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20 Best Albums of 2010-And more!

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Hey, there, errbody! Here you will find my personal Top 20 albums of 2010, 10 honorable mentions, and a few other lists, such as Biggest Disappointments, and Most Overrated. With each of the Top 20, I’ve included a highlight from the album, and I’ve tried my hand at a review. Enjoy!

Gabe Mathews
KOXY Tech Staff/DJ of Bearable Radio

    Two Interesting Trends In Music This Year

Firstly, I thought it was sort of tragic that so many great bands (Hot Chip, Broken Social Scene, The Hold Steady, Wolf Parade) put out mediocre albums. Not only that, but new bands that seemed to have huge promise also proved really disappointing when fully realized. Best Coast, whose first few lo-fi singles were awesome, put out a really underwhelming album. And Broken Bells, the collaboration of master songwriter James Mercer (of the Shins) and Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley, Danger Doom, The Grey Album, etc.), should have been awe inspiring. It wasn’t. Even some bands who really did make great albums still made albums that fell a bit short—yes, This Is Happening is number 10 on my list, but it’s no Sound Of Silver, and Spoon’s quirky Transference, while interesting and fun, isn’t exactly something I want to put on all the time. Luckily, other great bands bucked this trend (The National, Arcade Fire, Menomena, Beach House) and made fantastic music.

Secondly, I found it really interesting that, in a time when even people like Sufjan fucking Stevens are bemoaning the importance of the album as a format, the album seemed to make a huge comeback this year. Of my top twenty albums of 2010, six are at least an hour long (including Plastic Beach, which hits 56:46), and about half of those could even be considered concept albums. Even Taylor Swift’s album Speak Now is over an hour long! Beyond that, people like Flying Lotus made albums that were practically one huge track, and even shorter albums, like High Violet, Hidden and Sisterworld seemed more like cohesive stylistic statements that just collections of songs. So, maybe we shouldn’t be declaring the album dead just yet.

    Top 20 Albums of 2010

20. The New Pornographers-Together (Matador)
To tell the truth, I, like most fans of The New Pornographers’ awesome, kinetic, joyful first three albums, was pretty disappointed with the fourth, 2007’s Challengers, a slow, maudlin affair. However, having gotten to know Together, I now see that Challengers was a necessary stepping stone. On Together, the Pornos bring their earlier energy into a more mature sound, with lyrics that are less chaotically meaningless, moving towards serious emotional evocation. Carl Newman has taken cues from his solo work as A.C. Newman and brought in some of those awesome cello riffs, which work wonders on songs like opener “Moves” and closer “We End Up Together”. Dan Bejar works his usual magic as a stand-in songwriter on songs like “Silver Jenny Dollar”, and Neko Case is brilliant, as usual, taking lead on standout “The Crash Years”. It took me a while to warm up to Together, but the emotional investment Newman and company push here pays off, with what is ultimately a very rewarding album.
The New Pornographers – Moves by Scharna

19. Maps & Atlases-Perch Patchwork (Barsuk)
For people looking for a Dirty Projectors fix in 2010, you couldn’t get much better than Maps & Atlases. Of course, the young band dip into many other wells, such as freak folk and Chicago math-rock, but what with the thumping rhythms, spiraling guitar lines, and Dave Davison’s warbly voice, Perch Patchwork often bears more than a passing resemblance to the work Dave Longstreth and friends. However, here, Maps & Atlases have crafted an incredibly poppy album. It’s just dressed in fancy, complicated trappings. Song structures shift and mutate, guitars whirl around each other, various types of percussion are present throughout (often with hints of worldbeat), and time signatures get interesting. But the album as a whole is significantly more accessible than most anything Dirty Projectors have made. Songs like “Solid Ground” and “The Charm” have enough sticky melodic hooks to keep them in your head for a while, and to balance out the band’s more experimental touches on the second half. It’s refreshing to find a band using their virtuosic technique to make music that’s so easy to listen to.
Maps & Atlases / Solid Ground by reesindiemusic

