Pretentious, self-indulgent alert! Every January since I was in middle school, I’ve written a “top music of the previous year” list. It’s become a fun tradition; a way of reflecting on the year that was and the music that was its soundtrack.
While NonProphet Status isn’t a music blog, I want to share 2010’s list here because, well, I just can’t help myself! So here we go again — my annual list of my favorite music of the year. Last year I spent a week working on my 2009 year-end “best of” music list; time I just don’t have this year. So I tried to keep this short and sweet… but then I got a little carried away, ha. Oops!
Anyway, without further ado: write-ups on my favorite 25 albums released in 2010, a list of the other 30 I loved, write-ups for five “honorable mentions,” and videos and three song highlights for each listing. Because, as a writer
on religion and atheism, my opinions on music are totally important and worth sharing? (Hey, I was the A&E Editor / Music Columnist for my college paper! Ha.) I hope you see something that reminds you of what a great year it was for music, or that you discover something new. If you do, consider this my New Year’s gift to you. Happy 2011, and thanks for all of your support this year! Now: back to writing my book, heh.
I. TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2010
1. Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz | All Delighted People EP
Few people alive can make music like Stevens does; but he’s essentially unparalleled when it comes to making music that is an event. His albums are a tactile experience — highbrow and immediate, meticulously orchestrated and chaotically organic. This couldn’t be more true with Adz, a sharp and seismic veer to the left that, following the Sufjan-of-old catharthis of the All Delighted People EP, couldn’t feel any more right or any more right now. Post-folk-purge, the old Sufjan has picked himself up and left the cave. The man of Adz is a new creation: once again the greatest musician of his generation, once again making music.
Highlights: “I Want To Be Well,” “Impossible Soul,” “Age of Adz”
Continue after the jump…
2. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
West conjures events of a different sort — public relations crises so loud they threaten to eclipse the music he makes. But hack through the brush and you’ll find gorgeous music: layer upon layer of sound, a pile of mattresses with Prince Kanye atop, infuriated by the pea buried beneath. MBDTF shatters music conventions in a way that makes its creator’s public ego not only forgivable but entirely understandable. Egos don’t get bigger than Kanye’s, but songs don’t get bigger or better than “All of the Lights” (with a guest list too long for me to recount here) or singles “Power” and “Runaway” (feat. Pusha T) — so let’s hope reviews like this feed the fire of his ego so he keeps churning out music on the level of this megalomaniacal opus.
Highlights: “Monster” (feat. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver), “Dark Fantasy” (feat. Nicki Minaj), “Lost in the World” (feat. Bon Iver)
3. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening
I thought there was no topping “All My Friends” and “Someone Great,” the twin beating hearts of LCD Soundsystem’s 2007 effort, Sound of Silver. This Is Happening does it one better, birthing the breathtaking triology of “All I Want,” “I Can Change,” and “Dance Yrself Clean.” This Is Happening‘s shimmering strength doesn’t stop there; as a whole, the record is a stronger one than Sound of Silver, which was already as close to a plenary as any dance record out there. Let’s hope James Murphy was joking about this being LCD Soundsystem’s final album, because they’re just getting into their unstoppable, untopable groove — and so are we.
Highlights: “All I Want,” “I Can Change,” “Dance Yrself Clean”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLPeQ9U_f-0
4. Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
Gorilla Manor is everything you’ve ever loved about discovering the debut of a brand new indie band — the excitement and energy of Vampire Weekend’s first record, the flair and soul of Phoenix’s mainstream breakthrough, the catchy-danciness of MGMT’s debut, the earnest insight and instrumentation of Sufjan’s breakthrough album — with a sound and soul all their own. Sharing in each of these qualities — energy, soul, hookiness, and insight — Local Natives’ debut isn’t some spliced mutation of music already out there; instead, by collating a variety of sounds and styles, Local Natives have created something that is both effortless and methodical, comfortingly familiar and one-of-a-kind. An unparalleled first effort.
