Stay tuned for the conclusion in the next few days. Thanks again for reading my blog, and feel free to comment about how great or terrible this list or site may be!
15. Les Chemins de verre by Karkwa
Put simply, this was the second best Arcade Fire record this year. That seems to lessen the output of one of the bands, but really doesn’t on further inspection. Karkwa have endearing vocals, layered instrumentation and a strong presence on record. They’re a bit lighter than the more popular Canadian band, but this is an amazing album to fall into. Just remember it’s in French.
14. Teen Dream by Beach House
It took me a long time to warm up to Beach House. The singles didn’t really catch me. But finally with one Amazon deal later, I decided to jump right in. It was a great choice – this is a very complete release that deserves a full listen and plenty of attention. With enough time, the sweeping sounds and captivating lead singer will win you over. Another victory for pure pretty music.
13. The Archandroid by Janelle Monae
Ms. Monae has been bumping all over my list. Ask me in another month, and it might be in the top five. This record is immensely rewarding – it features many styles of music yet holds strong album-wide cohesiveness. Combine this with an ambitious concept and near-flawless execution and you realize you’re listening to a star rise. Oh, and “Tightrope.” 2010 was an awesome year if this was so low. I cannot wait to see what she does next.
12. Brothers by The Black Keys
There is a certain amount of live show bias in this pick: I saw The Black Keys open for The Flaming Lips last year. I was blown away – they had a stage presence unlike any opener, and they acted like the real draw. On record, they are they real deal too. Swagger something crazy combines with tons of musical and compositional skill to back it up. They’re getting lots of attention these days and quickly becoming the best thing out of Akron (including King James). Join them.
11. Personal Life by The Thermals
The Thermals don’t get much respect from critics, and I think it’s a shame. All they do is put out some of the best punk rock in current music. They’re complicated enough to keep your attention and have the raw grit necessary to meet genre specifications. But I guess you can get looked over when your previous output (The Body the Blood the Machine) was so amazing. … Wait, what? Please don’t forget these guys – they’re only doing what they always have and that is awesome.
10. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
I would be better to direct you to the other drooling reviews of this bloated ego-boosting monster of a release. But sometimes the discussion of Kanye forgets the record itself. It turns out that Mr. West is actually still a brilliant pop master. He pulls in great sounds and constructs excellent rhythms. Then West manages to lay down some career-best rapping and bring in a litany of talented guests. Every song is exciting and the record is really worth owning. Yay hype!
09. Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian
Yet again, it’s another band I’ve missed before and feel ashamed for not seeing. 2010 was a stunning year for twee/indie pop, and these folks stand at the top. Each track is a shimmering composition backed up by exceptional musicians. There is real ambition here, and every bit of it is met. Tight melodies, lovely voices, a balance of ballads and upbeat tracks, fun guitars, strong drumming, great keyboards… this album has it all. A pop masterpiece.
08. Transference by Spoon
With the first listen, I was disappointed. This was the first clunker in the Spoon catalog. But like so many other great records, time brought new understanding. Unlike the effortless wonder of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon was challenging us with Transference. The songs were difficult in their sparseness, and ended in strange places. Instrumentals were unnerving and seemed moments from falling apart. But that’s the beauty – it all manages to work and leave you with more timeless songs. I guess they still don’t have a bad record.
07. Epic by Sharon Van Etten
I’ve already gushed about “Don’t Do It,” but what about the rest of the record? Thankfully, that also stands tall. Van Etten’s voice is always one of the main draws but there are no weak points here. The lyrical and emotional value of each track is stellar. The guitar work is appropriate and evocative. Epic may have the wrong title from a rock fan’s perspective, but the album is exceptional rewarding repeated listens and impressing on the first. Quiet, emotional and brilliant.
06. Contra by Vampire Weekend
I thought that Vampire Weekend would never be able to match the pop greatness of their self-titled debut. It turns out I was wrong and too short-sighted. The band didn’t go back to pop only, and have expanded to more artistic and rhythmic fare. The shift is a full success, offering more rewarding compositions, better singing, and a much deeper record. It’s quite shocking how much the band have improved – even without a true A+ song a la “A-Punk.” It turns out you don’t need that when everything else is so much better.