I have not made a practice of doing yearly ‘Top Albums’ lists. Usually, I am so far behind on and so slow to form opinions about new releases that any such list would have to be woefully incomplete and/or laughably late in arriving. This past year, however, I actually did manage to listen to a good bit of the year's music and had at least a few strong opinions about what I'd heard. I tweeted a provisional Top 10 countdown in the waning minutes of the year, and I probably would have left it at that, but the Grammy awards (and the hubbub over The Arcade Fire winning album of the year) got me thinking about this again.
So for what it’s worth, here are my favorite albums of 2010. Out of deference to convention, I've ranked my five favorites, but aside from my top album, I wouldn't put much stake in the actual positions. I cobbled together a kind of ‘system’ for ranking the albums (discussion of which will have to wait for another day), but I am not sure I am sold on it, and in any case the distance between the #2 spot and the #10 or even #15 spot was not especially great. Hence the large Honorable Mentions category.
- Titus Andronicus, The Monitor. I've raved about this album already. It's my hands-down favorite of the year, and I’m confident it could hold its own in just about any other year. I love every last second of its 65 minutes, recitations of Civil War speeches included.
- Best Coast, Crazy for You. I found this album instantly likable in a way that's extremely rare for me, and it stood up to several months of pretty heavy listening. People knock Bethany Cosentino for the simplicity of the lyrics (and yes, she leans pretty heavily on easy rhymes like crazy/lazy, end/friend, kiss you/miss you), and the band is working a retro-surf vein that is suddenly very popular and perhaps already in danger of being played out, but there's a plaintive edge to these songs that sells them for me. Plus, the video for When I'm With You is worth a few bonus points all by itself. Top Tracks: Crazy For You, I Want To, When I’m With You.
- Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks. It took me a long time to warm up to this one. 2008's terrific The Midnight Organ Fight (which, you will recall, became something of an obsession for me at the time) set a pretty high standard that I don’t think this album quite reaches, but it is still a fine effort. Like its predecessor, it’s a melancholy record, with a core of regret and heartbreak blanketed in lush layers of sound that make the pain palatable. The bitterness found in earlier songs like Keep Yourself Warm has mellowed a bit, and there's actually a couple of up-tempo songs here—though with lyrics like
And though I dreamt with a rapid eye / By day, I hope to rapidly die / And have my organs laid on ice(from Living in Color), it would be hard to call them upbeat. This album probably got a an extra bump in my estimation from the fine live show Frightened Rabbit put on back in October. Top Tracks: Nothing Like You, Living in Colour, Things (especially the sparser ‘alternate’ version that closes the record).
- Sleigh Bells, Treats. It's hard to find a frame of reference for this album. ‘Noise pop’ seems to be a popular label. There’s the aggressive dissonance and distortion of, say, Sonic Youth, but it is beat-driven and dancey. Lyrics are minimal and repetitive. And there's some sampley stuff going on. All fused together into something that probably ought to be completely unlistenable, but for some reason isn’t. So, yeah, I am basically at a complete loss for how to describe this, but it won me over. Top Tracks: Tell Em, Rill Rill, A/B Machines.
- Tokyo Police Club, Champ. I have this completely irrational block with this band where every time I hear their name, I picture a poster I once saw for the German boy-band Tokio Hotel (with whom, just to be clear, these Canadians have absolutely nothing in common). Despite this affliction, I find this album thoroughly enjoyable. This is pretty much straightforward indiepop, energetic and upbeat. Top Tracks: Favourite Colour, Big Difference.
These are albums I certainly liked and would recommend, but which didn't quite distinguish themselves like the preceding. I haven't bothered ranking them. It's probably safe to say I like them all about equally, although often for very different reasons.
- Belle & Sebastian, Write About Love. Top Track: .
- Girl Talk, All Night. Top Track: Triple Double.
- Gogol Bordello, Trans-Continental Hustle. Top Track: Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher).
- LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening. Top Track: Drunk Girls.
- Los Campesinos!, Romance Is Boring. Top Tracks: Romance Is Boring, The Sea Is a Good Place To Think Of the Future.
- Screaming Females, Castle Rock. Top Track: Ghost Solo.
- The Soft Pack, The Soft Pack. Top Tracks: More or Less, Flammable.
- The Thermals, Personal Life. Top Tracks: I Don't Believe You, Only For You.
- The Vaselines, Sex With an X. Top Track: Mouth to Mouth.
Ask Again Later
Some interesting records I only got my hands on recently and haven't really formed opinions about.
- The Extra Lens, Undercard. John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) and Franklin Bruno (Nothing Painted Blue) collaborating under a new name (they used to call themselves The Extra Glenns). Looks like it could slip into the Honorable Mentions category.
- Male Bonding, Nothing Hurts and Surf City, Kudos. The first I even heard of either of these was in a friend's year-end top 10 list, but I respect his judgment immensely.
- Das Racist, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. Formerly known primarily for the goofball hit, Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, Das Racist seem to have gone for maximum saturation in 2010, releasing two full albums, for free no less. They might benefit from being a little more selective, but if they keep spinning out rhymes as insane as
Nancy Drew, Nancy who? Nancy Reagan in a fancy pantsuit, dancing bear in cahoots with the man who shotcha, who am I to question their methods?
The problem with making lists like this is that they are, by nature, exclusionary. 'Omissions', as Marianne Moore would say, 'are not accidents'. I like to think, however, I have grown out of the need to define myself more by what I reject than by what I love. So I offer this list as a selection of the year's music that made me happy or got me excited. As for the omissions, accidental or otherwise, let's just say they did not elicit the same excitement, and leave it at that.
I made an 8tracks mix of some of my favorite songs form 2010. It includes many of the Top Tracks referenced above (8tracks rules only allow two selections from the same artist or album per mix) as well a few other standout singles. Happy listening!