Inane Thoughts: My Top Ten Albums of 2010

Before I start with my list of my top ten albums of the year I need to make a couple of things clear. First, I have not heard every album this year, which means that there will be glaring omissions from this list. For instance, I have not yet got around to really listening to the Big Boi, Ariel Pink, Janelle Monae and Arcade Fire albums (the Ariel Pink is currently blasting out of my stereo and I am very much enjoying it). Secondly, despite some disagreement with my opinion, I am sticking by my description of Jon Bon Jovi as a ninny: the man still wears leather waistcoats and has a Superman tattoo on his arm, ’nuff said. Anyway, without further ado, my top ten albums of 2010:

1. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo

2. Caribou – Swim

It was a difficult decision between Avi Buffalo and Caribou as to my favourite album of the year. Essentially it comes down to the album I listened to most in summer vs. the album I’ve listened to most in winter. Caribou’s sparkling record, despite featuring the song “Sun”, feels wintery to me; the sun in this record feels like that winter sun sneaking through the blinds as you warm yourself against a radiator. What a feeling that is. I can listen to Caribou’s record over and over again, always finding something new and exciting.

Avi Buffalo, however, is a soundtrack to hazy summer late afternoons, with all those mazy guitar lines and boy/girl harmonies. In the end, Avi Buffalo just shaded it, pretty much entirely down to the two live performances I saw of them this year. To put it simply: that boy can really shred. It harks back to the rough-shod guitar rock of Neil Young, with smatterings of Daniel Johnston in the vocals and the youthful naivety of the lyrics. It’s a record that reminds me of being young, of being stupid and of being stoned, without the actual need to be any of those three, which is a lot easier.

3. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

Alex Turner, Jarvis Cocker, Mike Skinner. All great lyricists, but let’s be honest, they’re not poets. If you were to write their lyrics out on paper, despite including some absolutely killer lines, they would rarely read like poetry. Now let’s be clear here, Joanna Newsom writes poetry. She also obeys Morrissey’s rule for great lyrics in pop music – she uses words you don’t expect to hear in pop music.

In three sections (3 CDs, or 3 vinyl, depending on your preference of ownership) she explores the whole messy sprawl of a doomed relationship: from the first moments when you realise you love someone, to that forlorn moment when you realise it’s no longer working but desperately want it to keep going, followed by the aftermath when you’re emptying your life of that person. There are so many great songs on this album it could and should take weeks to fully explore it – it’s an album to get lost in. There are many stand out moments, but at the moment I’m returning time and time again to the last verse of the last song, which is heartbreakingly beautiful: “The tap of hangers swaying in the closet/Unburdened hooks and empty drawers/And everywhere I tried to love you/Is yours again and only yours”.

4. Beach House – Teen Dream

Oooh, creamy. That is all.

Not really. As much as I’m a fan of pith and brevity, I do feel the need to at least write a little bit more about this record. It’s a gorgeous record, mostly down to the vocals of singer, Victoria Legrand, who reminds me of a more sultry Patti Smith. The sound is somewhere between the soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine and the melodies of mid-70s Fleetwood Mac, which sounds odd (though less so in the wake of albums like Midlake’s ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’), but this is no bad thing. A great album.

5. These New Puritans – Hidden

This started in my top 3, but although it is one of the most original sounding records of the year, possibly even the century, it occasionally leaves me a little cold, particularly on the second half of the album. However, there are few better opening halves of an album this year though. It’s a sound based on the early 20th-century classical music of Britten and Elgar, mixed with rhythm sounds straight out of the UK grime scene. It’s a disconcerting, but spectacularly rewarding record. ‘We Want War’, ‘Attack Music’ and ‘Hologram’ are amongst the best songs of the century so far. Stunning.

6. The National – High Violet

High gothic, big tunes, from the men who make music that sounds like red wine tastes. All together: “I was afraid, I’d eat your brains… cos’ I-I-a-ammm evil”

7. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

More woozy, shoegazing loveliness from the kings of the basement scene. Not as good as last year’s ‘Microcastle’, but with songs as good as the shimmering ‘He Would Have Laughed’ (in memory of 00s punk genius Jay Reatard), ‘Desire Lines’ (see yesterday’s blog) and the 50s rockabilly-inspired ‘Revival’, they’re still the current kings of lo-fi indie.

8. Vampire Weekend – Contra

This is, hands down, the best pop album of the year. It was an album I didn’t expect to like, yet alone to end up loving. Despite having a couple of great tracks on their first album, they’d always felt to me like a fairly awkward band, not quite comfortable in their own skin. This year they burst out, brimming with preppy confidence, unashamed in their look of 21st century updates on college graduates from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. No-one wrote with greater clarity about class in America, nor did anyone write any better pop hooks. A pop album that still rewarded repeat listens.

9. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

First track aside, this quickly dissolves into the sort of self-involved mess that Kanye West has also produced this year. Sufjan’s is the winner for me because he doesn’t moan on and on about the downsides about being ludicrously rich and famous, though this may be to do with the fact that Sufjan hasn’t sold over 10 million albums, nor has he called the US president a racist (at least, not in front of a whole country). You genuinely get the impression that he had a nervous breakdown making this record. I mean, did anyone really foresee the Christian-approved classical-inspired folkie producing a 25 minute track and shouting: “I’m not fucking around!” a full 16 times in a row. It doesn’t sound like fun, but on repeat listens you’ll find that beneath the supposed electro mess lurk some absolutely killer tunes and meticulous arrangements. He’s rather a talented lad, that Sufjan.

10. Tokyo Police Club – Champ

It’s just a perfect 3 minute pop song album. ‘Favourite Food’ and ‘Gone’ are particularly great, but it’s just so damned infectious. Unlike Vampire Weekend, the appeal does diminish after a while, but these guys are still very much an underrated band.

To round off, as this list has changed several times in the last few weeks, here is my list of honourable mentions:

  • Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today (because I’m listening to it now and it’s freaking awesome!)
  • Best Coast- Crazy For You
  • Woods – At Echo Lake
  • John Grant – Queen of Denmark
  • Four Tet – There Is Love In You
  • Gayngs – Relayted

Have a great New Year all of you! And just remember, as you head into another day, there are two types of people out there: those who use the word ‘simples’ and those who haven’t yet and are, whatever else they’ve done, redeemable human beings.

See you on the flip-side!

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