1. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs – Lordy, lordy. This lengthy double LP just might be our biggest love since Radiohead released OK Computer in 1997. It might actually be. Sure, we liked it on day one quite a bit, but for whatever reason (possibly because it’s so long?) we never gave the record the proper attention it deserved. Not until quiet recently, that is. Now, at the last second, we award The Suburbs, the great third album from maybe the greatest band of today, Arcade Fire, our album of the year honors. A disc that, like OK all those years ago, just grows and grows and grows until it’s unimaginable brilliance is immeasurable. A major modern classic. Long and stuffed full of brilliance that, we think, will age incredibly well. A legacy-maker.
2. The National: High Violet - It’s always nice when a band you love, a band you think has already hit their peak, blows your mind. This rare occurrence happened to me before High Violet’s opening track, “Terrible Love,” was even half way complete. I’ve read many times over how The National have, with this record, completed some sort of trilogy they started with 2005’s Alligator. I couldn’t disagree more. Violet is, to me, a whole new era for the band. An era where very thick, detailed and ingenious compositions (as well as the band’s best ever lyrics) change their status from stellar also-ran to era leader. High Violet, stuffed full of perfect compositions, is the kind of record I return to every few weeks to judge the greatness of my current rotation against. Needless to say, most everything pales. A new classic.
3. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest - Of all the lists I’ve made here at the end of 2010, this one, usually the most stressful, was surprisingly the easiest. The easiest because, in my opinion, of the many great albums released in 2010, Deerhunter’s third national release was a big heavy anchor, setting the mark for excellence. Brainchild Bradford Cox here perfects his hazy bedroom version of indie rock, effortlessly adding some of the more mellow and nuanced elements from Logos, his recent Atlas Sound album, with the more rock-based approach of Deerhunter. The result is a varied-but-cohesive collection of moments that take from (and build on) the work of many of the greats of indie rock past. Hidden in the details is both the scope of late-90s Radiohead and the oddball pop understanding of 90s underdogs like Pavement and Built to Spill. A new must-own record made perfect for fans of both classic-era college rock and modern real deals like Animal Collective and Arcade Fire.
4. Sufjan Stevens: All Delighted People EP - The most curious release of 2010, ADP was released at first as a download-only record with no advance press. Eventually the album was released on CD and LP, still classified as an EP despite being long enough to warrant four 12” record sides. The songs are long, the album cover is a mess, the sound is new and the title track appears twice. All that said, the strangest factoid about ADP to me is that people, in large, seem to very much prefer Stevens’ “proper” 2010 release, The Age of Adz. Granted, I love Adz too, but All Delighted People is Stevens’ best-yet record, showcasing what he does best while also flirting with new directions. Hopefully, in the tall shadow of Adz, ADP doesn’t end up a forgotten record.
5. Yann Tiersen: Dust Road – Known mostly as the Frenchman who scored Amelie, Yann Tiersen’s first proper Stateside release has more in common with a Godspeed or Silver Mount Zion record than it does the sound of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s quirky classic. Guitars, mostly, take the place of accordions and harpsichords. The songs armed with multiple movements and boasting big, grand arrangements that often feature full choruses and string arrangements, Dust Road is the great (mostly) unheard indie release of 2010. Everyone I know who has heard the record loves it; everyone else? Well, hmm … they‘re probably busy torturing their selves with Sleigh Bells.
6. Mount Eerie: Song Islands, Vol. 2 - After releasing the highly acclaimed The Glow, Pt. 2 in 2001, ex-Microphones stud Phil Elverum released a rock opera, then an uber-spotty leftovers collection then, not surprisingly, disappeared for a while. When he came back he did so solo (and with a new moniker), leaving his label behind and starting his own shop. Since then he has self-released some of the most inventive and masterful underground records of the 2000s, putting out a collection of songs about once a year – sometimes twice. But, as much as I love the (admittedly frustrating) man and his music, I’m forever bummed to know that even my most music-savvy friends haven’t heard Song Islands, Vol. 2, my new favorite odds and sods release. In the year where Bruce Springsteen released one of the best ever leftovers collections with The Promise, weirdo Elverum managed to gather his own scraps and release not just one of the year’s best albums, but maybe my personal favorite ever leftovers album.
