Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I intentionally put off listening to this album because I didn’t want to buy into the tremendous hype, but for once, the hype was completely justified. I’m usually not a big fan of rap music, but Kanye is undeniably gifted at what he does: I have some difficulty even classifying this as rap because of how effortlessly Kanye blends all of these seemingly disparate elements into something that is so innovative and fresh and genre-bending, and his constant teetering between bombastic boasting and critical self-laceration makes for a profoundly accessible and human artistic work.
Cee-Lo Green, The Lady Killer
I probably would have never gotten around to listening to this if it hadn’t been for the ubiquitous catchiness of the single “F-ck You.” Who would have thought that a song whose message has such vitriol could be so head-bobbingly upbeat and fun? The thing I love most about Cee-Lo is that he is a sonic anachronism: he has otherworldly pipes that sound like they belong in another era entirely. The voice paired with musical arrangements that are a modern reinterpretation of classic soul, paired with themes of the dangerous nature of love and heartache, lend The Lady Killer a sort of timelessness, a something that feels both contemporary and nostalgic simultaneously. And to my great surprise, Cee-Lo does a soul-infused cover of Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” that is almost as tear-inducing as the original.
Song: No One’s Gonna Love You (Band of Horses Cover)
Morning Benders, Big Echo
Unlike Kanye and Cee-Lo, I actually listened to the Morning Benders several times in 2010. I listened to Big Echo in the spring when I would do laps around the high school track in Woodland, and sadly, that just wasn’t the ideal listening scenario. But last week while driving to work, I put on Big Echo and there was a moment when I was emerging from the I-90 tunnel and descending onto the Mercer Island bridge that is entirely surrounded by the waters of Lake Washington, and the sun was rising and an orange glow spread across the water and the hills, and in that instant, this album made complete sense to me.
Song: Wet Cement