For the past three years, I’ve done a Top 20 Albums list. I could’ve easily done the same with this year, as there were double that many albums I was into this year. But as I was compiling the contenders for the list, I realized that there were only 15 I felt strongly about. If I took more time, I’m sure I’d feel that way about at least five more (especially ones released later in the year). But taking more time is something I really need to do less of on this blog (as followers of my top films of the decade list will attest. Only 12 more to go!). So a top ten with five honourable mentions made the most sense, but don’t take that as an indictment of the quality of music in 2010, which was generally high.
Honourable Mentions: Yeasayer – Odd Blood, Belle and Sebastian – Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, Jónsi – Go, The Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years, LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
10. Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be: What you get when you combine sixties girl rock with modern lo fi sensibilities, the Dum Dum Girls sound like a cross between The Go Gos, The Shrangi-Las, The Beach Boys, and The Ramones. This infectious, bouncy album is my favourite debut of the year.
Sample Track:“Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout”
9. Wolf Parade – Expo 86: I’ve been wondering when Spencer Krug’s insane musical output would catch up to him. He’s released approximately eleventy thousand albums and EPs in the past five years as a part of his various bands (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake, Fifths of Seven, Moonface), so the concern that the work would slip is valid. Thankfully, there’s no sense of creative exhaustion with this album, an improvement over the band’s last album and an excellent example of their jangly, indie-prog sounds, with a touch of nostalgia indicative of the album’s title. Sadly, while the exhaustion didn’t appear creatively, it must exist, as Krug and Dan Boeckner have recently announced that this will be the last Wolf Parade album for awhile. At least they went out on a high note.
Sample Track: “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain”
8. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – I Learned the Hard Way: A throwback to 60s/70s Soul, I Learned the Hard Way feels like it should be a unearthed gem from a dusty milk crate of your parents’ LPs, revealing a secret history of hipness you didn’t know they possessed. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are intentionally retro, bringing back the old soul sound that’s been relegated to fringes of pop music, with just enough modern flourishes in the lyrics and attitude to freshen up that which is timeless.
Sample Track: “The Game Gets Old”
7. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record: Back together after a succession of largely-middling-with-brief-flashes-of-greatness semi-solo efforts, Canada’s premier indie rock super group brought the band back together to do what they do best: sprawling anthemic rock that never met a song that couldn’t be improved with the addition of just one more instrument. The band is tighter than previous efforts here, without abandoning their trademark experimental streak. Everyone gets a chance to shine here, from frontman Kevin Drew in “World Sick” and “Texico Bitches”, to Andrew Whiteman (The Apostle of Hustle) in “Art House Director”, Brendan Canning in “Water in Hell”, to Lisa Lobsinger in “All to All”, to Emily Haines (backed by Amy Millan and Leslie Feist) in “Sentimental X’s”, resulting in an album that is equal parts rocking, sanguine, reflective, and sexy.
Sample Track: “World Sick”
6. Vampire Weekend – Contra: Vampire Weekend catch a lot of flack for either being a group of musical colonialists, taking the sounds of Africa and South America and making them their own, or (somewhat contradictively) being the whitest band in indie rock. I can’t really deny either charge; I just don’t see them as a bad thing. There’s a world of music out there, so why not pull from it? It’s not like the band has ever pretended to be anything more than a collection of influences. And yes, they’re preppy, literate, and not particularly ballsy, but they take the contradictions of making upper class hipster rock influenced by third world sounds, and make it their own.
Sample Track: “Cousins”
5. The New Pornographers – Together: Canada’s other premiere indie rock super group hasn’t seemed to get the same amount of critical praise of late as does its various component parts. It’s somewhat understandable given Neko Case’s recent string of all-time great albums, and Dan Bejar’s knack for pushing boundaries with Destroyer. But it’s unfortunate, since Together stands tall alongside the rest of the group’s consistently great catalogue, delivering near-perfect power pop that’s both instantly catchy and durable. The pieces that make up The New Pornographers are great, but I still think the band is more than the sum of their parts.
Sample Track: “Crash Years”
4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs: Selfishly, I sometimes wish Arcade Fire would go back to the bombastic earnestness of Funeral. But I realize that they must follow where their art leads, and that ultimately, it’s better to tread new paths than constantly try to replicate past success. Especially when it leads to interesting places like the haunting “I Used to Wait“, the angry “Month of May”, and especially the ABBA/Blondie inspired “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. Ironically, The Suburbs finds the band moving forward musically by looking back to their childhood nostalgically, and it works. Plus, it must be good if it could beat Katy Perry and Lady Gaga for album of the year (or something).
Sample Track: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
3. The National – High Violet: Not a lot separates the top three on this list. In fact, I might’ve simply pushed High Violet to third because I’ve already granted The National album of the year honours before (since spreading out praise in a little-read blog is a nice thing to do). The National have been so ridiculously great since 2005’s Alligator that I’ve basically run out of ways to praise them. I will say that High Violet was more of a grower for me than Boxer, taking a little longer for me to love it. But I mostly attribute that to the fact that it was released in May, which isn’t exactly the time of year I want to indulge in the moody, atmosphere of this album. But it’s now a perfect time of year for the record, so if you haven’t discovered it yet, do so.
Sample Track: “Terrible Love”
2. The Walkmen – Lisbon: Were it not for Hamilton Leithauser’s signature cracking vocals, it would be hard to believe that the band who exploded on to the scene with their high energy sophomore album Bows + Arrows in 2004 is the same that released 2010’s stripped down, meticulous Lisbon. Thankfully, what they’ve lost in terms of raw energy, they’ve made up for in spades in terms of craft. It’s a sombre, pensive album that proves you can still be ambitious while stripping things down to their bare elements. At times, as with “Stranded” (perhaps my favourite song of 2010), the melancholy is so thick that I can feel it baring down on my chest. Other times, as with “Blue as Your Blood”, the deceptively simple arrangements give way to a surprising urgency. Much is made of how bands grow old and lose the fury of their youth, not enough is made of bands like The Walkmen whose artistry matures into something far more interesting.
Sample Track: “Stranded”
1. The Black Keys – Brothers: The Black Keys have been doing their blues-rock thing for almost a decade now, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the world stood up and took notice. I’d like to say that I was up on them since their 2001 debut, but the truth is that I never paid much attention until they released Brothers in March. Which only puts me about a month or so ahead of the majority. My excuse is that until now, I’ve never been much into blues-rock. I’ve always been a Beatles guy, not a Stones guy. But this one hooked me from the opening riff of “Everlasting Light”, and had me sold by the second track “Next Girl”. By the time I was hearing “Tighten Up” in commercials, or every other track on the TV shows I watch, I’d already pegged this as my favourite album of the year. There were a couple of other serious contenders, but Brothers never gave me a reason to give the spot up. Anytime I want to feel just a little bit cooler than I already do, I just have to throw this album on and let its deep bass grooves get me there.
Sample Track: “Tighten Up”