Sunday, December 12, 2010

the top 10 albums of 2010

And so to my fourth annual countdown of the year's best albums. You can also check out the lists from 2009, 2008 and 2007. Next week, 2010's top ten singles.

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach kicks off the list at number ten. The achievement of this album is how experimental and quirky it manages to be, whilst still being accessible pop. Witness then, as after two minutes Empire Ants suddenly explodes in electro-euphoria, or as White Flag is book-ended by an oriental Arabic orchestra. Cut four tracks and it would’ve been a classic.

Similarly, cut two tracks (specifically Pow Pow and Somebody’s Calling Me) from the back-end of 2010’s ninth best album, LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening, and you’d have a perfect 50min LP. Album opener Dance Yrself Clean was still making friend's jaws drop in November, but in All I Want, You Wanted A Hit and Home, this was LCD’s most relaxed, confident album.

Less reliable than James Murphy, is the creator of the year’s eighth finest album. With Record Collection by Mark Ronson & The Business INT, the producer has gone from making 2007’s most irritating, to 2010’s best pop album. Every chorus offered up here is a classic. It’s increasingly baffling why he concerned himself with cover versions at all.

I Am Kloot – Sky At Night was the year’s seventh best album. Deservedly stretching their popularity beyond their unnervingly devoted fanbase, Sky At Night is an ambitious, tender, rewarding listen. It’s telling that this album really broke through to me on a 3am walk home – dark, lonely contemplation has rarely sounded so enjoyable.

Not quite so relentlessly dark, despite the name, is Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, taking the number six spot. It’s practically worthy of a place in the top ten for Runaway alone, the track at the beating heart of this album. It’s not quite worthy of the praise it has received from some quarters, and you may well be sick of it by February, but the creativity on display here is wildly commendable.

To the top five now, and to Errors - Come Down With Me. Best described as the album Foals should have made, it’s got groove, accessible hooks, and an ability to win you over by the 3rd listen – yet have you still wanting more by the 30th. Ace.

Just edging out Errors as the year’s best dance album is Groove Armada – Black Light, at number four. It’s a remarkable album from the group you could previously dismiss as dance also-rans. Simultaneously fun, pounding, exhilarating and poppy, it stretches its finest moment – Paper Romance – beyond pop boundaries to a delirious 6 minute stomp. It knows that tracks like Cards to your Heart and Shameless are hidden gems to be discovered further down the line, but most of all it simply understands how best to spread a big grin across your face.

Third best album of 2010 is Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can, and it is miraculous how far she has come since 2008’s Alas I Cannot Swim. Her staple folk balladry is present, but here the gutsy statements of Devil’s Spoke, Rambling Man, and Hope in the Air take centre stage, whilst the layered wintry joy of Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) provided us with her finest song yet. Still just 20, the mind boggles at how wonderful she could yet become.

Runner up this year is The National – High Violet, and it’s perhaps best to deal with concrete details first: this – their fifth album – is their most accessible. It understands where to build tension, and where – on Runaway and Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – to release it, with air-punchingly satisfying results. Is it their best album? Maybeee. Many a die-hard fan would choke at the suggestion. It’s certainly the best point at which to introduce yourself to such a special band.

And with that, our winner. This blog’s number one album of 2010 is Arcade Fire – The Suburbs. Having lost a few fans with the apocalyptic tone of Neon Bible, The Suburbs saw Arcade Fire settle down and just make whatever they wanted. Neon Bible-era is embraced in Modern Man and Deep Blue, their ear for anthems present in Ready to Start, City with No Children and Sprawl II, and each subsequent listen revealed a new favourite. Suburban War, anyone? Half Light I?

In 2007, if you were put off by Neon Bible, you were perhaps a less dour, more optimistic, maybe even more discerning listener. In 2010, if you didn’t like The Suburbs, you were just an idiot.

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