ALBUMS of the YEAR - 2010

I guess I should preface this list in some way. 2010 saw a constant stream of great new music, and this list captures the records that stand out to me most at its conclusion, and the ones I anticipate will continue to do so for years to come. But looking over the final draft, I’m struck by a few things.

First of all, I’m somewhat surprised more at what’s not here more than what is. I just didn't connect to what Spoon, The National, Band of Horses, The Hold Steady, Phosphorescent, Wolf Parade, and Frightened Rabbit, all long time favorites of mine, had to say this year. Some decent songs scattered throughout their labums of course, but overall, in my opinion, each album was a considerable drop in quality from what I’ve come to expect from them.

That being said, it was still an excellent year for other long-time favorites of mine. The Black Keys made their best album to date, and Ted Leo, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Joanna Newsom, The Walkmen, and Marah all made really compelling albums this year as well.

It was also a great year for EPs. Before 2010 I never felt the urge to include EPs on my favorite albums list, but the fact is that the ones included here were records I listened to as much or more than anything else over the past twelve months. There are eight EPs covering six spots included, and each is unique and amazing.

And at the top of the list is an album that’s probably my favorite since 2002’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If you take a close look at the picture that leads off this post you might be able to figure out what it is before scrolling all the way down. In my opinion, it’s the best album of the year by a long, long way.

I’ll shut up now. Thanks for reading and for visiting Pop Headwound. Enjoy:

30. Future Weather – The War on Drugs

A late addition to this list, The War on Drugs’ follow up to their excellent 2008 debut is actually comprised of songs culled from sessions for an abandoned full length. Regardless, Future Weather is still 8 songs long (the last record was 9) and holds together beautifully as an artistic statement in its own right, with some of Adam Granduciel’s prettiest songs surrounded by one or two of his weirdest. And by weird, I’m referring to the brilliant 8 minutes of warped psyche-folk that is “The History of Plastic”.

MP3 :: Comin’ Through

MP3 :: The History of Plastic


29. The Brutalist Bricks - Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

Ted Leo is the most underappreciated punk I (don’t) know. The Brutalist Bricks is utterly fantastic – his strongest work since Hearts of Oak – and was completely slept on for the majority of the year by too many. It captures everything great about one of New Jersey’s most exciting artists.

MP3 :: Bottled in Cork

MP3 :: The Mighty Sparrow


28. All Creatures Will Make Merry – Meursault

Like their impressive 2008 debut, Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing with Tongues, the latest record from these Scottish hellraisers mixes gut-wrenching acoustics, programmed and sampled percussion, lo-fi hiss, buzzing electronics, and the highly impassioned vocal presence of Neil Pennycook. It’s an intimate record without borders.

MP3 :: Crank Resolutions

MP3 :: Sleet


27. North Dorm – Evenings

MP3 :: Still Young

An addictive set of soft-beat, ambient, electronic instrumentals that still manage to feel completely natural, like music made on a laptop in the middle of a forest. Download the North Dorm EP free of charge at Evenings’ Bandcamp page.


26. LUX – Disappears

Disappears don’t go in the direction of most of their Kranky contemporaries, a label known predominantly for electronic, ambient, and experimental artists. Instead they bring tension and minimalism to their badass hard rock approach that owes a clear debt to the stoned, pre-punk scuzz of bands like The Velvet Underground and The Stooges.


25. Harlem River Blues – Justin Townes Earle

It’s been a trying year for Earle to say the least, but that shouldn’t take away from this inspired collection of country, soul, blues, folk, and rockabilly that continues to show growth from one of the best young roots musicians working today.

MP3 :: Harlem River Blues


24. Broken Dreams Club – Girls

Like last year’s Album, this 30 minute EP of all new material is filled with slow-building, self-pitying anthems that sort of demand you feel a strange affinity towards them. Damaged, utterly gorgeous pop songs.


