Top 10 Albums of 2010

Back in January, I said, “2010 is shaping up to be a HUGE year in music.” It did not disappoint. There was no shortage of highs, punctuated by a few disappointing lows, and even a few surprise break-out records along the way. There was just too much stuff I loved in all of it that this year, so I’m expanding the list a bit:

Honorable Mentions:

Records that were noteworthy for one reason or another, but not contenders for the top 10;

-Vampire Weekend

Forgiveness Rock Record
-Broken Social Scene


[full review]

The First 5

Records which were in contention, but didn’t make it;

15: Crystal Castles (II)
-Crystal Castles

[full review]

14: The 5 Ghosts

[full review]

13: New Medium
-Faded Paper Figures

[full review]

12: Broken Bells
-Broken Bells

[full review]

11: Flamingo
-Brandon Flowers

[full review]

Top 10 Albums of 2010

10: Transference

[full review] I was pleasantly surprised that Spoon’s newest album was able to hold my attention for the entire year. Even after 11 months of play, it hasn’t lost any of its charm. Most of my memory of this album was jamming to it in the nasty winter weather: in the car, on foot, inside while my house got buried in snow! The structure is just as enigmatic to me as it was the first time I heard it, but a pervasive attribute is the layered quality of the sounds, coupled with clever producing, that keeps you coming back for another listen.

      Written In Reverse - Spoon

Purchase Transference

9: Sigh No More
-Mumford & Sons

[full review] I was really hesitant as I put this list together to include this record. Like the above album, it was a ‘winter jam’ of mine. I remember earlier this year listening to it a lot, but I wanted to be sure that Sigh No More really deserved this spot, and wasn’t just a passing infatuation.

Another listen revealed that while I don’t have the ravenous appetite for it that I did a few months ago, most of the record still really resonates with me. Mumford & Sons really leaves it all out on the field, going for big emotions and vast soundscapes while concurrently juxtaposing those components with a delicate attention to detail that really expose the folk component of their sound.

(Additionally, ‘Little Lion Man’ is without question the single of the year, whether we agree to it or not…)

      Little Lion Man - Mumford and Sons

Purchase Sign No More

8: Together
-The New Pornographers

[full review] I was really pleased with the most recent NP record because it addressed my few outstanding complaints with the group. They managed to trim the blander, more forgettable tracks and at the same time produced a handful of fantastic pop-gems that remain among the best out there. This makes for a far tighter overall album of music, whose tremendous momentum at the start carries you through the slower songs in the latter half.

It was also nice to see the band learned their lesson from the Challengers album-art fiasco, and really created something quite beautiful that perfectly fits the music within!

      Crash Years - The New Pornographers

Purchase Together

7: Heartland
-Owen Pallett

[full review] Owen Pallett’s first venture under his own name has surely done him justice. A wholly unique record, Heartland is controlled in its tone but ambitious in its goal. Pallett’s skill with strings truly shines, which along with his penchant for the electronic accents makes for 45 minutes of music that consistently sound like nothing else out there. It’s tempting to throw the label ‘epic’ around a lot, especially when the music is big and exciting… but you would be hard-pressed to find a single record more deserving of such a label this year than Heartland.

Favorite moment: the protagonist of the album kills Pallett at the end of the penultimate track, with the final song being titled, ‘What Do You Think Will Happen Next?’ If that doesn’t give you chills, you’re not doing it right.

      Lewis Takes Off His Shirt - Owen Pallett

Purchase Heartland

6: Expo 86
-Wolf Parade

[full review] While Wolf Parade is by no means a new group, I’d only recently become aware of them, via the related project Sunset Rubdown. Expo 86 was my first Wolf Parade album, and it did not leave me wanting. There is never a dull moment on the album. I’m always a hard sell on “slow songs”, but that’s hardly a problem here. Not that they’re dance tracks, the pacing is just perfect: it’ll keep your focus if you want, but it also is perfectly agreeable if you’re multitasking.

