25.) WAVVES - King Of The Beach
The best summer record of 2010. Nathan Williams matured as a musician and while he's not going to be considered a genius composer/artist anytime soon, he has a knack for aggressive and catchy hooks. I predict pulling out this record every summer and giving it a much deserved spin.
24.) Olof Arnalds - Innundir skinni
2010 was the year of ignored poetic music from singer/songwriters. This release from the Icelandic beauty Arnalds features both moments of bliss and complete devastation. This wide range of emotions centered around controlled and subtle production choices by producer Kjartan Sveinsson (Sigur Ros) culminates in a challenging yet satisfying listen.
23.) Cheyenne Marie Mize - Before Lately
A Louisville, KY staple for years as a backing musician for Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and every other need to know band/artist in the area, Cheyenne proves with this debut LP that she can shoulder the weight of her own release. The songs are natural, nature based, and everything comes across sincere. The math is simple with this record. If you have a stunning voice, overflowing talent at an array of instruments, and a strong point of view as a songwriter...you're going to make one hell of a record.
22.) Women - Public Strain
It's easy to make a track build to a nice climax, but Women build tension over the whole album. This is definitely not a sit down and listen to one of the tracks record, it's an album's album all the way. I'm not sure what the world considers art rock anymore, but this album could be considered the best example of sound as art in 2010.
21.) Owen Pallett - Heartland
Pallett writes film scores without the film. The album is so big, so epic, that it's sometimes hard to take in immediately. The album is an indie rock opera featuring one of the most talented musicians we have going right now. The most impressive quality Pallett displays is how his voice stands tall against these skyscrapers of arrangements that would swallow up most musicians.
20.) Baths - Cerulean
Everything about Will Wiesenfeld's project Baths is just clean. The album art, vinyl packaging, music video, and most importantly the tracks are all unpolluted by any unnecessary extras. Everything is perfectly understated which is the opposite of what one would expect from an electro beat maker. There is nothing aggressive about Baths, yet the music has a smart artistic edge. This is not just an album to nod your head to, it has a indescribable soul that lurks within each track.
19.) The Pass - BURST
Easily my favorite electro pop record of 2010. This is the common story of wrong place/wrong time for an album like BURST. 2003 through 2007 saw electro pop as one of the "hip" genres and now has faded into the background as lo-fi or anything remotely close to lo-fi as jumped into the spotlight. It's impossible to deny the amount of fun packed into these eleven tracks. The Pass have been called the next Passion Pit, Phoenix, Killers; but with their extensive jazz backgrounds and geeky love for knowing everything there is to know about the synth, this band makes music that is all their own. This was my go to record whenever I was ever in a slump or depressed and it would shoot me right out of that negative state of mind. They write dance music and won't apologize for it.
18.) Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty
Hip-Hop has lost its way. It could be my own personal taste, but to quote the great Dave Berman "it's been a slow education" since the 90's ended. There are some great hip-hop records in the 2000's but they weren't being released at the same rapid pace as in the late 80's and throughout the 90's. The bar was lowered and people began declaring the most mediocre pieces of hip hop instant classics. Anything to stop the bleeding. While I don't think Sir Lucious Left Foot is a masterpiece by any means, it's the first hip-hop record in a long time that reminded me why I first enjoyed hip-hop. Yes, Big Boi is guilty of using dumb pop culture references occasionally, but he saves his lyrics with his approach to how he says them. He constantly shocks me on this record with how he pronounces different words and chops up sentences to create new meaning. I've always been attracted to the poetry of hip-hop, and Big Boi is one of the best. This is far and away the best hip-hop record of 2010.
17.) The Books - The Way Out
The opening track says it all:
16.) Ty Segall - Melted
I've been a casual fan of Ty Segall's for a few albums but Melted just clicked. Regardless of what genre he's been lumped into, there are some amazing pop tunes on this record. The album is jam packed with nice surprises and bizarre but perfect choices. Be it the piano that comes in on the track Caesar or the psychedelic carnival freak-out at the end of Imaginary Person, choices that might not look right on paper work within his sound. I'm really excited where Segall goes next, with Melted he's been lifted to another level.
15.) Pomegranates - One Of Us
Have you heard this record? No? Go listen to it. The utter lack of 'buzz' around this album is shocking. They're not a new band. They're signed. They tour extensively. The Internet and blogs are getting weirder every year about what they get behind, but this record is accessible, smart, poppy, lo-fi, dramatic, upbeat, fun, artistic...it has it all. Just a solid record and I really hope you give it a spin.