Highlights: “Shapeshifter,” “Who Knows Who Cares,” “Sun Hands”
5. Sam Amidon, I See The Sign
The most incredible thing about Sam Amidon is that he does not write original songs — every last song he’s released (as far as I know) is a cover. Unlike most cover artists, this fact isn’t obvious. In fact, after listening to him for years, I learned this only recently when randomly googling him. So it seems that Amidon’s a stealth curator, selecting works that he can manipulate into something all his own (see last year’s #7 pick, Joan as Police Woman’s Cover). I See The Sign is an unexpected modern folk masterpiece, even after the triumphs of his previous work. Spare in the right places, canorous in others, I See The Sign vividly blooms to life and dies off in quiet vibrancy, cycling several seasons in a single song. For those who cycle similarly, this is your soundtrack.
Highlights: “Relief,” “Climbing High Mountains,” “Pretty Fair Damsel”
6. The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt
There’s no avoiding it: this record is fundamentally forlorn. From start to finish, it’s a painfully perfect and perfectly painful. Wholly wrenching, The Wild Hunt in an experience — it grabs you in the gut and refuses to let go. It’s impossible not to empathize with the regret in Kristian Matsson’s voice; gutturally gorgeous, The Wild Hunt is unmissable and entirely worth the risk that you’ll slip into a depression while listening. To paraphrase the Bard: this art is sweet, sweet sorrow.
Highlights: “Love is All,” “Burden of Tomorrow,” “King of Spain”
7. M.I.A., ///Y/ | Vicki Leekx Mixtape
///Y/ (or MAYA) is easily the most misunderstood record of 2010. Upon its release, the backlash was swift, great… and undeserved (for example, see Newsweek’s defense, and Stereogum’s). Some said it was too bawdy and brawling, but it is in fact the clutter that makes the music — it’s not an impediment. From the languorous love slush of “It Iz What It Iz” and scary-cool terror anthem of “Lovealot” to the soaring pop of “XXXO” and “Tell Me Why,” M.I.A. displays a diverse approach to the craft in a way that is as cohesive as it is jarring. The album and follow-up mixtape are a knockout, in every sense of the word. If you’re worried about bruising, bring an ice pack — after M.I.A.’s musical heat, you’ll also need it to cool down.
Highlights: “Teqkilla,” “Tell Me Why,” “XXXO”
8. Owen Pallett, Heartland
For this record, Pallet ditched his longtime performing moniker, Final Fantasy, due to concerns that he would be subject to litigation because of the videogame of the same name. In interviews, he expressed distress over the change, saying he missed the name. But, listening to Heartland, you couldn’t tell. Pallett’s in top form, taking his signature sweeping sounds, tender vocals, and looping violin to an intoxicating new level. By leaving his performing name behind and recording a concept album about a (presumably fictional) man named Lewis, Pallett has come into his own.
Highlights: “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt,” “E is for Estranged,” “The Great Elsewhere”
9. Roky Erickson and Okkervil River, True Love Cast Out All Evil
Erickson and Okkervil River may be a little rough around the edges, but together they go down smooth. Backed by one of the best bands working today, you can hear the tragedy of Erickson’s life in every word and in every sound. Yet (perhaps thanks to Okkervil River’s presence), there’s an uplift to every song; a semblance of grace, if you will. Erickson has spent most of his life battling demons — addiction, mental illness, jailing — but on the haunting True Love Cast Out All Evil, he sounds free.
Highlights: “Forever,” “Goodbye Sweet Dreams,” “Think Of As One”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BosCo9tEHlw
10. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Though its best moments are something of a retread of the moody bombast and efficiency of career high Neon Bible, it’s still nearly impossible to find any fault in the windswept, surging, literate crunch of The Suburbs. It might’ve benefited from some simple trimming, but then again, I wouldn’t want to rein Arcade Fire in. This album is the cure for psycho-suffocation; when I hear it, I just want to get in the car and drive all day without a destination in mind. Arcade Fire is a band for the history books; they’re making the kind of jaw-dropping music today that will be recognized for years to come (and not just because of their surprising Grammy nominations).
Highlights: “We Used to Wait,” “Half Light I,” “Suburban War”
11. Jónsi, Go
If you had played me this solo debut by Sigur Rós’s lead singer, Jónsi, and told me it was a new Sigur Rós album, I might’ve believed you. That is, I’m not sure how distinguishable Go is from Sigur Rós’s larger body of work. Meaning: this record is full-bodied, engaged, a tidal wave of sound — no surprise there. Still, there’s something about knowing that this work is meant to represent the vision of a single man instead of a band’s that makes Go‘s lush, gorgeous, and resonant reach that much more captivating.
