Best Albums of 2010

We know you’re listening to Kanye right now, but The Bureau Staff would like to remind you of this year’s other great albums.

Kevin Nguyen

Robyn - Body Talk

Releasing three EPs in a year is ambitious, but the scope of Robyn’s songwriting is simple: to craft smart, self-conscious dance pop. Body Talk, which culls the best material from all three Body Talk EPs, is like a greatest hits of 2010’s most memorable beats and melodies — they just all happen to be by Robyn.

It also happens to be exactly the kind of pop music we need right now. I don’t think Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha are necessarily bad, but their songs are frighteningly impersonal. I’m not willing to make the leap and call Robyn a serious feminist, but Robyn knows how to sing about love and heartbreak intelligently, without sacrificing the pop hooks that make you self-conscious about your iTunes play counts.

I deliberated for an embarrassingly long time trying to decide whether Robyn or Sufjan Stevens deserved the number one spot. The Age of Adz is difficult masterpiece, and arguably the future of music. Body Talk, on the other hand, is a nearly flawless refinement of pop music as it sounds today. And though The Age of Adz will sound better than Body Talk twenty years from today, it’s 2010 right now and I fucking love Robyn.

  1. Robyn – Body Talk
  2. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
  3. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
  4. Lower Dens – Twin Hand Movement
  5. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
  6. Best Coast – Crazy for You
  7. The Walkmen – Lisbon
  8. Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
  9. Foals – Total Life Forever
  10. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Nick Martens

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

It’s almost like I didn’t want to believe in it. Before Halcyon Digest leaked, I kept talking about how the album made me nervous. As impressive as Deerhunter frontman’s Bradford Cox’s output has been, it didn’t seem possible that anyone could produce so much good music in so little time. Microcastle was my favorite album of 2008, his solo project Atlas Sound’s Logos was one of last year’s strongest, and now I had to buy into another Deerhunter release? Isn’t this dude touring constantly? And doesn’t he have some sort of weird condition that probably leaves him exhausted? He can’t keep this up, can he?

Well, fuck, I guess he can. This is Cox’s best music to date, and by a pretty wide margin at that. That’s the biggest surprise, since it’s not like his earlier stuff was chopped liver. The first few times I listened to Halcyon, I thought it might suffer because no single track stood out as much as Microcastle’s stunning “Nothing Ever Happened.” But I came to realize that the new songs don’t stand out because they’re all as good or better than the band’s previous bests. I’ve had about five favorite songs on this album already, and I’ll probably cycle through all 11 before it drops out of heavy rotation on my iTunes.

(You should take my word on this one because, as the chat transcript at the bottom of this feature shows, I was kind of excited about the new LCD Soundsystem record when it came out. If you told me in May that I’d like another album this year more than that one, I never would have believed you. And yet here we are.)

  1. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
  2. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
  3. Beach House – Teen Dream
  4. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
  5. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  6. No Age – Everything in Between
  7. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  8. Eluvium – Similes
  9. The Books – The Way Out
  10. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

Daniel Adler

Phantogram - Eyelid Movies

Without really meaning to, this year I sought out music I found dependable. Almost every album in my top ten either fulfilled the expectations set by a band’s excellent previous albums (Deerhunter, The Walkmen), illustrated logical stylistic maturation (Sufjan Stevens, Owen Pallett), or proved the individual artist could thrive outside of the group that made them famous (Jonsi, Big Boi).

Yet one album stands out as different. Phantogram’s Eyelid Movies captured my attention by taking the best parts of ’90s trip-hop and millennial J Dilla-esque beats, and mixing them with emotive singing traded between the male and female leads who make up the duo. Whether portraying hard-driving paranoia (“Running From the Cops”), sad breakdowns in interpersonal communication (“Mouthful of Diamonds”), or yearning balladry (“You Are the Ocean”), the album is equal parts catchy, powerful, and touching.

It was an easy year to follow well-established artists doing their thing, but Eyelid Movies is a reminder to keep an eye out for young bands synthesizing moving music from unexpected sources.

  1. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
  2. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
  3. Phantogram – Eyelid Movies
  4. Owen Pallett – Heartland
  5. Here We Go Magic – Pigeons
  6. Shugo Tokumaru – Port Entropy
  7. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
  8. Jonsi – Go
  9. The Walkmen – Lisbon
  10. Big Boi – Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

Tim Lehman

Sleigh Bells - Treats

Sleigh Bells came out of nowhere. I went from unaware and reading about them them on The Awl, to having Treats set to repeat on my iPod in the same 32 minutes it took to listen to the album. Their music, too, seems to have appeared fully-formed, barely influenced by anything that came before it. It’s abrasive and aggressive but never unpleasant, primordial but also space-age.

The album’s brevity works to its advantage. If it was any longer, it would leave listeners exhausted rather than invigorated. As it is, it’s over almost as soon as it begins — a handful of three-minute guitar hooks that don’t leave you wishing for anything more.

