Best of 2010: Top 25 Albums

Republished from Isaac Bruce Springsteen


There was a lot of anticipation for me coming into 2010. A lot of expectations. I remember looking at the list of albums to be released in 2010 with my friend Joel as we salivated at the bounty coming our way this first year of the decade. This was going to be THE year for music. We were going to tell our hipster grandchildren about this year. Arcade Fire, Los Campesinos!, Big Boi, Hot Chip, Vampire Weekend… So many albums scheduled for 2010. As you will see, some lived up to the hype and some didn’t (I’m looking at you, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim). As any amateur blogger will tell you (and many have reminded me), end-of-year-lists are more about “favorites” than “bests.” The same is true here. I cannot honestly declare the best albums of 2010 because I have not heard anywhere near all the albums released this year. I did, however, do the best I could to expand my range of favorites. I listened to albums I heard were worth hearing, and if I liked them, I listened to them again and again and some became my favorites. I also did my best to refrain from influence from other end-of-year lists by refusing to look at them before posting this, as painful as that was. So if you think I copied you, or Pitchfork, or whoever, I didn’t. I’ll shut up in a minute, but I leave you with this: I don’t know if this year lived up to my expectations, but I do know that I have consumed some amazing, beautiful, and at times life-changing music this year, and I am glad I have made music such a big part of my life.

25) Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks – Ted Leo is kind of like the lovable journeyman pitcher who always gets the job done. His game is nothing spectacular, but it’s consistent as hell. There are more than enough hooks in here to outweigh the few rough spots and renew Ted Leo’s status as the esteemed punk-rocker of indie rock.

24) Girl Talk – All Day – This Girl Talk guy is really good. He can sing, rap, play rock ‘n’ roll, make sick beats… It’s just, some of his stuff sounds like I’ve heard it before. In fact, sometimes it’s almost like he took other people’s stuff and just made a “mash up,” if you will. I think I might be on to something…

23) of Montreal – False Priest – Of Montreal has made a killing off their unique falsetto-laden lunatic pop, and while this release may not measure up to the standards of 2007’sHissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, Kevin Barnes and co. make a valiant effort and have plenty of fun doing so.

22) Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks – One of the great things about college is sharing musical tastes with new people. Consequently, I give all the credit for this pick to my friend Robert (check him out on Classic Brian). He’s a big fan of this album, and now I see why. Frightened Rabbit has a knack for making the most of simplistic melodies and big crescendos. Also, I’m a huge sucker for Glaswegian accents.

21) Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame – I was shuffling through my songs one day when “Where’d All the Time Go?” came on. I was like, damn, this guy must be a doctor because I feel all better. A massively enjoyable mix of bluesy folk and 60s-era oohs and ahhs.

20) Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz – I don’t know if any of us were quite sure where Sufjan was going with this at first. But after given time to settle,The Age of Adz doesn’t disappoint. Sufjan might be taking an entirely different direction from his acclaimed Illinois, but he’s still got the feel for massive melodies and the juxtaposition of intimacy and grandiosity.

19) Wavves – King of the Beach – When I first heard Wavve’s 2009 release, Wavvves, I didn’t doubt that it was as good as everyone said. I just couldn’t hear anything. It was way past lo-fi; it sounded like it was recorded with a 40-year-old tape recorder on an airplane—a really crappy, noisy airplane at that. This one’s a little easier to digest. The packaging has been removed, and what a great present rests inside (three days til Christmas!). This druggy skater-punk is just begging to be your summer jam.

18) The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt – I know it’s cliche to say someone could sing the phonebook and make it sound cool, but this guy could sing the phonebook and make it sound cool. If anyone deserves the term “Dylanesque,” it’s this guy. His voice is just so outstanding, and it’s got a nice foundation of melodies on which to ride.

17) Vampire Weekend – Contra – If you would’ve told me in February this album would’ve been No. 17 on this list, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I’m a huge VW fan, and I was all in favor of their sophomore effort. In the time since, it has soured on me a little. Not because it’s a bad album, but because I’ve fallen in love with their debut all over again, and in comparison, the kids don’t stand a chance. Sure that’s probably a little unfair, but I look at it more like teachers being overly harsh on their star pupils. I know they can do better.

16) Best Coast – Crazy For You – There are few bands more adorable than Best Coast. Her relationship with Nathan Williams of Wavves and their love displayed via Twitter is just so fucking aww-shucks. And then there’s her music: cute, short and bursting with sunshine. Adorable.

15) Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monáe better be the next big thing or somebody’s gonna have to answer to my little meaningless blog. She is so awesome. She has an angelic voice, she can dance, and she wears a suit and tie. Not to mention, she’s got a firm grasp on the fundamentals of R&B and soul. There’s a reason she’s touring with Prince next year.

