2010: Our Top 20 Albums Of The Year

on Saturday, January 01, 2011
Words: Saam Das // Photo: sonewfangled

Happy new year everyone! Thanks for sticking with us through 2010. It's been a year of ups and downs and my own personal motto for 2011 is to "whip it real good". I suggest you do the same. On the FG front, we've expanded greatly in terms of writers but I hope you consider them as part of one big family rather than simply mercenaries for hire. A few new faces may also emerge in 2011 contributing quality writing, which will help me and the other writers raise our games.

We're also prepping a redesign and may even be starting a record label in the near future. For real. In the meantime though, here's a collected list (in alphabetical order) of our favourite albums of 2010. If you're too lazy to read through them, then the FADED GLAMOUR album of the year is Jónsi's debut 'Go'. I hope you approve.

Arcade Fire - 'The Suburbs'

Is any album of the year list really complete without this absurdly highly acclaimed album? The answer is yes because there's no point towing the path if you're not into something. Luckily though, a few of us FG writers were won over by 'The Suburbs'. Eventually, anyway. It took me about five listens to appreciate what I'd previously considered to be somewhat overrated and bloated. At the end of 2010, however, very few bands can be said to match the majesty of Arcade Fire.

Bayonets - 'Bayonets'

DOWNLOAD: Bayonets - The Joke And The Damage Done

"This young band has already come and gone (or maybe not) but they’ve left a great album in their wake. Themes of love, loss and bereavement are given the post-emo treatment in emphatic fashion - guitar driven songs with memorable lyrics and plenty of hooks. Thom Craig is a distinctive vocalist and the songs have a wistful quality which is a counterpoint to the way they’re put together. Impeccable production from Ant West really delivers the goods and although it’s sold out in the limited edition vinyl release, you can download it on a pay-what-you-like basis at their Bandcamp. All donations are very much welcome." (Simon Opie)

Bruce Springsteen – 'The Promise'

"Over 30 years in the waiting, 'The Promise' can truly be considered among the great Springsteen releases, particularly the first CD of this double-album. It collects all the songs that didn’t make the cut of 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town' and demonstrates Springsteen knew his pop history – there are clear nods to the likes of Buddy Holly, Phil Spector and Roy Orbison. Everything is thrown into the mix, particularly on opener 'Racing In The Street [‘78]' and its scope makes it feel like the natural successor to 'Born To Run'. While Springsteen would ultimately eschew the brightness of these songs for a more haunting affair in 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town', 'The Promise' is an illustration of an artist truly at the top of his game." (Rajan Lakhani)

Caribou - 'Swim'

STREAM: Caribou - Sun

I've been pretty sceptical about Caribou/Manitoba, with Dan Snaith's hipster tag clouding my judgement. That's especially ironic as he did his PhD at the same university where I did half of my Master's degree, which is possibly the least hipster university in the world. 'Swim' turned out to be quite the joy - a wondrously hypnotic dance record, which also resonated with Kieran and Rajan. Rough Trade's album of the year. Listen in full on Soundcloud.

The Coral – 'Butterfly House'

STREAM: The Coral - Butterfly House

"With the departure of guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones and a release of a Greatest Hits record, many were speculating over the demise of The Coral. Instead, they’ve gone onto to make the best album of their career. Yes, gone are some of the more outlandish arrangements of their earlier records, but instead, we have a beautiful, mature album about love and loss. The harmonies are gorgeous throughout and comparisons to The Byrds shouldn’t be dismissed. If they can marry their eccentricities with this melodicism, they could be unstoppable. Nevertheless, 'Butterfly House' is a terrific return to form." (Rajan Lakhani)

The Drums – 'The Drums'

STREAM: The Drums - Forever And Ever Amen

"The Drums were arguably the most hyped band of 2010, having already delivered a superb mini-album with 'Summertime'. Expectations were therefore huge for their eponymous album and the band duly delivered. It recalls a different era of indie music, with its low-fi production and doo-wop, girl-group melodies. 'Let’s Go Surfing' remains as refreshingly upbeat and optimistic as when it was first released, becoming a staple of indie-discos up and down the country. But this is a debut that goes for the heart as well as the feet – songs rarely get more affecting than 'Forever And Ever Amen'. Significantly, there’s a dark undercurrent to the lyrics exemplified on 'Best Friend' ("You’re my best friend, but then you died") which prevents the album from becoming saccharine. The result is an excellent debut from the New York’s best export of 2010." (Rajan Lakhani)

Foals - 'Total Life Forever'

STREAM: Foals - This Orient

Following the math-pop frenzy of debut album 'Antidotes', Foals made a stunning return in early 2010 with the ethereal 'Spanish Sahara'. Complete with actual singing from vocalist Yannis Philippakis. That track signified something special was on the horizon, later emerging as part of the acclaimed second album 'Total Life Forever'. A nominee on Mercury Music Prize list, it also was The Fly's number one album of the year. Similarly, one of our writers/Music Liberation editor Sid also gave it such an accolade.

Jónsi - 'Go'

STREAM: Jonsi - Boy Lilikoi

The debut "solo" album from Jónsi isn't much of a departure from Sigur Rós. As if that could possibly be a bad thing. It is a work of symphonic beauty. Nico Muhly's instrumental arrangements are infused with a magnificent dynamism, perfectly constrasting Jónsi's other-worldly vocals and producing a palpable sense of emotion throughout. Such a combination is perhaps best encapsulated in 'Boy Lilikoi'. A song of such triumph, yet also a song which pushes me to the verge of tears. Tears of joy? I just don't know. And that's what makes it so beautiful. 'Go' is an album of wonder and excitement, love and hate, joy and sorrow, it is very much an album of feelings. Music to lose yourself in. My album of the year, and having also been recommended by Rajan, I feel no shame in declaring it FADED GLAMOUR's album of the year too. Listen in full on Soundcloud.

Kanye West - 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'

Kieran's favourite album of the year, which he exhaustively reviewed for us not long ago. Here be an excerpt: "It’s a portrait of a lifestyle, and a world, that has almost exhausted excess, that is still chasing that next hedonistic buzz, even while it’s all burning out, but can’t let go. Kanye West can’t let go either, but he knows there must be something more, and in striving to push himself above all that madness, without being able to leave it behind, he has created something beguiling yet alluringly accessible, deeply personal yet strangely universal; an album that deserves all of the attention and all of the praise lavished upon it so far." (Kieran Toms)

Laura Marling - 'I Speak Because I Can'

Another popular choice among the FG writers, although one which never threatened the upper echelons of any of the submitted lists. Kieran was on hand to review it for us earlier in the year. "On this record, Marling is in a sort of state of fragile defiance, seemingly dwarfed by the overwhelming melancholy of life and love and everything, but able to rouse herself to fight back. As her first album proved, when armed with just her voice and a guitar, she can deliver beautifully restrained ripostes to life’s misfortunes. But of course it would be wrong wish for or expect a repeat of her first album, and this isn’t one. It is bolder and more ambitious." (Kieran Toms)

LCD Soundsystem - 'This Is Happening'

STREAM: LCD Soundsystem - I Can Change

Supposedly the final album from James Murphy under the LCD Soundsystem moniker, he broke that promise almost immediately with the 'London Sessions'. But few will begrudge that, with 'This Is Happening' a universally well received album. Rajan and Kieran were particular fans of the album, while Pitchfork put it at #2 in their albums of the year list.

Lightspeed Champion – 'Life Is Sweet, Pleased To Meet You!'

"A somewhat darker and stronger album than debut 'Falling Off The Lavender Bridge', Dev Hynes has grown up into a fully-fledged star. While the album perhaps didn’t get the recognition it deserved, the songs speak for themselves. 'Marlene' is full of dramatic strings and melancholic lyrics that you cannot help but sing along to, while 'Sweetheart' sounds like a Beach Boys b-side, romping wondrously along." (Emily Solan)

Los Campesinos! - 'Romance Is Boring'

STREAM: The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future by Los Campesinos!

"A second, much darker album from team Campesinos! (lets not forget that 'We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed' is an extended EP) the songs capture the imagination. 'Straight In At 101' provides us with memories of the ‘fun’ 'Hold On Now, Youngster' era of the band, but it’s bonus track 'Too Many Flesh Suppers' that highlights the bands abilities as songwriters, being their darkest song to date. A clear indication that the band are only going to get better as they get older."

Mount Kimbie - 'Crooks And Lovers'

DOWNLOAD: Mount Kimbie - Field

Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Kieran to provide a capsule review for this album, which he declared as his second favourite of the year. I am hideously unqualified to discuss its dubstep leanings, although there's also a heavy emphasis on electronica on 'Crooks & Lovers', leading to comparisons with Caribou's 'Swim'. If 'Crooks & Lovers' is anywhere near the level of 'Swim', then the duo have opened with a particularly impressive debut album.

Mystery Jets – 'Serotonin'

STREAM: Mystery Jets - Flash A Hungry Smile

"While 'Twenty One' saw a band saw the band moving into pop territories, 'Serotonin' is a sure sign that they were not going to stop anytime soon. Opener 'Alice Springs' thunders along as a typical tale of lost love, while first single 'Flash A Hungry Smile' was exactly what the fans wanted to hear. Even some of the gentler moments on the album like 'It’s Too Late' and 'The Girl Is Gone' highlight the sheer talent of the band." (Emily Solan)

The National - 'High Violet'

Perhaps surprisingly failed to appear on many of the writers' lists, with only Kieran giving it significant love. However, it's received plaudits almost everywhere else, most recently winning the UK blogger's albums of the year poll, which I took part in. Simon of Sweeping The Nation (who organised said poll) described 'High Violet' as: "An emotionally, poetically meaningful evocation of all the dark heartland opening up and leverage of personal anxieties the band have strived for."

Plan B – 'The Defamation Of Strickland Banks'

"You can question the motives behind the transformation. You can question the concept of the album. What you can’t question are the tunes - five singles have already been released, all consistently strong, making it very much the soundtrack of 2010. A much more commercial affair than his debut, Ben Drew’s (Plan B) second offering represents the zenith of the motown revival in the UK. The string arrangements are brilliant (particularly on 'The Recluse' and 'She Said'), which are made all the more impactful by his soulful croon. While it recalls the likes of Smokey Robinson and Otis Redding, his sheer force of personality prevents the album verging into pastiche." (Rajan Lakhani)

Smoosh - 'The World's Not Bad'/'Withershins'

DOWNLOAD: Smoosh - The Worlds Not Bad

Confusingly released under two different titles ('The World's Not Bad' and 'Withershins'), I'm not sure many people even released that Smoosh were upto album number three in 2010. The album, however, was a million miles away from the days of "soccer" anthem 'Rad', instead offering harmonies to match the likes of First Aid Kit while providing rousing instrumentation, almost akin to a stripped back Arcade Fire. With each member of the trio still in their teens, the best is surely still to come. Download the album for free (yes, FREE) at their Bandcamp.

Swans - 'My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope To The Sky'

STREAM: Swans - Little Mouth

"Michael Gira brought his band out of the deep freeze they’ve occupied for the past thirteen years to deliver a stunning lesson in avant rock with soul. Veteran he may be but Gira still has plenty left to say and he certainly knows exactly how to say it – with the help of a mighty talented crew. If you’ve not heard this album you should set aside 45 minutes and listen to it all the way through for a truly mind stretching experience. Opener 'No Worlds/No Thoughts' is a masterpiece but it’s all good right through to the closer 'Little Mouth', which is in cinemascope." (Simon Opie)

Titles - 'Dirt Bell'

STREAM: Pillowcase by Titles

"So I know next to nothing about this band and I only found the album (their third) because it was on a list of possibles to review. But it made an immediate impression because of its appealing simplicity. 12 quirky, almost fragile songs, recorded in true Lo-Fi, apparently in an apartment and other locations in New Haven, Connecticut. The principal songwriter is Brad Amorosino and the music cuts a swathe between Calexico and Pavement. Although it is engagingly open, the complexity of the music is revealed in the subtle layers in the mix that feature keyboards, percussive sounds, multiple guitars and electronic effects. Deceptive and much more considered than it first appears, this is a terrific album." (Simon Opie)

Vampire Weekend - 'Contra'

More of the same from the band that made my favourite album of 2008, which was their self-titled debut album. Certainly, there are differences on this second album, with somewhat less of an afro-pop vibe and more of an attempt to broaden their horizons - take the MIA sample on 'Diplomat's Son', for example. Much like its predecessor, an absolute pleasure to listen to.


That's your lot but we'd also like to recommend some other albums:
Alain Johannes - 'Spark', Beach House - 'Teen Dream', Big Boi – 'Sir Lucious Left Foot', Deerhunter - 'Halcyon Digest', Kate Nash - 'My Best Friend Is You', Marina & The Diamonds - 'The Family Jewels', Mogwai - 'Special Moves', These New Puritans - 'Hidden' and Zola Jesus - 'Stridulum II'.

Feel free to recommend your own albums of the year in the comments below.

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