Well, it’s that time of year again. Even though there are still a few weeks left in the year, we’ve decided to name our favorite albums of the year. But before we begin, let me go on a little rant about the state of music. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before but I wanted to say it anyway. Basically, what I’m saying is, there is no possible way for one person to listen to every album that’s released, much less give them all a few listens to determine their ability to grow on you as albums so often do with me. That being said, I’m sure there are some classic albums that I missed out on completely or that I just didn’t have the time to give a fair chance, but that’s the price we pay for doing these things all by our lonesome. So, I guess what I’m saying is, to be perfectly honest, there are a plethora of albums that I haven’t even given one listen, but I’m confident that in all of the multitude of albums that I did listen to, I was able to give each one a fair chance. Maybe that makes me a “bad blogger”, but I don’t think it does. In fact, I think it makes me a realist and it’s allowed me to enjoy and appreciate and get to know less albums more and better, rather than more albums less and worse.
Disclaimer: Of course, lists like this, and music in general, are completely subjective. These are not the “20 best albums of the year”, these are my personal favorites from this year.
Also again, I’ve spent all my time listening to new music this last year and I’m probably going to promptly go back and listen to all of my top 20 albums of 2009 now for nostalgia’s sake.
So without further ado, here are the albums that found their ways into my ears the most often due to general awesomeness.
Honorable mentions: Baths – Cerulean, Ceo – White Magic, The Golden Filter – Völuspà, Caribou – Swim, Four Tet – There Is Love In You
20. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
After first hearing “Excuses” and not being particularly fond of it, I waited far too long to give this album a listen. But when I knew I’d be seeing them as an opener I decided to give it a chance and I’m glad I did. The maturity in their songwriting was all the more surprising when I did see just how young they looked in person (although I’m not really sure how old they are). And while I decided that day that I did in fact really like this album, I was an even bigger fan after their stunning live performance. And I also think “Stitches” is one of my favorite tracks of the year.
Key tracks: Stitches, Hand Me Downs, Cold War
The Morning Benders – Stitches
19. Delorean – Subiza
After last summer’s bright and sunshiney Ayrton Senna EP, a new full-length from Spanish dance rockers Delorean, released just as the weather was beginning to turn for the better last Spring, was exactly what I needed this year. Every track is big and bold and shake-worthy and their live show is nothing but more of the same. Besides the fantastic melodies spattered throughout this album, the production is top notch and really brings this album to life.
Key tracks: Real Love, Stay Close, Grow
Delorean – Real Love
18. Mux Mool – Skulltaste
Ghostly International had a pretty great year as far as I’m concerned, with a few of their artists making my 2010 best of list. The first is Mux Mool aka Brian Lindgren, whose album Skulltaste made its way on to my radar completely out of nowhere. What makes this album so great? Probably the crazy diversity of its tracks. If you like electronic music in any sense of the term, there’s probably something on this album that you’ll enjoy, be it low key atmospheric jams or in your face dance club bangers.
Key tracks: Crackers, Enceladus, Get Better John
Mux Mool – Crackers
17. Sia – We Are Born
Back in 2008, I didn’t know much about Sia but went with a friend to see her live and I’ve been a huge fan ever since hearing that powerful voice in person, but I didn’t really find myself wanting to listen to her albums for whatever reason. That all changed with We Are Born. The pop tunes on this album were so catchy that I couldn’t help but listen to them over and over, and after getting a chance to see her again this summer and hearing those tunes live gave me a whole new appreciation for them.
Key tracks: Be Good To Me, Bring Night, You’ve Changed
Sia – Be Good To Me
16. Menomena – Mines
Here’s another album that I slept on despite the urging of several trusted music sources, but luckily I finally dug into these fantastic tunes and am a better person for it. What’s so great about this album? It’s highly dramatic, but without having to rely on fancy effects to do any of the work. Great songwriting, impactful drums and top-notch vocals make this album notable for being something that we don’t seem to find too often anymore: a true and pure rock record.
