Another day, another best of albums list. Today, ENS contributor Dave Tobias checks in with his favorite albums of 2010.
1. The National – High Violet
The ambassadors of the Cincinnati music scene crafted not only the best record in their catalogue, but the best of 2010. Adding harmonies and horns to their repertoire, the Dessner brothers constructed each song, and the album as a whole, with musical climax at the forefront of their minds. Matt Berninger added some his most uplifting, painful, and immediately disturbing lyrics yet. And the whole became a masterpiece of musical precision. At some point this year, each and every song from High Violet took a turn as my favorite. When you listen to it as many times as I have, that’s bound to happen.
2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
To craft a record around a topic as broad and heavy as suburban life would seem a near impossible task. Luckily, to a band as audacious as Arcade Fire, it’s all in a day’s work. The 16-song landscape that is The Suburbs stands as a testimony to the last two decades of American life. Twenty years from now, listeners will be able to gather context and meaning from this record like no other released this year.
3. Menomena – Mines
The record that surprised me most this year. With every listen, the men from Menomena reveal new complexities in arrangement and composition. The only band, fairly or unfairly, to compare them to in terms of rock experimentation is Radiohead, and Mines holds up to the test. That’s saying something.
4. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
The live act of the year didn’t disappoint on record either. James Murphy brought an emotional depth that minimally surfaced on his prior works, and packaged it in the dancy rhythms listeners have grown accustomed to. No, James, making hits is what you do.
5. The War on Drugs – Future Weather EP
A short, but enticing, offering from The War on Drugs, aka Adam Granduciel. Free of his ties with other artists, including Kurt Vile, Granduciel channeled obscure Dylan and gave a promising peak into the direction of this project. Future Weather is the vinyl release of the year for me.
6. The Walkmen – Lisbon
Picking up where You and Me left off, Lisbon is The Walkmen at their finest. Simply put, these are some of the most immediately catchy tunes in their catalogue, and Hamilton Leithauser’s melodies are the best they’ve ever been.
8. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Bradford Cox and company know how to use atmospherics better than most, and Halcyon Digest provides just the right amount of warmth to suck in the listener. Easily their most accessible work to date, Deerhunter gave us another treat in 2010.
9. Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP/The Age of Adz
Stevens released All Delighted People, much to the ‘delight’ of his legions of fans, and then threw them a major curveball with the electronically-influenced The Age of Adz, his first proper full-length release since 2005’s masterpiece Illinois. Both stand on their own, and both are excellent experiments from Brooklyn’s wonderboy.
11. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
The windows-down album of the year for me, Astro Coast mixed fuzzy production with Weezer-riffs to produce a unique, phenomenal debut from these South Floridians. High expectations are in store for Surfer Blood.
12. Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away
Some called this a return to form for Ritter, but it really acts as a greatest hits of sorts. Combining individual songs that could have fit on each of his last three records, Ritter gave us the variety we always asked for, and the songwriting to back it up.
13. Forest Swords – Dagger Paths EP
The best background music of 2010 belongs to Matthew Barnes’ Dagger Paths release as Forest Swords. But to only listen to this as background music would be a major mistake. The layers, guitarwork, and haunting moodiness push music forward like few others did this year.
14. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
Ben Bridwell and company fully embraced their love of country and western that had only peaked through on prior works. While lyrically challenged at times, the overall results are a catchy immediacy that was lacking on their last effort.
15. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
I wrote Odd Blood off, only to come back to it later and realize that Yeasayer is still doing fantastic work on their sophomore effort. Maybe the production is too clean, but the songwriting is still excellent and they’re still finding ways of sounding new in a congested Brooklyn scene.
16. The Black Angels – Phosphene Dream
Dialing down the Velvet Underground and adding The Animals and The Doors, Phosphene Dream is a revelation of a third album for The Black Angels. They’re retreading classic rock without a hint of staleness.
17. Wolf Parade – Expo 86
While their first two albums were immediate favorites for me, Wolf Parade’s Expo 86 took several listens in a row for me to get it. Working more seamlessly as a band than ever before on Expo 86, Wolf Parade’s latest definitely won’t disappoint.
18. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
Dubbed the West Coast Grizzly Bear, Local Natives rely heavily on their harmonies to carry the load on Gorilla Manor. Luckily their voices are fantastic, and they work seamlessly with catchy piano and guitar to envelope the listener in a world of goodness.
19. Girl Talk – All Day
PARTY! Gregg Gillis is back with another party-starting, 80-minute mashup. Wait, didn’t I say that about the last one? Oh yeah, I did. And it still works better than anyone else. And he still finds unique ways to make the listener smile.
20. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Bruce Springsteen acolytes mixing in some raw punk energy, Titus Andronicus created the song of the year for me with Monitor opener, “A More Perfect Union.” The rest of the album thrusts, pulls, and shimmies through one energetic riff after another.