One of the most significant cultural phenomena of the 2010s is paradoxically subtle, and while not all that different from past trends, it is still somewhat of a shift.
It was 2010 that saw the musical main stage dominated by the ‘cult of personality’ archetype. Within the realms of pop, R&B, rap and hip-hop, mega-stars arose to dizzying heights of stardom. There has always been a sense of idolatry within the music industry, however, it doesn’t compare to the ubiquitous omnipresence of the likes of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Kanye West, Beyonce and many more.
During the stark rise of what seemed like an endless stream of overnight sensations, one couldn’t help but get the sense that there was a super-star factory somewhere, and upon receiving a golden ticket, you would be allowed admission into the giant hit-making machine and after experiencing a terrible accident of falling into a friendly-looking but no less menacing mechanism – you come out the other end as a plastic version of yourself – but a very rich plastic version of yourself.
It seemed that our entire cultural society was moulded and shaped to embrace these stars with open arms; all one needs is a YouTube channel, some dance moves and a grandiose and technically adept voice and you may just be granted an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres show. It seemed that the concept of bands was becoming more and more obsolete.
MTV music videos ended, and with it, new digital streaming sites took over. Getting on radio shows have also become more irrelevant because of this. It became ever so clear that the most significant revenue stream would not be album sales anymore but instead, delivering brilliant concerts and non-stop touring. This holds true on every level of professionalism; whether you are a regional band attempting to break through to the next level, or a multi-million streamed pop-star, concerts have become a reliable and even an essential part of the musician’s career.
2010 also marked the beginning of rap records outselling rock albums. As the decade wore on, the Grammies saw hip-hop artists take home more awards than the ever dissipating number of rock artists. By today’s standards, it is not that crazy to see the top 40 charts comprised of all pop and rap/hip-hop artists. 2010 is the year when these trends began taking shape. For rock fans – looking on the bright side – the genre and catchword, ‘indie’, has taken an entirely new meaning – indie rock truly is independent now.
When looking at our definitive list of the top six albums of 2010, with the exception of one or two, we decided to pay homage to the death of rock ‘n’ roll, by including a majority of albums by increasingly sparse but no less brilliant indie rock artists.
Below, you’ll find that list.
The best albums released in 2010:
The Suburbs – Arcade Fire
Brothers, Win and Will Butler, who are two key members within the core of the Canadian indie gods Arcade Fire, developed the concept of The Suburbs based on their early childhoods growing up in Houston, Texas, as well as other areas around the country. It is their third album and still stands as one of their greatest albums.
“Will and I were born in a really small town in California, on the Nevada border,” Win explained. “Maybe 50 people on the side of a mountain. We moved to the suburbs of Houston when we were young. Being a very young child, it’s like going to Mars or something. The blast of hot air when you get off the plane at Houston. Just trying to talk about some of the feelings.”
He added: “A lot of my heroes from Bob Dylan to Joe Strummer were suburban kids who had to pretend they were train-hoppers their whole lives. Talking about an experience and not make-believe is what we’re doing on The Suburbs.”
Plastic Beach – Gorillaz
Gorillaz is Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett’s conceptual creation – a multi-media project fusing visual art, music, video and a collaborative element. For a while, in the early days, the identities of the Gorillaz were anonymous during their live performances, as the musicians hid behind a massive projector screen that portrayed Hewlett’s animated gorilla characters.
Hewlett explained the story and concept behind Plastic Beach, “The band have taken up residence, recording on a secret floating island deep in the South Pacific, a Plastic Beach HQ, made up of the detritus, debris and washed up remnants of humanity,” he said, before adding: “This Plastic Beach is the furthest point from any landmass on Earth; the most deserted spot on the planet.”
Brothers – The Black Keys
The sixth album from the blues duo, The Black Keys, Brothers won three Grammies in 2011 and the album’s lead single, ‘Tighten Up’, was famously produced by Danger Mouse. During the making of this record, tensions had grown between the two members of the band, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. After being introduced to Brothers producer Mark Neill, Neill helped make Auerbach’s first solo effort, Keep It Hid, released in 2009. Black Keys drummer, Patrick Carney, was unaware that Auerbach was making a solo album until it was released – which spurred said tensions. These agitated feelings, however, would only prove to fuel the ferocity of the record.
