Maybe I’m losing touch or getting old or something, but 2010 has been far from the most exciting year in music. Granted, I haven’t heard a fraction of the music released in the year, and I’m sure there are some gems, particularly outside of the “indie rock” idiom that I’ve completely overlooked (I hear Kanye West’s new album is pretty good). Many albums not featured on this list are solid as well, left off only because maybe they ran off a great formula that couldn’t quite support a full-LP (Best Coast, Male Bonding), had a few stellar tracks that overshadowed everything else (New Pornographers, Belle and Sebastian), or had to live up to daunting expectations (No Age, Antony and the Johnsons). Still, these ten records featured here are moving, entertaining, and engaging for their entire duration and contribute to the canon of great rock and pop music.
10. Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
…In which our beloved Welsh fake-siblings grow up, or at least toil with the trials and tribulations of its inevitability. While single “There Are Listed Buildings” retains the sprightly nature of earlier songs like “You! Me! Dancing!,” the uncharacteristically frenetic “Plan A” and heart-wrenching account of depression “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future” are far cries from the band’s chipper past. While it may sometimes be overbearing, it’s worth it to hear this excellent band progress.
9. Girl Talk – All Day
CWRU’s prodigal mash-up artist alumnus returned unexpectedly a few weeks ago to release his fifth album online for no cost whatsoever. Those able to bypass the absurd amounts of traffic on the website were treated to another great instant party mix – Gillis’ longest offering yet. Highlights here include Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” snugly fit on top of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” Lady GaGa’s “Love Game” and The Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies” dropped over Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” and 70 more minutes of surprises.
8. Vampire Weekend – Contra
What do the most hyped indie darlings of 2008 do to follow up their explosively popular debut record? They bastardize the formula that made them popular in the first place. They Autotune themselves to oblivion in “California English,” tone things down immensely on “I Think Ur a Contra” and go for some unabashed, straightforward pop with “Giving Up the Gun.” Still, Vampire Weekend don’t fail to recreate former successes, most notably with the angular, sharp “Cousins,” arguably the band’s best song to date.
7. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
2010 saw no shortage of great, blissfully fuzzy power pop, from Cleveland’s own Cloud Nothings to newcomers Surfer Blood to a surprisingly coherent release from Wavves. But still, the year’s best power pop release hails from a set of Scottish power pop veterans, is clean as a whistle, and shamelessly wears its heart on its sleeve. In their first release in five years, Teenage Fanclub have produced some of the finest songs of their career, adhering to gorgeous, hooky melodies and evoking the likes of power pop in its inception.
6. The National – High Violet
Five albums in, The National have made themselves known as the voice of upwardly mobile twenty-something metropolitans who are likely down on their luck, possibly most active in the twilight hours, and may very well be ceaselessly drowning in alcohol. The songs on High Violet continue to evoke these sentiments in a profound way, with “Bloodbuzz, Ohio” and “Afraid of Everyone” chief among them.
5. Owen Pallett – Heartland
In tandem with eschewing his “Final Fantasy” moniker, violinist Owen Pallett comes into his own with his most ambitious, grandiose and magnificent work yet. Heartland, along with its follow up EP A Swedish Love Story, is partly electronic, largely symphonic, and entirely exuberant. In combining slightly off-putting tracks like “Keep the Dog Quiet” and “Flare Gun” with the more accessible, poppy sounds of “Lewis Takes His Shirt Off” and “Tryst With Mephistopheles,” Pallett has created a resounding work that will sit nicely in the canon of great chamber pop records.
4. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
It’s just crazy enough to work. Young pop singer decides to continue concept album inspired by classic silent film Metropolis about a time traveling android and decides to do away with genre restrictions in the process. Monáe attempts everything here: R&B, dance pop, rock, chamber pop, funk, orchestral interludes, hip hop, psychedelia, and more, and manages to pull off everything with conviction; no small task for a debut full-length. It’s a lot to sink into in one or five sitting(s), but if ArchAndroid is any indication, we have a lot to look forward to from this rising star.
3. Sleigh Bells – Treats
Many artists will attempt to break down genre barriers within the course of an album, and more ambitious artists will do so in one song, but few will create an entire style out of this. Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss have seamlessly combined hip hop beats, heavy metal guitar tones, punk energy, and twee sensibility into a riotous creation. They may be hip to a fault, but their sheer vitality should detract most naysayers, and if the explosive, deafening final 40 seconds of “Infinity Guitars” don’t get you headbanging, then nothing will.
2. Grinderman – Grinderman 2
Nick Cave may have done away with his porn-stache, but his libido is as strong as ever, made apparent on Bad Seeds side project Grinderman’s second record. Nearly every second of this album oozes with lust, fire, and fury. Highlights on an album full of them include the dark, funky “Heathen Child” and the vigorous “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man.” Still, it’s “When My Baby Comes,” a brooding track that builds to a sludgy climax, that is among the best songs Cave has written in his 30-plus year career.
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Heralded among the best bands of this generation of indie rockers, Arcade Fire had the almost impossible task at hand to follow-up on two of the most acclaimed records of the last decade. They ended up toning things down a bit, at first to the deterrence of some, but eventually to the acceptance of most. The Suburbs is an intimate, personal affair, where this band has moved their sights from questioning the world to simply questioning themselves. Between the emotional onslaught of “We Used to Wait,” the turbulent “Month of May” and the downright gorgeous dance pop of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” Arcade Fire have somehow created a third straight masterpiece.