Best Of 2010: Prefix’s Top 40 (10-1)

    10 Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma

    Cosmogramma is an album to get lost in. From celestial sounds to frantic bass fills, hip-hop alchemist Flying Lotus, a.k.a. Steven Ellison, packs an eclectic assemblage of rhythms and instruments into a focused musical vision. It is well documented that this album is in part a tribute to Ellison’s deceased mother, and as such it is easy to interpret explicit meaning from lyrics like “I need to know you’re out there” (from the Thom Yorke-featured “…And the World Laughs With You”). But, greater than melancholia, Cosmogramma expresses an awe-inspiring breadth of emotion, and the album, as well as the closely proceeded EP, Pattern+Grid World, is a tremendous step forward for Ellison, both as a musician and hip-hop visionary. ~Jared Levy


    09 Titus Andronicus: The Monitor

    The Monitor has grand ambitions. In 10 songs and 65 minutes, it tries to explain post-millennial self-loathing through a metaphor of the Civil War. True, it speaks of a very particular frustrated, suburban American male sentiment, but it’s the same thing that Bruce Springsteen sang about 30-some-odd years ago. And hell, what kind of punk doesn’t talk about hating everyone else just a tiny bit more than you hate yourself? By cloaking the frustration and mild alcoholism of your typical early-20s in religious overtones, these kids from Jersey make their depression sound downright Faulknerian. The Civil War is an apt metaphor because, at that moment more than any other in our nation’s history, we were worried that the values we held dear might be flawed. We were nervous that we had it all wrong. The enemy is everywhere. The enemy is us. ~Julian Hattem 




    08 Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

    The Arcade Fire’s byzantine arrangements and dramatic lyrics are an easy target for jokes about overwrought indie bands, but at this point in their career it’s clear they’re not just making albums that try to be important — they’re making albums that are important. All the songs on The Suburbs seamlessly convey the same peculiar urgency; they sound ornate, but stifled. It’s a particularly great conduit for Win Butler’s protagonists, who lament their lack of agency and the weird sensation of stasis that’s pervasive even in the age of instant gratification. Not every song is an outstanding reflection on the overarching theme (they can’t keep making Funeral, people), but the best tracks on Suburbs capture feelings that are damn near universal nowadays: the emotional isolation stemming from physical dispersion, and the undercurrent of anxiety that arises when you repeatedly compromise your aspirations. Only the Arcade Fire could make such passionate music about dispassion. ~Susannah Young




    07 LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening

    When this type of pop is filled with such richly distorted concepts and vaguely existential eccentricities, you want to find terms less nebulous than “dance” or “party” music to tie up the package. While it is most certainly both, there’s always a quiet malaise on This Is Happening that only increases in volume as the rhythmically loaded landscape takes on a more contemplative shape. As an LP, it celebrates the satiric nature that has always been present within LCD Soundsystem, but never fully falls into cheekiness or smarmy crutches. The point isn’t that Murphy gets all introspective on us — he does, but that’s too easy (and he’s done it before). This Is Happening finds James Murphy having the most fun when he is being the most critical of himself. It’s like a simultaneous thank-you and fuck-you that is about as fascinating and fun as anything he has ever created. ~Daniel Rivera




    06 Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

    Deerhunter’s biggest moment yet, Halcyon Digest, didn’t come with a bang. Instead the Atlanta noise-punks receded deep into fragility, sculpting gorgeous, one-of-a-kind soundscapes out of commonplace thuds and plinks. Bradford Cox’s lonely falsetto is brought center-stage — hovering well above the murky guitars and barely-there percussion —  singing more directly than ever before. Shattering single-line statements of bruised spirit (“Now they are through with me”) and love-swollen impulses (“Come with me /Far away /Every day”). Halcyon Digest was not the sound of a blog-charmed lo-fi staple; it was a moment of universal glory for Deerhunter. This is the year when the Atlanta scene’s brightest stars resembled a great rock band more than anything else. ~Luke Winkie




    05 Beach House: Teen Dream

    It’s hard to tally the most resonant moments on a record like Teen Dream, which is essentially filled with them. From the first notes of album opener “Zebra,” you get an early sense of the perfect curvature that will shape the songs throughout. Singer and keyboardist Victoria LeGrand and guitarist Alexander Scally have, since their 2006 debut, always had a way with hazy, dreamy pop, but on their third outing — their first for Sub Pop — the two find a way to add weight to their songs without sacrificing the mystery and atmosphere that made their music so lovely to begin with. There are too many wonders to mention: the breathless opening of “Norway,” the husk of LeGrand’s naked voice on “Real Love,” the gently swaying chorus on “Take Care,” the trilling guitar on “Walk In the Park.”  And maybe that’s the point: Teen Dream is an album that is, even in its simplest moments, complexly beautiful and understatedly remarkable. ~Kali Holloway



