For the second consecutive year at Hidden Track, we concocted our innovative little experiment for the year-end Best Albums list. Instead of picking the old fashioned way – subjectively – we opted for something a little different: a collaborative, collective list that incorporates the opinions of everybody here at HT.
To begin, we devised an all-encompassing list of well over 100 nominees, whereby most everything our contributors recommended made the list. Then we invited our crew of writers to independently and blindly vote on the whole list on a scale of 1 to 20 (20 = five stars). We ended up with varying degrees of familiarity with the nominees as some folks voted on just about everything, while some just a few. From there, we deployed our egghead algorithm for rating albums: (two times the average rating) + (the total number of votes). At that point, we took the top 25 highest scores and presto: the Hidden Track 25 Best Albums of 2010. No bullshit, no big opinions; just the results.
We’ve come to the end of our week long countdown, let’s check out our Top Five…
Sounds Like: Dance Yrself Clean, I Can Change
Key Tracks: Modern spacefunk, Talking Heads with an indie twist
The Skinny: James Murphy and company’s third full-length finds the eccentric front man exploring the benefits and trappings of stardom accompanied by the funky dance-pop we’ve come to know and love. Not at all a departure from the first two records, This Is Happening takes the LCD sound in a slightly more laid-back, introspective direction. Gone are some of the dancehall sounds in favor of a more organic, live band-sounding approach which brings the seemingly more personal material to life beautifully. Murphy’s impassioned vocals are direct and honest, particularly on the monstrously catchy single I Can Change. This record has all of the things we love about LCD – the Talking Heads-esque bounce, Murphy’s staccato delivery, thick, ever shifting soundscapes – but with a maturity and comfort that shows Murphy growing as an artist and a person.
READ ON for the final four albums in our countdown…
Key Tracks: All of the Lights, Monster, Blame Game
Sounds Like: Arrogant Hip Hop Witchcraft
The Skinny: Whatever one’s viewpoint on the psycho narcissism and club pop vibe of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it’s impossible to overlook with any critical sensibility the unbridled ambition and execution of Kanye’s vision. Between the imagery of his Thriller-redux Monster, the fist-pumping likability of All of the Lights, the vocal morph on the Nicki Minaj guest vocals, the Chris Rock gut-busting comic bit on Blame Game, and the endless guest spots and producer sit-ins, Kanye deserves the accolades for putting it all on the line – including $3 million of Def Jam’s money – and pulling it off. From now until the end of eternity, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will be in the conversation for the greatest production quality – and specifically, mixing – ever captured on record.
Key Tracks: Vaporize, The Ghost Inside, The High Road
Sounds Like: Zach Braff’s new favorite band
The Skinny: It’s been a three years since the Zach Braff-approved, indie-darlings The Shins put out their third full-length album Wincing the Night Away. Since its release and support tour, the Portland via New Mexico-based act have switched labels from Sub Pop to lead singer’s James Mercer’s Aural Apothecary, shuffled their lineup and now appear to be on a bit of hiatus. With his new found free time Mercer found himself with the opportunity to collaborate with the “It” producer of the last decade, Brian Burton, who you may know better as Danger Mouse forming the band Broken Bells. Recorded in secret at Danger Mouse’s LA studio, the pair’s self-titled debut, resulted in album that sounds something like a mix of Beck meets The Shins with spacey, psychedelic swaths courtesy of Mr. Burton’s production work.
Key Tracks: Stylo, Some Kind of Nature
Sounds Like: What Kool Keith’s been pushing for the last few years
The Skinny: Don’t lie. You’ve been grooving to Plastic Beach since it came out; it’s infectious. Even though Gorillaz producer David Albarn has been doing it for over a decade, and others for even longer, 2010 is the time when fused music like this is not only acceptable, it’s desirable. From the moment the waves crash on the aptly titled Orchestral Intro to the final blows of the kazoo on Pirate Jet, it is a nonstop album of bouncing heads, familiar voices, and, for lack of a better word, interesting sounds. An almost never-ending list of all-stars, including Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack and Lou Reed, to name a few, tackle each track with an equally never-ending groove of electro-funk.
Key Tracks: Next Girl, Tighten Up, Howlin’ For You
Sounds Like: White boys from Ohio doing dirty Southern Blues
The Skinny: It took them long enough, but The Black Keys finally realized what Jack White did a few years back – that while you can make compelling music with just a guitar and drum kit, you can make it even more dynamic by adding things like bass and keyboards every now and then. Maybe it had something to do with recording amongst the ghosts in the room at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, but Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, walked away with their most fully realized album to date. Brothers oozes with a thick gooey stew of dark psychedelic blues and soul that’s dripping with Auerbach penned lyrics about the heartbreak stemming from Carney’s divorce.
Previously On HT: