I really liked the format for Pretty Goes With Pretty’s Year End List, so I adopted it for my own list. Because I’m just one man, and couldn’t possibly listen to every album that deserved it this year, here’s 20 albums that I just about couldn’t have lived without, and a little bit about each one. They are listed alphabetically, so it should be noted that my favorite album this year was Fourth of July’s Before Our Hearts Explode! I really hope everyone takes the time to check out this Lawrence, Kansas band. The rest aren’t really meant to be taken as a Top 20. These were just 20 albums I listened to the most, or a lot, or that I really enjoyed. There’s a lot of other albums that I enjoyed this year, but 20 seemed like a good cap.
Mission Critical will be on vacation until 2011, which seems silly given that I’ve been publishing here for all of a week, but I’m taking off to travel with family and won’t be on the web.
Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
On Teen Dream, Beach House are like vintage Tracy McGrady; sublime, without necessarily being the best. Occasionally sleepy and adrift, but prone to transcendent moments. “Walk in the Park” is their 13 points in 30 seconds.
Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: the Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
Shaq and Kobe both won titles after their partnership ended. Big Boi’s solo debut is the rap equivalent, so now we’re just waiting for Andre 3000 to follow suit. What’s most devastating about this record is how it should’ve been out years ago. That said, it stands up well in 2010, probably the best hip hop record not made by Mr. West this year.
Black Milk – Album of the Year (Fat Beats)
Presumptive album title? Perhaps, considering that this isn’t Black Milk’s best album, even. But while Kanye’s self-centric opus was celebrated with bombast, Milk went to task at making a more muted affair to pay homage to a shitty year marked by loss and hardship. Through his production as much as his rapping, one of the most organic, human sounding records of the year. Dilla would be proud.
David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull – I Mean To Live Here Still (Fat Cat)
With jazz ensemble Fight the Big Bull in tow, David Karsten Daniels creates his third straight underrated great album. How lovers of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy haven’t caught on baffles me. Daniels is a songwriting gem with a voice that conveys a powerful frailty. “Epitaph of the World” is one of the best songs of the year; no one seemed to notice.
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Finally! This is the Deerhunter album I’ve been waiting for. I could never get fully get into them because they always seemed lost. Halcyon Digest is endlessly replayable because the songs (!) are so tight. The balance is struck between the fog and the ship’s brow that breaks it. A band comes into what everyone has always wanted it to be.
El Guincho – Pop Negro (Young Turks)
It felt like the world forgot about El Guincho in 2010, despite Pop Negro being almost as good as Alegranza. If anything, the newest album represents a more cohesive, song-oriented offering. One of the more joyful albums I listened to this year. I don’t really claim to understand the process of making this music, just that it is hypnotic and dreamy. All them beach-punks can’t make beach music like this. For some reason, I like to think of the Most Interesting Man in the World saying, “I don’t always listen to dance music, but when I do…I listen to El Guincho.”
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here (Editions Mego)
Wow, just one of the prettier albums to come out of a very fruitful ambient/drone/out noise genre this year. I see no reason that Emeralds won’t enter Tim Hecker/Christian Fennesz territory in which anything they make is must-hear.
Four Tet – There Is Love In You (Domino)
It’s hard for me to articulate what I love about this album, but I think it’s how each composition feels so complete and alive. There Is Love In You represents a master with a method, and whereas I felt some of the more talked about instrumental music this year felt lacking in vision, Kieran Hebdan’s was clear. More than 10 years since the first Four Tet album, and maybe the best yet.
Fourth of July – Before Our Hearts Explode! (Range Life)
My favorite album this year. I didn’t believe they could top the earnest prairie pop of On the Plains (2006). I have never been so happy to be wrong. Brendan Hangauer doesn’t hide behind allegory in his stories. Instead, he takes you along his fraught long-distance relationship, and the result is a record that feels so personal and real it’s like it’s happening to you. Accusations fly like empty beer bottles shattering against a brick wall. And yet, there’s still the hope it’ll all work out, even as everything unfolds in front of us. One of the most human, and spiteful records, I’ve ever heard. “L Train,” below, is my favorite song of the year.