From further investigation, this is probably Wolf Parade’s most approachable album, but that’s just because it’s so damn listenable. Simultaneously exciting and surprisingly emotive, it’s telling how good the field was this year that Expo 86 only clocked in at No. 6.

      Ghost Pressure - Wolf Parade

Purchase Expo 86

5: Champ
-Tokyo Police Club

[full review] Another band that was new to me, but not to many others, Tokyo Police Club wrote what turned out to be the feel-good-album of the summer. Champ is a whirlwind tour of power-pop that opens with one of the tightest first six songs I’ve ever seen at the top of a record. It’s a lean, no-frills set of tracks that hits the sweet spot between being tons of fun to listen to and having legitimate depth and replay value.

This is a record for the good days.

      End of a Spark - Tokyo Police Club

Purchase Champ

4: This Is Happening
-LCD Soundsystem

[full review] Tail between my legs, I jump with earnest onto the LCD bandwagon. Their previous effort falling a little flat with me two years ago, I reluctantly invested some time in This Is Happening, and I was blown away. From the fantastic videos its produced (‘Drunk Girls‘, ‘Pow Pow‘) to the infectious tracks within, not to mention the ultimate game changer: a fantastic closer, this record’s got it all.

Word ’round the campfire was that this was Murphy and co.’s last outing under the LCD Soundsystem moniker. Should that prove true, they couldn’t have gone out in greater style.

      Dance Yrself Clean - LCD Soundsystem

Purchase This Is Happening

3: Light Chasers
-Cloud Cult

[full review] Easily the best least-talked-about album of the year, Cloud Cult once again proves they’re the best-kept secret in indie music. The group has ambitiously upped the ante as to what it means to record an album. There is a cohesion across the work that intentionally blurs the line between one track and the next, which is no small task.

This really serves the purpose of building across the entire album to a powerful emotional climax at the close, which I refuse to post out of context, but simply can not recommend enough. You’ve got to experience this record; I promise it’s the best thing you haven’t heard this year.

      The Strength - Forces of the Unseen - Cloud Cult

Purchase Light Chasers

2: High Violet
-The National

[full review] Like we didn’t all see this coming. My love affair with the National rolls right along, and High Violet is only helping it build momentum. It was pleasing for once to hear a record that lived up the the hype. The National are no longer tucked away in the confines of indie rock obscurity, and so with that comes snide comparisons to Coldplay. I hereby call those people out, offering High Violet as a testament that The National are as uncompromising as ever.

It’s “not a happy record,” as the band put it, but instead of being a depressing, wallowing affair, the songs are about struggle. They’re about the struggles of normal people living normal lives with normal problems. You can’t help but connect with these songs, and that’s why the National is still the best at what they do. Also: ‘Conversation 16’ might be about zombies, which is awesome.

      Bloodbuzz Ohio - The National

Purchase High Violet

1: The Suburbs
-Arcade Fire

[full review] The previous two records earned their spots with passionate emotion and personal connection. This final one managed to pull them both off at the same time. Arcade Fire has once again out-done themselves. A brilliant weave of thematic elements, The Suburbs plays out like a film without characters; or rather, the characters are the listeners… it’s an album about you. The incredibly clever music video for ‘We Used To Wait‘ is the living proof of such a reading of the record.

With such huge stand-out songs expertly placed throughout, and the bookending ‘The Suburbs’ tracks giving it an almost Möbius-like quality to it, you almost automatically want to listen to it on repeat. As I said in my original review, Arcade Fire has transcended their past work to make something better, and considering the metric of such a comparison, that is an astounding feat. It earns them the top spot among all of what 2010 had to offer.

      We Used To Wait - Arcade Fire

Purchase The Suburbs

With that, another year is over! Hope you enjoyed the tracks and found something you enjoyed. Look out for the likely Errata series coming in January, where I outline stuff that wasn’t on this list, but should have been.

Back to Year End Lists.

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