There are two things that signify the closing chapter of any year. The Coca-Cola advert that re-invented Christmas with its ever-so-jolly imagining of Father Christmas, and year-end lists. Lists upon lists, upon lists. Every crevice of the internet, nowhere is safe. As inescapable as the Queen’s speech and as infuriating as Jamie Oliver’s smug yuletide face plastered over our TV screens – something we can’t avoid, yet simultaneously can’t help over indulging ourselves in.
This year, we contacted each of our contributors and asked them to nominate ten of their favourite albums of the year. With over 70 contributors, the results received were varied to say the least. Inputting the results into a super-hi-tech spreadsheet (sorta), and giving each nomination a score per vote – the results for the top 50 are listed in full below.
Looking over the list – even just the top ten – it’s evidently clear that 2010 has not only been a vintage year for quality new acts emerging onto our musical stratosphere, but also proves that there’s still plenty of life in the more established artist.
So here goes…..
50. Jonsi Go
49. Menomena Mines
48. Marina & The Diamonds The Family Jewels
47. CocoRosie Grey Oceans
46. Mount Kimbie Crooks and Lovers
45. Wolf Parade Expo 86
44. Tame Impala Innerspeaker
43. The Tallest Man On Earth The Wild Hunt
42. Twin Shadow Forget
41. Broken Social Scene Forgiveness Rock Record
40. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti Before Today
39. Caitlin Rose Own Side Now
38. Her Name Is Calla The Quiet Lamb
37. Superchunk Majesty Shredding
36. Lower Dens Twin Hand Movement
35. LCD Soundsystem This Is Happening
34. Napoleon IIIrd Christiana
33. Robyn Body Talk
32. Yeasayer Odd Blood
31. The Phantom Band The Wants
30. Of Montreal False Priest
29. Four Tet There Is Love In You
28. Anais Mitchell Hadestown
27. Joanna Newsom Have One on Me
26. Marnie Stern Marnie Stern
25. Sufjan Stevens The Age Of Adz
“A fragmented and oblique narrative punctuated by intimate lyrics, electronic glitches and swirling string arrangements.”
Lauren Down | October 2010
24. Phosphorescent Here’s To Taking It Easy
“Don’t let the upbeat title mislead you. This is still Phosphorescent in hard-drinking, loving-and-losing, tortured and lovelorn mode, and all the better for it.”
Jude Clarke | May 2010
23. The Concretes WYWH
“This is organic disco at heart – but a wholly Swedish take on that particular sound. The sum of its influences functions at the level of both tribute and fresh invention. WYWH represents an autumnal maturing: out with innocence, in with experience.”
Paul Bridgewater | November 2010
22. Best Coast Crazy For You
“If not one of the definitive efforts of 2010, certainly one of the most important to come out of the west coast in the past few years.”
Matthew Britton | July 2010
21. John Grant Queen of Denmark
“Queen of Denmark is a stunning piece of work and it confirms John Grant as a brilliant lyricist and vocalist. This is an album that deserves a place alongside this year’s best.”
Sam Shepherd | April 2010
20. Foals Total Life Forever
“A surprisingly feel-good album that has enough of what made Foals appealing first time around.”
Amy Pay | May 2010
19. Vampire Weekend Contra
“Like it or not, Contra proves all over again that Vampire Weekend is one of the most original and enjoyable acts of recent years.”
Tyler Boehm | February 2010
18. Zola Jesus Stridulum II
“There’s a genuine feeling that this is the end of the first phase of Zola Jesus’ life as a professional artist; prodigious, prolific and cult. Talent like this is not made for the few to hold onto, however, and this revised effort illustrates the pace at which Danilova is growing in skill and stature.”
Matthew Britton | August 2010
17. These New Puritans Hidden
“Far beyond this mere mortal world, the record offers devilishly ethereal soundscapes on a near cinematic scale.”
Alison King | January 2010
16. Salem King Night
“Progressive, dominating and gloriously different.”
Jen Long | September 2010
15. Liars Sisterworld
“Liars succeed in once again bridging the gap between their previous sound and a subtle new direction, this time perhaps with more of a gleam in their eye than a wry smile.”
Danny Wadeson | March 2010
14. Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can
“Understated yet grandiose, this is what Marling admirers would have been hoping she could produce from first encountering her.”
Andrew Grillo | March 2010
13. Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
“A work of art that sees him finally reach the potential that was clear for all to see in College Dropout. It’s undeniably brilliant.”
Antonio Rowe | November 2010
12. Los Campesinos! Romance Is Boring
“The Tweexcore Underground gatekeepers have turned into a (nearly) Brecon Social Scene.”
Simon Tyers | January 2010
11. Sleigh Bells Treats
“Sleigh Bells have crafted a relentless sonic onslaught that manages to be catchy simply because you can’t escape their massive sound; consuming the listener while also captivating them at the same time.”
Erik Thompson | August 2010
10. Deerhunter Halcyon Digest
Whilst everybody can applaud Bradford Cox for being relentlessly productive, the majority of us expected something extra special from Deerhunter’s fourth full-length, Halcyon Digest. Although predecessor Microcastle was initially glowingly received, criticisms – or, shall we say, minor discrepancies – gradually emerged, leaving a growing fan-base wanting. In an album that traces back its steps to when music used to be physical, with success formed upon word of mouth and the spreading of handheld copies, ironically, much of Halcyon Digest’s success rested on the shoulders of the digital world: the viral success of ‘Helicopter’’s beautiful accompanying video; the glowing reviews received from online publications, all amounting to this work becoming the band’s most globally adored, introducing Cox and co. to thousands for the first time.
Its most touching moment comes in the form of closer, ‘He Would Have Laughed’, in tribute to the recent Jay Reatard, spanning seven-and-a-half minutes, enchanting the entire time. You can skip through the preceding ten tracks if you’re simply looking for evidence that Deerhunter are a far more evolved and ambitious group than anybody ever predicted them to be. Some of their finest songs appear on this album but more importantly, the piece as a whole feels like the band’s most complete and fully realised, to date. It marks the moment when experimentalists exerted their scattered ideas into one, crucial work.
- Jamie Milton
9. Perfume Genius Learning
Gentlest album of the year? Probably. Learning has newbie Mike Hadreas at his most uncomfortably intimate. His falsetto hovering barely above a whisper – he poignantly unravels tales of neglect, illicit romance, and raw melancholia – all the whilst guiding the listener with his spectral, devastating piano. Famously written after a long series of drug abuse and general alienation of the world around him, Learning is the sound of surrogate regret. The songs are swollen with names, places, and events, all which hover with a sense of time-stuck sadness. Hadreas sings with a bemused wistfulness, as if hoping the wrongdoings will fade – exorcised out through the power of music.
But what turns Learning into our number nine album of the year is simply how stunningly universal it is for such a personal expression of emotion. Here is a record that mentions individual people, but somehow we can still relate. A song like ‘Mr. Petersen’ is certainly a singular story, but we can still feel the pleasure, the pain, in a million other shameful short stories that dot our lives. Hadreas’ conduit of specific songwriting splinters into a listen that brings all of the nasty instances of our lives, self-inflicted or not, to the forefront – and looks them straight in the eye.
- Luke Winkie
8. Warpaint The Fool
Plenty of things could have counted against the likelihood of Warpaint making a properly affecting, deeply impressive debut album – their blogger pin-up status, their LA connections, but notably the fact that after five years in private development their quietly, assuredly spooked style, exhibited on last year’s Exquisite Corpse EP, had been coincidentally taken into the mainstream by sometime tour partners The xx. As it was, The Fool inspected the big empty spaces around which their prowling interplay lurked and coloured them in rather than stuffing them full as development for development’s sake.
The likes of the melodically poised ‘Undertow’ start low-key on reverbed menace before exploding into technicolour shades. Up front Emily Kokal’s lead vocals belie an attractive fragility while not afraid of grandstanding without diva tendencies. In the space of one song they can be vocally ethereal and mistily enigmatic like Mazzy Star and then subtly work in submerged guitars and tight vocal harmonies until the ripples break onto the shore in chiming, ambitious resolutions like a dreampop Johnny Marr. They can pull back into fragility, as with the floaty fingerpicked folk of ‘Baby’, or awkwardly let loose as on the skittery propulsive drumming, digital undertow and seductive strut of ‘Bees’, never afraid to let things develop at their own pace. In the year when some would have you believe chillwave was going to kill off the guitar band as hype machine, a four-piece guitar band found a way to invoke such headiness and underwater danger in such a sublime, serenely discomforting way.
- Simon Tyers
7. The Radio Dept. Clinging To A Scheme
Those privy to the dream/fuzz/indie pop of Sweden’s The Radio Dept. formed an endless digital queue waiting for the trio to finally emerge with something – anything! – to satiate the appetite left after 2006’s Pet Grief sat in the rearview mirror. One listen to Clinging To A Scheme, however, immediately settles any frustration (save for their Olympian release schedule of every four years) with its sanguine temperament and seasonal sequencing that moves beautifully from beginning to end.
Moving, unintentionally perhaps, from spring to winter, ‘Domestic Scene’ and lead single ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ begin the procession with summery strums, Johan Duncanson’s breathy tenor and near-perfect pop compositions. The album loses light and warmth the farther in you move – the catchy, complex moody constructs of ‘David,’ the arrestingly cold instrumental ‘Four Months in the Shade’ – but never fails to impress no matter which track takes the stage. Clinging To A Scheme‘s arrival defines the phrase “worth waiting for.”
