10. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)
If there were one thing that we can surely blame Canada for, it would be the role it played in birthing some of the most unprecedented rock bands in the past decade. Broken Social Scene formed in Toronto, Canada during 1999 and started a wave of artsy grunge rock that would sweep the music world out of their sneakers. Their latest album, possibly the pivotal point in their career, Forgiveness Rock Record, features some of the best BSS songwriting to date and a refreshing clarity in production that they have never dabbled in before. The record features ex members Feist, as well as other notable guests. It also showcases hits like “Texico Bitches” and a ruggedly grooving “Art House Director,” featuring an epic afro-jazz horn section. If this album was meant to be a comeback, Broken Social Scene has blown their agenda out of the water. Too soon to call it a masterpiece? You decide. ~ Ryan Egan
9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
“You might think you’ve peaked the scene…you haven’t. The real one’s far too mean,” are the opening words of advice streaming through Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. After 2007’s victorious Graduation, just one year later found West with sadness on the gorgeous 808s and Heartbreak; and while there is little to be said about some of the latter’s follies, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a celebrated return to form.
Back are the days where West can get away with lines like, “How you say broke in Spanish? Me no hablo,” as long as there is a menacing beast contained within it, as he does on the aforementioned opener “Dark Fantasy.” Through it’s weaving songs – all extendedly long and yes, entirely purposeful – West showcases his masterful abilities in the studio with pounding drums when needed (“Power”) and understated nuances (“Blame Game”) where strings clash with forceful, evocative words. The latter features what’s probably John Legend’s best vocals of the year and regarding guests, “Monster” is arguably going to be remembered as one of 2010’s greatest collaborations. Two years later and things look a lot brighter for West; if the scene really hasn’t been peaked yet, here’s to what’s ahead. ~ Bryan Sanchez
8. Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
You know what you’re getting with Beach House because it doesn’t change much. However, that sound that runs fluidly through Teen Dream is somewhat dreamlike because there is no way to really describe how it makes for such a wonderful album. Many complain that artists have cheapened the industry with lackluster lyrics and consistently mopey albums that don’t do or mean much. However, Beach House prevails from that notion and Teen Dream is the best example. This record is heartfelt in the most realistically and devastating ways. Between the dreary layering of the keyboard and guitar mixed with the harshly beautiful voice of Victoria Legrand, this album transcends to a place of disparity in love and only a small hope for things that are better to come. Teen Dream is their magnum opus, a passionate masterpiece that evokes the true emotions of all of us. ~ Ashley Saupp
7. The Black Keys – Brothers (Nonesuch)
Take away their powerfully built, manly reputation and you’re left with The Black Keys’ characteristic driving energy of bands seemingly forgotten. The Keys blasted the rust off yesteryear’s homegrown blues rock almost ten years ago, and Brothers demonstrates their aptitude at preserving its glory single-handedly. Brothers is genius, and not the Al Gore “I invented the internet” genius…we’re talkin’ “we created a spaceship, flew to the moon and walked on it.” And like the U.S. made claim to the moon, The Black Keys owns Brothers. This is their album and I feel like we’re just borrowing it when we turn it on to break out our air guitars, tap our toes, and just chill out. It’s like the band exists solely for the purpose of creating the music the world needs in order to keep Miley Cyrus pop music from taking over completely. Thankfully, The Black Keys’ raw and satisfying sound is drowning all that nonsense out and taking over everyone’s eardrums. How do we know? Well, they’re on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack and Brothers has a good chance of winning four Grammy Awards this year. ~ Adam Matthews
6. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA/Virgin)
It’s frustratingly hard to describe LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening without being completely personal because of the unanimously huge love I have for it. Maybe it’s because James Murphy and Co. tangle a fantastic story about getting lost in the city, going out for one terrific night after another, coping with the vicious after-effects and establishing some kind of decent personality with the everyday world outside of you. Murphy invites us on an expansive ride that incorporates driving drums, superbly created synthesized compositions and stories that will live with you for as long as you allow them.
