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musicforants.com’s Best Albums of 2010

Date December 27, 2010

(photo by cubagallery)

In a few days 2010 will come to a close and as I look back, I really must say this has been one of my favorite years to cover since I started writing about music. I don’t know how the rest of the decade will keep up the pace, because this year has set the standards extremely high. I’ve commented before that it seems almost all of my favorite artists (Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Belle & Sebastian, The National, of Montreal, etc) released albums in 2010, and fortunately most of them were magnificent. There was also terrific debut albums (Janelle, Monae, Local Natives, Twin Shadow), sophomore successes (Tallest Man on Earth, Titus Andronicus, Morning Benders) and established artists gone solo (Jonsi, Owen Pallett) that filled our ears with lovely music this year.

This year myself and the other two other brilliant writers on this blog, Matt and Cheryse, voted (very democratically, I may add) on our favorite albums of the year to make one definitive, collaborative list. Below is our Best Albums of 2010 and since there so many albums we loved that couldn’t quite fit on the list, we each have Honorable Mention sections where listed a few of our other favorites. As always, make sure to leave a comment if you like what you see or have your own favorite albums to add. To the readers, thank you for continuing to support this blog year after year and reading what we have to say. Have a wonderful new year!

25. Caribou – Swim

Dan Snaith’s release as Caribous is perhaps the most cleverly named album of the year. From start to finish Swim plays with absolute fluidity like some sort of dance music album marked by the mischievery of skinny-dipping. Each track picturizes the algorithm of oceanic behavior with wavelike breakbeats sequious to life and never really assuming an end. If it not watery and textured, it is a swimmingy rhythmic album that leaves all of the others drowning in sound. –Cheryse

MP3 Odessa
MP3 Kaili

24. Owen Pallett – Heartland

Owen Pallett has already created an impressive body of work at his young age whether it’s the wonderful albums he created under his previous moniker, Final Fantasy or the lovely string arrangements he composes for Arcade Fire. Heartland is his magnum opus though, mixing grandiose, classically-inspired instrumentation and addictive melodies to create thrilling pop gems like “Midnight Directives”, “E Is For Estranged” and “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”. –Taylor

MP3 Midnight Directives
MP3 Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

23. The Black Keys – Brothers

The Black Keys have gone back to the basics with their six-full length release to date. Dan Aurbech and Patrick Carney have taken the dove-colored intentions of Attack & Release and stolen the spotlight of bluesy rock with riffs of contemptuous optimism. Brothers is an album of pure heart, one I’d like to consider the unofficial confession of a good man weighted with ugly truths yet empowered by his loyalty to the matter at hand. –Cheryse

MP3 Tighten Up

22. Twin Shadow – Forget

Twin Shadow simply appeared earlier this year, fully formed and with a debut album that sounded completely sure of its intentions. With Forget, George Lewis Jr. has made a record that hearkens back to archaic techniques while simultaneously sounding fresh and original. It’s as if these songs have been in the back of your mind for years and you’re just now remembering them. Call it immediate nostalgia. — Matt

MP3 I Can’t Wait
MP3 Castles in the Snow

21. Wolf Parade – Expo 86

You can usually tell a lot about a record in the opening seconds. Wolf Parade’s third the record begins with a relentless guitar riff, piercing synths, and Spencer Krug yelping about hammocks, dream-catchers, and minivans, and the album doesn’t ever let up after that. Both Krug and Dan Boeckner have grown monumentally as artists and the tunes found on this album like “Little Golden Age”, “What Would Your Lover Say”, and “Yulia” stand among the most electrifying and passionate rock anthems these intensely creative songwriters have crafted. –Taylor

MP3 What Did My Lover Say
MP3 Yulia

20. Gorillaz Plastic Beach

For all his world travel and style-dipping, Damon Albarn has ultimately decided he just wants to make great pop music. Eschewing the rigid concepts of the first two records and adopting a loose theme, Plastic Beach is free to sample and explore at will. Albarn recruited his best cast of guests yet, each adding their unique touch in wonderful, and sometimes surprising, ways. Who knew Lou Reed could sound so at home on an electro beat? — Matt

MP3 Superfast Jellyfish (ft. Gruff Rhys and De La Soul)

