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The Top 50 Albums of 2010

By ; January 6, 2011 at 10:22 PM 


30.

The Morning Benders

Big Echo

[Rough Trade]

When Big Echo dropped in March 2010, The Morning Benders’ sophomore effort seemed every bit as organic and natural as the band’s development up to this point. Christopher Chu’s songwriting chops have clearly become refined, allowing the Morning Benders to delve into the wide array of sonic textures reverberating as widely as their album title suggests. Sure, the album still comes with straightforward Bender basics like “Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)” and “Excuses,” but this time around they are also complimented by vibrant statements like the infectiously syncopated “Promises,” the swooning movement of “Mason Jar” and hook-ridden rocker “All Day Daylight.”

Part of their step forward on Big Echo can be attributed to their increased cohesiveness as a group as well as their collaboration with producer Chris Taylor (of Grizzly Bear). In the case of Big Echo, the group honed in on the things that were absent from their debut album Talking Through Tin Cans—layered complexity, compositional dynamics and musical variety. Big Echo took the Morning Benders away from a likeminded collection of simple, homogenous songs, and created a substantially fuller sound that actually matches the album’s title.

– Max Blau


29.

Wolf Parade

Expo 86

[Sub Pop]

Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, the two songwriters who lead Wolf Parade, will forever be penalized for making their best album first. They will also pay for the overflow of creativity that allows them to produce consistently good, and often great, work for a number of projects (Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs, Swan Lake). But with every album expected to be their last, isn’t it more worthwhile appreciating the band for what it is rather than wishing for the full-time band that will never happen? Expo 86 is their third album together and after they make a half dozen more records with other outfits, they’ll probably be back for round four. And because they work so hard, it is easy to take their music for granted, but something truly special happens on Expo 86 that was never as noticeable before – they compliment eachother. Krug is the more inconsistent artist, but also has the higher upside, while Boeckner has Springsteen pop down to a science. But on Expo, Krug’s “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain” is memorable for its driving guitar lead, while Boekner’s “Pobody’s Nerfect” gets the best synth part on the album. Where everyone always imagined a battle of egos in the studio, Expo 86 shows the masterful songwriters compromising and trusting each other. The result sounds inspired, even for a part-time band.

– Philip Cosores


28.

Pantha du Prince

Black Noise

[Rough Trade]

I’ll be completely honest: Black Noise is one of the hardest albums from this year for me describe accurately. I suppose if you wanted to whittle it down to a single term you could call it electronic, but it’s something much more than that. The clattering of ice cubes in a glass or the engine of a distant mop head are touches that can make the album feel strangely natural at points. And with the way beat patterns, rhythms and riffs are ever-changing, the album really feels like it’s alive when you’re listening to it. Even when human voices crop up, they don’t disrupt the beguiling organic flow: Noah Lennox’s voice on “Stick to My Side” seems a of natural progression of twinkling luscious textures. There’s something amazingly meticulous in Hendrik Weber’s construction of material which manages to sound too easy for him but astounding to the ears of others. I might not be able to describe it sufficiently, but whittled down to the basics, it’s simply a marvelous album to get engrossed in.

– Ray Finlayson


27.

Jonsi

Go

[XL]

Sigur Rós made some incredibly dense, climactic music back in their day, but it usually came from a place of deep sadness. Jónsi Birgisson’s lyrics didn’t exactly help the mood—there were some extremely troubled lyrics on Agaetis Byrjun, and even when he was writing in his invented language of Hopelandic on other albums, his tone was despondent. That’s not the case on Go–Jónsi broke away from the band to bring us something equally (if not more) textured and carefully arranged, but this time, Jónsi is filled with rapturous joy. Go is about simple things: beauty in nature, optimism, courage, loving yourself, and loving other people. The arrangements, assisted by Jónsi’s friend Nico Muhly, are so exuberant and full of life, and best of all, the music never stops moving. Nobody ever thought Jónsi could move past melancholy and still be able to make beautiful music, but Go is so simultaneously jubilant and musically satisfying that it silences all the naysayers.

– Arika Dean


26.

Les Savy Fav

Root for Ruin

[Frenchkiss]

“We’ve still got our appetites,” sings frontman Tim Harrington on Les Savy Fav’s fifth album, Root for Ruin, and it’s a statement that rings true on an album that I personally consider to be their best yet. In recent years their sound has shifted towards the more accessible side of art-rock, but there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: their consistency.

“Appetites,” one of the strongest openers of the year, slots perfectly into place on a record that is top-drawer for start to finish, bursting with energy and containing the usual high standard of lyrics. You wouldn’t hear lines like, “I am only seventeen, someone kick me in the teeth” from anyone else except this lot.

One of 2010’s most singularly enjoyable albums, Root For Ruin is the sound of a band making just the right amount of progression whilst still staying true to that which made them great in the first place. Les Savy Fav clearly have a lot more to say – it’s just as well they haven’t quite peaked yet, as they’re the kind of band you really want to root for.

– Gareth O’Malley


25.