Throughout the album’s brilliant theme of HOME and how everything always leads to safety, the group collects nine of the most diverse songs to back-drop illustrious songwriting. “Pow Pow” alone features some of 2010’s best one-liners, none being more needed than: “But honestly, and be honest with yourself: how much time do you waste? How much time do you blow every day?” In the end, This Is Happening is perhaps meant to be something intimate, as Murphy sings on the standout opener: “Break me into bigger pieces, so some of me is home with you” –maybe that’s exactly what’s so amazing about it after all. ~ Bryan Sanchez
5. Caribou – Swim (Merge)
Swim is quite simply, a tour de force. After a decade of Dan Snaith, Caribou, releasing albums that didn’t seem to live the longest life, he released Swim. When the record was released it came with such force it knocked down the expectations for anything to come that was electronic in 2010. It isn’t simply a dance album but rather, a record with calculated purpose between transitions. When I received it early this year, I was shocked with the amount of power on the first track, “Odessa,” as it was the driving force for me to listen to the rest of album. This is without a doubt, Dan Snaith’s pinnacle album and challenge. Even with the release of other projects this year (Remixes, Caribou’s Vibration Ensemble) it indicates Snaith might not backtrack to another similarly sounding album as Swim. Nothing has had the same veracity that this album has and I think it’s a gamble as to what is next. ~ Ashley Saupp
4. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty Records)
From the outset – before we get too deep into the conscious wave of love, relationships, maturing, reflecting and more – Sufjan Stevens’ calls out, “I do…love you” on “Futile Devices.” Providing us time to ready for what’s ahead, Stevens begins his latest album with one of the year’s finest lullabies. And to be frank, abandoning any pre-conceived ideas and any sordid requests, The Age of Adz is an utter masterpiece.
Stevens delivers a stunning display of exceptional songwriting and radiant, prosperous orchestration. The album’s title track presents some of the album’s starkest array of sounds – everything from choral chants, to myriad bleeps and beeps, to Stevens’ aching and fragile voice – but it’s on moments like the poignant “Now That I’m Older” that places Steven’s abilities on a pedestal. His voice sounds assuredly strong and visceral, never the more important. “I Want to Be Well” is the perfect song to lead into the remarkable symphony that is “Impossible Soul;” Stevens bangs around fluttering flutes and a looming synth line before declaring, “I’m not fucking around!” It’s fitting and glorious in every conceivable manner; in a way, his “Monster” moment of the year and like everything else on The Age of Adz, there aren’t nearly enough superlatives to describe its sheer beauty. ~ Bryan Sanchez
3. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Bradford Cox, including Atlas Sound, has gotten better with each release. Deerhunter, in particular, kept pulling itself out of avant-garde and into the pop world, a transition that handled beautifully. Halcyon Digest stands as their crown jewel, capped with the fantastic closer, “He Would Have Laughed.” The psyche-jams that used to make up good portions of Deerhunter’s music were now used to make fully-formed, dream-pop songs. The affected guitars created memorable drowsy soundscapes for Cox to give his brilliantly lackadaisical melodies life. They woozily coax you into slipping into their dense, textured world, and it gets more pleasant every time. After three straight albums that flirted with Top 10 recognition, Deerhunter have firmly planted themselves as one of the leaders of this decade’s music scene. ~ Bradley Hartsell
2. The National – High Violet (4AD)
For more than a decade now, dour Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati quintet The National has been steadily building an acclaimed reputation on the strength of its anthemic indie rock, with songs that are often as devastating as they are dramatic. After the fractured beauty of 2007’s Boxer resulted in some airtime with the Obama campaign and modest success on the U.S. charts, the band seemed poised to make a power play. With this year’s High Violet, they’ve crafted the rare album that balances swagger with vulnerability, where robust performances mingle with rueful sentimentality. Such is the case on standout tracks like “Afraid of Everyone” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” in which the gravitas of frontman Matt Berninger’s exotic baritone lends itself well to reflections on the anxieties of fatherhood and returning to your roots, respectively. Working in tandem with the brothers Dessner and Devendorf, it’d be hard to imagine any other act out there right now who could pen a tune about the fear of becoming a zombie (“Conversation 16”) and mean it with such disarming sincerity. ~ Adam Costa
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Merge)
From the immensely popular indie rockers, Arcade Fire, comes their sprawling third release, an enthralling album that surpasses every expectation. While heavy and haunting in the same way their sophomore album Neon Bible was, The Suburbs doesn’t leave you hopeless and hurting, but instead harkens back to Funeral by weaving in a thread of youthful, anthemic hope. As shiningly earnest and grand as ever, whether they’re singing about a sense of existential absence in the quieter “Modern Man” (“in line for a number but you don’t understand / like a modern man”), frantic with the almost violent punk in “Month of May,” or painting the ominous and empty landscape of “Sprawl (Flatland).” With every subsequent listen the songs unfold, reveal subtle connections, hidden flavors, and somehow grow larger than themselves. If not most people then at least most of their fans have experienced the hidden isolations of suburbia, as well as the pressure to commercialize and conform, and The Suburbs is a thoughtful take on these issues. Both disillusioned and hopeful, it issues forth with an addicting and stunning collection of songs that are both strong on their own and serve to make the album a great experience as a whole. ~ Emily Graham