Ten Essential Albums for 2010


Quite unintentionally, I’ve compiled a bit of a Dad Rock list here.  

A few noisier bands (cf: Weekend, Deerhunter) could just as easily have made the short list but it seems this is just the way it turned out this year, particularly at the top of the list.  And for that I make no apologies so stop interrogating me like a common criminal.

As always, my only criterion for what ended up on my list was, simply, “Did I Like It?”  This is distinct from “Was It Important or Influential?”  I listened to a lot of music that was way out there…and a little bit of AAA radio-ready stuff…and this is what stuck.  I liked it.  And because of my fondness for the complete album, these tend to represent whole statements, internally threaded and consistent.  And look, it’s January 31st.  I’ve posted a 2010 “Best of” list that is culturally irrelevant by any standard but 1-2 weeks earlier than the last two years.  I Have a Dream that my 2011 list will be posted by MLK Day. 

Because 10 (or as it turned out, 11) is a pretty small number for what was frankly an extraordinary year in music, I listed a few other great albums at the end which either arbitrarily did not make the cut or which I sampled extensively but didn’t yet have the money to buy.  For all my faults, I buy all my music…every last CD…and I hope you do too.  Listing the additional albums also helps create the false impression that I am more broad than I really am and cultivates my false sense of supriority.

Now the Top 10 Albums of 2010:

1. The National
– High Violet

Of Alexander Payne’s movie “Sideways,” a friend remarked that he identified with the aimless 40-something characters.  Not me.  But I felt intimately attached to The National’s masterwork High Violet, filled with miniature epics about the muted anxieties of parenthood, career, and other banes of middle age.  As close to a perfect album since Elbow’s 2005 Leaders of the Free World.

“England” by The National

. Foals
Total Life Forever 

Rhythmically exhilarating and dense…Foals adroitly cram more musical ideas into each song than most bands do in ten…Total Life Forever catapults the band far beyond dance-funk.  TLF Marries David Byrne’s international beats (and, at times, his yelp), impossibly angular, mathy hooks, and…on songs like “Spanish Sahara” and “After Glow”…the brutal melancholy of Catherine Wheel.

“Spanish Sahara” by Foals

 3. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

It is impossible to refer to Kristian Matsson as a modern day Bob Dylan without feeling cliched and really a bit lazy; the comparison is both apt and insufficient.  In The Wild Hunt, the Swedish Matsson continues to elevate the American folk tradition with stunners like “Burden of Tomorrow,” his mastery of the guitar on “Troubles Will be Gone,” and the inimitable TTMOE vocal stylings on “Love is All.”

“The Wild Hunt” by The Tallest Man on Earth

4. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
Hot Chip – One Life Stand
Two bands who arguably reached their zenith in 2010, who toured together, and who I list together for many reasons.  Not the least of which is that it allows me to cheat and add an 11th album to my list.  In This is Happening, James Murphy has become a sort of Grand Old Man of indie rock with pithy observation about cool and perhaps the three best back-to-back-
to-back releases of the last 10 years.  Hot Chip, who share guitarist Al Doyle with LCD Soundsystem, just want to love you all over if that is not perfectly clear from the touchingly earnest “Brothers.”  “Take It In” is one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard.  Still makes me a little teary after all these months.

 “Home” by LCD Soundsystem

“Take It In” by Hot Chip

5.  Abe Vigoda
– Crush

It’s tempting to compare Abe Vigoda to The Horrors, both wildly successful marrying shoegaze and goth.  Crush brings more of a darkwave beat to the party and the vocals are, by turns, more derivative of Robert Smith (“Dream of My Love”) and Peter Murphy (“Repeating Angel”).  The rich songcraft on Crush feels raw, uncontrolled, even live-to-tape at times, which it certainly is not.

“November” by Abe Vigoda

6. Phantogram
Eyelid Movies

Phantogram has several things going for it, not least among them Sarah Barthel’s captivating and sensual voice, the very best of 2010, which is saying a lot in a year that included Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino.  The Massive Attack atmospherics and songs are fab, highlighted by the trippy soul of “You Are the Ocean” and single “When I’m Small” which recently cropped up on MTV’s “Skins.”

“All Dried Up” by Phantogram

7. The Walkmen – Lisbon

An observation missing from much of the acclaim about Lisbon is the New Orleans and Old World influence, so much so that it seems like the Big Album Elvis Perkins could have written after Ash Wednesday.  Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals, if occasionally reminiscent of Rod Stewart, are brazen and earn every climactic, arena-sized chorus from “Angela Surf City” to “Victory.”

“Angela Surf City” by The Walkmen

Idle Times
Idle Times

I’ll buy about anything from a couple of labels, including Idle Times’ Hozac Records.  This lo-fi morsel has an amazing ear…not just for gauzy deconstruction…but fist-pumping choruses on songs like “Every Time I Talk” mingled with switchups like the rockabilly “Prison Mind.”  And riffs?  You can practically hear Paul Westerburg fronting “Hey Little Girl” for the Crocodiles.

“I Don’t Believe It/X-Tina” by Idle Times

 9. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

No album was ever less in need of a concept than The Monitor, so I encourage you to enjoy it strictly for its Jersey RAWK! aesthetic and ignore the Civil War non sequitors.  At times Bruce Springsteen idolatry mockery, at times an out-of-control FUBAR performance reminiscent of The Pogues.  Stick with this one…The Monitor rocks your face off. 

“The Battle of Hampton Roads” by Titus Andronicus

10. Wounded Lion –
Wounded Lion

Covered by The Intelligence but sounding more like BOAT, Wounded Lion feels like a nearly effortless pop expression.  Like the band picked up their instruments on an LA back porch and crafted these gems extemporaneously.  “Pony People” and “Hunan Province” are relentlessly catchy and stripped clean like a juiced up Marquee Moon.  They also make a lot of funny sounds with their mouths.

“Pony People” by Wounded Lion

Here are some of the other albums I was really digging in 2010 that I recommend you check out:

Blank DogsLand and Fixed
DeerhunterHalycon Digest
El GuinchoPop Negro
GrovesnorSoft Return
JaillThat’s How We Burn
Nice FaceImmer Etwas
Secret CitiesPink Graffiti
The Soft PackThe Soft Pack
The Tallest Man on EarthSometimes the Blues EP
Teenage FanclubShadows
Ty SegallMelted
The VaselinesSex with an “X”
WoodsAt Echo Lake

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