18. Deerhunter-Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Fans of Deerhunter’s last outing, the noisy, kraut-rocking stunner Microcastle will be surprised by Halcyon Digest. I certainly was. Expecting loads of feedback and hard-riffing bass, I was surprised by subtly washing acoustic guitars, electronic drums, and a goddamned saxophone. This album is different for these Georgians, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. Each Deerhunter album has been quite a departure from the last, and the lush sounds on frontman Bradford Cox’s last solo outing as Atlas Sound, Logos, should have prepared us for some of the textures found here. Ultimately, this is a very pretty album, built around stories of remembrances, things not quite remembered, things forgotten. Cox’s voice is stronger here than ever in the past, even sounding a bit like Julian Casablancas on “Coronado” (the one with the saxophone). But some of the best tracks here (as on Microcastle), come from guitarist Lockett Pundt, who shows off his riff-writing chops on “Desire Lines”, and crafts a wonderfully, memorable pop song with “Fountain Stairs”.
Coronado – Deerhunter by jokerwoman

17. How To Dress Well-Love Remains (Lefse)
How To Dress Well is the mysterious project of Tom Krell, a white, mustachioed, glasses-wearing philosophy student who sure knows his R&B. Love Remains is a compilation of six EPs he’s released in the past year or so, and it’s an album that distills the lovesickness of R. Kelly and Aaliyah into pure emotion, dropping pretty much all production value and most lyrical intelligibility in favor of pure, nostalgic, emotive singing and distortion. Most instruments aren’t identifiable, and most of the singing sounds almost wordless, but the sentiment is all there. The closest comparison I can make is to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, a lovelorn album that fused soulful vocals with quaint, backwoods, folky acoustic guitar. Krell replaces the quaintness with distortion, the guitar with samplers, and the folk with R&B. And he’s got soulful vocals in spades.
How to Dress Well – You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’ by Ragged Words

16. Weekend-Sports (Slumberland
Weekend wear their influences on their sleeves: Joy Division, the Cure, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Loveless. And Sports sounds exactly like the product of a four-way mating session between those groups. But Weekend are not derivative, because, really, who has claim over feedback? Filled with squalling guitars, vocals buried deep in the mix, Weekend rely on the bass for most of the melody (a la Peter Hook), and use guitar mostly for texture (read: noise). Check out the one-two of “Monday Morning” and “Monongah, WV”, the album’s conjoined twin centerpiece, and you’ll see how well this formula works for them. As “Monday” slowly builds instrumental tension, with Shaun Durkan’s echoing shouts of “You said!” adding some sort of punctuation to the drifting noise, it eventually breaks into the furiously screeching post-punk of “Monongah”, showing all of Weekend’s versatility. It’s exhilarating.

15. Caribou-Swim (Merge)
If, as I did, you got into Caribou with 2007’s Andorra, Swim was not what you expected. While Andorra is filled with pretty, floating tracks mixing electronica and 60’s psychedelia, Swim takes a different approach to hallucination, fulfilling mastermind Dan Snaith’s promise of “liquid dance music”. Snaith is still (seemingly?) naming tracks after women (“Kaili”, “Jamelia”, “Lalibela”), but these women are less 60s and more sci-fi than the “Sandy”, “Desiree” and “Irene” of Andorra. Many of Swim’s tracks seem to be exercises in the use of one sound or instrument: the bouncy bassline of “Odessa”, the percussive sounds of the titular objects in “Bowls”, the vocal repetition of the title “Sun”. Snaith’s high-pitched voice and expert drumming mingle with layers and layers of sound to make an album of modern electronica that doesn’t feel so much clubby as it does druggy.
Caribou – Bowls by MrGroovaholic

