Folkways Magazine Presents: Favorite Albums 2010



What follows is a list of my twenty favorite albums of the year in ascending order. There were definitely some close calls such as The Monitor by Titus Andronicus, Big Echo by The Morning Benders or Gemini by Wild Nothing but after a great deal of thought, these are my favorites:

Circulatory System:Signal Morning

Evan and I both pre-ordered the deluxe edition of this months before the release date after waiting years for the album to finish. It took forever for us to get it and thus, for me, the impact was slightly diminished due to the annoyance associated with waiting for it. I am sure that in time, the album will unfold just as its predecessor did.

Wavves: King of the Beach

King of the Beach is at least 74% better than its predecessor. The album consists of 12 great little pop songs which embed in your brain; I look forward to seeing what Wavves release next.

Sleigh Bells: Treats

This album, one of the loudest I have ever heard, was hard to avoid this year. It blew me away the first few times I heard it and while I did enjoy it, I did not return to it as often as I had expected, hence the low placing on this list.

MGMT: Congratulations

A poorly reviewed sophomore album which I, personally, feel is better than its more celebrated predecessor. While Oracular Spectacular had the singles, this album has the cohesiveness which allows the songs to work together. That is what an album is, not a couple of singles surrounded by unrelated filler.

Emeralds: Does it Look Like I’m Here?

Tiny keyboard loops repeat into droning meditations which have a strange beauty. It is easy to get lost in this one and it gets better with each listen.

Caribou: Swim

I do not like this album as much as I loved Andorra but it is still a great one. The album is sequenced in such a way that the songs work together to build a greater whole. Opener “Odessa” is one of my favorite songs of the year and that cannot be ignored.

Oneohtrix Point Never: Returnal

Returnal’s abrasive noise opener does little to set the stage for the gentle ambient album which follows but what it does do is put the listener off guard and let them know that anything could happen. This exquisite album is surprising in its masterful sense of mood and pacing and as a listener, it is a pleasure to go on this journey.

Spoon: Transference

This is an album that seems to have been quickly dismissed by way too many people. It may not be as immediately engaging as their last few albums but it is still a Spoon record and Spoon does not make mistakes. These loose and wandering songs have a sketchy quality which, to me, seems somehow more emotional than their more polished standards and it is absolutely one of the most interesting listens of 2010.

No Age: Everything in Between

This is one of those albums which is impressive due to the huge amount of musical growth on display. Everything in Between takes the sound explorations of Nouns and writes stronger songs around them making for an exciting listen.

The National: High Violet

Until High Violet was released, I was never able to get into the National. Each track has a different sound which keeps my ear interested and, as is usual, the band has great chemistry elevating the stature of their perfectly simple songs.

Pantha Du Prince: Black Noise

I love this album. Rarely is something so minimalistic and fragile so incredibly engaging. Engaging enough to form barely identifiable melodies which stick in my head long after the needle has lifted from the record. It is true that the Panda Bear collaboration does not really fit with the rest of the album and that is why this is not higher on the list, but I think it is a pretty great track on its own.

Department of Eagles: Archive 2003-2006

Is it cheating to put a compilation of non-album recordings on a best albums list? With a collection as gorgeous as this, no one could possibly care. The songs are surrounded by short musical vignettes which help to bring a unity to the compilation, allowing it to work more as an album than it rightly should.

Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

While initially disappointed that I did not notice as much musical growth on Halcyon Digest as was displayed between their last two LPs, I was quickly won over by this irresistible set of songs. Any one of these tracks could justifiably be released as a single which by my standards makes this a perfect album.

Avey Tare: Down There

Avey Tare, not Panda Bear, has always been my favorite member of Animal Collective. He has a lyrical cleverness which his partner is lacking and his ability to let his performance become unhinged, (sometimes in danger of derailing the song), is thrilling both on record and in person. This record is all Avey and it is all amazing!

LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening

The songs of This is Happening are built around simple patterns which eventually expand into huge triumphant sing-a-long commentaries on the human condition. This isn’t anything new for LCD Soundsystem but the primarily Eno influence which seems to define this album brings it a fresh twist which is worth returning to. Also, their set was awesome at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom sure has grown a lot as a performer. This triple LP has a sprawling eclecticism which is unmatched in today’s MP3-cultured music scene which is unavoidably single-centric. Really it is the individual songs which allow Have One on Me to work; if they were not good then asking people to listen to more than 2 hours of them would be a joke but Newsom pulls it off flawlessly. I have listened to this album many times and each time I seem to enjoy it more. I was able to see Joanna Newsom perform live this year and the delicacy of the arrangements was even more impressive in person.

