Alright, after many delays (it’s FEBRUARY for fuck’s sake!), the conclusion of my silly little list is finally here. Anything you feel I may have missed, please feel free to make mention of, as this year had spectacular music coming out of its ass, and there is no doubt some great stuff I simply haven’t heard (or even forgot about entirely). So without further ado, let’s DOO DIS THANG.
20. How to Dress Well – Love Remains
Yet another album drowned in lo-fi production, but with the marvelous twist (what a twist!) of implementing a bit of R&B flavor to the music. This has been compared to artists as diverse as Burial, Bon Iver, and even D’Angelo, and interestingly enough, they’re all perfectly reasonable nods. It’s nearly as atmospheric, haunting, and soulful as the aforementioned (respectively), but with a peculiar warmth that leaves it with a strangely anonymous emotional quality. A darkly beautiful piece of work.
Recommended track: Decisions
19. The Felix Culpa – Sever Your Roots
What The Felix Culpa lacks in originality, they more than make up for with their grit and passion. Perhaps it’s true, as the band’s detractors say, that they’re not doing anything that Brand New or As Cities Burn haven’t already done, but these guys unquestionably mean every single word and note that comes out of them. There’s great texture to the music too, with fantastic, catchy riffs along with the occasional inclusion of horns and strings to back up the zealous vocals. While it’s not the most groundbreaking album you’ll hear all year, it just might be the most genuinely emotive.
Recommended track: What You Call Thought Control, I Call Thought Control
18. Hour of Penance – Paradogma
Gulp. All the sheer, relentless brutality Hour of Penance brought to the proverbial table on The Vile Conception is back this time around, but with a remarkable step forward in the songwriting department. The structure has tightened up considerably, with sections flowing into one another with seamless transitions. For every pummeling 500,000 mph bit, there’s a bit with a strong, steady groove, and all the while hooks are abound in the utterly crushing riffs. Everything, from the booming vocals to the intricate but furious drumming, comes together marvelously; sadly though, it makes the departure of vocalist Francesco Paoli and drummer Mauro Mercurio all the more disappointing, as it’s somewhat doubtful whether or not the band will ever sound this good again.
Recommended track: Caged into Falsehood
17. Immolation – Majesty and Decay
For me, this was in a tight race with Hour of Penance’s latest and ended up winning out simply because it displays so much more restraint and diversity. In fact, in Divine Code alone Immolation shows as broad a range as the entirety of Paradogma, but without losing any of its fierceness. Steve Shalaty’s incredibly precise drumming deserves mention as well, shining even more on the slower, deliberate moments (A Thunderous Consequence) than the chaotic ones (A Token of Malice). Majesty and Decay captures everything that is great about this genre, and shows none of the stagnation that is often expected from death metal bands around twenty years in age. As one comment I came across put it, “The first three tracks alone killed my whole family.” Well said.
Recommended track: The Purge
16. Phaeleh – Fallen Light
So they call this one future garage (dubstep would be too easy, apparently), and Phaeleh does an amazing job with it, crafting thoroughly hypnotizing pieces that take their time revealing themselves to the listener. Fallen Light is lush and beautiful, but its dynamism is such that it boasts moments appropriate for a club as well as those appropriate for that bleary-eyed trip back home the following dawn (which admittedly fall into the majority). Dark, enveloping, and endlessly charming, this one has grown on me to an absurd degree, and given its relaxed nature and excellent production, surely far more will be reeled in sooner than later.
Recommended track: Fallen Light
15. Menomena – Mines
Another superb album followed by the disheartening departure of a key band member, Mines (as in “this article is mines”) sees the band trading in even more of their quirkiness and random musical detours for something a bit more emotional, and at times, even downright listless. This is not to suggest that Mines is a bare-boned affair of any sort though, in fact it’s quite the opposite. They’re merely sharper at slipping their personalities into the music, like in the slow, calculated progressions of Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy or Tithe, where the layers are in no rush to present themselves and feel all the more powerful for it (not to mention the heartbreaking delivery of lines like “My love is just not enough” or “Nothing sounds appealing”). If they do end up calling it quits, this is as good a swansong as any.
Recommended track: Dirty Cartoons
14. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
Cosmogramma is pure imagination, and really reminds you what is so great about electronic music in the first place: when there’s a sound you want to express that organic instruments simply can’t produce, glitches, manipulated samples, and the like just may be the answer. Particularly if you’re as skilled as Steven Ellison with putting it all together. In no other genre could this many other genres be so seamlessly placed alongside one another, to such an extent that it resembles its own new sound entirely. The great thing about tracks like Computer Face//Pure Being and especially the massive Do the Astral Plane is that they harness such unbridled creativity, and yet they absolutely throw down. The beats are so busy and messy, with touches of everything from jazz and soul to hip-hop and electro that, on paper, this album should be a complete mess – somehow, though, Cosmogramma repeatedly wraps one musical style around another to masterful effect, with a staggering cohesiveness that keeps everything sounding smooth, controlled, and fucking fun.
