Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Albums of 2010

Well, it's that time of year again--the time for lists and overthinking what has gone on in the year past. Naturally, I turn to music. So here is a list of my favorite albums of 2010. I'm not saying these are the best albums, since there are some obvious omissions in genres I don't listen much to (I'm looking at you Kanye west), and there are others where I just didn't have time to really digest the album before getting to this list (The Tallest Man on Earth). This was a hard year to do this because there was a lot of great music released. Some of the omissions were particularly painful. If you had asked me in June whether Crazy for You by  Best Coast would be on the list, I would have assured you it would definitely be. Unfortunately, it was the last cut.

25. American Slang - The Gaslight Anthem: I've heard the Springsteen comparison, and they are apt. But the fact of the matter is that this is a very good album, conventional rock and roll or not.

24. Brothers - The Black Keys: It amazes me how much sound these guys can get out of an electric guitar and drum set, and each album still feels fresh and new.

23. ODD BLOOD - Yeasayer: "Ambling Alp" may be my song of the year, even though I have a hard time thinking in those terms. Released early in the year, this one may have been a bit overshadowed by what came later.

22. Carnavas - The Silversun Pickups: I have no idea how I haven't discovered this band before this year. This was one of my most played albums.

21. Astro Coast - Surfer Blood: Another album and band that caught me totally by surprise. Like many other albums this year, this one brings a garage sensibility without being muddy and murky.

20. The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night - The Besnard Lakes: Soaring, operatic, but ultimately, uneven. If the whole album was as good as the first half, this would easily be in the top 10.

19. Together - The New Pornographers: The most true to form New Pornographers record in a while, it's probably their best since Twin Cinema. They've finally found a way to mix in orchestral elements with their pure pop.

18. Cloak & Cipher - Land of Talk: This is definitely a step away from their earlier albums. The music, to its benefit, is not as raw and noisy, allowing vocalist's  Elizabeth Powell's newly recovered voice to really shine.

17. The Monitor - Titus Andronicus: I'm not one for concept albums most of the time, but when it works as well as this one does, you have to give credit where credit is due. Most of the music trods rather traditional paths musically, but it all hangs together.

16. Harlem River Blues - Justin Townes Earle: You can almost hear him stepping out from under his father's shadow on this release. It's easily his most consistent to date.

15. The Age of Adz, All Delighted People EP - Sufjan Stevens: After five years of side projects and threats never to record an album again, Sufjan Stevens returned with not one, but two fantastic releases this year (the EP is almost album length). These albums show Stevens moving in a less precious direction, exploring new sounds.

14. Root for Ruin - Les Savy Fav: Loud guitar rock descended directly from Nirvana and the punk scene, only a helluva lot more fun.

13. Expo 86 - Wolf Parade: Their third album is the first where you can truly see the prodigious talents of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner (of Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs respectively) coalescing into a single sound rather than moving back and forth between two variant, but equally good sounds.

12. Majesty Shredding - Superchunk: When did I wake up back in the mid 90s? Superchunk returned to their loud, infectious best after a long hiatus.

11. Gorilla Manor - Local Natives: One of the catchiest albums of the year. This one would probably be my wife's favorite based on the number of times she said "I really like this song". The album is just that--a solid collection of great, catchy songs.

10. Broken Bells - Broken Bells: I'm not a huge Shins fan and some of Danger Mouse's projects have left me cold, but teaming James Mercer up with him turned out to be absolutely brilliant.The album is surprisingly dark at times given Mercer's voice. I hope this is more than just a project record and they return with more releases in the future.

9. Lisbon - The Walkman: Lisbon is even more stripped down than your usual Walkmen release. A hauntingly beautiful mood is sustained on each of the songs on the record.

8. This Is Happening - LCD Soundsystem: James Murphy at his Bowie-esque best. There's really nothing more to add.

7. Forgiveness Rock Record - Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene scaled their membership back for this record, and this allowed the music to have more room in it and retain a tighter focus than previous BSS albums. This is probably my favorite album of theirs since You Forgot It in People.

6. The Winter of Mixed Drinks - Frightened Rabbit: This Scottish band's follow up to 2008's Midnight Organ Fight scaled back the tempo of the previous release, but elevated the mood to new heights. While it may not have the stand out songs as it's predecessor, the album as a whole feels tighter and more complete.

5. Go - Jonsi: I'm only just now really starting to get my head into and around this album, since I've only been listening to it for a month or two, but I can see myself returning to it again and again, much like I do with the best albums by Sigur Ros. If I were to revisit this list next year and the year after that, I could definitely see Go rising a few steps on the ladder.

4. High Violet - The National: There's never going to be another Boxer. But that's just fine, I'll take High Violet just as it is. The songs on this album start to explore the end of youth and the problems of adulthood, and it's refreshing to see a band with such a distinctive voice addressing some of the things that are relevant to what's going on as I too begin to realize that somehow I became an adult.

3. The Suburbs - Arcade Fire: I was entirely prepared not to like this album too much based on the two tracks they released early. They seemed so different from one another and from the Arcade Fire. Once placed in context, however, it all came together for me. This could easily have been my album of the year except for some decidedly straw like factors detailed below.

2. Halcyon Digest - Deerhunter: Why higher than The Suburbs? They're hometown Atlanta boys. On Halcyon Digest Brandon Cox and Deerhunter are at their lush, dreamy best. This is quite the departure from the noisy guitar of Microcastle and most of the songs on Cryptogram. Halcyon Digest finds Deerhunter emphasizing their dreampop sensibilities. This simply is a beautiful record that provides not only great background music, but great foreground music as well.



1. Sigh No More - Mumford & Sons. Why the album of the year? 1)  I'm a sucker for banjos. 2) I listened to this album the most of any album on these list. 3) I don't think I forwarded a single of the songs when they came up on shuffle. Seemingly from nowhere, Sigh No More hit me like a bullet. Most of you know, I'm a sucker for incorporating country and old time music riffs into upbeat modern rock or pop songs. So this was an album made just for me. Not only that, I'd imagine that it turns up on a lot of end of year lists across the board. I defy anyone to listen to "The Cave" and not be hooked.

So there we have it. Feel free to point out any omissions, because if we really think about it, all this list making isn't about what I liked. It's about discovering new music from other music lovers because even though I've listened to a lot of new music this year, there's always new, great music waiting to be discovered. So have at it in the comments!

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