Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Top 10 Albums of 2010

I don't know if it's just Americans, but people are obsessed with Top 10 lists. As there are ten days left in this year, it's pretty much impossible not to see them everywhere. And I'll admit, I look at them, and I've always been tempted to make my own. So here it is: Tim's 10 favorite albums of 2010.

This being my list, I get to make the rules. First of all, this is not a ranking of albums that were released in 2010. God knows I'm not that hip; I definitely do not listen to enough new music to even have an opinion on this (though I will go so far as to say that Kanye's new album is NOT the best, nor will any album Kanye ever puts out [looking at you, Matt]). Rather, this list covers the albums that were most important/meaningful/significant to me during the year of 2010, but they could have been produced in any year. These have to be albums that I listened to primarily in 2010, and that I would not place on any previous year's lists, even though there are no such lists.

Also, even though this is a Top 10, I reserve the right to list more or fewer than ten, because I'm the boss of this blog. Important to note is that, even though these are numbered, the ranking is not in order. And lastly, this isn't really a judgment of which albums are best, just a judgment of which have meant the most to me this year.

So, without further ado, my favorite albums of the last year:

1. Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2007)
I know I pretty much just said that this isn't a ranking in order, but this album is near the top. I listened to it a LOT between late February and probably May. The first thing I associate with it is a walk I took through the woods on the Hönggerberg in spring. It was clear and cold, and there was still a bit of snow on the ground, but there was a lot of mud on the trails. I walked for some two hours, and listened to the whole album (and some other album, which I can't recall). The second thing I associate is finishing the book Gilead, which feeling paralleled the feeling of the album: Emotional and peaceful in the same moment. It is beautiful music, and at times it can get frenetic, but it exudes and instills a sense of peace. And if you look at that cover art and listen to the first track, you pretty much envision a bunch of people running around naked through the countryside, which is fantastic.

2. Björk - Vespertine (2001)

As soon as I began listening to the first track, "Hidden Place", I felt that this one was going to be good. I was actually thinking, Please don't let her mess this album up, it starts out so freaking badass. I wasn't disappointed. I believe I first listened to this album in late July, and I listened a lot at least until October, and still do relatively often. It's got beautiful, richly layered songs. It mixes interesting electronic beats, lush synthetic harmonies, and, of course, Björk's completely unique voice. Her voice is powerful, her intonation is exotic, and many of her lyrics don't make much sense. Everything is about the mood (like listening to Sigur Rós, it really doesn't matter what she's saying) and the delivery. My first association with this album is lying on my back on a bench outside my empty hostel in Tobel, Switzerland, staring up at the midnight sky and watching for meteors. In the countryside the sky is less cluttered with light pollution and more cluttered with stars. I listened to the album from start to finish, and I saw a handful of lightstreaks and two slashes of fire. I also have a lot of different associations listening to this album while traveling through Germany and Ireland, especially in Berlin and Dublin.

3. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (2009)

I first heard of this band and album while I was in Dublin. The girls who had invited me to couchsurf with them, Carina and Maite, were on a Mumford kick, and hanging around their house, I probably heard the whole album four or five times. I thought it was pretty all right the first time, and I liked it more and more as I li
stened. Above-average lyrics, ballad-type songs that are great to sing along with, emotional moments, some kickass banjo, and pleasing melodies -- it just grew on me. It's folk with an infectious energy. When I think of this album, I have the most wonderful memory of sitting on the sofa in that flat near Croak Park on the north side of the Liffey, watching Carina and Maite dancing around the kitchen and singing along. The song "Little Lion Man" made it onto the playlist I listen to while running. And I'll be damned if it doesn't feel like dancing while that song plays and I dash through the neighborhood at night.

4. Julian Casablancas - Phrazes
for the Young (2009)

What were the chances I wouldn't get this album? Zero. I started listening to it around springtime, and it was a staple for me through the entire summer. Any time you need some energy, all you have to do is start at the first track. I've got a lot of images in my mind of moving through Zurich on trams and buses, sun shining, with an extra bounce in my step. I remember many nights running up the hill and looking down at the lights of Zurich while the energy of Phrazes coursed through my body. I suppose it's impossible to talk about JC without also talking about the Strokes -- this album is much more like the third album, and it takes the sound into even more of a pop direction. But in a good way. There is less distortion and more keyboards, but the sound is far from bland. The lyrics are interesting, as you would expect. I don't know any other person out there who could howl about "the afterlife of supercities" and make it sound so damn good. Actually, it's a lot more complex than the Strokes, and JC pushes his voice into all kinds of directions. Probably the one thing he doesn't do is sound bored/disillusioned, the way he did in the early Strokes albums. There's a lot of the joie de vivre in this album, and I know it got inside of me this spring and summer.

5. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog (2007)

I first heard parts of this album back when it came out in 2007, but I never actually sat down for a listen. I got around to it in late winter and early spring, and I was pleasantly surprised. Some of the songs are faster paced (one is even a straight-up jam) than the older Iron and Wine, though there are still plenty of the slower folky ones. I gained a new appreciation for how good of a songwriter Sam Beam is. And if I can be honest, this album really fed my nostalgia for the US while I was in Europe. So many of the images in the lyrics come from the landscapes of the South, where I had lived for the last few years. I particularly remember walking Sheleg, my friend's beautiful husky, through snowy woods in the evening with this song playing through my earphones. Also, walking through the countryside and watching a sunset light up the clouds.