  1. Sleigh Bells – Treats
  2. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
  3. The National – High Violet
  4. Hot Chip – One Life Stand
  5. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  6. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
  7. Beach House – Teen Dream
  8. No Age – Everything in Between
  9. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
  10. Los Campesinos – Romance is Boring

David Tveite

Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

I like a tune I can dance to as much as the next guy, but sometimes that just isn’t enough. Sometimes I need something I can drive to while being a complete dick to everyone else on the road. Something I can play in the background while hitting someone with a bat in order to resolve some kind of minor personal dispute. Something I can put on at 3:30 a.m. while I weep bitterly over my umpteenth beer. In 2008, Titus Andronicus fulfilled these needs in a way few bands ever could with their first full-length caterwaul, The Airing of Grievances.

The New Jersey quintet returned this year with The Monitor, a more accomplished and equally cathartic album wrapped loosely around a Civil War concept that is almost impossible to explain in a way that makes any sense. It manages to fit together somehow. The record gives way from raucous bar rock with Springsteenian hooks to dramatic readings of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman (in a cameo from The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn) without ever seeming to slow down.

While the band hasn’t lost any of the blister or bluster of their debut, this album shows a broader emotional range than Grievances, which basically spat nails all the way through. The Monitor has a handful of eight-minute epics that are almost exhausting in scope, capable of everything from the adolescent rage of “Titus Andronicus Forever” to a startlingly beautiful ballad “To Old Friends and New.” Frontman Patrick Stickles brings the kind of emotional rawness and sincerity to all of this that you can only achieve when you’re screaming your lungs out.

Oh yeah, and it’s loud. Did I mention that?

  1. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
  2. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
  3. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  4. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
  5. Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard
  6. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
  7. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
  8. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
  9. Brasstronaut – Mt. Chimaera
  10. Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing

Jordan Barber

Beach House - Teen Dream

I have a soft spot for dream pop. Goldfrapp’s Head First nearly made my list and Blonde Redhead fills out the tenth spot. So I suppose my choice for favorite album this year isn’t surprising, but to rebut this point: I spent less time considering this pick (maybe a minute?) than in any other year.

“Norway” and “Zebra” were the initial, easy hooks into Beach House’s Teen Dream. That worked on me for a while, but on the third or fourth album listen. I realized it was the understated songs like “Real Love” and “Lover of Mine” that compelled me to play the album again and again. Victoria Legrand’s smokey, gruff voice is perfect for the album’s melancholy mood.

I saw Beach House in concert later in the year: the set featured shabby rotating diamonds and disco balls. The diamond surfaces occasionally reflected beams of dull light through the hazy air. It was exactly as I imagined it would be, because no other album this year created an atmosphere so easily felt.

  1. Beach House – Teen Dream
  2. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
  3. Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me
  4. Robyn – Body Talk
  5. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  6. Sleigh Bells – Treats 
  7. Delorean – Subiza
  8. HEALTH – Disco2
  9. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
  10. Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle

Album of the Year

LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening

This is GChat conversation between editors Kevin Nguyen and Nick Martens, on the day LCD Soundsystem’s This is Happening leaked.

Nick: This album is unbelievable
Nick: Early prediction: “I Can Change” and “All I Want” are going to be the top songs
Nick: They’re back-to-back in the middle of the album, like “Someone Great” and “All My Friends”
Nick: Although this song “Pow Pow” is pretty epic. Kind of in the “Losing My Edge” mold
Nick: 2nd prediction: y’know how some people use Amnesiac as a test of whether you’re a “real” Radiohead fan or not?
Nick: “Somebody’s Calling Me” is gonna be that for LCD
Kevin: I don’t think there’s going to be a James Murphy fanboy acid test until he has, like, seven albums out.
Nick: You haven’t heard this song yet
Nick: It’s pretty abrasive
Nick: (and this is technically the 4th LCD album if you count that Nike thing, which I do)
Kevin: “Drunk Girls” feels like an annoying interruption in this album.
Nick: Yeah, you’re kinda right. I still like the “oh, oh, oh” part
Kevin: It’s just that everything else is so much better. And more patient.
Kevin: And not called “Drunk Girls.”
Kevin: Actually, that’s a great song title.
Nick: Yeah. That, “One Touch,” and “Somebody’s Calling Me” are the only songs I don’t instantly adore
Nick: and I think I’ll come around on the other two
Nick: (“All I Want” is a early front-runner, but I think it’ll drop off)
Nick: (I now think “You Wanted a Hit” will be the big song from this album)
Kevin: “Dance Yrself Clean” kind of sounds like that one big Cold War Kids song.
Nick: I really like both songs, so I’m okay with that
Nick: though the connection doesn’t jump out at me
Kevin: Yeah, I was trying to think all yesterday of what song it was reminding me of.
Nick: “Hang Me Out to Dry,” right?
Kevin: I think so.
Kevin: I probably like this LCD song better than it already.
Nick: Oh yeah, it’s a great song
Nick: (caps lock was originally on when I typed that comment. I should have stuck with it)