Adventures In 2010: Top 30 Albums [#10-1]

Friday, December 31, 2010

All good things come to an end...

10. Head First - Goldfrapp (Review)
As if it had been encapsulated in 1983 and finally let loose to wander this here Earth, Head First, are the synthesized dreams and desires of a time where pop music was at its most mind bending. For Goldfrapp, this album on it's plateau doesn't stretch the imagination that the duo has crafted since the break of the 2000's and with ambitious albums like Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree. In some ways Head First seems more homage than innovation, which is where people are tasting sour grapes on their palettes as it's too ABBA, too Giorgio Moroder, too Eurythmics, too Yazoo, too anything that has a residue of dirty neon dream pop from the 1980's. Yet, that is what is the album's charm. With Alison Goldfrapp's come-hither drawl, Head First seduces you into the seedy groove of ethereal chants like "Dreaming" and "Hunt". Arena 80's Americana rock this side of Van Halen and Journey gets wedged in in to produced spirited moments like "I Wanna Life" and the stellar "Rocket". Like comfort food of the richest kind, Head First is an achievement in the guilty pleasure being refined.

Notable Tracks: Rocket, Dreaming, I Wanna Life, Head First, Hunt, Alive

9. Concrete Jungle - Nneka (Review)
With her first crossover release, Nigerian-born Nneka brings something new and raw to the table. Combing the best of her two previous albums, Victim of Truth and No Longer At Ease, Nneka has made a case for herself that she is one to carry the torch of what Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu have set up. Concrete Jungle is a wonderful blend of Reggae, Soul and Hip-Hop, with echoes of her idols like Bob Marley and Fela Kuti peeking through. Most socially minded albums tend to lean on the preachy side, but Jungle and it's lead-off single, "The Uncomfortable Truth", don't feel like you're being force fed into it's message. A distinctive voice drives each composition, and it's an easy album to become engrossed in, as the skip button will not be used with it. Songs like "Heartbeat", the spirited "Suffri" and the ever-changing grind of "Mind vs. Heart" are the standouts and are great introductions to Nneka's nature. She is definitely one to watch.
Notable Tracks: Heartbeat, The Uncomfortable Truth, Suffri, Mind vs. Heart, From Africa 2 U, Come With Me

8. The Family Jewels - Marina & The Diamonds (Review)
Sure, Marina Diamandis got a bushel of comparisons to the likes of Kate Bush, Feist, and Regina Spektor, when her kooky piano drop track "Obsessions" emerged back in 2008 to music blogger adoration. While she's in good company, Marina has her own seeds to sow. She possesses her own oblong shiver of vocals and her witty tongue has graced lyrics that are more accessible to a wider mass. She doesn't scare anybody a la Bush, but she is intriguing. The Family Jewels, like many debut albums this year, is piled with infectious eagerness and guarantee of star power. "Mowgli's Road" remains for me, her best song, with it's clopping cheekiness and storyline of escaping a sheltered life. She continues to riddle you with the same eagerness as "Shampain", "Oh No!" and the plucky mystique of "I Am Not A Robot", and it's a real wild ride.

Notable Tracks: Mowgli's Road, Shampain, I Am Not A Robot, Obsessions, Oh No!, Are You Satisfied?, Hollywood, Hermit The Frog

7. The Lady Killer - Cee-Lo (Review)
Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" is what brought us to The Lady Killer. Not even his stint in Goodie Mob could have predicted the affect that Cee-Lo Green would have on the masses, especially with an album of this caliber. While his mixtape Stray Bullets is far more inspired than this actual album is as a whole, there are moments, lyrics, and phases, that make this such a delectable example of today's sophisticated soul.   . While most of the songs are just pure invitations to carnal pleasures ("Wildflower" and the insanely sexy "Bodies"), there are moments that juggle between being lost Bond themes and 80's dance floor churners. Even when Cee-Lo is taking it back to the blueprints of Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, and his biggest influence Earth, Wind and Fire, he sounds like he thought of it all along. It's sort of tough to do, but Mr. Green has done it on this. And yes, "F**k You" will stand the test of time as being a song everyone wanted to do, but didn't have the guts to do it.

Notable Tracks: Bright Lights, Bigger City, Fuck You, Bodies, Wildflower, Fool For You (ft. Phillip Bailey), Love Gun, Old Fashioned

6. Airtight's Revenge - Bilal (Review
Airtight's Revenge is probably one of the most difficult of releases to get behind this year, but once you envelope yourself into it, it's quite the adventure.Bilal is the thinking man's soul guy. He may get lumped into the likes of other cut from the same cloth R&B and neo-soul male artists, but Bilal is thinking past what his peers are contemplating and it's pretty obvious. Picking up where his last album, 1st Born Second concluded, Revenge is an eclectic tailspin of genres where rock, hip-hop, pop, electronic and jazz are merged as one. Revenge is thick with Bilal's ever-changing vocal tricks, making the release an exciting one to sit down and peel back each layer that Bilal has set up. 

