I'm going to break with tradition and—instead of putting up a poem, essay, song, or story—post a bit of music journalism that I've been working on over the past few weeks. Enjoy!
After weeks of listening, analyzing, reviewing, and evaluating albums, I have finally compiled my list of theTop 50 Albums of 2010. Before diving into the list, I want to show the criteria by which I selected my albums.
First, every album must fit the following criteria:
- The album must have been officially released in 2010 (that is, the date of an album’s leak onto the internet does not count—only the official release date set by the label).
- Only full-length albums (i.e., no EPs) can qualify to be on the list.
- Only albums containing mostly original and new material may be on the list (i.e., no best-ofs or cover albums).
- Albums must have been recorded by a single artist (i.e., no compilations).
- Only nationally-released albums may appear on the list (i.e., no local artists).
Albums were then judged using the following criteria: Creativity; Songwriting; Production; Musicianship; Flow; Overall Tone; Overall Sound.
Albums on this list are labeled as follows: Artist—Album Title (Record Label)
I would like to begin with a few albums that do not fit into the five criteria above, but still deserve great recognition.
Special Recognition Albums:
Best EP: My Dear Disco—Over the Noise EP (Danethink)
Best Local Album: Katie Lee—Warmer in the Winter (none)
Best Concept Album: Streetlight Manifesto—99 Songs of Revolution, Vol. I (Victory)
The Top 50 Albums of 2010
50. The Magnetic Fields—Realism (Nonesuch)
I appreciate the way that the Fields are experimenting, but it honestly gets old after a while. The experimentation is good, but they lack the song writing to really make a tremendous impact on my with this album.
49. Woods—At Echo Lake (Woodsist)
The overall mood and tone of this album are great, but the songs are a little too “hippie-wannabe” for me. People have compared Woods to the Grateful Dead, but I really just don’t see it that much.
48. She & Him—Volume Two (Merge)
Some of the songs are catchy. Most of the songs sound the same. Also, someone needs to call Zooey Deschanel and remind her that it’s not 1956 anymore. Some of the tracks are good, but I think M. Ward needs to take more control over the songwriting.
47. Kanye West—My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-a-Fella)
I really enjoyed the production here. Kanye’s rapping was smooth—as always—and the numerous guest appearances were stunning. It would have ranked higher, but the beats were not that great for a hip-hop album, especially one from Kanye.
46. The Walkmen—Lisbon (XL Recordings)
Lisbon brings a real mellow sound to the table, and it’s really easy to get sucked into it. The problem (for me at least) is that the entire album seems to have the same tempo—it almost sounds like just one giant song.
45. Wavves—King of the Beach (Fat Possum)
A good sound, mixing surf punk with a hint of dream pop and maybe even some shoegaze here and there. The musicianship and production are great, but it’s a little lacks in the songwriting department.
44. Girl Talk—All Day (Illegal Art)
I’ve always been a little adamant toward Girl Talk, but this album is so catchy and new that I can’t help but enjoy it. This is a great party album, I think, but, again, I just have my reserves about the mash-up category to really give this album any more credit.
43. Happy Birthday—Happy Birthday (Sub Pop)
A great indie/garage sound that reminds me a lot of The Hives. They really found a good formula and stuck with it. The problem: they maybe used the formula a little too much, as a lot of the songs sound the same.
42. Los Compensinos!—Romance is Boring (Wichita Recordings)
The great diversity of sounds is good, but this album lacks a lot of substance that I’ve come to expect from this band. It’s a good album, but, in comparison to others from this year, it could be better.
41. The Tallest Man on Earth—The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)
A good collection of folk and soft rock, this album has a really nice overall tone. The songwriting is pretty good, but it sort of sounds like a bad Bob Dylan knock-off (but, honestly, I like this album more than any Bob Dylan album).
40. Xiu Xiu—Dear God I Hate Myself (Kill Rock Stars)
A wonderful mix of electonica and indie, Xiu Xiu delivers with their usual blend of noise and sweet melodies. Some of the songwriting lacks a bit, but the overall records captures the spirit of this band that we’ve grown to lover over the years.
39. Weezer—Hurley (Epitaph)
Weezer really expanded their sound for this album. As much as I miss the old Weezer, I was really glad to see their experimentation with a sound that is just different enough to sustain an impact on the listener. Some of the songwriting is a little off, but all-in-all a good album.
38. Spoon—Transference (Merge)
This album had a lot more diversity than I expected—a lot of slower sounds. The songwriting is great, but I really wanted to see a little more energy from this band. The slower songs are good, but I think this band finds their niche in the fast-pace.