After a series of controversial events mostly involving Carney and his then-wife, Auerbach and Carney reconvened at Neill’s house, made up, and then discussed the making of Brothers. In this sense, the title of the album has some significant meaning as it is a second shot at being a real band of ‘brothers’. After much deliberation, The Black Keys decided, along with Mark Neill, to relocate to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, an infamous studio for hosting acts such as The Rolling Stones as well as Paul Simon. The acoustics of the studio had a lot to do with what Brothers ultimately turned out to sound like.
Neill spoke about this, explaining: “It’s because of the construction of that building. It’s very odd: the acoustics are really different, the control room has this real mid‑range ‘bark’, and as a result, you tend to mix things a certain way. So much so that when you go out to the car or listen through your earbuds back at the hotel, you suddenly realise, ‘Jeez, I’ve done this completely differently.’ You realise that it’s because of that room that those early MSS productions were mixed the way they were, with the kick drum and bass really loud and present.”
Teen Dream – Beach House
Teen Dream is the third studio album from the dream-pop duo Beach House, comprised of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. This album involved a lot more time and effort than their previous work, as explained by Legrand: “We definitely stored up a lot of energy and ideas that we had. By the end of the touring cycle, we couldn’t wait to get back home to start working on the next record.”
Legrand continued: “In some ways, touring is a restraint on the creative side, because it’s hard to write on the road. So you just have to wait, and sit on this anticipation until the time you’re able to spend days, weeks, months working on something.”
Teen Dream was a very mature iteration of Beach House; where their two previous records established the band as the quintessential shoegaze and dream-pop outfit, Teen Dream saw the group explore a few new elements altogether, and allowed them to escape the box they, as well as the press, were beginning to place them in.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Created amid public controversy that followed Kanye West everywhere he went which also seeped into his psyche and began to wear him down psychologically; West decided to retreat to Honolulu in Hawaii. Out of this period of ‘self-imposed exile’, came My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a work exploring the dualities of self-hatred and self-glorification. The record is considered one of the best of the decade; West won a Grammy For Best Rap Song for ‘All Of The Lights.’
The controversy that transpired prior to the making of the masterpiece, involved Kanye West accosting and interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech during MTV’s Video Music Awards. Among the long list of musicians Kanye West collaborated with on the album, he also enlisted the help of many major studio producers, including Q-Tip, RZA, DJ Premier, Madlip, and others.
In an interview with Q-Tip about what this elaborate process entailed, he said: “He’ll go, ‘Check this out, tell me what you think.’ Which speaks volumes about who he is and how he sees and views people. Every person has a voice and an idea, so he’s sincerely looking to hear what you have to say—good, bad, or whatever … When he has his beats or his rhymes, he offers them to the committee and we’re all invited to dissect, strip, or add on to what he’s already started. By the end of the sessions, you see how he integrates and transforms everyone’s contributions, so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He’s a real wizard at it. What he does is alchemy, really.”
Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter
When writing the songs for Halycon Digest, singer-songwriter Bradford Cox of Deerhunter wanted to create a series of “short dispatches” from the past, taken from memories. “It has a lot to do with the way people romanticize the past, even if it was horrific,” said Cox about the concept of the record. Musically, the record defined a whole new style of indie rock, setting precedent for new unique sounds that Cox created with guitar effects. The songwriting is fairly straightforward pop, however, there are small nuances surrounding the basic structures of the songs that make it very unique.
The definition of the word ‘halcyon’ is when one denotes the past as idyllically happy and peaceful, perhaps even in an illusory naive way. Cox added, “The album’s title is a reference to a collection of fond memories and even invented ones, like my friendship with Ricky Wilson or the fact that I live in an abandoned victorian autoharp factory. The way that we write and rewrite and edit our memories to be a digest version of what we want to remember, and how that’s kind of sad.”