    04 Sleigh Bells: Treats

    When an album runs through the blog hype cycle without a trace of backlash, it’s a good sign you’ve got something special on your hands. No release in 2010 had more of something for everyone as Sleigh Bells’ Treats, one of the best debut albums of the young 21st century. Noisenicks and rockists weren’t likely to hear more intense music than that of recovering screamo guitarist Derek Miller, and if they like melodies with their noise, the deceptive verse chorus verse that comes with Treats would’ve been enough. But add Alexis Krauss, arguably the savviest frontwoman to emerge in rock since Debbie Harry, and you have something that will draw girls to noise who aren’t being dragged by their boyfriends. Knowing when to play its charms straight and when to twist the knife, Treats is the rare contemporary album that genuinely innovates while maintaining mainstream appeal. ~Ethan Stanislawski




    03 The National: High Violet

    There’s something beautiful — triumphant, even — in the deep sadness that proliferates High Violet. There’s something defiant in its helplessness, something powerful when its characters are at their most powerless. These types of contradictions are all over High Violet. The music is alternately towering and downtrodden. Immaculately arranged string sections and horn charts create swelling ascensions and crushing declinations that decorate the band’s moribund brand of indie rock. What makes these contradictions universal are the people who inhabit High Violet. They’re people we see every day: college students with cousins off at war, suburbanites who have borrowed too much money, red Southern souls waiting in the New York rain and wanting to leave. Described in singer Matt Berninger’s confused and obtuse language, High Violet and its inhabitants become an epic anthem for the mundane driftings of the white-collar lost, a rallying cry for the traffic-ridden morning commute. ~Chris Bosman




    02 Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son Of Chico Dusty

    After all the praise it’s received, it’s difficult to remember all the hoops Big Boi had to jump through to release Sir Lucious Left Foot. He was essentially forced to leave Jive in 2009 — more than a year after the album’s planned release date — because the label was allegedly pushing him to record radio-friendly tracks. Then even with a Def Jam deal, Sir Lucious didn’t really receive the promotion it deserved. All the drama was worth it, though. Aside from the catchy singles and stellar funk-driven production, Sir Lucious stands as a true testament to Big Boi’s undeniable skills beyond just delivering quick-witted bars with an even quicker tongue — though there’s plenty of that on here, too. He displays immaculate songwriting ability throughout the album, perhaps showing just who was behind all those memorable hooks and melodies in Outkast’s catalog. I mean, who else could make Jamie Foxx and Lil Jon sound that damn good? ~Andrew Martin






    01 Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


    “Champagne wishes/ Thirty white bitches/ I mean, this shit is fucking ridiculous,” Kanye West spits on “I’m So Appalled,” an acerbic posse cut in the gritty middle section of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye West’s fifth album may sound like a lot of fun, but anyone paying at least cursory attention to Kanye’s life knows it was borne out of pain and ridicule and discontent. Kanye is ever ready to flip his own personal triumphs and tragedies into compelling music, though, and Dark Twisted Fantasy delivers. At heart, Dark Twisted Fantasy is a volatile diatribe on how it feels to be beset on all sides by well wishers whose support is liable to disintegrate and devolve in to hate at the slightest infraction. Dark Twisted Fantasy chases Kanye’s bars about meaningless sex, relationships gone sour, and racial injustice with the sweetest, most accessible melodies of his career, spread out over an ever-expanding sonic pallette that finds his signature brand of hip hop rubbing elbows with an eclectic blend of progressive rock, blues, house, soul, and guest features aplenty. Really, where else are you gonna hear John Legend and Chris Rock talk smack over an Aphex Twin sample? Or Alicia Keys and Elton John dueling over trumpet fanfares? Or Fergie talking about snorting cocaine? With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West has crafted one of the most vibrant and adventurous pieces of pop music in recent memory. ~Craig Jenkins



    Prefix’s Top 40 Albums Of 2010: Staff / 40-31 / 30-21 / 20-11 / 10-1



    Prefix’s Best Of 2010: 

    Best Albums / Reader’s Best Albums / Staff Best Albums / Best Guest Appearances / Albums From 2009 We’re Still Listening To / Top 10 Mixtapes & Free Rap Albums / Best Reissues / Rap Verses / Worst Album Covers / Best Album Covers