14. These New Puritans-Hidden (Domino)
Who would have expected this album? After their 2008 debut Beat Pyramid, These New Puritans seemed just like a weirder, more numerology-obsessed, more monotonous version of all the other British post-punk revivalists. But, hey, turns out armor-clad frontman Jack Barnett is not just into Gang of Four and Wire, but also Gregorian chant, field recordings, and the bassoon, and Hidden is the progeny of these diverse influences. Heavily percussive, heavily choral, heavily classical, here, TNP are just plain heavy, with Barnett’s limited voice chanting about arcane subjects like labyrinths and Galahad, and his brother George bashing the drums with all his might (see the outstanding “Fire-Power” and “Attack Music”). On no other album will you find both orchestral woodwinds and a recording of a cracker-coated-cantaloupe (meant to simulate a human skull) being crushed, I promise you.
These New Puritans – Fire-Power by Ragged Words

13. Suckers-Wild Smile (Frenchkiss)
The debut album from this typically Brooklyn band has a lot of hipster cred going for it. Produced by Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder (whose influence shines through on the Latin-beat-infused “Martha”), it’s easy to dismiss Suckers as yet another batch of filthy Brooklynites who don’t shower and drink lots of Pabst. But looking past their stupid hats and dirty hair, one finds that Suckers really know their way around a song. The drunken sing-along of “It Gets Your Body Movin’” is a blast, but it’s the deeper cuts like “A Mind I Knew” and “2 Eyes 2 C” that really make this album, with their dark thematics cutting through the sunny guitars that fill the record. Full of whistling, chanting, masterful slow builds, and fantastic percussion courtesy of drummer Brian Aiken, this album made my summer, and simultaneously got me ready for the darkness of fall.
Suckers – A Mind I Knew by RussTannen

12. Typhoon-Hunger & Thirst (Tender Loving Empire)
As a native Portlander, I’ve seen Typhoon play around town several times, and each show has been more transcendent than the next. Like a less theatrical Arcade Fire, they would pack around 15 people onto even the smallest stages, with two drummers, three or four guitars, violin, banjo, trumpet, and various percussive objects, and make one of the most epic, crescendoing rackets I’ve ever experienced. But, to my great disappointment, their self-titled debut failed to capture their live energy. Then came Hunger & Thirst. A refinement of their earlier raggedness, with great production-value and more experimentation (Latin-style horns! Guitar pedals galore!), H&T is a journey about faith, love, and pain, with bandleader Kyle Morton singing “I wanna live but I don’t wanna live” so passionately that you can’t help but empathize. Even with all the darkness and confusion, Typhoon still present life as a joyous thing. Just listen to full-band sing-along “The Mouth of The Cave”: “You let the devil in your home! You let the devil in your home!” they chant, and you can’t help but feel this is somehow a great accomplishment.
Typhoon – CPR – Claws Part 2 by DaraTzatzara

11. Spoon-Transference (Merge)
Spoon have long been one of my favorite bands, and my favorite album of theirs is sophomore LP A Series of Sneaks. Admittedly one of their least weird albums, even that comparatively raw, rocking record still has a few delightfully odd, studio fun moments (see: drum panning on “30 Gallon Tank” and backwards vocals on “No You’re Not”). “Spoon? Weird?” Admittedly, the band are now better known for writing slick pop songs like “The Underdog” and “The Way We Get By”, but I still contend that Spoon are a joyfully strange band, citing Transference as my chief piece of evidence. Completely self-produced for the first time, Transference finds Spoon indulging in more of the studio trickery that makes them fascinating than ever before. The moment I noticed that the guitar on “The Mystery Zone” is not a riff but a looping sample was one of the most exhilarating things ever, and the bizarre sampling on “Nobody Gets Me But You” is one of the coolest moves the band has made. The truly great things about Spoon lie in the details.
Spoon – Nobody Gets Me But You by wereofftherails

