2010 is all but up and what a year of music it’s been. The bakers at Hotcakes have been putting their collective toques together and these are our favourite albums of the year:
1. Beach House – Teen Dream
This album came top by a country mile, which just goes to show how exceptional it is. Regardless of your tastes and genres, it is so hard to not be bowled over by all ten songs, right from the first riff of ‘Zebra’ all the way to the looping chorus of ‘Take Care’. The duo have been at the forefront of all lists and on the lips of all bloggers since they released Teen Dream all the way back in January this year.
Often, an album that gets released in January loses its freshness and appeal by the time decision time comes around in December. It takes something really special to maintain a love for an album through twelve months, through all seasons, through all moods. Animal Collective managed it last year. And Beach House have proven themselves in the same league this year.
2. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
At the age 61 and recent resident of New York state penitentiary, it seemed unlikely that Gil Scott-Heron would make such a stunning
comeback let alone has completely reinvented his sound. With the fusion of jazz, soul and blues and his proto-rap style replaced
with a brooding, dark, electronic Scott-Heron has broken completely new ground, amazing considering the distinguished career he has had.
The ominous electronics recall the trip-hop of the 1990’s and suit the lyrical subject matter perfectly. I’m New Here finds Gil self-reflective and confessional, and his poignant, moving and honest poetry is spoken through and cracked, rich and distinctive tone. When Heron moves away from the powerful spoken word pieces, he produced some of the tracks of the year, covering blues standard ‘I’ll Take Care of You’, an incredible reimagining Robert Johnson’s ‘Me and the Devil’ and the brilliant ‘New York is Killing Me’.
3. Caribou – Swim
For many people, Swim came out of nowhere. Sure, the Canadian-born producer had released a whole host of records as both Caribou and Manitoba, but this year’s release was a sure-footed step out of the obscurity and into the bright lights of the nightclub. Yes, this is a dance album and one of the highest calibre.
The man behind Caribou, Dan Snaith, previously stated he wanted to make dance music that sounded more like water than metal and it is his voice that provides that elemental fluidity. You find yourself lulled into a molten world of softly spoken, repetitive lyrics set against intense synths and beats that flow from one track to the next without hesitation. ‘Odessa’ will likely be the album’s high point for many people but all nine tracks form 43 minutes of the smoothest, most atmospheric and enjoyable dance music there is.
4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs [review]
The Suburbs takes the listener through a journey that anyone can relate to. Only a band of Arcade Fire’s calibre can make such a creative and inspiring album out of such a mundane subject. The album opens with a track that feels like you are drawing the curtains yet again to another rainy morning, and closes with the same track in reprise as though your head is hitting the pillow at the end of a long day. Everything in between flows so perfectly that the over-hour-long record flies by.
Win Butler et al have proven themselves real all time greats with their third album. When you have a band so revered in both cult and mainstream realms these days, you know you have something unique.
5. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening [review]
Despite how high this album is in our chart, This Is Happening was a slight disappointment. That just goes to show how incredible some parts of this album are. But being only eight songs long, there can be absolutely no room for filler or mistakes, especially from such a seasoned pro like James Murphy. But the album is pulled down by ‘Somebody’s Calling Me’ and lead single ‘Drunk Girls’. And ‘One Touch’ is a bit boring.
That’s probably because no song has a chance when it follows ‘Dance Yrself Clean’. It is nine minutes of sheer brilliance, that the rest of the album has trouble bettering. But it damn well gives it a go; with ‘All I Want’ and ‘You Wanted A Hit’ proving that Murphy and Co. have still got it.
6. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles II
What a preposterously good second album. The awkwardly titled Crystal Castles (II) has easily avoided the sophomore slump that strikes down so many bands (*ahem* Klaxons *ahem*). Ethan Kath and Alice Glass have grown up a bit in this album, and with the exception of ‘Doe Deer’, have tidied up their production values. Yet, the album is still great fun, full of speaker destroying bad boys and mental vocals.
Despite using cleaner beats and samples to their debut, they’ve also managed to steer clear of the annoying dance anthem that pollutes the top 40, with ‘Celestica’ the only track on the album that could really be considered a chart song. If only the charts were full of more songs like it.
7. Sleigh Bells – Treats
The highest place debut record on our chart is evidence of just how Sleigh Bells stormed onto the scene this year. Sleigh Bells exploded onto everyone’s speakers in April with the release of album opener and absolute barnstormer ‘Tell ‘Em’. The song was so brilliantly catchy and so damn loud it was impossible to not sit up and take notice. And when Treats was released in mid May, one listen was all that was needed to realise ‘Tell ‘Em’ wasn’t a one off.
Treats is 12 awesome tracks of distorted, dance-punk that could only be made from a meeting of the former guitarist of post-hardcore band Poison the Well and the vocals of a former member of teen-poppers Rubyblue. It shouldn’t work but the cheerleader chant of Alexis Krauss’s vocals are incredibly addictive, and the dirty guitar lines of Derek Miller are huge. This album is impossible to ignore!
8. Four Tet – There Is Love In You
Four Tet was a pioneer in the early part of the decade in the move away from trip-hop and 2010 has seen the release of his fifth
album, his best since 2003’s Rounds. It starts as it means to go on with the opener ‘Angel Echoes’ – the higher tempo and looped vocals takes a step towards Kompakt-esq techno while fuzzy synths and crackling samples feature as a reminder of his collaboration with Burial last year; however this is achieved without sacrificing the warmth and intrigue found in his previous, slower and more melodic releases. It really is a thing of beauty.
This is probably Four Tet’s most dance orientated album yet but having seen him perform live I can say that it definitely isn’t a dance album in the physical sense of the word; there’s simple too much happening at any one time to be a club success. However that actually sets it apart from both club music and bedroom electronica. The ability to uniquely transform all the vast array of separate parts and the shear number of ideas contained within each track into a lucid whole is something Hebden has always excelled at but has never been more evident than in There Is Love In You.
9. Wild Nothing – Gemini
Gemini’s top-10 placing on the list proves that 2010 well and truly picked up where 2009 left off. Last year’s indie scenes belonged to the kind of lo-fi, shoe gaze sound which edged Pains of Being Pure at Heart to the top of 2009’s end of year lists. Wild Nothing is the moniker of Virginia native Jack Tatum, who’s crafted an album of beautifully dreamy pop gems.
Tatum’s fuzzy, guitar pop brings to mind recently popular shoe gaze acts, Wild Nothing’s debut full length definitely owes a tip of its hat towards classic indie pop acts like New Order or Cocteau Twins. However, it’s not all imitation or revivalism, there’s more than enough evidence of originality and authenticity on the album, especially on stand out tracks like lead single ‘Summer Holiday’ and opener ‘Live in Dreams’.
10. Yeasayer – Odd Blood
For an experimental rock band to appear in this list is perhaps a surprise but then Brooklyn-based Yeasayer’s second full length album is an album that is full of surprises.
Although Odd Blood is certainly a step towards the mainstream when compared to their debut effort, it is in no way a pop album and the variety of songs on sure keeps you entertained right from the off. Track two, the advice-laden ‘Ambling Alp’, is Yeasayer at their most pop-influenced and one of the tracks of the year. The other singles, ‘O.N.E.’ and ‘Madder Red’, arguably form two other highlights but it would be unfair to just single out individual tracks for praise. The entire self-produced album is the best example this year of an amalgamation of left-field rock structure and song-writing together with everything that’s great about pop music.
Here’s how the rest of the list shaped up: