The Top 50 Albums of 2010

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Treble's Top 50 Albums of 2010

20. GlasserRing (True Panther Sounds)

If your father was a member of the Blue Man Group, and was kind enough to buy you a laptop with recording software, you’d probably wind up with an album like Ring. Spare, but moody and full of veins and blood, Cameron Mesirow’s enrapturing voice channels Kate Bush’s hyperactivity and the wistful puerility of Elisabeth Fraser in a winning combination of New Wave with Dark Wave. True to the album’s name, Glasser’s music swirls in circular patterns, the dark synths, chimes, and junkyard percussion intoxicating and hypnotic. Throughout, Cameron Mesirow’s nuzzling voice keeps Ring from being another chilled-out frigid-fest. “Tremel” recalls the warm bloodiness of Homogenic, while the pained edginess of severely processed vocals on “Mirrorage” are disquieting, but approachable. Glasser’s debut is a rare thing, an atmospheric record with rock ‘n’ roll attitude that evokes the feeling of circling an airport at twilight, stuck eternally in a womb-like holding pattern over snow-covered landing strips. – George Hild

19. Sufjan StevensThe Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)

Perhaps it was too much to ask. A 50-album opus for each state? Each song lovingly crafted and jaw-droppingly poignant that no one could possibly…oh, right. Seemingly dissatisfied with making music, Stevens experimented with different forms, shunned his tried and true banjos and even found that more could be said with less. Abruptly announced and uncompromised, The Age of Adz was a Sufjan Stevens album for sure, but something was different. The humanizing and optimistic, almost naive outlook and songwriting gave way to something more oblique and more reflective of his place in adulthood. Songs veer towards restlessness, confusion, and bitterness as he reflects on fractured personal bonds, and while some of this is reflected in the music – sounding at times chaotic – it is has enough restraint to not sound muddy or incoherent. Songs like “Too Much,” “I Walked,” and the intense 25-minute opus “Impossible Soul” are still beautifully crafted with a penchant for the orchestral yet never over-bearing. The Age of Adz is an album full of questions, self-doubt and exploration. The buttoned-up church boy may not have gone entirely to the dark side, but he has loosened his tie – or better said in “I Want To Be Well”: “I’m not fucking around!” While we may never see albums for Delaware, Kentucky or Washington, perhaps it’s just as well. As long as Mr. Stevens keeps making beautiful and interesting music, I’ll take it. – Jackie Im

18. SpoonTransference (Merge)

Over the course of the last decade, Spoon has managed to creatively modify their focus without ever truly deviating from the Spoon sound. The results have been consistently satisfying, with their latest offering, Transference, following suit. The album is yet another finely tuned, understated affair. More so than any other Spoon album, Transference is a terse, unstable listen. This record’s dizzyingly fractured songs betray frontman Britt Daniel’s frustrations with love. As usual, the band has complete control over their surroundings, even when their surroundings deceptively drop off mid verse. Slow burners like the album’s opener “Before Destruction” achieve an uneasy brilliance. It’s a shade darker but no less moving. – Chris Karman

17. GorillazPlastic Beach (Virgin)

Plastic Beach was my choice for the best album of the year. It was when I first heard it upon reviewing it in the early months of the year, and it remained so, unchanged. I was thrilled by everything about it, from the Snoop Dogg narrated intro, to the jaunty “Pirate Jet,” the only track closely tied with the Specials-like vibe of some of Gorillaz’ early hits. While crowd-pleasing singles such as “Stylo” and “Superfast Jellyfish” are reason enough to enjoy the album, it is in the album’s deep cuts that I find joy, though in reality, each one of these songs could be singles. As example, I found immediate fondness for “On Melancholy Hill,” which became the album’s third single. “Empire Ants” is my favorite track from the album, with a guest appearance from Yukimi Nagano and her band, Little Dragon. Plastic Beach is solid throughout, an affirmation that Gorillaz is far more than a gimmick band, but a great band that is merely made even better with its animated mythology. – Terrance Terich

16. RobynBody Talk (Konichiwa/CherryTree/Interscope)

Robyn earned a gold star by default for the sheer act of releasing three separate albums (or mini-albums, rather) in 2010. That this trio of releases comprised the greatest work of her career was an even more impressive accomplishment for the Swedish electro princess. In a mere seven months, with occasional contributions from the likes of Röyksopp, Snoop Dogg and Spank Rock, Robyn delivered just shy of two-dozen sparkling pop nuggets, brimming with relentless energy, heart-wrenching emotion and melodies likely to linger for weeks. She gets sassy on “Fembot” and “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do,” turns tenderness to euphoria on “Dancing On My Own” and “Hang With Me,” and goes full-on badass on foul-mouthed banger “U Should Know Better.” Only one pop album of this caliber usually comes along each year, but three? It’s a true testament to Robyn’s character that her talent is matched by her generosity. – Jeff Terich

