Saturday, May 22, 2021

Countdown to 30: My Favorite Album From 2010


2010 is going to be another tough year because I was really trying to keep my finger on the pulse and had plenty of time (and an early Amazon Prime account) to facilitate my attempts. So yeah, five runners-up this year, and there could have been way more. If you want some kind of idea of what I was listening to in 2010, luckily I saved a couple of my playlists.

But I digress. Let's dive into the runners-up.

I finally caught my first Belle and Sebastian album as it came out, Write About Love. Write About Love is a fun Belle and Sebastian album. Norah Jones and Carey Mulligan each guest on a song. The band enlisted Tony Hoffer as producer again. He previously produced their album The Life Pursuit as well as working with many power-pop acts throughout the '90s including Beck. He would go on to work on one of the runners-up for 2011. 

Write About Love is louder, poppier, than their previous albums. Frontman Stuart Murdoch harmonizes or duets with female vocalists on nearly half the tracks. Standout tracks include "Come On Sister," "I Want the World to Stop" and the titular "Write About Love."

A supergroup of musicians called Fistful of Mercy released their only album to date, As I Call You Down. Fistful of Mercy are a blues or folk rock band consisting of Joseph Arthur, Ben Harper, and Dhani Harrison, with session musician Jim Keltner providing all drums for the album. The men weave their melodies and harmonies together and mix in heavy acoustic guitar. At only nine tracks, As I Call You Down uses all of its space. "Father's Son" is the strongest blues contribution, "Fistful of Mercy" coming in a close second. Yes, this album contains both a title-of-the-band track and a title track. They stray the most from the formula on "Things Go Round," which almost songs like a thenewno2 song. Everything is wrapped up neatly with the folk song "With Whom You Belong." The songwriting and arrangement on As I Call You Down is stellar. Even though it's been eleven years, I'm still waiting for the follow-up.

The next four albums could all have been album of the year. I know what my absolute favorite is, but the other three are a tie. 

Mark Ronson was a DJ first, then a DJ and producer, and then he started putting out albums of his own, first Here Comes the Fuzz and then a more polished, critically-acclaimed Version in 2007. For 2010, he uprooted the classic Ronson sound of hip-hop beats and brass, and created a supergroup known as Mark Ronson and the Business International. They have only released Record Collection thus far and let's face it, that's probably all we're going to get because every Ronson album is built with a similarly diverse cast. This is just the only one in which the cast got their own credit.

Record Collection is a mesmerizing collection of digital sounds and catchy songs, brought to life by some of the best living rappers such as Q-Tip (for those not in the know, he was in A Tribe Called Quest) and Ghostface Killah (Wu Tang Clan), smooth female vocals from Rose Elinor Dougall, and male vocals from the unmatchable Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow) and two juggernauts of  '80s music, Boy George and Simon Le Bon. The songs have a jam feel even though they are much too polished to be off-the-cuff. Ronson even tries his own hand at singing on "Record Collection" at the suggestion of none other than Lady Gaga. 

I didn't like Fortress by Miniature Tigers the first time I heard it, and I'm still not sure why. Obviously, it must not have lived up to the expectations I had after 2008's Tell It to the Volcano. A week later, I couldn't shake "Rock and Roll Mountain Troll" out of my head, and then other songs slowly started to trickle in. After I heard "Dark Tower" live, frontman Charlie Brand joking that they had written it for Dark Knight (I think it was a joke, but I'm not positive), I found that song to be required reading also, and ended up going back to listen to the whole album again. It's solid. I was mistaken to write it off, as it's almost more of a sister album to Tell it to the Volcano. I still prefer the first album, but it was my introduction to the band, it will always be special for that reason. 

Lonely Avenue by Ben Folds and Nick Hornby is an absolute treasure. Hornby is one of my favorite authors, and was prior to this album. I already discussed 1998's Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg and Wilco, and this is coincidentally a little bit similar. Except in this case, the lyrics the musician had to work with were being written by a living author. Hornby wrote eleven short stories in lyric or poetry form and Folds put music to them. The duo would later collaborate again on The Ben Folds Five album The Sound of the Life of the Mind.

The songs are about all different topics as a result of the process. The track the title comes from, "Doc Pomus" is a true-life story of songwriter Doc Pomus who wrote such songs as "Save the Last Dance For Me" from a wheelchair as he watched his wife dance with other men at their wedding. The song details the process Pomus used as he pulled from virtually any source he found interesting as a fly on the wall. "Levi Johnston's Blues" is a strange one, the lyrics pulled from the social media accounts of the father of Bristol Palin's child just after Sarah Palin was tapped as the VP nominee.

