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The Top 50 Albums of 2010

By ; January 6, 2011 at 10:22 PM 


40.

Menomena

Mines

[Barsuk]

It was hard not to be a little skeptical about the new Menomena album. It was pitched as a more restrained Menomena, a change that’s tripped up more than a few avant-rock bands in the past. But, as it turns out, the adage is true: when the going gets weird, the weird turns pro. It turns out that a less obviously trippy Menomena is nothing to be afraid of. The more down-to-earth tunes gave fans an opportunity to take in some of the more underrated aspects of the band’s music, namely band’s lyrics and soulful vocals. Take “Tithe,” for example; on first listen it sounds like something any number of bands could have produced, but with time it reveals itself as one of the band’s most moving tracks. Mines is the kind of album that reveals itself the more you give into it. It’s the very definition of a grower. Sometimes re-examining familiar territory can be as rewarding as exploring new frontiers.

– Matthew Lingo


39.

MGMT

Congratulations

[Columbia]

So what happens when a beloved hipster band that rose to fame by blogosphere hype decides to change their sound? Outrage. Tons of it. Perhaps the most polarizing album of the year, Congratulations seems to have two kinds of strong reactions. People either hate it and think it’s abysmal, or people think it’s better than the band’s first album. As someone who always enjoyed the first album quite a bit, I’ve always found it to be spotty at best. Besides the standout singles, the album always felt disjointed, like there were too many ups and downs. Congratulations, in contrast, was conceived as being a complete experience. While the album isn’t as trippy or “out there” as the album art suggests, musically the band has never sounded tighter. A lot of outside factors are often talked about when discussing this album (the weird interviews, the band’s intentions, etc.). That’s a shame, because what’s not talked about is what a fun and tightly-written pop album this is. Mixing ’60s surfer rock and psychedelia, the band finds a perfect balance. Sure, the album doesn’t have a “Kids” or a “Time to Pretend,” but overall, it’s a much better listening experience front to back, and the band actually sounds comfortable in what they are doing.

– Brent Koepp


38.

Phosphorescent

Here’s to Taking it Easy

[Dead Oceans]

If you’re looking for a good description of the sound of this album then look no further than the title; Here’s To Taking It Easy. The fifth full-length album released by Phosphorescent is the most fleshed-out sounding one yet, but it seems so organic that you feel as though Matthew Houck and his band mates simply sat and wrote the songs through natural inspiration and at their own ease and comfort, which gives the whole disc a warm, country feeling. On the other hand Houck’s lyrics and vocals are as emotive as ever, less assured than the music that backs them. Stories of inexplicable breakups, tiring relationships and overall tortuous love sit alongside tales of fully-fledged passion and each is told gently and evocatively through Houck’s tender tones. Overall the coupling of assured musicianship with affectional vocals on Here’s To Taking It Easy give us a full study of Houck’s character and the more you listen the more you’ll feel yourself going through the motions with him in each song.

– Rob Hakimian


37.

Paul Cary

Ghost of a Man

[Stank House]

Ghost of a Man is Paul Cary’s, former frontman of In The Red Records’ garage rock band The Horrors (not to be confused with UK Joy Division-wannabes The Horrors), debut solo album. Cary’s first appearance as a solo artist was on a split single with Thee Oh Sees last year, and those two songs set the tone for Ghost of a Man. On his debut full length the frantic garage punk of The Horrors is toned down to a mix of stomping garage rock, country, blues and folk presented mostly by a simple setup of vocals, guitars, bass and drums where Cary’s voice is always present, but never draws too much attention from the music itself. Ghost of a Man isn’t exactly a revelatory experience but Cary’s a skilled songsmith and since the break-up of The Horrors in 2003 he’s grown as a songwriter and what he’s making here isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s taking something old and making it seem new and fresh, which is something rare enough.

– Johan Alm


36.

The Walkmen

Lisbon

[Fat Possum]

When most people were lost in nostalgia for a time they could hardly remember, The Walkmen took it a step further to the youth of their parents. What they created is a rich ode to dusty roads and sock-hops, even using vintage instruments to create the maximum affect. With two masterpieces already under their belts – Bows and Arrows and You and MeLisbon falls short of their accomplishment but still feels completely successful,.The highlighs here —“Victory” “Angela Surf City” and “Stranded” –are comfortably up there with the best The Walkmen’s tunes, but “Lisbon” is their better as a whole, highlighting the band’s ability to create focused albums of consistent sound that change distinctly from album to album. They are vacations, temporary beauties, poloroids of the band at that specific point. Where the Walkmen will go next is as exciting as where they have been, but the songs will be sad, this much I know.

– Philip Cosores


35.