14) Gorillaz – Plastic Beach – I find it so cool that not only is this a cartoon band, but it’s also a consistently good band. 2D, Murdoc, Noodle, Russel, and Daman Albarn know exactly what they’re doing: producing an innovative blend of Britpop and hip-hop accompanied by flashes of brilliance (“Empire Ants,” “Superfast Jellyfish”) and a bouncer-worthy guest list (Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, etc.).

13) Titus Andronicus – The Monitor – You’ve gotta love an album that starts with an Abraham Lincoln speech. And I’ve gotta love an album that only takes a minute and a half to get to a Born To Run reference. By mixing themes of Civil War and New Jersey, and by rocking hard, Titus Andronicus creates a deceptively deep, artistically admirable, and
extremely enjoyable record.

12) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – This was definitely one of my most anticipated albums of 2010. Arcade Fire has risen to about much popularity as an independent label band can reach without selling out. They are on the plane of universal esteem that has been mainly occupied by Radiohead this century. So I was clearly not the only one eager for this to drop. I personally had an added hope for this album: I love records I can relate to, and what can a white, middle class Midwesterner relate to more than the suburbs? I can’t say it lived up to my expectations, but in order to do that, it probably would have had to be one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s still a great record. Arcade Fire has an awesome sound and more than enough musical smarts, and “The Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” is SO good (Tangent: One of the coolest moments I’ve experienced at college was observing my friend and his friend from home spontaneously sing that song together, alternating verses.). But it’s not quiteFuneral, and it’s not quite the soundtrack to my life.

11) The Drums – The Drums – Lyrics aren’t hugely important to me (if I love a band’s music, I won’t let subpar lyrics taint that), but I love albums that start off with great, memorable lines. “You were my best friend, but then you died.” has to be up there. It’s not just the brazenness of the line, but the way in which it’s delivered. It’s not a dark, morose line. It’s given with such carelessness and in such an upbeat way that it’s kind of hilarious, if a line like that can be hilarious. That buoyancy and radiant, laid-back style is what makes the entire album so enjoyable.

10) The National – High Violet – There are many bands I’d describe as “enjoyable”; many are “great,” “smart,” or even “kick-ass.” The National is one of few bands whose music I’d describe as “beautiful.” Their dark, brooding swells are always controlled and purposeful, and Matt Berninger’s low warble is almost wavering and nervous—you can tell he means it. 2007’s Boxer is still my favorite National release at the moment, but their sound never fails to tickle the fuck out of my fancy.

9) Robyn – Body Talk – Robyn didn’t worry about quantity versus quality in 2010. She went all-out, balls-to-the-wall and did both, releasing three Body TalkEPs, which were merged to create this single LP. A model of consistency, her pop remains fun, infectious, and the epitome of dance-worthy. She even tried out the club feel with success, especially on Body Talk, Pt. 2. The culmination of her 2010 efforts might as well be a greatest hits album. Robyn appears to be right on the brink of becoming a global pop star, and no one deserves it more.

8) Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest – I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard this album until the beginning of December. Granted, it was only released in late September, but still, it took me until I started listening to Microcastle this fall before I could even differentiate between Deerhunter and Deer Tick. And on first listen toHalcyon, I wasn’t completely blown away. I liked it, but it didn’t particularly demand my interest. Then I gave it another listen and realized that’s kind of the point. This album is subtle—not quiet or empty, but subtle—and you just have to let the intricacies flow and allow the shades and tones to envelop you. Thankfully, I did.

7) Local Natives – Gorilla Manor – When I listen to this album, I just find myself repeatedly saying to myself, “This is really good!” And once people stop giving me weird looks for talking to myself, I do it again. Local Natives have a really pleasant and refreshing chamber-pop-with-cool-percussion vibe and some simply outstanding melodies. Yet, the most impressive part of this album for me was how frequently and effectively they hit you with those elements.

6) Beach House – Teen Dream – When I saw Beach House open for Vampire Weekend this fall, I was excited to finally have confirmation of the lead singer’s gender. (It’s a girl.) Sure, I could’ve googled it, but there was something cool about how her voice could really go either way. It sort of ties into the whole zebra thing (album cover, opening track). Is it a boy or a girl? Is it black with white stripes or white with black stripes? Is it echoey and swooning or is it dreamy and melodic? Yes.

5) Sleigh Bells – Treats – I once came to the realization that what sets many indie-rock bands apart is their beats. Beats aren’t as obvious in rock as they are in rap or hip-hop, but bands like Arcade Fire, for example, have good percussion with intricate rhythms and good beats. Sleigh Bells takes that theory and coats it with gunpowder. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen beats used so effectively in a non-rap medium. Not only are the beats good, they’re LOUD. And it’s not just drums. Guitars are used as beats as well and even the singer’s rhythmic chanting serves as another set of beats. But really none of that matters. Sleigh Bells is just loud, proud, and (most importantly) straight-up awesome.

4) Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son of Chico Dusty – I really feel bad for Big Boi. He always gets overshadowed. In the past, he typically got perceived as sidekick to André 3000 in OutKast. Once he broke free of Three Stacks’s shadow, I was sure he would get his glory. This was gonna be the rap album of the year by a landslide, I thought. And then No. 1 dropped. But still, this a great album. Daddy Fat Sax (often with the assistance of Organized Noize) continues to churn out beats that are simply unmatched in creativity and sick-nastiness. Mr. Patton’s flow is smooth and diverse, and there are an unhealthy quantity of jaw-dropping singles on this tracklist. Lucious Leftfoot (does this guy have enough nicknames?) has clearly proven he can hold his own. Your move, Dre.

3) Yeasayer – Odd Blood – The universal pick for Best Album of 2009 seemed to be Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. At first, I struggled mightily to see the appeal of those tripsters. It wasn’t until 2010 until I gave them the required listens and the melodies—not to mention the appeal—emerged, resulting in what is now one of my favorite albums. Odd Blood has the same sort of feel as MPP. It has an odd sound and melodies that are esoteric, yet undeniably beautiful. The difference between the two is that Yeasayer is a little more straightforward. One can (and should) fall in love with “Ambling Alp” and “O.N.E.” on first listen. While this accessibility gets rid of the benefit of being able to grow with an album, it does have the advantage of producing straight-up jams. There are melodies throughout the entire album that will make you a human marionette and force you to dance, and while that might not be enough to buy it a No. 1 spot, it comes damn close.

2) LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening – LCD Soundsystem is one of those bands that I initially did not understand the appeal of. I heard they were awesome, yet when I listened to 30-second samples on iTunes, it did not compute. Silly me. LCD Soundsystem cannot be contained in a 30 seconds (or even in the new 90-second iTunes samples). Hell, they can hardly be contained in a CD. The excellence of James Murphy and co. comes from their simple-yet-perfect approach to songwriting. LCD uses elements of techno like repetition and gradual builds to construct their masterpieces. They also tend to use smart, poetic lines that claim not to take themselves seriously but secretly do (“Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut. It comes back, but it’s never the same.”) and hooks and melodies the likes of which are not often found in the land of techno. There is added beauty to this album knowing that it is their (alleged) swan song. The closer, “Home,” is a perfect ending for a band headed in that direction, a band that earned every accolade it got.

1) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – This was just too easy. I tried really hard not to pick this album; it just seemed like too obvious of an answer. But that’s because it is. First and foremost: the music. I find the whole Michael Jackson angle Pitchfork took to its review of MBDTFintriguing (“Something wrong/I hold my head/MJ gone/Our nigga dead.”) because I had that thought when I first reflected on this album: This is like Thriller! There are so many great—no, classic songs on this record. Songs like “Dark Fantasy,” “Hell of a Life,” and “Blame Game” would be enough to make a fantastic album, but MBDTF has “Runaway” and “Monster” and “Lost in the World” and “Power” and “All of the Lights.” That nearly rivals “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” and “P.Y.T.” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Both albums have that how-the-hell-can-one-album-have-all-these-songs feel. And it even flows nicely. The beats are sick, Kanye’s rapping and melodies are great, there are fantastic features (Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Monster” is more unbelievable than her ass). Yet, as fantastic as the album is, there is so much more to it than 13 songs. Kanye spent most of the past year in seclusion, recovering from the Taylor Swift debacle. And when he returned to the public eye, he did it with no middleman (“First rule in this world, baby: Don’t pay attention to anything you see in the news,” he tells the phoenix in the Runaway film) through Twitter. He exploded with hundreds of tweets the first few days and Kanye became famous for his lenghty, multi-tweet rants. And then he went on the rant of all rants that culminated with an apology to T-Swift: “I wish they could accept that I’ve grown and only want to do good for the world. I want to help as many people as I can. I want to help starting with the music and ending with a smile. I want to win there (sic) hearts back so I can continue to bring my take on culture to the masses with a clean opinion. It starts with this… I’m sorry Taylor.” Kanye became the most honest celebrity out there, if not the most grammatically correct. Then he debuted “Runaway” at the VMAs, in what was—in my opinion—the perfect performance. The song is so simplistic and raw. It’s beautiful. But most importantly, it was so clearly overflowing with emotion. You could tell Kanye meant it. He was sorry. And yet, thanks to mentioning “douchebags” and “assholes” (in reference to himself, mind you), the song will not get any major radio play. In fact, either because of length or essential curse words, it seems like there will not be any smash top-40 hits fromMBDTF. But really, that’s the way it should be. This story should not end with a happy ending. It wouldn’t feel right for the public to suddenly welcome Kanye with open arms. He’s truthful, and as a result he can be abrasive. Yet, he has proven this year that he is the pop star our culture was severely lacking.
Kanye was our Dark Knight in this Year of the ‘Ye. Except he’s not the hero we deserve. He’s the hero we need.




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