19. of Montreal False Priest

After the bizarre, kaleidoscopic Skeletal Lamping, it’s great to see Kevin Barnes embracing some more straightforward pop songwriting without losing his proclivity for stylistic experimentation. From the explosive electro-funk opening of “I Feel Ya Strutter” to the magnificent psych-pop of Janelle Monae-featuring “Enemy Gene” and playful, humorous synth-pop of “Famine Affair” and “Our Riotous Defects”, False Priest is a phenomenal addition to an already outstanding catalogue. — Taylor

MP3 Coquet Coquette
MP3 Enemy Gene (ft. Janelle Monae)

18. The Morning Benders Big Echo

The Morning Benders have come a long way since their 2008 release Talking Through Tin Cans. Although they have always been lyrically sound and collectively cool, Big Echo hit the shelves with alarming growth, mostly instrumental which has directly brought Chris Chu’s vocal ability to life. This record is full of beautiful arrangements and harmonies so romantic you might actually just misinterpret the meaning of the song. I’m still trying to figure out how they’ve taken such an innovative direction with their sound and yet have produced something that is unexpectedly nostalgic. –Cheryse

MP3 Excuses
MP3 Promises

17. Belle & Sebastian Write About Love

As has been well-documented on this blog, Belle & Sebastian are one of my favorite bands in the universe and through eight albums, the Scottish collective has become one of the most prolific and consistently wonderful pop bands in recent history. Though their latest album Write About Love doesn’t quite reach the heights of past masterpieces it’s such an immensely enjoyable album that it hardly matters. Energetic, sunny pop numbers that have defined the band for the last decade are mixed in with wispy, twee-pop reminiscent of early B&S, all making for a captivating and highly satisfying listen. –Taylor

MP3 I Want The World To Stop
MP3 Write About Love

16. Deerhunter Halycon Digest

It is as though a year cannot come to an end without hearing something brilliant from the genius that is Bradley Cox. Halcyon Digest is undoubtedly Deerhunter’s most accessible album to date. Their once isolated and dissonant sound has evolved into something cohesive on this record and believe me when I say that it hits the stage at best as their most attention-getting, especially for those hearing them for the first time. Despite some overly reverbed vocals, each track transitions to the next with palatable instrumentation and the album as a whole brings a refreshing perspective to the table. –Cheryse

MP3 Revival
MP3 Memory Boy

15. Jonsi – Go

As the lead singer of Sigur Ros, Jonsi helped produce some of the most beautiful, ethereal music of the past decade, and his first solo album, Go showcases the artist at his most exuberant and accessible. These songs are overflowing with glorious, flourishing instrumentation of piccolos, strings, trumpets and piano. With help from some fabulous collaborators, composer Nico Muhly’s phenomenal compositions, producer Peter Katis’ dense soundscapes, and drummer Samuli’s powerful percussion, Jonsi has made an album that is both triumphant and awe-inspiring. –Taylor

MP3 Go Do
MP3 Boy Lilikoi

14. The Tallest Man on Earth The Wild Hunt

Trying to capture this album with words is mostly pointless. Description doesn’t do it justice; it’s impossible to catalog the intensity and emotion contained within The Wild Hunt. Kristian Matsson is more shaman than musician; he conjures tales and sounds that exist outside of time. Even with its spare pallet, The Wild Hunt invites and rewards exploration. Eventually, the only word needed to describe it is “home”. — Matt

MP3 King of Spain
MP3 Troubles Will Be Gone

13. Foals Total Life Forever

At any given time I begin to question the depth of Oxford Rock, I am instantly put into place by the Foals. Total Life Forever was an album I literally stumbled upon–and by that I mean it rendered me completely speechless. The frenetic temperament of their previous record Antidotes seemingly consumed itself and completely sedated their sound, creating a very docile sophomore release that has their likability factor hitting its peak. This album is their most consistent to date and without any hesitation is a step in the right direction. –Cheryse

MP3 Spanish Sahara

12. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

I don’t know if there’s been a more hate-it-or-love-it album this year then New Jersey rockers, Titus Andronicus’ sophomore album, The Monitor. Of course, I am firmly in the “love it” category of this sprawling Civil War-themed album , which SPIN magazine aptly described as “Born to Run’s pissed stepchild on an epic spree”. This is an album that is oozing with fiery, youthful abandon which it channels through a barrage of piano, trumpets, violins, vehemently-played guitars and anthemic, sing-a-long choruses at every turn. It’s a fully immersive listening experience that leaves a lasting impression, taking you through breathtaking highs and crushing lows. –Taylor