The Thermals

Personal Life

[Kill Rock Stars]

This record was recorded on tape and the vinyl version was mastered straight from the tape. That kind of production rarely happens in the digital age, and this extra attention to detail has given this record a feel that others might lack. Perhaps why this is the best- sounding Thermals effort as far as the tones. The band worked with Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie who has become their go-to producer and rightfully so; he gets great sounds. If you’re a guitar snob you’ll gawk at the warmth and shimmer of this record. The fifth LP by this Portland trio is a flawless collection of simple and clean pop-punk songs that channel front man Hatch’s affection for The Breeders. Titled Personal Life the album ditches previously controversial lyrics about religion and politics to explore the less punk themes of love and relationship. However, Hatch doesn’t get all goo-goo ga-ga–his work here seems to depict the not-so-attractive side of love and the more realistic feelings that come along with the game. A great Thermals record and their best since Now We Can See.

– Max Ritter


24.

Titus Andronicus

The Monitor

[XL]

On this subject, I do not wish to speak, or think, or write with moderation. I am in earnest. I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.

The above excerpt comes from The Monitor. Titus Andronicus recite these words from a William Lloyd Garrison speech at the end of their triumphant seven-minute album opener “A More Perfect Union” before launching into their signature rally cry of “Titus Andronicus Forever.” Those 39 words speak volumes about these New Jersey punk rockers’ approach to not only creating their sophomore album, but also their entire approach to music.

Titus Andronicus have created one of the defining albums of this year here through its sprawling nature, raw power and communal appeal. Drawing from influences including Bruce Springsteen, Dinosaur Jr. and The Hold Steady, The Monitor remains raw and energetic throughout its hour-plus length, gloriously traversing between Civil War-era historical tales and gritty, distorted anthems. Does The Monitor overreach at times? Certainly, as all but two tracks clock in at over five minutes. But it’s this lack of equivocation, excuse, or retreat from which great albums are produced. While the band might rally around the flag with loser-rock, Titus Andronicus has done nothing but win in 2010.

– Max Blau


23.

No Age

Eveything in Between

[Sub Pop]

Before this year, No Age weren’t exactly known for their subtlety. They still aren’t, but Everything in Between is the leanest collection of songs they’ve ever compiled. The duo have balanced out their more rambunctious propensities with a more mature approach to their songwriting. The noise seems more meticulous, more mapped out. Their musicianship is still anchored by lambasted riffs, acidic feedback loops and lockstep drum work, but there’s now a quiet sense of perspective entrenched in the music. Sputtering out trashy anthems about stepping out from the protective shell of your youth, the album magnifies the moments where there’s nothing but opportunity and the knock-around attitude that comes with the right level of desperation. Moving into adulthood isn’t always as easy or enjoyable as we’re made to believe, and it’s exciting to hear a band start to figure things out for themselves.

– Brendan Frank


22.

Beach House

Teen Dream

[Sub Pop]

I remember hearing a DJ playing a dance mix of “Zebra” at a No Age show last January, and some Echo Park hipster-trash commenting that “Zebra” is probably the best song of the year. I also remember a couple days ago hearing Beach House’s Christmas jam on Serious Satellite Radio, with the DJ noting “There is nothing beachy about Beach House.” Yes, Beach House has inspired some ridiculously idiotic comments. And yes, the group is still picking up steam a year after Teen Dream continued their progression as a duo, coming off as both a peak and a rise. “Norway” and “10 Mile Stereo” are realizations of potential, showing off the band at their most reaching, but Teen Dream for me will be “Silver Soul” and “Take Care,” songs that build on promise of fantastic songwriting, the kind that endures, the kind that transcends dream pop and indie fashions, the kind that would sound sad and true and beautiful on a jukebox both twenty years from now and fifty years ago. Teen Dream is great music, no matter how big Beach House grows or what idiots (including this guy) are saying about it.

– Philip Cosores


21.

Superchunk

Majesty Shredding

[Merge]

As a child of the ’90s, one of my fondest memories was the carefree rock music of the time. Bands like Blink-182 and Green Day wrote about masturbation and getting stoned. It wasn’t the most profound music, but it really spoke to the slacker in all of us at some point. Sure there was nothing complex about the music like, say, Radiohead, but sometimes it feels good to just throw on some music you don’t have to think about and just let loose. If anything, this is what makes Majesty Shredding so damn enjoyable. It’s not in any way juvenile (lyrically), but musically it’s a throw back to that era. Being their first album since 2001, it’s been a long time since many of us have heard anything from Superchunk, let alone this kind of music. I don’t want to call it nostalgia, because that’s not giving the band enough credit. These are exceptionally well-crafted pop songs. But it’s an album that feels familiar, and good to be re-introduced again. In some ways, this album makes me remember what I liked so much about the ’90s–and what I’ve not been fond of in the past decade. In comparison, the emotion and energy these pop songs give off make the electro-soaked hits of ’00s feel cold, distant and manufactured. I could get into much more of this, but then I would sound like an old person complaining about the “good old days.” At its core this album is catchy, fun, and just has balls, making it one of the most enjoyable albums to come out this year.

– Brent Koepp

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