Notable Tracks: All Matter, Restart, Robots, Move On, Cake & Eat It To, Levels

5. Lost Where I Belong - Andreya Triana (Review)
Most may not be familiar with the name of Andreya Triana, but after the release of her debut album, Lost Where I Belong, I'm confident that the UK-based vocalist shouldn't be a stranger any longer. Simply said, this album just beautiful. Very sublime and enchanting. It's simplistic without lacking, and it creates just the right atmosphere for a sullen vibe, that constitutes a wine glass in hand. All corners of this release are filled with Triana's weary worn alto, and personal narratives not cut from the same cloth as other lo-fi soul excursions. For a debut, it is ambitious, yet a quiet ambition. Triana shows fragility on a number of the tracks, most notably on the title track and "Daydreamers". "A Town Called Obsolete" even in it's chipper summery horn funk feels a bit downtrodden. Every song has an grim and bristly interior, which some may find tedious, but for me it's poetic and a welcoming change of pace.

Notable Tracks: A Town Called Obsolete, Draw The Stars, Lost Where I Belong, X, Daydreamers, Up In Fire

4. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West (Review)
Kanye West's critical darling is actually worth all the hype it has received. It's just as boisterous and snide as anything he has done prior, but he's now looking at his reflection like Narcissus by the stream and fully knowing what he's capable of doing--and capable he is. Call it a vanity project, but if being cocky and assured of himself unleashes numbers like "Lost In The World", "Power", "Runaway" and "Devil In A New Dress", then so be it. While West acts and sounds assured MBDTF as a whole tells otherwise as it is his moodiest affair. I have to give it to West for this one, because he made an album that can appeal to the masses (a tough feat to do in the world of hip-hop) and still feel like an effort that was made with much precision and with honesty.   

Notable Tracks: Lost In The World (ft. Bon Iver), All Of The Lights, Devil In A New Dress (ft. Rick Ross), Blame Game (ft. John Legend), Power (ft. Dwele)

3. Return of the Ankh: New Amerykah Pt. 2 - Erykah Badu (Review
The ying to New Amerykah Part 1: 4th World War's yang, Return of the Ankh focuses on the psyche of Ms. Badu herself and she takes us on a psychedelic soul trip. Her insecurities, her desires, her attitudes towards love and life, all of that is mapped out here. 4th World War explored the harsh realities of living in a 21st Century world and with it's 70's Blaxplotation underbelly funk it gave the project a gritty and residual complexity. Ankh isn't the stranger fruit as it's gentler and heralds back the years of Baduizum and Mama's Gun. Delicate and churning neo-soul that Badu has spent years crafting has come to this zenith point here. "Window Seat" is soon to become her opus, while "Gone Baby Don't Be Long" and "Turn Me Away" will wait in the wings as being . As the album progresses she does lose some insight, but the wandering states of the experimental "Out Of Mind, Just In Time" and "Love", make Ankh all the better for it.

Notable Tracks: Window Seat, Turn Me Away (Get Munny), Gone Baby Don't Be Long, Fall In Love (Your Funeral), 20 Feet Tall, Agitation, Out Of Mind, Just In Time, Umm Hmm

2. How I Got Over - The Roots 
The Roots have been around for so long now that even if you don't know all songs or the players, you know that if you ever do sit down with an album by them, you're gonna like it. Instantly. It happened with Game Theory, then Rising Down, and now How I Got Over. In fact, I like the listening experience of  How I Got Over the best. The album is an opus about the aftermath of the election of President Obama, with songs like "Dear God 2.0" and the Gospel-tinged "Walk Alone" fully embellishing that fact. It contains a flourish of guest stars from the indie rock and rap movement, which gives the album a somber and sophisticated approach. Everything is really in place on this record and it's flow is what I love the most about it. Put it on and no need to fuss with it, it's just that fluid. Oddly, How I Got Over, got lost in the moment of The Roots being still the best live band on late night TV and their pairing with John Legend for the social revival  Wake Up! project, but maybe the album will get it's due later on down the line. 

Notable Tracks: Doin' It Again, The Day, Radio Daze, Right On, How I Got Over, Now Or Never, Walk Alone, Dear God 2.0

1. The ArchAndroid - Janelle Monae (Review)
Well, duh. Hands down, this was the most original work to come out this year and in it's wake has subconsciously birthed an artist that only seems to come around once in a blue moon. Monae has been swimming about for years with her work with OutKast, her bootleg album, The Audition, and waiting in vain as one of Diddy's label signees, just now she is finally let out of her cage. With The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae has gotten people excited over the aspect of how an album is formulated and executed, and that it is indeed an art form. Most may find this a bit overwhelming and ostentatious at first listen, which can be it's downfall, but that's why I favored it the most this year because it sounds and feels like an album that did indeed feel created and not processed. Even though you can hear the influences from a wide range of sources from Shirley Bassey-James Bond/spy movie themes, Janis Joplin, Traffic, Fela Kuti, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix et al...still it's like she's made her own genre from all of it. This is really only the beginning for Monae.

Notable Songs: Dance Or Die, BaBopByeYa, Cold War, Locked Inside, Say You'll Go, Neon Valley Street, Wondaland, Tightrope, Oh Maker, Come Alive (The War of the Roses)

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