Before I begin, I need to make some clarifications. First, my top 40 album list obviously only includes records I have heard. I am positive there are albums from 2010 that would make my list but I have yet to listen to them. For example, I have heard much positive press about Kanye West’s new album but I have yet to give it a full listen. Therefore, it is not on my list although its presence graces most of the lists I have seen so far.
Second, this list in a way projects how I believe my musical taste ought to look. In other words, while I enjoyed blasting Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” in the car as a joke, both my objective lens and my credibility demands that I don’t list Teenage Dream in the top 40 albums. Side note: I may or may not be joking about “California Gurls.”
Third, this list represents my tastes at a specific time. For this reason, some albums might be higher than they would be in 6 months because of the freshness they currently exhibit. Likewise, albums I enjoyed 6 months ago might be undersold on the current list.
Without further ado, below resides my top 40 albums of 2010.
40. Chatham County Line – Wildwood
This bluegrass band from Raleigh, North Carolina creates endearing music thick with harmony and banjos.
39. Bombay Bicycle Club – Flaws
Armed with a meek voice, the London-based Bombay Bicycle Club creates subtly melodic music.
38. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Better known for launching famous acts such as Feist and Metric, Broken Social Scene is a band that probably has featured everyone associated with the Toronto music scene at one point or another. Forgiveness Rock Record showcases the band’s intricate musicianship.
37. Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love
Write about Love provides simplistic and cheery pop music with no frills attached. This veteran band from Glasgow has mastered its sound.
36. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
With reverb soaked guitars and fuzz-box riffs, this young Florida band has a similar sound to early Weezer. Astro Coast supplies promise for this band's bright future.
35. Shugo Tokumaru – Port Entropy
The unusual instrumentation offers a slightly Sigur Rós-ish vibe for this Japanese singer-songwriter. Port Entropy is a fun listen.
34. We Are Scientists – Barbara
From a musical standpoint, I love this band. The harmonies are tight and they use inventive guitar riffs. However, the lyrics on Barbara are awful. Perhaps, for me, the poor lyrical quality coincides with the band name. One would think that scientists would be good lyricists? Or maybe the moniker works because scientists are poor lyricists? I have no idea but it is strange.
33. The Radio Dept – Clinging to a Scheme
This Swedish, dream-pop band crafted a record full of danceable and melodic songs. Clinging to a Scheme was a good summer record.
32. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
Characterized by sweetly, overdriven electric guitars and soft but assertive vocals, Band of Horses formed after the breakup of Carissa’s Wierd, a critically acclaimed Seattle band. Currently on a major labor, Band of Horses continues to write emotive rock with a southern accent.
31. Maps & Atlases – Per Patchwork
Sadly sacrificing some virtuosic guitar work for better melodies, Maps & Atlases’ first full length on Barsuk records nevertheless contains some excellent songs. While their old work produced a wow factor without singability, Per Patchwork offers a mix of catchy melodies and intricate musicianship.
30. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
Writing music along the lines of Joni Mitchell, this 20-year old, urban folk artist carries a voice mature beyond her years.
29. The New Pornographers – Together
Energetic indie-rock from north of the border, the New Pornographers made headlines this year with numerous canceled shows based on their name alone. It’s too bad because they missed out on good music.
28. Mt. Desolation – Mt. Desolation
Mt. Desolation is a side project of Keane members Time Rice-Oxley and Jesse Quin. Their self-titled, first album dances between Keanish tracks and alt-country tunes. Using their keen sense of melody, the album is well-made.
27. Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP
All Delighted People announced a new Sufjan Stevens. Where previous albums mixed pastoral folk tunes, a myriad of instruments, and reserved vocals, All Delighted People offered complex chord progressions and a highly technical vocal performance. However, the EP served mostly as a bridge between Sufjan’s older work and his new and entirely different full length, the Age of Adz.
26. Broken Bells – Broken Bells
The partnership of James Mercer from the Shins and Danger Mouse of Gnarls Barkley produced a quality record with an excellent song. While most of the self-titled record contained mediocre-to-good songs, “The High Road” was one of my favorite songs of 2010.
