2010 was, from my perspective, a great year for music, not just in the electronic genres that comprise the bulk of my listening but also in a wide variety of other music sources: indie rock (The Walkmen, The National), 90s dark trip-hop bands morphing into melody driven dance and desert rock (Massive Attack, UNKLE), pop-fueled mixes of r&b, disco, and soul (Gorillaz, Groove Armada) and a genre I otherwise usually neglect, hip hop (Kanye West.)
In such a creatively strong year, what stood out? Many online have focused on top albums and singles; for something a bit different I’ve compiled below ten of my favorite musical moments from albums released in 2010. I’d emphasize these are moments and not songs, little bursts of creativity and sound that made the year so listenable. I’ve split the list into two posts, the first five moments detailed today, the remaining five for a post next week.
Tron: Legacy’s much hyped release was something of a mixed bag overall, lots of stunning visuals stuck within the context of a poorly structured plot. Nevertheless, Daft Punk’s thrilling score, combining classical orchestra bravado with the French duo’s more familiar slick electro beats was a clear highlight. “End of Line”, one of the soundtrack’s high points, kicks in with a noticeable uptick in tempo, a contrast to a series of slower, string-heavy pieces preceding it. The track’s intro is comprised of a simple beat, electronic percussion with some assorted synths, yet it reminds the listener they’re not listening to just another orchestral soundtrack; Daft Punk’s French house imprint is unmistakable and subtly brilliant.
Four Tet’s second track from their 2010 release There Is Love In You is a slow burn of minimal house punctuated by a distinctive drum beat shuffle. There’s something about the track’s mix that keeps the atmosphere organic yet unmistakably dark. Nevertheless, five minutes in the track’s repetition gets dangerously close to overstaying its welcome. Thankfully, the tone soon subtly changes with the addition of a driving synth bass line. It’s a critical addition that transitions “Love Cry” from something suited more for headphones into a crowd-pleasing dance floor thumper.
This selection is arguably a bit of a cheat, technically a dance-ready inclusion from Michael Mayer’s latest mix CD Immer 3 versus a standalone single. Technicalities aside it’s a standout remix, with Gainsbourg’s breathy vocals pairing well with the throbbing bass and noise added by Superpitcher. Yet much like with “Love Cry”, it’s a simple synth, this time comprised of six staccato notes at midpoint, that elevates the song to a whole new level.
Another Girl Talk (a.k.a Greg Gillis) mashup release was released unsuspectedly on 2010. As usual, most of the band combinations are expertly crafted (Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with Ludicrous) while others are something of a head scratcher (Derek and the Dominos “Layla” with B.o.B?). Overall album quality aside, as Gillis has matured in his remix skills he’s gotten better at knowing when it’s best to leave an already great track alone. Exhibit A: Toadies’ mid 90s hit “Possum Kingdom” smack in the middle of “This Is the Remix”. The refrain of Toadies “Do you wanna die?” trades vocals with comparatively unobtrusive rap-rock from B.o.B, pumping up the drums to spill into a chorus of “So help me Jesus!” Awesome stuff.
Damon Alburn’s idea to include legendary R&B singer Bobby Womack on the latest Gorillaz production was genius. Womack’s powerful yet warm vocals help ground the album, most notably with the album’s first single “Stylo”, an overstuffed yet otherwise straightforward dance jam. “Stylo”‘s brilliance derives almost entirely from the two minute mark when Alburn’s vocals and keyboard pause to give the stage to Womback’s thunderous yell. It’s a deft and extremely slick move, one of many reasons why Plastic Beach remained one of my favorite pop albums of the year.