Believe it or not, despite all the silly stereotypes about music fans, we here at The L are generally pretty averse to numerically ranking the records and songs we like, as we are generally more prone to telling you, with our words, why we like them. This, we realize, is no fun at all. And so without further ado, we present you our list of the 25 best albums of 2010.
#25 Beach Fossils
Here we have lo-fi jangle pop by a bunch of twenty-somethings who have been known to play shows barefoot and whose album has received countless critical assessments riddled with references to "youth"and "beach music."Beach Fossils are that band. Say what you will, but if all of Brooklyn's lo-fi outfits sounded this good—if all their records were such effortless listens, if they all captured the same elusive sense of Americana, if all their hooks were this relentless—we'd be in great shape. Key track: "Twelve Roses"
#24 Wolf Parade
Wolf Parade's third full-length is one of highs and lows. Thing is, the highs are really fucking high. Songs like "Palm Road,""Two Men in New Tuxedos"and the one-two closing punch of "Yulia"and "Cave-O-Sapien"sound evolved but accessible; forward-thinking but reverent to the genre's past; anthemic but off-kilter. Key track: "Yulia"
#23 Avey Tare
Down There grinds away at you, cranking out subtle hooks and gritty allusions allegedly inspired by finding a crocodile's skull in a swamp. This, coming from the guy who sang about wanting to walk around with you "just you, just you, just you"on Merriweather Post Pavilion. Writing the material during his own divorce and his sister's battle with cancer, the Animal Collective co-frontman created the sound of a soul being dragged through the gutter out of a puzzlework of waterlogged electronics and self-recorded samples—not the most joyous listen of the year, but maybe the most strangely beautiful and ultimately universal. Key Track: "Lucky 1"
#22 J. Cole
Friday Night Lights
The North Carolina MC's debut on Jay-Z's Roc Nation label doesn't drop till March, but there's plenty to enjoy on his mostly self-produced 20-track mixtape from November. Soulful introspective songs like "Before I'm Gone"and "Enchanted"go great with the upbeat piano-powered "Higher"and the brassy, fluttery love story "The Autograph,"but "Blow Up"is the kind of song that reminds listeners why those in the know think Cole's the next big thing. Key Track: "Blow Up"
#21 Sharon Van Etten
Quietly, very quietly, Sharon Van Etten was one of Brooklyn's biggest breakout artists this year. She'd been playing around town for a couple years, and she released a very promising debut. With Epic, though, she upped the ante in a pretty serious way: She's doing what she's always done—writing relatively sparse, direct, airy folk songs—but she's simply doing it much better now. Her voice has grown more confident, and thus more powerful and unique. Her taste in accompaniment has diversified and remained impeccable. She hasn't made a mistake yet, basically. Key Track: "Save Yourself"
#20 Beach House
Three-letter title difference aside, Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand were right to be annoyed when Katy Perry swooped in, overshadowing their third and best record with her stupid adolescent mewling. But Beach House's Teen Dream is an exquisitely haunted achievement that's more grown-up than its title would suggest. It's the regretful adult's pained, imperfect recollection of being young rather than the inarticulate, sticky dreams of a currently teenage hormone factory—a crucial distinction in their favor. Key Track: "Lover of Mine"
#19 Charlotte Gainsbourg
Beck's been so aggressively eclectic—forever—that it's become hard to imagine how his career's third act could ever surprise. A turn writing, arranging, and producing for a mysterious chanteuse isn't itself a shocker. That IRM so completely outperforms his last three records kind of is. Of course, Charlotte Gainsbourg is a working actress, and cult-pop royalty to boot. She naturalistically handled every dark tonal shift, imbuing sincerity to more than just the folk-ballads. Key Track: "Heaven Can Wait"
#18 Surfer Blood
In The L's review of Astro Coast from January, there's talk of Surfer Blood being "harmless fun—too inconsequential just 10 songs into their career to have any considerable impact on things."Truth is, 11 months later, and nothing has them beat in the realm of power-pop. From Wavves to Matt & Kim, there were other albums this year that rivaled their full-throttle energy, but in comparison to the way Surfer Blood frontman JP Pitts gallops through some songs, then lands softly on others, the other records come across as sloppy and clumsy. Also: damn, can these kids write a hook. Key Track: "Swim"
#17 Sleigh Bells
It's not just tricks, folks. Though Sleigh Bells' reckless loudness and thoroughly modern digital crunch were the talking points, the Brooklyn duo earned their debut's title by delivering hook after visceral hook. Not since a young Karen O has a female singer been as unfazeable as Alexis Krauss, breezing over perpetual detonations. M.I.A. realized this was the sound of the minute, and then whiffed so hard trying to equal it that you wanted to look away—and then did. Key Track: "Rill Rill"
