Cuckoo's Eleven - The Best of 2010

 

Top Eleven Songs of 2010:
Download Best of 2010 iMix

  1. Cee-Lo Green - F**k You

  2. Phantogram - When I'm Small

  3. Retribution Gospel Choir - Hide It Away

  4. Sleigh Bells - Rill Rill

  5. The Black Keys - Howlin' for You

  6. Eminem - Not Afraid

  7. Broken Bells - High Road

  8. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

  9. The Kissaway Trail - Sdp

  10. Mumford & Sons - The Cave

  11. Arcade Fire - Spawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Honorable Mentions:
Vampire Weekend - Giving Up the Gun
The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio
Neil Young - Walk with Me
The New Pornographers - Your Hands (Together)
Tame Impala - Desire Be Desire Go
The Dead Weather - Hustle and Cuss
Best Coast - Crazy for You
Yeasayer - O.N.E.

Guilty Pleasure:
Kanye West - Runaway

 

1

The Black Keys – Brothers

"Love is the coal that makes this train roll."

This is an album by The Black Keys. The name of the album is Brothers. This album rocks. When I heard the Akron white-boy duo was expanding to a four piece set, I was legitimately concerned they would sound like Yes. After all, their first two albums which earned spots in Cuckoo's Eleven demonstrated how much sound you can make with drums, a guitar, and a voice that makes it sound like John Lee Hooker's back from the dead. But on their sixth album, they've taken measured steps in their arrangements, branched out vocally (Was that a falsetto I just heard? And was it really as awesome as I thought it was?). Best of all, Dan Auerbach's lyrics continue to mature without wilting.

 
2

Sleigh Bells – Treats

"Keep thinking about every straight face, yes / Wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces / What about them? I'm all about them / Six sets straight, ace / Cut 'em in the bathroom"

Brooklyn-based noise pop duo had me at their All Songs Considered SXSW performance. He (Derek Miller) is a hardcore guitarist. She (Alexis Krauss) is a teen pop vocalist who seems blissfully unaware of the cacophony of sound enveloping her. Their computer crapped out on them four times in three songs. And I still loved them. I thought this would be a fun summer album, but months later I'm still listening to it and loving it. They may never make another album, and there are a lot of people who will hate this. But it's something new, something catchy, and I dig it.

3

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

"When you're hiding underground / The rain can't get you wet / But do you think your righteousness could pay the interest on your debt?"

Let me take a moment and congratulate the Grammys for awarding this band for Album of the Year. I spent much of the next day politely explaining to co-workers who they were. And in spite of the fact it's their weakest album out of the three they've released, it's still brilliant.

4

Eminem – Recovery

"I ain't never giving in again / Caution to the wind, complete freedom / Look at these rappers, how I treat 'em / So why the f*** would I join 'em if I can beat 'em?"

My friend Bryan and I spent the summer writing about the most important musicians of the aughts. Bryan called it back in June that this album might be the album of this decade. My skepticism was short-lived. This is one of the greatest comeback albums of all time. Lots of reasons to love this album: first, he's still pushing buttons; second, this album's rhymes make him a lock for not only the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, but in solid contention for Mount Rushmore of MCs; third, not only does he have ridiculous beats and rhymes, but he's talking about serious topics. Near death and redemption, self awareness and responsibility. I never thought that I'd get both fired up and choked up while listening to a song by Marshall Mathers, but the lyric about handling his responsibilities as a father gets me every time. Icing on the cake is "No Love", on which Lil Wayne guests, lays down a decent track, and is then destroyed by Eminem.

5

Broken Bells – Broken Bells

"Use your intuition, it's all you've got / Keys are revving, there's a dozen locks / standing in your way / So goes the gold age to your entire life."

James Mercer's similarities to Kevin Spacey's character Verbal in The Usual Suspects have always kind of freaked me out. It's like I expect him to start singing about an Okra Fat girl from Skokie, Illinois. Now teamed up with Dangermouse, seemingly the Kaiser Soze of music. This album sounds like a Shins album produced by Dangermouse. But better.

6

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

"Rate yourself and rake yourself / Take all the courage you have left / Waste it on fixing all the problems / That you made in your head"

As a general rule of thumb, if Bob Dylan asks you to back him up on "Maggie's Farm", you've officially made it. It's hard to describe the sound of this five-piece English folk rock band. My best attempt is that it makes you feel like you're an extra in Far and Away. You know, without having to stand on a box next to Nicole Kidman to make you look normal height.

7

Retribution Gospel Choir – 2

“"We sing of salvation / We sing what we must / 'Cause one man's treasure / is another man's lost"

Alan Sparhawk was previously known for his work on the quiet indie rock group Low. This side project is unabashedly louder, and is a solid play start to finish. Yet another Minnesota band added to the Cuckoo's Eleven archives.

8

The National – High Violet

"Go out at night with your headphones on again / And walk through the Manhattan valleys of the dead"

If you don't listen to this band in headphones while walking the streets in winter cold, there's a good chance you'd pass on this band. And you'd be missing out.

9

Neil Young – Le Noise

"I'll never let you down no matter what you do / If you just walk with me and let me walk with you"

Originally intending to record an acoustic album, all bets were off as soon as Young set foot into producer Daniel Lanois' home. Thank God he changed his mind. Sonic overdubs, typical penmanship. You can hear how the songs could be great acoustic tracks, but they're even better electric.