MP3 A More Perfect Union
MP3 A Pot In Which To Piss

11. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

With One Life Stand, Hot Chip have succeeded in becoming more heartfelt and musically accomplished then ever before without losing any of their dance-floor appeal. The London electro-pop quintet’s focus here is on straightforward pop songwriting without losing those huge, club-banging climaxes of cascading synths and frenzied disco beats. From the explosive synth / guitar attack of opening jam, “Thieves In The Night” to the irresistibly catchy closer “Take It In”, the band provides one spectacular song after another, resulting in their most consistent and overall best album yet. –Taylor

MP3 One Life Stand
MP3 Take It In

10. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

I can’t think of an Artist Spotlight that I was more excited to write this year than that of Local Natives. Gorilla Manor earned, and rather comfortably, an infectious debut–and that stretches beyond any bias I have towards the Silverlake music scene. There isn’t a single filler on this record and is probably one of the few that harnesses its artful density even when played acoustically. From the leaks until the actual release, almost every song that has made its way to the blogosphere still continues to dominate the hype machine. –Cheryse

MP3 Camera Talk
MP3 Sun Hands

9. Janelle Monae The Archandroid

What makes Janelle Monae’s Archandroid such a magnificent album is it’s tenacious creativity and unconventionality. A sci-fi concept album about a time-traveling dancing android that combines funk, pop, R&B, hip-hop, classical, indie and soul (to name a few) sounds like it would be a complete mess, but Monae succeeds tremendously at just about everything she tries. With her effervescent charisma, killer hooks, and out-of-this-world vocals, she’s made an album which should be considered a pop music classic. — Taylor

MP3 Tightrope (ft. Big Boi)
MP3 Cold War

8. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Have One On Me is an overwhelming album in scope, length, and ambition, filled with beautifully woven and masterfully performed songs such as “Good Intentions Paving Company” and “Baby Birch”. It’s an album you feel that Newsom worked every waking second perfecting since the masterful Ys was released in 2006. An rich and plentiful listening experience, it will astound you the first time you hear it but requires multiple listens to unlock all of it’s lavish beauty. — Taylor

MP3 Good Intentions Paving Company
MP3 ’81

7. Big Boi – Sir Luscious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty

Sir Lucious Left Foot… is a fundamentally weird album. It’s hip-hop from another galaxy, one where Big Boi’s lightspeed flow and black hole lyrics are as common as two purple suns. The beats are supernovae, consuming everything in their path. It’s an amalgam of styles that could only come from out there, the place few dare to travel but Big Boi calls home. — Matt

MP3 Shutterbugg (ft. Cutty)
MP3 Shine Blockas (ft. Gucci Mane)

6. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

It’s almost hard to imagine that at one time, Arcade Fire were just another obscure band from Canada, releasing music that reached very few ears and playing shows in half-empty bars. What’s amazing though, is through their journey from mildly successful underground band to Grammy-nominated chart-toppers, they haven’t lost touch of what makes them great, their life-affirming, overwhelmingly beautiful music.

The band expands their palette on this album, adding surging disco beats and euphoric synths to their exhilarating rock anthems, all while taking their overarching themes of innocence, rebellion, escapism, the universal human struggle, and looking at it from a new, wiser perspective. The album may be their most rewarding listen yet, complex, and fully immersive, delivering songs like “We Used To Wait” and “Sprawl II”, that stand among the most powerful of their career. Most of all, The Suburbs confirms Arcade Fire’s status as the best rock band in the world. — Taylor

MP3 We Used To Wait
MP3 Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

5. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

This is a not a record, it’s an event of the style 40 years gone. Rent a mansion across the country. Build your own studio. Strict dress code. Labor over every minute detail. Do the drums sound perfect? Is the bass fuzzy enough? How many people do we need shouting on this chorus? After everything, it sounds completely effortless, as if the songs just formed as they went along. No one makes albums like James Murphy, because no one else can. –Matt

