Welcome to Faronheit’s Top 50 Albums of 2010! Every year this is the most exciting list to compose and write, mostly because it requires looking back at what a great year in music it was. 2010 was pretty solid, though arguably not the best year (what is, really?). Difficult though it may have been at times, composing this list was not as challenging as it has been in past years. It’s still early in the week and this thing is being rolled out in installments of 10 through Friday, but I’ll drop you an early hint in regards to my favorite album of the year: not Kanye. Wait until Friday to see how THAT shakes out. Anyways, let’s get started with this list. Full albums released between January 1st – December 31st, 2010 are the only ones eligible for this list, and you may get a brief list counting down the best EPs of the year sometime soon. Today I’m proud to present my Top Albums #50-41. We begin right after the jump, complete with some mp3s to help get you some samples wherever possilble:
50. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
Download: Runway, Houses, City, Clouds
Australian rock outfit Tame Impala came on strong this year with a strong record of psych-pop titled “Innerspeaker”. They garnered a fair amount of attention largely thanks to their employment of a multitude of influences filtered through a classic psychedelic lens. Frontman Kevin Porter’s voice bears a highly interesting resemblance to John Lennon’s and there are moments across the album that sound like The Beatles at their drugged-up best (“Within You, Without You” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”). There’s a distinct lack of specific album highlights, if only because the record is designed to be cohesive and listened to in one sitting – which is absolutely how it’s most effective. Call it Animal Collective, without all the challenging electronic disarray.
49. Magic Kids – Memphis
Download: Hey Boy
Magic Kids make bright, sunshine-infused pop that feels genuinely rooted in those innocent days of the early 60s. Use the Beach Boys as your classic rock marker, and a combination of The Boy Least Likely To and Apples In Stereo for your modern-day indie rock markers. One could easily imagine “Memphis” soundtracking a run through the sprinklers on a lush green lawn or swinging from the monkey bars on a playground. There’s some surprisingly great guitar work, some delightful violins, string and horns, and bits of piano, all used very economically to make each song as pop perfect as possible without getting overblown or too busy. Clocking in at a lean 28 minutes, not much of anything goes to waste, and you get the feeling Magic Kids could get away with releasing eleven fun singles if they wanted to. If only this album sounded as good during the winter months as it did this past summer.
48. Women – Public Strain
Download: Narrow With the Hall
Unlike the Jekyll and Hyde approach that Women offered up on their debut, where psychedelic instrumentals were paired with lo-fi fuzz pop, “Public Strain” is a very cohesive adventure marrying the two. The melodies meander and take unexpected paths to get where they need to go while keeping just enough of a pop edge to avoid completely freezing people out. Speaking of freezing, it’s easy to get turned off by what might appear to be a very cold and noisy record, with not much in the way of austere beauty. Really, this is an album that’s far deeper and warmer than it might appear on the surface, and should you give it enough of a chance, the ice breaks and there’s pure excellence inside.
47. Wild Nothing – Gemini
Here’s a record that was released back in May to pretty strong reviews that I failed to get around to until just a couple months ago. Sometimes I judge whether or not to listen to an album purely based on the cover art, and Wild Nothing’s “Gemini” creeped me the hell out. Finally able to detach myself, it turned out that the hype for Wild Nothing was justified. Essentially the solo project of Jack Tatum, he’s got a distinct love for the 80s, and specifically a lot of the post-punk, synth pop stuff from that decade. “Gemini” can feel all over the place sometimes, one minute channeling New Order, the next Cocteau Twins and then more modern backwards-leaning bands such as The Radio Dept. and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. When talking lyrics, the album isn’t the most upbeat, but Tatum’s vocals sell the darker words as if they were as happy as the melodies that come along with them. That’s a big part of the charm of Wild Nothing, and it’s largely what helps him rise above virtually all his peers.
46. The Roots – How I Got Over
Download at RCRD Dear God 2.0 (ft. Jim James of Monsters of Folk)
The Roots’ profile has sharply risen these past couple years, thanks in no small part to their nightly television gig as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”. That job has also allowed them to play with or at the very least observe all sorts of great artists that serve as musical guests on the show. There’s a certain excitement that comes with having members of Dirty Projectors and Monsters of Folk on a decidedly hip hop record, and Joanna Newsom’s presence is even more of a wild card. And while guest appearances come and go, it’s the rock solid rhymes put up by Black Thought and the precision drumming courtesy of ?uestlove that shine brightest on “How I Got Over”. If you didn’t already believe it, then this album forces you to believe it – The Roots are not only one of the best hip hop acts out there today, they’re one of the best BANDS out there period.
45. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
Download: Floating Vibes
If you’ve not yet heard it, “Astro Coast” plays out much like a tribute to the 90s and 90s bands in general. One presumes that artists like Pavement and Weezer were largely inspirations, as Surfer Blood’s sound is sharp guitar rock with some seriously hard-hitting hooks. That said, the band isn’t looking to directly copy any of these great acts, they’re looking to carve out their own niche through the careful use of homage. With the last year or two marking indie rock’s return to sunnier times, Surfer Blood’s name would seem to be the perfect way to precisely determine what kind of music they make. While the songs on “Astro Coast” do have that fun beach vibe to them, close attention to the lyrics reveal a much more serious and darker side to the band. In that sense, this album holds a lot in common with “Pinkerton”, even if it’s not nearly a classic. That the two records can even be mentioned in the same sentence is hopefully indication enough you should give Surfer Blood a try if you haven’t already.
44. Sharon Van Etten – Epic
Download: Love More
Download: Don’t Do It
What’s somewhat amusing about the album title “Epic” is that the music contained within is anything but. Totaling 7 tracks and 30 minutes, the record seems a little light on content, but some of the best and most amazing things can come in small packages. On the surface, it’s easy to judge and call Sharon Van Etten “just another female singer-songwriter”. What other female singer-songwriters don’t have though is a voice as remarkably expressive as Van Etten’s. The moments she’s able to build multi-part overdubbed harmonies stand out as particularly inspired. But her lyrics are also very solid, and thanks to a bigger recording budget she was able to bring in a full band to expand her sound beyond just an acoustic guitar or some synths. In my review of “Epic” earlier this year, I said that Sharon Van Etten was on her way to becoming a top-notch artist. Given how my love for this album has increased the last couple months and many others seems to feel the same way, perhaps she’s already reached that echelon.
43. Menomena – Mines
With so many bands releasing compelling debut albums and then falling by the wayside with follow-ups that don’t live up to the hype, Menomena are working on an opposite track, learning from their past albums to evolve. The songs on “Mines” are tighter, smarter and better crafted than anything they’ve done previously. It’s also a quieter album, choosing to rely more on sheer nuance and evoking a certain emotion rather than attempting to be particularly catchy or easily digestible. But like any piece of great art, the austere beauty is what keeps you coming back, not so much because of how fun or immediate it is. Most everything improved on some level or another from what they did before, though that also caused many of their songs to be that much more impenetrable. It takes some work to buy into what’s being sold here, but like some of the best things in life (and on this Top Albums list), the end reward is worth the trip.
42. Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Download: Ghost Pressure
Download: What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)
By all accounts, Wolf Parade have never made a bad album. Three records down, all of them great and able to find homes on year-end lists. The issue has become that the band is now well within the range of being taken for granted. Their debut “Apologies to the Queen Mary” earned them the best sort of blog buzz, but after the band was done touring in support of that album, it was the side projects of Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs that took away from the Wolf Parade sheen. It remains that way today, which is probably why they announced an “indefinite hiatus” a few weeks ago. If “Expo 86” winds up being the last Wolf Parade album, they’ll be going out in great shape. Probably due to Handsome Furs, Dan Boeckner’s songwriting picked up considerably and reached an equal plane with his cohort Spencer Krug’s songs. What “Expo 86” accomplishes more than anything else though, is that it’s finally the record where Wolf Parade sounds less like a supergroup of exceptional talents and more like a fully formed and functional band. This isn’t quite as pop-driven as their last couple albums, but what it lacks in hooks it more than makes up for in highly intelligent songcraft. If only other bands could make it look this easy.
41. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago
Download: Black Eyes
Dramatic is probably the cleanest word to describe Shearwater’s music, which tends to be constantly frought with highs, lows and in-betweens. For Jonathan Meiburg and company, ambition has never been an issue. With “The Golden Archipelago”, they crafted one of their most challenging visions to date – a rather subdued but carefully measured effort that’s all about islands. If you’re a fan of “Lost”, here’s a record that might still leave you puzzled in spite of everything you know or think you know about those crazy pieces of land. Serving best as a quiet meditation piece, Meiburg’s vocal performance is probably his strongest and most controlled to date, complete with a studied beauty that the band has only dreamed about up until now. This isn’t an album for everyone, given the time and effort required to understand what’s being thrown at you, but if you’re willing to commit to a beginning-to-end listen, it’s willing to give some serious respect in return.