Quality! This was a good year for albums after a fairly weak 2009. My own top ten was the weakest it had been in years (well, since 2006, but before that you need to go back to 1998 to find such a weak collection of "top" albums). Although in most years there are two or three classics that stand apart from the pack, the overall quality of that year's music is more accurately represented by the quality of albums #4-10. Sure, my top three of 2009 were great and I'll still stan for them, and if you take them as a trio then they're better than my top three of 2006. But the rest of the list got a bit dicey, and 2006 was better a year overall for music.
Canadians! There are three Canadian acts in my top ten, the most since 2004 (which contained four).
Ugly! In all the years I've been compiling year-end lists, I don't think there's ever been a top ten with such an ugly collection of cover art. Seriously, there are like two, maybe three good covers here, and the rest of them range from barely passable to horrendous (#9 and #1 are great ... #4 gets a "maybe"). I have no idea what this could mean, but I'm 99% sure that it's nothing, just a fluke year where my favourite albums all had crap covers, so don't expect a post about the decline of the album cover.
So let's do this thing.
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2010
10. Yellow Swans, "Going Places"
The final Yellow Swans album didn't bring anything new to the table, in fact, you could say it was formulaic and therefore disappointing and I'd have a tough time arguing with that. But sticking to a formula doesn't have to be a bad thing, just insert the word "reliability" in its place instead (plenty of prolific noise acts made "reliability" their calling card ... Merzbow is an obvious example) and you'll see and hear that Yellow Swans on autopilot can still be pretty darn good.
9. Caribou, "Swim"
The first album from Caribou that felt like a proper "dance" album, and hopefully not the last. Swapping out the psychedelic element in his music for an extra dose of funkiness was a smart trade in my book.
8. Bardo Pond, "Bardo Pond"
This album was released only a week ago, so not enough time has passed to really put it in perspective. That fact, when coupled with my emotional biases when it comes to judging Bardo Pond (not to mention that this is the follow-up album to my #7 album of the 00's, "Ticket Crystals") then it seems almost certain that this #8 ranking can't possibly be right. In a month I'll be kicking myself for not putting in a few spots higher (or lower).
There's clearly a lot of great material here, but whereas "Ticket Crystals" was the most challenging album in Bardo Pond's catalog (they'd never attempted anything like "Montana Sacra II" or "Moonshine" before, and I think that sense of the unexpected is a big reason why it's such a rewarding record), "Bardo Pond" feels more superficial, like it's more a case of "what you hear [on your first listen] is what you get". It strikes a delicate balance between jamming off into the realm of forgetability and blissfully crushing you under the HEAVINESS of it all.
7. Jonsi, "Go"
I think this album surprised a lot people who thought that Sigur Ros were all about misty glaciers and bowed guitars, but it's actually not a huge departure from the "pop" songs on their last album.
6. Wavves, "King of the Beach"
Truth in advertising: go to Amazon (or any site that lets you hear samples of songs on albums before you buy them) and listen to the first ten seconds of the first track from this album. You'll know if you'll like "King of the Beach" based on that alone. Actually, it doesn't even have to be the first track, it can be virtually any track. I used to read reviews that complimented an album by saying "virtually any track could be released as a single" (what happened to those kinds of reviews ... are they extinct?), but that's "King of the Beach" for you.
5. New Pornographers, "Together"
I'm not sure if this is the best New Pornographers album ("Mass Romantic" and "Twin Cinema" offer stiff competition) but right now it certainly feels like their most consistent album. These guys make more or less the same record every time, so I'm not sure why this is their first appearance in my year-end top ten. But "Together" seemed to catch me in precisely the right mood this year. In a year (well, in most years) when I didn't listen to much indie rock, it was my go-to indie guitar pop album.
4. Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs"
I still don't think of myself as a big fan, and yet their albums always end up among my favourites from that year. I tend to forget they exist between albums -- I don't pine for new Arcade Fire albums, I don't scour the usual websites in search of news tidbits about them -- and yet every time they release a new album, I come to the inescapable conclusion that there are none better at doing what they do. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because I wrote pretty much the same thing three years ago, after the release of "Neon Bible".
I still maintain that "The Suburbs" is too long by about four or five songs, but there's it's been a while since the last really memorable Verve release (the term seems horribly dated now, especially after Verve's most recent reformation/implosion, but whatever). In any case, this is one of the best Verve releases you'll ever hear.
3. Eluvium, "Similes"
Like with his last album, "Copia", I needed a lot of time to grow into this one. The vocals, which seemed like an unnecessary gimmick after the first few listens, now feel like an inseparable part of this album's wonderful misery (no, that's not an oxymoron).
2. No Age, "Everything In Between"
This album represents a sensational leap in No Age's status from "punks who love their FX pedals" to "best reincarnation of late 80's MBV you're ever likely to hear".