10

The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards

"Knock on the door and the door knocks back / The joke never go no further than that / Fire goes back inside the match / Back down the stack"

The Queen is dead. Long live the King. With the White Stripes officially kaput, we at least have more side projects from Jack White of which to look forward.

11

Tame Impala – InnerSpeaker

"And I boast that it is meant to be / But in all honesty / I don't have a hope in Hell / I'm just happy to watch her move"

Stumbled across this album and fell in love within minutes. Psychedelic rock with clear Beatles influences. Hell, it's as if Kevin Parker listened only to Lennon tracks before recording. The best news about this band: they've already recorded their next album within two months of releasing their debut.

Honorable Mention


 

 

HM

Yeasayer – Odd Blood

"Oh, Max Schmeling was a formidable foe / The Ambling Alp, too, or so I've been told / But if you learn one thing you've learned it well / In June you must give fascists Hell"

Another great experimental rock band from Brooklyn. Bonus points for the Joe Louis reference.

 
HM

The New Pornographers – Together

"I believe you've had something that's mine all this time / Start to sing along / Come, fork it over"

I wondered last year what A.C. Newman's Get Guilty would have sounded like if it were by The New Pornographers. This album did not live up to that hype, but it still is a very good album. With as many references to being "together", it makes me wonder whether this band will go its separate ways.

HM

The Kissaway Trail – Sleep Mountain

"It's not how we planned it to be / Maybe this year will be better / Still, a laugh of colors and organized goodbyes / While drinking champagne from plastic glasses"

Danish band which reminds me of some kind of combination of The Raveonettes and Arcade Fire. This was marked as the album to listen to in 2010 until Arcade Fire released their next album. I think it's still a solid listen.

HM

Vampire Weekend – Contra

"But if the chance remained to see those better days / I'd cut the cannons down / My ears are blown to bits from all the rifle hits / But still, I crave the sound"

Still the Ivy-League Trust Fund babies who so many love to hate. At least they're tongue-in-cheek about their sell-out-off with The Black Keys on Colbert Report. Upper West Side Soweto is a long way from Soweto, but I still love their rhythms.

HM

Best Coast – Crazy for You

"There's nothing worse than sitting all alone at home / And waitin waitin waitin waitin waitin by the phone"

Best Coast is to Vivian Girls what Blur was to Oasis. May the girl-band cat fight now ensue.



Guilty Pleasure of the Year


 

 

GP

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

"Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it / I guess every superhero needs his theme music"

Alright, this is a first. A Guilty Pleasure that hasn't been trashed by critics. Everyone hails this as a masterpiece, his comeback. Whatever. That's not the point. For the first time, Guilty Pleasure of the Year is taking the form of Chuck Klosterman's interpretation, i.e., liking a music by your own definition you should not like.

As always, the samples and beats are groundbreaking. No, that's not doing it justice ... this album is by far his best produced. Tracks are perfectly arranged and orchestrated. He is the best producer of his generation. But he sucks as an MC.

I had hope during my first listen of this album. The song "Power" floored me. At least the first 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Then, he proceeds to regress into a momentary lapse of what can only be described as resembling bad high school poetry: "Colin Powell, Austin Powers / Lost in translation with a whole f***in’ nation / They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation / Well, that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation". Worse yet, he later rhymes sarcophagus with ... wait for it ... esophagus. Don't get me wrong. I'm fine with vapid lyrics and will gladly remind anyone listening to "Slow and Low" that "White Castle fries only come in one size." The first of two ways where I inevitably lose Kanye is his general willingness to a) phone-in lyrics like he's driving a Buick with his knees, and b) then claiming that his lyrics are transcendental. But wait, there's more that I hate about this album.

This album proves to me that Kanye West is the LeBron James of Hip Hop. Nearly everyone looked to him already anointing him "the next great one". Yet his actions alienated the majority of the country in one short phrase ("I've decided to take my talents to South Beach" / "Taylor, you made a great video and Ima let you finish ..."). Further, Kanye seems to subcontract the majority of the tracks. Which, given said issues with lyrics, wouldn't be a bad thing if Dwayne Wade-caliber rappers like Jay-Z were more prominently featured (sidebar: Jay-Z's lyric about MC Hammer will go down in history as the highest comedy:effort insult ratio EVER). As Bill Simmons wrote about James, a move to Chicago would have implied "WIN"; going to New York would have suggested "FAME"; but the move to Miami was interpreted as "HELP". And halfway through the record, you're left to wonder which rapping option is worse: Kanye, or B-listers like Nicky Manaj who are still cutting their teeth. Compared to Eminem, who makes disassembling guest rappers an art form, West leaves it to his guests to finish out the track.

The ongoing saga, of course, is how he presents himself as a changed man, thanks to self-reflection. But in reality, he's matured little from the impish brat who appeared on Punk'd years ago. But something happened after stepping away after the second or third listen. Like George Costanza (By Mennen!), I couldn't escape tracks, beats, and samples. As Kanye raps, "At the end of the day, goddammit, I'm killin' this s***." Which is true. Maybe the self-reflection resulted in killer tracks, and that's all people need to forgive him. Maybe no matter how tacky the chorus to Runaway is, you find yourself humming it for the rest of the day. Or maybe, just maybe, he actually realizes how much of an a**hole he can be. And, like LeBron, has opted to play the villian.

I like this album. Sue me.