This album is here for two reasons. First, I'm of the opinion that shoegaze should never die so long as it has a competent singer in front of it. Second, the eponymous debut of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart didn't come across my desk until months after it launched in 2009 and so I'm compensating for the fact that I never got to critically praise it. Kurt Feldman, drummer for The Pains, takes the lead with The Depreciation Guild and does exactly what any good shoegaze vocalist ought to: He doesn't go beyond his limits or try to be the center of attention. Spirit Youth is a beautiful collection of dreamy fuzz that's both conversant in the shoegaze genre and capable of expanding upon its principles.
Variety is the name of the game in Gorillaz's first release in years, a triumph of collaboration and musical experimentation that defies genre not to be abrasive, but to be universal. There's very little noodling around on Plastic Beach for being such a playful album. Instead, it lets incredibly beautiful moments like the mid-track takeover of "Empire Ants" by Little Dragon and engineering delights like the chorus of "Super-Fast Jellyfish" just happen.
In a vein similar to Plastic Beach, pop journeyman Mark Ronson brought a unique congregation of artists together to make the surprisingly affecting synth album Record Collection. 80's New Wave luminaries like Boy George and Simon Le Bon share space with rappers Q-Tip and Ghostface Killa, as well as pop singers like Rose Elinor Dougall. The result is an album that seems nothing short of a celebration of modern music, a perfectly constructed stack of dance tracks with heart and brains to spare.
Krunk music is terrible. It may be fun and it may get people on the dance floor at da club, but it also revels in its own stupidity and is happy to trade actual music and lyrics for vibrating bass and monosyllabic grunts. That's why the debut album by Sleigh Bells is so amazing. It takes the very principles of krunk and give them real rhythm, a glitchy toolbox sensibility and disarmingly feminine vocals. It's an experiment that works, if only once.
I'll be the first to admit that High Violet doesn't rock. It's a lush, carefully orchestrated album of songs that sound intelligent without being literary and emotional without being overblown or sappy. I hate to slap it with the label "adult contemporary" because that would put it alongside a lot of awful music, but it's just so damn grown up and modern that no other niche fits. Sometimes it soars, like in the closing moments of "England", and sometimes it wails, as in "Afraid of Everyone", but High Violet never falters. A stirring collection of songs from front to back, it's the latest entry in The National's six-year streak of powerful albums and the most durable listening experience of 2010.