This was one of the best years in music in recent memory. Not only did the big guns release albums this year that were outstanding (Arcade Fire, Kanye, The National) the year belonged to the debut bands that could be…the following is a short list of the debut bands that released phenomenal albums: Sleigh Bells, Surfer Blood, Local Natives, Bear Hands. The list goes on. This is a good sign when most of the top 50 albums are by consistently outstanding bands or bands that just are getting their break. And if you agree with me that this year kicked ass wait til you see a small list of bands coming out with albums in 2011. Here it is. Your top 50 albums of 2010 (scroll down to read Thom’s favorites):
1) Beach House- Teen Dream
Dream pop at its finest. Beach House’s third album is (and has been since it came out early in 2010) the year’s best. Beautiful harmonies, vocals from Victoria Legrand that will melt your heart. From start to finish, this album is perfect.
2) Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest
Deerhunter has been one of the better indie bands for the past decade. They continue to surprise and enchant with hypnotic yet cerebral lyrics. And Brandford Cox has to be music’s most prolific artist. His Atlas Sound (side project, but just as good) released not 1 but 4 FREE albums about a month ago. What more do you need from your favorite musicians?
3) Sleigh Bells- Treats
After 2009’s success and much hyped performance at CMJ this band blew things up in the music world. Their debut album cracked the top 50 on Billboard chart and it was only released digitally. No album this year was more original yet more organic sounding then Treats. Yet, I still am surprised that someone didn’t think of it before. Hyper and energetic. Listen to this as loud as you can take it.
4) The National- High Violet
The National continue their streak of highly literate, mature indie rock. While I thought 2008’s Boxer was outstanding listening to this year’s HighViolet makes me appreciate this band more and more. I read one review and they used the term “dad rock” to describe (they meant it as a complement) this record. I really don’t know what that means but for a band to be this mature and this good is a great thing for Indie Rock.
5) Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Did you hear that Kanye West came out with a new album this year? Have you heard it? Yes, it is just as good as people say so listen to it already!
6) The Tallest Man on Earth- The Wild Hunt
The best album you didn’t listen to this year. Haunting yet bittersweet tones from Kristian Matsson who goes by the nom de solo act The Tallest Man on Earth. The closest thing I’ve heard to Bob Dylan. Yes, that’s a huge complement. Seek this out.
7) Surfer Blood- Astro Coast
Another early 2010 release, Surfer Blood hails from West Palm Beach, Florida. Intensive driven guitar rock featuring riffs and sounds emanating that are as cool as shit.
8) Houses- All Night
I was very upset to see the so-so reviews of the debut album from Houses. Ethereal dream electro-pop. I just loved listening to this album wherever I was (driving, at home.) Just flat out beautiful.
9) Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
What more can you say about this band other than if they keep this streak up they will become one of the best bands ever.
10) Superchunk- Majesty Shredding
It makes me so happy to see that not only did one of my favorite bands of all time come out with another record but to see that it sold well, was well received and is so fucking good? Well, thanks Superchunk.
11) Menomena- Mines
Beautiful harmonies, sounds that are created experimentally using a computer program/instrument that the band invented and lyrics like this:
the hours pass us by as gin slips slowly
past our tingling spines, cheeks warm and glowing
I’m a social mess but not yet slurring
the words that come to rest upon my luring tongue
The most underrated band in music. Period.
12) Bear Hands- Burning Bush Supper Club
Bear Hands released an EP a few years ago and caught some buzz. Their debut is full of the same catchy indie pop that you liked if you heard them before. If you are new to Bear Hands well then, you’re welcome. The Indie Pop album of 2010.
13) The Black Keys- Brothers
Never that big a fan of The Black Keys (they were good) but this album was complete from start to finish. Hard to find good guitar driven blues rock from a major label band. This is one.
14) Vampire Weekend- Contra
2 outstanding albums. Contra even better than the debut album. My only wish is that Vampire Weekend come out with their 3rd album some time later in the year. This came out in early January. If this came out in the summer it would appear on more best of lists.
15) Local Natives- Gorilla Manor
Another debut album cracks the top 20. Local Natives hail from California and I don’t know how to best describe them. Multi-harmonies, echoing vocals…the list can go on. I wouldn’t classify them as original but I would say catchy without being annoying, smart without being pompous. A great record.
16) The Radio Dept.- Clinging to a Scheme
The first time The Radio Dept. has appeared on this list. The dreamy, shoegaze band from Sweden made their most successful album this year. Another record that’s perfect sounding from start to finish.
17) LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening
Oh, James Murphy. Please don’t stop making music.
18) Charlotte Gainsbourg- IRM
There’s so much to say to describe Charlotte Gainsbourg. I’m sure you are familiar with her parents, I’m sure you’ve seen that she’s gorgeous and now she has made her best album to date (I liked 5:55 but this is so much better).
