I’d like to direct your attention to the deliberate wording I’ve used for the title of this article. I feel I can’t call this a “best of,” because in the process of whittling my way-too-long list of 30 records down to 20, I decided that I’d focus on the albums I spent the most time with over the year.
So unfortunately even though I cut a lot of amazing records that would edge some of these out (Spoon, Love Is All, Bonobo…), I think this list is still a good representation of the fantastic music we saw over the year.
While you read through, give my handy 8tracks mix a spin — it contains one track from the each of the 20 records listed here. And now, in no particular order, twenty of my favourite records records from 2010. Enjoy!
Call Me Lightning – When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free
For my money, there wasn’t a more exhilarating rock record than WIAGMBWBF released this year. Being named after The Who, it’s odd that it took them three records before you could really start to hear their influence in their songs. Equal parts punk rock, classic rock, and indie rock, Call Me Lightning bash through nine tracks with energy to spare. Shane Hochstetler is the real star here for me; his galloping roll-heavy drumming (Keith Moon anyone?) is maybe my favourite performance on any record this year.
Four Tet – There Is Love In You
From what I read, Kieran tested a lot of the material on this record in dance clubs. That’s not surprising information, because you can hear he’s brought that influence to the forefront almost instantly. It’s still classic Four Tet though — he’s taken one step towards the dance-floor while letting the songs drone and pulsate around organically. It’s the best of both worlds. Case-in-point: The nine-minute “Love Cry”.
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
If you’re a fan of psychedelic rock and you didn’t grab Innerspeaker, you should probably rectify that. Sounding like Cream meets The Beatles, with a touch of modern indie-rock, Tame Impala were one of the biggest surprises of the year. Innerspeaker is a bit more airy and jammy, as opposed to their harder riff-rocking EP, but I’m totally down with that. It’s a must-listen.
Black Tusk – Taste The Sin
This is an astonishingly sludgy, heavy as hell, metal/thrash genre-blender of a record from Georgia’s Black Tusk. They run in the same circles as Baroness (John Baizley even paints all their record covers), so you know it’s fucking good enough to — as they scream out on opening track “Embrace The Madness” — make your ears bleed.
Beach House – Teen Dream
On Teen Dream it sounds like Beach House are wiping a few layers of reverb off, opening their door, and inviting you in for a victory lap after 2008’s excellent Devotion. Teen Dream may not be a quantum-leap forward for the band stylistically, but everything about Teen Dream just feels right to me. It also helps that it is every bit as catchy and emotionally satisfying to listen to as their past records.
The Like – Release Me
The Like got some help from super-producer Mark Ronson and members of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings on Release Me, so that should tell you something about how this one sounds. Every song shines and sparkles for a number of reasons. Reason 1: Elizabeth “Z” Berg’s vocal work (as well as the backing vocal section). It’s almost outrageous how catchy the melodies are on this record. Just off the top of my head I can think of four or five songs that ran through my brain for days on end. Reason 2: Excellent production work that perfectly emulates the sound of the British Invasion and 1960’s girl-band pop records. Reason 3: It’s got sweet hand-claps. Who doesn’t like hand-claps?
Cloud Nothings – Turning On (Re-released in 2010)
I’ve said a lot about Cloud Nothings this year, so I won’t waste too much time repeating myself here. Turning On is everything you want and expect from a lo-fi pop band in 2010 (of which I don’t think I have to tell you, there were many).
Grass Widow – Past Time
Take early post-punk flourishes and sprinkle it in with Sleater-Kinney’s plucky guitar/bass interplay, have all three members sing intertwining vocal melodies that both clash and compliment, add a string arrangement or two for good measure, and you’re getting close to what Grass Widow sound like. I really think this album has flown under-the-radar and I’m hoping that changes ASAP.