Hot Chip: One Life Stand

I never would’ve imagined myself liking this album but once I heard it, I could not stop listening and now, here it is, on my elite end of year list. These disco-tinged electro-love ballads celebrate monogamy. Not only is this incredibly rare for dance music but, truly, for all music in general. Pop celebrates lust and infatuation, not love. Rather than singing about the pursuit of a relationship, the singer speaks of the ever after, settling down and living a life together. The songs are catchy, fun and inventive: all I could hope for in a great album. The production is subtle yet inventive and engaging details emerge through repeated listens. That’s right: this album has replay value.

Harlem: Hippies

This album is a really fun time. The songs remain stuck in my head for days after hearing them and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is, in my opinion, the best album to come out this year for blasting at full volume in your car and that is saying something. The markedly unhinged performances bring a vitality to what is essentially traditional garage rock but it is a keen ear for melody that affords this album a longevity which it would not otherwise possess. Perhaps it stands out more to me than it would to other people because I came upon it by chance having never heard anything about the band previously but that doesn’t stop it from being great. Harlem is my favorite discovery of the year.

Beach House: Teen Dream

I have been proclaiming this album my favorite of the year from the first time I heard it. It was inched out of the top spot at the last minute but that should not take away any of its glory. This album is a pleasure to listen to. While somewhat mellow, the songs are still fully immersive due to the expertly crafted atmosphere on each track. Environments are created through simple instrumentation and beautiful vocals. The lyrics are simplistic in a way reminiscent of Veckatimist by Grizzly Bear. These are songs about real life that are given a higher meaning through wonderful performance. This album has helped me to find an appreciation for the rest of Beach House’s catalog which I had previously overlooked and additionally I was able to see Beach House play at the Pitchfork Music Festival this year and the performance was nearly hypnotic.

Sufjan Stevens: Age of Adz

When Illinoise came out, it was my favorite album of the year and Sufjan has done it again despite the huge difference in sound. The folk chamber pop of his last few albums has been uprooted and replaced by orchestral-electro-folk pop. My favorite thing about this album and his music in general is the grandiose sense of drama that ornaments each song. Simple stories of joy and heartache are elevated to a transcendent level with sweeping orchestral strings, choral vocals and spectacular song lengths. This year I was able to travel to Atlanta to see Sufjan perform these songs live and it was a great time. Wacky costume changes and dance moves worked their magic to further endear this album in my memory and I cannot wait to visit it in a few years to see how it has aged

**********************************************

20. Baths – Cerulean

 

Baths debut album Cerulean is another wonderful electronic effort from the great Anticon label. Spawned from the realm created by Flying Lotus, Baths music is dizzying and spellbinding.

19. Eluveitie – Everything Remains as it Never Was

Another classic album from the Celtic Folk metal act from Switzerland, what a wonderful combination. The production is cleaner, the songs are heavier, and the folkier tracks remain as they have always been, beautiful.

18. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?

Sounds from a space station constructed by Tangerine Dream, Boards of Canada, and Robert Fripp. A great ambient album from a burgeoning new band. 

17. Daughters – Daughters

The last offering from a short lived grindcore band, with a pop tinge! This album couldn’t have been better in its attempt to leave us wanting so much more.

16. Tamaryn – The Waves

Drifting, cascading melodies from this years greatest shoegaze offering. “Love Fade” is certainly in my top ten songs of the year.

15. Jónsi – Go

Jónsi’s musical transformation over the past couple years has lead to this, his first complete solo effort. I am still wondering how he is able to channel the heavens into his music.

14. Finntroll – Nifelvind 

Finntroll has the ability to put a smile on my face whenever I listen to them, no matter what mood I am in, no matter what the circumstances. They are only getting better, and this release proves it. Also, personal opinion, “Under Dvargens Fot” might just be their best song ever. Let the hate mail begin.

13. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

I was convinced that this album couldn’t be better than Ashes Against the Grain, but Agalloch has done it once more with this superb release of slow-building, ambient, folk metal, with a hint of post-rock for good measure. 

12. Beach House – Teen Dream

The songs found here contain melodies that will forever be cemented into my subconscious. This album owns some of the most beautiful music produced this year.

11. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal

The reigning champion in the ambient music genre, newcomers Oneohtrix Point Never . Rifts was an incredible album, but Returnal combines all of the excellent moments of their previous release into this solid effort that stands alongside greats like: Stars of the Lid, Eluvium, and Tim Hecker.

