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Regardless of your musical leanings, 2010 has been a great year for new releases (and some older albums that have finally seen the light of day). Metal Heads had Sword's new album and Boris to get excited about, Electronic Kids saw more DJ's and electro-pop in mainstream music than ever before, and Hipsters / Indie Kids had a goddamn field day. Even fans of Classic Rock had some great things for them, including a strong release from Neil Young and a fantastic Bruce Springsteen box set. To honor this year's music production as best I could, I tried to narrow down my favorite 20 albums of 2010 - I failed, having 21 albums that I feel deserve praise. I apologize.
Alan "Knuckles" W.
(NOTE: There are some releases that I haven't placed on my list, like Kanye, The Books, Sujfan, and Menomena's new albums, but I didn’t like those as much as other people or haven’t listened to them enough to form a real opinion. So argue if you must, I really don't care. 'Kay?)
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order)
Fol Chen, II: The New December
Kate Miller-Heidke, Curiouser
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, I Learned the Hard Way
Matt and Kim, Sidewalks
Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
The Pomegranates, One of Us
#21 - Superchunk, Majesty Shredding
Superchunk came into the new millennium with a whimper of an album, and then pretty much disappeared from the studio. They thought that now, 9 years after their last album, with the band members in their 40's and with families and jobs, it was the perfect time to kick some more ass. Majesty Shredding is loud, raucous, and leaves a ankle-high, black-leather boot mark on your tush. It's Superchunk circa 1993.
#20 - Drums, Drums
Ever since the Drums dropped their EP last year I had been waiting to hear more from this indie surf-rock band. My patience was rewarded when they put out an album that is simultaneously upbeat and melancholy, exploring themes of death and lost love under the guise of pop music.
#19 - The Black Keys, Brothers
The Black Keys have been some of the most prolific musicians of the past 5 years, putting out several albums as the Black Keys, in collaborations with Danger Mouse and MC's, and with both members doing a solo album. Somewhere in the midst of all that they were able to get yet another record out. I would rank this higher, but I feel it doesn't change the mold as much as I'd have liked given other recent works of theirs. However, it is a solid blues rock album with few, if any, faults. (Danger Mouse helped produce again.)
#18 - David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love
While I don't know if I agree with their choice of subject matter, a Byrne/Slim collaboration sounded like a perfect fit for my tastes. It actually is a little more complex than I initially anticipated, and it took a bit for me to come around to it, but once Here Lies Love sinks in, it is a fabulous record. Covering all sorts of pop terrain while remaining poignant and honest, this is one of several collaborations that took me by surprise this year.
#17 - OK Go, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
The more I listen to OK Go's new sound, the more I get it. They put a lot of effort and work into making this album as reflective of who they are now, and repeat listens help their revamped image to solidify. It's a good pop album, a great indie-rock album, and in interesting foray into alt-rock on some of the tracks. There is much greater depth to the music than previous releases, which requires more work, but pays more back for your effort.
#16 - Phantogram, Eyelid Movies
I listened to this album all the way through twice the first time, and loved it. I played some singles, put it on my shuffle, and became displeased with the tracks individually. I sat through it start-to-finish again a couple months later, and I finally got it. This is a lush, whirling, and thick electro-pop record that needs to be listened to completely to really make sense. It captures a band at a moment, and all the tracks work together to give that moment meaning.
#15 - Broken Bells, Broken Bells
The second Danger Mouse related album on this list, and the first of two D.M. collaborations, Broken Bells is James Mercer of the Shins and the rodent-of-action himself. The album itself sounds more like a Mercer project, with production taking a broader and bass-ier path than what he would have done by himself. By which I mean it's indie-rock and quite excellent.
#14 - Los Campesinos!, Romance is Boring
Los Campesinos! have been a favorite band of mine ever since I imported a UK copy of their first EP back in 2007. When this album came out I was initially put off - it’s noisier and punkier than what they were putting out just last year, but I sat down and forced my way through it a couple times. It’s loud. It’s painful. It’s earnest. It’s emotional. It’s very, very good. Give it a listen.
#13 - Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard
I didn’t listen to Ra Ra Riot after their first album, so I came into this record with a clean slate. I listened through a couple of times before going to a show in Denver. After that, I really got behind The Orchard. Many indie bands today place orchestration behind the music to give it and appearance of depth, but Ra Ra Riot features cello and violin as leading instruments. They give the music depth, to be sure, but they are integral to the songs and take the band to another level entirely. It’s poppy and saccharine, but it’s also very well done.
#12 - Kate Nash, My Best Friend is You
After Nash’s first album she received a lot of criticism for being a Lily Allen knock-off, which was mostly unfair. She did have similarities, since Allen had helped her with the album, so it was understandable. On My Best Friend is You, Kate Nash broke off on her own and came back with a beautiful pop album by an excellent singer-songwriter. More than beating the dreaded sophomore slump, this album totally eclipses her debut.
#11 - Vampire Weekend, Contra
I’ve never understood the vehement backlash that these guys have gotten. They’re well reviewed by Pitchfork, the A.V. Club, and there’s a reason for that - they are good. It’s layered, interesting pop music that is catchy and radio friendly. I guess some people hate that they’re talented and successful? Anyway, any album that features a track about horchata gets bonus points in my book, though the main reason this album is on my list is because there’s not a bad song on it, and several are hits that I actually like.