The Best Albums of 2010: 20-11

Faun Fables – Light of a Vaster Dark

20. Faun Fables – Light of a Vaster Dark (Drag City)

With the release of their fifth album Faun Fables continues to wow and astound with a sound that, while familiar, retains a wholly unique quality. Dealing with thematic elements that include the cycles of light and dark in nature, how those cycles affect our lives and our sense of place in the broader scope of things, and how we, in turn, affect the world around us. Instrumentally and lyrically this album takes me through pastoral landscapes, past small family farms with tiny stone houses, down wooded paths and into small hamlets and villages that have remained untouched by time; all the while a troubadour musing over top instrumentation that complements McCarthy and friends’ “songtelling” beautifully. The music on Light of a Vaster Dark is inviting, rich and compelling, reflecting the lyrical elements as it shifts in emotive quality from dark, brooding atmospheres to lighter, more uplifting territory; all the while holding the listener rapt and attentive, never wanting to stray too far from the fire, the light in a vast darkness. ~ Kyle O’Donnell

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

19. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)

From the opening crashes – the instant blasts of noise that come at you in a direct, unyielding, incendiary fashion – Steven Ellison ensures that his signature wave of sounds could never be mistaken. His music is customarily used in Cartoon Network segues, the crowing acknowledgement of being a household name, FlyLo’s beats continue to dominate with Cosmogramma’s orchestral instruments. “Nose Art” blossoms with a massively deep bass that resonates throughout the song’s space-y, heady, melody; it’s dubstep at its utter grimiest. Later, “Satelllliiiiiiiteee” stampedes with clamoring cymbals, comforting vocals and a shimmering keyboard line. The aforementioned are just two stunningly dissimilar ideas in a spectrum of diversified sounds. Like a symphony, Cosmogramma sways into different moods and themes with one steady commander always at the helm. Getting lost in it all still seems like such an unattainable ordeal to endure but Ellison makes everything skillfully promising. His kind of symphony is exceptional, absolutely masterful and at this point, it couldn’t possibly be mistaken. ~ Bryan Sanchez

Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM

18. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM (Because Music/Elektra)

International icon Charlotte Gainsbourg (French actress, fashion trend-setter, cultural muse, daughter of the late Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin) returns with what is technically her third studio album, collaborating with Beck Hansen on songs that are heavily influenced by Beck’s emotionally detached, sonically oblique take on matters of love, life, and death. Even with Beck’s influence and even though Charlotte sings mostly in English, she makes the album her own. Her hallmark sang froid remains intact as she seques from melancholy wistful airiness, to dispassionate distance, to nonchalant contemplation.

Highlights include the clinical theme and mechanical rhythms of “IRM” (based on Charlotte’s experiences of suffering a brain hemorrhage and subsequently undergoing successful surgery and recovery), the gently murmured but lyrically bleak “In The End”, the hushed and introspective “Vanities”, the dreamy, but rueful “Time of the Assassins”, the sultry groove and glam of “Trick Pony”, and album closer “La Collectioneuse” that has Charlotte reciting a French poem about the fragility of life and the fleeting nature of time. ~ Jen Stratosphere Fanzine

Broken Bells – Broken Bells

17. Broken Bells – Broken Bells (Sony)

Whispered rumors of a record by Danger Mouse and that Shins singer guy intrigued the underground in late 2009. Broken Bells’ website and the confirmation of a completed album changed intrigue into mainstream anticipation. This album dropped and the wildfire of whispers became an indie inferno. It took years for The Shins to break into the mainstream with their 2008 Best Alternative Music Album Grammy nomination for Wincing the Night Away. With respect to the same nomination category in 2011, it only took Broken Bells one album and a hell of a lot of billboards on the highway asking me “Who is the best new electronic band Broken Bells or Crystal Castles?” It is without a doubt Broken Bells. This band and album literally exploded and pieces flew everywhere from NPR to all the late night talk shows. Warm, melodic, satisfying pieces… Broken Bells may seem a bit cosmetic and planned as neither Danger Mouse or the singer for The Shins saw their collaboration as a permanent gig, but the success of this album has at least lead them to announce another record. I couldn’t be happier about that. ~ Adam Matthews

Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

16. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast (Kanine Records)

Surfer Blood’s debut album, Astro Coast could be the album that sums up 2010 in indie music. It amounts to pop perfection with just the right measurements of Weezer, The Smiths, reverb plug-ins and Floridian sunshine. Maybe it’s the sand in their guitars or the brutal stretches of touring in their first year as a band that makes these nerdy punks rock so hard. The record is full of grungy power chords and bright, spacey riffs reminiscent of an adequately stoned Roy Orbison. Though nothing is overdone with this band, whether it’s the 50’s surf rock or the 90’s pavement-esque alternative influence, Surfer Blood keeps it all classy and tight. Songwriter John Paul Pitts is not your average, flashy front man though he holds his own and is never short on lending some thick, poppy vocals to complete the sound. This band is contrived of some young guys in the earliest stage of an already thriving career and if we are to stay optimistic as we enter a new decade of music, I think the best has yet to come from Surfer Blood. ~ Ryan Egan