37. Ra Ra Riot—The Orchard (Barsuk Records):
A great ambient sound combined with simple musicianship makes this album special in its own right. This is a good blend of pop and indie music, with some lovely electronica mixed in for good measure.
36. Of Montreal—False Priest (Polyvinyl)
This band still has it, and they love to mix it with funk and soul. Their same zaniness and spirit shines through on this album, and it really is refreshing to see a band that keeps to the same formula after so many years.
35. OK Go—Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (Capitol)
To be honest, this record had a lot more diversity than I expected. OK Go incorporates not only elements of rock, but also funk and soul in this great album. There is a great mixture of sounds, and the songwriting is pretty good all-around.
34. Matt & Kim—Sidewalks (Fader Label)
Great songwriting from this duo. The album as a whole has a fantastic flow, and overall the songs are very well executed. I think both musicians did an amazing job of compiling songs that all do justice to one another and their skills as musicians.
33. LCD Soundsystem—This Is Happening (DFA Records)
This album really delievered on my high expectations. The beats are amazing, it’s utterly danceable, and it’s so damn catchy. However, some of the tracks last a little too long for my liking—it really makes all of the tracks blend together into one giant song.
32. Superchunk—Majest Shredding (Merge)
It’s refreshing to see some good pop-punk coming from such well-established artists. This album is the perfect blend of indie and 90’s punk rock, which really takes me back to a better time. There is just the right amount of all elements of this album.
31. Best Coast—Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)
So very catchy (try to get “Boyfriend” out of your head—I dare you). The album has an overall magnetic presence to it. However, like Happy Birthday, they all sound the same.
30. Love is All—Two Thousand & Ten Injuries (Polyvinyl Records)
A great danceable album with a good variety in songwriting and tone. This is a great feel-good album, but sometimes the sound is so drone-y that it mixes everything up quite well. An all-around well put-together album.
29. The Black Keys—Brothers (Nonesuch)
I had really high expectations for this album, and, for the most part, it delivered. The Black Keys took a different turn, not only showing us modern blues, but incorporating elements of soul and funk as well. All in all, a very good album—but it does make me miss the days of Thickfreakness.
28. Caribou—Swim (Merge)
A fantastic ambient album that really sucks you in. I’ve always liked Caribou’s way to create a mood with an album, and this one is no different. You find yourself falling asleep to this album, but in a good way.
27. Deerhunter—Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Another amazing ambient album with a wide-array of sounds and song styles. This album really lived up to all of the hype, but I do wish there was a little more umph to it.
26. Local Natives—Gorilla Manor (Infectious)
A beautiful album that keeps you guessing as to what is coming next. A great mix of sounds with a lot of wonderful surprises coming about. I was very impressed with my first Local Natives experience.
25. Josiah Wolf—Jet Lag (Anticon)
This drummer from Why? does quite a job breaking away from his band and creates a sound all his own. This combination of great beats, folky melodies, and brilliant production really makes Josiah Wolf stand out from his band in the best way possible.
24. Gogol Bordello—Trans-Continental Hustle (American Recordings)
So much energy and so much creativity form this gypsy-punk band. It’s good to see a band that hasn’t changed too much in their songwriting formula, which is still brilliant, catchy, and eye-opening.
23. Surfer Blood—Astro Coast (Kanine Records)
It’s great to see an indie band who is not afraid to use a little distortion. This album was hard but not too hard. It had a great rhythm and flow to it, and the songwriting was simply catchy. A lot of substance—more so than what you see from a lot of indie bands.
22. The New Pornographers—Together (Matador)
This album reminded me what I love this band. The songwriting is incredible, the execution is brilliant, and the album as a whole has such a fantastic indie feel to it. These guys still have it after all of those years of recording.
21. Harlem—Hippies (Matador)
This album surpassed the standard “indie” sound and ventured boldly (and successfully) into the realm of blues. This album was so catchy yet so deep with its various musical stylings. To me, it sounds like The White Stripes if they added a few more members.
20. Sleepy Sun—Fever (ATP Recordings)
A great combination of blues, folk, and shoegaze, one would not expect this album to be so dreamy, but it really is. The entire record sounds like blues through a phaser pedal, which is one of the best combinations I have seen in so long. Not your typical SanFran jam band—something much better.
19. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists—The Brutalist Bricks
A high-energy album with a great punk feel to it, this record makes you bang your head. There is a great flow to this album, and the songwriting really stands out. This is not your standard punk album—this has a lot more substance than one would expect.
18. Wolf Parade—Expo 86 (Sub Pop)
Lots of energy, fantastic songwriting, and catchiness that surpass a lot of things in recent memory. Wolf Parade really brings a lot to the table with this album, and it really speaks to their unique sound and production in their albums. A must-have party album, in my opinion.
