Was it just me or was 2010 one of the best years for music in ages or what? I have struggled in the past to come up with 20 album. This year I hit 50 easy, that I genuinely loved. Also, I am not taking payola from Sub Pop. They just had a very good year. Without further ado…
1. Foals – Total Life Forever [Sub Pop] | BUY
If you'd asked me last year of the likelihood of Foals being my favorite album of 2010, I probably woulda said "not much." Yet here we are. Where their first album, Antidotes, was all mathy angularity, Total Life Forever has soul. It's still twitchy, but there's room to breathe. And soar. Foals have made the kind of leap singer Yanis Phillipakis usually saves till right before the encore.
MP3: Foals – 2 Trees
MP3: Foals – Total Life Forever
2. The Soundcarriers – Celeste [Melodic] | BUY
Nottingham's The Soundcarriers take a trip in the time machine visiting Serge Gainsbourg, Scott Walker, Neu!, Ennio Morricone and end up landing on the moon two weeks from tomorrow. Celeste is immaculate without sounding clinical, the musicianship impressive, and the attention to detail spotless — from the production to the truly lovely packaging of the gate-fold double LP. If there's only album on this list that needs to be heard on vinyl, this is it.
MP3: The Soundcarriers – The Last Broadcast
MP3: The Soundcarriers – Celeste
3. Allo Darlin’ – S/T [Fortuna Pop] | BUY
Indiepop gets a bad rap sometimes and it's hard to deny the twee tag here when singer Elizabeth Morris plays the ukulele, but Allo Darlin are no bunch of shy cardigan-wearers whispering into the mike while staring at the floor. Morris is a gifted songwriter and natural performer, and her debut album is a bighearted joy from start to finish. I dare you not to like it.
MP3: Allo Darlin – If Loneliness Was Art
MP3: Allo Darlin' – Kiss Your Lips
4. The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme [Labrador] | BUY
The Radio Dept.'s first album in four years is their best since Lesser Matters, maybe even better than that. It's amazing how little the band has changed little over the last ten years, but it's a sound — hushed vocals, dreamy melodies — that stays fresh. Maybe 'cause its so cold in Sweden? Yet such warm sounds.
MP3: The Radio Dept. – This Time Around
MP3: The Radio Dept. – Never Follow Suit
5. Fresh & Onlys – Play it Strange [In the Red] | BUY
Not only did The Fresh & Onlys release the EP of the year, but their third long-player in less than two years is one of 2010's best. Armed with Tim Cohen's best batch of songs yet, the band head into a real studio to show what a good band they are as well.
MP3: The Fresh & Onlys – Waterfall
MP3: The Fresh & Onlys – Fascinated
6. Edwyn Collins – Losing Sleep [Heavenly] | BUY
His first album since two brain haemorrhages nearly took his life in 2005 and left him at first without the ability to walk or talk, let alone write songs. That it exists at all is a miracle, that it's as great as it is a testament to his spirit. Helping him out on the album are a cavalcade of talent — Johnny Marr, Roddy Frame, The Drums, The Cribs, Franz Ferdinand — but always in the service of getting Collins' songs on record.
MP3: Edwyn Collins – Losing Sleep
MP3: Edwyn Collins – Do It Again
7. The 1900s – Return of the Century [Parasol] | BUY
One of America's most underrated pop bands knocks it out of the park (Wrigley Field?) on album #2, 35 minutes of pure pop brilliance. The melodies, the harmonies, the performances…The 1900s have moved beyond the Fleetwood Mac comparisons and now sound just like themselves. What a great album.
MP3: The 1900s – Kidnap Runaway
8. Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be [Sub Pop] | BUY
A lot of all-girl groups these days get compared to the Shangri-La's but Dum Dum Girls are the only ones that deserve it. Dee Dee not only has a gift for melody and harmony, but she's also an ace lyricist, able to make you laugh or break your heart. And never once rhymes "crazy" with "lazy" or "hazy." (She does rhyme it to "baby," though.) This is what I wanted The Carrie Nations to sound like in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
MP3: Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be
MP3: Bhang Bhang I'm a Burnout
9. Automelodi - S/T [Weird] | BUY
In the world of minimal synth/minimal wave/what have you, it is unfortunate that most artists seem to focusing almost entirely on the sound, not the song. (Also: the look.) I dig old keyboards and sequencers as much as the next guy, probably way more than the next guy, but I like Clan of Xymox and Dalek I Love You and Yaz and Gary Numan and The Human League because they all knew that you've got to write a catchy tune. Montreal's Xavier Paradis understands that. His debut album is loaded with giant hooks and lodge-in-your-head melodies that stay with you even if you don't speak a word of French. And yes, the retro sounds he wraps around them sound very, very cool.
