Spinner – Best Albums of 2010: 30 Releases That Mattered Most This Year
One of our favorite parts about creating this list of top albums was reflecting on how unpredictable the year was. Be it ’90s alt-rockers returning to form, music legends unearthing lost classics, Swedish indie artists producing pop jewels, cartoon bands coming out behind the curtain or disgraced rappers getting to give a “toast for the douchebags,” 2010 kept our eclectic and discerning staff on our proverbial toes.
To the artists, we salute you for moving us heart, body and soul. To our dear reader, please enjoy our list of albums that mattered this year — complete with CD listening party and Interface links so you can hear (and download) much of this gobsmackingly great music for yourself.
Band of Horses
With splashes of country, yacht rock and pop, Band of Horses impress mightily with ‘Infinite Arms.’ Sure, their influences are wholly apparent (a little Beach Boys here, a touch of Neil Young there), but the South Carolina outfit has recast seemingly classic melodies in its own image. And they do it to dazzling effect, as evidenced by sentimental tunes like the ultra-dreamy Brian Wilson-esque ‘Bluebeard.’
‘Dark Night of the Soul’
Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse
The already biblical album title took on an even darker meaning after two tragic suicides — by co-songwriter Sparklehorse (Mark Linkous) and guest vocalist Vic Chesnutt. This appropriately gloomy rock album, which nonetheless sparkles with Danger Mouse’s production and scores of all-star guests, was buried by the label for months before finally seeing release this summer. Though Linkous will be missed, ‘Dark Night’ provides a delicate, downbeat and disquietingly beautiful epitaph.
Two Door Cinema Club
Grabbing listeners with jangly guitars, ass-shaking rhythms and electropop melodies, the Northern Ireland trio arrive on the scene with one heck of a dance-inducing debut. Partly inspired by the tourist-friendly town the act calls home, this playful record will make you want to visit Two Door Cinema Club’s stomping grounds to see what prompted these ridiculously peppy pop gems.
‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty’
After Jive Records asked the Outkast member to be more like chart-friendly Lil Wayne, Big Boi gave the label the big brush-off and jumped to Def Jam. Though the label mess meant we had to wait four years â€“ and prevented partner-in-rhyme Andre 3000 from dropping guest verses â€“ the end result was well worth it as Big Boi keeps his lyrical left foot firmly in hip-hop while his backing tracks bounce between rock, electro, dubstep and soul.
‘The Hundred in the Hands’
The Hundred in the Hands
Listening to the Hundred in the Hands’ eponymous debut kept us light on our feet this year. The appealing concoction of guitarist Jason Friedman’s post-punk jangly riffs and Eleanore Everdell’s sweetly chiming, dream-pop vocals is all set to a toe-tappingly solid dance beat. We challenge you to stay in your seat.
‘The Budos Band III’
The Budos Band
Don’t be fooled by the album title’s simplicity: The layered sound generated by this 11-member-strong collective from Staten Island, N.Y. is anything but. Afro-beat aficionados will find everything they need in this third, funk-laden offering from the Fela Kuti-torch-bearing Budos.
‘Root for Ruin’
Les Savy Fav
The elder statesmen of art rock still got it. Fans sensed what they were in for when news of the raucous Brooklyn, N.Y. rockers’ fifth record started making the rounds — and gregarious frontman Tim Harrington and crew more than delivered. Humorous and vulgar, with no shortage of post-punk guitar riffs and howling vocals, Les Savy Fav touch upon alienation, self-deprecation and good old-fashioned lust.
Even without playing a single note, Superchunk were having a great year, as the label they started, Merge Records, scored chartbusting records by Spoon, She & Him and Arcade Fire. Though ‘Majestic Shredding’ took nearly nine years to arrive, the North Carolina natives’ victorious return proves they can still draw the spotlight on their own, thanks to their spirited hooks and punk posturing.