- Matt Connor
6. Caribou Swim
It seems that the electronic world has been abuzz with effervescent emerging talent this year, but it has as much belonged to the stalwarts of the far-reaching electronic scenes coming good (well, even better). With a slew of anticipated releases arriving in 2010, the elite have not only captured the hearts and minds of a new legion of baiting followers but the old hands who have stayed so lovingly by their sides for aeons.
But it has been with Swim, Dan Snaith’s most recent foray as Caribou, that the consolidation is most noteworthy. It has gone to prove that his electronic intent is at its strongest when purified. The release of 2007’s Andorra carried all the hallmarks of his previous work perfectly, but Swim was incendiary proof that Snaith’s ability to rise to a new aural challenge is pretty much unmatched. Taking obvious influence from his live sets with Four Tet and James Holden, and their own production work as well, the album is a near perfect balance of romantic electronica, bringing in all of his previous influences but having a heart pounding towards the dance floor at its core.
The joyfully infectious ‘Odessa’ and ‘Sun’ showed that Snaith had not lost his knack for a tune from the off, but as the album progressed through a whirlwind of gallant hypnosis towards the heart-breakingly romantic ‘Jamelia’, it was clear that Snaith had created a timeless piece of work that stood on its own as well as it did highlight the prowess of everything and everyone involved and surrounding. It was one of key the electronic triumphs of the year, but is bound to stand triumphantly beyond it.
- Will Grant
5. Arcade Fire The Suburbs
When you’re everyone’s (literally everyone’s) favourite indie band, you’re moving on thin ice. Sure, you might get to share a stage with the one and only Bruce Springsteen and blow a few thousand minds in the process. But you also have to put up with your music being used to get U2 fans ‘pumped’ before Bono et al do their sanctimonious arena rock thing. Arcade Fire’s reaction to being adored by the great as well as the bad and the ugly was to hit everyone with a concept album about being a fucked-up kid in the suburbs.
When the 4-track-teaser dropped a couple of weeks before the release of The Suburbs, there was some consternation regarding the lack of immediately singable hooks and the chamber music feel that had made the band stand out from the pack a few years earlier. And, with the exception of the splendid electro pop of ‘The Sprawl II’ and the driving alternative rock of ‘Empty Room’ (also the most Funeral-like song on the album), there really aren’t many big choruses or crescendos. What this album does have, however, is an almost inexhaustible depth, provided by the almost existentialist lyrics about the pains of growing up in a world indifferent to your dreams and Win Butler’s reliably captivating delivery. Getting older sucks, but it is bands like Arcade Fire and albums like this that will always make us feel like someone gives a shit.
- Matthias Scherer
4. Gold Panda Lucky Shiner
Chelmsford’s Gold Panda has been quietly making a name for himself over the last year or so with several EPs and a multitude of remixes (not to mention an inclusion in the BBC Sound of 2010 list), but it wasn’t until October this year that he released his debut LP, Lucky Shiner. But, as the old Guinness advert rightly said, good things come to those who wait.
Every track on Lucky Shiner is entirely unique; be it due to the stuttering samples of ‘Vanilla Minus’, or the lone acoustic guitar of ‘Parents’, or the droning sitars of ‘India Lately’, each song has its own distinct sound and personality – no mean feat for a instrumental record. But, despite the tracks’ differences, there’s still a marked sense of cohesion here. Intoxicating and gloriously hazy, the entire album has a dreamlike, almost hypnagogic quality; a joyous, oriental ambience that brings with it a feeling of doe-eyed optimism and an intangible sense of nostalgia. Lucky Shiner is a genuinely enthralling album, an album in which you can become completely lost, time and time again. So go on, immerse yourself.
- Sam Lee
3. Wild Nothing Gemini
I believe that the best records represent important chapters in life. Whether it’s a song that’s played on the radio during an awkward teenage sexual fumble or the album that’s looped in every bar during your first real holiday without your parents, the soundtrack to our lives isn’t often something over which we have a choice. Expose yourself to the world, jump headlong in the painful experiences we all have to go through and you risk looking back on the likes of Scatman John or Oasis becoming a tiny part of something major. The records that mean something special to us are rarely those that make the end of year lists.
While I can proudly claim Gram Parson’s GP and Grievous Angel records stand as a symbol of recovery from the most painful part of my entire life, I avoid telling people that the other album from that times was by Garbage. Similarly, the songs that got me through the second biggest disappointment of my life belonged to the fucking Scissor Sisters.
This year – thank god – I can hold my head up high and proclaim proudly the summer of 2010 belonged to Jack Tatum and Gemini.
Wild Nothing’s debut record was mentioned in online whispers sometime back in March: “Another chillwave record,” they said, but “something really special”. Hooked within seconds of the fade in from ‘Live in Dreams’, the album’s nuanced opener, I played the record to everyone I met for months afterwards.
