2010

30. The War on Drugs – Future Weather EP

The War on Drugs’ follow up to their excellent 2008 debut is actually comprised of songs culled from sessions for an abandoned full length. Regardless, Future Weather is still 8 songs long (the last record was 9) and holds together beautifully as an artistic statement in its own right, with some of Adam Granduciel’s prettiest songs surrounded by one or two of his weirdest. And by weird, I’m referring to the brilliant 8 minutes of warped psyche-folk that is “The History of Plastic”.

29. Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues

It’s been a trying year for Earle to say the least, but that shouldn’t take away from this inspired collection of country, soul, blues, folk, and rockabilly that continues to show growth from one of the best young roots musicians working today.

28. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

Ted Leo is the most underappreciated punk I (don’t) know. The Brutalist Bricks is utterly fantastic – his strongest work since Hearts of Oak – and was completely slept on for the majority of the year by too many. It captures everything great about one of New Jersey’s most exciting artists.

27. Evenings – North Dorm EP

An addictive set of soft-beat, ambient, electronic instrumentals that still manage to feel completely natural, like music made on a laptop in the middle of a forest. Download the North Dorm EP free of charge at Evenings’ Bandcamp page.

26. James Blake – CMYK/Klavierwierke

Promising, incredibly hypnotic music from this 22 year old U.K. phenom. Look for big things in the very near future as Blake prepares his full length debut for early 2011.

25. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Listening to Have One on Me was pretty much the year’s greatest endurance test. It’s also a staggeringly ambitious album that succeeds overwhelmingly more than it falters. Ironically, the two songs I skip most often come first and second – after that it’s pretty much classic after classic for an hour and 45 minutes.

24. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today

The gloriously unhinged indie-pop of Before Today was a real grower for me – gradually becoming something I considered for this list over the past month or two. If I revisit this list next year, I bet it would be in a much higher spot.

23. Cotton Jones – Tall Hours in the Glowstream

The second record from Cotton Jones (featuring Michael Nau, formerly of Page France), Tall Hours in the Glowstream might just be the most perfectly named album I’ve heard all year. On it Nau trades in the carnival-like folk rock of his former band for a melodic, soulful dream-pop/country hybrid that, props to An American Drunkard, sounds like what Gram Parsons probably had in mind when he coined the term “Cosmic American Music”.

22. Four Tet – There Is Love In You

It was a banner year for Kieran Hebden, releasing a string of the year’s best remixes after his shimmering, gorgeous There Is Love in You.

21. Future Islands – In Evening Air 

In Evening Air is Future Islands best distillation of their soaring electro-pop and the wild, manic vocal dynamics of singer Samuel T. Herring.

20. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

James Murphy continues to make intelligent dance music for people who also like to rock the heck out.

19. Great Elk – Great Elk EP

On which my friends Paul Basile and Patrick Hay arrive in the world fully formed as Great Elk, armed with superb songs and ready for a Mercury Lounge battle of the bands with Okkervil River, Band of Horses, and Whiskeytown.

18. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

Forgiveness Rock Record was a welcome return from one of indie-rock’s most consistently thrilling bands. An enormously fun album that’s worth it solely for “Meet Me In the Basement”, which might actually be theme music for catching a joyride on a comet.

17. No Age – Everything In Between

After one album and one singles compilation of sonically daring fuzz-punk and lo-fi noise experiments, California duo No Age have drastically broadened their sonic approach on their brilliant third album, Everything In Between. No doubt the new songs still assault with a distinct noise/punk sneer, but the band has brightened its corners with more songwriting focus, tighter melodies, and just about the greatest use of noise effects on a rock record that I can think of.

16. Botany – Feeling Today EP

The 5 songs that comprise the debut EP from Spencer Stephenson’s recording project are straight up found-sound electro/pop gems whose incandescent melodies promise nothing but continued greatness.

15. Marah – Life Is A Problem

After a tumultuous couple of years, 2010 saw the Philly underdogs in Marah return with their finest collection of battered folk & roll anthems in a decade. Life is a Problem borrows its title from a collection of obscure religious country blues music that lead singer Dave Bielanko found in a Williamsburg record shop in 2008, providing him with some degree of comfort after his band more or less imploded on the eve of the world tour to support Angels of Destruction!. With the musical inspiration covered for a new start, Bielanko and keyboardist/vocalist Christine Smith soon discovered an old farmhouse deep in Pennsylvania’s Amish country that became a refuge to write, rehearse, and record new material. The resulting album captures the audacious, ramshackle spirit that has always marked Marah at their very best. It’s their best and most consistent collection since 2000’s seminal Kids in Philly.

14. The Black Keys – Brothers

The Akron duo of Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach just keep getting better with every record they make. Brothers is their most fully realized music yet – a rough and tumble trip through blues, soul, and some fiercely gritty rock & roll.

13. Ty Segall – Melted  

Melted has some of the most primal, ferocious rock & roll you’ve heard all year over its 30 blistering minutes. It’s almost as ugly as the cover art would suggest. Yet Segall never lets the noise overpower the hooks – Melted is full of sparkling and gritty garage-rock melodies.

12. The Radio Dept. – Clinging To A Scheme

When The Radio Dept released Clinging to a Scheme last spring, I barely noticed. I enjoyed “Heaven’s On Fire” enough to pick up the rest of the album, but for a long stretch of the summer it sat on my hard drive untouched, save one or two cursory listens. But based on that single’s Jackson 5-by-way-of-Slumberland Records brilliance, I went back to the album this fall out of curiosity, and gradually allowed the slightly out-of-focus Swedish indie-pop of the other 9 songs to reveal itself to me. Once it clicked, it did so in a big way, shooting into my top 10 and easily becoming one of my favorites of the year.