MP3 Dance Yrself Clean
MP3 All I Want

4. Beach House Teen Dream

Maybe it is unfair that I was allowed to speak on this album… considering how bat-shit crazy I am about this band, but dream-pop duo, Beach House, truly proved that third time’s a charm and again, I sit here grinning as a fan from the start. Teen Dream waltzed into the new year with its breathtaking composition, subtletly demonstrating a sense of confidence wrapped lyrical romanticism. This is an album of real grace and power the variety found within the song collection is truly endless. Perhaps credit is due to producer Chris Cowady, but in contrast to their previous releases, this record is incredibly tangible and punctuates on any infatuation you’ve might have the band prior. –Cheryse

MP3 Zebra (UK Edit)
MP3 10 Mile Stereo

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West will not settle for being anything but the greatest, and he makes his case with this album. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an amalgamation of everything so far, the perfect summation of West-to-now. He has created a hydra, a siren, a phoenix, eternal and relentless, simultaneously beautiful, dark, and twisted. It is perfect and flawed, consummate and incomplete, alpha and omega. It is an album that could only be made right now and could only be made by him. — Matt

MP3 Runaway (ft. Pusha T)

2. Sufjan Stevens The Age of Adz

Sufjan Stevens makes intimate music. Even when tackling subjects like entire states or serial killers, he has always found a way to turn his focus inward, hoping to illuminate some hidden truth about himself. But with The Age of Adz, Sufjan Stevens has created his darkest and most personal album yet. The oppressive atmosphere, the despondent lyrics, the apocalyptic artwork: this is the product of someone working through some serious issues and letting us witness the process. The results are entirely uplifting, resulting in the kind of true catharsis few get to experience, even vicariously. We are all lucky Stevens let us face this with him. — Matt

MP3 I Walked
MP3 Impossible Soul

1. The National – High Violet

The National were once pegged as a perpetual underdog, but now with three genuine masterpieces under their belt, the Brooklyn-via-Ohio quintet have become a band that’s impossible to ignore. High Violet may just take the prize for their most exceptional album yet. The album is their most captivating, gorgeous creation as well as being the most staggeringly emotional. The band has taken their orchestral arrangement prowess to the next level with a breathtaking symphonic concoction of guitars, strings, horns, vocals and those oh so, important drum fills.

The band is ceaseless with their near-hysteric melodrama (equating marriage to cannibalism, fatherhood with paranoia, family reunions to a swarm of bees) but I don’t think that there’s anyone describing the American experience better in this day and age. And even in their somber ruminations, there’s dynamic performances and massive choruses to lift your spirits. I think Peter Silberman of The Antlers described it best when he said “The National isn’t so much ‘a band’ as it’s a piece of another person’s life that helps yours make sense.” By matching the sensational emotions that we all feel with delicately epic music, the band embraces the melancholy of society and makes our world that much more colorful. –Taylor

MP3 Bloodbuzz Ohio
MP3 Conversation 16

Taylor’s Honorable Mention:

Spoon – Transference
Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Tokyo Police Club – Champ
The New Pornographers – Together
Laura Veirs – July Flame
Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History
Shearwater – Golden Archipelago
Delorean – Subiza
Suckers – Wild Smile

Matt’s Honorable Mention

How To Dress Well – Love Remains
Gil Scott Heron – I’m Still Here
Robyn – Body Talk
Chromeo – Business Casual
Clive Tanaka y su orquesta – Jet Set Siempre 1°
The-Dream – Love King
James Blake – CMYK / Bell’s Sketch / Klavierwerke
Vampire Weekend – Contra
Sleigh Bells – Treats

Cheryse’s Honorable Mention:

Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
Dr. Dog – Shame
Love Language – Libraries
Toro y Moi – Causers of This
The Walkmen – Lisbon
Ra Ra Riot – Orchid
Born Ruffians – Say It

Thanks again to everyone for reading! We will be back in 2011…

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20 Responses to “musicforants.com’s Best Albums of 2010”

  1. Todd said:

    Very nice list. The only thing i am shocked about is Vampire Weekend is not in the list at all! lol I also think this is one of the only blogs that did not put Kanye West or Beach House at number 1, and I like that.

    When you get a chance you should check out my top 12 songs of 2010! :)

  2. Taylor said:

    @Todd I wasn’t too big on Contra personally. It did make Matt’s Honorable Mention list though!

  3. Andrew said:

    Fantastic list. The best albums of the year list is my favorite hands down and this year is no exception. Thanks for a year of great music reviews and samples.