19) Robyn- Body Talk
Success story of 2010? Robyn. Not only did she come back but she came back strong. Releasing 2 small albums (and a third collecting songs from the first 2 plus a handful of new tracks) totaling 3 albums and a ton of songs. All of them could be singles on their own and all have that European song and dance that you remember about her from a decade ago. So why isn’t she as big as Lady Gaga?
20) The Walkmen- Lisbon
Another mature well recorded album from New York’s The Walkmen. Consistent and even more polished than 2008’s You & Me.
21) Crystal Castles- Crystal Castles (2010)
I just want to dance all night listening to the new Crystal Castles. The soundtrack to my life (if I was a 19 year old kid).
22) Crocodiles- Sleep Forever
Digitized noise rock from San Diego’s Crocodiles. 2 great records in 2 years.
23) The Hundred in the Hands- s/t
Another great indie dance album. They also came out with an equally good EP earlier in the year.
24) No Age- Everything In Between
There is so much sound coming from the 2 guys in No Age. Feedback laden guitars, haunting and droning vocals and lo-fi drum beats. Each album they release is more and more impressive.
25) Tame Impala- Innerspeaker
Another album that is hard to describe yet so interesting and complex. I heard parts of 60’s psychedelica, 90’s American indie rock and a lead singer that at times sounds exactly like John Lennon. Really nice surprise.
26) Caribou- Swim
Caribou’s Dan Snaith has been in the biz for some time now but this complete sounding electronic album has put him in the front of the pack.
27) Zola Jesus- Stridulum II
I just love her voice so much. Hypnotic and trance like. Just so much going on with her vocals.
28) Yeasayer- Odd Blood
Another early release in 2010, Yeasayer started off the year with the first single Ambling Amp getting major buzz. The buzz wore off though quickly and what people missed was that each song was good on its own merit but as a whole the album suffered slightly from mixed messages. Still, Odd Blood shouldn’t be overlooked because it shows signs of a band experimenting and finding different sounds.
29) Twin Shadow- Forget
A band I put off listening to for a bit until I got lost in their atmospheric chillwave sound.
30) Belle and Sebastian- Write About Love
I can’t seem to find anything wrong with this band. They continue, album after album, to find new ways to surprise and enchant me. They would have to be considered in the running for my favorite bands of all time.
And the rest:
31) Four Tet- There Is Love In You
32) Hot Chip- One Life Stand
33) Jonsi- Go
34) MGMT- Congratulations
35) The Morning Benders- Big Echo
36) Owen Pallett- Heartland
37) The Joy Formidable- A Balloon Called Moaning
38) Best Coast- Crazy For You
39) Gorillaz- Plastic Beach
40) Javelin- No Mas
41) Joanna Newsom- Have One On Me
42) Frightened Rabbit- The Winter of Mixed Drinks
43) The Love Language- Libraries
44) The New Pornographers- Together
45) Male Bonding- Nothing Hurts
46) Wild Nothing- Gemini
47) Ceo- White Magic
48) White Hinterland- Kairos
49) Free Energy- Stuck On Nothing
50) Blair- Die Young
Great EP’s of 2010:
1) Keepaway- Baby Style
This 5 song disc is so good I can’t wait for the full length. So good.
2) Girls- Broken Dreams Club
Their debut album made this list last year and will most likely make it every year if they continue to make music. This band is amazing.
3) James Blake- CMYK/Klavierwerke
Electronic god released 3 EP’s this year. All are great.
4) Tennis- Baltimore
There’s only 3 songs on this min EP but look out for their full length in 2011.
5) Etienne Jaumet- Night Music
Multi-instrumentalist Etienne Jaumet made a beautiful old school techno album. Though the album is 5 songs and clocks in at just under 50 min I wanted to include this on some best of list.
Other notes from 2010
- The their first album was so good what the hell happened to the sequel album: She & Him- Volume 2
- The best album that would have made my list if I made the list 3 months from now: Sufjan Stevens- The Age of Adz
- The album that I kinda liked just to please my wife because it was her album of the year: Dum Dum Girls- I Will Be
- The band whose last 2 albums were just plain awful and I still can’t stand them: Kings Of Leon
- The best album that I just found out about from other best of lists that would have definitely made my list: Allo Darlin’
- The best album by someone that sounds like an immature dick in interviews but does make pretty good music: Wavves- King of the Beach
- The most disappointing album of 2010 (though it’s not all bad): MIA- May
- The album that is pretty good but I just don’t get all the hype: Janelle Monae
- The 3 bands that I didn’t see on too many year end best of lists but should have: Local Natives, Bear Hands and The Hundred In The Hands
- The album that people listened to over and over that I thought just plain sucked: Broken Bells
- The band that if they keep up the 1 album/ep a year trend just may end up being one of the best ever: Girls
- 2 artists that I can’t see the appeal: Drake and B.O.B.