10. LCD Soundsystem-This Is Happening (Virgin/Parlophone/DFA)
When a rough version of This Is Happening’s opening track “Dance Yrself Clean” leaked back in early May, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I listened to that nine-minute track on repeat for three days. Then the album arrived, and, though most of it couldn’t match the visceral power of the moment the beat drops on “Dance Yrself Clean”, it was pretty clear that James Murphy and friends had made a seriously good album. Lead single “Drunk Girls” got a killer Spike Jonze video, “You Wanted A Hit” is a slap in the face to label assholes, and Murphy hit notes he’s never even tried to touch before on “I Can Change”. This is an album that continues themes of aging and love that “All My Friends” (from their stellar 2008 record Sound O Silver) started, but in a sunnier way. While “All My Friends” was a desperately empowering call to arms, most of This Is Happening is content to be a solid dance album where Murphy attempts to define “love” on nearly every track (Best line: “Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut/It comes back but it’s never the same”). He sounds like he’s searching, and is content to do so. If this is, as rumored, the last LCD album, I think I’m set.

LCD Soundsystem – Dance Yrself Clean by Ernesto Coss

9. Gorillaz-Plastic Beach (Virgin)
Deciding to tone down the gimmickry of being a cartoon band on their third album may have been the best decision Gorillaz main man Damon Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett ever made. Plastic Beach is where Gorillaz stop being a fun conceit with occasional great songs and start being an actual force in pop music. A godsend to Blur fans who’d been hoping for a return to traditional songwriting from Albarn, Plastic Beach highlights like “On Melancholy Hill” and “Broken” are perfect emotive pop songs. Guest vocal turns from Lou Reed (on album standout “Some Kind of Nature”), Little Dragon, Mos Def (rapping over a crazy 3/4 beat on “Sweepstakes”) and Mark E. Smith highlight Albarn’s versatility as a songwriter, and the inclusion of ex-Clash members Paul Simonon and Mick Jones on most tracks make evident the respect the musical world has for him. Plastic Beach is a distillation of everything Albarn, and every one of his guests, has ever done.
Gorillaz – Some Kind Of Nature (Ft. Lou Reed) by petrovski

8. Sufjan Stevens-The Age Of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
So he isn’t doing the 50 States thing. Just be glad Sufjan is still making music. Not long ago, he was giving interviews in which he confessed his lack of faith in the album. And look what we have here: A brand new 70-minute Sufjan Stevens album, with a complete reinvention of his signature over-stuffed orchestral sound. Here, Stevens drops the small town stories and the acoustic wizardry in favor of very personal lyrics about faith, desire, and how he’s “not fuckin’ around” backed by some of the kookiest electronic music I’ve heard in quite some time. I don’t think anyone ever really expected to be able to dance to a Sufjan song, but here’s “Too Much”, one of the best little electro-boogie tracks to come along in a while. Elsewhere, Stevens sings practically solo, backed only by a weird synth lines and some effects. Then there’s 25-minute closer “Impossible Soul” a many-sectioned suite replete with most noises found under the sun. And an Auto-tune solo! But if anyone can pull of this metamorphosis with such bravado and verve, it’s Sufjan.
Sufjan Stevens – “I Want To Be Well” by Pretty Much Amazing

7. Beach House-Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Every review I read of Teen Dream talks about how “muscular” and “beefed up” the new Beach House sounds, compared to previous albums. Honestly, I don’t really hear it. What I hear, instead, is a new level of passion. While remaining just as dreamy and gauzy as Devotion, Teen Dream seems to have more of a purpose. It’s not as satisfied with it’s situation: Victoria Legrand’s beautiful, mournful vocals seem more filled with longing and desire, and in a way, more confident. Beach House have (slightly) expanded their instrumental palette, now employing piano and live percussion to excellent effect. Alex Scally’s signature guitar tone is still all his, and Legrand’s husky voice is peerless in it’s ability to convey longing. On piano ballad “Real Love”, she sings an ode to the titular concept, wailing “I met you” over and over again, implying a brief meeting but no prolonged connection. Maybe this album was the consummation of that meeting: it’s clear that, though she met “real love” once, Legrand wants more.
Beach House – Walk In The Park by Concrete Opinions

