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Sympathetic Vibrations: Dan's Favorite Albums of the '10s

Putting together a list of my favorite albums of the ‘10s proved to be a much more painstaking task than I had originally anticipated. How does one even begin to narrow down such an impressive and varied group of releases? Do I choose based off the success of the album? Based on the cultural contribution to the local scene? Based on what’s going to make me look cool to a city’s worth of music snobs? It’s way too much pressure.

Don’t ask me to rank these, because I can’t. Instead, these five albums – in no particular order – represent an honest compilation of the albums that excited me the most over the last ten years.

Aaron Alexander – 'Memento Mori' (2017)

From concept, to songwriting, to execution, I think “Memento Mori” is every bit a triumph. Moreover, I believe Alexander’s cinematic hip-hop head trip cemented him as one of the area’s most promising emcees. The album title is a Latin phrase meaning “remember that you have to die,” which Alexander lifted from “Death Parade,” a Japanese anime series he discovered during high school. And Alexander explores the concept while deftly balancing electronic music elements with jazz-based hip-hop instrumentals. Sitting atop this heady sundae is a slew of collaborations with local artists like Dev3n and Mae C. There is a confidence in Alexander’s cadence that a lot of emcees flex way too hard to feign, and his album similarly drips with that confidence.

 

Making Movies – 'I Am Another You' (2017)

Despite its strong, pro-immigrant activist undertones, “I Am Another You” was written with the intention of simply documenting the immigrant experiences of Making Movies’ individual members and their close relatives. But the practical effect of that idea changed following Donald Trump’s unlikely ascension to the Oval Office on a wave of political rhetoric that painted all immigrants as a plague on the country. Thereafter the album took on something of a life of its own as a protest record for the DACA movement and its supporters. As usual, the band expertly fuses genres of music that reflect the mix of cultures from which they originate. In the process, the band and manages to make a collection of songs that includes elements of rock, Latin, punk, reggae and salsa that form a surprisingly cohesive collection of tracks. 

 

Janelle Monae – 'Dirty Computer' (2018)

I know it may seem a little strange to include Monáe in a list of local releases. But based on her most recent local gig, she still calls this place home. And if anyone gets to stake a hometown claim to her genius, it should be KC, dammit. In many ways “Dirty Computer” was a return to form for Monáe, exploring concepts of sexual and racial empowerment in the face of fairly overt cultural oppression. And Monáe does so through bright, seemingly upbeat pop vehicles. As she has throughout her career, Monáe refuses to settle on a particular genre on “Dirty Computer,” instead running through many shades on the R&B and hip-hop spectrums. The incessant critical comparisons to Prince got a bit grating, even if they were somewhat accurate (see “Make Me Feel”).

 

Shy Boys – 'Bell House' (2018)

Shy Boys’ sophomore effort was a highly anticipated release for those who had fallen in love with the band’s debut four years prior. What’s more, “Bell House” showed just how much the band had grown during its recording hiatus. With an updated lineup and years of gigging behind them, the arrangements seemed much tighter and exuded a subtle, seemingly effortless confidence for a band that had traditionally hidden much of their stems behind a wash of reverb. Conceptually, the album tackles the shame of arrested development with a tracklist of songs whose bright, pop-heavy elements seem to sarcastically contradict the narrator’s own internal struggles. 

 

The Conquerors – 'Wyld Time' (2016)

Perhaps more than any of the other albums on this list, the hooks and choruses on “Wyld Time” have taken up a permanent residence in my brain. Conquerors’ frontman Rory Cameron has a monklike devotion to ‘60s pop and garage rock, and is totally unfazed by those who might turn their noses up about how much the band has borrowed from the decade’s musical canon. Instead he unabashedly leans into the sound on “Wyld Time” and manages to put together one of the brightest, most fun breakup albums you’re likely to see out of this area. I’ve yet to find a time of day or occasion where the album’s sonics don’t perfectly fit the mood. And that kind of infectious pop sensibility can’t be ignored on a list like this.

Honorable Mentions

BLKFLANL – “BLKFLANL II: For the Imperfect, for the Dilligent” 

Your Friend – “Gumption”

The Greeting Committee – “This Is It”

Calvin Arsenia – “Cantaloupe” 

Hembree – “House on Fire” 

Mess – “Learning How to Talk”

—Dan Calderon is Kansas City native, an attorney and contributor to 90.9 The Bridge and Flatland. You can contact him by emailing pdancalderon@gmail.com or on Twitter @dansascity.