MP3: Automelodi – Rayons de Rien
MP3: Automelodi: Buanderie Jazz
10. Beach House – Teen Dream [Sub Pop] | BUY
I've had Teen Dream for about 13 months now and I'm still listening to it, so think that says a lot there. It's one of these records that I don't think I could sing you a single lyric, but Beach House have always been about setting a mood. The mood here is achingly heartbroken and Victoria Legrand's husky voice puts a lump in your throat even when you have no idea what she's singing about. You just get it. Hazy and gorgeous.
MP3: Beach House – Norway
MP3: Beach House – Zebra
11. The Intelligence – Males [In the Red] | BUY
Like the Fresh & Onlys, Seattle's best, most-twisted surf band ditch the 4-track in favor of a real studio and the switch to mid-fi suits them fine. It's also the first album recorded with the band he's been touring with for two years and there's added oomph in there this time. Lyrically, Lars Finberg is in rare form…or maybe it's just that I can actually make out what he's saying this time.
MP3: The Intelligence – The Universe
MP3: The Intelligence – Estate Sales
12. Tamaryn – The Waves [Mexican Summer] | BU
There were a lot of gothy ice princesses hyped in 2010 but Tamaryn is my Queen. The Waves is awash with ethereal guitars that cascade over a nimble rhythm section and her breathy vocals. It's like if Verve's A Storm in Heaven had come out three years earlier and on 4AD. Also it's equally good as a sleeping album.
MP3: Tamaryn – The Waves
MP3: Tamaryn – Dawning
13. Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night [Jagjaguwar] | BUY
Roar it does. Montreal's Besnard Lakes are one of the few bands worthy of the tag "epic." The guitars are a mile high, and the bad-ass basslines, giant choruses and harmonies propel you even higher. If opener "Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent" had been the only good song on this album, this LP still woulda made this year's list. But the whole thing is f-ing awesome.
MP3: The Besnard Lakes – Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2
MP3: The Besnard Lakes – Albatross
14. Avi Buffalo - S/T [Sub Pop] | BUY
This record is melodically rich and complex, and lyrically heartfelt it's a little amazing that Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg is barely out of high school. It's a little Shins-y, yes, but that's meant as a compliment, and this is more ambitious than any of that band's records. On the other end of the spectrum it's exciting because there's no way he's peaked yet. Just stay away from Lindsay Lohan parties, Avi, and we'll get more gems like this one for years to come.
MP3: Avi Buffalo – What's in it For?
MP3: Avi Buffalo – Remember Last Time
15. Ty Segall – Melted [Goner] | BUY
For my money, it doesn't get better in the "garage" genre than Ty Segall. He cranks out records, they're all good, and each record goes somewhere new. Melted adds some nice '60s psych pop touches. Much like Automelodi — but in a completely different genre — Ty fully realizes you gotta have good songs first, then you can blow the levels into the red. It's got attitude too, and plays straight from the gut. There are too many garage rockers out there, but Ty is the real deal.
MP3: Ty Segall – Girlfriend
MP3: Ty Segall – Caesar
16. Weekend - Sports [Slumberland] | BUY
They are from San Francisco and their album is called Sports but nobody is gonna mistake Weekend for Huey Lewis & the News. Weekend's fierce assault — a blistering post punk wall of sound, rocketfueled by volume, effects pedals and feedback — is not for the meek. If this sounds like a cover-up, make no mistake — Weekend are in control. This record sounds great. In an ear-bleeding kind of way. You gotta turn it up loud. No, louder. I'm pretty sure this is the best album to come out of Slumberland since they rejuvenated the label three years ago. Which is saying something.
MP3: Weekend – Coma Summer
MP3: Weekend – End Times
17. Field Music – Measure [Memphis Industries] | BUY
After a couple years of David and Peter Brewis pursuing solo projects that the other brother played on anyway, they brought the Field Music name out of the attic for this sprawling double album where they indulged in their myriad musical whims to our delight. There's proggy funk, nervy new wave, erudite chamberpop, soaring anthems, and straight-up pop. And almost zero filler. It all sounds like Field Music.
