Vastly experimental on all levels and as usual, admirable to no end. The Books did it again with The Way Out, while still a bit more accessible than their last few records, this album dives deep into the art of sampling and multi-instrumentation. It’s a mathematical achievement and another masterpiece by this bizarre and humorous group.
[mp3] The Books – Beautiful People from The Way Out (2010)
24. These New Puritans – Hidden
I can’t even begin to tell you how floored I was when I first heard We Want War, the second track off Hidden. The Japanese Taiko drums hammering away, the haunting orchestration, and creepy electronic elements, it all just meshed together perfectly in this enormous album. The music sounds evil, like an army of undead creatures armed with primitive weapons marching to battle. This is the soundtrack to a natural disaster and it’s so fucking good.
[mp3] These New Puritans – Attack Music from Hidden (2010)
23. Caribou – Swim
Dan Snaith is quickly becoming one of the most important performers in electronic music history. How can someone reinvent themselves so many times and still come out as original as ever? Swim is way past dance music, this is meaningful and everything every electronic artist strives for, brilliance.
[mp3] Caribou – Sun from Swim (2010)
22. Grand Lake – Blood Sea Dream
When we booked Grand Lake for our showcase back in May, I don’t think any of us knew how special this band was. It wasn’t until listening to Blood Sea Dream all the way through did I understand the magnitude of Grand Lake’s genuine honesty. This is an incredible pop album influenced by hardcore folk sentiment, rock & roll experimentation, and just great heart-felt songwriting. Everything works, everything drives the songs forward. I can’t wait to hear what happens next.
[mp3] Grand Lake – Spark from Blood Sea Dream (2010)
21. Circa Survive – Blue Sky Noise
Circa Survive has to be among the most unique and hard-to-pigeonhole bands of this year. This hard-to-categorize band mixes hard-driving, no-nonsense hard rock with liberal doses of punk, some grunge and metal, and even a little folk in a few places, with masterful musical chops and mesmerizing vocal arrangements from Anthony Green. Blue Sky Noise is a well made translation of their hurricane size live shows.
[mp3] Circa Survive – I Felt Free (Safe Camp Sessions Acoustic Version) from Blue Sky Noise (2010)
20. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt
When listening to the second full length album from The Tallest Man on Earth (Swedish folk singer Kristian Mattson), I noticed there is a timelessness to Mattson’s voice now, something that was missing from his previous effort. The Wild Hunt channels Leadbelly delta blues with with the protest passion of Phil Ochs. This is dusty rambling folk executed with warmth and affection.
[mp3] The Tallest Man On Earth – King of Spain from The Wild Hunt (2010)
19. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I know, I know. Pretty predictable. But it was pretty difficult to resist the eminence this album had on not only the hip-hop community, but with this closing decade of music. Combining sincere emotion and a genuinely catchy pop album has been done before, but not in such a way that deconstructs a man so complicated and conflicted. Kanye may not be the best at explaining how he feels in public, but on record, we not only understand his issues, we want more if it.
[mp3] Kanye West – Power from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
18. Menomena – Mines
It took me a few listens to get down with Menomena’s last record. So when Justin Harris, Brent Knopf, and Danny Seim put out the complex and unpredictable Mines, I was prepared for another battle with my own attention span. What I got was an album so organic and alive, you can sense the method behind their experimentation and strive for true originality. The swirling guitars, chaotic drums, brass section, and Pixies-style stop-punch-run song structure is infectious and difficult to not enjoy.
[mp3] Menomena – Five Little Rooms from Mines (2010)
17. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
Undeniably accessible and beautifully arranged and orchestrated, Big Echo still remains humble. We all saw potential in The Morning Benders’ ability to create a pop album that was delightful and inviting while flexing their muscles on making it vast and heavily layered. This is carefree late-spring songwriting at it’s finest.
[mp3] The Morning Benders – Excuses from Big Echo (2010)
16. Sean Hayes – Run Wolves Run
Not a surprise for people that know me well, Sean Hayes will always hold a special place in my groove-based folk loving heart. With Run Wolves Run, he brings back the deep southern New Orleans beat that he perfected with Big Black Hole And The Little Baby Star and adds a granular side that fit his style well. Still fun and still sensuous in every song he sings, Sean Hayes remains one of my favorite Bay Area acts of all time.
