Ohmpark’s Top 50 Albums of 2010

Years and decades are fairly arbitrary lines in time, but it’s interesting how things can be so easily organized in this way. Maybe it’s coincidence, maybe we can find a narrative in anything, or maybe there is something else at work. But in terms of the history of music, 2010 was very much the beginning of a new chapter. The ’00s could be characterized as the slow ascent of indie music propelled by how the Internet changed everything. But in 2010, I get the sense that the influence of both indie and the Internet has reached its limit and now the oversaturation of those influences is pushing things in an entirely different trajectory. Of course, indie/Internet/blog music is still not exactly mainstream; there are plenty of genres that are more popular. But it has grown large enough to reach that point every popularized genre arrives at when it starts to cannibalize itself and embrace its own clichés, well on the road to becoming a parody of itself like hip-hop and country currently are. I started to worry this was happening at the end of 2008, but then the anomaly that was 2009 came along and my pessimism waned. But looking back now, so many incredible, transcendent records just happened to converge in 2009 to cap off the decade, and this year lacked last year’s breadth of records that could both capture a wide audience and demonstrate an authentic, artistic vision. There were certainly some, but in terms of what was most widely praised in the indie world, for the most part 2010 was unimaginative and derivative.

Now it would be easy to just write this off as simply the cyclical nature of genres rising and falling in pop music–things get popular and then they start to suck. And that’s definitely part of it. But there’s something cultural at work as well. For someone who is, say, twenty years old right now and living in the United States, the backdrop to growing up has been 911, eight years of Bush disasters and wars capped off by a few years of a horrible economy and government dysfunction. Politics and the news have been beseiged by an intangible turmoil for a decade now, and it’s hard to ignore how this has affected the psyche of people growing up in this environment, even if those people are apathetic to these phenomenons. And really, If anything, these events have helped bolster the apathy of the youth for the world around them; this generation has a strong desire (which some may describe as a sense of entitlement) to skip all the bullshit and just be happy. And this isn’t just about politics. As technology continues moving ahead at an unyielding pace, not everyone adapts to the change and embraces it. Globalization and the ever increasing complexity of the world around us can create a yearning to return to a simpler time. There is an anxiety about the current state of things, and this can help establish a feeling of nostalgia for the past, when times were perceived to be better. And that yearning for the past and simplicity has pervaded the fashions of music. Everything popular now is lo-fi or rips offs of styles decades old. Many people want to write off the 2 year running chillwave fad as just a blip, but it’s really a telltale sign of what’s happening across all of music, the convergence of all of these trends. It’s the ultimate escapism into simplicity and nostalgia, and that is what 2010 in music has been all about.

There are other cultural threads that push music in this direction as well. The reality TV/American Idol culture has ended up permeating into indie as much as indie has permeated the mainstream, if not more. People seem to only care about celebrity and gimmicks. More people are interested in Best Coast‘s cat than in discovering musicians who are actually innovating things. And now that technology has shattered the bar to entry and enabled anyone, no matter what level of talent, to be able to create music, working at one’s craft has become increasingly irrelevant. A talented producer can make just about anyone sound good in a certain manner. And the sort of music that is popular now doesn’t require very much effort to make anyway. Technology, specifically enabling anyone to be able to download anything for free, has shifted the way people listen to music. When you could only afford to buy so many records, people spent a lot more time with their music, and that benefited music that had a lot of depth, carefully crafted records. Now people blow through as much music as fast as possible, so the sort of music that people celebrate is the kind that catches one’s ears right away, even if there is nothing to it beyond the surface.

In just about every way, music has become more about style than substance. The artists who were successful this year by and large achieved success by means that had absolutely nothing to do with the merits of their art. It was all about back-stories, connections, cashing in on trends, hiring the right publicists, being friends with the right people, being hyped by the right blogs, etc. Sure, some of those successful artists happened to make some good music, but that’s not why they became successful. The environment has also has become one where artists are punished and marginalized for taking risks. Three great examples in 2010 are Sufjan Stevens, Yeasayer, and MGMT. I may not equally love all three of these records, but I respect the artistic choices they made, and while each has a small but fanatical cheering section, none of these were well received overall. Instead, boring, predictable, easily-marketable, overly-derivative, watered-down drivel ruled supreme.