Black Milk – Album Of The Year
With 2008’s Tronic, Black Milk showed he was a rising talent to keep your eyes on. If you did just that you were welcomed with one of 2010’s best rap records. As pretty much every review ever has already pointed out, Black Milk’s album title is and not the bold statement it looks like, but is more about filtering all of his experiences from 2009 into a record. The beat maestro produces and raps at the top of his game here and proves he’s a force to be reckoned with.
This one is a total nostalgia rush. If you need a blast of energy, throw this record on and leave your pretensions at the door because this is straight-up poppy-punk indie-rock and I love every bit of it. From the movie clips (Mallrats!) to the catchy choruses, this album is for everyone who still likes to enjoy themselves once in a while.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks
If there’s one thing you can count on from Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, it’s consistency. He’s had a long career, and at his worst you could still say his records are good. With The Brutalist Bricks though, he’s doing a lot better than good. “Where Was My Brain” proves he can still toss out punk rock with the best of them, and on “One Polaroid a Day” he’s crafted the catchiest photography-titled song since Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On”… and that’s just a selection of the highlights, of which there are many here.
Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner
Baths – Cerulean
I definitely didn’t expect to discover a new favourite electronic artist this year — let alone two — but that’s exactly what happened. Gold Panda’s record is a great mix of everything that I love. It’s a bit repetitive (in a good way), very melodic with elements of so-called “folktronica,” and fares just as well cranked up on speakers as it does in your headphones.
Baths’ Cerulean sounds like psych pop written by a glitchy instrumental hip-hop producer. I hear some Flylo in here, and the vocals almost remind me of Animal Collective. It’s quite the trip of a record, flowing from catchy tracks to spacier ambient ones with ease. Both these records are two of the best debuts that were released this year.
Future Islands – In Evening Air
I really don’t like a lot of the bands that do that whole indie-meets-new-wave schtick, with the gloomy vocalist who always just gets on my nerves. Enter Future Islands, who counteract that problem by having a singer whose vocal style leans more towards the Tom Waits end of the spectrum. At first I wasn’t a fan, but the more I listened the more I grew to appreciate (and eventually become addicted to) the juxtaposition at play here. It’s a raspy, depressing break-up album you can dance to.
Wild Nothing – Gemini
Best Coast – Crazy For You
Listening to Crazy For You for the first time in a month or two, I had one of those classic musical time-warp moments. Instantly I was back walking down King Street with my headphones, on my way to a class I took in the summer. Bethany’s hook filled record might not stay in heavy rotation for rest of my life, but I know that every time I toss it on I’ll be whisked away to a warmer place, and sometimes that’s all you want from a record.
I feel similarly about Gemini. The influx of chillwave was beginning to die down when I first heard Wild Nothing’s seven-inches, and I think we were all looking for something fresh and new at that point. When Gemini finally came out, it seemed like the perfect mix of bedroom-pop songwriting with a chilled out vibe calling back to the best music of the 80’s. Another great summer pick.
Flying Lotus – Comsmogramma
Cosmogramma was one of the most anticipated records of the year, electronic or otherwise. Coming off some major press from his Los Angeles LP, I was starting to worry that it would end up over-hyped and disappointing. Flylo proved me wrong though, because Cosmogramma can definitely be called a tour-de-force. A bit jazzier than his last record, it’s a towering achievement that begs to be listened from start-to-finish.
Boats – Cannonballs Cannonballs
It’s a King Thing – Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
Haters of high-pitched vocals need not apply to either of these records. Boats’ album may sound similar to the wide-screen cinematic indie-pop you’d expect from Arcade Fire, but the difference is they actually sound like they’re having some fun. Boats also have a sense of humour, as seen in their quirky and cartoon-like lyrics.
It’s a King Thing’s laid-back power-pop has often been compared to the likes of blue-era Weezer. I wouldn’t go that far (I don’t think the tracks have enough edge for that comparison), but these infectious little songs will totally appeal to the kind of person who misses the big W’s brand of geeky rock.
Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
Speaking of the big W, now this is how you do a comeback record. Take some notes, guys.