Download: Fourth of July – L Train
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella)
What can I say about it that hasn’t been said? I’ve never liked a Kanye West album before, but he’s turned himself into a halfway decent rapper and turned me into a believer. There’s nothing I could do without here, except maybe (well, definitely) that Chris Rock skit. He manages to cover so much ground here that it’s hard to get at the heart of what this album is truly about. Truly the world’s next great megalomaniac pop star, and he does it entirely on his own terms.
Local Natives – Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss)
It seems like everyone’s sleeping on this record for their 2010 lists, possibly because it leaked in 2009, which seems like an epoch ago. Go listen to it again though. Local Natives make complex music sound effortless and fun. This was much needed in a year in which some bands made effortless-sounding music terrible to listen to.
No Age – Everything In Between (Sub Pop)
Like Deerhunter, they found the balance between the pop, the noise, the art, and the songs. I think No Age might be best at doing singles like Jay Reatard was (RIP), but I can always listen to Everything In Between from start to finish. Nouns left me thinking that No Age was more of a live band, but this record proved me wrong. Someday, No Age will have a song in a car commercial; maybe “Life Prowler” will be it. And this is not an insult.
Pantha du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade)
I listened to a lot of electronic music this year, which is the genre I know how to talk about the least. I love Black Noise because it’s so immersive. I just want to swim in it. I find it to be a crime that it’s been so overlooked on year end lists.
The Poison Control Center – Sad Sour Future (Afternoon)
A coming out year for Iowa’s PCC, who spent the better part of 6 months on the road in support of this one. Even better live than on record, but still, this album is littered with gems like “Cognac Dreams.” The PCC make you feel young again, like you can rock out and sing along and thrash around and not pay for it in the morning with a sore neck and scratchy voice. But it’s so worth it every time.
The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme (Labrador)
Thanks are owed to David Greenwald for writing and tweeting about this band so much that I had to pay attention. As underrated an album as possible considering it got BNM’d back in March. I like to think that this is the album Belle & Sebastian were supposed to make this year, but the Radio Dept. already had, so they made whatever it was they did that wasn’t very good.
Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
It’s funny that some have written off Sufjan as self-indulgent while encouraging Kanye to run wild. While most of us were wondering what state he’d write about next or whether he’d ever make another album, Sufjan went and made a marathon of music that’s as ambitious as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Here he synthesizes his pop, folk, and electronic influences expertly. One of our most meticulous musicians with a dramatic flair really hits a stride here. At times so beautiful it hurts, and yet he makes it seem so easy.
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)
The most recent time I saw the Tallest Man on Earth, I have to admit he made me not want to like him anymore. He seemed all puffed up on himself, like he was a big shot star. It contrasts with the earlier image I have of him, small, fragile, and so so grateful. But I have to separate my perception of the man with what is really another great record. He more or less made the same thing again, which is immaculate sounding folk music that really lifts my soul. And that voice! It’s not a fluke. See him live before it gets out of hand; just don’t let yourself get too close.
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL)
Part of what I hate about Arcade Fire and the Hold Steady is that for all their ambition, it seems like they get so caught up in making something “important” that they forget to put the soul in their work. Titus Andronicus work the other way, by pouring passion into their rock ‘n’ roll first and foremost, and letting the grandeur seep out naturally. Forget what you heard about the Civil War backstory; this is simply a great rock album in a year that didn’t seem to want to rock that hard.
Toro Y Moi – Causers of This (Carpark)
I listened to a lot of electronic music, but not much of the chillwave movement, for some reason. Toro Y Moi, however, I could only ignore for so long. Maybe all the hype for his new album coming in 2011 made me wonder if it’s justified. It so is. I had a pretty good year, personally, in 2010. I can only think how much better it would’ve been if I had been listening to this album since it came out.
The Walkmen – Lisbon (Fat Possum)
The Walkmen used to be about the barbs and the grit. Now it’s about the nuance and the texture. I wrestled with how I felt about this album before I decided to give in to it; it isn’t as good as You & Me because nothing they ever do probably will be. But sometimes you just have to recognize when a great band is aging gracefully and let them run with it.
Byrds of Paradise
Miracles of Modern Science
My Teenage Stride
Pillars and Tongues
The House Floor
The Poison Control Center