Friday, December 24, 2010

Top 10 albums of 2010

3 The National – High Violet
Some people may be surprised that this isn't higher up (me included, probably). Don't get me wrong, I love this album and think it is an amazing set of songs. It's just that there are two others which I think that I've loved even more this year.

First off, just so you know, I am going to try and not use the word masterpiece at all in this post. I have a feeling this album will turn out to be just that, but given how often that word is bandied about in reviews I am going to try and let history make that judgment.

Just like R.E.M. in 1989, they are at the peak of their powers and probably the best band in the world right now. The songs are beautifully crafted, but they still manage to keep the spontaneity and take risks with the songs. You can hear some of the bands processes in action, their quest for perfection at work in each small part of every song. No amount of work and effort will make a bad song good, but what The National do makes goods songs into brilliant ones.

The themes are similar to the ones that Springsteen deals with on Darkness on the Edge of Town – the responsibilities of adulthood and the compromises that they entail – but The National's protagonists are white-collar, internet-era, city-living thirty- and forty-somethings grappling with the demands of parenthood and working in offices. That may sound dull and worthy, but when Matt Berninger's wonderfully off-beat and allegorical lyrics are combined with music like this it is anything but.

It seems unfair to single out any particular songs because they are all wonderful (apart from maybe Lemonworld which grates slightly, but that may just be because it makes me think of U2 and their big lemon tour or whatever it was) and there is just too much good stuff to highlight it all. So let's just take one at random, something like the tucked away Conversation 16 with its menacing oboe (I think) riff and its refrain of 'I was afraid that I'd eat your brains ...' How could you not love it?

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