Friday, December 17, 2010

Top 10 of 2010: #5-1

5. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
In the year of Kanye West, former OutKast MC Big Boi was one of the few rap stars to appear something more than drab. The brilliant Antwan Andre Patton dropped nothing short of the best in his long-awaited return to the spotlight.

Prior to Sir Lucious, it would have sounded ridiculous to assert that Big Boi would release anything this spectacularly weird, hypnotic, fierce, funny and catchy. After all, we hadn't heard from the South's preeminent hip hop group OutKast in years, and Big Boi wasn't even supposed to be the brains of the bunch. You have to love underdogs who triumph and make it look like they were front-runners from the start.

Big catch: "General Patton": "This s*#t is like breathing to me," Big Boi raps over military cadences. Believe it.

4. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
Monae, self-proclaimed "weirdo," is like no one else, but somehow she manages to sound like everyone else.

The metamorphing songstress spins jazz, funk, classical melodrama, hip hop, Stax-era soul, pre-pubescent Michael Jackson and spacey Tommy James rock like the record industry's going to die tomorrow and someone needs to memorialize all of it.

At the same time that Monae champions her roots, she seems intent on pushing toward the future, or at least a future where genres are irrelevant.

Yes, it's a concept album that picks up where a previous EP left off, and concept albums can be tiresome. But Monae, who's dazzled for years without ever releasing a full-length LP until this year, keeps the flow of The ArchAndroid limber and irresistible.

Big catch: "Faster" - Monae turns into 10-year-old Michael Jackson at the end of this frantic, funk number.

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Arcade Fire can make anything dramatic, even the crappy neighborhood where you used to set bugs on fire with a magnifying glass and shoot BB guns at your friends to break up the boredom.

Some might scoff at the idea of suburban life as being short of idyllic, but the "little pink houses" business is anything but a dream these days. Pensions are drying up, college costs too much, there are no jobs, your parents are convinced the country is under siege, and your closest friends would rather play scratch and sniff with a bottle of glue than apply for a scholarship.

Arcade Fire, in true Springsteen fashion, believe this is a "suicide trap" and we need to get out. It's a good thing they've cushioned the dramatics with another slew of well-written, explosive songs that make every other rock band look like slackers. This album is a grower, maybe forgettable once but a classic by the fifth listen.

Big catch: "We Used to Wait" - We used to wait for it, but now we're screaming "sing the chorus again." Perfect description of Arcade Fire's slowly unrolling masterpiece.

2. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
A friend of mine once said he would be willing to proclaim LCD's James Murphy a prophet if every song were as good as album opener "Dance Yrself Clean."

Halfway through the drifting, low-fi track, Murphy drops a blitzkrieg of club-heavy beats, rambling keyboards and half-screamed vocals as catharsis. If you can't get your dance on with this track, then you probably don't like dancing.

Either way, This is Happening is filled with epic, danceable numbers that scream for repeat listens.

Big catch: Aside from the aforementioned "Dance Yrself Clean," there are too many to mention. But "All I Want," the classic Heroes-era grandchild that Bowie would have recorded if he and Brian Eno had thought of it, deserves mention.

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
West made most other hip hop artists look hopelessly uninspired through the course of this 13-track masterwork. It's a testament to his productivity that he had another dozen or so songs that he recorded during the making of this album that would have filled LPs for lesser artists.

Nothing is better for rap stars than for everyone in the world to doubt them. Let's face it, everyone was doubting West after he made a tuneless rant like 808s and Heartbreak and did his best impression of a cokehead jumping on stage to lampoon Taylor Swift.

Somehow, in the middle of it all, West found time to lock himself in the studio and make songs that crackle with creativity and his trademark self-awareness. Meanwhile, the sometimes clumsy rapper also found a way to turn in some of his best verses ever put to tape.

Big catch: "Power" - King Crimson-sample and a fired-up West obliterate just about every other song in their path.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Top 10 of 2010

It's that time of year. Time to get out your ice-scrapers, wish you had spent your last paycheck on Xmas gifts instead of comic books, and proclaim bold top 10 lists about various things from the last year.

Being that this is the Salmon, here's the first half of the top 10 albums of 2010, the keepers. If I left out your favorite album, too bad. You're wrong about that album, it's actually awful.

Also, if you're waiting around to see where the Salmon placed a Kings of Leon or Eminem album, you will be disappointed. The Salmon believes they reek like seaweed and Danny Bonaduce.

10. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Cartoon band makes like they're really real. Really worldly. Really expansive. Really poignant. Really funky. Really good.

Big catch: "Stylo" - Mos Def + Bobby Womack + Gorillaz = Really awesome underwater rock.

9. Beach House- Teen Dream
Victoria LeGrand sounds like Grace Slick way before she got drunk and helped Starship build that crappy city.

The indie-rock band takes their Xanax arrangements and fills them with shimmering guitar and haunting choruses. It's not beach music, but Teen Dream certainly warms these winter days.

Big catch: "Zebra" - Captures this band's propensity for patient, melting tunes with achingly memorable choruses.

8. The National - High Violet
Good bands with a distinct sound can opt for one of two roads; completely rework your vibe or chisel it down to its most refined.

The National go for the latter on High Violet, taking their thunderstorm-in-the-distance sound to great, if not unexpected, places.

Frontman Matt Berninger continues to make a name for himself as a quietly seething presence with a forked tongue. I'll bet you a dollar his baritone could make even "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" sound like a dirge.

Big catch: "Terrible Love" - Walking with spiders, really? Sounds like a worst-case scenario.

7. Sufjan Stevens- The Age of Adz

Easily the indie comeback kid of the year. Sufjan Stevens, 2005's genius behind Illinois, gets past his existential crisis to finally make another full-length where he's not hiding behind the production credits.

The good news is he's as tuneful as ever, although he's no longer the shy, super-talented loner sitting on the back porch playing a banjo who you would love to ask out on a date to the local coffee shop. He's still super-talented, but now he wants to go clubbing, sort of.

Glitchy dance beats combine with Stevens' penchant for writing melodic wonders. If you listened to the boy wonder's earlier catalog -- see 2001's Enjoy Your Rabbit -- you could have seen this one coming.

Big catch: "Impossible Soul" - Twenty-five minute run time makes it impossibly long, but not impo
ssible to listen to.

6. Vampire Weekend - Contra

The sophomore album from this delightful, world music-inspired indie band is every bit as irresistible, educated and sharp as its predecessor.

The Salmon watched these guys scarf into barbecue sandwiches following a show in South Carolina last year and they looked all of 14.

Truth is, they're in their 20s, but they've already written more classic pop songs than most artists could dream. At one point, it seemed their world beat tracks would eventually be stale, but they still taste fresh through two albums.

Big catch: "Contra" - Title track reveals something new about VW. A band known for danceable, punchy choruses can make a slow-moving ballad that cuts just the same.