10. Sleigh Bells – Treats

When I first heard the demo songs on Sleigh Bells 2HELLWU, I was already sold; then, when I heard the full release Treats, I was completely blown away. I rarely, and I mean rarely, listen to one album, and only one album, for days on end, and when those days became weeks I knew that this band had reached something incredibly special. Although this album may have been the most stunning release of the year, I feel that greater things are to come, and this debut will only be the beginning.

9. Ihsahn – After

Emperor has been one of my favorite black metal bands for some time now. I was introduced to them through the album In The Nightside Eclipse, which is now one of the greatest black metal albums ever. The band, fronted by Ihsahn, was surrounded by controversy including church burnings and murder! But, arising from the infamy of his most successful project, Ihsahn has plowed forward and continually produces great progressive black metal. After, his third solo effort is another incredible achievement and one of the best metal albums of the year.

8. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

One could consider this Joanna Newsom’s masterpiece, a three LP release filled with song after song of folk gold. Joanna is the queen of intricate folk music even though, by appearances, she looks to be more of a beautiful princess. I really tried to not let my infatuation encroach on this review, I apologize. I highly anticipated this release and it did not fail me in any way. 

7. Caribou – Swim

The reason that Swim is the best release by Caribou so far is that the first half of the album’s greatness isn’t let down by a slow dragging second half that was present in both The Milk of Human Kindness and Andorra. Swim is solid all of the way through, each song is great and sounds as if Dan Snaith is controlling the electronics involuntarily, as if the electronics and his muscle movements are one, as if these sounds course through his veins.

6. Kvelertak – Kvelertak

The debut release from this Norwegian metal act is filled with energy. When I first heard this album I immediately thought it sounded like a cross between Converge and Doomriders. The lyrics center around Viking mythology, which is a plus for me since I love Viking/Folk metal, but the difference between this band and the others, is their sound. Mixing rock, punk, and black metal, Kvelertak have achieved one of the more interesting musical combinations in the metal genre in 2010, and that’s saying a lot since metal has been flooded with incredible musical combinations and progressions this year.

5. Les Discrets – Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées

Apart of the French black metal scene including Alcest and Amesoeurs, Les Discrets is the project created by Fursy Teyssier, who also does the artwork for the three bands. This album combines shoegaze and black metal, with some gothic vocals, and succeeds in the most beautiful way possible. Something is going on in France, and this countdown shows it. This album is completely amazing and impossibly perfect.

4. Lovesliescrushing – Avianium

Lovesliescrushing was the band I found after an extensive search for a My Bloody Valentine replacement. Fortunately for me, I found a band that might possibly exceed them. Scott Cortez and his myriad of guitar layers and dreamy soundscapes propelled my interest in ambient music and birthed a whole new revelation in the way I view and hear music, as well as my understanding of its construction. This release comprises decades of production and the music only benefits from the depths of the time it took to create.

3. Tobacco – Maniac Meat

Let me state that whoever said, and I think it might have been Chris, that this album sounds like listening to music coming from a car as it speeds past you on a highway, was absolutely spot on. I have continually returned to this album and it has remained one of the best albums of the year. These songs envelope the listener and scramble their brain with a onslaught of pop crackling, static melodies that soar, bounce, and jump into the ears.

2. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

 

This album came as a complete shock to me. I had not thoroughly enjoyed their debut and was wary about their new release; but, once I heard their shift in sound and got lost in their pounding, trance inducing hypnosis, I confirmed my love for this new version of Crystal Castles and vowed to sing their praises in this list. Maybe it was because I first listened to this album during, what might be, the only tornado to hit New Jersey, or maybe it’s just that good. I believe it’s a little bit of both. Plus, I didn’t think “Not In Love” could get any better, especially if it was a cover, and I know the cover did not appear on this record, but that cover, to me, is the most impressive song of the year.

1. Alcest – Ecailles De Lune

There are many metal albums here on this list amongst other non-metal albums, and all of them are very deserving of their placements. But there is only one album that I considered the best of the year from the first moment I heard it. Alcest’s second release Ecailles De Lune is one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard. In the same league with Kid A, Agaetis Byrjun, and Loveless, this album has redefined metal, and music in general, for me. The combination of shoegaze and black metal has been very prevalent within the French black metal scene this year and no one accomplished this greater than Alcest. No one has accomplished this level of beauty and heart filled honesty in music in some time. I thought a lot about where to place certain albums on this list, but the number one spot had been decided early on in the year. Truly, in my opinion, the number one album of the year belongs to Alcest.

Share

This entry was posted in Music, Special Feature. Bookmark the permalink.