  4. ferg said:

    glad to see the love language – libraries get an honorable mention. Really surprised not to see Miles Kurosky – The Desert of Shallow Effects and Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring not on the list, given the indie pop tendency this blog has (which is a good thing!)

  5. Gohner said:

    Seriously…I, like, serviced myself ten times today after reading this list. Also, this blog continues to be way more than really, really, ridiculously good looking.

    You guys rock, and this is hands down my favorite albums list of the year.

    Bottom line: @musicforants = epic

  6. Dave said:

    I really couldn’t get into High Violet – but this list is great… Only thing I don’t see is Broken Bells, who I thought had a great album this year.

    My list is at http://thesleepingsun.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/2010/ if you’re interested.

    Cheers, you guys are great.

  7. Suskie said:

    Seeing as how Los Campesinos compared Muse fans to Nazis, I’m perfectly happy not seeing them on the list.

    I’m actually impressed with myself, as I’m familiar with the majority of the albums on the list. Now I’ve got to work my way through the honorable mentions. Good to see Expo 86 getting some love; easily my favorite album of 2010.

  8. Jim said:

    Your lists is useless because there is not one mention of Laura Marling…I had respect for your taste but then again…it’s indie.

  9. Jim said:

    Also Gorillaz album is s*it of the highest order…3 good songs and well thats it.

  10. Adam said:

    Great picks, your top 3 all made my top 10. Love the quote about the National. So true.

  11. Cheryse said:

    @Jim, I am actually a huge fan of Laura Marling. I Speak Because I Can is a good listen, but it’s not a great record (especially in comparison to Alas, I Cannot Swim). Perhaps that’s partially due to the number of EP’s and Singles she released before hand. She definitely could’ve used a little more discretion in that regard, all the build-up left her sophomore album falling flat.

  12. Heather said:

    I think you guys put together a great list and I have no disagreements, just different tastes. :) Only one of my favorites (The Monitor) made it on the list–others were So Runs the World Way – Josh Ritter, I’m Having Fun Now – Jenny and Johnny, the Winter of Mixed Drinks – Frightened Rabbit, and Weathervanes – Freelance Whales (another great debut from this year IMO! :D).

  13. Heather said:

    I should say “top 5” instead of the generic “favorites.” Loved a lot of albums on the list–the Suburbs, Adz, Kanye, And Best Coast in particular.

  14. Todd said:

    @Taylor Actually I really wasnt at first when it came out, but it really grew on me. I wouldnt put it in the top 10 but a nice album. Anyway real nice work on the list Im glad Big Boi is on here, deserves it.

  15. Sammy said:

    Your link for The National’s album goes to Phoenix’s Wolfgang… (I suspect your number one from last year). Thanks for the list. Looking forward to spending some Xmas money!

  16. Jim said:

    @Cheryse I respect you opinion but really? If you picked up
    that album in a store without knowing what she released in build
    up, you would say it fell flat? I think LCD Soundsystems latest
    release was more of a fall flat on it’s arse, I love LCD and seen
    an outstanding set in London Hyde’s Park this year but the album is
    not worthy of a top 25 inclusion.

  17. Taylor said:

    There’s nothing wrong with judging an album in the context of an artist’s career. I would argue that it is the basis for much, if not the majority of good music criticism.

  18. Jim said:


    I find it pretty poor music criticism and journalism, if they rely heavily on their previous albums to then judge them on their current release then it should be about how an artist has creatively progressed in terms of music and lyrics not on it’s previous merits. Laura Marling for example massively improved to what she outputted on her first album. LCD Soundsystem tried to replicate the sound of silver but failed miserably in a mediocre record. The Gorillaz record has one or two catchy songs but if you take into account the aritsts career, they have massively taken away from the original concept of the collaborative band they started. It turned out to be more of how Damon Albarn can raise his own personal commercial awareness rather than musical progression. His Glastonbury headlining set is point proven compared to yester years efforts.

    I’ll stop ranting and await the impending arrivals of Bright Eyes and British Sea Power….now thats musical goodness.

  19. Nora said:

    I was so thankful that Kanye West was not number one. That is an album I simply cannot get into. It’s gotten so bad that now whenever I find myself looking at a best of 2010 list I scroll down to make sure it’s not #1 before reading the rest of the article

  20. Mike said:

    What a great seletion, i must agree these are some of the best of the year.