In my usual late-to-the-party fashion, I am still working on my favorite albums of 2011 list (it's a smaller field than 2010 was, but a lot of the albums came out—or I only acquired them—late in the year, so my feelings on a lot of this stuff are still a bit unformed). In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to look back on my 2010 list (which, embarrassingly, is only two posts ago) and see if I still agree with myself.
(As an aside, one of my gripes with most professional 'best of' lists and, indeed, with most record reviews in general is that in my experience, the first, second, or even third impression of an album is rarely definitive. Some of my favorite songs are ones that I barely notice the first time I heard them; other songs that excite me on first listen gradually lose their luster with repeated playing. I've seen lists of 50 or more 'top albums', some posted as early as November of the year in question, and my first thought is always, how many times did the author actually listen to any of these records? I realize professional and wannabe professional music critics are obliged to post reviews as soon as possible, but I wouldn't trust my own snap judgment on any record, so why should I trust theirs?)
Following the format of my original list, here's my self-assessment a year later.
Cream of the Crop
Not much change here. The Monitor is still, far and away, my favorite album of 2010, and at this point, it's probably safe to say that it's one of my favorite albums of all time. The biggest change is that Los Campesinos!’ Romance is Boring, which I only awarded Honorable Mention status a year ago, steadily grew in my estimation to the point that I would move it all the way up to my #2 slot. No small part of this is probably the fact that I became completely obsessed with the song during the fall (when I was, in fact, spending a lot of time thinking about the future). Seeing them live for the first time in November also helped cement my affections.
The other entries in this category remain largely unchanged. If anything, I'll just go on record as calling it a three-way tie between Frightened Rabbit's The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Best Coast's Crazy For You, and Sleigh Bells' Treats for the third spot in my ranking. Three very different albums, each of which I found compelling in its own way.
Second Tier (New)
The ascension of Romance is Boring bumps Tokyo Police Club's Champ out of my top 5. It's not that I like Champ any less, but my appreciation of the others continued to deepen while this remained more or less static. Meanwhile, a couple other albums from the Honorable Mentions category seem to have inched up enough to be more or less on a par with it, so if I were doing my rankings now, I'd add a Second Tier including Champ, The Soft Pack's The Soft Pack, and The Thermals' Personal Life.
As already mentioned, a few of these albums managed to climb my personal chart. Of the remaining entries, most—Gogol Bordello, Trans-Continental Hustle; Girl Talk, All Night; LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening; Screaming Females, Castle Rock; The Vaselines, Sex With an X—remain in a tight cluster of good-but-not-top-shelf albums. Only Belle & Sebastian's Write About Love perhaps falls out of the standings, being replaced by one of my Ask Again Laters: The Extra Lens’s Undercard (Top Tracks: Cruiserweights and Only Existing Footage.
Ask Again Later
These were albums I found very late in the year and didn't think I'd given enough time to to really have formed an opinion. The Extra Lens fulfilled my prediction of making it to Honorable Mention status. Male Bonding's Nothing Hurts and Surf City's Kudos, despite coming to me with excellent references, never managed to make very strong impressions on me (no really standout songs, quite a few indifferent ones). Das Racist's two offerings—Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man—both have their high points ( and Ek Shaneesh from Shut Up, All Tan Everything and You Can Sell Anything from Sit Down) but get diluted by numerous merely average songs (few bands can get manage to put out 37 tracks in one year and not have some clunkers).
Since my original post, I've picked up a few more 2010 releases but none that broke into the upper echelons of the year's albums. I'll mention a few though because they are local (Philly) bands that I discovered over the past year, mostly as openers at various shows.
- Reading Rainbow, Prism Eyes. I'd heard quite a bit of buzz about this band and finally saw them open for Los Campesinos! last fall, which is when I bought their CD. The album sounds like a bunch of other bands who are mining the same general surf-pop aesthetic: pleasant enough but not very memorable. Live, however, I thought they had a harder, almost Sonic Youth-y edge to them. Recently, they changed their name to Bleeding Rainbow.
- Slutever, Sorry I'm Not Sorry [EP]. I keep bumping into this self-described ‘bratpunk’ duo (opening shows for JEFF the Brotherhood, The Baseball Project, and The Coathangers) and have become a fan in the process. This EP is available as a name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp. The one song that really stands out is So Prone—although I actually prefer the newer version of the song on their recent 7", Pretend to Be Nice—but there's enough going on with the rest of their stuff that I'm interested to see what they do next.
- Dry Feet, Philadelphia Beach. Another band I've run across opening a couple of times (both for JEFF the Brotherhood as it happens), Dry Feet take the concept of ‘surf punk’ to the extreme of performing in Jams, tie-dye shirts, and/or goggles and snorkel. The style is not especially original (think of Man or Astro-Man? played half again as fast: the entire 8-song 'album' clocks in at 12 minutes), but they have a certain exuberant charm. In any case, the albums's available for free on Bandcamp, so why not take a listen?
It's reassuring to see that I haven't radically altered my assessments from last year, although the case of the Los Campesinos! album is a classic example of how some music takes longer to get its hooks into me. I haven't really paid close enough attention enough to say whether there are particular stylistic factors that have that effect, or if it is just a matter of timing, context, or other ephemeral factors. I've been contemplating for a while writing about how I actually rate music (a question I've expended way more thought on than can really be justified), but one of the mysteries that continues to confound me is why a given song makes that jump from ‘good’ to ‘great’ to ‘amazing’ in my estimation. In the end, it's essentially a visceral reaction. Some songs go straight to the viscera; some work their way there slowly.