14.) The Morning Benders - Big Echo
Excuses and Promises might be the best back to back tracks to kick off a record in years. When I give Big Echo a spin I'm always taken into the world they created and it's a very pleasant place. The Morning Benders mix nostalgic sounds with a new approach. It's clear these guys know their musical history but never stray from originality. In the year that brought us chillwave, I can't think of a better album than Big Echo to call chillwave (even though it has none of the musical qualities attached to the made up genre). It's just a mellow record that sits well in the ears.
13.) The Henry Clay People - Somewhere On The Golden Coast
Do you miss The Replacements? Pavement? The Henry Clay People's influences are pretty obvious, however, they're taking that style of songwriting and making good old fashioned rock and roll relevant again. We're really becoming trendy listeners which results in promoting whoever is making music that sounds now and not what is the best. It would be tough to list ten straightforward rock and roll records in 2010 that were not already big names years before. Joey Siara is not only the best live frontman going right now, he's the smartest rock and roll lyricist out there. His younger brother Andy is a genius on the electric guitar and the rest of the band is composed of talented member after another. This year California was sonically defined by Katy Perry and Best Coast. It's a shame because the best California export of 2010 is The Henry Clay People.
12.) The Magnetic Fields - Realism
This is an established indie hall of fame band that delivered on the promises of their past records with Realism. Several tracks off the album feel like 69 Love Songs B-Sides and I can't think of a greater compliment. Stephin Merritt is a better writer than anyone on this list or your list. He's already written his masterpiece, but the fact that he's creating solid pieces of art ten albums in is impressive. Maybe everyone forgot about this record due to the late January release date, but I couldn't imagine leaving this off my best of 2010 list.
11.) Avi Buffalo - Avi Buffalo
We all love music because of how it makes us feel. This album makes me feel young and alive. Much like what I said concerning The Morning Benders, Avi Buffalo's self titled release just sits well. It's an easy listen that brings a smile every time. The album is strangely romantic which has brought me back for repeat spins. This record handles love like no other album I've heard. Be it comparing lips to pieces of bacon or writing a song called Summer Cum, the band approaches the subject of relationships in the same wide eye way we all did before we became experienced dating cynics or settled down for good. It isn't all roses on this record, there is heartbreak, but the idea is that love is worth exploring through different perspectives. As an added bonus, it wins my annual award for "best driving in the car at night with the windows down experience while listening to an album".
10.) SOARS - SOARS
One of the boldest new bands of 2010. This album is the soundtrack to David Lynch's nightmares. Their sound lurks in cold abandoned factories, yet has it's own precious moments as well. Layers and layers of thick sounds wrap around a gentle voice that results in one of the most unique sounding albums of 2010.
09.) Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
It's not my favorite Deerhunter release, but Halcyon Digest is still the brainchild of Bradford Cox who is one of the most important musicians of the last few years. It's by far the most accessible Deerhunter release and displays all the qualities that made me fall in love with this band in the first place. From the start it's obvious that Cox has found a confidence as a songwriter that allows him to write music that both satisfies not only his desires as a musician, but the desire to connect with a large array of different listeners. Deerhunter continues to be the "lo-fi" band that has something for everyone.
08.) Mountain Man - Made The Harbor
The voices...oh, the voices. The three members come in and out with haunting vocals that creates a tapestry of sound that is simply majestic. It's as if they have an unlimited amount of faucets filled with beautiful singing and they turn them on and off over and over throughout the songs. Beautiful.
07.) Woods - At Echo Lake
There is something to be said about a band that can make simplicity seem grandiose. Woods are writing simple indie pop songs that belong in the 60's, but the result is unique to their specific band. The high voice, high guitars, scattered (yet brilliant) drumming, all these qualities seem familiar as individual choices, but original when put together. The album feels really short, but the journey, track by track is highly satisfying.
06.) The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
I'll be buying a bunch of copies of The Wild Hunt as stocking stuffers because it's one of the easiest albums of 2010 to fall in love with. Jean-Luc Godard once said "All you need for a movie is a gun and girl". There is something special about a guy/girl and a guitar, and nothing else. You're out on the edge of a cliff and bass, drums, keyboards, etc are not there to save you. A great singer/songwriter can make the material feel oddly specific to the listeners life. The Wild Hunt feels like the backing music to a montage of all my memories and emotions I felt at those times. If I were to recommend one album from 2010 for the collective tastes of the world it would be The Wild Hunt. I just can't image anyone not feeling the pure power of emotion that radiates from this record.
