50 The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
You know when you’re carrying a really heavy bag for what seems like forever and you reach wherever you’re going, finally dump it down on the floor and it feels like your arms are slowly rising up in tired, happy relief? That’s what Frightened Rabbit’s third opus feels like – it can be hard going, but persevere and the delights are manifold. What makes it such a joy, however, is the way Scott Hutchison’s warm burr veers between weary bitterness and giddy, lusty hope but always stops short of providing easy answers. This is what life is like, says ‘The Winter…’, so fucking deal with it.
49 Astro Coast
With their gigantic anthem ‘Swim’ riding high on the indie airwaves, Floridians Surfer Blood had already lined themselves up a good deal of anticipation for this debut. Happily it delivered on that promise, and in spades. Flaunting as much melodic nous as The Drums, ‘Astro Coast’ borrows liberally from the sound of today’s crop of alternative stars – all the way from Vampire Weekend’s afropop fetish to touring buddies Japandroids’ reverb-drenched squall – while expertly infusing the immediate pop rush of past heroes from Weezer right back to The Beach Boys.
48 Danger Days: True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys
Bye bye gloom, hello laser guns. About as drastic a reinvention as possible (out go songs called ‘Cancer’, in come futuroscopic fizz-pop synth bangers), MCR’s fourth album is a window into one of modern rock’s most creative minds. Gerard Way’s love of comic books gives ‘Danger Days…’ its unique worldview and playful energy, and it’s all the stronger for it. Anyone still dumb enough to use the ‘e’ word, well, fuck off and listen to Brother or something.
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47 Pulled Apart By Horses
These Leeds boys stood out in a year dominated by the po-faced, the trust-funded and the wet-bedded, with a sweaty, spotty, funny rock album that lesser writers would probably call ‘gonzo’.
46 Wake Up The Nation
No mere ‘return to form’, this is the album Paul Weller’s career has always been pointing towards. The title track and the venomous stomp of ‘7&3 Is The Striker’s Name’ reflect The Jam’s early rage, while the alt.pop of ‘Trees’ and ‘Up The Dosage’ would have gained The Style Council’s approval. A daring manifesto that sees Weller not only wake up the nation but challenge it to push forward.
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45 There Is Love In You
The first Four Tet full-length in four years is a lesson in how to mint lush sounds from mostly negative space. ‘Angel Echoes’ skips light as a feather on sighing vocal snippets and glockenspiel, centrepiece ‘Love Cry’ pushes Boards Of Canada’s machine-soul into rapturous new territory, and ‘Circling’ sparkles like an internet-age harmonia. That ‘There Is Love…’ also felt weirdly attuned to 2010’s post-dubstep clique only shows its vitality.
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44 Postcards From A Young Man
The quintessential Manics album: full of death-or-glory dynamics, sharp-as-shit couplets, shambling, smudged glamour and enough energy to power the national grid. The Ian McCulloch guest spot was an utter work of genius, as was the Bradfield-as-you-like soloing in ‘Hazleton Avenue’. But nothing better sums up the beauty of this band and this album than the last few seconds of the title track: “This world will not impose its will/I will not give up and I will not give in.” A masterpiece by anyone’s standards.
43 Man Alive
This lot are the smartest kids in the art-pop classroom. The twisted lyrics of ‘MY KZ, YR BF’ seem innocent enough when mangled by high-pitched, fast-paced vocals, but don’t be fooled – their surprisingly gritty political tales can take some deciphering.
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You had to wonder what kind of gimmick would be pulled out of the bag to see Mystery Jets through their third album. ‘Serotonin’ succeeded through its sheer lack of pomp and spectacle, instead taking its listeners on a journey beyond style. ‘Dreaming Of Another World’ oozed a new intimacy. Still catchy as ever, this was the Jets’ finest hour. Buy this album
41 Boys Outside
They say depression is nourished by a lifetime of unforgiven hurts. Certainly under the guise of Black Affair, former Beta Band member Steve Mason got good mileage out of bitching about an ex on top of near-suicidal tendencies. But Mason’s first under his own name, produced by Richard X, is a convalescence of sorts, a record ready to make peace with who he was (‘Lost & Found’) and the man he hopes to be (‘Am I Just A Man’).
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A decade ago people would have been referring to this American duo as “electro-clash”, but these days it’s “noise-pop”.
Encompassing a jetsam of crunk, synths, southern metal licks, school choirs, hardcore riffs and deliberations on love and success, it’s like the experience of modern adolescence has distilled itself into a record and asked you to press play.
39 Magnetic Man
The dubstep supergroup’s debut, a bowel-buggering masterpiece of half-time subterranean frequencies, brought the best in a while from Ms Dynamite and John Legend and introduced Katy B. Magnetic indeed.
38 Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son Of Chico Dusty
Once you got past the mega-hit of ‘Hey Ya!’, all the heads knew that Big Boi’s side of the split OutKast album ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ was superior to André 3000’s contribution. The first thing that hits you about ‘Sir Lucious…’ is that it towers above both of them and, rocking a brash anything-goes vibe, it’s more reminiscent of ‘Stankonia’ anyhow. The sheer enthusiasm and braggadocio of this album is infectious. Big Boi’s trick is to mix up unlikely genres with classicist hip-hop production (eg cold wave/early New Order synths on the sumptuous R&B of ‘Be Still’).
37 Nerve Up
On her awe-inducing debut, Julie Campbell’s one-woman show showed the beauty in economy. Clean guitar lines scurried over pinching drums, inscrutable lyrics whirred as her voice filled with a Celtic humming, sometimes like Sinéad O’Connor emoting through gritted teeth, sometimes like an urban angel. Always, though, it rang with an honest passion suggesting she’d thought about every syllable.
For a band dedicated to an unadorned elegance, a period of austerity is a time to flourish. These are songs that strike at the heart of our most basic feelings: devotion, longing and perseverance – the things no government can cut.This isn’t Westlife for indie fans, it’s romanticism for the modern age.
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You could imagine Cameron Mesirow as the Queen of an Avatar-style retro future-world, where huge scaly creatures with iPads for eyes and joysticks for noses dance to the tribal beats of her sky-scraping synth pop. ‘Ring’ created its own little world ‘Home’ and ‘Plane Temp’ melded the ambience of Bowie’s ‘Low’ with a loveably melodic folk sensibility.
34 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
He might invite everyone in his phone book to spit over reworked breaks – Nicki Minaj on ‘Monster’ is a highlight – but the real star, as always, is Kanye. Bonkers, but it works.
33 The Family Jewels
Funny to think she began 2010 in Ellie Goulding’s shadow. Since then, Marina has paintball-gunned the mainstream a billion shades of joy with her theatrical debut. Tracks like ‘Shampain’ reminded us that the best pop is always wonky, OTT and slightly deranged.
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Giving the lie to all those idiots that say there’s no exciting music around at the moment, Islet are several different great new bands all at once. The range of the sound-banquet on ‘Wimmy’ was humbling, but ambitious as they are, Islet are also never less than ridiculous fun. The Pop Group-ish feral stomp of ‘Powys’, the silly ketamine dub of ‘Horses And Dogs’, the rusty, serrated Afropop-punk of ‘Living In Manila’… this TARDIS-like six-track crammed whole worlds into a neat little package. When their debut proper arrives, we’re booking the day off work.
31 Crystal Castles
There were mutterings prior to release that Ethan Kath and Alice Glass’ second album might well carry enough gallons of big dance fuel to rocket them into the big league.
30 Surfing The Void
On which Klaxons finally locate the root of their debilitating second album syndrome. Following ‘Myths Of The Near Future’’s annihilation of the competition in 2007, this was always going to be a hard one to make. But it worked, allowing them to continue subverting pop from the inside out.
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29 Everything In Between
Like Sonic Youth in the ’80s, No Age’s five-year progression from no wavers to makers of disenfranchised anthems has been a joy to behold. On their third album, they dug beneath the feedback, pushed the vocals further forward in the mix and produced an album which put a human face on their grungy mix.
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28 The Optimist
One minute into ‘Lost A Girl’, there’s a split-second pause before the chorus explodes and ushers in the bright new era of NYPC. It was the woozy ‘Before The Light’, though, and ‘Architect Of Love’ that allowed this album to permeate so deeply.
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27 Crazy For You
After paying her dues to the West Coast experimental scene with Pocahaunted, Bethany Cosentino decided to ditch the avant-garde for straight-down-the-line JAMC-meets-Shangri-La’s ’60s pop. ‘Crazy For You’ was a short but oh-so-sweet offering of saccharine shimmies about crushes, cats and the chronic, with clear-cut lyrics riding against simple, hip-shaking melodies that carved their way into your brain and claimed squatter’s rights.
26 Root For Ruin
Les Savy Fav’s breakthrough of sorts, ‘Let’s Stay Friends’, seemed like one of those once-in-a-career super-spikes. But ‘Root For Ruin’ – which rocked hard, of course, but also featured dreamy glimmer-guitar highlights like ‘Sleepless In Silverlake’ – marked them out as a particularly brutal machete cut above the rest of the rock pack.
25 Avi Buffalo
With this self-titled debut, Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg and his band of merry Long Beachers gave us gorgeous indie pop and one of the most bizarre lyrics of the year – see ‘What’s In It For?’’s thoroughly tremendous “like little pieces of bacon” line. No-one else was even close to conjuring up the dreamy melancholy that Avi Buffalo mastered so effortlessly in their music this year.
