10. The New Pornographers – Together
Together at last. I’ve always liked the New Pornographers, loved their singles like everybody else, and went on to suffer through their last two albums hoping for greatness. On this one, the band brought it: the broader arrangements and slower pacing of Challengers and Twin Cinema merged with, once again, vital, climactic pop songs. The New Pornographers always felt like a bit of a trifle next to the heavier works of moonlighting members Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and Neko Case, but on Together, they bring their strengths to bear in what feels for the first time like the creative process of an actual band. Bonus points to this album for possessing the strongest mid-section of 2010.
9. Miles Kurosky – The Desert of Shallow Effects
Indie rock, having long since moved on to bands for whom songwriting is a bonus at best, may not have missed the former Beulah frontman these last few years. But I did, and judging by the reception he got in both L.A. and Austin this year, I wasn’t alone. In 2003, Beulah went out at the top of their game; The Desert of Shallow Effects, with its boundless enthusiasm, bittersweet lyricism (Kurosky, outside of maybe John Darnielle, is arguably the best writer in indie rock) and idiosyncratic song structures, proves he hasn’t lost a step since.
VIDEO PREMIERE | INTERVIEW | PHOTOS
8. Beach House – Teen Dream
It’s been interesting in the last week or so to see the Beach House AOTY contingent. Teen Dream is not a particularly splashy record, but unlike their too-sleepy early work, there’s enough sparkle over its immaculate craft to catch one’s attention. The nice thing about the download era is it costs nothing to give a band a second chance — Teen Dream finds a group finally worth the wait.
REVIEW | “Norway”: mp3
7. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – III/IV
You’re either a fan or you’re not at this point, but this isn’t one of Adams’ best albums in the way that A Hard Day’s Night isn’t tops on your Beatles list. If The-Dream could write choruses like this, he’d sell a million albums a week.
6. Spoon – Transference
Kill the Moonlight and Gimme Fiction were good enough records, but with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon made its second masterpiece. Transference is very nearly its third. Splicing hi-fi recordings together with rough demos with the band’s usual exacting studio mastery, songs like “The Mystery Zone” and “Before Destruction” are at once deeply immersive and Hemingway-level terse and tough; “Trouble Comes Running” is the year’s best garage jam. It might be time to stop talking about how much we love Spoon and start treating them like what they are: a goddamn national treasure. (Related: I saw them live three times this year. They’re still getting better.)
PHOTOS | REVIEW
5. Warpaint – The Fool
In a year of gauzy, dreamy records as in focus as the recycled ’70s photography that adorned their covers, The Fool offers the sharp terror of nightmare. Emotionally obscure and sonically flawless, its loose, half-sketched songs are like buried treasure you can’t quite dig deep enough to reach.
REVIEW | PHOTOS
4. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo
The kids: So, so alright. Avi Buffalo made a folk-rock record that impressed Nels Cline and did the Beachwood Sparks proud: it sounds like L.A., it feels like a teen dream by an actual teenager and it’s only the beginning of this year’s best new band’s (!) long career.
REVIEW | “What’s In It For?”: mp3
3. Tokyo Police Club – Champ
Like Harlem Shakes last year, Tokyo Police Club didn’t try to blow minds with Champ; they just tried to make the best indie rock album they possibly could. As other acts stumbled out of bed directly onto eBay synths, the band wore their guitars like a badge of honor (and made pretty rad use of synths) while offering lyrics clever and lovelorn. No pressure with that next album, Strokes.
2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Dear haters: some of us white rock writers did actually listen to rap albums this year not by Kanye West and guess what, they are not as good as rap albums made by Kanye West. (No offense to Big Boi, but this record makes him sound about as exciting as a Toyota Corolla.) If this music doesn’t make you want to breathe fire and battle King Kong, it might be time to start actually listening to albums — not Internet circle-jerking.
1. The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme
2006’s 10.0 (yes) Pet Grief might be a touch better than the Swedish band’s fuzzy, triumphant return, but after listening to this 50 or 60 times, decision-making feels like splitting hairs. Was any album this year more finely crafted, more emotionally vivid, more thematically thoughtful, more noisily climactic, more surprisingly dance-y? Yeezy may be on God’s iPod, but this is on His turntable.
REVIEW | ALL POSTS | “Heaven’s On Fire”: mp3
One more notable release:
Elliott Smith – Roman Candle (remaster)
My favorite album of all time gets a near-perfect dusting-off from Larry Crane. If you buy one album (preferably on vinyl) this year, make it this one.
Best of 2010: EPs/Singles | Songs | Albums | Rawky Awards
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