Das Racist – Sit Down, Man

15. Das Racist – Sit Down, Man (Self-released)

My first impression of Das Racist was a joke. When I was sent the Youtube video of “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” I figured this was the result of a few friends getting high and making a laugh for the Internet. However, to my surprise they released not one but, two full-length albums this year. Sit Down, Man being the superior and Shut Up, Dude being the other. As it turns out, they can rap, it’s remarkably good and it’s exactly what rap music needs, creative insight. Although most of their lyrics are somewhat of a joke, the delivery is superior to what I have heard lately and the flow is undeniably solid. Sit Down, Man also has a lot of variety on it, which makes this album less than predictable since that is what most would assume from their consistent jabs at pretentious pop culture. There isn’t much out there like this that is drawing on pop cultural references so obscure, you must be impressed that anyone can draw together two things so irrelevant to one another that it sounds like its supposed to be together. This album shows great progression in the year of Das Racist releases. Sit Down, Man is a wonderful success and I’m excited to see what is next. ~ Ashley Saupp

Spoon – Transference

14. Spoon – Transference (Merge)

Only a band of such genuine style and vision could release their seventh record and have it be one of their best.  With the release of Transference this year, Spoon proved to the music world that after sixteen years they are still relevant. The album’s first single, “Written in Reverse” could be Spoon’s catchiest yet, with smashing piano, drums and Britt Daniels’ gritty pop melodies. Transference is also a perfect example of the experimentation that goes into producing a Spoon record. The opening song, “Before Destruction,” features two separate recordings mixed into one – an 8-track demo of Daniel playing and singing acoustic on top of the fully produced song. It is moments of their career like these that have kept the band on the front lines of many music scenes.  Considered to be one of the founders of their genre, Spoon could be considered the Roots of the indie rock world. ~ Ryan Egan

Jónsi – Go

13. Jónsi – Go (XL Recordings)

Iceland’s Sigur Rós is best known for its lush soundscapes, with soaring guitars and keyboards that accompany the achingly sweet voice of singer Jón Thor Birgisson. But after the band’s more stripped-down and acoustic album Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, Birgisson wanted to do a similarly acoustic solo release. Somehow, that turned into Go, an album that can fit with the best of Sigur Rós’ catalog and function as a brilliant and beautiful album on its own. Birgisson’s presence is more clearly felt on Go, his vocals more a focus (and even in English on the single “Boy Lilikoi”). But layers and layers of guitars and keyboards make rich arrangements around his own soaring vocals. Without straying too far from Sigur Rós’ lush nature, Jónsi has stepped to the forefront with a brilliant release. A world tour and amazing live album complete the total package. ~ Jeff Marsh

Curren$y – Pilot Talk

12. Curren$y – Pilot Talk (DD172/Def Jam)

Hailing from New Orleans, long-time mixtape MC Curren$y has become Indie Hip-Hop’s newest hero with his third album Pilot Talk. In many ways the album represents skills too often lost in underground Hip-Hop: principally the ability to forge an album rather then a collection of songs. The guests are cleverly chosen – Devin The Dude (rapping over a good beat for the first time in a decade) sounds as entertaining and likeable as ever over the bass-heavy ‘Chilled Coughee’, while the Clipse-esque rhyming of Trademark and Young Roddy on ‘Roasted’ also stands out. Pilot Talk features two entertaining and talented individuals combining to great effect to create an album strong in every facet – the beats, the rhymes, the hooks, the guests.

Pilot Talk is all about Curren$y and Ski Beats. The former possesses this laidback and effortless flow that is perfectly suited to Ski’s soulful production, while his confidence is supplemented by his everyman lyrics and a consistent ability to churn out entertaining hooks. Perfectly judged throughout, every track has a particular feel and vibe beyond the classic soul and funk template. It stands out more then anything else because it is back-to-basics music with personality and variety and an example to all 21st century Hip-Hop artists. ~ Fearghal Barry

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

11. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)

Big Boi’s greatest strength is fun. The world of rap in 2010 was defined by bad breakups, cocaine dealing, and self-aware hipsterness, and even though Big Boi had more of a reason to be pissed off than anyone (see: the buckets of label drama) he still delivered one of the most straight-up entertaining albums of the year. The record is filled with would-be chart-smashers in a parallel universe: “Follow Us,” “Shutterbugg,” “You Ain’t No DJ.” The album is full of perfectly off-beat gems of pop-protraction – and Big Boi’s jokey snarl has never been more welcome. Mr. West may have delivered the most ‘important’ hip-hop record of the year. But in terms of pure listenability, Sir Luscious Left Foot towers above 2010. ~ Luke Winkie

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