The Top 30 Albums of 2010

How great of a year was 2010? So great that when I first put together a list of albums to consider for my Top 10, there were over 45 serious contenders.

And while I was eventually able to whittle it down to what you’re going to see here, it was really tough, and absolutely subject to change.

2010 was my favorite year for music since 1991, and maybe ever, and I think social networking played a huge part in it. People talk a lot of shit about Facebook and Twitter, but the upside — especially Twitter — is that you get recommendations from people whom you might have never met, but whose taste coincides with your owns. There were many great records this year — The Soft Pack & Titus Andronicus come to mind — that I discovered thanks to a tweet or got deeper into because of a long online discussion.

That said, there was so much stuff that I missed that I can’t say that this list will be the same even 3 months down the road, but for now, here’s how it goes:


  1. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
    Comeback of the year, natch, but beyond a simple “we’re back, didja miss us?” Majesty Shredding didn’t purport to make any grand statements about the world, or even Superchunk themselves. Majesty Shredding became my favorite record of 2010 by reminding me how much I love raggedy, squealing songs that resolve themselves with singalong choruses. And that subsequently reminded me just how much I had taken Superchunk for granted during the 90s, when they were churning out record after record, none of which seemed as strong as this one, but all of which sound better in retrospect. So it turns out that, yeah, I did miss them, more than I had realized. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty grand statement after all.
    Songs to die for: “Slow Drip,” “Crossed Wires,” “Winter Games,” “Digging For Something”
  2. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
    What to say about what’s obviously the album of the year? How the way Kanye deploys peoples voices reminds me of how Jimmy Page deployed guitar riffs? How he debuted it track by track — a manner that parallels how many of us listen to music these days — counting on people to be properly overwhelmed when it was all put together? Sure, all of those things, plus songs that stick in the head, some of which sound like nothing I’ve ever heard. What makes me properly overwhelmed is that — in the middle of all of this amazing, orchestral production — his rapping and singing (especially his singing) is, well, ordinary. Not generic, but far far from perfect. And that brings it all down to earth, humanizes his music and makes it seem like he’s not just an arrogant asshole, but an arrogant asshole who lives to make music. This music.
    Songs to die for: “Runaway,” “Lost in the World,” “POWER,” “All of the Lights”
  3. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
    Of course, the knock against the suburbs has always been that every house looks the same. So when at first, people had trouble distinguishing the songs on this from each other, it felt like a little bit too much thematic consistency. However, as anyone grew up in the suburbs could tell you, once you get inside the houses — even the ones with the exact same floor plans — they’re all totally different, compelling, and usually weirder than you could have possibly imagined. And so it goes with this album, which I though unexceptional at first, but didn’t leave my rotation for five solid months. In the end, nearly every song, even (especially) the ones I’d originally dismissed, wormed its way into my head, and then into heart.
    Songs to die for: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” “We Used to Wait,” “Ready to Start,” “City With No Children”
  4. Best Coast – Crazy For You
    Detractors of this album are going to tell you that it all sounds the same, which is true, but what they’re leaving out is that it’s a GREAT the same. Bethany Cosentino loads up with the multitrack vocal harmonies, 60s guitars and comes on as a less-polished more-echo-drenched version of the pre-Prince Bangles. And come on she does: she knows how she feels, and is going to do everything in her power to figure out he feels. Sadly — and this also gives the record its power — it doesn’t ever seem like it’s going to be enough for her.
    Songs to die for: “Boyfriend,” “When I Am With You,” “When The Sun Don’t Shine” “Honey”
  5. Drive-by Truckers – The Big To-Do
    Consistency is the lifeblood of the Truckers, who have spent the last decade doing what they do better than just about anybody else. And because they’re so (relatively) prolific — 8 albums in 12 years, and another one due early next year — and so matter-of-fact in what they do, they get ignored a lot. But it says here that The Big To-Do was top-tier Truckers, and features yet another great Patterson Hood death song — only this one was about an entire scene, and doubled as a Hold Steady tribute/parody/answer song. Add that to Cooley’s sympathetic stripper song and Shonna’s drone and pop songs, and ho-hum, another fucking excellent record from DBT.
    Songs to die for: “After The Scene Dies,” “Birthday Boy,” “You Got Another” “Santa Fe”
  6. The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
    Coming on like the Buzzcocks crossed with The Feelies, San Diego’s Soft Pack piles on the riffs, hooks and energy throughout, providing yet another new spin on what in lesser hands would be the same old punk rock. As always, it sounds fresh and new to us because it’s no doubt fresh and new to them. And as always, I wonder what happens next, when it ain’t so new to them.
    Songs to die for: “C’mon,” “Down on Loving,” “Answer to Yourself,” “More or Less”
  7. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
    Sometimes, their huge repeated chanted choruses (“it’s still us against them”) remind me of The Alarm and their twisty, windy guitars remind me of Big Country, and I get really worried, because, well, you know. Luckily, then, their energy and commitment remind me of The Clash or Bruce Springsteen, and I get much less worried, because, well, you know. Then when I realize that none of the four artists I mentioned above — not even Bruce — has ever managed to pull off a 14-minute song to climax an album where only two of the previous songs were under five minutes, I stop worrying completely, and give in completely to their conceptual art-punk.
    Songs to die for: “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” “Titus Andronicus Forever,” “Four Score and Seven” “A More Perfect Union”
  8. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
    The 5 stages of a 2010 Sufjan Stevens Song:

