Thursday, December 23, 2010

Our 25 Favorite Albums of 2010

Here they are: Our collective 25 favorite albums of 2010. Are they the best? Some may disagree. But collectively, these shook out as our favorites on average.

In case you missed it: here are albums 50 through 26 on our list.

25. Ben Folds/Nick Hornby - Lonely Avenue

At times, it seemed like I was the only out there who liked this album (the critics certainly didn’t). Hornby's lyrics are a perfect match for Folds' quirky voice and the piano is amazing as always. I especially like “Levi Johnston’s Blues,” the lyrics are witty and it’s nice to hear Ben on a Rhodes rather than a baby grand. - JS

I love this disc. I’ll just ditto what Jenna said. - CD

One I missed out on. Time to update the wish list. - AC

24. Broken Bells - Broken Bells

A creative collaboration between the Shins' James Mercer and the man with the golden touch, Danger Mouse. The Broken Bells project turned out better than I thought it would. It is certainly better than any Shins output in some time, and Mr. Mouse adds just enough to not distract from Mercer's mellifluous vocals. - AC

23. Coheed & Cambria - Year of the Black Rainbow

This album takes modern progressive rock to another level. Adding drummer Chris Pennie from The Dillinger Escape Plan was a perfect choice for Coheed. Must Listen: "Guns of Summer." - MP

This is an interesting fit into their discography. It’s the prequel to the Amory Wars story, which I don’t understand at all, and it sorta fits musically right around their first album. I don’t know; it doesn’t have the same juice for me that the “Good Apollo” discs do, but it’s still solid. - CD

22. Butch Walker - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart

The singer, songwriter, producer and former Marvelous 3 frontman showcases his many talents here. While he seems to enjoy his soulful songs, the rocking social satire of "Trash Day" is this effort's standout track. - TN

Way better known as a producer than a recording artist, and that’s a shame. The only artist/band I will go out of my way to see every time he comes to town. There isn’t a bad song on this disc. - CD

21. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

20. School of Seven Bells - Disconnect from Desire

Disconnect From Desire was this year's Fantasies (by Metric) for me. Never heard of 'em, and completely blew me away. Almost every song on this album is uniquely gripping in some way. - SB

A huge leap forward from their debut, which in itself was a stellar album. Captivating and transcendent. - GC

An enchanting but somewhat disjointed album. This didn’t quite make the cut for my personal top 50, but I did spend a lot of time listening to it last summer. - AC

I missed that School of Seven Bells had a new one. Damn. This countdown is gonna get expensive. - TN

19. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

I may be a bit biased toward BSS because I think they are post-rock geniuses. It’s not their best release, but this album compares nicely to their previous self-titled album and You Forgot It In People albums. I appreciated it so much more after seeing them perform most of the record live in Boston in September. Must Listen: "Forced To Love." - MP

Honestly, I was disappointed with this long-awaited record. While the Canadian collective hits a groove on songs like "Texaco Bitches" or "Meet Me in the Basement," too much feels like unfinished ideas thrown on record. - TN

I was really looking forward to this album, but like Tim, I was disappointed. Still, a few tracks, like “World Sick” and the aforementioned "Forced to Love" and "Texaco Bitches," are worth more than one listen. - AC

18. Tracey Thorn - Love and Its Opposite

My friend Tim was raving about this album by the lead woman from Everything But the Girl, so I had to check it out. After listening through once streaming online, I had to buy it at the next available opportunity. Her voice is hypnotic, and these powerful songs are full of elegance and verve. - GC

"Who's next?" the voice of Everything But the Girl sings in opener "Oh, the Divorces": "It's always the ones that you least expect." And who would expect Thorn to reappear with a masterpiece of an album about growing older? But with tracks such as "Long White Dress," "Hormones" and "Singles Bar," she imbues wisdom and memorable songs galore. - TN

17. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz

This one's not immediately accessible like Illinois, but it's worth the effort. I think. I'll have to wait and see if it holds up.- MD

16. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms

The best pop/rock ear candy of 2010. I was only marginally familiar with these guys before this album came out, but “Laredo” got in my head sometime this summer and never left. Great harmony, reminiscent of CSNY, but with a little more edge. - JS

Must Listen: "Laredo." - MP

Not on my list, but I did like this album a lot. It's funny, I have friends that are big Band of Horses fans that didn't care for this album at all. - MD

15. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid

Here’s an idea: Create a concept album based on an ancient dystopian movie most people have never seen or heard of: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Thankfully, someone in the music business saw something promising in the crazy idea, and in the zany but soulful style of Janelle Monae. For sheer ambition alone, Ms. Monae’s debut album deserves to make the list. - AC

