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25 Best Albums of the Year (2010)

December 10, 2012

It’s that time of the year.  Everyone from NME to Rolling Stone to Moby is putting out their list for best albums of the year.  As the Cranberries once said, Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We?  Without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2010:

OK, OK, a little further ado may be worthwhile here.  I am not trapped under a rock with the false impression that it is still 2010.  It’s just always struck me that it is impossible to create a “best of” list at the end of the year in question (let alone a month before it actually concludes) when we have no idea how any of these albums will hold up over time and multiple listens.  A little distance from the moment is necessary to judge whether something is actually good, or whether it is merely part of a passing fad.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a good passing fad, but I’m a person who wants my “best of” lists to actually represent a list of albums that a few years later I wouldn’t mind listening to.  Two to three years seems about right for an album to still feel current while being far enough in the past to determine if it works outside the moment.

Also, although calendar years are an arbitrary line of demarcation for any musical period (I would have loved to put Florence & the Machine’s debut album on this list since she seemed to own 2010, but it was released in late 2009), I do feel that the quality of music ebbs and flows in cycles over time and that 2010 was a peak year at the top of an upward cycle that began around 2007.  You could make a strong argument that 2009 was just as good, but beginning in 2011 we’ve been trending downwards.  2012 was at best average in my opinion and not worth recapping.  Or at least, not nearly as much fun.

So for real this time, without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2010[1]:

25.          Broken Bells – Broken Bells

I like it, never switch it off the radio or skip it on Pandora, but it’s nothing special.  Exactly like I feel about most Shins albums.

24.          Shout Out Louds – Work

My sister turned me on to the Shout Out Louds.  They’re pleasant enough and I’m sure they’d be fun to see live.  Strangely, my favorite song on the album is not on the album at all – it is the Passion Pit remix of “Fall Hard”.  Much slower, not at all representative of the SOL’s, I kind of wish the band would give this a good listen.  They’d be that much better for it.

23.          Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

I don’t care what anyone else says, I am not moving them any higher on my list.  Two songs are incredible (“The Cave” and “Little Lion Man”), one is good (“White Blank Page”) and the rest makes me feel like I’m having a folk-music seizure.  Slow it down guys!

22.          Ra Ra Riot – The Orchard

Seriously, I want someone to explain to me why this band isn’t at least as popular as Mumford & Sons.  Go listen to both Sigh No More and The Orchard, pretend you haven’t heard of either band, and come back to me.  It’s OK, I’ll wait.

21.          The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

Even though this album put them on the map, “real” Gaslight Anthem fans feel it deviates too far from their roots and therefore isn’t nearly as good as their previous album, The ’59 Sound.  Whatever.  Both albums are pretty good. If you like an inoffensive Jersey rock sound that is 100 times better than Bon Jovi and isn’t Bruce, they are worth a listen.

20.          The Vaselines – Sex With An X

I’m not sure that this album – the first from the Scottish duo since the mid-80’s – really belongs ahead of some of the others on the list, but just getting any new music from the Vaselines was one of the true treats of 2010.  Download “I Hate the 80s” from Sex With An X, then please run out and buy Enter the Vaselines if you don’t already own it.

19.          Weezer – Hurley

I like Weezer.  There, I said it.  Also, “Where’s My Sex?” is a song about someone losing their socks. (Sing it, but change the word – you’ll see.)  And “Smart Girls” is really about drunk girls.  See, don’t you like Weezer just a little bit more now?  No?  OK, moving on.

18.          The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

Jack White can do no wrong.  Unless it involves a solo show in NYC.

17.          Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

I enjoy the entire album, but even if all it had was the opening 7-minute song, “A More Perfect Union”, this album would make my top 20.  Possibly my favorite song of that summer.

16.          The Thermals – Personal Life

It’s possible this is a little too high for Personal Life.  2009’s Now We Can See is the much better album.  But they sort of blend together in my mind into one mega-album and I suppose together they can come in at 16.  Plus, they kick off a string of indie-pop, kind of dance-y, bands that are about to take over my list (don’t worry, not forever).