05. Hip Hatchet - Men Who Share My Name
There are countless artists who created very important art but were only recognized for it years after their death. Nick Drake took his own life way before his albums could reach an audience. Years after he was gone, VW put his song "Pink Moon" in a commercial and the world fell in the love with beauty of his music. I'm not saying this is what's going to happen for Hip Hatchet, but it could and it would be a shame. Hip Hatchet is Philippe Bronchtein and spending ten minutes with his album, the power he has as a songwriter becomes clear. His voice is a mixture of Nick Drake and Matt Berninger but his greatest tool is the pen. I'm a huge fan of lyrics and Men Who Share My Name has the best of 2010. The lyrics are honest, sad, funny, introspective, metaphorical, and ultimately poetic. Like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, Bronchtein mixes stripped down humor with honest self criticism. This is an introduction to the best new act of 2010. Hip Hatchet demands your attention. A talent like this only comes around so often, please don't let it drift away and forgotten.
04.) Sharon Van Etten - Epic
Sharon Van Etten is special. She has this aura that is indescribable. I remember the first time I saw Etten play live, with the first strum of the guitar all the air was sucked out of the room and all that was left was her powerful music. Epic captures this perfectly. Every emotion is put out into the foreground of the song and has this warming effect on the ears. You can't help but to follow her into the depths of her own creation. With Epic, Sharon Van Etten reaffirms everything I believe in music, its power and beauty.
03.) Beach House - Teen Dream
Much like The Tallest Man On Earth, I find it nearly impossible not to like this record. It's both simple and smart, accessible and artistic. The music is immediately likable and with repeat spins never becomes stale. I don't have much to say on Teen Dream other than it's just an amazing record that has been on constant rotation since its release in January. An album that can still excite after a year of listens must be doing something right.
02.) MGMT - Congratulations
Congratulations is the best example of how lost we are becoming as music listeners. Never has an album been so unfairly judged before its release. I hated Oracular Spectacular and constantly bashed MGMT. With the release of the awful artwork for their sophomore album and the buzz that the Congratulations was a flop, I sharpened my teeth ready to sink in for the kill. With all these pre-conceived negatives I sat down and listened to the album. To my surprise Congratulations ended up being the best pop record written in 2010. Any comparison to Oracular Spectacular is misguided as this is a whole different beast. I'm a huge fan of The Zombies and Joe Meek. Congratulations is the contemporary filling for anyone who loves 1960's psychedelic rock that leans a little to the pop side. It's not a rip off of these influences, rather a tip of the hat and reinvention of the sound to fit the contemporary musical landscape. I know this album was treated unfairly because I would constantly talk about it and push second/third listens on friends. It's always the same story, "Yeah, that new MGMT record sucks." After some investigation it comes out they only heard the record once. Spin it again and they're sold. Since it's release I've had over twenty experiences where people give this record a second chance and they're all shocked that they missed the brilliance of this album. It's not a tough listen, it's just a very different MGMT listen. Throw out all you know about the band, the album art, their sarcastic interviews...throw it all away and just listen. It's a psych pop masterpiece that will be remembered long after Oracular Spectacular is forgotten.
01.) Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
No other artist or band can compete with what Joanna Newsom created on Have One On Me in 2010. A three record set, six songs a record (18 songs), that clocks in right at two hours. Newsom has created the musical equivalent to David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia. Anybody can do length but to craft an album that never has a misstep over two hours is breathtaking. I know Newsom is polarizing as the line is drawn between those who love her voice and those who hate it. I personally celebrate her vocal styling but even if you fall on the other side, listen to her instrumentation on this record, it's tough not to appreciate. Ys was a masterpiece but melodically I chalked that up to the great Van Dyke Parks working on the album. Newsom shut me up quick with Have One On Me which shows her complete mastery of music. With the alternation between harp and piano based songs, Newsom has propelled from "that girl who sings funny and plays the harp" to one of the most important musicians (if not the MOST important) of our current time. After hearing the record all the way through for the first time I tried to write a review for WLFY. I just couldn't do it. All I wanted to do is listen over and over and over again. To this day I still can't find all the right words. It's the most wonderfully epic piece of music created in 2010 and makes every other release seem insignificant in comparison.