14. Sleigh Bells - Treats

Is it punk rock for cheerleaders, or cheers for punk rockers? Either way, Sleigh Bells Treats is a fun, hand-clappable treat. - AC

I once described my evolution into a Sleigh Bells fan thusly: “WTF is this, I hate this... Man, that stupid Sleigh Bells song is in my head... Hmm, what was that song called again? Maybe I’ll give it another listen... OMG I love Sleigh Bells!” - GC

13. Drive-by Truckers - The Big To Do

Lord help me, but I do love me some good southern rock, especially the way this six-piece group delivers it: a blazing three-guitar assault a la Lynyrd Skynyrd and song-stories that evoke the styles of the holy trinity of southern short fiction: Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty and Barry Hannah. Whether they're singing about dead papas, deadbeat husbands or dead-end jobs, the Truckers strike a chord, dead on. - AC

At least two reasons to love this album: "Drag the Lake Charlie" is one of the funnier/darker songs you'll hear. And "Birthday Boy" has the killer lyrics "Pretty girls from the smallest towns/Get remembered like storms and droughts/That old men talk about for years to come." But marvelous moments of mayhem and mortification suffuse their latest Southern Gothic rock effort. - TN

It's already been said, but the songwriting/storytelling on this album is phenomenal. - MD

12. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot...The Son of Chico Dusty

Straying from Andre 300 and OutKast, Big Boi goes goes solo to deliver some bass-thumping tracks that surprisingly sound.. well.. new. In a world of southern rap music filled with cliches, overused auto-tuning and sizzurp, this album stands out as a true achievement in originality in production and lyrics. It’s my pick for best rap album of the year. Must Listen: "General Patton." - MP

Even though Kanye was my number one album of the year, this was my favorite rap album. I bought this on cd so I could keep it in my car, which is how I’d like to think Big Boi would want it experienced. - MD

11. Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

The themes on this album are very dark - suicide, the loss of a loved on etc., But Earle’s voice and the phenomenal backing band help lighten the mood a little and the result is a great mix of blues, Gospel, and alt-country. He keeps keep getting better with every album, and although the bar is set pretty high here, I can’t wait to see where he goes next. - JS

His name is Earle (the son of Steve Earle), and his middle name is a nod to Townes Van Zandt, so the mantle of great musical expectations must weigh heavy on the shoulders of this talented roots musician. But JTE has discovered his own style, and it shines brightly through this collection of dark-themed songs. - AC

10. Spoon - Transference

With apologies to the many friends who love the band, this would be higher if I was into Spoon ... but too much of their stuff just comes off as too smugly self-satisfied, imho. Can't argue with their overall skills, though. - TN

This Austin band returns to their roots with clever lyrics delivered in painful earnestness by lead singer Britt Daniel, all overlaying straightforward foot-tapping rock with high reverb. - AC

I see where Tim’s coming from, but yet it works for me. There’s enough meat here to keep it interesting. “The Mystery Zone” and “Written In Reverse” are both very cool, and I really enjoy “Out Go The Lights.” - CD

9. John Mellencamp - No Better Than This

An amazing production. In order to capture a true old-timey feel, Mellencamp and his band went to great lengths to create this album. Specifically, they took their instruments, single microphone and mono-recorder to three sites: the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, Memphis’ legendary Sun Studios and the San Antonio hotel where Robert Johnson recorded “Crossroads.” The result is raw, rough songs of loss, sorrow, joy and longing. And life. No Better ThanThis is Mellencamp’s best. - AC

I really wanted to like this, but it was just kinda bleh for me. I do like how Johnny Cougar continues to reinvent himself, but there wasn’t anything on this disc that I found myself wanting to listen to again. - CD

What Andy said. Great album. - MD

8. Yeasayer - Odd Blood

Yeasayer is an odd band. Their last album, All Hour Cymbals, didn’t quite resonate with me. But Odd Blood is poppier, catchier, more accessible. The tunes are danceable, even. It sounds as though Yeasayer has been listening to a lot of Passion Pit and has smoothed over the rougher edges of their previous efforts. Good stuff. - AC

Put a group of diverse and talented musicians in a room with every instrument and sound at their disposal, and you can only hope something this fun comes out of it. Here’s proof: Must Listen: "O.N.E." - MP

I liked their debut, but this album really catapulted Yeasayer onto a new level. A delightful blizzard of beeps and blips swirls around a strong crop of songs. And I won’t lie and say that “Ambling Alp” didn’t guide me through a few personally frustrating moments: “Now, the world can be an unfair place at times / But your lows will have their complement of highs … You must stick up for yourself, son / Never mind what anybody else done.” - GC

7. Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More

These guys have much energy; it sounds like they want to jump right out of the speakers. A great debut album, hopefully a promise of what's to come on future releases. - JS

