Jed Minor (Editor in Chief)
Paul Falardeau (Arts & Life Editor)
Paul Brammer (News Editor)
Nick Ubels (Online Editor)
Aaron Levy (Contributor)
Email: cascade.arts at ufv dot ca
Well here we are, another year has just finished and we are left in its wake trying to decide what to make of oil spills and Olympics. Well, any attempt to recollect a year in history would be futile without considering the music that got us through it, that picked us up at our lowest and that sang triumphantly with us at the best of times. Party soundtracks, road trip fodder, homework sessions, and more are waiting below, and I think you’ll be happy with the results, but first a quick reminder before you dive-in and start reminiscing and replaying. A Year ago we put together a “Best of the 00’s” and, believe me, it was tough. The same goes here: there was so much good music this year that we have all been spoiled by choice. The unfortunate backlash is that list-makers like us have a tough run of it when we get these annual runoffs together. Well, so be it, and let it continue into 2011, if that means that the Black Keys put out another amazing album like Brothers or Kanye continues to be our favourite mess (with hearty competition from MIA!), if it means artists like the Roots and Big Boi redefine their genres (in very different ways), or old-timers Robert Plant and Neil Young look as good as new champs like Caribou and Brasstronaunt, great. On that note, part of the challenge of making these lists is properly representing each genre. Well, this year music has continued to transcend the idea of genre, and increasingly good music can be seen as just that, no matter who is listening. So, I’m happy to have a few more tough choices when making next year’s list. If the decision is as hard to make as it was this year when deciding between This Is Happening and High Violet, both pieces of musical art from artists saying goodbye and hello respectively, at the end of the day I can rest with a smile, knowing the job’s not so bad after all.
To another year blessed by good tunes,
Paul Falardeau and the Cascade Crew
1) LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
New York’s finest bid farewell by crafting a masterwork to rival their other masterpiece, 2007’s Sound of Silver. Leader James Murphy’s lyrics are a bittersweet meditation on life, love, loss, and feeling too old to be making dance music, and their songs are some of the only works that can make you laugh and cry even as you shake your thang. A truly unique album in a truly unique year for albums.
2) The National – High Violet
The National’s follow-up to their acclaimed 2007 release Boxer is a thrillingly cathartic take on their distinctive sound and a how-to manual for any band striving to achieve a balance between commercial and critical success.
3) The Black Keys – Brothers
In the midst of a year that saw the Black Keys break out everywhere from jewellery ads to magazine covers, Brothers was at the epicenter of it all. The album moves from Dan Auerbach’s neo-soul falsetto to the Keys’ trademark garage-blues stank driven by Patrick carney’s tight groove.
4) Caribou – Swim
The most beguiling LP of 2010 came from Canada’s Dan Snaith, who gave us a trippy, slippy, gorgeous, claustrophobic, and wonderfully-engineered dance album that sounds as though it’s bubbled up from the bottom of the ocean. Snaith’s lyrics also tell the story of a relationship gone wrong – a mundane story cloaked in the most fantastical music.
5) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The fullest expression of his artistic vision to date, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy synthesizes and improves on Kanye’s signature elements (humour, wordplay, genre-defying compositions, cinematic arrangements) while plunging into the depths of his wounded psyche.
6) Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
Hands down the best debut album of the year, The ArchAndroid announced Monae as the most electrifying African-American artist to emerge in the 21st century. Her debut is a genre-hopping, quasi-concept album that takes elements from dozens of different influences and throws them back imbued with her own incredible persona. Very exciting.
7) The Roots – How I Got Over
Easily late-night’s best house band on Jimmy Fallon’s after hours talk bit, the Roots also continued their reign as one of hip-hop’s greatest rap groups. Appropriately-titled, How I Got Over is an optimistic, if cautious, look at the challenges of Obama’s America. Appearances by regulars like Raekwon are coupled with indie-rock notables such as Jim James on “Dear God 2.0″
8) The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Hard to think that this is only the third album from The Arcade Fire, such is their ubiquity in the charts and our hearts. The Suburbs takes the intimacy of their debut and the wide-ranging eye of their second and blends the two in an acerbic and melancholic meditation on the suburb, rearing place of choice for the urban Westerner.