Onward to fictional topics, "Picture Window" is a song about a child dying of cancer, "Claire's Ninth" is about a young girl trying to navigate life after her parents' divorce. "From Above" acted as the lead single for the album, and is about how the notion of soulmates might be flawed because some people might just never meet their soul mates. My favorite story, "Belinda" is about a musician or singer who has to sing a song about his ex every night because it's his biggest hit.

I thought it was very cool also, how they enlisted the help of Youtube stars creatively. Yes, Weezer used memes in their video for "Pork and Beans," A Fine Frenzy featured Dave Days in her video, and there are probably many more examples I'm not thinking of, but Folds and Hornby actually gave their Youtube collaborators creative control. They enlisted Charlie Day (Charlieissocoollike) to make the video for "Saskia Hamilton" and wrote a song with video song artists Pomplamoose called "Things You Think." The latter was an iTunes exclusive, but it's a great song that features a poignant spoken word piece by Hornby himself. 

I don't understand why more people don't talk about Lonely Avenue. I consider it to be a work of art.

There was much speculation (from me at least) as to what Kate Nash could do to follow up the twee Made of Bricks. The answer was the astounding My Best Friend Is You, an album unafraid of the roots of Made of Bricks, but also unafraid to be a riot grrrl album. It was originally to be titled Crayon Full of Colour, but the title was changed due to Scottish artist Paolo Nutini issuing a song called "Pencil Full of Lead."

"Paris" opens the album with soaring strings and claps followed by Nash's signature keyboard sound and a song in the style Nash was known for at the time, but with more complex backing parts. "You said you'd lend me anything//I Think I'll have your company" is one of the standout lines from the song, sung more slowly and quietly than the rest of the song before being incorporated into the faster portion again. Strings are prevalent again in "Kiss That Grrrl," the first reference to the riot grrrl movement. "Don't You Want to Share the Guilt?" starts like an early Nash song, which makes sense, as an early demo was on a B-side to "Merry Happy" from Made of Bricks. It begins as a more traditional relationship-ending song, before it moves into an honest spoken word section about halfway through. The spoken word section is a beautiful piece of poetry, honest and visceral. 

"I Just Love You More" is very much in a riot grrrl style, but it's more of a love or obsession song than one with political or feminist messaging. "Mansion Song," however, fills the genre perfectly, with vitriolic spoken word and scream-singing later on. "Take Me to a Higher Plane" is a good combination of mild punk stylings with cute lyrics. "I've Got a Secret" bridges the gap as well, mixing heavy guitar in with Nash's teasing, melodic vocals.

First single "Doo-Wah-Doo" is a very throwback sound and a story about a woman comparing herself to another woman her friend seems to fancy. "Early Christmas Present," "Later On" and "Pickpocket" are all very reminiscent of her first album, with the latter featuring the most similar piano parts to Made of Bricks

"You Were So Far Away" might be the slowest song on the album, with Nash's voice doubled and guitar at the forefront. "I Hate Seagulls" closes the album, beginning with a list of things the narrator hates, then a list of things she loves. At the "end" of the song, we are left in silence for a few minutes before launching into a "secret track," "My Best Friend is You." 

I thought I was so artsy in 2010.
I was introduced to Kate Nash, as with several other artists, by my friend Zack. He played me "Foundations" and I loved her unabashed, thick accent and her cute songwriting. 

I preordered this album when it was announced and was unexpectedly smitten with it. I love the addition of the punk (riot grrrl) attitude to some songs, but also love her usual cutsie relationship lyrics. My favorite songs included "Kiss That Grrrl" for the relatable jealousy one can feel when compared to the quintessential "normal" or "pretty" girl. It's a little bit antifeminist in a way, but the intentions aren't negative. I love the energy of "Take Me to a Higher Plane," which is a pseudo punk song with indie pop guitars. "Mansion Song" scared me, but in that way you want to feel challenged as a teen.

Amoeba Records San Francisco, 2010.
I also got to catch Kate Nash live at Amoeba Records in 2010. It was undoubtedly the most intimate Kate Nash show I'll probably ever have the fortune to see. Nash was sweet but outspoken, and jumped from keys to guitar. I met her after the show and got my CD signed. Of course, she did the traditional "thanks for coming out to see me," but it really felt sincere. She was grateful for her fanbase, even as unusual as some of us were (there was a girl in the crowd yelling to her in a bad British accent. The same girl came up to me while I was shopping after the show and started talking to me as if I was Nash. That's the most I've ever looked like her but I didn't look like her that much. See photos to the right for context). When I saw her a couple of years later, it was back in Ohio, at the crowded A&R Music Bar. 

My Best Friend is You represented Nash trying on a new sound that she ended up sticking with. The combination of her original sound and later sound is just perfect for me. I love this album, and every time I listen to it again, I remember how much.

Let's do the leaderboard thing, now twenty albums strong!

Join me tomorrow for my favorite album from 2011!

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