Recommended track: Nose Art
13. Amia Venera Landscape – The Long Procession
The second reason I’m glad I waited until after December to put this together is this massive sledgehammer of an album. Italian sextet Amia Venera Landscape’s full-length debut is almost overwhelming with its riotous guitars, frenzied percussion, and incredibly charged shouts over it all (though paired with a startlingly adept melodic singing voice). What keeps it from losing its edge is how well random ambient pieces are thrown into the mix, letting you catch your breath every so often before slamming you with another intense wave of hostility. Any post-hardcore metalcore whatever-you-want-to-call-it fan should really keep an eye on these guys, they’re off to an impeccable start.
Recommended track: A New Aurora
12. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Listening to this, it’s easy to take Kristian Matsson’s moniker as literal. Armed with only his guitar and incredibly emotive voice, he is able to take what should be an intimate, bedroom sound and utterly encompass listeners with his confident playing and sincere, vivid lyrics. The imagery his poetic words brings to mind feelings ranging from bittersweetness to hope to heartbreak, weaving tales of seemingly everything from theology to desire. Overall, it’s an intense listen that impressively transcends its humble origins of a simplistic singer/songwriter album.
Recommended track: Love Is All
11. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Kanye this. Not to discredit My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which is certainly astounding in its own right, but Big Boi has done something even more impressive with his solo debut; he managed to make a spectacular hip-hop album without the aid of bells or whistles of any sort. The tools at use are the usual suspects; huge, head-bobbing beats, incessant self-reference, skits (that are actually funny!), and guest spots, but most importantly, an unbelievably proficient MC at the forefront just doing his thing. Big Boi’s flow is as impossibly slick as always, with simple yet effortlessly ingenious one-liners such as this one (from the stunning single Shutterbugg) that I’m going to end this write-up with: “It’s the nigga to B-I-G. B-O-I? O-U-T.”
Recommended track: Tangerine
10. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest is delightfully psychedelic, as the bulk of Deerhunter’s catalog is, but not only is it dominated with an indescribable and infectious warmth… the band just sounds so cool about it. Rather than gravitating towards pop, it’s as if they simply kicked back and waited for it to come to them. Most songwriters would kill for the catchiness of Desire Lines or the dark, almost creeping air of Revival, but Bradford Cox and Co. toss it off with an almost nonchalant ease. What’s more is that one (or in other words, my hapless wannabe-journalistic ass) is hardpressed to describe what exactly makes it so great; there’s nothing particularly new presented here, it’s just four guys cranking out spacey rock music that could well be far better than even they are aware. Halcyon Digest has been described as the ‘new classic rock,’ and frankly I’m inclined to agree.
Recommended track: Coronado
9. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
A pop album themed after a long forgotten 1927 classic sci-fi film? That description alone suggests a near-psychotic ambition, much less when you include the ungodly musical diversity therein. How Monae is able to make soul, 60s folk, modern R&B, funk, classical, hip-hop, swing, and the rest of The ArchAndroid’s endless motorcade of styles all coexist so harmoniously is beyond me, but fuck if it doesn’t sound staggeringly good. Everything is woven together into such an impressive aural tapestry that even without the relentless hooks (the record’s first half is particularly rife with these), it’s a completely flooring listen. Not to mention the absolutely phenomenal voice that this woman has! But forget about all that, really all that you need to- …oh wait, no. Don’t forget about all that, it was my whole point.
Recommended track: Tightrope
8. Perfume Genius – Learning
Like Bon Iver and The Antlers before him, Mike Hadreas’ full length debut as Perfume Genius has quite a story behind it – a history of experiencing far more harsh realities than one person ever should culminating in a drugged out downward spiral, before moving back home and sitting in front of his mother’s piano until inspiration finally struck. Only a person channeling a tremendous pain into a positive, creative endeavor could make the simple storytelling of Mr. Peterson sound so fragile and tragic, or concoct something as dramatically heartbreaking as Gay Angels without coming across as over the top. The spaced out sadness of Learning rivals that of Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump or Sparklehorse’s Good Morning Spider not just in Hadreas’ skill for creating melodies, or even in just how bluntly honest he is, but for the glimmer of hope to which he clings all throughout. As the man himself said of this album’s creation, “I felt like my heart actually broke but in this sort of hopeful, genuine way. Like I could finally rebuild it.”
Recommended track: Look Out, Look Out
7. Cyanotic – The Medication Generation
The Medicated Generation is not just the most dense and painstakingly detailed industrial album you’ll hear in 2010, it’s also the most gripping. While the lyrical themes are nothing new for an industrial record (conformity, drugs, society, and the like), Sean Payne’s snarling delivery is so chock full of conviction that he never sounds contrived or generic. It’s the music behind him, though, that really sells this. Sample after sample after sample is intricately fused into this glitch-heavy metallic hurricane of an album, with everything from Slayer to Homer Simpson cleverly placed to enhance the idea behind each track. Even the more downtempo moments are packed like sardines with details, particularly Efficacy‘s foray into left field electronica, or Comadose‘s beautifully lackadaisical guitar-led dejection. It may not be accessible enough to convert someone who isn’t a fan of industrial, but for someone who is, this is an absolutely essential album.
