The end of 2010 is just about upon us, which means that cultural analyst types will be making attempts to compile the best moments, releases and events of the year that was. The film world takes this very seriously, and the parade of awards shows over the next few months (culminating with the Academy Awards on February 27, 2011). The first big push into the awards season hit on Tuesday (November 30) when the Independent Spirit Awards handed out their nominations. The music world will follow suit tonight (December 1) when the Grammy nominations are announced during a live broadcast that will feature performances by Justin Bieber and Katy Perry and will be hosted by LL Cool J.
But while the music world only has one real big awards show, they should really have their own version of the Independent Spirit Awards. Only indie releases need apply, and like the ISAs (which recognized under-seen but bold films like “Winter’s Bone,” “127 Hours” and “The Kids Are All Right”), they would seek to recognize bold steps in independent songwriting and production.
With that in mind, here are the nominees for Best Album in the Independent Spirit of Music Awards, which only exist in the minds of the staff here at MTV News.
The National, High Violet (4AD)
The fifth album from the Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati outfit of chamber rock formalists is the record they have been trying to make for their entire career. It is exquisitely produced and gorgeously written, though the lyrics about a constant stream of failed relationships also makes it almost unbearably depressing. Still, there are rewards for repeat listens, from the subtle psychedelic flourishes of “Conversation 16″ to the rhythmic tricks built into the single “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” 2010 Independent Spirit Awards Nominee Equivalent: “127 Hours,” because it’s somehow both upsetting and uplifting.
Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge)
The first album in nearly a decade from one of indie rock’s fuzziest punk purists was well worth the wait, as Majesty Shredding finds the group ditching the layered approach they had been developing when they broke up and returning to their swirling, flailing roots. It may sound like a step backwards, but it’s not, as the album is full of spectacularly kinetic songs that act as thrilling delivery systems for frontman Mac McCaughan’s easy melodies. 2010 Independent Spirit Awards Nominee Equivalent: “The Kids Are All Right,” because it’s mostly a joyful celebration of life’s little complications.
Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars)
Stern has been building hype for a few years based on her considerable (and strange) guitar-playing skills, but her third album represents her arrival as a confident, accomplished songwriter. Though her voice remains polarizing, the songs on Marnie Stern really do speak for themselves, especially on the deceptively stirring single “For Ash.” 2010 Independent Spirit Awards Nominee Equivalent: “Winter’s Bone,” because it’s both female-centric and way more outside-the-mainstream than even the rest of the entries on this list.
Black Milk, Album of the Year (Fat Beats)
It was not a great year for independent hip-hop, but don’t tell Black Milk that. The Detroit rapper/producer’s fifth solo release is a revelation, a huge evolutionary step from not only what he has been working on but what everybody else has been working on. The tracks — constructed via bits of deep-digging soul samples and off-kilter keyboard flourishes — are all fantastically mind-bending, and the lyrics perfectly compliment Black Milk’s playful, desperate flow. Black Milk might deserve this award based on “Round of Applause” alone. 2010 Independent Spirit Awards Nominee Equivalent: “Greenberg,” because it’s a complicated analysis of a singular, polarizing personality.
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL)
It’s a sprawling, sloppy concept album about the Civil War composed entirely of way-too-long rock epics that all somehow end up being shout-along anthems. And it’s awesome. 2010 Independent Spirit Awards Nominee Equivalent: “The Black Swan,” because it’s just crazy enough to work.
Freeway & Jake One, The Stimulus Package (Rhymesayers)
Freeway is way, way up on the list of the most underrated and misused MCs in the history of hip-hop. His gruff voice and challenging lyrical constructions never really fit in with the glossy beats on his 2003 Roc-A-Fella debut. But since he has exited the major label system and explored the outer reaches of the hip-hop universe, he has blossomed into a savage rhyming juggernaut. He found a like-minded soul in producer Jake One, who uses sparse, intense beats that let Freeway go totally nuts. His street narratives remain strong, and The Stimulus Package is one of the most consistently rewarding hip-hop releases of the year on any label. 2010 Independent Spirit Awards Nominee Equivalent: “Fish Tank,” because it’s probably better than anything that was actually nominated but has also gone mostly ignored.