6. Kaki King - Dreaming of Revenge (2008)

I heard of Kaki King through a live music blog in Zurich, and she sounded interesting, so I downloaded a few albums. This would have been around April or May. I've always had a weakness for layered music with soft vocals, or no vocals at all. It's the perfect music to drift away to. This album is exactly that -- perfect for daydreaming or nightdreaming. She plays below her actual ability (she's an incredible guitarist), but she creates very pleasant melodies and harmonies. Even though her voice isn't very strong, you can tell she's singing with passion and that it means a lot to her. And then, purely instrumental songs like "Montreal" are just beautiful. Some songs remind me of El Ten Eleven, and others remind me of the Books. I often listened to this album while lying in bed or reading. I probably listen to it just as often now as I did back then. Also, I have a crush on Kaki, which sadly will never come to anything because she doesn't like boys.

7. Johnny Cash - American III: Solitary M
an and American IV: The Man Comes Around (2000 and 2002)

Woah, boy. I was missing out on Johnny Cash for a long time, but I finally came across American IV in January or February. Not much later, I also got American III. It's not that I love every track on both albums. I love some of them, but more than that, I just can't help but love Johnny Cash. To be doing this kind of thing in his late 60's and early 70's -- it's just mind-boggling. You don't often think of septuagenarians bringing a breath of fresh air to classics from all decades, but that's exactly what Cash does. Some of the songs are beautiful, powerful ("Hurt", "The Mercy Seat", "The Man Comes Around"), and others make you laugh ("Sam Hall"), but more than anything, this pair of albums is inspiring. There's no vanity in this music.

8. Tool - 10,000 Days (2006)

I had had this album for a good long time before actually giving it a real chance. I never listened much to Tool until this year, though I had always respected them and liked what I heard. I started listening in the winter, and I continued throughout the year. I love how Tool mixes the heavy and the melodic. It's not annoying, like a lot of metal. Some songs are terribly powerful (e.g. 10,000 Days [Wings Part 2]). The lyrics are poignant, never really frivolous or filler. Some address social issues, others personal issues, others philosophical. It's deep, and it's complex. The length of the songs allows for incredible buildups, and if you listen you can feel the sounds spatially. I don't know if there's anyone as good as Maynard at carrying melodies past the climax of a song. My associations with this album are all over the place -- some with reading books and contemplating space travel, some with riding on the bus to work at the bike shop, some with grocery shopping. [As a note, it wasn't just this album -- I was listening to a good deal more from Tool, but I just decided to pick the one I listened to the most. I know Tool fans regard this one as inferior to Lateralus and Aenima, so forgive my noobness]

9. Pink Floyd - The Wall and Meddle (1979 and 1971)

This might be the strangest pairing, considering these albums came out eight years apart, but I was listening to them at the same time, so I don't care. At the end of last December and the beginning of January, I started on a Pink Floyd kick that would last at least until the end of February. I finally started really appreciating the story of The Wall, and the awesomeness of the songs "Echoes" and "One of these Days" hardly needs elucidation. The most powerful memory I have is of stepping off a train in Switzerland on a snowy afternoon just at the moment in the song "Hey You" just at the moment that those heavy, moaning guitars kick in. I tell you, that was perfect. Also, driving up the California coast with my brother, Jon, listening to Meddle and realizing how much our tastes actually coincide. And staring up at the field of stars in Big Sur, listening to "Is There Anybody Out There?". And driving around in Boca with Craig randomly bursting out with lines from "The Trial".

Friday, December 17, 2010


Just like those most helpful commenters told me...medical clearance is in!


Now for placement...

As a side note, I think maybe I'll create one of those timelines.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh Snap! (PC#7)

I'm a bit surprised at how calm I've been through the waiting periods of this whole application process. While I was still in Switzerland, I felt some anxiety about getting it done on time, and I was intimidated by the stories of medical clearance black holes. But things have pretty much progressed smoothly. I've kept all my appointments, results have come in quickly and completely, and I have not had to do too much extra for the application.

I've been a bit lax in updating this blog, but maybe I'm just the kind of person who likes to report big events (or lots of small events in one shot), rather than bulletins for each new bit of news. Whatever I am, there is some news to report, and good news it is!

On December 2nd, I got an update telling me that my medical materials had been received and were under review. Two days later, I got another update telling me I had gained dental clearance. And this morning, I got another update, and my medical evaluation is complete:

"Complete. A decision has been reached regarding your medical review. Please look for a letter in the mail."

Incredible! They've had the thing for less than two weeks, and the review is complete? It seems too good to be true. I'm nervous that the "decision" that was reached is -- Sorry, buddy, we've decided that you have to jump through hoops X, Y, and Z. I don't know. Does anyone who reads this blog know if that is the standard language for medical clearance, or a precursor of more hurdles, or even, God forbid, rejection? I mean, the little medical box in the Peace Corps toolkit has a check in it, and the only unchecked item is the Place evaluation.

I'm a little uneasy, but optimistic.