Curren$y

Pilot Talk

[Roc-a-Fella / DD172 / BluRoc]

Apparently Curren$y just didn’t get how it works. When you part ways with a major label without dropping an album…well, good luck. Shante Franklin was on two. No Limit and Young Money, and following his departure from the latter, as if this track record wasn’t enough of a death sentence, Lil Wayne had some, shall we say, choice words about his signee. Here we are in 2010 and the mother fucker’s dropped not one but two albums through Def Jam. Guess hard work really can pay off. Not that Curren$y’s selling hundreds of thousands of records, but when you take nearly a decade to put out a major and still get nothing but love you’ve pulled off something only Dre formerly seemed capable of doing. Those who were into the rapper’s previous two underground records may miss Monsta Beatz’s prominent presence, but the fact remains that Curren$y finally dropped his big album: just as uncompromising, creative, and goofy as the biggest fan could have dreamed.

– Chase McMullen


34.

Wild Nothing

Gemini

[Captured Tracks]

It’s all too common for this kind of album—”dreamy,” “shimmering,” “indebted to shoegaze”—to grow redundant, as one seeming Johnny Marr tribute bleeds into the next and the tempo remains perched between bouncy and sedate. Fortunately, Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum avoids this fate with the best possible remedy: terrific pop songwriting. “Live in Dreams” is beautiful and wistful, while “Drifter” lets Tatum play his My Bloody Valentine card with an ethereal keyboard twist. “O, Lilac” sounds like the listener’s childhood, no matter his or her age—its simply strummed guitar and an earworm of a melody recall nostalgia without using it as a crutch. Even similar tricks sound fresh and new here. For instance, “Chinatown” begins with a flute intro not unlike that of “Live in Dreams,” but this time it’s on-the-move and restless, the perfect compliment for Tatum’s declaration that “We’re not happy ’til we’re running away.” And on “Confirmation,” Tatum borrows Ariel Pink’s imperfect falsetto and New Order’s Eurosynths to create something at once wistful and celebratory. Gemini is about the struggle between appreciating what you have and the inevitable longing for more; with songs this good, fans like me can appreciate what he’s given us while eagerly awaiting his next releases.

– Josh Becker


33.

The Black Keys

Brothers

[Nonesuch]

Over the past two years, both singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have pursued a multitude of projects outside of The Black Keys. Auerbach released a more traditional blues album with Keep It Hid, and Carney formed his own group in Drummer. In addition, both brought together big name rappers including Ludacris, Raekwon, RZA and Mos Def to record the collaborative album Blackroc. While all these side-projects have been interesting to say the least, Black Keys fans have been anxious for a new album. What they got in return was Brothers—an album that resides among the best LP’s in the The Black Keys’ catalog.

Brothers, the band’s sixth full-length album, demonstrates the simple fact that this dynamic duo haven’t missed a step from what they do best. From the convicted stomp of “Everlasting Light” to the sweet soul revival of “Never Give You Up,” Brothers stands as The Black Keys’ most compelling album since Rubber Factory. Brothers has none of Danger Mouse’s sonic tinkering and production of the preceding album Attack & Release—just 15 songs of this Akron duo doing what they do best: distorted, lo-fi blues rock. That’s always been their calling card—something Auerbach and Carney noticed and returned to form with on Brothers.

– Max Blau


32.

Tame Impala

Innerspeaker

[Modular]

As far as breakthrough records in 2010 go, Tame Impala’s debut album helped jettison the Aussie-rockers from small club wannabes to festival pleasing nobility. There’s a certain, yet indescribable power that Innerspeaker harnesses. Maybe it’s the unabated honesty of lead single “Solitude Is Bliss,” whose rally cry for seclusion is “you will never know how I feel.” Maybe it’s the screeching guitar lick on “Lucidity” or the mesmerizing drum fills on “It’s Not Meant To Be.” Whatever the case, Innerspeaker‘s success ultimately comes from its lack of bashfulness, it’s a record drenched in reverbed guitars, powerful rhythmic drumming, and sparkling Lennon-esque vocals. And the album doesn’t hide behind any of these tropes either, rather Tame Impala embrace each instrument’s uniqueness to craft an incredibly focused effort not soon to be forgotten.

– Erik Burg


31.

Broken Social Scene

Forgiveness Rock Record

[Arts & Crafts]

Almost every song on Broken Social Scene’s last album sounded like three bands were trying to play them at the same time. It was an interesting experiment, but the reliably unpredictable Canadian lynchpins have remained just that. Forgiveness Rock Record is less chaotic and more polished due in large part to the decision of masterminds Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning to trim the band’s roster from 19 to 7. Thankfully, the restraint shown in the instrumentation doesn’t carry over into other parts of the music. Forgiveness Rock Record is still admirably ambitious and overflowing with ideas, from the gleaming electronic wash of “All to All” to the delicately epic opener “World Sick.” Even if some of them stick better than others, the energy is undeniable, and it’s a suitably glossy hodgepodge of talent that fits in nicely with their catalogue.

– Brendan Frank

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