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My Favorite Music Years: 2010 (part 1)

“Everybody’s getting younger, it’s the end of an era it’s true.”
-LCD Soundsystem, “Dance Yrself Clean”

“Three 4 Loko’s? That’s like eight Loko’s too many.”
-Concert Attendant, Titus Andronicus show at Shea Stadium, 2010

Judging the recent past is a tricky proposition. Until about a decade has passed, it’s very hard to judge the cultural achievements of a given year because we don’t yet know what the full influence of those achievements will be. For example, just about every “best albums of the 90’s” list that was compiled at the end of 1999 had Nevermind as their unanimous #1 choice.

However, as the 2000’s unfolded, Grunge became an afterthought, and that albums stock dropped a bit. Meanwhile albums like OK Computer, Illmatic and Slanted and Enchanted leapfrogged it to be considered greater releases of that decade.

But some years are so memorable, so undeniably important and great that we can recognize their significance as soon as January 1st hits, and 2010 was one of those years. From hip-hop to indie rock, to more mainstream pop, there was an abundance of great music released in 2010 that has gone on to shape the sound of this still unfolding decade.

As the calendar turned over to 2010, the Indie world was experiencing almost unprecedented success. In 2009, Phoenix were making a grab for “biggest band in the world” title, and the Brooklyn scene that had been simmering for almost a decade finally boiled over into the mainstream with fringe hits from Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, to name just a few. However, condo’s were going up on the Williamsburg waterfront faster than everyone else’s rent, and with an unprecedented third term for New York’s “mild billionaire mayor” a given, the writing was on the wall for that scene being priced out of existence. But before that Williamsburg scene burned out, 2010 saw the release of two of it’s greatest albums.

LCD Soundsystem had started as something of an inside joke for DFA label head James Murphy. His first single, 2002’s “Losing My Edge,” poked fun at the culture of “cool” in the internet age. Fast forward 2 albums and LCD Soundsystem were being hailed as one of the quintessential bands of the 00’s. Murphy had always said he would end LCD when he turned 40, and true to his word, This Is Happening was to be their final record. In a dead heat with Sound Of Silver for their best album, This Is Happening was a grand requiem for the old New York Murphy had come of age in. Soon Grizzly Bear and TV On The Radio would relocate to Los Angeles, and while musicians like Blood Orange, and events like Mr. Saturday Night’s DIY parties have kept the spirit going, the particular Williamsburg scene Murphy helped cultivate was now largely the province of history.

While one generation of New York musicians were moving on, another was just starting to blossom, and there was no better figurehead for this next wave then the Jersey boys of Titus Andronicus. Mainstay’s of Shea Stadium, the DIY rock club that opened in Bushwick in 2009, Titus Andronicus were combing the punk ethos of their Bleecker Street fore bearers with the high concept psychedelic folk of Elephant 6 and Saddle Creek. Their sophomore effort, The Monitor, is a towering achievement, a truly unique record that takes Civil War quotations and iconography and grafts them onto a narrative about the struggle for artists and intellectuals to find their footing in a world run by entitled sadists. Whether one connects with the message or not, The Monitor stands as one of the great concept albums of recent memory, and an incredibly influential work for the next wave of indie rockers.

While there was certainly a lot brewing in the Indie world, hip hop was having it’s own revolution in 2010. While oppressively mainstream acts like The Black Eyed Peas and B.o.B. were burning up the charts by doing everything they could to hide the rapping in their hits, on the periphery something new was developing. Out in LA, a collective of skater brats calling themselves Odd Future, began to self release records. While they were mostly pretty rough, their leader Tyler, The Creator made a splash with Goblin. The content was violent, and often indefensible, but Tyler and his cohorts were making Rap dangerous again. In the coming few years he and friends Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean would help shift the genre in an exciting new direction.

Meanwhile, the best pure hip-hop album of 2010 came from an old veteran in the form of Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Ghost Of Chico Dusty. After Outkast went on indefinite hiatus, Big Boi almost immediately started preparing his solo album. Unfortunately, due to creative differences with his former label Jive, and logistical red tape that kept Andre 3000 from appearing on the record (as that would technically be considered an Outkast song), it took many years and several compromises before the album finally dropped in 2010. Despite the lengthy wait and concessions to the label, Sir Lucious Left Foot was an instant classic. Taking the trunk rattling southern pimp sound he had brought to Outkast and tempering it with the smooth, intellectual style he had absorbed from Andre, Big Boi released a top to bottom masterpiece, and as the genre of Hip Hop becomes ever more integrated and absorbed into the mainstream, it may stand as one of the greatest pure hip-hop record of this decade.

While 2010 was as fractured and divided a year for music as any of recent vintage, their was one artist who managed to hold the center of everyone’s universe in a way only he can; Kanye West. As 2009 ended Kanye was at an all time low. His now infamous VMA bum rush of Taylor Swift had made him more vilified by the public than ever, as Kanye hating was (and remains) one of America’s favorite sports. Immediately after that happened he dropped off the radar, and retreated to Hawaii to start recording. While there he discovered Twitter, and started releasing new songs every week under what he called his G.O.O.D Friday series. These releases culminated in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, perhaps Kanye’s greatest album, and certainly his most career defining. Taking everything that he had tried up to that point and sculpting it together into a perfect whole, Dark Fantasy transcends Rock, Pop and Hip Hop and stands as one of the most important and unique records of this century.

Click here to check out Sean’s top 5 records of 2010!

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