THE BEST OF THE REST: 7. Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz; 8. Joanna Newsom, Have One On Me; 9. Beach House, Teen Dream; 10. Best Coast, Crazy For You; 11. Perfume Jesus, Learning, 12. Ryan Adams, III/IV (tie); 12. Bruce Springsteen, The Promise (tie); 13. Jon Keller, Down In a Mirror; 14. Wavves, King of the Beach; 15. The Black Keys, Brothers; 16. Black Milk, Album of the Year; 17. The Roots, How I Got Over; 18. No Age, Everything In Between; 19. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; 20. Eels, Tomorrow Morning; 21. Mark Hutchins, Sleepy Furnace; 22. MGMT, Congratulations; 23. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening; 24. Clem Snide, The Meat of Life; 25. Lee Miles, Open Your Grievous Heart EP; 26. Ty Segall, Melted; 27. Marah, Life Is a Problem, 28. Black Label Summer, The Rise and Fall of Josh Hall; 29. The Morning Benders, Big Echo; 30. Band of Horses, Infinite Arms; 31. Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot; 32. She & Him, Volume 2; 33. Badly Drawn Boy, It’s What I’m Thinking; 34. Spoon, Transference; 35. Belle and Sebastian, Write About Love … and, of course, Paul Westerberg’s kinda/sorta new album, Grandpaboy’s Last Stand.
FAVORITE SONG OF 2010: “All Delighted People,” Sufjan Stevens – It’s big and it’s long and it’s strange and inventive. Someday Sufjan will be looked back on as one of the Men of His Time. And when that happens, I’m pretty sure that the title track from his overlooked 2010 EP will stand as not just the best representation of his mastery, but one heck of a fun and beautiful work.
ADDITIONAL FAVORITE SONGS: 2. “Coronado,” Deerhunter; 3. “Terrible Love,” The National; 4. “Too Much,” Sufjan Stevens; 5. “Mystery Language,” Mount Eerie; 6. “Silver Soul,” Beach House; 7. “No Barrier Fun,” Liars; 8. “Moves,” The New Pornographers; 9. “Dust Lane,” Yann Tiersen; 10. “Hope and Depression,” Jon Keller; 11. “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” The National; 12. “Afraid of Everyone,” The National; 13. “Where Is My Tarp?” Mount Eerie; 14. “Djohariah,” Sufjan Stevens; 15. “Revival,” Deerhunter; 16. “Sprawl II,” Arcade Fire; 17. “Breakdown Into Resolve,” Ryan Adams; 18. “Runaway,” Kanye West; 19. “The Wild Hunt,” Tallest Man on Earth; 20. “From the Mount of Gabriel,” Sufjan Stevens; 21. “Thanksgiving,” Mount Eerie; 22. “Glitter,” No Age; 23. “Everlasting Light,” The Black Keys; 24. “Take On the World,” Wavves; 25. “Sleepy Furnace,” Mark Hutcins
FAVORITE ARTISTS OF 2010:
1. Bradford Cox - In addition to his best-yet Halcyon Digest album he released (for free, no less) four discs full of new demos. And now an amazing Christmas song!
2. Sufjan Stevens - Two great, great, great albums in one year? And practically out of nowhere? And he helped quite a bit with my other album of the year, High Violet? Stud.
3. Jon Keller – Released his awesome debut album, played on an upcoming album from Lee Miles that’s excellent, played with Mark Hutchins in support of his excellent new album, played with Thunderhawk/Black Label Summer at times … etc.
4. Ryan Adams – Self-released a metal album then a double album full of his most accessible material yet. Was an excellent hands-on guy with his fans and has been working very hard on a brand new studio album. Also, he treated the paparazzi accordingly, which you rarely see. Oh, and last but not least, he gave away lots of music for free and is already planning a second archival release for early 2011.
MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUMS OF 2010:
1. Phosphorescent – Here’s To Taking It Easy*
2. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
3. Neil Young – Le Noise
4. Sage Francis – Li(f)e
5. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – The Wonder Show of the World
6. Menomena – Mines
FAVORITE ALBUM COVERS/DESIGN OF 2010**:
1. The National – High Violet
2. Spoon – Transference
3. The Black Keys – Brothers
4. Eels – Tomorrow Morning
5. Arcade Fire – Suburbs
6. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
MOST-LISTENED-TO ALBUMS OF 2010 (according to iTunes):
1. Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People
2. Marmoset – Tea Tornado
3. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
4. Yann Tiersen – Dust Lane
5. Mount Eerie – Song Islands Vol. 2
6. Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand
7. Marmoset – Record In Red
8. Best Coast – Crazy For You
9. Perfume Jesus – Learning
10. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Master & Everyone