17. Ratatat—LP4 (XL Recordings)
I must admit that I was afraid to listen to this album because I heard that Ratatat changed their sound. They did, but in a good way. They incorporated a lot of Latin influence here, and it really works well with their beats. This is such a great album and so utterly catchy.
16. Interpol—Interpol (Matador)
A slightly different album from Interpol, but that is not to say that it is bad. They slowed things down just a little bit from their usual sound, but I think it works really well. Combine that with their usual great songwriting and fantastic musicianship and you have a great farewell album for bassist Carlos D.
15. Frightened Rabbit—The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Atlantic Records)
I think every indie album should strive to be like this—there’s so many different moods expressed in this album, but it still has that fast-paced working that we’d expect from a great album. The fact that there is so much variety is enough to make me want more.
14. Belle & Sebastian—Write About Love (Rough Trade)
Pretty standard Belle & Sebastian, but the band still has the chops that makes people fall in love with them so easily. These forefathers/mothers of modern indie rock really show us their chops and their never-ending supply of songwriting moxy.
13. Casiokids— Topp stemning på lokal bar (Polyvinyl Records)
Speaking of feel-good, this Norwegian band really struck gold with this album. It’s pretty much what one would expect from Scandonavian indie music, but it has so many catchy songs and amazing songwriting that it does not blend in with the others.
12. The Heligoats—Goodness Gracious (Greyday)
There is only one word with which I can describe this album: Dreamy. It combines so many great elements of indie rock with an almost-shoegazy element to it. The great level of diversity on this album really makes it a feel-good album for 2010.
11. Sleigh Bells—Treats (Mom + Pop)
I love this noise-pop because it’s more catchy than most—it doesn’t alienate peole like Animal Collective or something like that (I love Animcal Collective—let me re-establish that). But I love the structure and the beats: it’s like a combination of Ratatat and Animal Collective, to put it bluntly.
10. Procedure Club—Doomed Forever (Slumberland Records)
This band sounds like a cross between Lush, Drop Nineteens, and Galaxie 500—put them together and this Connecticut band becomes a lovely trifecta. The songwriting is simple yet complex, and the musicianship makes it hard to believe that this is a duo.
9. Broken Social Scene—Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)
This album is simply astounding. This Canadian supergroup was able to blend the best of their older material with their new to create this album. Many called it the best album of the summer, and I think I have to agree.
8. Foals—Total Life Forever (Sub Pop)
Foals took the standard British-indie sound, infused it with ambience and a little dash of punk to make this fantastic album. All of the tracks sound so different from one another, but they blend together so well. Probably the best British album of the year, I think.
7. The Arcade Fire—The Suburbs (Merge Records)
A wide-array of sounds, moods, instrumentation, and more really gives this album a great kick. The songwriting is a lot better than I expected (no offense, AF fans), and they really blew me away with their overall sound and songwriting.
6. Jónsi—Go (XL Recordings)
Wonderfully ambient and very dreamy. To me, it sounds like Sigur Rós if they sped things up just a little bit. He really gives the listener a lot to chew on, and he uses it to his advantage. Just to warn you: this album will put you in a trance, so be prepared for the unexpected.
5. Vampire Weekend—Contra (XL Recordings)
Vampire Weekend gives us another great high-energy album that showcases a wide variety of sounds. The songwriting here has a great temperament to it, and the music itself is so infectious that it keeps the listener engaged in its entirety.
4. The National—High Violet (4AD)
This album is such a great ambient/dream pop revival that I can’t help but love it. The album has such a wonderful flow and the songwriting reminds me of a cross between Mogwai and Joy Division—two amazing bands seemingly coming together to create one of the best shoegaze-y albums of the last five years.
3. Frontier Ruckus—Deadmalls and Nightfalls (Ramseur Records)
To put it simply, this album blew me away. Really. The musicianship is simply complex, the songwriting is so heartfelt, and the entire album creates an ambience that is matched by no other folk album in recent memory. These fellows really made Michigan proud with this one.
2. The Deprecation Guild—Sprit Youth (Kanine Records)
Absolutely wonderful. A lustful and sensual newgaze album from these saviors of shoegaze—a perfect blend of wall-of-sound and electronica. The sound of this album is really hard to describe without doing it injustice—the only way to truly appreciate this album is to listen and be prepared to be astounded.
1. Beach House—Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
One of the best dream-pop albums in recent years—maybe ever. This album has ended up on many end-of-year lists, and for good reason: the musicianship is incredible, the songwriting is gorgeous, and the tone and mood of the album is just so dreamy.
There you have it: My Top 50 Albums of 2010. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you have your own list? Let me know with a comment.