25. Foals – Total Life Forever
Although I’m not much of a fan of the vocal timbre and melodies, Foals write masterful guitar riffs. Since I’m a guitarist, I like that kind of stuff.
24. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
The ArchAndroid is an ambitious record by an ambitious artist. Blending R&B, Rock, Folk, and Symphonic influences, this album defies genres. I’m also a huge fan of the “Cold War” music video because of its bare aesthetic; I almost feel the pain.
23. Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown
I'll be honest,Come Around Sundown could have used a producer. Each song seems slightly sloppy and a good producer makes sure to tighten up the rough edges on those songs. Nevertheless, lead singer Caleb Followill is one of my favorite vocalists. His voice sounds as if it was drenched in whiskey and cigarettes.
22. The Black Keys – Brothers
Brothers is an album of gritty, blues-rock by the duo from Akron, Ohio. The Black Keys write raw music with casual instrumentation.
21. Autolux – Transit Transit
Sounding similar to Kid A-era Radiohead, Autolox is an alternative rock trio from Los Angeles. Transit Transit blends electronic beats, careful vocals, and sweetly toned guitar melodies with beautiful results.
20. Guster – Easy Wonderful
Guster played a show a few years ago at the University of Washington. That same day, Arcade Fire was playing a show in the same area. During Guster’s set, the lead singer asked the crowd, “Why are you here when Arcade Fire is playing?” That question perfectly sums up how Guster feels about themselves. They are making simple and happy music but nothing earth shattering and profound. Easy Wonderful sounds like every other Guster record: Fun melodies in major keys.
19. Midlake – The Courage of Others
The Courage of Others sounds as if it was recorded in the 1970s. With an analog sound and thickly layered harmonies, Midlake takes their listeners back to the days preceding Clear Channel and manufactured pop groups (Monkees notwithstanding).
18. Minus the Bear – OMNI
The straight-forward nature of the lyrical content in OMNI makes me long for the days of double-entendre. Minus the Bear remain at this elevated position on my list because of the innovative work of guitarist Dave Knudson who mixes looping, tapping, and unusual pedals for a truly unique sound.
17. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
Produced by Grizzly Bear bassist, Chris Taylor, Big Echo sounds remarkably and/or ironically like Grizzly Bear. From crooning vocals to large sounding drums to vast melody jumps, the Morning Benders liberally use the Grizzly Bear playbook. If I hated Grizzly Bear, I’d call it plagiarism. Good thing I like Grizzly Bear.
16. The Walkmen – Lisbon
Rocking a four-on-the-floor beat and jangly guitar riffs, this New York, indie band seems to be every hipster’s favorite. Personally, I am a fan of Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals. It sounds like he has phlegm at the bottom of his throat that he probably should have cleared out before the show. Yum.
15. Ray Lamontagne & the Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise
Blessed with the finest of vocal cords known to humanity, Ray Lamtontagne wows with his voice every time he takes the stage. God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise introduces a new backing band for Lamontagne. Where previous albums contained minimal instrumentation, God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise adds some twang.
14. Spoon – Transference
Lead singer Britt Daniel channels his inner Mick Jagger on this album. Transference is a noisy record full of mashed piano and overdriven guitars. “Written in Reverse” is one of my favorite tracks of the year.
13. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
The Head and the Heart seem to be on a similar career path to Fleet Foxes. Just like Fleet Foxes rose to fame out of relative obscurity in a matter of months, 2010 observed the Head and the Heart release a record, play shows locally, and out of nowhere share the stage with bands such as Vampire Weekend. The highlight of their self-titled album is the song, “Down in the Valley.” When they sing, “Lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways,” I get goosebumps.
The Doe Bay Sessions - The Head & The Heart from Sound on the Sound on Vimeo.
12. Beach House – Teen Dream
This reverb-soaked record by the Maryland duo, Beach House, has a dream-like aesthetic. I am big fan of the melodies and the sonic picture the band paints. Go dream pop.
11. Tokyo Police Club – Champ
Full of energy, Champ is a fun and listenable record. In particular, I enjoyed the guitar work on this album. Listen to this Canadian band jam on my favorite song off the record, “Bambi.”
10. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
Mumford & Sons suffer a lower placement on this list than I would normally give because they are popular. I know it is not their fault that they are popular but it saddens me when a band who mimics another band – in this case Mumford sounds similar to Fleet Foxes – becomes more popular than the band they mimic. Nevertheless, Sigh No More is an excellent album. Plus, the song, “Little Lion Man,” almost won catchiest cuss word of the year.
9. Vampire Weekend – Contra
This Ivy-League-educated band released Contra in January and the album took up space in my play list for most of the year. When I listen to Contra, I feel like I ought to be on a yacht. I’ve never been on a yacht so I am unsure if this feeling is correct but the record surely seems best suited for yachting. “Giving Up the Gun,” was a top song of the year for me and the music video is kind of funny. Warning! Jake Gyllenhaal is in it.
8. Junip – Fields
A Swedish band featuring José González, Junip's album, Fields, exhibits González’s trademarked, nylon-stringed classical guitar coupled with synthesizers and drums.
7. Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer
The Lady Killer provides maximum soul voltage. With a Motown vibe and slick instrumentation, this record is exceedingly singable. Cee Lo Green’s buttery voice makes me hungry. This record also features the catchiest naughty word of the year in the song, “Fuck You.” I’ve been singing it for weeks. Don’t tell anyone.
6. Jónsi – Go
The solo project of the Sigur Rós lead singer, Go resembles some of Sigur Rós’ recent work. With heavily syncopated drum beats and eclectic instrumentation layering over beautiful melodies, Go seems to be the direction Jónsi always meant to take. Go is a stunning record.
5. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
I have always felt that the singer-songwriter has the most difficult job in the music industry. While huge bands offer a wide variety of visual distractions in a live setting, the singer-songwriter supplies a guitar and a voice to the concert. He or she can’t hide behind anything. For this reason, I have an affinity for singer-songwriters who successfully keep my attention. The Tallest Man on Earth – a moniker for Swedish folk singer, Kristian Matsson – is one such artist. With a voice that eerily resembles Bob Dylan, narrative lyrics, and intriguing musicianship, The Wild Hunt showcases Matsson at his best.
4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Although Arcade Fire received almost universal acclaim for their past albums, I have yet to truly appreciate these praises. The Suburbs, however, changed my mind. Not meant as an indictment or exaltation of suburban life, lead singer Win Butler crafts an album wrought with the feelings of suburban America. In a sense, this album feels like a documentary profiling a slice of American culture. Without a weak song on the record, the Suburbs amazed me from first listen.
3. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
Sounding entirely different from his previous work, the Age of Adz alienated many Sufjan Stevens fans. Numerous listeners miss the old Sufjan, strumming a banjo and singing about states. In contrast, the Age of Adz leans heavily on glitchy, electronic noises and drum machines. On first listen, my thoughts resembled the popular and negative opinions about the record. Since then, my opinion clearly has changed so let me try and convince you. The album title and artwork references Royal Robertson, a schizophrenic American artist who felt demonized by the apocalypse and internal struggles over love lost. In short, the glitchy and sometimes chaotic music resembles apocalyptic events, while Sufjan sings about falling in and out of love. Ultimately, the noise represents a perfect metaphor for the difficulty of maintaining a relationship.
2. James Vincent McMorrow – Early in the Morning
James Vincent McMorrow reminds me of Damien Rice but with a more angelic voice. The Dubliner recently signed with an American record label and this album should be released shortly in the United States. Early in the Morning graces such lofty heights on this list due to McMorrow’s well-crafted melodies and stunning voice. I am floored by the capability of his voice that easily flutters in falsetto.
1. The National – High Violet
Every second of this album is perfectly constructed. High Violet remained in my album rotation since its release. With the lead singer recently becoming a father, the lyrics in this record display a man scared to death about the future and what it means to provide for a human life. Tracks like “Afraid of Everyone” and “Conversation 16” portray deeply held anxiety and paranoia as a father views the world in a new way. High Violet is a times depressing, at times anthemic, and always worth a listen.