23. Tall Hours in the Glowstream – Cotton Jones

The second record from Cotton Jones (featuring Michael Nau, formerly of Page France), Tall Hours in the Glowstream might just be the most perfectly named album I’ve heard all year. On it Nau trades in the carnival-like folk rock of his former band for a melodic, soulful dream-pop/country hybrid that, props to An American Drunkard, sounds like what Gram Parsons probably had in mind when he coined the term “Cosmic American Music”.

MP3 :: Glorylight & Christie


22. CMYK / Klavierwerke - James Blake

Promising, incredibly hypnotic music from this 22 year old U.K. phenom. Look for big things in the very near future as Blake prepares his full length debut for early 2011.

Video :: Limit to Your Love (from his upcoming album)


21. Before Today – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

The gloriously unhinged indie-pop of Before Today was a real grower for me – gradually becoming something I considered for this list over the past month or two. If I revisit this list next year, I bet it would be in a much higher spot.

MP3 :: Round and Round


20. Have One on Me – Joanna Newsom

Listening to Have One on Me was pretty much the year’s greatest endurance test. It’s also a staggeringly ambitious album that succeeds overwhelmingly more than it falters. Ironically, the two songs I skip most often come first and second – after that it’s pretty much classic after classic for an hour and 45 minutes.


19. Contra – Vampire Weekend

I tried to be a hater. I wanted to so bad. Pretty little boys with their catchy little songs and their Cape Cod and their sweaters draped over their privileged shoulders. Fine, I have no evidence of the guys in Vampire Weekend wearing sweaters over their shoulders, and my uncle has a house in Orleans that I’ve been to a half dozen times. It’s lovely. I had no real reason to dislike this band, but I did. Then I listened to Contra. And had no choice but to give in. It says something about a band when most of the big time year-end lists have all chosen a different song from this album as their favorite – I’ve seen “I Think UR A Contra”, “Holiday”, “White Sky”, “Run”, “Cousins”, and “Giving Up the Gun” on various lists I’d consider reliable. Personally though, I’d go with “Taxi Cab”. While drinking horchata in December.

Video :: Holiday

Video :: Cousins


18. This is Happening – LCD Soundsystem

James Murphy continues to make intelligent dance music for people who also like to rock the heck out.

Video :: Drunk Girls


17. Cosmogramma – Flying Lotus

This was the year’s biggest grower for me, and one of the few artists on this list that I don’t think I’ve posted about before. As Spencer from Botany (scroll down) said earlier this week, Cosmogramma is “a sprawling masterpiece of an album.” It took me a while, but yeah.

Video :: MmmHmm


16. Great Elk EP – Great Elk

On which my friends Paul Basile and Patrick Hay arrive in the world fully formed as Great Elk, armed with superb songs and ready for a Mercury Lounge battle of the bands with Okkervil River, Band of Horses, and Whiskeytown.

MP3 :: Bow Echo

MP3 :: Vibrations


15. Forgiveness Rock Record – Broken Social Scene

Forgiveness Rock Record was a welcome return from one of indie-rock’s most consistently thrilling bands. An enormously fun album that’s worth it solely for “Meet Me In the Basement”, which might actually be theme music for catching a joyride on a comet.

Video :: Forced to Love (live on Letterman)


14. Everything In Between – No Age

After one album and one singles compilation of sonically daring fuzz-punk and lo-fi noise experiments, California duo No Age have drastically broadened their sonic approach on their brilliant third album, Everything In Between. No doubt the new songs still assault with a distinct noise/punk sneer, but the band has brightened its corners with more songwriting focus, tighter melodies, and just about the greatest use of noise effects on a rock record that I can think of.


MP3 :: Fever Dreaming

MP3 :: Glitter


13. Feeling Today EP – Botany

The 5 songs that comprise the debut EP from Spencer Stephenson’s recording project are straight up found-sound electro/pop gems whose incandescent melodies promise nothing but continued greatness.