6. Sleigh Bells-Treats (N.E.E.T/Mom & Pop)
When I first heard Sleigh Bells’ breakout single “Crown On The Ground” last fall, I was blown away. Completely blown out beats and overdriven guitars, with Alexis Krauss’ sweet coo laid over the top: this was the sound of club bangers from the future. The perfect mix of poppy and abrasive, “Crown” set the bar high for any future releases. Then came Treats, and my wishes were fulfilled: an album chock full of screeching, chugging, thumping, banging and pain-inducing loudness that still retained a wonderful level of pop sensibility. Producer/guitarist Derek Miller’s background in hardcore-metal band Poison The Well, just as much as Krauss’ former membership in a teeny-bopper girl group, a combination of aesthetics which can’t be found just anywhere, and which Sleigh Bells have aced here. And they’re even on point when it comes to calmer tracks like “Rill Rill” and “Rachel”. Label-boss (and obvious fan) M.I.A. could learn a thing or two.

5. Menomena-Mines (Barsuk)
Portland home-town heroes Menomena made my favorite album of 2007, Friend And Foe, an effusive, innovative stack of songs that constantly surprise with their switch-hitting arrangements and twisting melodies and never stopped being enjoyable. No, Mines is not that album. A much darker affair, this album finds the trio embroiled in various moral conundrums, from the seduction tale of “TAOS” to the murder in “SLEEPING BEAUTY”. While all three members take turns with the lead, drummer Danny Seim steals the show here, as always, with his incredibly emotional back-to-back “DIRTY CARTOONS” and “TITHE”, singing “I’d like to go home” with such yearning it’s hard not to get worked up. And, of course, the signature Menomena songwriting is everywhere—instruments pop in and drop out, guitars squeal in places you’d expect them to pluck, drums thunder ominously, time signatures shift all over the place. Menomena have hinted that this album may be the last we see from them, and the tension shows. But I hope they keep it up, if only because no one else does what they do.
MENOMENA – Dirty Cartoons by MarMat7681

4. Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella)
What is there to be said about Kanye that hasn’t already been said? The man is a genius, an innovator, an asshole, an egomaniac. Should we be surprised about the negative, given the positive? If you had an album as good as Twisted Fantasy up your sleeves, you would be a dick, too. But really, though he may posture in public, Kanye’s weaknesses are what shine through here: the self-disappointment on “Runaway”, the suicide fantasy at the end of “POWER”, the Gil Scott-Heron sample that closes out the album, asking “Who will survive in America?” Despite all of his boasting, even Kanye isn’t sure he’ll make it. So he brings his friends along for the ride: from star turns by Pusha T and Nicki Minaj (who earns “Best Rap Verse I’ve Ever Heard” for “Monster”) to cameos by Bon Iver and Elton John, Kanye proves that he’s a master collaborator, even in spite of himself. (Side note: Kanye’s vocal tic where he sounds like a braying horse, as exemplified by the line “Less talk, more head right now, HAH?” in “Monster” is one of my favorite things ever.)

3. Arcade Fire-The Suburbs (Merge)
In a way, the top three albums on this list are a White Man’s Suburban Melancholy Trilogy, but of the three, The Suburbs best encapsulates the ennui and mixed feelings of growing up in places where you just keep “driving around and around and around”, running from the cops just for something to do. Arcade Fire tone down their typical bombast on this outing, in favor of more subtle touches: the odd rhythmic tics of “Modern Man”, the squealing eBowed guitar in “Empty Room”, the hollow handclaps of “City With No Children”. Most impressive of all, Win Butler’s typical lyrical heavy-handedness is made more interesting by his clever employment of key phrases throughout the album, ultimately bringing it to a close where it started, with “The Suburbs (continued)”, singing of the time that he’s wasted: “I’d do it again and again and again”, perfectly completing this drive around the cul-de-sac. Anyone who’s spent any time living in suburbia can identify with this album, and thus Arcade Fire continue their career of being the band of the people.
Arcade Fire – We Used to Wait by evolucionrock

