilliant. Every song veers towards a sort of megalomania but in the most charismatic way possible and tropes that I would usually find tiring (the Chris Rock bit, excessive use of autotune, Kanye's less-than-amazing rhymes) actually work well in the context of the album as a whole. The fact that most songs far outrun the usually four-minute pop song formula, e.g. the amazing Runaway which clocks in just over nine minutes long, but don't get boring is a testament to the incredible flow of structure and production at work here. Avant garde pop hip-hop on par with the best of Outkast's oeuvre.
- Dimensional Bleedthrough / Krallice: I really love Krallice but this album is just too long. Their EP is amazing because it's focused—4 long songs which mesh well—but this album just wears you down with 14-minute tracks. The music is great, but it's too much of a good thing.
- There is Love in You / Four Tet: I love Four Tet and keep hoping he'll make something better than Rounds or Pause, two of the best instrumental albums ever. So far, this album is the closest yet, but it doesn't surpass those two in any way.
- Cosmogramma / Flying Lotus: I think my insanely high hopes for this one rendered it disappointing. It's still a landmark album but feels diluted and—surprisingly—unfocused. Unlike precursor Los Angeles, which stuck to a basic theme of fuzzed out off-beat hip-hop, Cosmogramma incorporates jazz and live instruments alongside video game sound effects and IDM. Reading about it ahead of time, I was ecstatic; FlyLo does jazz? IT'S GONNA BE THE SECOND COMING OF MILES DAVIS! Unfortunately, it's not the Miles of Bitches Brew and the album wanders between uninteresting experiments and slightly successful fusions with no real sense of direction.
- [S/T] / Blue Water White Death
- Dear God, I Hate Myself / Xiu Xiu
- Maniac Meat / Tobacco
- Glass Eights / John Roberts
- See Birds EP / Balam Acab
- [S/T] EP / oOoOO