Yep, it all needs to be cataloged I’m afraid, here it is, unedited and uncorrected
-I realised how ridiculously overwrought my 2009 list was, and this has to be the shortest end of year list I’ve ever done. People were so lucky in 2010
-Big Boi was originally (and deservedly) in the top 3, but I liked the idea of an all female top 3 so I relegated him. It’s all a sham! HAHAHA!
-There are at least 7 albums here that I have no memory of
-I obviously LOVED Anais Mitchell, but I literally have no memory of who she is…
-‘…coke they plan to snort out of Peaches Geldof’s bum-crack’. My obsession with Peaches Geldof is a bit worrying…
-‘toe-curdlingly’, ha! Nice one Alex
-Hardly ANY dumb pop culture references! I must have been ill…
-‘One’ by Yeasayer, ‘Runaway’ by the National, ‘Obsessions’ by Marina… Not a lot of my favourite albums, but a lot of my favourite ever songs were released in 2010
-2010 was obviously the most ‘meh’ year
-…but the number 1 album is a legitimate classic, to this day
You know the drill: conjecture, conjecture, ill-informed opinion, ham-fisted and already dated topical reference, inflated sense of self-worth, end. After the length of last year’s list was comparable to your average Greek epic, or a Joanna Newsom album, I’ve kept things as brief as possible this time around. Basically, it’s nearly 11am now, I’m going out at around 8pm and I want this thing done.
20. Everything Everything: Man Alive
Extremely impressive debut from a band consisting of members from almost all of the UK’s pop powerhouses- Manchester, Newcastle, Guernsey- that despite its occasional rough edges shows the band have more than enough originality and invention to completely balls up their second album then spend the rest of their career embarrassingly attempting to recapture their early promise.
19. Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
The first time I heard The Gorillaz’ third album I thought it was great, the second time I loved it, the third time I thought it was perhaps an album of the year contender, and the fourth time I thought maybe I was getting a little bored of it. I honestly don’t think I’ve listened to it since. Therein lies the problem with ‘Plastic Beach’– despite it’s technical excellent (and in places it is superb) there’s something strangely un-engaging and disposable about it, like that iPad app that can accurately predict how many Polo mints you can put up your nose without sneezing.
18. Plan B: The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Christ this is a difficult one, and not just because of that title. In 2006 Plan B’s debut album ‘Who Needs Actions When You’ve Got Words’ announced the arrival of a major new talent, in equal parts musically challenging, fiercely intelligent and sickeningly horrific, it suggested that the London rapper could conceivably be judged as the UK’s answer to Eminem without the fart jokes and self-obsession. Which is why Ben Drew’s decision to follow up that album four years later with an album of retro soul with an ‘edge’ in what seems like a calculated (and, judging by the record’s sales, successful) attempt to position himself as the male Amy Winehouse. Jettisoning pretty much all of his previous attempts at originality, he seems to have given up on becoming a viable alternative to Eminem (just as Eminem himself seems to have lost the plot musically too) and is instead happier being more of a 21st century- Yikes!- Terrence Trent D’Arby (who, to be fair, has completely lost the plot in pretty much every sense).
What makes it even more difficult to accept is that, well, he’s really good at it. The production of ‘Defamation…’ is spotlessly lush, Ben Drew’s voice is wonderful, the narrative of the album works well, despite some glaring ‘plot-holes’ and the album is easily the best of its type since, yep, ‘Back To Black’. I await his 2013 collaboration with James Corden and Susan Boyle with baited breath.
17. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma
From an album almost shamefully derivative to one blissfully original- it’s hard to adequately compare Flying Lotus’s debut album- a cacophony of computer beeps, psychedelic rock, funk bass-lines and any other random descriptions you may want to add- to much other music out there, though many commentators have flagged up the genre-breaking similarities to DJ Shadow’s seminal and equally original debut ‘Endtroducing’. Perhaps if dubstep had been conceived in America on different, and by the sounds of things much better, drugs then we’d have a whole movement of artists that sound like ‘Cosmogramma’, but considering even one listen to this great record can occasionally make you feel like your brain is leaking out of your eye-sockets, one will do for now thanks.
16. Built to Spill: There Is No Enemy
How many great tracks does it take to make a great album? If you said ‘all of them’ or similar then you’re either a liar or one of the lucky souls who’s never been subjected to ‘Yellow Submarine’, ‘Sloop John B’, ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ or countless other steaming turds thoughtlessly laid on classic records. Idaho band Built to Spill’s seventh album (do keep up) tests the theory with eleven tracks almost exactly divided between fantastic and ‘meh…’ However, while it may lose points for consistency, the high points of ‘There Is No Enemy’ have few equals this year- The opening salvo of Aisle 13, Hindsight and Nowhere Lullaby especially are as good an introduction to an album as you’ll ever hear.