MP3 :: Feeling Today

MP3 :: Waterparker

MP3 :: Agave


12. Public Strain – Women

Women blur the line between noise and melody on Public Strain until the two are so inextricably linked that there’s just no difference between the two extremes. As the cover art suggests, listening to this record is like being caught in a blizzard, a near claustrophobic experience that’s both terrifying and wonderfully cathartic.

MP3 :: Eyesore

MP3 :: Narrow With the Hall


11. There is Love in You – Four Tet

It was a banner year for Kieran Hebden, releasing a string of the year’s best remixes after his shimmering, gorgeous There Is Love in You.

The xx - VCR (Four Tet remix) by Four Tet


10. Clinging To A Scheme – The Radio Dept.

When The Radio Dept released Clinging to a Scheme last spring, I barely noticed. I enjoyed “Heaven’s On Fire” enough to pick up the rest of the album, but for a long stretch of the summer it sat on my hard drive untouched, save one or two cursory listens. But based on that single’s Jackson 5-by-way-of-Slumberland Records brilliance, I went back to the album this fall out of curiosity, and gradually allowed the slightly out-of-focus Swedish indie-pop of the other 9 songs to reveal itself to me. Once it clicked, it did so in a big way, shooting into my top 10 and easily becoming one of my favorites of the year.


MP3 :: Heaven’s On Fire

MP3 :: David


9. Life is a Problem – Marah

After a tumultuous couple of years, 2010 saw the Philly underdogs in Marah return with their finest collection of battered folk & roll anthems in a decade. Life is a Problem borrows its title from a collection of obscure religious country blues music that lead singer Dave Bielanko found in a Williamsburg record shop in 2008, providing him with some degree of comfort after his band more or less imploded on the eve of the world tour to support Angels of Destruction!. With the musical inspiration covered for a new start, Bielanko and keyboardist/vocalist Christine Smith soon discovered an old farmhouse deep in Pennsylvania’s Amish country that became a refuge to write, rehearse, and record new material. The resulting album captures the audacious, ramshackle spirit that has always marked Marah at their very best. It’s their best and most consistent collection since 2000’s seminal Kids in Philly.

MP3 :: Valley Farm Song


8. Lisbon – The Walkmen

Contrary to how most of the internet reacted to this record, The Walkmen have always been a “mature” band. They were among the first wave of indie-rock bands to have a song played in a car commercial; they were using toy pianos all over their 2002 debut and New Orleans-styled horn sections by 2006. They released a Harry Nilsson cover album for crying out loud. Needless to say, this was never a band that was ever tied to some punk mindset or limited themselves to one-dimensional fast/loud song structures. Lisbon simply continues The Walkmen’s string of consistently excellent “mature” rock records. The boozy New Orleans horn sections (“Stranded”), bouncy pop songs (“Woe Is Me”), skeletal ballads (“Lisbon”, “All My Great Designs”), and, of course, anthemic indie-rock jams (“Juveniles”, “Victory”, “Angela/Surf City”) all suggest this band is riding the peak started with 2008’s You & Me.

MP3 :: Stranded


7. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

Win Butler and co. don’t quite have the weight of the world concerns on their minds here as they did on Neon Bible, but The Suburbs is every bit as grand and sweeping as we’ve come to expect from the Canadian rock heroes. Nostalgia, innocence lost, and suburban sprawl inform these 16 songs, and Butler handles everything with more intimacy than a band that’s played MSG has any right using. Did I mention that he gives the records' best song to Regine?

Video :: Ready to Start

Video :: The Suburbs


6. Brothers – The Black Keys

The Akron duo of Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach just keep getting better with every record they make. Brothers is their most fully realized music yet – a rough and tumble trip through blues, soul, and some fiercely gritty rock & roll.

Video :: Tighten Up

Video :: Next Girl


5. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Ye’s magnum opus, darker and denser than his previous high watermark, Late Registration, and a rarity in hip-hop in that it’s crafted as a big picture artistic statement rather than few hot singles and some filler. Every redickuhlus verse, every perfectly orchestrated note, every mind-blowing guest spot, every minute of vain self-absorption, the occasional moment of guarded vulnerability, and every dark twisted fantasy make the genius behind the jackass all the more obvious.