    1. “What the fuck?”
    2. “No, seriously, what? the. fuck!?!”
    3. “Who does this guy think he is?”
    4. “Oh wait, I get it. That’s kinda catchy.”
    5. “Hey, can you play that again?”

    Songs to die for: “Too Much,” “Get Real Get Right,” “Vesuvius,” “Impossible Soul”

  9. Jason & The Scorchers – Halcyon Times
    Jason Ringenberg has been bringing it for nearly 30 years, sometimes more successfully than others, but his first record in almost half of that time with original Scorchers guitarist Werner Hoggs is a perfect example of why alt-country originally became a category. An album this energetic, this hooky, this motherfucking alive done by a band of kids would have been praised to the skies instead of being so under the radar that fans didn’t even know it existed.
    Songs to die for: “Mother of Greed,” “Golden Days,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Mona Lee”
  10. Chemical Brothers – Further
    In their own way, as huge and orchestral as Kanye or the Arcade Fire. In their own way, as weird and experimental as Sufjan. In their own way, as genre-hopping as Janelle Monae or Cee-Lo. In their own way, as rocking as Drive-by Truckers or the Hold Steady. In their own way, because that’s the only way the Chemical Brothers know.
    Songs to die for: “Dissolve,” “K+D+B,” “Wonders of the Deep,” “Swoon”
  11. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring
    Songs to die for: “Straight in at 101,” “Romance is Boring,” “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State; Or Letters from Me to Charlotte,” “There Are Listed Buildings”
  12. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
    Songs to die for: “Art House Director,” “Forced to Love,” “Water in Hell,” “World Sick”
  13. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
    Songs to die for: “I Can Change,” “Drunk Girls” “All I Want,” “Home”
  14. Surf City – Kudos
    Songs to die for: “Kudos,” “Retro,” “In Times of Approach,” “Icy Lakes”
  15. Len Price 3 – Pictures
    Songs to die for: “Pictures,” “After You’re Gone,” “You Tell Lies,” “Nothing Like You”
  16. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song
    Songs to die for: “Can’t Cash My Checks,” “Heartache,” “Poor Man Blues,” “Mental Revenge”
  17. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
    Songs to die for: “Desire Lines,” “Revival,” “Memory Boy,” “Fountain Stairs”
  18. The Walkmen – Lisbon
    Songs to die for: “Angela Surf City,” “Woe is Me,” “Stranded,” “Blue as Your Blood”
  19. Michael Franti & Spearhead – The Sound of Sunshine
    Songs to die for: “The Sound of Sunshine,” “Hey Hey Hey,” “The Only Thing Missing Was You,” “The Thing That Gets Me Through”
  20. The Orbans – When We Were Wild
    Songs to die for: “Like a Liar,” ” Don’t Lose Yourself,” “Were Her,” “Alibi”
  21. Jenny and Johnny – We’re Having Fun Now
    Songs to die for “Scissor Runner,” “Switchblade,” “Big Wave,” “My Pet Snakes”
  22. Freedy Johnston – Rain on the City
    Songs to die for: “Don’t Fall in Love With a Lonely Girl,” “Venus is Her Name,” “It’s Gonna Come Back to You,” “Central Station”
  23. Spoon – Transference
    Songs to die for: “Trouble Comes Running,” “The Mystery Zone,” “Who Makes Your Money,” “I Saw The Light”
  24. The National – High Violet
    Songs to die for: “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “Afraid of Everyone,” “Lemonworld,” “Anyone’s Ghost”
  25. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
    Songs to die for: “Cold War,” “Tightrope,” “Wondaland,” “Faster”
  26. The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever
    Songs to die for: “Sweet Part of the City,” “The Weekenders,” “Rock Problems,” “Soft in the Center”
  27. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
    Songs to die for: “Laredo,” “NW Apt,” “Older,” “Neighbor”
  28. NAS & Damien Marley – Distant Relatives
    Songs to die for: “Nah Mean,” “Africa Must Wake Up,” “Strong Will Continue,” “As We Enter”
  29. