2010 was, by all accounts, a pretty rad year in music. The Canadian indie scene continued to thrive, all while established Canuck bands like Caribou and Arcade Fire wowed us with new albums. Didn’t the music establishment declare electronica and rock n’ roll dead nigh a decade ago? And yet here we are, still rocking out. Hip-hop, too, (or rap music as the kids call it) continued its rebirth of sorts; a vibrant new sound that is still hard to pin down, but one that is devoid of unironic autotuning and top 40 aspirations. Since summing up a year in music is proving quite difficult in less than 100 words, I’ll leave that task to the musical experts of the Shelf: Jess and Zack. – Will Perkins
!!! – Strange Weather, Isn’t It?
Many dismissed this album from the weirdos, not taken with their new cleaned-up attitude, lack of swear words and less messy instrumentation. But I found it to be their best work yet, because now we were really getting to know who !!! are and what they’ve gone through in the last year or so. The songs became some of my favourite danceable moments of the year, their shows are always sooo much fun and sweaty and the entire album became my work-out buddy. – Jessica Lewis
Junip – Fields
The kind of album that will always let you remember where and when you first heard it: I had just moved into my new apartment, was lying on the floor of my living room trying to stream it off NPR on my iPhone. “In Every Direction” hit me so hard I could barely believe it. The album became my go-to hug and sense of relief, repeating lyrics under my breath in times of need or simply closing my eyes and swaying to the music. Plus, Jose Gonzalez is a musical wonder. – Jessica Lewis
Foals – Total Life Forever
Quite possibly my favourite album ever. Never has an album affected me so greatly. I even said so to the clerk at Criminal Records in the spring when I was buying the LP that it would be my #1, and it never faltered. I couldn’t shake it, even as I played it I was still anticipating it. The deep blue underwater, icy gazes and dark mental moments sat with me as I could totally connect. It was one of those albums that got me through a rough time with confidence and I’ll forever be better for it. They’d been a band I was always drawn to and loved, but with this they just took me over. It was one of the first albums I could really discuss with a lot of my friends as well, and new friends to boot. The album feels split in two, acts I and II, I could be revved up first and then taken down after. Guitars oh their guitars have set a force for so many other bands this year, I could hear it over and over, but nobody does it like Foals. They became a voice to a younger generation, fans pledge themselves to them in body art for crissakes, and I’m not on those levels nor do I feel that’s a sense of immaturity, but of understanding and honour. Foals and Total Life Forever meant so much to me this year, no matter how many angry outbursts they had at their Toronto date in September I shook about all that day for. I’ve taken so much from the album and there’s still so much left. – Jessica Lewis
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The realm of rap and hip hop is experiencing a magical transformation. For far too long it has teetered on the verge of being too damn stupid, and while it has made for some damn catchy music, a changeup has been long overdue. Certainly the more artisan stuff has always existed, but it’s always been on the underside, 2010 has finally shown promise that the metamorphosis is coming. Possibly more aggressively than predicted thanks to one Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Yes, love him, hate him or super hate him, of all the vain famous people in the world, at least Kanye can stand by his craft. A fine producer and a charismatic performer, Twisted Fantasy is an explosive collaboration of intensely talented individuals. “Between Monster”, “Power”, “Hell of a Life”, “All of the Lights”, “Blame Game” and of course, “Runaway”, the entire album is nearly all new classics. Of course not all of these heralds are multimillionaires, as an even greater worth of credit is owed to the much talked about Odd Future crew. Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, Mike G and glorious weirdo Lil B, a new pack of erratic artists offer a truly unpredictable age for what was becoming a very predictable genre. The best of which is Tyler the Creator, whose style and verse is so up front, so dark, depraved and honest that it is nowhere near marketable, a fact that’s as wonderful as it is unfortunate. This general shift pushes for the weird, greater variety in aesthetics, more MF DOOM and Kool Keith than Nelly, and I’m all for it.
Rock’s doing fine too, better than fine. Ariel Pink finally left his room and while Worn Copy and House Arrest are good albums, what he did in an actual studio surprised the hell out of everyone. Including myself. Who would have known Ariel Pink would one day be kind-of-popular instead of generally-unknown? Before Today feels more like his psychological mixtape, constantly jumping between styles but always retained in this circle of roots, echoing Zappa, Bowie and Reed, Pink starts to sound more like a memory than an actual recording. Other much hyped 2010 entry is The Suburbs by indie heavyweights the Arcade Fire. While it’s not their greatest songs of all time, it is undoubtedly their most coherent experience, The Suburbs latches on to a very specific experience of youth, squeezing it until it’s exhausted and the emotion can be let go. Nick Cave’s side project Grinderman and Michael Gira’s main project Swans both delivered this year, albums Grinderman 2 and My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky are heavy and dirty as they need to be, the latter a familiar but almost exceptionally different delivery from Swans, and a listen you may find draining you in the best of ways. Zola Jesus’ Stidulum and Liars’ Sisterworld also fantastic entries from the world of sorrowed emotions.
If you hate feeling like scum and would rather have a classic flavoured fun, Free Energy’s shamelessly cotton-candy sound is as sugary sweet as the pink gum on the cover. Free Energy is pop rock in the spirit of KISS, madly jumping about like a rube, drunk girls, and all the other stuff the world offers that you hate to admit you like. For fans of dancing, Caribou’s genre-breaking freeform jazz side of electro, Swim, stands as one of the year’s absolute best, while Danger’s long awaited second release, 09/17 2007, has already made for some of the greatest fan vids ever uploaded. Some of the most electric underdogs are Fang Island, Hooded Fang and Twin Sister, the latter having delivered “Lady Daydream”, my favourite track of the year. Tadaa. – Zack Kotzer