Video :: Runaway (ft. Pusha T)


4. The Wild Hunt / Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird EP – The Tallest Man on Earth

Perhaps more so than any other artist today, The Tallest Man on Earth knows his strengths and plays to them perfectly on his latest album. The bare-bones, weirdly evocative confessionals that Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Mattson gives us on The Wild Hunt and its equally impressive follow up EP hardly ever contain more than a violently strummed or delicately-picked acoustic guitar and Mattson desperately yelping away. Nothing else is needed.


MP3 :: Burden of Tomorrow

MP3 :: King of Spain

MP3 :: Like the Wheel


3. Teen Dream – Beach House

Teen Dream is a lush, starry-eyed masterpiece from this enigmatic Baltimore duo who have now delivered three records of increasingly rich textures and confident arrangements. Victoria LeGrand has become one of indie-rock’s defining vocalists, showing both more self-assuredness and nuance here than ever before. Teen Dream was hanging around the top of this list before 2010 even started, and never lost its lofty perch over the past 12 months.


MP3 :: Zebra (UK radio edit)

MP3 :: Norway


2. Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter

Deerhunter’s best album to date is a stripped-down, narcotic meditation on nostalgia and how closely intertwined music becomes with memory. Bandleader Bradford Cox has evolved from one of indie-rock’s most divisive figures to one of its most compelling in a matter of about 2 years, and there just doesn’t seem to be a ceiling on how great this band can become.


MP3 :: Helicopter (Star Slinger remix)

MP3 :: Helicopter (Diplo & Lunice remix)


1. The Monitor – Titus Andronicus

When Patrick Stickles sings “this is a war we can’t win, after 10,000 years it’s still us against them” the real theme of The Monitor comes into sharp focus. While shrouded in Civil War imagery and blood and guts male bravado, The Monitor is simply another great rock record about girls. Its grand statement: after 10,000 years of human evolution, men still haven’t figured out the fairer sex. These 10 anthems burst at the seams with angst and pain and truth, and are made even more timeless with spoken interludes from the words of Abe Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Jefferson Davis, and William Lloyd Garrison. The constant historical and cultural references provide the thematic glue between the songs, but it’s Stickles monumental despondency, and the way he makes us all rally around his gloom, that makes the songs so memorable. You’ll pump your fist, play air guitar, and go hoarse shouting along, and if you’re not completely swept away by the “it’s still us against them” climax of “Four Score and Seven”, shouted over and over like a soldier going off to his certain fate, then I’m not sure you should read this blog anymore. And it’s only my second favorite song on the album. The Monitor is the best rock album in years. Maybe 10,000 of them.


MP3 :: A More Perfect Union

MP3 :: Four Score and Seven (pt 1)

MP3 :: Four Score and Seven (pt 2)



Wayne said...

The Monitor!!!! Hands down, album of the year. Without question. Great list James, although I do love the albums by The National and Wolf Parade. Agree that Hold Steady and Band of Horses were disappointing. Deerhunter and Beach House will def finish high up when I do my list.

Merry Christmas!

James said...

The Monitor better than Wolf Parade? That's saying a lot coming from you! :~)

Looking forward to yours...

Mark C said...

Agree with most of your list and look forward to listening to some that I haven't heard yet. Disagree on The Monitor and Have One On Me. Have to say I don't get the praise that both those albums are receiving, but to each his own. Glad to see Justin Townes Earle on your list, thought it should have been higher but glad it made your list. Thanks for helping me discover new music in 2010 and look forward to reading the blog in 2011.

Mark C said...

Enjoyed the list and reading your blog all year. Agree with most of your selections and look forward to listen to some that I haven't heard yet. Disagree with The Monitor and Have One on Me. Don't understand all the praise that those two albums are receiving. Glad Justin Townes Earle made your list, I thought it should have been higher but still glad to see it make it.

James said...

Thanks Mark (x2), but The Monitor owns 2010 :~)