MP3: Field Music – Them That Do Nothing
MP3: Field Music – Let's Write a Book
18. The Coral – Butterfly House [Deltasonic] | BUY
Founding member Bill Ryder-Jones left before the making of Butterfly House and seeming took the band's inclination for weird sea shantys with him. With a strong Elektra paisley pop vibe — brought to sparkling, rocking perfection by producer John Leckie — this is easily the best album the Coral have made since their first. If, like me, you'
;d given up on The Coral… give this one a chance.
MP3: The Coral – Butterfly House
MP3: The Coral – 1000 Years
19. Anika - Anika [Stones Throw] | BUY
Recorded in 12 days, live with no overdubs, Anika's debut sounds like the missing link between The Slits and Lilliput. Portishead's Geoff Barrow — his other band BEAK> is the backing band here — gets the claustrophobic vibe just right. A lot of people have tried and failed to recreate that Martin Hannett Sound… Barrow nails it. And the material — a mix of girl group covers and politically-charged originals — suits Anika's Nico-esque delivery perfectly. Such a weird amazing record, all the disparate pieces fall into place. So good.
MP3: Anika – End of the World
MP3: Anika – No One's There
20. Pomegranates - One of Us [Afternoon] | BUY
Cincinnati is not exactly a hotbed music scene, but Pomegranates deserve more attention. Especially with an album as good as this, the band's third. Maybe it's to cleanly recorded — this record sparkles — for today's au courant cool kids, but these folks have a handle on atmospherics and melody. This kind of stuff never goes out of style to these ears.
MP3: Pomegranates - Prouncer
MP3: Pomegranates - 50s
21. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM [Elektra] | BUY
Charlotte Gainsbourg made two unforgettable things this year, though part of me wishes I could un-see Antichrist. But IRM I'm happy to revisit. While I liked the Air-y-ness of 5:55, the more rock-oriented approach here suits her better. (She still gets a couple I was wary when I first heard she was working with Beck, but it turned out to be an inspired choice. It's the best thing he's been involved with ages.
MP3: Charlotte Gainsbourg – Greenwich Mean Time
MP3: Charlotte Gainsbourg – Time of the Assassins
22. The Drums – S/T [Moshi Moshi/Downtown] | BUY
Taking their musical and style cues from Factory Records' unpopular bands (The Wake, A Certain Ratio), The Drums somehow became pretty popular. What's cool about this record, to me, is how minimal it all is, yet the songs are huge. Part of that is Jonathan Pierce's singing style, that puts drama in every lyric. And part is the giant hooks in every chorus. The Drums is like the soundtrack to a lost '80s teen movie.
MP3: The Drums – For Ever and Ever Amen
23. Shrag - Life! Death! Prizes! [Where It's At Is Where You Are] | BUY
The bass rumbles along next to the ticking high hats on "Ghosts Before Breakfast," a little slashy guitar washes across the mix and you can feel the snarl coming before Helen King even sings a note. Shrag are the Sinestro to Love is All's Green Lantern. Same attack, different intent. Dancing, but looking for a fight.
MP3: Shrag – Ghosts Before Breakfast
MP3: Shrag – Tights in August
24. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest [4AD] | BUY
I may not love Halcyon Digest quite as much as Microcastle, but Bradford Cox et al are still working on a higher plane than 95% of all other indie rock bands out there. Cox's hot streak doesn't seem to be ending any time soon (those downloadable Atlas Sound records were all pretty good) and that the album's high point — the dazzling "Desire Lines" – was written by Lockt Pundt, Deerhunter might actually be getting better.
MP3: Deerhunter – Desire Lines
MP3: Deerhunter – Revival
25. Wild Nothing – S/T [C
aptured Tracks] | BUY
Like the Drums, Wild Nothing barrowed the sound of some of the '80s most obscure bands and made music that appealed to a much wider audience than, say, The Field Mice ever did. (Anyone who says they sound like The Cure needs to listen to more music.) If the record has a fault it's that too many of the songs sound similar…but it's a good sound. (I think that's why everyone glommed onto "Chinatown," it sticks out musically.) And Wild Nothing are already evolving. I look forward to the next record, which at the rate he's going could be sooner than we think.
MP3: Wild Nothing – Live in Dreams
MP3: Wild Nothing – Chinatown
The rest of my list is after the jump…