I think it’s also important to note that 2010 showcased the most centralized music media since the ’90s. Where the ’00′s were all about de-centralizing music media because websites and blogs popped up everywhere and created infinite choice, now there is simply too much information out there for anyone to make sense of it. You see, the truth is that most people want to be told what to listen to and not have to do the hard work of finding it themselves. Other than us music nerds, most of which have our own blog, people don’t have the time to search across website after website looking for something new. So people have now migrated to fewer and fewer locations to find what they want. In the indie world, that means the aggregators, Pitchfork, which lines their content up with what’s popular on the aggregators, and the handful of superblogs that are now under Pitchfork’s payroll. The few music journalism institutions that still make money are only interested in making more of it and expanding their audience. And that can only be done in two ways once you have already captured a significant audience. Either create content that is so good that it transcends the topic of the content, which is hard, or just pick topics that are the most popular within the realm of relevant topics the institution can discuss, aka the SEO strategy, which is much easier. That’s why you see Pitchfork give Kanye West‘s newest record a 10.0 and why Creative Loafing pretends Justin Beiber is part of the Atlanta music scene. Why go to the effort of creating interesting content when you can just reference celebrities and get tons of attention? I mean, you can’t really blame them, because they’re just giving people what they want. In the longterm, the Internet didn’t really change the nature of music journalism at all, only the structure. It created a temporary anarchy and changing of the guard, but we’re long past that point now. The professional music media is back to being nothing more than celebrity gossip reporting of another flavour.

Now, all of the trends I’ve described above don’t necessarily make me excited about the state of things. Simplicity, nostalgia, and commercial viability aren’t exactly on the top of my list of what I look for in music. But from my perspective, I can’t be pessimistic about it either. What I’ve been describing so far is about trends and what is popular, but that doesn’t at all speak to the sheer amount of quality, artistic music that is still being produced every second across the world. For someone who is willing to dig deep, there is an endless supply of music for anyone’s taste. And so really, it’s still a great time in the history of music for everyone, except artists taking chances and hoping to make a living from their music, and there’s still even a small chance to breakthrough that way if you’re really lucky. So what’s popular is starting to suck, but that’s okay because the underground is as fertile as it’s ever been. If I was going to parallel 2010 to any other recent year, I guess 1998 would probably be the most appropriate. Trends aren’t looking so hot and that doesn’t look to change very quickly, but there’s plenty of incredible music if you know where to find it. And ultimately trends come and go, and things are always in a state of flux, so there’s no telling what could happen in the years ahead.

Finally, here’s the fifty records I enjoyed most over the course of this year. If there’s anything on here you haven’t heard, I’d recommend picking up a copy right away:

