Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010...According to Tim

2010 was a good year for indie music. It was very difficult to narrow down the year's best output to just 10 albums, but below are the 10 albums that made a lasting impact on me. As you can see, I left out albums from LCD Soundsystem, Sleigh Bells, Joanna Newsom, and The Drums. Although all of these albums were quite good, and I enjoyed them a lot, they just didn't make the cut.

10. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild
Hunt - Dead Oceans Records | The Tallest Man on Earth is the moniker of folk musician Kristian Matsson, who hails from Leksand, Sweden. In October, I purchased his five-song EP titled Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird and was immediately struck by the incredible song-writing and poetic lyrics. This led me to get a hold of The Wild Hunt LP, which was released in April. I was not disappointed! The LP contains eleven stripped down folk songs that highlight Kristian's vocals and acoustic guitar playing. The vocal lines and lyrics on the album remind me of Bob Dylan's best folk music from the early 1960's. But instead of just copying Bob Dylan, the music and lyrics have amazing depth that demand repeat listens.

9. The National - High Violet - 4AD Recordings | The National's Boxer was one of my favorite albums of 2007. I had very high expectations for their new release, and I think this made it very difficult for me to place this album very high on my top 10 list. As opposed to Boxer, which opened up with the highly energetic yet contemplative track "Fake Empire", High Violet begins with heavily distorted base pedal notes on the guitar and lead singer Matt Berninger singing "It's a terrible love that I'm walking with spiders". Overall, I found High Violet a darker and more demanding listen than The Boxer. But in the end, I found myself enjoying it more and more the more I played it. It has been said before, but The National have a great early-morning, post-drinking binge sound that comes through brilliantly throughout this album.

8. The New Pornographers - Together - Matador Records | Is it possible to write smart pop songs better than this? Doubt it! The Canadian super-group returned in force with Together, with A.C. Newman and Destroyer (Dan Bejar) teaming up to write 12 outstanding pop songs. My favorites are "Crash Years", which features Neko Case's powerful vocals, "Valkyrie in the Roller Disco", and "A Bite Out of My Bed" which features a trumpet cameo from Zach Condon of Beirut.

7. The Vampire Weekend - Contra - XL Recordings |
Led by lead singer Ezra Koenig, New York based indie-rock band Vampire Weekend put in an excellent sophomore effort with Contra. Self-professed as specialists in "Upper West Side Soweto" music, Contra does a great job of mixing quirky lyrics, with up-beat melodies and luscious instrumentation. Even after hearing this album more than a dozen times, it's hard to discern any deeper meaning in the lyrics, but who cares! With music that sounds this good, just turn it up an enjoy.

6. Spoon - Transference - Merge Records | This album could have been aptly titled "Another Side of Spoon". Coming off their brilliant and heavily-produced 2007 release Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Transference features a different Spoon sound: raw and fiery. While the songs are much more stripped down, they contain just as much depth as anything Spoon has put out in the past. Transference contained my favorite musical moment of 2010: about halfway into the track "Who Makes Your Money". Check it out!

5. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz - Asthmatic Kitty | Sufjan Stevens, the amazingly creative singer-songwriter from Detroit, Michigan, put out a great album this year in The Age of Adz. In past albums such as Michigan (2003) and Illinois (2005), Sufjan's songs spoke of love, lost, and economic decline through vast stories that often contained multiple characters and historical figures. The Age of Adz is a grand departure from these past albums in that the songs are in the first person, providing a more direct connection to Sufjan and his thoughts. This is not the most accessible of Sufjan's albums, so I wouldn't recommend it to people who are new to his music, but it has more depth and raw emotion than anything he has done before.

4. Beach House - Teen Dream - Sub Pop | This album came out in the early days of 2010, but it had such big impact on me that I had to put it on my top 10 list. Teen Dream is the third album put out by the Baltimore indie pop duo Beach House, and my first introduction to their work. From the melodic counterpoint of the first track "Zebra", to the dreamy zig zags of "Norway", Teen Dream works as a complete album, with a surreal, dreamy feel throughout. I've heard some complain that this album would put them to sleep. I disagree. This album has such a great sound to it, that I can't help but listen to it over and over again.

3. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast - Kanine | Surfer Blood has to be my pick for the best new band of 2010. These young University of Florida students have guitars and they know how to use them. I can't remember the last time guitars sounded this good. Track after track, they pop out amazing guitar riffs, which just want me to turn up the volume. I can't wait to hear more stuff from these guys in 2011.

2. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest - 4AD Recordings | This album was the biggest surprise for me this year. Being my first introduction to Deerhunter, I had no idea what to expect. What I discovered was a band that combined an amazing late-night, hazy sound reminiscent of the best of the Velvet Underground with a guitar rock sense reminiscent of Spoon. Not only does Halcyon Digest have a great cohesive sound, which may be the result of mixer Ben Allen (who also worked on Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion), but it also contains some immensely creative song-writing. I had to put this album at the top of my list.

1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs - Merge Records| This is a stunning third album by the Canadian indie-music supergroup. I was taken away by their debut album Funeral (2004), which contained stomping anthem after stomping anthem of emotion. Their second album, Neon Bible (2007), left me perplexed. Instead of honing their large sound, Neon Bible's dark, melancholic anthems began to feel heavy and tiresome. The Suburbs, however, is an unqualified return to form. The album's songs are inspired by two of the band members' upbringing in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Over the course of the album's 16 tracks, we travel through the desolate streets, shopping malls, and highways of the suburbs. Paired with Arcade Fire's crafty melodies and non-stop energy, this is my favorite album of 2010.

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