2. Titus Andronicus-The Monitor (XL)
Taking inspiration from Bruce Springsteen, The Pogues, The Hold Steady, Robert E. Lee, and Abraham Lincoln in equal measure, Patrick Stickles and company have bashed out a rollicking piece of Americana that is as emotionally affecting as it is inspirational and fun. Stickles’ lyrics focus on self-loathing, contempt, and, ultimately, still being better than everyone else, all through the lens of a dying relationship, and his philosophy is more convincing than the best of them. The heavy themes are brilliantly balanced by incredible detail and awesome chant-alongs like “Your life is over!” and “Rally around the flag!”, making the album equally perfect for headbanging and long drives. Epic, emotionally devastating, 15-minute closer “The Battle of Hampton Roads” brings Stickles’ Civil War-as-breakup metaphor full circle, reminding us in the end that there’s no better company than the enemy himself.
TITUS ANDRONICUS // A More Perfect Union by influxmusic

1. The National-High Violet (4AD)
Few bands get me like The National. Something about Matt Berninger’s lyrics—opaque, impressionistic descriptions of the malaise of being white, well-off and disillusioned—hits me perfectly, his gravelly voice carrying their weight better than anyone else could. No one else can sing mundane couplets like “We’ll live on coffee and flowers/Try not to worry what the weather will be” (from album standout “Conversation 16”) and give them such gravity, or make lines as silly as “I was afraid I’d eat your brains/Cause I’m evil” (from the same song) resonate with such honesty. And let’s not forget the band: the Dessner brothers’ arrangements are still better than most anything, and drummer Brian Devendorf is on point as always. Collaborators Richard Reed Perry (Arcade Fire), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), and Sufjan Stevens make for fun bedfellows, and multi-instrumentalist Padma Newsome embellishes at all the right points. I’ve always thought that The National’s 2005 breakout Alligator sounded like an open field at night, while their 2007 follow-up Boxer was more like the inside of a dark closet. I haven’t managed to come up with a similar analogy forHigh Violet, and maybe that’s a good thing: something so simple can’t encompass this album.
Conversation 16 – The National by risteardo

    10 Honorable Mentions in Alphabetical Order

Baths-Cerulean (Anticon)
Charlotte Gainsbourg-IRM (Because/Elektra)
Childish Gambino-CULDESAC (self-released)
Clinic-Bubblegum (Domino)
Flying Lotus-Cosmogramma (Warp)
Holy Fuck-Latin (Young Turks)
Klaxons-Surfing The Void (Polydor)
Liars-Sisterworld (Mute)
Maximum Balloon-Maximum Balloon (Interscope)
Working For A Nuclear Free City-Jojo Burger Tempest (Melodic)

    A Few EPs That Were Really Great

James Blake-Klavierwerke (R&S)
Zola Jesus-Stridulum and
Zola Jesus-Valusia (Sacred Bones)

    A Few Albums I Probably Should Have Heard Before Making This List

Big Boi-Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Oneohtrix Point Never-Returnal
Blitzen Trapper-Destroyer Of The Void
Robyn-Body Talk
Das Racist-Sit Down, Man
The Fresh & Onlys-Play It Strange
The Tallest Man On Earth-The Wild Hunt
Tyler, The Creator-Bastard

    5 Biggest Disappointments in Alphabetical Order

Broken Bells-Broken Bells
Broken Social Scene-Forgiveness Rock Record
Hot Chip-One Life Stand
Wolf Parade-Expo 86

    5 Most Overrated Albums in Alphabetical Order

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti-Before Today
Dum Dum Girls-I WIll Be
Surfer Blood-Astro Coast
Wavves-King Of The Beach
Vampire Weekend-Contra

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