Sports is a force. From its first seconds of pounding drums to its final punishing guitar strum, it goes in for the kill, engulfing subtle melodies in metallic squall and apocalyptic feedback. Along the way, there are hairpin turns through a labyrinth of influences: Joy Division, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, No Age. One of the best noise-pop records we've heard in a long while comes from a band that's been together just a year. This is what people in the biz call "promising." Key Track: "Coma Summer"
B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray
The chameleon-like Atlanta MC continued to switch hats at a furious pace on his debut, turning in the most musically adventurous and successful major label rap album since Andre 3000's The Love Below. Also, B.o.B was 21 when his Billboard-topping record dropped in April. Also, he follows the tear-jerker radio duet with Paramore's Hayley Williams "Airplanes"with the Southern gangsta rap anthem "Bet I."Also, Bobby covers Vampire Weekend. Key Track: "The Kids"
#14 Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae's first full-length album is almost ludicrously ambitious, her megastar charisma sucking in myriad pop genres with the voraciousness of a black hole. Like Outkast in their magic heyday, The ArchAndroid is plausibly appealing to anyone, not because it panders to some shared base impulse, but because it raises the bar high enough that you have to look up just to grin. The wide net isn't really the impressive thing, though. It's the coherence. She leaps towards schizophrenic, somehow landing on well-rounded. Key Track: "Tightrope"
#13 The Walkmen
Another outstanding addition to The Walkmen's now formidable catalog, Lisbon is the first album they've ever made where they don't seem to have felt pressure to choose between slow songs and rockers: they do both brilliantly here, from the sad, glass-clinking "Stranded"to the huge, cathartic "Angela Surf City."Times are tough for no-frills guitar bands, but they don't seem to care. They'll be on trend again at some point in the future, and they probably won't care about that either. Key track: "Angela Surf City"
Broken Dreams Club
When this San Francisco band burst onto the scene last year, led by the enigmatic Christopher Owens, everyone was immediately taken with their brand of pop: It was drugged out, yes, but never so careless to rely on hazy atmospherics. And on top of that, it sort of sounded like Elvis Costello fronting the Beach Boys, with Phil Spector behind the boards. On their follow-up EP, which came out of nowhere just a month or so ago, they show us a more refined sound: the production has improved, and the hooks are even bigger. If this is a sign of what's to come on next year's full-length, they'll find themselves on here three years in a row. Key Track: "Oh So Protective One"
#11 Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
The first time we heard this record, we would have told you without hesitation that there was no way it would wind up on our year-end list. But then something happened: We just kept playing it and playing it for some reason, and it got better and better. The songs are subtle and never too eager to impress, but they do anyway, almost in spite of themselves. The band sounds relaxed and, admittedly, like they're not pushing themselves, but it's hard to deny songs this pretty, stylish, playful and smart. Just as it has been their whole career. Key Track: "I Didn't See It Coming"
Depending how you look at it, either indie rock got a final nail in the coffin this August when The Suburbs hit number one on the Billboard 200 and Arcade Fire sold out back-to-back shows at Madison Square Garden, or it experienced its greatest moment of glory, cementing a place outside its usual niche and in the greater public consciousness. Either way, it's fitting that The Suburbs is a return to indie rock purism. On it, a band plays songs like they mean it, about things that are important to them—in this case, the struggle between big-city ambition and suburban virtue; about who they were and who they are. Something a lot of New York transplants can relate to.
Nostalgia ran deep in 2010, but Arcade Fire didn't pander to woozy keyboard lines and a longing to retreat to the womb. They dug deep, crafting an album that rewards patience and repeated listens. The more you listen—you have to really listen—the more The Suburbs serves as a reminder of why we care about music in the first place: because it makes us feel and think about things we hold dear and the things that trouble us. "2009, 2010, wanna make a record how I felt then,"Win sings on "Month of May."Turns out, he did much more than that. Key track: "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)"