9) Spoon – Transference
While Transference may not be as immediately catchy as 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, it is no less captivating and well-crafted. Its off-kilter production and challenging song structures yield deeper rewards upon multiple listens while tracks like “Written in Reverse” are undeniably soulful.
10) MIA – Maya
It might be a bit easier to like MIA if she would stop shooting her mouth off for half a moment. That’s not really what she’s about though, and this music reflects that: it’s eclectic, energetic, unique, and never fails to be hard to handle. In fact, on first listen it can be unbearable at points. Yet, if you let it, it will get inside your head and set up shop to stay.
11) Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave
The final “American Recording” from Johnny Cash sees producer Rick Rubin do what he does best with the Man in Black’s last songs. The songs sound like a eulogy at times, including the titular gem, “Ain’t No Grave” which comes complete with rattling chains.
12) Neil Young – Le Noise
Produced by the world-renowned Daniel Lanois (Lanois becomes Le Noise), this is Neil Young in his elder years acting like that means nothing. Creative, surprising, and fresh, while dabbling in retrospective moments, Young goes solo without any backing instruments save the wild effects thrown in by Lanois. An unmistakable high-mark.
13) Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Best British album of the year and best career album from Hot Chip, who finally reached their full potential by trimming the fat and keeping things frank. Hard to believe from the band who burst onto the scene with a song about monkeys with miniature cymbals, but One Life Stand is a truly beautiful work catalysed by the birth of the lead singer Alex’s first child. A gem of an album.
14) Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Atlanta’s finest tore up the hip-hop rule book with his first solo album. Every cut on the album is an energetic, virtuoso performance for Big Boi and his collaborators. When hip-hop looks back in 50 years at the best of the century, it’s hard to envision that Big Boi’s latest will be overlooked in the “Greatest” lists. A masterpiece.
15) Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here
Heron proved that his mojo is still in working order with the release of this mini-album. As with Cash’s career renaissance, Heron opts to tell his story mostly through other people’s words, and the man credited as the progenitor of hip-hop shows he is not to be only taken as an anachronism, but still contains the fire and nous to dazzle a contemporary audience.
16) Robert Plant & The Band of Joy – Band of Joy
Coming off his Grammy-winning duet album with Bluegrass beauty Alison Krauss, Robert Plant works again with producer T Bone Burnett. This time it’s with his pre-Zeppelin group, The Band of Joy. On the album, the man who once wielded the Hammer of the Gods looks more like a Viking mystic than a warrior as he slides his way through this dark and moody affair.
17) Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing
Free Energy’s exuberant, James Murphy-produced debut is the kind of album that can make any night spent driving around with your friends feel like the most important event in world history with its ample selection of tunes best heard blaring from your car stereo. In another universe, every one of these hook-filled, guitar-driven sing-alongs would be a top ten single.
18) Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Titus Andronicus are a force to be reckoned with. Their literate, caterwauling, and personal collection of anthemic punk-rock songs filled with references to the civil war and growing up in New Jersey is haunted, but not overcome, by the spirit of Bruce Springsteen.
19) Die Antwoord – $O$
20) Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart
Vancouver’s own psychedelic shamans go at it again with their best effort to date. The disc shifts from Iron Maidenesque head-bangery to Devandra Banhart neo-hippy jams. The album retains a smooth flow nonetheless: like a good trip, the hits just keep coming.
21) Grinderman – Grinderman 2
22) Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
23) Gogol Bordello – Transcontinental Hustle
24) Curren$y – Pilot Talk
25) Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
26) John Legend – Wake Up!
27) The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards
28) The Walkmen – Lisbon
29) Crystal Castles – II
30) Massive Attack – Heligoland
31) Brasstronaut – Mt Chimera
32) Wavves – King of the Beach
33) Four Tet – There is Love in You
34) Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
35) Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
36) Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – I learned the Hard Way
37) Belle & Sebastian – Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
38) Robert Randolph & The Family Band – We Walk This Road
39) The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
40) The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
41) Sufyan Stevens – The Age of Adz
42) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
43) The Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do
44) Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away
45) The New Pornographers – Together
46) Male Bonding – Nothing Hurts
47) Cinnamon Toast Funk – feels Much Better
48) Huron – Huron
49) Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
50) Villagers – Becoming a Jackal