15. Manic Street Preachers: Postcards From A Young Man
On their tenth album (Jesus fucking Christ…) The Manics have now released three consecutive critically-acclaimed albums and enter their early 40s seemingly all too happy with mainstream acceptance. The critical salivation and great artistic success of last year’s possible career high of ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’ though seems to have infected the band with that most cancerous of artistic afflictions- happiness. ‘Postcards…’ is a wonderfully euphoric and anthemic collection of unashamed commercial rock songs, the ‘Everything Must Go’ to their previous album’s ‘Holy Bible’ (God help us when they reach ‘Lifeblood’ again), but the band seemingly having little to rail against or be angry about gives the album a certain inconsequential- dare I say irrelevant?- air that disappoints from a band who were always convinced of their own (self) importance. ‘All We Make Is Entertainment’’ indeed.
14. Yeasayer: Odd Blood
Deliriously good second album from the Brooklyn collective, dizzyingly inventive and possibly the one album released this year most in love with the gleeful possibilities of pop music. ‘Odd Blood’s wilful experimentation occasionally gets ahead of itself, with a handful of songs not quite standing up, and the clash of styles predictably comes at the expense of more cohesion across the album, but these are small gripes, and there’s seemingly endless treats to discover here. And was there a better single than O.N.E released last year?*
13. N.A.S.A: Spirit of Apollo
David Byrne, Chali 2Na, Chuck D, Seu Jorge, Method Man, RZA, John Frusciante, KRS One, Karen O, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Tom Waits, Kool Keith, Kanye West, Santigold, Lykke Li, Sizzla, Lovefoxx, George Clinton, MIA, Nick Zinner, Nina Persson…
To avoid being overshadowed by what must be the most ridiculously eclectic guest list on any recent album the debut record by LA/ Brazilian duo N.A.S.A would have to be pretty special musically. Luckily, there are enough moments of genius spread over its 18 tracks (far, far too many!) to see that the record’s lofty ambitions are just about realized, and despite more than three dozen guest stars it still on the whole manages to retain some semblance of cohesion in a deft mix of hip hop and Brazilian funk. An impressive achievement.
12. Mystery Jets: Serotonin
Scientists recently proved that the Mystery Jets have become 56.8% more interesting since they realised the stylistic restrictions of pretending to be an indie band and accepted that a few synthesizers does not Nik Kershaw make. Their third album is both their most commercial and their best yet, obviously influenced by some of the better pop of the 1980s but not sounding at any point derivative or dated, thanks in no small part to the fantastic production job by Chris Thomas. Plus ‘Flash a Hungry Smile’, ‘Dreaming of Another World’ and ‘Show Me the Light’ are as good a trio of pop singles as you’re likely to hear.
11. Grinderman: Grinderman 2
Nick Cave is such a permanent feature on these lists that if tragedy strikes and he doesn’t manage to release a record next year I may just have to leave a slot blank in memoriam. ‘Grinderman 2’ is another fantastic album, superior to both the band’s debut and last year’s slightly lacklustre Bad Seeds release ‘Dig! Lazarus, Dig!’. It mostly eschews the band’s previous release’s primal squall for a slightly more considered psych-rock style, though when the band cut loose they still do so with the intense anger of a rhinoceros attempting to return a faulty foot spa without a receipt. Those awaiting Nick Cave’s long-mooted cover of perennial favourite ‘Chico Time’ though will presumably have to wait until the next Bad Seeds album.
10. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Before Today
‘Before Today’ is what FM Rock would sound like if the World was just that little bit more batshit mental, like the result of some wonderful yet to be commissioned game show where members of the public drink a tin of emulsion paint and attempt to play the greatest hits of ELO. It’s wonderful stuff from start to finish, marrying a fantastic knowledge of melody to the courage to take things into left-field if necessary. It’s almost disarmingly charming, considering it’s a record made by people who look like they spend their evenings injecting disinfectant into their eyeballs and painting the walls with their own blood and semen, and is blessed with more hooks than any other record this year- “Round and Round’, ‘L’Estat’ and (ahem) ‘Butt-House Blondies’ especially deserve to be considered for the next winner of the X Factor
9. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
The joke being, of course, that he really isn’t. After more than a decade of personal problems, crippling drug addiction and no new material since 1994 the most people would’ve conceivably expected from Heron’s thirteenth solo album was a pleasant acceptance that he wasn’t quite dead, a patronising pat on the back and perhaps two songs on Jools Holland. What no-one could’ve predicted was quite how modern, experimental, ambitious and vital it sounded- this is not a record by a 61 year-old has been embarrassingly attempting to recreate former glories, but an album that sounds unmistakably a part of 2010’s musical landscape as any other on this list. Musically XL Records owner Richard Russell’s production is by turn solemnly beautiful and almost unbearably exciting (best exemplified by how the stark acoustic title track effortlessly segues out of the violent electronica of ‘Me and the Devil’), while Heron’s voice retains a beauty and an anger that shames people a third of his age.
8. Marina and the Diamonds: The Family Jewels
Last year Marina Diamondis (Christ I hope that’s her real name) released a debut trio of almost perfectly realised left-field pop singles that displayed more imagination, individualism and invention in their accumulative 10 minutes than most other artists manage in their entire career, which left many people beside themselves wondering just how disappointing her debut album could possibly be. Luckily, Marina and the Diamonds’ debut album more than pulls it off, and while ‘Obsessions’, ‘I Am Not A Robot’ and ‘Mowgli’s Road’ are still among the album’s highlights, the album is packed with similar examples of gleefully weird, yet deftly realised, pop music. There’s not a duff track among the 13 here, and almost every song has at least one moment of dizzyingly inventive originality. Marina’s main problem is that almost every song also has at least one moment so toe-curdlingly embarrassing it’s all you can do to stop chewing your knuckles off (the ‘And let the drum beats drop!’ refrain in ‘I Am Not A Robot’ is a particularly painful example), but she has more than enough charm to pull it off in most cases, and with slightly better self-control her second album has the potential to be a classic.
7. The National: High Violet
We all know the deal with The National by now- a few songs that sound a bit like The Tindersticks, a couple of songs that sound a lot like The Tindersticks, and the rest of the songs falling somewhere in between. Guffaw! While ‘High Violet’ doesn’t make any giant strides forward for the New Yorkers- and why should it?- their fifth album cements the band’s sound to near-perfection, delivering their most focused, cohesive and best collection to date. It’s also refreshing, after losing count of how many otherwise fantastic albums I’ve heard that seem to lose steam three quarters in as the producers’ minds inevitably turn to how much coke they plan to snort out of Peaches Geldof’s bum-crack at the wrap party* (I’m looking at you Snow Patrol), to hear an album that actually grows and evolves as it progresses, awarding the listener’s perseverance by placing it’s strongest tracks at the album’s close. The album’s highpoint, though, is ‘Runaway’, a song so lovely and fragile that even just one listen would convince Rupert Murdoch to head off to Oz in search of a soul.
*Note to Peaches Geldof’s lawyers: Come on, it’s true…
6. Sleigh Bells: Treats
Probably the year’s most individualistic and unique record, and definitely its most certifiably bonkers. MIA’s greatest contribution to music in 2010 was not her own laboured and overcooked ‘MAYA’ album, but discovering and subsequently signing Brooklyn’s (again??) Sleigh Bells, and hence ensure that their visceral head-fuck of a debut album saw the light of day. There’s little to compare ‘Treats’ to, at least there’s little music to compare it to- some songs may put the listener in mind of being inside a tumble-dryer perhaps, or the constant jagged white noise inside Mickey Rourke’s head that has ensured he hasn’t slept since 1988. It’s an astonishingly brave attack on the senses, fully-realised yet thrillingly raw, the only complaint I could make is that, apart from a handful of relatively reserved songs such as ‘Rill Rill’, it can all be a bit too much at times, but maybe I’m just showing my age
5. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
At some point in the last three years it was decided that Arcade Fire’s rapturously received (and very, very good) 2007 album ‘Neon Bible’ was, in fact, shit, and so I’m actually obligated to call this a ‘return to form’, even if ‘continuation of a pretty spotless recording career thus far’ would make a lot more sense. ‘The Suburbs’ is better than ‘Neon Bible’ though, and possibly even their best album yet- a lot more relaxed and loose than their previous works, there are moments where you could even imagine the band smiling as they recorded (not Win Butler, obviously, he hasn’t found reason to smile since John Candy died in 1994) and there’s a fantastic propulsive nature to the album that betrays a real drive and sense of purpose, and ensures that despite it’s length (60+ minutes and 16 tracks) there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of fat on it. Bruce Springsteen’s lawyer, however, may want to listen to a few of the tracks…
4. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Too often ridiculously thought of as Outkast’s Andrew Ridgeley to Andre 3000’s George Michael- usually by the kind of ignoramus who still listens to ‘Mosely Shoals’ and uses the phrase ‘At least they write their own songs’ in every argument, even if you’re talking about the West Bank occupation- Big Boi has frequently proven himself both the most talented rapper and the most radical musical thinker in his (former?) group. ‘Hey Ya’ may have been the highpoint of the duo’s 2003 double album, it was Big Boi’s ‘Ghetto Musick’ that was the most ground-breaking and artistically radical moment, and on the ‘Idlewild’ soundtrack literally every high-point of a confusing and disjointed album (‘The Train’, ‘Morris Brown’ etc) was a Big Boi cut, while Andre 3000’s contributions were, to be frank, absolute steaming turds. Big Boi has also raised the bar ridiculously high with his solo debut- ‘Sir Lucious…’ fires so much ideas and invention at you from the first bars of opener ‘Daddy Fat Sacks’ and throughout its 19 tracks that it’s almost impossible to keep up, and you will continue to discover new subtleties within its deliciously layered production well into your 30-40th listen (I would recommend a lie down between spins though). It’s a work of absolute genius, and you’d have to go back to 2000’s masterpiece ‘Stankonia’ to find the last Outkast-related release of comparable quality. Flaws? Sigh… It’s a bit too long, and there are too many fucking skits! But you could pretty much say the same about every major hip-hop record released in the past two decades
3. Lonelady: Nerve Up
Fucking brilliant. There’s nothing particularly new or ground-breaking about Julie Campbell’s debut album- it’s basically just an extremely accomplished and almost psychotically tight New Wave punk record. It is, however, almost panic-attack inducingly exciting, performed with such intensity and with such an insanely absolute sense of purpose that the record’s 45 minutes seem to fly by in a matter of seconds. Such intensity and focus, not to mention her disregard for wasted seconds or redundant musical flourishes, is probably most reminiscent of the early work by her MCR compatriots Joy Division, though obviously lacking the devastating despair. She is, to my humble (ha!) ears, the most exciting thing to come out of Manchester since Carlos Tevez last spat out his dummy, and it’s good to see the city producing something that isn’t four blokes in kagoules re-writing ‘Dear Prudence’/ ‘She Bangs the Drum’
2. Anais Mitchell: Hadestown
There have been so many wonderful albums released this year- in other years any of this year’s top 10 would’ve conceivably been my favourite. I qualify myself here in apology to Anais Mitchell- in different circumstances to put a work of absolutely unqualified genius such as ‘Hadestown’ at number 2 would be tantamount to insanity. Ms. Mitchell’s forth album is simply awe-inspiring; thematically it’s similar to last year’s wonderful Decemberists’ album ‘The Hazards of Love’ in that it’s also a concept album that uses folk music to tell a mythical tale (in this case Orpheus and Eurydices). However, as brilliant as The Decemberists’ album was, it can’t help but sound like a tiny appetizer when compared to the feast served up by ‘Hadestown’. It’s an amazing ride- through dozens of emotions and countless musical styles, and starring a fantastic cast of supporting actors- chiefly Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon- and yet astonishingly it never sounds disjointed or jarring- every song flows so magnificently into the next that the album is able to create an experience quite unlike any other recently released. So, again, I’m sorry Ms. Mitchell, in any other year you’d have walked it…
Janelle Monae: The Archandroid (Suites II & III)
…Yet this was still the best by a country mile.
Christ, where do you start？Has there been a more astonishing debut album (a 2009 EP was ‘Suite I’) than Janelle Monae’s released in the past 5 years? The past decade? It’s ‘Songs In the Key of Life’ meets ‘Ziggy Stardust’ with ten times more glamour and style than the former and twenty times more eclecticism and invention than the latter; it’s the second side suite of ‘Abbey Road’ recorded by ‘All Around The World In A Day’ era Prince; it’s… Erm… Elvis Presley… On acid… It’s bloody brilliant, basically, breathlessly so (sometimes literally- the slower pace, and absolutely gorgeous, ‘Sir Greendown’ must have been inserted on Doctor’s advice after another blast of energy on a par with the album’s first four tracks would put thousands at risk of heart seizures) and it’s hard to think of any other album of recent years, or of any year, that so effortlessly and deftly handles so much genre-hopping and eclectism without once compromising the record’s faultless flow and sense of direction. The Archandroid Suite is partly based upon Metropolis (‘the series involves the fictional tale of Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love’– in a perfect World, all album’s should be decreed by law to follow a concept as fabulously batshit mental as this) and if it weren’t for the slightly cack-handed Big-Band stylings of ‘Come Alive (War of the Roses)’ there would be little evidence that Janelle Monae was human at all. On top of all this, Monae also possesses one of the most startlingly powerful and versatile voices to have emerged in a long time- capable of moving from Mary J Blige smooth to Patti Smith squeal within a couple of words. If there are any better records released before 2020 it’s going to be a fantastic decade for music. The one major gripe? This is going to be absolutely impossible to top.
Antony & the Johnsons: Starlights Beautiful in parts, but severely lacking in actual tunes
The Roots: How I Got Over Some great moments, but they’re always so fucking pleased with themselves aren’t they?
LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening Is it?
Hot Chip: One Life Stand Hmmm, just remembered this album. Probably should’ve gone in
Gayngs: Gayngs Great, but heard it too late for consideration
Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me A triple CD. Triple CD…
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: The Social Network Soundtrack Just missed out
MIA: MAYA The self-importance is beginning to overtake the music for the first time
Also completely forgotten:
41 thoughts on “2010 Albums of the Year”