Best Albums of 2010

Here we go, another look back at the music that made 2010 more bearable and more awesome. Admittedly, the past couple of months have been made more difficult by my laptop video card being on the fritz (and thus removing me from my iTunes lifeline), so this list is compiled with a slight handicap and without some of the extras I’ve included in years past.

Also, this year, I tethered my effort closely to the second annual Higher Ed Music Critics collaboration, where 10 higher ed web marketing professionals and music nerds came together to collectively determine the best 50 albums of the year. Here’s the rundown: 51-21926-501-25

Listed below are my own top 50 of the year. As usual, feel free to agree/disagree/debate/recommend in the comments! (For historical reference, here’s where I was mid-year.)

  1. David Byrne and Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love - I was drawn to this album by the amazing and diverse list of contributors (Florence Welch, Steve Earle, Cyndi Lauper, Kate Pierson, Sharon Jones and Allison Moorer, to name a few) and was held rapt by the stories they told about the life of Imelda Marcos and the disco-infused beats and melodies that swirled around them. A fascinating project and an incredible collection of music, this is currently my favorite album of the year.
  2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More - From the moment I first heard the driving tour de force that is “Little Lion Man” on WERS, I was sold. The edgy amalgam of Americana-meets-UK folk rock is a galloping, emotional headrush. Their songs pulse with life and urgency and won’t be denied. This album feels essential, in part because the members of the band play and sing as if their lives depended on it.
  3. Tracey Thorn – Love and its Opposite - My friend Tim was raving about this album by the lead woman from Everything But the Girl, so I had to check it out. After listening through once streaming online, I had to buy it at the next available opportunity. Her voice is hypnotic, and these powerful songs are full of elegance and verve.
  4. The Love Language – Libraries - The Love Language‘s “Libraries” recalls what I fell in love with about bands like The Kissaway Trail and Wild Light: earnest, melodic, and rich tracks, which founder Stuart McLamb calls “emotional fight songs.” One of my happiest surprises of the year.
  5. John Shade – All You Love is Need - Shade, a Boston-area artist, approaches acoustic pop perfection. His songs ring true, seemingly coming from a genuine place without guile or malice.  (Bonus: You can download his album for free, or name your own price.)
  6. The National – High Violet - Is it boring to say that The National have created yet another masterpiece, and that there is little one can offer in the way of critique for their fifth full-length album? Matt Berninger continues to confound and mesmerize, and he and his bandmates continue to expertly weave their layers of lush and compelling songcraft. No, something this captivating can’t be boring.
  7. New Pornographers – Together - This album took a while to grow on me, as I wrote about previously, since I was blinded by my love for “Challengers.” But, like I said, this may be the fullest realization of the band to date. Neko Case really steps out and shines (not that we needed to know she was a gem), and Dan Bejar is at his most accessible. And A.C. Newman continues to steer his pop ship in enlightening directions.
  8. Yeasayer – Odd Blood - I liked their debut, but this album really catapulted Yeasayer onto a new level. A delightful blizzard of beeps and blips swirls around a strong crop of songs. And I won’t lie and say that “Ambling Alp” didn’t guide me through a few personally frustrating moments: “Now, the world can be an unfair place at times / But your lows will have their complement of highs … You must stick up for yourself, son / Never mind what anybody else done.”
  9. Cloud Cult – Light Chasers – One of the most unabashedly sincere and true-hearted bands in indie rock offers up another winner, facing complex issues of love and grief and longing head-on, armed only with lush melodies and dynamic songcraft.
  10. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire - A huge leap forward from their debut, which in itself was a stellar album. Captivating and transcendent.
  11. Stars – The Five Ghosts
  12. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
  13. Jenny and Johnny -  I’m Having Fun Now
  14. The Acorn – No Ghost
  15. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
  16. Vampire Weekend – Contra
  17. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
  18. The Kissaway Trail – Sleep Mountain
  19. Marching Band – Pop Cycle
  20. Versus – On the Ones and Threes
  21. Weakerthans and Jim Bryson – The Falcon Lake Incident
  22. Magnetic Fields – Realism
  23. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks
  24. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
  25. Girl Talk – All Day
  26. Sleigh Bells – Treats
  27. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Up From Below
  28. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
  29. Freelance Whales – Weathervanes
  30. Freedy Johnston – Rain on the City
  31. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  32. Spoon  – Transference
  33. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Social Network score
  34. Laura Veirs – July Flame
  35. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye, Killer
  36. We Are Scientists – Barbara
  37. Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs
  38. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
  39. Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?
  40. Nada Surf – If I Had a Hi-Fi
  41. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
  42. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
  43. Eels – End Times
  44. Broken Bells – Broken Bells
  45. Mates of State – Crushes
  46. John Hiatt – The Open Road
  47. Kingsley Flood – Dust Windows
  48. Static of the Gods – Knowledge Machine
  49. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
  50. The Futureheads – Chaos
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7 responses to “Best Albums of 2010

  1. You got me to buy Mumford & Sons and School of Seven Bells, both great efforts but too late for my Top 20. Still so glad you liked the new Tracey Thorn. The David Byrne-Fatboy Slim one sounds mighty intriguing.

    Oh, and I’m downloading John Shade (for a small donation) right now.

    • Hooray for John Shade! And thanks again for the Thorn reco. I picked up her older one, “Out of the Woods,” which was good but not as awesome as “Love and its Opposites.” Still, new musical horizons are awesome.

  2. I kept wanting to go back to Here Lies Love, but it was just so long, it felt daunting.

    I still don’t get the Mumford luv…

    Hooray for Jenny & Johnny!

    I did like the School of Seven Bells album, but I find it weird that one of the two twin sisters left the band after it came out…

    • I enjoy Mumford & Sons more for what it has the potential to be, rather than what they managed to do across an entire album. “Little Lion Man” is a great song, but the entire album doesn’t lend itself — in my mind — to being listened to over and over again. But they’ve got a great album in them, I think.

  3. Always great to read your thoughts on music, even when I don’t entirely agree with them. I do agree with Tim that the David Byrne-Fatboy Slim project is intriguing. I listened to samples and selections numerous times during the year but never could bring myself to purchase the album. Which is unusual, because I rarely hesitate to drop coin on any David Byrne project.

    I couldn’t get into Mumford and Sons, Tracey Thorn or High Violet but definitely enjoyed the New Pornographers album and School of Seven Bells (although it didn’t make my top 10, which I haven’t gotten around to posting yet).

    Thanks to you, Tim and the other music nerds who again took part in the “best albums” collaboration.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention New blog post: My top albums of 2010 - -- Topsy.com

  5. I’ve been spending a lot of time with High Violet again lately. I enjoyed it when it came out, but it’s not better than old The National stuff for me, so I rated it lower than I might have otherwise. The Love Language was one of my glaring omissions this year for sure on my list, as I did enjoy it a lot more than I believe my list would’ve indicated (I don’t even think I rated it…)

    I liked one of Cloud Cult’s songs, but couldn’t get into the whole thing but might have to revisit it now too.

    Anyway, great list as always. I enjoy the end of the year for these little music projects!

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