10 anticipated albums for 2011 (in alphabetical order except #1 because it’s my most anticipated album)
- Panda Bear- Tomboy
- Cat Power- title tba
- Death Cab For Cutie- Codes and Keys
- Jens Lekman- title tba
- Lykke Li- Wounded Rhymes
- M83- title tba
- Okkervil River- title tba
- P.J. Harvey- Let England Shake
- Radiohead- title tba
- Santi(o)gold- title tba
Thom’s Best Albums (and Song)…
Crystal Castles ft. Robert Smith- ‘Not In Love’
My favorite song of the year was not on any of my favorite albums of the year. With honorable mention to ‘Power’ by Kanye West, the song that most stuck with me most is ‘Not In Love’ by Crystal Castles. Not because of Crystal Castles, who are a fine group. You just can’t go wrong by having Robert Smith sing anything. Love this song.
BEST ALBUMS (in no real order)
Kanye West ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘
It is ok to be arrogant when you can back it up. Based on the early singles and the weekly G.O.O.D. Friday’s releases I figured this would be a great album however it far exceeded my expectations. The album version of ‘Runaway’ (more closely mirroring his MTV performance) is epic.
Grinderman ‘Grinderman 2’
I readily admit that I love Nick Cave in all of his incarnations so I came to the album somewhat biased. The interesting thing about Griderman is that it sounds nothing like the stuff he does with The Bad Seeds and is more of a throwback to his Birthday Party days. ‘Palaces of Montezuma’ is one of his best songs which, considering how many great songs he has written, is really saying something.
The Divine Comedy ‘Bang Goes the Knighthood’
Neil Hannon is a grossly under appreciated and mostly unknown commodity on this side of the Atlantic. A favorite of the equally great Stephin Merritt, the Northern Irish singer/songwriter has only been putting out great (if quirky) orchestral pop music for the past 20 years or so and his 2010 album continues that tradition.
Ghostface Killah ‘Apollo Kids’
Along with fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon, Ghostface Killah is one of the most consistent rap artists around. This late 2010 entry continues his strong output and the first single ‘2getha Baby’ is one of his best.
Paul Weller ‘Wake Up the Nation’
Paul Weller may well be the coolest man on this planet or any other. He has managed to transform himself over the course of 30+-year career from his early years with The Jam (one of the greatest bands of all time), the slightly more hit and miss years of The Style Council, and a varied and somewhat inconsistent solo career. He has always been capable of moments of greatness and 2010’s ‘Wake Up The Nation’ represents the best of what Weller has always been able to do.
Gorillaz ‘Plastic Beach’
Damon Albarn’s musical life outside Blur is a fascinating one. As the face of Brit-Pop who would have thought that Albarn would emerge as one of the most talented and varied musicians of a generation. His unparalleled knack for finding the perfect collaborators for each project, song and sample is something a lot of artists would be well served studying. The Gorillaz has always been an interesting project from concept to execution and ‘Plastic Beach’ is a strong addition to what has moved on from curious side project to one of the best groups (if it can be called that) out there. ****Late breaking news – The Gorillaz will be releasing yet another album ‘The Fall’ on Christmas day. I sit and wait.
The Fall ‘Your Future, Our Clutter’
Something I have learned… if you have heard The Fall you either love or hate The Fall. Over the years I have recommended various Fall albums to people who either say thank you or ‘what the fuck?’. Mark E. Smith’s revolving door group’s 28th studio album is as Fall-like as the others and, as such, great (at least in my opinion).
Kylesa ‘Spiral Shadow’
Southern underground metal, anyone???? The past few years has seen a rise of great underground metal bands based in and around the Savannah, Georgia area. Something in the Savannah water perhaps? Bands the likes of Kylesa, Black Tusk and Baroness have released consistently strong albums and Kylesa’s 2010 ‘Spiral Shadow’ really raised the bar. A sludgy, Melvins-esque sound taken to a new level courtesy of the perfect pairing of vocalists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cole.
Ryan Adams ‘Cardinals III/IV’
Being unbelievably prolific has always been one of Ryan Adams’ greatest strengths and biggest pitfalls. Between official releases, an ever changing sound and strange and fascinating bootlegs by various alter-egos you are never quite sure which Ryan Adams is going to show up at any given time. His albums with the Cardinals have always been most reminiscent of his time in Whiskeytow. This collection of seeming odd and ends from Cardinals’ sessions shows just how strong a songwriter Adams really is and how his leftovers are better than 99% of what may artists would kill to have.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’
If you heard them for the first time and nobody told you otherwise it would be fair to assume that BJM were some great band from the 1960’s that you just never heard of. Anton Newcombe may be more famous for his drug use and erratic behavior (see the documentary Dig!) as for his musical output, which is a shame. What is often lost is just how amazing a musician he really is. The addition of former Spacemen 3 bassist Will Carruthers on several tracks helps make ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper’ the strongest BJM album in years.
Big Boi ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty‘
I feel like rap music is in the midst of a particularly strong period. For some reason I always felt like Big Boi was perhaps the weaker link in Outkast. I am pretty sure that I was wrong.
MOST ANTICIPATED ALBUMS OF 2011
PJ Harvey ‘Let England Shake’
Raekwon ‘Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang’ 2011