Key tracks: TAOS, Dirty Cartoons, Tithe
Menomena – Tithe
15. Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner
One of the major themes of my musical year was glitchy electronic music, and thankfully Gold Panda entered my world this summer to keep that theme alive. I don’t know how else to describe his musical brand, but I know that it’s infinitely interesting and intricate and everything like that. To say this album needs to be listened to with some headphones and no distractions to be fully enjoyed and appreciated is a great understatement, so just make sure you’ve done that if you haven’t already. Plus I always love when someone can take a complicated/nonsensical melody and make it sensical by throwing down a beat, a la “Before We Talked”.
Key tracks: Same Dream China, Snow & Taxis, Before We Talked
Gold Panda – Same Dream China
14. Wavves – King of the Beach
Had I not only just recently really gotten into this album, chances are it would have made it even higher up on my list (this goes back to the woes I discussed in the intro). And now I can’t wait for summer so I can listen to it then (even though I already had that chance earlier this year). I fully expected not to find anything remarkable about Wavves’ third album, but it is just full of fun and catchy beach-rock melodies that I can’t get enough of. I kind of used to think of Wavves as a novelty act of sorts, but my opinion has now completely changed.
Key tracks: Super Soaker, Idiot, Green Eyes, Mickey Mouse
Wavves – Super Soaker
13. Wild Nothing – Gemini
Another musical theme for me this year was shoegaze. And I don’t even really know how to describe shoegaze to this day other than that Wild Gemini is it, at least I think. This is another album that was recommended to me out of nowhere that I instantly fell in love with. “Live in Dreams”, with it’s fade in intro might just be one of my favorite album openings I can remember and it only stays just as good from there on out. Jack Tatum’s tunes may not strike you immediately, but upon repeated listens, you will likely find yourself begging for more.
Key tracks: Live in Dreams, Chinatown, Bored Games
Wild Nothing – Live in Dreams
12. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Perhaps the biggest budget album on the list (save for one more just below), this one had me from day 1. The conceptual album with tons of cameos can go one of two ways, cheese factory or stellar, and luckily for me, this one went the latter. And it doesn’t hurt that just about every song is completely different than the one that came before it. Plus you get bonus points whenever your live show includes a legit middle eastern band (that’s the music of my people, people), not to mention touring with most of the guests on the album (which quickly explained the ticket price for that show as there were no less than 30 people on stage at one point or another), but the music was so great and diverse that it was all worth it.
Key tracks: Empire Ants, Glitter Freeze, On Melancholy Hill
Gorillaz – Empire Ants
11. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As with every Kanye album, I find myself wanting so badly to hate it but never able to. Just like the other big budget album on this list, there’s no lack of guest stars (I mean, does “All of the Lights” really need 11 guests? I think not), but that’s just the way Kanye rolls I guess. While I don’t much care for the 9 minute “Runaway”, there are too many parts of this album too good to ignore. Like the “So Appalled” sample, which I’ve finally discovered is from a Manfred Mann song believe it or not. Or the motown goodness of “Devil in a New Dress”, or pretty much any other track for that matter. And Nicki Minaj’s verse in “Monster” might be the best thing she ever does. But, while I love this album much more than I thought of would, I also don’t think it’s God’s gift to music. Still, this high of a ranking is pretty surprising, more to me than anyone else.
Key tracks: So Appalled, Monster, Devil in a New Dress, Lost in the World
Kanye West – Devil in a New Dress (feat. Rick Ross)
10. Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
After hearing their self-titled EP last year, I was looking forward to the full length from the Saratoga Springs duo Phantogram. Their music was a fresh sounding blend of soothing melodies with an electronic twist that was a huge barrel of happiness in my ears. It doesn’t hurt that Sarah Barthel is a total babe (featured in a great side-boob shot in SPIN magazine earlier this year) with a great voice. Josh Carter rounds things out with some great beats and guitar work, resulting in some heavy heavy play on the ole ipod this year. I originally had this album much farther down on the list, but upon realizing I couldn’t pick 3 key tracks, it moved way up.