‘Church With No Magic’
This Aussie experimental rock trio might seem an odd choice for a year-end list. You know, with the Gregorian chants and all. But PVT blew us away with their moody synth-rock. Drawing influences from Brian Eno and Talking Heads, they aren’t afraid to indulge their anthemic ambitions, yet through each ‘Magic’ track they maintain a calculated, hypnotic wonder that demands full attention from the friendly smoke machine-operator, please.
Inspired by bands like Crosby, Stills and Nash, but boasting a sun-soaked sound that’s all their own, this five-piece from L.A.’s Silver Lake blends percussive Afro-beat with dreamy, multi-part harmonies. Local Natives deftly add post-punk-informed guitars to complement this altogether soothing, pleasing mixture.
Career-wise, Gold Panda clearly got more from working at a record store — where he collected scores of records for future sampling — than a sex shop. (We won’t ask what, if anything, he collected there.) Inspired by B-movies, Japanese culture, minimal techno and hip-hop, the Londoner offers a little of all of that in this album, made over Christmas in the countryside.
‘B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray’
An underground hip-hop act from Atlanta, B.o.B. (Bobby Ray Simmons Jr.) is not afraid to mix genres. In this debut, derived from the diverse lead of Outkast and Kanye West, he employs ’70s rock guitar, samples Vampire Weekend and collaborates with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo.
‘There Is Love in You’
Four Tet, which began as a side project of Fridge’s Kieran Hebden, is an orchestra of programmed sounds, samples crammed into a laptop and projected as jazz-inspired, dreamy electronica. Here the result is soft, muted and rich, inducing a calm, relaxing mood.
After Dan Snaith’s wife gave him swimming lessons for Christmas, he found a new hobby — and inspiration for this album of fluidly rhythmic dance music. Here, Snaith, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics and goes by the moniker Caribou, lives up to his reputation for engineering creative beats and sound effects, adding a touch of psychedelic pop.
‘Forgiveness Rock Record’
Broken Social Scene
All-star alums Feist, Amy Millan and Emily Haines only made cameos, but stripping the sprawling Canadian collective to (practically) its tight-knit touring core resulted in a focused record that found Broken Social Scene reveling in basement parties and raging against oil companies while finding forgiveness in sentimental exes and beauty in the sweetest kill.
‘Love and Its Opposite’
Going back to the ’80s in Everything but the Girl, Thorn and husband/bandmate Ben Watt created cool jazz-pop with bossa nova rhythms, later taking an electronic turn, as on their worldwide 1994 smash ‘Missing.’ Now, on her third solo release, Thorn is in her late 40s and employs her smoky voice and well-tuned social radar to craft astute, graceful singer-songwriter musings that confront midlife crisis unflinchingly.
MGMT have never been short on hype. But even without the fanfare (yes, even without the Grammys and endorsement from Paul McCartney), the pop-culture-referencing Brooklynites would still be on your radar — there’s no way to slip through the cracks when you crank out psych-tinged throwback tunes as epic as the ones heard on their refreshingly subtle sophomore record, ‘Congratulations.’
That Robyn’s dance-pop opus (released over three records throughout the year) didn’t do Lady Gaga numbers is radio’s failure, not hers. As her stilettos stomped across broken glass, the Swedish former teen star outclassed all comers, pairing soaring synths, thundering drums and emotion-soaked lyrics, showing sympathy for Britney-esque fembots and declaring her indestructible independence. ‘Body Talk’ is epic pop for epic times. Get on board. Buckle up.
Titus Andronicus were inspired to create this swaggering period piece after watching the Ken Burns series ‘The Civil War.’ Tying the War Between the States to modern times, the punk- and rock-inspired New Jersey band come out swinging on ‘The Monitor ,’ employing an arsenal of instruments, including bagpipes, fiddle, trombone and cello — and quotes from Abe Lincoln — to offer an album that we feel takes the grand prize for originality.
The Black Keys
‘Brothers’ was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, the legendary soul temple utilized by artists including Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. The result — fittingly — is some seriously sinewy, stripped-down blues-rock. Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney sidle deftly from laid-back funk-laced tunes to pulverizingly heavy garage rock assaults that would get a nod of approval from Hendrix himself.