Highlights: “Grow Till Tall,” “Sinking Friendships,” “Kolniður”
12. Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me
Before 2010, I was not a Newsom fan. I really wanted to like her — her musicianship has long been beyond competent and charming; her arrangements are inspired and eloquent, and her lyrics are beyond brilliant. But that voice. It was impossible for me to stomach. A friend once compared it to Lisa Simpson, and the parallel was entirely apt. But, miraculously, with Have One on Me, what was previously a source of aversion has gone from a deficiency to a preposterous strength. A three disc set that finds Newsom exploring gorgeous new sounds, enriching her palette and fine-tuning her delivery, Have One on Me is Americana at its most vital — beautifully voiced by a woman who sounds like she’s found her footing.
Highlights: “Does Not Suffice,” “Easy,” “Good Intentions Paving Company”
13. Vampire Weekend, Contra
Call Vampire Weekend a one-trick pony if you’d like, but it’s a high jumper. Contra expands upon the already-high marks of their debut, and shows a bit more range — from the jangly summer sun of the autotuned “California English” to the subtly authentic hurt of “I Think UR a Contra.” Smart, whimsical, and restrained, Contra demonstrates that there’s nothing wrong with being clean-cut, as long as you wear it well.
Highlights: “Diplomat’s Son,” “White Sky,” “Giving Up The Gone”
14. The National, High Violet
High Violet takes everything that was great about their The National’s first record and mashes it with everything that was great about their second, the energy and life of their debut paired with Boxer‘s hushed tones and whispered vocals. Matt Berninger’s throaty baritone and the band’s accompanying music are like dark cedar and exposed brick — vintage and modern, natural yet more than suitable for urban furnishing — combining to create nostalgia for a place you’ve never lived, people you’ve never met, and music you’re still listening to.
Highlights: “Conversation 16,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Lemonworld”
15. Robyn, Body Talk
Don’t you wish all pop stars had transparent hearts like this? Robyn wears her heart on a sleeve made of tinkling beats and thudding bass. Following the compass that was her last album’s centerpiece, the beguiling “With Every Heartbeat” (feat. Kleerup), Body Talk (a compilation of tracks culled from this year’s Body Talk EP trilogy) is a career and genre best, abandoning the normally nominal and vapid lyrics that populate Euro-infused dance music and filling that void with emotional weight. In doing so, Robyn’s become a pop trailblazer. So maybe it’s for the best that most other pop stars guard their hearts; Robyn’s exposition might be less spectacular if it weren’t so unique.
Highlights: “Dancing On My Own,” “Dancehall Queen,” “Fembot”
16. Nellie McKay, Home Sweet Mobile Home
Home Sweet Mobile Home is a striking departure for McKay; one that was heralded by last year’s overly-pleasant Doris Day cover album. It seems that, since her previous three records, McKay has undergone an exorcism of sorts — one that could, without repeated listens, be confused for a lobotomy. Gone are her more extreme and immediate quirks, her angry rants, her yelps and intentionally provocative obscenity. In their place are subtlety and inference, skill and acumen, sighs and chirps. She’s even tender and vulnerable in moments. The humor’s still there, but it burns in embers instead of flames (and hey, a well-tended fire is a lot more useful than sparks are). McKay’s not going quietly into the good night — she’s just embracing the warm glow of sunset.
Highlights: “Bruise on the Sky,” “The Portal,” “Adios” / “Goodbye” (off Deluxe Edition)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdJN9hzEkbc
17. Nada Surf, If I Had a Hi-Fi
Like Joan as Police Woman’s 2009 album Cover (which ranked #7 on my 2009 list), If I Had a Hi-Fi turns the stale notion of a covers record on its head. (Unlike this year’s #5 pick by Sam Amidon, Nada Surf — like JAPW — did a one-off covers record.) But, like Amidon and JAPW, every track here feels like it was written by (or for) the band. There’s not a single weak track here, and the album is universally approachable. That their covers record succeeds so wildly, and that they sound so fresh and necessary all these years after their debut, just confirms that Nada Surf is among their generation’s most impressive rock groups.