[mp3] Sean Hayes – Garden from Run Wolves Run (2010)
15. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
James Murphy is yet to make an album that isn’t damn near impeccable. This is a pulse pounding and truly honest record that isn’t too far from complicated and ahead of it’s time. This is Happening is covered in Bowie influence as well dabs of Prince and Iggy Pop’s pop sincerity. LCD returned with the usual humor and class that makes them one of the best of the genre (whatever one that is).
[mp3] LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls from This is Happening (2010)
14. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
I distinctly remember hearing the Innerspeaker for the first time; I was in my car on my to San Francisco with the windows up, when suddenly I had the urge to drive faster, draw the windows down, and yell out my window, “Fuck yeah!” The album is way beyond normal psychedelic stoner rock. Innerspeaker combines every aspect of Pink Floydian spaciousness as well as the imagination of 70s era world based rock music. This is music The Flaming Lips wish they could still make.
[mp3] Tame Impala – Lucidity from Innerspeaker (2010)
13. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
While Band of Horses disappointed and Fleet Foxes didn’t arrive with a new record this year, I need something to fill in my love for CSNY style harmonies and road-based folk rock. Enter Local Natives, while their UK release was in 2009, their US release was this year which happened to be the same time I started listening to them. Swirling with organic and synthetic textures, interlocking rhythmic patterns, and light harmonic vocals, Gorilla Manor deserves every bit of attention it gets.
[mp3] Local Natives – Airplanes from Gorilla Manor (2010)
12. The National – High Violet
The National continues to create haunting and melodic rock music like none other with High Violet. The band’s untouchable career is furthered into rock royalty while never rushing the tempo, never over-compensating in execution or overall density. Instead, they brilliantly present their product with masculinity and grace without compromise.
[mp3] The National- Bloodbuzz Ohio from High Violet (2010)
11. Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
Where the hell did these guys come from? How does a band that combines Dilla-like beats with Portishead’s ghoulish droning and a dash of late-nineties trip-hop influence nearly slip by me? The duo has made an album that becomes the soundtrack to the urban night-drive and paints a cityscape environment with every listen. Definitely the sexiest record released this year.
[mp3] Phantogram – When I’m Small from Eyelid Movies (2010)
10. The Walkmen – Lisbon
How can any band compare with the classiness of The Walkmen? That vintage aura, that unmistakable wail from frontman Hamilton Leithauser, that self awareness of epic intensity and eloquence, Lisbon made 2008’s You & Me look like child’s play. With true romance and drama, Lisbon harnesses the immediacy of a live band into meticulously constructed, unique-sounding rock songs.
[mp3] The Walkmen – Stranded from Lisbon (2010)
9. Olafur Arnalds – …And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness
A good instrumental act must try extremely hard to divert away from the many other carbon copy acts trying to be the next Stars of the Lid or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Not only that but they must also make something captivating and dramatic and this year, Olafur Arnalds achieved that. A dream to anyone with a good pair of headphones, …And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness is a distinctive and adventurous work that is beautifully recorded and cinematic in scope.
[mp3] Olafur Arnalds – Kjurrt from …And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness (2010)
8. Bonobo – Black Sands
While I’ve always been a casual fan of Simon Green’s (Bonobo) ‘background beat’ music, Black Sands is where he went past traditional chill out hip-hop instrumental and created a daring and towering album that tests the very genre he already conquers. Enlisting the help of jazz singer Andreya Triana (who also made an amazing album this year, see #74), Black Sands is an intricate return and without a doubt his better work.
[mp3] Bonobo – Kong from Black Sands (2010)
7. Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring
I’ve always been a dedicated listener of Portland, OR’s Horse Feathers. So when they released their third album, Thistled Spring earlier this year, I instantly fell in love with the overwhelmingly lush instrumentation and sandy vocals that painted the record. Heading in a little more upbeat direction yet still capturing the feelings of struggle, Thistled Spring is probably Horse Feathers’ most balanced and best work yet.