Recommended track: Dissonant Dissident
6. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis
Getting into this band is a funny thing. Initially, the relentless musical chaos sounds sloppy, unorganized, and scatterbrained; once given a chance though, the music exposes its true (and downright startling) intricacy and attention to detail. From their debut Calculating Infinity on, the band has added twist after twist to their uniquely frantic, complex time signature-ridden brand of hardcore, culminating in 2007′s Ire Works, which many argued pushed the experimentation a bit too far. Whatever wrinkles were present in their last effort, however, have definitely been ironed out on Option Paralysis; the catchy melodies and broad array of influences are interlaced with the brutality more fluidly than ever before, as evidenced by tracks like the astoundingly ambitious Widower‘s gradual and seamless move from mournful jazz to raging hardcore and back, the hauntingly beautiful closer Parasitic Twins, and especially how they can coexist so easily alongside the towering, pulverizing throwbacks to 1999 like Crystal Morning. This is easily the group’s most fully realized work yet.
Recommended track: Gold Teeth on a Bum
5. These New Puritans – Hidden
If this band’s debut saw them rubbing sticks together to make fire, their sophomore effort Hidden finds them mastering space travel. It is seriously that big a leap forward, and presents a wonderful thing for anybody who perhaps follows music a bit too closely – proof that yes, every once in a while, something truly new and fresh really is just around the corner. While post-punk inflected indie rock is hardly anything new, here it’s infused with dance beats, tribal percussion, and set atop a dark, never ending orchestra. Mark my words, these guys have laid the groundwork for something huge, and the stunning creativity shown here could well spawn its own genre.
Recommended track: Fire-Power
4. Beach House – Teen Dream
Like last year’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Beach House’s Teen Dream managed to stay in the heads of critics and fans alike all throughout the year to keep their own place on more than just a few ’2010 top ten’ lists. It’s not difficult to see why, either; Teen Dream oozes a simple beauty that refuses to let its listener go; it shimmers with an almost overly heavy haziness, but is rife with gorgeous melodies, and atop them all is Victoria Legrand’s beautiful, immediately grabbing voice. There is an odd combination of longing and contentment on this album, which by definition shouldn’t work, but Alex Scally’s guitars, keyboards, and the like coax them all into one another before Legrand sings over it and gets it all to make sense. Teen Dream may lack in versatility, but more than makes up for it with its sheer emotion and genuine nature.
Recommended track: Silver Soul
3. Noisia – Split the Atom
After seven years of singles, splits, EPs, compilations, and remixes, the groundbreaking Dutch electronic trio have unleashed their first proper full-length, and it’s everything fans had hoped it would be and more. Stretching drum & bass well past its breaking point, Noisia incorporates so many different subgenres of electronic dance that its cohesion is nothing short of a marvel; from old school drum & bass all the way up to dubstep and ambient, Split the Atom mashes them all into one massive collective and makes it its own. The shining moments here are numerous – the teeth-rattling bass of Shellshock, the funky electro house of Red Heat (which gives Justice a serious run for their money), the frantic beat underlying the gorgeous air of Thursday… shit, I could go on and on. Hands down, this is the best 2010 has to offer in electronica.
Recommended track: Machine Gun
2. Deftones – Diamond Eyes
No album that was a mere two months in the making should sound this good. The tragedy that befell this group is of course no secret, and their reaction is laid out here in fine detail; not necessarily in the lyrics, but in how their performance leaves no doubt that they threw absolutely everything they had into this. They hit harder than perhaps ever before (Rocket Skates, CMND/CNTRL) but are at their most delicate and introspective (Beauty School, Sextape) as well, bringing these dual sides together to such an amazing effect that it’s tempting to suggest that Diamond Eyes is not just their best since White Pony, but superior to the landmark 2000 album altogether. Everybody is firing on all cylinders, from Abe Cunningham’s always impressive drumming to Chino Moreno’s astounding vocal instrument, with what is arguably their most focused songwriting yet.
Recommended track: Prince
1. The National – High Violet
Yo Kanye, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish. But The National had one of the greatest Runaways of all time! OF ALL TIME!
Despite all the outstanding albums I’ve heard in 2010, there was never any question as to what was the best in my eyes. High Violet continues The National’s extraordinary ability to articulate the experience of growing up through music, but their fifth LP has such a diction to it that it threatens to overshadow their last two albums (which were also just about god damned flawless). The lyrics, their vocal vessel, and the music behind it all serve just to express how the band feels about where they are, and it’s done so well that a documentation of a man hitting middle age almost feels universal. For example, I know absolutely nothing about being a husband disenchanted with the family life, yet Conversation 16 fills me with the angst of being overwhelmed with apathy, of drowning in alienation, yet with that undercurrent of a barely breathing hope that, however weakly, is able to persevere. And when you have been where Matt Berninger is talking about, be it the out of place homelessness of Bloodbuzz Ohio or the unshakable faith in love that the closer Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks retains, it hits even harder. Albums that can pull that trick off only come around every so often, and this one (and this band in general, really) is truly something to be treasured.
Recommended track: Anyone’s Ghost (though simply saying “the whole fucking thing” was quite tempting)