50. CocoRosie : Grey Oceans

49. Pomegranates : One of Us

48. Gayngs : Relayted

47. Venice Is Sinking : Sand & Lines: The Georgia Theatre Sessions May 20th 24th, 2008

46. Daft Punk : Tron Legacy

45. Twin Shadow : Forget

44. Yeasayer : Odd Blood

43. Lower Dens : Twin-Hand Movement

42. No Age : Everything In Between

41. The Besnard Lakes : The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

40. Typhoon : Hunger and Thirst

39.Jungol : Over The Sun And Under The Radar

38. Big Boi : Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

37. Blonde Redhead : Penny Sparkle

36. Bambara : Dog Ear Days

35. Teen Daze : Four More Years

34. Tu Fawning : Hearts On Hold

33. The Back Pockets : Blissters N Basements

32. Candy Claws : Hidden Lands

31. Suuns : Zeroes QC

30. Sorry No Ferrari : Ternary

29. Zach Hill : Face Tat

28. Red Sea : Weird Problem

27. Nomen Novum : Go Primal

26. Flying Lotus : Cosmogramma

25. Of Montreal : False Priest

24. Qurious : Planet Plant

23. Oryx And Crake : Oryx + Crake

22. Emeralds : Does It Look Like I’m Here

21. Crystal Castles : Crystal Castles

20. Women : Public Strain

19. Wild Nothing : Gemini

18. Tame Impala : Innerspeaker

17. This Piano Plays Itself : As The House…

16. Joanna Newsom : Have One On Me

15. Avey Tare : Down There

14. Deerhunter : Halcyon Digest

13. Autolux : Transit Transit

12. Here We Go Magic : Pigeons

11. Land Of Talk : Cloak and Cipher

10. Janelle Monáe : The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)

9. Broken Social Scene : Forgiveness Rock Record

8. Living Rooms : House Kid

7. Local Natives : Gorilla Manor

6. Sufjan Stevens : The Age Of Adz

5. The Morning Benders : Big Echo

4. Owen Pallett : Heartland

3. Beach House : Teen Dream

2. Marnie Stern : Marnie Stern

1. Phantogram : Eyelid Movies

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15 Responses to “Ohmpark’s Top 50 Albums of 2010”
  1. Max Blau Says: January 3rd, 2011 at 9:02 am

    “I think it’s also important to note that 2010 showcased the most centralized music media since the ’90s.”–I think you couldn’t be more wrong about this, and you’re just too close to your (our) own experience as music bloggers. For the average consumer, the rise of sites like Pitchfork or whatever other indie sites are a sign that people aren’t just looking at Rolling Stone, Spin or the other usual suspects. No longer is it just the major players, with a bunch of marginal websites as it was throughout the 2000′s, but there has a been parity of sorts that culminated this year–where Pitchfork or Stereogum or whatever sites actually matter to outside of those like us who’ve already been reading.

  2. Max Blau Says: January 3rd, 2011 at 9:04 am

    “The sheer amount of quality, artistic music that is still being produced every second across the world. For someone who is willing to dig deep, there is an endless supply of music for anyone’s taste.”

    This is what it’s all about at the end of today. More importantly this is readily accessible to anyone and everyone in a matter of moments. Sure this means more gimmicks like Bethany Cosentino and her god awful cat, but it also allows amazing bands like Titus Andronicus get their due as well.

  3. Mason Brown Says: January 3rd, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Good list… but it would be slightly more complete if it included ‘Black Sands’ from Bonobo.

  4. Stickfigure Recordings Says: January 3rd, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Thanks for the support for Sorry No Ferrari’s “Ternary”!


  5. Adair Park Recordings Says: January 3rd, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Thanks for the support for This Piano Plays Itself “As The House…”!


  6. Stickfigure Distribution Says: January 3rd, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Hey Davy,

    you really NEED to stop being so pessimistic! LOL.

    The “mainstream” will ALWAYS try to tell everyone what is in only to just jump on the band wagon when the new trend hits. But the underground will continue to only diversify and expand. What you find out about depends on where you look. If you do not like what certain press outlets are reporting then just look elsewhere and you will find something you like.


  7. ArchdukeJFranz Says: January 6th, 2011 at 1:25 am

    “There’s plenty of incredible music if you know where to find it.”

    According to your list, “incredible” music is devoid of any punk influence (with the exception of No Age). The Best Coasts and Tennis’s of the world are enjoyed NOT because some bullshit blog said so, but because the songwriting is simple and the music nihlistic, alternatively called “punk”. To say there is no place for this kind of music is incredibly shortsighted and pretensious. I’d even say that taking such a strong reactionary stance is no better than the SEO practices of Pitchfork; it’s an easy way to differeniate you blog.

    Here’s my Top 30 (Not an attempt to drive traffic to my personal blog): http://j.mp/ekKSmA

  8. Davy Minor Says: January 6th, 2011 at 3:03 am

    Punk and spam are both pretty “incredible.”

  9. Isaac Says: January 6th, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Much love for the Phantogram, Morning Benders, Beach House, and Gemini mentions (no affiliation, just an admirer). Obviously Sufjan is amazing. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a few of these artists live recently, and I have really been blown away by the quality of what they are producing. I appreciate your views, and for putting me on to some great music I would not have otherwise heard about. I’m excited to look in to many of these artists that I haven’t heard yet. Thank you.

  10. David N Says: January 6th, 2011 at 11:53 am

    what’s so nihilistic about kittehs?

  11. ArchdukeJFranz Says: January 6th, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    True. I took that comment at face value. Nonetheless, I personally believe it’s unfair to dismiss one kind “trendy” music and embrace another, regarding your picks of 80′s revivalists Twin Shadow and Wild Nothing, two albums I found incredibly overrated and somewhat heartless.

    That said, I read your blog regularly and will definitely look up some of the albums on this list I missed. Didn’t mean to come off so harshly.

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