15. Vampire WeekendContra (XL)

By the time Vampire Weekend released their second album, Contra, most listeners had likely already made up their minds. In one camp stood the cynics, who either couldn’t shake their squeaky clean, preppy image, or simply found little substance behind their witty wordplay and playful, globe-trotting indie pop. Contra probably didn’t do much to change your mind if you stood with this crowd. But for those who took endless delight in their upbeat, Soweto and highlife-inspired jangle, Contra only served to reinforce that Vampire Weekend are truly one of the most exciting, and for that matter unique, bands in indie pop. Largely swapping that jangle for keyboard-enhanced atmosphere, VW brought an added level of sonic breadth to this set of songs, expanding and reaching higher than their already ambitious debut. Each song is deceptively simple, yet within the driving melodies of a song like “Giving Up the Gun” are added chimes, twinkles, chugs and reverb-laden backing vocals. Vampire Weekend make it look easy, but the truth is that nobody else is doing anything quite like it. – Jeff Terich

14. Hot ChipOne Life Stand (DFA-Astralwerks)

LCD Soundsystem play the part of the rebels of Indie Dance High School, the disaffected crew of popular kids and outcasts sneaking smokes in the bathroom, James Murphy and friends singing about parties and scenes. Such a metaphor then posits Hot Chip as the school’s IT Club geeks. They pursue difficult, fragile, and unrequited relationships, they have clandestine interests like cats and wrestling, and, mimicking the climax of “Revenge of the Nerds,” they use technology to heal precious psyches and bring the noise. That hopscotching from feeling to feeling is executed to near perfection on their fourth album One Life Stand. Soft, contemplative works like “Alley Cats” and “Keep Quiet” hook up low-key electro to stellar, scene-setting lyrics. And when the band crank up the BPMs for songs like “Hand Me Down Your Love,” “Take It In” and “I Feel Better,” the wispy tenor of Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard’s plaintive baritone herald their status as the world’s most entertainingly desperate pair of male disco divas. With pacing that’s as good as, if not better than, 2006’s paradigm-shifting The Warning, Hot Chip wrangle a passive-aggressive form of dance music, their synths and stories attacking and releasing in one fell swoop. – Adam Blyweiss

13. Joanna NewsomHave One On Me (Drag City)

I doubt that many people would advise releasing a triple album on the heels of a very dense and very polarizing album. But most people aren’t Joanna Newsom. We can leave the pandering and background noise capabilities to the likes of Coldplay and Kings of Leon, but Joanna Newsom is unapologetic in her vision and God bless her for that. Have One On Me is maybe not as dense nor harder to crack than Ys, but it is no less ambitious. Split into three parts, each offers a lovely suite of songs that harkens back to the simplicity and sparseness of The Milk-Eyed Mender (“’81,” “On A Good Day”), the complex sprawl of Ys (“Soft as Chalk,” “Have One On Me,” “In California”), yet also offers up some wonderful surprises. While evocative storytelling and stunning arrangements are almost de rigueur from Newsom, songs like “Baby Birch” and “Go Long” bring emotional depth that is shocking as it is welcome. And then there’s “Good Intentions Paving Company.” By far the most played song in my home, the song has a wonderful ease and looseness that was perhaps lacking and becomes a revelation in its freshness and playfulness. Yet it can be said that even this new turn was to be expected – that Newsom’s many threads and facets are constantly revealing surprises and new discoveries, with Have One On Me being just another exciting and enormously pleasurable journey. – Jackie Im

12. Flying LotusCosmogramma (Warp)

Owner of a snarky Twitter and a bag full of laptop tricks, Steven Ellison does not mince words or sounds. His second full-length, Cosmogramma, is somehow verbose despite not much that’s lyrical; the swooping track titles (“Mmmhmm,” “Satelllliiiteee,” “Computer Face/Pure Being”) and their use of onomatopoeia, non sequiturs and obnoxious spelling are clues to a language spoken barely anywhere else. The songs themselves are equally elliptical, diving through throaty expanses of expelled static and desperate squiggle. Half the time the beats are off-center and the noise far from ambient; the effect is both discomfiting and wildly palliative. Some of it’s also really funny, which is hard to quantify. Machine-gun bursts of classicism that break up odd doses of the future! Encyclopedic turns through the history of jazz, funk and beats! The best way to talk about it is clearly in sentence fragments, but no other album this year used chaos better in the service of clarity. – Anthony Strain

11. Beach HouseTeen Dream (Sub Pop)

Teen Dream was a departure for Beach House, but also a further development of the hypnotic undertow that is the defining aspect of the albums that preceded it. Or, better, the interplay between that subtle hypnosis, that almost psychedelic ethereality that may cause attuned listeners to slip out of themselves here and there, and the heavily human, emotionally dense vocals of Victoria Legrand – that is what defines Beach House. And by brightening the tone on Teen Dream, as well as smoothing out the texture of the sounds, Alex Scally and Legrand have found another register in which to operate this rendezvous. Heard out of context, just about anything on this record sounds like a single, and while the communication between tracks may suffer slightly as a result, it nevertheless creates and overwhelming impression of an intense and gorgeous, though not really nostalgic, “dream.” – Tyler Parks

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