Key Tracks: As Far As I Can See, When I’m Small, You Are The Ocean
Phantogram – As Far As I Can See
9. Abe Vigoda – Crush
Here’s another one of those that I’ve only just recently gotten to enjoy, and one that would probably move up a few notches if I had a little more time to spend with it. I don’t know what any previous Abe Vigoda albums sounded like, but I’ve read that they sound nothing like this one, for better or for worse. It’s characterized by super-tight multi-layered melodies spattered through almost every tune on this album, often veering more towards the dark side of things, but sometimes taking a turn for the brighter. And there’s no lack of synth, but I feel like it’s not used it the typical synth way, whatever that means. But I think what really creates the mood that surrounds this album are Michael Vidal’s vocals, occasionally somewhat wretching, but always full of passion and emotion.
Key tracks: Crush, Dream of My Love (Chasing After You), November
Abe Vigoda – Crush
8. Teen Daze – Four More Years
Ok, so technically this is an EP I guess, but with 8 tracks I think it qualifies as an album for all intents and purposes. But what is not to love about it? It’s completely spacey, full of high-energy tunes and an extremely promising first official release. From the first moments of the opening title-track, it became pretty clear that this was going to be an album I loved, electronic to the max with a pretty heavy beat throughout. While the playtime of the album is only about a half hour, that just means that it’s even easier than ever to listen to it again and again.
Key tracks: Four More Years, Neon, Around
Teen Daze – Neon
7. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
There’s a little controversy over whether this album belongs in 2010 year end lists, but while it existed prior to that, the official release was in the early part of this year, so I’m going with that. In the winter and spring, I found myself listening to this album almost daily (you know, back when I listened to music all day at work) and loved it more with every listen. What characterizes this album for me are the impressive harmonies that are found throughout the whole album. And after being fortunate enough to catch them live three times this year, I can confidently say that they are able to pull the harmonies off in a live setting just as well as on the album. In fact, I often get goosebumps listening to “World News” and imagining the whole Coachella crowd singing along to the big “Whoa oh oh” parts. These guys are legit.
Key tracks: World News, Wide Eyes, Sun Hands, Who Knows Who Cares
Local Natives – Who Knows Who Cares
6. Twin Shadow – Forget
Twin Shadow. Oh, Twin Shadow. Not only did you put out a KILLER album full of energy, an album that is both completely interesting and somewhat atypical but also completely accessible, but you’ve also put on one of the most unexpectedly fantastic live shows I’ve seen in a long time. There is an unmistakeable twinge of the 80s throughout this album, but more in the Prince sense of the 80s, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. And George Lewis, Jr’s somewhat deep vocals give these tunes that extra dimension. It’s never over complicated, but always interesting. And like I said, this album when performed live has about 100x more energy than the already fantastic album.
Key tracks: Slow, Castles in the Snow, I Can’t Wait, At My Heels
Twin Shadow – Castles In The Snow
5. Foals – Total Life Forever
After the raucous beats and guitar riffs found in the 2008 Foals album Antidotes and hearing “Spanish Sahara” as the first single from Total Life Forever, I wasn’t really too sure what to think or expect. Was it just a one off or had Foals moved to a more restrained sound? It turns out that the latter was true, but what is also true is that Foals can do the more subdued just as well as they can do the high energy. That’s not to say that Total Life Forever is a low key album, there is still plenty of energy to be had, but it just takes a different form this time around. And if I were making a list of top tracks of the year, which I’m not, I’m pretty confident “Spanish Sahara” would be on there as well. Another one of my favorite concert moments of the year was the crowd’s enthusiasm as this song swelled, clapping in unison with the beat right before the big release. Yannis is a little man (much like myself), but don’t mistake that for a lack of energy or stage presence.