Highlights: “Love and Anger” (Kate Bush cover), “Enjoy The Silence” (Depeche Mode cover), “Question” (Moody Blues cover)
18. Matt & Kim, Sidewalks
Talk about a sophomore surge; their first album, released in 2009, was light and fun — but Sidewalks is mature, strikingly handsome music. Vigorous, sunny and soulful, Sidewalks champions a mode of being and behaving that is utterly current; this is music that demands a response. It’s active, intended to be listened to and loved. Thankfully, Matt & Kim make it easy.
Highlights: “Good For Great,” “Where You’re Coming From,” “AM/FM Sound”
19. Marina and the Diamonds, The Family Jewels
From the operatic bellow of “Numb” to the rap/rock/Brit-pop hybrid of songs like “Hollywood,” The Family Jewels is self-aware and simple, egotistical and huge — a mix of contradictions and unashamed about just how damn catchy it is. This is what an avant-garde pop album should sound like, Lady Gaga. (Also: without this album, I would never have made it through finishing my 450+ page Master’s thesis.)
Highlights: “I Am Not a Robot,” “Numb,” “Are You Satisfied?”
20. Matthew Dear, Black City
I’m not sure what happened, but on Black City, Dear loses some of the appeal found on his brilliant last effort, Asa Breed. There’s still a lot to love here — from the chill-out rambling of “More Surgery” to the epic epochs of album highlight “Little People (Black City),” Dear’s latest set is accomplished and luxe. But if you’re looking to get fully enveloped by his work, this record is a little more detached and a little less immersive than his past productions.
Highlights: “Little People (Black City),” “Soil To Seed,” “I Can’t Feel”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaEzAekTsJs
21. Big Boi, Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
A melting pot of styles and sounds, Big Boi’s body-shaking Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is like a Charles Dickens novel depicted on a blacklight poster — weird, unexpected, and strangely perfect. After years of listening to Outkast, I wasn’t expecting that the first solo classic to come out of the group would be by Big Boi. Nearly every beat is flawless, the delivery is spot on, and there’s a sense of innovation imbuing the whole affair. Like the album’s title, the whole project borders on ridiculous, but Big Boi tows the line like a pro.
Highlights: “You Ain’t No DJ” (feat. Yelawolf), “General Patton” (feat. Big Rube), “Follow Us” (feat. Vonnegutt)
22. Josh Ritter, So Runs The World Away
Ritter is among the strongest storytellers currently working in music today, and this is his strongest work yet. Each song tells a story — “Curtains” is the overture, later recalled in “Another New World” (which could probably get a screenplay treatment); “Change of Time” is the joyous opening credits; “The Curse” and “See How Man Was Made” are heartbreaking soliloquies on love and loss; and so on — and yet there’s a thematic thread running through each. With each record, Ritter sounds more confident in his talents and more focused in his vision; not one for radical reinvention, Ritter keeps plugging along from album to album, knowing well that slow and steady wins the race.
Highlights: “Change of Time,” “See How Man Was Made,” “Another New World”
23. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Before Today
After years of lo-fi work, Ariel Pink signed to 4AD and cleaned up his act. Which is to say, his work sounds both studio-slicker and more expansive and innovative than ever before. In fact, a number of Before Today‘s tracks originally appeared in another form on some of his previous releases, but they sound much better here. There’s no avoiding it: this is a popular record. For every pop song like “Round and Round,” there’s a pop song like “Butt-House Blondies.” But by expanding his sound to appeal to a larger audience, Ariel Pink has carved out a unique sound all his own that is unlikely to be matched anytime soon.
Highlights: “Round and Round,” “Little Wig,” “Beverly Kills”
24. Drake, “Thank Me Later”
I knew when I heard Drake’s first few official singles — “Best I Ever Had” and “Forever” (with Eminem, Kanye West, and Lil’ Wayne) — that he had a flair for the dramatic. (Then I recalled that he played a main character on a Canadian teen soap opera and it all made sense.) But his debut album, Thank Me Later, takes his lyrical largess and the finesse of his larger-than-life lazy delivery and delivers on the dramatic promise of his initial singles in a way I didn’t expect. His relaxed devil-may-care persona is especially noticable on songs like the bombastic “Over” and the sleezy-smooth “Up All Night;” the latter features labelmate Nicki Minaj, his colorful counterpart (the two duped the media by tweeting a fake elopement this year). Together, these actors-turned-rappers are changing popular rap from hustle and flow to drama and range. But if Drake sounds like he has less to prove than Minaj, it’s probably because he’s got the boasting rights of an unquestionably solid debut right out of the gates.
Highlights: “Unforgettable” (feat. Young Jeezy and Aaliyah), “Find Your Love,” “Shut it Down” (feat. The-Dream)
25. The-Dream, Love King
Last year, the bravado of Love vs. Money ranked #9 on my list; Love King feels a bit beleaguered by comparison. Slow it down, The-Dream; your swagger is beginning to show signs of wear and tear.
Highlights: “Florida University,” “Sorry,” “Abyss”
II. THE REST OF 2010 (26-50)
There was too much good music this year; these albums all deserve a write-up, but I just can’t spare the time. But though they won’t get the overly enthusiastic write-ups that the above 25 albums did, I highly recommend you check all of them out.
26. Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, Dear Companion
Highlights: “Sweet Marie,” “It Won’t Be Long,” “Something, Somewhere, Sometime”
27. Band of Horses, Infinite Arms
Highlights: “Infinite Arms,” “Factory,” “On My Way Back Home”
28. KiD CuDi, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
Highlights: “Maniac” (feat. Cage & St. Vincent), “All Along,” “Erase Me”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0izlUtzIy8
29. Kelis, Fleshtone
Highlights: “Home,” “22nd Century,” “4th of July (Fireworks)”
30. The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever
Highlights: “We Can Get Together,” “Hurricane J,” “A Slight Discomfort”
31. CocoRosie, Grey Oceans
Highlights: “Smokey Taboo,” “Lemonade,” “Here I Come”
32. Rafter, Animal Feelings
Highlights: “Timeless Form, Formless Time,” “Fruit,” “Animal Feelings”
33. Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid
Highlights: “Tightrope” (feat. Big Boi), “Cold War,” “BaBopByeYa”
34. Broken Bells, S/T
Highlights: “October,” “The Mall & Misery,” “The High Road”
35. Surfer Blood, Astrocoast
Highlights: “Catholic Pagans,” “Floating Vibes,” “Harmonix”
36. Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest
Highlights: “Desire Lines,” “Coronado,” “He Would Have Laughed”
37. Lloyd Cole, Broken Record
Highlights: “If I Were a Song,” “That’s Alright,” “Writer’s Retreat!”
38. Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM
Highlights: “Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes,” “Time of the Assasins,” “La Collectionneuse”
39. Spoon, Transference
Highlights: “I Saw The Light,” “Goodnight Laura,” “Nobody Gets Me But You”
40. The New Pornographers, Together
Highlights: “My Shepherd,” “Daughter of Sorrow,” “Crash Years”
41. Eluvium, Similes
Highlights: “Weird Creatures,” “In Culmination,” “The Motion Makes Me Last”
42. Shearwater, The Golden Archipelago
Highlights: “Castaways,” “God Made Me,” “Black Eyes”
43. Field Music, Measure
Highlights: “In The Mirror,” “Measure,” “It’s About Time”
44. Margaret Cho, Cho Dependent
Highlights: “Enemies” (feat. Jon Brion), “Your Dick” (feat. Ben Lee), “Baby I’m With The Band” (feat. Brendan Benson)
45. Beach House, Teen Dream
Highlights: “Zebra,” “Take Care,” “Norway”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90ipyWYO3LM
46. Das Racist, Sit Down, Man
Highlights: “all tan everything” (feat. Jay-Z), “people are strange,” “hahahaha jk?”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LliTqJNKJrM
47. Dr. Dog, Shame, Shame
Highlights: “Shame, Shame,” “Unbearable Why,” “Stranger”
48. Girl Talk, All Day
Highlights: “Triple Double,” “Get It Get It,” “Every Day”
49. Sade, Soldier of Love
Highlights: “Soldier of Love,” “The Moon & The Sky,” “Skin”
50. Telephoned, Off the Hook Mixtape
Highlights: “Turn My Swag On (feat. Telli of Ninjasonik),” “Run Away,” “Don’t Go / No No No”
51. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma
Highlights: “Drips/Auntie’s Harp,” “…And the World Laughs with You” (feat. Thom Yorke), “Mmmhmm” (feat. Thundercat)
52. Eels, End Times | Tomorrow Morning
Highlights: “A Line In The Dirt,” “What I Have To Offer,” “Mystery of Life”
53. Phosphorescent, Here’s To Taking It Easy
Highlights: “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama),” “I Don’t Care if There’s Cursing,” “Los Angeles”
54. Theophilus London, I Want You Mixtape
Highlights: “Oops (Oh My),” “I Want You,” “Starry Eyed (Remix)”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cy7IzlRpnsA
55. James Blake, CMYK EP | Klavierwerke EP | Limit To Your Love single
Highlights: “Limit To Your Love,” “CMYK,” “I Only Know (What I Know Now)”
III. HONORABLE MENTIONS (55-60)
Young Money, We Are Young Money
Ineligible on a technicality — it was released 10 days before 2010 began — this album achieved a number of things at once: 1) it introduced the world to Nicki Minaj; 2) it compensated for Lil’ Wayne’s atrocious Rebirth; 3) it was that rare rap collaboration album by an entire label roster that manages to sound cohesive, intelligent, and fun. Not just a vanity project for label founder Lil’ Wayne, nor just a marketing scheme to introduce the label peons to a wider audience, this record feels like an actual statement from a collective of people simultaneously clamoring for their solo and happy to share in the spotlight.
Highlights: “New Shit,” “Roger That,” “Gooder”
Shakira, Sale El Sol | Ciara, Basic Instinct
Recall that last year, I ranked Shakira and Ciara as honorable mentions with She Wolf and Fantasy Ride, respectively. Just one year later, they’re back with new albums that attempt to compensate for the sin of the sales flop, promising a “return to [their] roots.” Yet in some ways, these records are actually weaker than their 2009 counterparts — less confident and assured, more eager-to-please and pandering.
Shakira’s all over the place, trying on every genre she can. Lucky for her, she can pull off every genre she tries, but it doesn’t exactly make for a cohesive album. Hers is a mixed bag of gems; sung mostly in spanish, which is where she does best, with a lot of songs in the sonic vein of what Pitbull’s putting out now (he makes an appearance on the album; so does Dizzee Rascal); a New Order-ish song; a gorgeous, if safe, re-imagining of the xx’s “Islands;” some low-key, mostly acoustic, pleasant ballads; more frenetic dance; even a few admirable attempts to reclaim her rock and roll heritage. It’s like she’s the captain of a cruise ship that hits 10 countries in 10 days — it’s an adventure, but somewhere along the way you get a bit exhausted, and a little seasick from the waves. She Wolf Shakira was risky, but it knew what it was; on Sale El Sol, she’s lost at sea.
Highlights: “Devocion,” “Islands,” “Rabiosa”
Ciara’s Basic Instinct, on the other hand, sounds focused and hungry in a way we’ve never heard from her before (see: “Gimme Dat,” “Wants for Dinner,” “Yeah I Know, “Turn It Up,” and so on)… and yet, after a few listens, you get this feeling that she’s walking an invisible tight rope, afraid to make a single misstep — even (especially?) the “confessional” title track, a supposed free-form unleashing on her critics, feels calculated from start to finish. So while every song (except the unbearable schlock of sole album misfire “Girls Get Your Money”) feels sleek and lush, you sense a frozen panic just beneath the surface. Listen to Robyn, Ciara: Fembots have feelings, too. Next time, go with your robot gut instead of walking the high wire. Your music, already among the best futuristic R&B out there right now, will go from club-worthy to classic.
Highlights: “Wants for Dinner,” “Ride” (feat. Ludacris), “You Can Get It”
The Morning Benders, Big Echo
If only the rest of the album were as good as the insatiable, sentimental opener, “Excuses.”
Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday
A year of blowing everyone out of the water with your guest verses, and then… this? Pink Friday had its moments, sure, but it underwhelmed when it should’ve changed the game. For a taste of what she’s really capable of, stick to features like her 30+ bars on Kanye West’s “Monster” (her feature is the hands down verse-of-the-year) and her spot on Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up.”
Highlights: “Roman’s Revenge” (feat. Eminem), “Blazin'” (feat. Kanye West), “Did It On ‘Em”