From the moment I first heard the driving tour de force that is “Little Lion Man” on WERS, I was sold. The edgy amalgam of Americana-meets-UK folk rock is a galloping, emotional headrush. Their songs pulse with life and urgency and won’t be denied. This album feels essential, in part because the members of the band play and sing as if their lives depended on it. - GC

I was actually hoping this was from The Amazing Mumford of Sesame Street fame. (I didn’t know he he had kids!) It’s not. - CD

Y’all win. I’ve caved and finally bought this album. And am enjoying what I’m hearing. - TN

I still don't get it. A few tracks are solid, and the acoustic guitar work is decent, but the majority of this album leaves me cold. - AC

6. Vampire Weekend - Contra

Just when you thought the over-hyped music blog darlings of 2009 would fold their tents and fade away, a la Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, they surprise you with ska/reggae riffs and lyrically sharp tunes about growing up and growing old. - AC

I was completely prepared for these guys to hit the sophomore slump hard. It didn’t happen. I loved this album and its smart songwriting, ridiculous rhymes that somehow work (“In December, drinking horchata/I’d look psychotic in a balaclava”) and the echoes of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” If I was basing my list strictly on my iTunes playcount, this would have been my number one album of the year. - MD

This is a win for me. A fun listen, top to bottom. And for what it’s worth, I still give a (bleep) about the Oxford comma. - CD

5. New Pornographers - Together

Probably the most cohesive album this collective has ever put together. And finally, they let the jewel that is Neko Case truly shine on a few tracks -- most notably “Crash Years.” - AC

This album took a while to grow on me, as I wrote about previously, since I was blinded by my love for “Challengers.” But, like I said, this may be the fullest realization of the band to date. Neko Case really steps out and shines (not that we needed to know she was a gem), and Dan Bejar is at his most accessible. And A.C. Newman continues to steer his pop ship in enlightening directions. - GC

Another solid power pop album by the New Pornographers, with more Neko Case this time around. Those poor kids at Calvin College missed out. - MD

4. The National - High Violet

I like The National, but find it maddening that a band that can produce such effortlessly catchy fare as "Bloodbuzz, Ohio," "Lemonworld" and "Conversation 16" can have so many tracks on this (or any) album that fall flat. But the high points are, as always, remarkable. - TN

Is it boring to say that The National have created yet another masterpiece, and that there is little one can offer in the way of critique for their fifth full-length album? Matt Berninger continues to confound and mesmerize, and he and his bandmates continue to expertly weave their layers of lush and compelling songcraft. No, something this captivating can’t be boring. - GC

Ooh! Listen to me! I’m arty! Bleh. - CD

According to this list, High Violet is the favorite album of 2010 among “Dads who used to drink a lot (or still do).” Umm.... Seriously, another beautiful, brooding album from these guys. - MD

3. Girl Talk - All Day

Sometimes you just have to ask: "Was there an album I simply couldn't stop listening to for weeks?" That would be this record, which drops hook after hook, beat after beat in sensational succession. While I could ponder how Gregg Gillis pushes the envelope of this (controversial) genre or the brilliance of "Jump on Stage" samples running from Portishead to Radiohead, it's much easier to just dance -- anytime, anywhere -- to the excessively catchy music. - TN

More fun from the master masher. And best of all, it was available for free. - AC

Girl Talk has pretty much perfected the art of the party mashup with this album. Even though he doesn’t dig too deep in his record bin for old classics or indie treasures, his selection of pop combinations is incredible. If you’re interested in seeing a breakdown of all the tracks used, visit - MP

2. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

What is there left to say about this album, after Pitchfork gave it a 10.0 and it’s been covered by every critic alive? Say what you will about Kanye, but his triumphant return to the spotlight backs up all that bravado. This was my number one. - MD

Say what you will about Mr. West, he can create soundscapes like nobody’s business. While I’m turned off by some of the subject matter of this album, the creativity and technical marvels embodied in each track garners all my respect. - AC

Even though he’s one crazy dude, you have to give him credit for pushing the hip-hop genre in new directions with every new album. His producing skills are on full display on this album. Must Listen: "Runaway" - MP

1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

From the opening “Lake Shore Drive”-style piano rag of the title track, this album had me hooked. This, the band’s third album, is their most sweeping and ambitious. Taking on the themes of identity and spiritual survival in the world of superficiality that is “the suburbs,” this project is as sprawling as the title implies. Bonus: this amazing video experience, The Wilderness Downtown (view in Chrome), is one of the most amazing interactive experiences of the year. - AC

I keep thinking this album seems overrated, until I listen again and realize just how great it is. While perhaps only "Rococo" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" sit among the band's greatest tracks, the consistently compelling material in a story arc critiquing our modern suburban life stands up to the hype. -TN

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