11. The Walkmen – Lisbon

Contrary to how most of the internet reacted to this record, The Walkmen have always been a “mature” band. They were among the first wave of indie-rock bands to have a song played in a car commercial; they were using toy pianos all over their 2002 debut and New Orleans-styled horn sections by 2006. They released a Harry Nilsson cover album for crying out loud. Needless to say, this was never a band that was ever tied to some punk mindset or limited themselves to one-dimensional fast/loud song structures. Lisbon simply continues The Walkmen’s string of consistently excellent “mature” rock records. The boozy New Orleans horn sections (“Stranded”), bouncy pop songs (“Woe Is Me”), skeletal ballads (“Lisbon”, “All My Great Designs”), and, of course, anthemic indie-rock jams (“Juveniles”, “Victory”, “Angela/Surf City”) all suggest this band is riding the peak started with 2008’s You & Me.

10. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Win Butler and co. don’t quite have the weight of the world concerns on their minds here as they did on Neon Bible, but The Suburbs is every bit as grand and sweeping as we’ve come to expect from the Canadian rock heroes. Nostalgia, innocence lost, and suburban sprawl inform these 16 songs, and Butler handles everything with more intimacy than a band that’s played MSG has any right using. Did I mention that he gives the records’ best song to Regine?

9. How To Dress Well – Love Remains   

HtDW is the solo project of Tom Krell, a guy with a sick falsetto (clearly reminiscent of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon) who writes lithe R&B slow jams and records them on the cheap – full of crackling clicks and hisses. But where some bands use lo-fi recording as a gimmick, the lack of sonic clarity is perhaps the most vital component on Love Remains, allowing the music to come across, as intended, as if they were being drawn out of the deepest corners of childhood memory. The result is a ghostly, highly intimate listening experience and unquestionably one of the most unique albums I’ve heard in ages.

8. Flying Lotus – Cosmagramma

This was the year’s biggest grower for me, and one of the few artists on this list that I don’t think I’ve posted about before. As Spencer from Botany said earlier this week, Cosmogramma is “a sprawling masterpiece of an album.” It took me a while, but yeah.

7. Frog Eyes – Pauls’ Tomb: A Triumph

Carey Mercer is known to roar, howl, and yelp like a lunatic, and on Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph he holds nothing back. It’s a 45 minute vocal death charge – raw, manic, reckless, and utterly unnerving. The fact that his band plays every note with such a distinct and disarming volatility only elevates the whole thing.

6. Beach House – Teen Dream

Teen Dream is a lush, starry-eyed masterpiece from this enigmatic Baltimore duo who have now delivered three records of increasingly rich textures and confident arrangements. Victoria LeGrand has become one of indie-rock’s defining vocalists, showing both more self-assuredness and nuance here than ever before. Teen Dream was hanging around the top of this list before 2010 even started, and never lost its lofty perch over the past 12 months.

5. Women – Public Strain

Women blur the line between noise and melody on Public Strain until the two are so inextricably linked that there’s just no difference between the two extremes. As the cover art suggests, listening to this record is like being caught in a blizzard, a near claustrophobic experience that’s both terrifying and wonderfully cathartic.

4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Ye’s magnum opus, darker and denser than his previous high watermark, Late Registration, and a rarity in hip-hop in that it’s crafted as a big picture artistic statement rather than few hot singles and some filler. Every redickuhlus verse, every perfectly orchestrated note, every mind-blowing guest spot, every minute of vain self-absorption, the occasional moment of guarded vulnerability, and every dark twisted fantasy make the genius behind the jackass all the more obvious.

3. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt

Perhaps more so than any other artist today, The Tallest Man on Earth knows his strengths and plays to them perfectly on his latest album. The bare-bones, weirdly evocative confessionals that Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Mattson gives us on The Wild Hunt and its equally impressive follow up EP hardly ever contain more than a violently strummed or delicately-picked acoustic guitar and Mattson desperately yelping away. Nothing else is needed.

2. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

Deerhunter’s best album to date is a stripped-down, narcotic meditation on nostalgia and how closely intertwined music becomes with memory. Bandleader Bradford Cox has evolved from one of indie-rock’s most divisive figures to one of its most compelling in a matter of about 2 years, and there just doesn’t seem to be a ceiling on how great this band can become.

1. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

When Patrick Stickles sings “this is a war we can’t win, after 10,000 years it’s still us against them” the real theme of The Monitor comes into sharp focus. While shrouded in Civil War imagery and blood and guts male bravado, The Monitor is simply another great rock record about girls. Its grand statement: after 10,000 years of human evolution, men still haven’t figured out the fairer sex. These 10 anthems burst at the seams with angst and pain and truth, and are made even more timeless with spoken interludes from the words of Abe Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Jefferson Davis, and William Lloyd Garrison. The constant historical and cultural references provide the thematic glue between the songs, but it’s Stickles monumental despondency, and the way he makes us all rally around his gloom, that makes the songs so memorable. You’ll pump your fist, play air guitar, and go hoarse shouting along, and if you’re not completely swept away by the “it’s still us against them” climax of “Four Score and Seven”, shouted over and over like a soldier going off to his certain fate, then I’m not sure you should read this blog anymore. And it’s only my second favorite song on the album. The Monitor is the best rock album in years. Maybe 10,000 of them.

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