Album of the Year, 2010

On Wednesday, my email contained a roundtable from my friends Daniel and Walter discussing what happened to be our albums of the year. Added to the mix was a friend of Walter’s, gorjus, who runs the blog prettyfakes.com and the Sandusky Review zine. I’ve been itching all week to respond, but I had to wait until today. Too much other work had to get done first. (Ah, end of the semester, you cruel mistress of time and crankiness.)  I’ve copied and pasted my response below.

Hi old and new friends,

I guess it is that time to take stock of what I’ve been listening to all year, and perhaps think about why I’ve been listening to it beyond “Wolf Parade’s new album is totally awesome,” a statement I uttered over the summer much to my chagrin. (The album is good, although I find I prefer individual tracks on that album more so than the album itself. No, my slight embarrassment comes from my inability to shed my teenaged voice. It is sometimes alarming, but I use it as a fall back when I don’t really want to explain why I like something to people who a) haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about and b) really just want to check their taste against mine.) I admit album of the year categories also sometimes seem arbitrary to me. Not many bands conceive of an album as more than a loose affiliation of songs, and I find I tend to listen to albums as whole units not as a loose series of songs. I like there to be some sort of conceptual continuity. I also I find myself listening more and more to individual songs rather than whole albums (see Wolf Parade’s new album).

So, I’m using this exercise to think about albums that I actually purchased either in hard copy or via iTunes and that I listened to as an album. Typically, this means the music worked together enough for me that it becomes a continuous back drop as I grade. This point is key; an album that doesn’t function as an album never it makes it to being grading music. I notice the changes too much.

Vampire Weekend’s Contra

Despite the general criticisms of the album, I really do like Vampire Weekend’s Contra. The whole thing hangs together well. Even the cover art suggests a unified theme. I’ve always enjoyed their Love Story prep ethos, and I think it translates well into the music. Sure, it’s ridiculously self aware, but that’s part of the fun. While their first release captured the aimless frustration of summer, I think this one really does fit the winter/early spring. It was in pretty continuous play this past spring as I over did it on the work load front. I’m listening to it again right now, and I’ve got to say it really makes me smile. Ironically, my favorite song on the album is the last, slow song, “I Think Ur a Contra.” It’s for the lyrics: “You wanted rock n’ roll/complete control.”

Basia Bulat’s Heart of My Own

Another early 2010 release–I think I bought it the same week as Contra–, I also listened to Basia Bulat’s Heart of My Own in heavy rotation this past spring. She’s a Canadian folk singer/songwriter. I’m always wary with folk music. It gets twee awfully fast for me. I can’t stand She and Him or Neko Case. But, for some reason, Bulat’s wavery alto and northern sensibility works for me. Her music doesn’t try to explicitly evoke an era or borrow too heavily from Celtic elements. She doesn’t have a large range vocally, but her voice is like whiskey on a cold night. This album is a perfect collection of songs for a winter’s evening.

Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More

Yes, it came out in October 2009, but I didn’t discover it until this fall, and there’s something about this album that I find compelling. I’m including it primarily because I’ve been listening to it almost non-stop the last few weeks. It breaks many of my folk music rules, but it has an odd urban sensibility that British folk doesn’t usually have. My students seem to universally like this album, which I find also unusual, but I think it’s because the music is both pop and not. It’s accessible while it quotes Shakespeare and talks about the plague.

The National’s High Violet

This album has gradually grown on me. I thought many of the songs were brilliant on the first listen. I immediately loved “Runaway” and “England.” It’s only recently that the album has come together as an album for me. I think I was just too hurried when it came out to really listen to it.

And this somehow became waaaay longer than I intended. Final thoughts, I think I may be the only who a) didn’t even bother listening to the Hold Steady’s new album and b) didn’t really like Arcade Fire’s new album. It doesn’t work as an album for me, and for some reason, I think I’m supposed to like it, which typically rubs me the wrong way. Irrational to be sure. And Walter, the only reason I’ve heard a Lady Gaga or Katy Perry song all the way through is either because of Glee or Sesame Street. And omg!!, Girl Talk’s All Day is insane!

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