15.          The Limousines – Get Sharp

Solid all around debut from the Limousines.  I worried that the two radio hits – “Very Busy People” and “Internet Killed the Video Star” – were too gimmicky to carry an entire album, but I was pleasantly surprised that the rest of it supports those hits well.  And let’s just say it – “Very Busy People” is a great f**king song.

14.          The Black Keys – Brothers

We now take this brief time out from the indie-pop stream for what is, in my mind, the last true rock band.  And anyway, there is a HUGE gap between 13 and 15 so this seems like a nice place for an interlude.  The Black Keys blew up in 2012 with the release of El Camino, but you could see it coming with Brothers.  Best listened to from start to finish, the way rock albums were meant to be heard, but the singles stand on their own too.  Not my favorite band by any stretch, but I sure am glad they exist.

13.          Tokyo Police Club – Champ

This is where the best of the best start.  There are at least three songs I love on Champ, and another three I really like.  This album also persuaded me to see Tokyo Police Club live, which I highly recommend.

12.          The Naked & Famous – Passive Me, Aggressive You

This album accidentally found its way into the $1 section at the used CD store near my office.  I had a sneaking feeling that I’d heard of them on Sirius’ AltNation and so, for a buck, why not right?  So glad I did, as Passive Me, Aggressive You became my most pleasant surprise of 2010.  This is yet another band that should be more popular than it is – had they come along a year first, they’d be the ones selling out Madison Square Garden in 2013, not Passion Pit.  Alas, they’ll have to settle for making my top 25.

11.          Matt & Kim – Sidewalks

The best of the indie pop of 2010, hands down.  I know all the Matt & Kim criticism, but my response is a simple one – these guys make me happy.  They’re genuine, they make me want to dance (and I rarely want to dance), and I never walk away from a Matt & Kim show feeling disappointed.  Yes I’ve seen them live.  3 times.  And I bet I had more fun than you those nights Mr. Cranky Man.

10.          Wavves – King of the Beach

And with that, we enter the top 10 and indie pop gives way to garage rock.  I saw Wavves play once as the opening band for Dirty Projectors, who were the opening band for Phoenix at MSG.  Not exactly the right venue for this band.  Every time I play King of the Beach I imagine myself seeing them live in a tiny venue like Mercury Lounge.  This needs to happen.

9.            Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be

I remember listening to this album when it was released and thinking “man, I am going to love this band.”  This debut album is raw, lo-fi, and the kind of album that needs to be heard several times (and hopefully you’ll listen many many times) to be appreciated to its fullest extent.  It that way it reminds me of Nirvana’s Bleach – not the greatest album ever, certainly not Nirvana’s best, but if you heard it pre-Nevermind you knew that great things were to come.  The Dum Dum Girls are not Nirvana, but they’ve already proven to me that they’ll be around for a while and only get better and better.

8.            The Drums – The Drums

Back to back debut albums make it into my top 10.  I read somewhere that Morrissey loved the Drums.  Turns out he bought their EP on a trip to Rome and then took in one of their intimate shows in London in 2010.  Throw in the fact that these guys are from Brooklyn, and how could I not have at least tried them out?  Two albums and two live shows later (for me) and I can see what Moz saw.  This debut is a fantastic mix of upbeat and slow, serious lyrics and fun … this is the indie-pop band that separated themselves from the rest of the newcomers in 2010.

7.            Yeasayer – Odd Blood

You have to hear Yeasayer to believe them.  I’ve seen them described as “psychedelic pop”, which in some ways is a non-description (they sound nothing like other famous psych pop bands, such as the Flaming Lips), yet somehow it’s simultaneously the best way to describe what this band is trying to achieve.  Odd Blood is like every other indie pop album released in 2009-2010, only if you listened to it through a fun-house mirror.  If that sounds awesome, well, it’s because it is.

6.            Sleigh Bells – Treats

Hell yeah three straight Brooklyn bands make my top 10!  And that makes three debut albums too.  2010 really was a peak year musically.  But I digress.  Anyway, this album kicks ass.  Alexis Krauss – waitress turned singer – kicks ass.  If that’s not enough to get you to download this album, your loss.