For me, Gemini‘s appeal is simple: on the one hand, it’s an accomplished pop record, pure and accessible with substantative songs of love and loss. On the other, it represents a perfection of the revivalist genre it’s been lumped in with. If ‘chillwave’ – or whatever we want to call it (neo-C86? C2010?) – has been about a return to innocence, musical self-sufficiency and a pseudo-luddite reaction to technological overload then Tatum’s record is that it musically capitalises on those principles more than any other record.
Of course Tatum wasn’t simply some young kid messing about in a bedroom. Gemini came to us by way of a tenure elsewhere (Facepaint and Jack and the Whale) and Tatum’s skill as musician – and what a guitar player – as well as songwriter is evidenced by the songs, barely a low point among them.
But why does the album resonate? Why is it on this list and why has it earned its place as my personal record of 2010?
Perhaps Tatum’s ability to make anew the recognisable has a lot to do with it. At the heart of Gemini is a set of reference points that take in known phrasing, sounds and key changes from the last forty years of music. ‘Drifter’ spins a crooked lo-fi opening riff not a million miles away from Bryan Adams’ ‘Run to You’ (I’m serious here. Bear with me – and don’t you be dissing that incredible song). ‘Chinatown’s’ jarring guitar wouldn’t be out of place amongst the British Invasion of ’64. And the eponymous closing track has a warmth and glow akin to The Cure’s best moments.
We’re all looking for refuge from the present in any way we can right now – strip the irony away from current obsessions with the analogue and that’s what you find; a need to connect with uncluttered innocence and a link to a time where stuff just seemed less terrible. It’s a bold and hyperbolic claim, I know, but I believe that’s what the Wild Nothing record manages to do.
- Paul Bridgewater
2. Beach House Teen Dream
With Teen Dream, Beach House have truly mastered the understated delicacy that their music thrives within, while still managing to craft soaring, deeply affecting numbers that linger long after their elegant strains start to fade. The album has a taut cohesion layered through all of the songs that makes the record sound complete and finely finished, but there is also an innate sense of freedom found within the music that allows these tracks to ascend entirely on their own.
The songs are all quite lush and opulent, but never overdone, with Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally finding the perfect balance of enterprising artistry and sagacious restraint throughout their palatial, radiant arrangements. There is an uncanny visual quality to these numbers as well, so that the icy chill of Scandinavia is quite tangible on ‘Norway,’ and you get the sense that you are strolling right along with Legrand on the glorious ‘Walk In The Park.’ These songs provide you with a stirring soundtrack to a dreamlike movie that changes gracefully with each listen, growing more resplendent the further you give in to their intricately refined reverie.
- Erik Thompson
1. The National High Violet
For a band accustomed to organic, incremental growth, 2010 will go down as The National’s Great Leap Forward. No longer are they your National; the band you’ve been telling your friends about since someone thrust a worn out copy of Alligator into your hands five years ago, pledging it would change your life (I’m speculating that most fans visited the earlier albums retrospectively). 2010 was the year The National out-Nationaled themselves and went global, becoming the most universally loved band on the planet in the process. The secret’s out: they’re Everybody’s National now.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the transformation took place, but the shoots of growth were sprinkled amongst the first blooming daffodils of spring. There was the early recorded performance of ‘Terrible Love’ on The Jimmy Fallon Show that went viral, leaving us wondering if the opening bars to High Violet were really to sound so gauzy. There was that sell out show at the Royal Albert Hall in May, rapturously received. And amidst all the eulogistic reviews that greeted the album’s release, there was the small matter of chart success: #5 on this side of the Atlantic, thank you very much.
But the difference between The National making such a transition and, say, REM doing the same in the late eighties / early nineties, is that with High Violet, they haven’t made a populist shift, sonically. The progression from the edginess of Alligator, to the majesty of Boxer was a natural evolution, borne out in the lyrical themes softened between the two records. High Violet is a hybrid record, of sorts. It is more ruffled than Boxer, yet retains the orchestral beauty and polish, marrying the two preexisting instances of The National into one magnificent whole.
Their methodology didn’t change one bit. The band are affirmed perfectionists and their ethos stood firm in the recording of High Violet. What did change, perhaps, is the scale of the sound on the album. This is a bigger record than any of its predecessors; not in the stadium-bothering ilk of U2 or Kings of Leon, but in terms of sheer gravitas. The songs, leaden with Padma Newsome and Bryce Dessner’s welling strings, are enormous, brooding entities bolstered the menace in Matt Berninger’s vocals.
Finally, the penny dropped, with an almighty thud that forced everyone to sit up and take notice. The National are successful because they deserve to be. High Violet is the best album of 2010.
- Finbarr Bermingham