Blur alumnus Damon Albarn keeps the excitement level high on the Gorillaz’s third, sonically varied studio outing from his musical anime troupe. Stories of cyborgs and islands made of trash are told by the likes of Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed and Bobby Womack. The resulting hullabaloo is a deftly crafted mash of hip-hop, Krautrock, dubstep, funk and electronica.
‘Sigh No More’
Mumford and Sons
We found ourselves humming along to ‘Sigh No More’ for weeks after its release (it hit shelves in 2009 in the UK and 2010 in the rest of the world) — and fortunately for us, Spinner was Mumford and Sons’ first stop when they landed stateside. These folk-favoring London lads take their cues from American roots music and reference literary works by Steinbeck. If it were down to us, they would emigrate!
After recording the 10-track ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ in 1977-78, Springsteen had about 60 leftover songs. Three decades later, the Boss shapes 21 of them into a breathtaking double CD of genre-spanning rock that not only becomes another milestone in the Springsteen canon but also proves there is no time limit on master songcraft. ‘The Promise’ delayed is one more than kept.
‘This Is Happening’
For LCD Soundsystem’s latest (and last?) effort, the stylish NYC troupe followed its hirsute frontman James Murphy into an adventure of an album. He’s more intent than ever on creating intricate sonic layers and beats that are brimming with release. Songs range from the soft-to-utterly euphoric ‘Dance Yrslf Clean’ and simultaneously uncharacteristic and perfectly Murphy-esque ‘Drunk Girls’ to ‘Home’ — a fitting end to an album that takes us from reckless at a party to reflective in pajamas.
‘Crazy for You’
As the biggest Golden State booster since Brian Wilson, Best Coast singer Bethany Cosentino literally wears California on her sleeve — as a tattoo. It’s also indelibly inked on her heart, as this fuzzed-out mid-fi take on the ’60s girl-group genre makes comparisons to the Beach Boys’ auteur not at all blasphemous. Songs like the obscenely catchy ‘Boyfriend’ evoke the Wall of Sound on about one-fiftieth the budget, and the album’s lyrical simplicity allows the classic melodies to do all the talking.
With winsome melodies and cinematic flourishes, Arcade Fire continued waltzing their way into the hearts of, well, everyone. ‘The Suburbs’ offers a shimmery homage to “modern youth” spun through a rich tapestry of orchestrated pop-rock. With several Grammy nominations, including Album of The Year, bestowed upon the Montreal outfit’s third effort, it’s hard to refute this majestic disc — not even Arcade Fire naysayer Wayne Coyne will knock it.
It wasn’t long ago that Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox would go onstage smeared with fake blood or armed with a 20-minute monologue about his childhood. On what just could be the band’s signature album, the Altanta band have calmed and come into their own. Unique pop melodies take the edge off their signature fuzz and fury, and guitarist Lockett Pundt delivers one of the most compelling vocal performances on the album in ‘Desire Lines.’
‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’
Still battered by a bad breakup and his mother’s death, the Taylor Swift imbroglio sent Kanye reeling. Luckily, he landed in the studio and rather than licking his wounds, West put them on wax, turning his dark psychological profile into an unexpected artistic triumph of booming beatscapes and piercing rhymes. Turns out a foot in the mouth need not silence a great artist, not when it can inspire him.
If the National can be counted on for one thing, it’s a heart-wrenching bummer song. This is what the Brooklyn, N.Y. transplants do best. And, with haunting choruses and singer Matt Berninger’s longing baritone, the melodramatic vibe is in full effect on ‘High Violet.’ Should you need an anthem for a lonely heart or a swan song to cap a strange day, you’ll find it here.
Plenty of folks make pretty music; writing actual songs is the hard part — that’s why Beach House’s ‘Teen Dream’ claimed our unrefuted top album slot. Rather than turning in a beautiful background record, the Baltimore duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally turned their ambient pop into a songwriting master class, gently swaying between earworm hooks, emotional vocals and perfectly soaring soundscapes. It’s the next-best thing to an actual beach house.