5.            Vampire Weekend – Contra

Remember everything I said about Matt & Kim? (Probably not.  Many of us have very short attention spans.  Scroll up to #11 and read again.)  It applies to Vampire Weekend as well.  I like them, I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Their music just makes me happy.  And by the way, most critics liked them too until it became fashionable not to.[2]  I loved this album from the moment I heard the first song off of it (“Horchata”) and still do today, though not quite as much.  I know it as much as the critics do: One day we’ll all laugh that this was the first indie album to ever reach #1 on the Billboard charts.  It’s still pretty good though.

4.            MGMT – Congratulations

More psychedelic music! From another Brooklyn band!! There’s a part of me that wants to put Congratulations in the #1 spot as a giant f**k you to all the critics who hated this album.[3]  Like everyone else, I discovered MGMT through “Kids” and “Time to Pretend”.  I guess (unlike many other listeners) I could tell right away that MGMT was, more than anything else, weird.  So after receiving fame and accolades for their catchy hits off of Oracular Spectacular, I applauded their effort to just be themselves – which, again, is very weird – and willfully drop any pretense of appealing to a mass audience.  Congratulations is a wild album from a band with a now cult-only fanbase.  And it’s my #4.

3.            LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

The last ever studio album from LCD Soundsystem, if you believe James Murphy.  An album so good that I then went on to see LCD’s “Last Ever Show” live at MSG, and then to see the documentary about that last ever show.  It was so tempting to put this album at #1 – frankly, This Is Happening and the next 2 albums on my list are really interchangeable as a top 3.  “Dance Yrself Clean” is easily the best 9 minute song of the year.

2.            The National – High Violet

You’ve seen me write about High Violet already.  I imagine that if god has a voice, it sounds a lot like Matt Berninger.

1.            Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

The second truly indie album to ever hit #1 on the Billboard charts, though I think we’ll remember this one as the album that broke indie into the mainstream.  Great album if listened to as a single unit, start to finish.  Or great as individual singles.  Monster anthems like “Ready to Start”.  Hard rock songs like “Month of May”.  Smart lyrics throughout.

Yes, I acknowledge now that the album that everyone had on the top of their list as of December 2010 is now at the top of my list completed two years later.  So maybe everything I wrote about not doing a “best of” list in the moment was completely wrong.  Oh well … 2500 words later, this was fun! See you in 2013 for a review of 2009.

[1] One more reason for using 2010, and please try and follow my logic here.  You the reader don’t know me at all yet, nor do you know my tastes.  I can give you a list of my favorite albums from 2012 and there’s a good chance you won’t yet have listened to or maybe even heard of many of them.  And since you don’t know me, you’ll have no reason to trust me into trying them.  That wouldn’t do either of us much good.  However, with a list of my favorite albums from 2010, there’s a much better chance that you’re familiar with quite a few.  Hopefully you like them.  Then you’ll trust my taste.  And you’ll find a few you haven’t given a chance yet and explore those.  Or you know that you don’t like the ones you’re familiar with.  So you don’t trust my taste (it happens).  And you save yourself some time and trouble (and me some nasty comments) by ignoring the rest.  Either way we both win.

[2] From Wikipedia: Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, reported an average score of 81 based on 39 reviews, described as “universal acclaim”. The Guardian awarded the album four out of five stars, stating that “[Contra] will probably be among this year’s most played and most joyful tunes.” Spin praised the album, calling “the balance of classical, rock, and world instrumentation, cagey rhythms, and stunning prettiness isn’t just architecturally resplendent, it’s reassuringly sweet and strangely moving.” NME gave the album an 8 out of 10, and described Vampire Weekend as “one of the most unique bands on the planet.”Consequence of Sound named it the best album of 2010. On December 1, 2010, it was announced that Contra was nominated for a Grammy for “Best Alternative Music Album”. This album was number 6 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010. Pitchfork Media placed it at number 6 on its list “The Top 50 Albums of 2010”.

[3] A representative headline: “Congratulations, MGMT, you failed

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