By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
A year after the Flap, Taylor Swift and Kanye West released multimillion-selling albums. The surprise was the unsurprising results. Swift bore down and wrote songs whose wit and detail suggest she either boasts a powerful imagination or is still interested enough in the world outside the VIP room. Since shes so young, complacency is the sin her imagination must guard against. From Stevie Nicks to Sinead OConnor, the history of pop music proffers too many examples of misguided talent and narcissism. Every indication suggests shes going to be one of those talents about whom The Industry is self-congratulatory, a Grammy stand-by like Stevie Wonder. So Im perfectly fine with Speak Now as her testament. Shes hungry enough to know relationships, like coal, exist as fuel for healthy furnaces, but whose fumes are toxic if inhaled.
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor: Patrick Stickles sees Axls civil-war-as-social-metaphor and raises it so high its not even funny, except it actually is funny. Massive but never plodding, smart but never clever, this is the thing you should throw right in the face of the next person who tells you the album is dying as an art form. If you find a collection of songs that makes better use of the word excrement in the lyrics, you should buy it.
If theres one 2010 artist I feel sure American critics are going to under-rank, its Shakira. Sweet, shrewd, and as brilliant as her blond highlights, she leaves me mesmerized, and I harbor no doubts that Waka Waka was the masterpiece of 2010. FIFA put the Colombian woman in the impossible spot of having to represent Africa at its World Cup coming-out parade, and she swiveled her way around that fix with an infectious hip dance and intimations of a melting-pot world to come.
Nicki Minaj and will.i.am, Check It Out: This is the second year in a row where will.i.am has topped my listI must now seriously consider the possibility that hes a genius on the order of Chuck Berry or Bill James. (Three years ago, I thought he was the Antichrist, or at least one of many Antichrists. My thinking has evolved on this matter.)
Gas stations, supermarkets, Walgreensthe more functional the environment, the more effectively Lady Antebellums Need You Now broke my heart. Foregoing massed tracked harmonies for the surefire technique of putting an average-voiced man and woman together at the mic, Need You Now evoked classic aural psychodramas like Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. (Too bad its host album isnt even as good as Mirage, though).
Against Me!s I Was a Teenage Anarchist damn near made me cry into my Kashi cereal. Singer Tom Gabelthe dude who penned the punker-than-thou anthem Baby Im an Anarchist back in 2002did a 180: He reassessed the fundamentals of punk rock, ultimately concluding its all about an individuals freedom of choice. Hive minds are retarded in the literal sense. Gabels dissent from the rigid scene is his most punk-rock achievement, and a reminder that the most terrifyingly punk-rock thing you can do is become who you are.
The five stages of a 2010 Sufjan Stevens Song:
What the fuck?
No, seriously. What. The. Fuck?
Who does this guy think he is?
Oh, wait, I get it. Kinda catchy.
Hey, can you play that again?
Wavves, King of the Beach/Best Coat, Crazy for You: Every generation gets the James Taylor and Carly Simon it deserves.
Chasin venture paper, like what Twitter get/Sick of arguing with white dudes on the Internetone line in You Oughta Know, and Das Racist were pretty much guaranteed to make my year-end list somewhere. And the line from hahahaha jk? that countered/augmented/expanded on that sentiment Were not racist, we love white people/Ford trucks, apple pies, bald eaglesis acerbic enough to represent their m.o. alongside it, some kind of Br_wn B_st_rds in a Cheech and Chongs Boutique Trojan horse. Christian Lander should fold up his iBook and go home.
St. Paul, MN
Taio Cruzs Dynamite is a fantastic song, and not just because I wholeheartedly support pop music with synth riffs that take their cues from early-90s rave music. After the song became a huge hit, Mike Tompkinss a cappella version of the song went viral; the Maccabeats then covered Tompkinss version (albeit with Chanukah-themed lyrics), and that went viral as well. And then, unexpectedly, something strange happened: I found myself liking the song even more, except that the song no longer meant just Taio Cruz, but rather his version plus all the other versions, assembled into some multi-headed beast that cant be broken down into its constituent parts anymore. Maybe this is how the post-Glee, postAmerican Idol world is going to work: Everyone wants to be a karaoke star, and no song is untouchable anymore. The song recorded in a professional studio and promoted internationally at a cost of millions of dollars ends up on the same pedestal as the cover version recorded in some unknown singers bedroom, or the 90-second truncated version sung by a just-discovered teenager on a TV talent show.