Friday, December 10, 2010

My Top 20 Albums of 2010

I would have to say that 2010 was a fine year for music. A lot of really good releases early on, some great stuff in the spring and summer, and then it finished strong, like Michael Phelps anchoring a relay (with a bong waiting for him at the finish). My year-end list is dominated by guitar rock (even more so than usual), but I'm not quite sure what that means other than a lot of great guitar-based albums came out and I managed to steer clear of a lot of the electronic stuff. Which is neither good nor bad. That stuff will still be there for me to listen to in 2011 or 2012, or whenever I get to it. On to the list!

20. Male Bonding - Nothing Hurts
Dips its toes in the lo-fi wading pool at times, but really, just a great straight forward rock album. Plenty of hooks and a few surprises, just when you think you got 'em pegged. Worthy debut from these Brits.

19. MGMT - Congratulations
Sure, there's no "Time to Pretend" or "Kids," or even "Electric Feel" for that matter. But if you listened to the rest of the band's disjointed first album, you could tell they weren't really just about those electro-pop moments. This is modern psychedelia at it's finest. Enjoy it for what it is, don't hate on it for what it's not.

18. Best Coast - Crazy For You
Love the West Coast 60s vibe of this album. Clean, simple pop songs, just like they did it back in the day. The perfect album to play in SoCal when you're grilling burgers on a warm summer afternoon. Or, to warm you up when you're outside grilling on a winter night and the temp is inching too close to the 40s for comfort.

17. Yeasayer - Odd Blood
Dancey electro-pop with a bit of an edge. Like you're at a party in a sketchy neighborhood and you're having fun, but you feel the need to keep looking over your shoulder, JUST IN CASE. An odd opening track and a second half that fizzles out a bit kept this from cracking my top 10.

16. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be
Driving beats, subtle atmospherics and darker lyrical content make this the yang to Best Coast's California yin. If BC is the sound of the beach and backyard barbecues, Dum Dum Girls is a night out on the town in Echo Park. Also a bonus - all females.

15. Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
Los Angeles is in the hizz-ouse!! Counting the album just ahead of this one and the two behind it, that makes four L.A. bands in my top 20. Very nice 2010, L.A.! Standout track "Airplanes" sucked me in immediately and the rest of the album proved to be very solid - packed with interesting percussion and staccato rhythms, whatever THAT means.

14. No Age - Everything In Between
I'll be honest, I was a bit disappointed at first with this album. Not sure what I was expecting, but I had REALLY high hopes for this one. Maybe too high. It's a little more moody and subtle where I was expecting more bombast and hooks. But it IS a good album, expectations be damned.

13. The New Pornographers - Together
I think we've been spoiled by a few bands over the years, and this is definitely one of them. Consistency isn't as cool as whatever the new crop of up-and-comers are doing, but rest assured, most of us will be listening to this album a few years from now while most of those up-and-comers will have flamed out. Ho-hum, another New Pornographers album, another set of catchy indie pop done to perfection. Yawn.

12. Black Keys - Brothers
This album was released in May, but I just got around to listening to it over the past couple of months. Glad I did. More blooze rock mastery from Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. Who needs the White Stripes when these guys keep putting out albums like this?

11. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
These Floridians come off as the perfect mix of West Coast chill and East Coast cool on their debut. Weezer is the comparison that gets thrown around the most, and I see it, but only on a few songs. Only "time will tell" if they've got the "staying power," but this is great guitar rock to "live in the now" with. (Cliche-bot 2000 over here)(Also, BARF). Bonus points for using "Jabroni" in not one, but TWO song titles. Well done, guys!

10. The National - High Violet
The National released one of my favorite songs of 2009, "So Far Around the Bend," off the fantastic Dark Was the Night comp, so I was eager to hear a new batch of songs. High Violet isn't as instantly enjoyable as their previous two albums, but given a few listens, the songs do start to reveal themselves in greater depth. "Bloodbuzz Ohio" just missed cracking my Top 10 songs list.

9. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks
Right from the start, Mr. Leo lets you know he's about business on this new one. "The Mighty Sparrow" kicks off the album with urgent vocals and a chugging guitar and it never looks backs. I wasn't a fan of his last release, but I'm back on board with this one. Full review here.

8. Vampire Weekend - Contra
Vampire Weekend really make it look easy, don't they? Simple hooks and simple, pretty little melodies. Well, take it from a guy who has never written a song in his life - that shit ain't easy! The "afro" part of the afropop equation is pretty much gone, just leaving the "pop" on this, their second album. This album routinely cheers me up while driving in traffic.

7. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
There's a lot to digest here. A loose Civil War theme, readings from Abraham Lincoln speeches, references to Billy Bragg and The Boss, and most of that happens on track one! This is really just a powerful, timeless punk record that helps remind me why I spent a good chunk of my early 20s consumed by punk rock. Thanks for the reminder, guys.

6. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
I'm pretty sure I like this record more than most people. What that means to me is that "most people" are totally missing out. And that I am much cooler than most people. BSS may suffer from the same "consistency" plague I mentioned above about The New Pornographers. Damn, we are a spoiled lot.

5. Spoon - Transference
I'm either getting damn boring in my old age or the old guard indie heroes really came through this year. Probably both. All you cool kids can take your Crystal Castles and Salem and I'll gladly take another set of tightly wound guitar rock from Britt Daniel and co.

4. The Walkmen - Lisbon
Imma be straight witchu because if there's one thing I believe in, it's straight talk. Well, that and the fact that there will be a zombie apocalypse in 2012. So I guess I believe in two things. Sue me! We're all gonna get eaten by zombies anyway. Back to the straight talk. I may have this album ranked too high. There, I said it. Again, SUE ME! But it has my favorite song of the year and some other really good ones as well. Perhaps not as good as You & Me, but still very good.

3. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
There's talk that this may be the last LCD album for a while, or forever even. That would bum me out almost as much as a zombie apocalypse. I know James Murphy will still be making music in some regard, but LCD Soundsystem is a fantastic vehicle for his musical talent and wit. Say it ain't so, James!

2. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
This album is a little less dramatic in scope compared to Funeral and Neon Bible, at least from a musical standpoint. Win Butler's lyrical content is still grandiose, however, and at times, a bit overwrought. But we've come to expect that from him, now haven't we? I like the range of songs on this album, though, and they manage to pull it off without the album sounding too disjointed.

1. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Almost every band in my Top 10 from 2008 made an album this year. Four of them are on this list and the band with my favorite album of that year is the same as this year. Considering how different Deerhunter's 2008 release, Microcastle, is from their latest, it's pretty impressive (as impressive as getting the top spot twice on a blog no one reads can be, I suppose). Where Microcastle was a bit of a post-punk juggernaut, Halcyon Digest has many more pop moments and many of the songs have a more stripped down aesthetic. At this point, if Bradford Cox's next releases were an R&B album followed by a jazz-fusion number, and they were both great, I wouldn't even blink. Right now, he can do no wrong.

And that's that. Looking forward to revisiting this list in a few years to see how my picks held up. Much of what the new kids were doing this year just didn't grab me. We'll see if it hits me in 2011.

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