If VW’s debut channelled Africa in a Paul Simon kind of way, their second was more Central/South American in flavour. Typically idiosyncratic, we get lyrics about fonts, and a song named in reference to Joe Strummer (‘Diplomat’s Son’). OK, so it wasn’t stuffed with as many hooks as their debut, but which other band mixed inventiveness with such charm in 2010?
23 Before Today
No-one ever talks about albums in terms of them being among ‘the best of all time’ any more. Why not? Because people who like pop music are too scared of being wrong. What’s wrong with being wrong? Ariel Pink has made many mistakes in his recording career – burying surefire Number Ones beneath tape hiss, shunning drums in favour of armpit fart sounds. ‘Before Today’, though – what a record, and one Pink could only have navigated towards with a map made of errors. Oh yeah, and he’s the god of chillwave, yawwwwn.
22 My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
The famously bleak New Yorkers – who changed the face of extreme music in the ’80s – reformed this year. Could the band’s founding member Michael Gira revisit that intensity? Well, the results hark bark equally to their earliest primal screams and later, calmer experiments, and are both grand and triumphant.
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21 The ArchAndroid
Monáe’s 18-track epic is split into two suites, each with ornate overtures, characters, plots and mentions of avant-garde film. But anyone can be a show-off; Monáe’s album sparkles because she manages all that while reprising the groin-led P-funk of Prince and girl-against-the-world spunk of Britney. It’s the magnum opus it purported to be.
20 Halycon Digest
Karen O’s favourite band finally found what they were looking for: the rich seam of psychedelia that made ‘Halcyon Digest’ one of the year’s best breakthrough records. With the guitar squalls of old replaced by focused garage-pop, the feverish visions of rangy frontman Bradford Cox snapped into focus.
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Of the many lies spread about ‘Congratulations’, the most patently false is that it ‘lacked tunes’ – the gargantuan ‘Siberian Breaks’ is the most artful Simon & Garfunkel pastiche ever. The tunes were all there, they just didn’t have neatly defined starts and ends any more: Xanadu outposts along the wending path of their astral safari.
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18 The Fool
It’s odd and uncomfortable to see that, even after all these centuries have passed, when a group of girls get together for any reason other than shopping there’s a tendency for people to go, “WITCHES! LOOK! THEY’RE BLOODY WITCHES.” Back in the 1500s, Warpaint would have been dunked in ponds, but today they and their album have just been met by words like ‘occult’, ‘evil’, and bafflingly, ‘goth’.
In truth, some of this reaction is understandable. ‘The Fool’ is dark in its mood, bass-heavy and spectral.
A mini-album of hammering, irresistibly sexy noise-dance. In 2010, no other UK band had an agenda as far-reaching as this Hackney trio (whose music escapes from the dank basement of Cabaret Voltaire, and where the words ‘industrial’ and ‘minimal’ are reverse-engineered), because most groups lack vertebrae.
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16 Grinderman 2
Nick Cave and his songwriting equals (both here and in The Bad Seeds) Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn P Casey would’ve been forgiven for hanging their laurels tree-to-tree and putting their feet up after all their years spent reporting from the stairwells of rock. Instead, they’ve set them alight on this latest G-man album, striding through the flaming wreckage in evil grins and flasher macs, pillaging our morality as
they whip the blues into a throbbing, hard-grooving and hilarious psychedelic maelstrom that promotes middle age as a riotous last throw of the dice.
15 Odd Blood
Yeasayer’s second LP was a pop-infused, hippy dance parade that left their debut’s slow-build solemnity behind as it shape-shifted its way into our earholes like a worm that tickled pleasingly. Bold and boisterous, it was a reminder that experimental rock can eschew the introspective autopilot and produce something that everyone can slip into the rhythm of.
14 Your Future, Our Clutter
Seeing Mark E Smith wander onto Gorillaz’ cartoon stage at various points through the year, like a deviant uncle at a wedding reception, was one of the most delightful scenes of 2010. Even more pleasing was his new Fall album – still as strong as an eye-watering Manchester dark ale. ‘Bury Pts 1 + 3’ isn’t a song, more the greatest riff of the decade snarled repeatedly – the only noise that could compete with the Smith ramblings accompanying it. His most consistently strong work since 2005’s ‘Fall Heads Roll’ made up the rest.
Writing yourself a creative blank cheque can be as much of a curse as a blessing. Walk into a studio with limitless amounts of time, money and freedom, with no-one to tell you ‘no’, and chances are you’ll walk out several years later with a sprawling, incoherent mess of an album. Limitations, self imposed or otherwise, are important. Just ask Jack White. Or Ryan Olson.
The evil genius behind Gayngs recorded the 20-plus-strong collective’s debut album under strict adherence to two rather unconventional ground rules.
‘Swim’ is the fifth album from Canadian Dan Snaith, a man who’s spent much of the last decade making some of the catchiest electro tunes you’ve heard (previously under the name Manitoba) while studying to become a doctor of mathematics. As you do. While the explosive psychedelic anthems on his prize-winning 2007 album ‘Andorra’ led some to believe Snaith was a ’60s revivalist, ‘Swim’ takes a striking
U-turn. The tracks collected here are more Four Tet than Beach Boys, dabbling in cold, spacious atmospherics.
11 High Violet
On ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ from The National’s last album, ‘Boxer’, Matt Berninger sang of “another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagificent lives of adults”. It’s an elegiac tumble they know well, now in their late thirties, some married with babies, years apart from the day-job apathy that punctuated their earlier work.
10 The Drums
Expectations, of course, were sky high. Not only did they look great, say the right things and walk the right way, but the ‘“Summertime!”’ EP that preceded their debut had been svelte, fresh, fun, funny and rammed to its small foundations with beautiful hooks, and had got everyone – not least NME – in quite a lot of a tether. ‘The Drums’, though, slipped effortlessly out, teed up by its creators’ finest song (‘Best Friend’).
The rotten, rancid core of Los Angeles may have provided the inspiration for Liars’ fifth album, with its double-barrelled assaults on both street-corner violence (‘Scissor’) and yuppified ignorance (‘The Overachievers’). But to focus purely on geography was to miss the point: this was a universal violent dystopia, with themes of decay and despair written so large that it spoke to everyone.
8 King Night
At some point in the future idiots will cease scrabbling away at their keyboards debating whether or not Salem are a bunch of hipster dilettantes piggy-backing black culture, listen to ‘King Night’ and pay homage to the fact that it is one of the most visionary albums of 2010. Because Salem haven’t merely bleached out juke and screw in a white haze of distortion, but also work in anything from the blank menace of industrial electronics, the yearning romance of goth and a pop sensibility that creeps up at you unawares from under all the gloaming.
As the darkest recesses of the internet throbbed to the sepulchral sound of witch house, only one woman had the gumption to drag that gloomy, crypt-dwelling aesthetic kicking and screaming into the light.
6 Total Life Forever
Yannis promised us a “harrowing record”. He insisted it would sound like “a ravaged near-future”. He also said some weird shit about “clogged pipes”, but by that point we’d disappeared too far into the complex expanse of Foals’ blinding second album to notice anything other than the heartbroken falsettos, end-of-the-world finality and ridiculously nimble fretwork on display.
5 I Speak Because I Can
Laura Marling’s near-perfect second album made for a potent progression, and won her a deserved second nomination for the Mercury Prize. And instead of hiding behind an abstract album cover, the bolder and older Laura was pictured on the record sleeve, albeit with her face half in shadow. With a voice deepened by a teenage Marlboro habit, the wisdom of Laura’s lyrics was matched by beautifully husky but placid, pure vocals.
4 This Is Happening
Fuck it: so what if this is LCD Soundsystem’s last album? To mourn them is as futile and painful as waking up in a questionable puddle after a house party and wishing last night was now. ‘This Is Happening’ is textbook LCD – self-aware, critical, clever, brash, modern-with-a-tinge-of-retro – and deserves to be celebrated rather than dissected like a suicide note.
That doesn’t stop James Murphy from dissecting himself, however – throughout ‘This Is Happening’ he goes further than ever
in questioning everything about what it means to be James Murphy.
3 Teen Dream
Baltimore’s Beach House had always been a lush and lovelorn band, but the full-on, naked embarrassment of beauty that was ‘Teen Dream’ was more than we ever dared expect of them. Taking Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand’s narcotic dreampop template – heir to the likes of Mazzy Star – and giving it an extra retro radio pop buff, it was almost too good.
A snuggly blanket of an album to mope and moon to, it heaved with an electric, intimate charge. It made you write sentences like that
last one and not even be that embarrassed.
2 The Suburbs
Two things people like to say about ‘The Suburbs’: 1) it finds the band ‘lightening up’ after the pomposity of ‘Neon Bible’, and 2) it keys into the trend for fuzzy ’80s escapism that has defined indie in 2010. Wrong on both counts. For a start, it’s not that upbeat. At no point does Win Butler don a mankini, adopt a Jamaican dancehall accent and growl, “I like to move it, move it”. Plus, there’s nothing remotely “fuzzy” about ‘The Suburbs’. If there’s an air of ghostly nostalgia that pervades the album, the vanished childhood world it portrays is horribly bleak.
“What’s it got to compete with?” laughs These New Puritans’ drummer George Barnett, his confidence charming rather than dickish. We’re in a basement somewhere in the nether regions of the NME building, and George is talking about, oh, the usual: beauty, vibraphones, pop music. He doesn’t yet know that ‘Hidden’ is our album of the year, but he’s confident it should be.