[mp3] Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring from Thistled Spring (2010)
6. Judgement Day – Peacocks & Pink Monsters
When it came to true experimental instrumental rock music this year, no one did it better than Judgement Day. Opening with the relentlessly heavy Cobra Strike and not slowing down, the album gets the listener pinned down with it’s dark use of atmospherics thanks to the use of strings from the Patzner brothers (Anton – violin, Lewis – Cello). The drums borderline explode on this record, especially on my favorite track, Peacocks / Pink Monsters, where it sounds barbarous and almost medieval. Towards the end, the emotional and much more experimental Judgement Day is reveled with songs like The Constant and the 9+ minute long Genosha. This criminally underrated band has captured that magic they exude on stage and are now ready to share it with you. Be grateful.
[mp3] Judgement Day – Zombie Rodeo Clown from Peacocks & Pink Monsters (2010)
5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Such an enormous album shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s lazy to say that The Suburbs, Arcade Fire’s third full length album, is overrated and overhyped. The amount of work put into this record is undeniable and the payoff is an album that speaks like non-other released in the past few years. If anything, Suburbs spiritually plays like Sufjan Steven’s Illnoise. At times it’s translated as pretentious, long winded, and even repetitive; but those moments are few and ignored when one appreciates the importance of this album. The Springsteen-size of Empty Room shakes with sweet emotion, both Half Lights (I & II) generate a young U2-like awareness and instrumentation, and even the rolling pop sentiments of Month of May blast this record with a sense of joyousness and responsibility. I can’t help but enjoy this record at it’s fullest extent and if that’s a bad thing, I don’t want to know what’s good.
[mp3] Arcade Fire – We Used To Wait from The Suburbs (2010)
4. Joanna Newson – Have One On Me
Her grace is untouchable and her musical endowment cannot be compared on this epic sized triple album that pretty much blew everyone out of the water. Forget the freak folk pigeon hole critics were giving her at the beginning of her career, Have One On Me is an extensive collection of meticulously crafted songs that span across her creative imagination. Her voice ventures into new territories, making her more accessible all the while still sounding not of this world. Singing about everything from owls to cars to milk, Joanna has made an album that can’t be nailed down and never will.
[mp3] Joanna Newson – Easy from Have One On Me (2010)
3. Jonsi – Go
As a Sigur Ros fan, this was kind of a give-in for me. But I was still skeptical on whether or not this would be a sequel to Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust or something truly unique. I was rewarded with a joyous and heavily detailed piece of art that rightfully set itself apart from his respected band. Go is alive with Icelandic spirit and animalistic beats blended with the supernatural vocals from Jonsi himself. He has proven that he can stand on his own and with that, he has made an album for the ages.
[mp3] Jonsi – Boy Lilikoi from Go (2010)
2. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
I don’t miss Michael Jackson. I understand his contribution to pop music and his impact on modern dance, but he became a shadow of himself in the end. But in the wake of his death came the spirit of something special and it must have possessed Janelle Monae. I have never felt so impressed with a debut full length album in my life. Seriously, that’s how powerful this album is. The stretch of imagination and unadulterated soul that explodes from this record can’t be measured. Whether it’s the emotional Cold War, the dance-worthy Tightrope, or the drifting Say You’ll Go, The ArchAndroid is everything a fan of righteous music is looking for and more.
Janelle Monae – Cold War from The ArchAndroid (2010)
1. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago
Mwahahahaaha!!!! That’s right! Shearwater with the win! No band this year could capture the monumental size of The Golden Archipelago. Not for me at least. I still can’t listen to Black Eyes without getting tingles, I can’t listen to the build up during minute 1:53 on Uniforms without smiling, I can’t listen to Hidden Lakes without drifting off into my own imagination and get carried away by Jonathan Meiburg’s powerful voice. Following the string of heavily layered albums like Rook and Palo Santo, The Golden Archipelago constructs itself at the foundation of these albums and builds into a towering structure that is both intimidating and calming. Taking the concept of travel and translating it perfectly with ocean size instrumentation that rises like the soundtrack to an epic battle scene or the eeriness of isolated travel. Shearwater has created my favorite album of the year and it will go down as one the better albums at the close of this decade.
[mp3] Shearwater – Castaways from The Golden Archipelago (2010)