Key tracks: Blue Blood, Spanish Sahara, This Orient
Foals – Blue Blood
4. Javelin – No Más
Prior to listening to this album, my only exposure was “Vibrationz” and I really had no idea what to expect. It’s probably best, though, that I had no expectations, because what I got surely would not have aligned with anything I possibly could have anticipated. This album is what I consider to be a retrospective look at every kind of music from the 70s to the 90s. It all sounds pretty old school, but never hokey to me. There’s the 8-bit sounds of “Oh! Centra”, the 70s sounds of “Intervales Theme”, the aptly named “Moscow 1980” and even some light R&B with “Dep”. If you’re in the mood for something unlike anything recent that you’ve listened to, this is the album for you. But just remember, the beauty of this album lies in it’s homage to sounds of the past, so its not the most modern sounding album, but it’s still definitely cutting edge.
Key tracks: Vibrationz, We Ah Wi, Moscow 1980, Intervales Theme
Javelin – We Ah Wi
3. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
While we’re on the topic of 2010 albums paying homage to sounds of the past, there seems to be no better time to reveal our number 3 album, Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker. This album is 100% modern day psychedelic rock, no ifs ands or buts about it. I’m not comparing the Australian youngsters to the Beatles, but I have been describing this album to my friends as if the Beatles had made another album where they got way more psychedelic than ever before. Perhaps it’s the almost creepy likeness of lead singer Kevin Parker’s vocals to those of John Lennon that draws this comparison, but there are also flavors of many other rock groups from the past. And to stay true to that vintage late-60s sound (most of the album is even slightly hazy, giving you a true retro sound), the guys create all the effects using only guitar pedals, as evidenced by their live performance which sounded surprisingly true to the album, and these guitar effects are really the cornerstone of this album. While the band members all look exactly like you would imagine the Aussie hippies who penned this album to look, with long, blonde scraggly hair and performing shoeless on stage, their modern take on a classic sound is not to be missed.
Key tracks: Expectation, Desire Be Desire Go, Lucidity, Solitude is Bliss
Tame Impala – Expectation
2. Delphic – Acolyte
Delphic — you are everything I’ve wanted an electronic rock band to be. Slightly dark, always extremely high energy, and always extremely interesting. Unlike Tame Impala, Delphic makes great use of digital effects to create their larger than life sound but the result is almost overwhelming at times (in a good way), but make no mistake, the guitar still plays a huge role here too. Even though my excitement to see them in concert reached critical mass, I was still a bit nervous because I didn’t know how it would all play out in a live setting, but they did not disappoint, as every effect from the album was perfectly replicated and seemed to take on a new life. This music is so full of depth and forward-driving energy that it’s nearly impossible not to move just a little while listening to it. If you have any interest in electronic rock and have not listened to this album, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. And the fact that Pitchfork gave this album a 5.0 is all the more reason to never believe anything they say about anything.
Key tracks: Doubt, This Momentary, Halcyon, Counterpoint
Delphic – Halcyon
1. Beach House – Teen Dream
Was there ever any doubt that this would be my number one album of the year? I fell in love with Norway in late 2009, and Teen Dream was the very first album I listened to this year (true story – I heard it for the first time on New Year’s Day as we cleaned up from the night of debauchery that ensured the evening/early morning before) and quickly found myself listening to it over and over the first few months of the year, before I became completely inundated with other albums to get to know. Maybe I’m just a sucker for Victoria Legrand’s husky vocals, or the way her hair seems to blow in the wind even when there is no wind to be found, or the soothing melodies that seem to be the perfect music for just about any mood or occassion (minus a dance party I guess). Whatever it is, this became my go-to album in 2010 and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If there is one fault to this album, it’s that its title is so close to that Katy Perry song, and it confuses me in a bad way sometimes. Either way, this is my album of the year. Take it or leave it.
Key tracks: Zebra, Norway, Lover of Mine, Silver Soul
Beach House – Silver Soul
So that’s my list. 2010 was a good year for music methinks. Here’s to a solid 2011, musicwise and everythingelsewise.