We change so much every year, and just as our opinions change on friends, teams and politicians, so do our opinions on pop culture. That’s why, since 2008, I’ve revised my previous year’s top 10 lists. Before we get to the best of what 2011 had to offer, let’s take a look at the best of 2010, with an extra year to mull it all over.
What I said then:
10. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: the Son of Chico Dusty
9. The National – High Violet
8. Robyn – Body Talk
6. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
5. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
4. Lecrae – Rehab
3. Bruce Springsteen – The Promise
2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
1. Sarah Jaffe – Suburban Nature
What I say now:
10. Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back (Real World)
Releasing an album of covers is standard procedure for artists of a certain age. But Gabriel makes it feel anything but standard. Part of an ambitious project that will eventually include a companion album of artists covering his songs, Scratch My Back features a dozen tracks accompanied by an orchestra, and transforms each one of them into a showstopper.
9. Quincy Jones – Q: Soul Bossa Nostra (Qwest)
Also par for the course for older musicians: re-recording their biggest hits with younger artists. But leave it to the master to take his Quintessence and make each recording powerful. He even allows Akon to tackle “Strawberry Letter 23,” and comes away with one of the greatest covers of all time.
8. Robbie Robertson & John Powell – Shutter Island: Music from the Motion Picture (Rhino)
Compilation soundtracks in lieu of original scores is nothing new to Scorsese, but here he kicks it up a notch, enlisting former Band member Robbie Robertson and composer John Powell to collect the best contemporary classic music for an eerie soundscape. It’s a terrifying soundtrack for a terrifying film.
7. Lecrae – Rehab/Trip Lee – Between Two Worlds (Reach)
The Kanye and Jay-Z of Christian hip-hop, Lecrae and Trip Lee stand head and shoulders above their peers, creating uplifting raps that sound just as good as anything on the radio.
6. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (Glassnote)
Moving up from last year’s honorable mentions is the London band’s debut, which is probably now in my Most Played of All Time list. The album has sold more than a million copies in the U.S. thanks solely to word-of-mouth. And that’s because it really doesn’t sound like anything else out there, yet it’s still accessible to everyone. Can’t wait to see what they do next.
5. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
Sometimes you don’t “get” an album on first listen, or even on the second or third. But eventually Sufjan’s ridiculously ambitious quasi-concept album won me over with its enormous scope and highly personal lyrics. Plus, musically, it’s mind-blowing compared to the simple, gorgeous folk songs he used to write.
4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-a-Fella)
Speaking of mind-blowing, overly ambitious, highly personal, flawed masterpieces, there’s this album. While I appreciate it now more than I did in 2010 (when it had only been out a couple weeks), I still think a snip here (the feedback-heavy reprise of “Runaway”) and there (the Chris Rock skit after “Blame Game”) would have made it even better. But is any rapper close to touching Kanye? Not at all.
2. Sarah Jaffe – Suburban Nature (Kirtland)
Taking this album down one spot does not mean I love it any less. I just love my No. 1 pick a little more. It was a close call for the top spot last year and it remains so this year. Don’t worry, though. As one obnoxious woman at her concert last September frequently shouted, “I love you, girl!”
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Merge)
After their shocking Grammy triumph, it’s abundantly clear—if it wasn’t already—that The Suburbs is a certified Rock Classic, sure to be in the same discussion as Sgt. Pepper’s, Who’s Next, Born in the USA, Nevermind and Kid A as era-defining masterpieces.
New honorable mentions: the Black Keys – Brothers, Corinne Bailey Rae – The Sea, Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul, Drake – Thank Me Later, Gospel Claws – C-L-A-W-S, John Mellencamp – No Better than This, Kelis – Flesh Tone, the Roots – How I Got Over, Sleepy Sun – Fever, Sleigh Bells – Treats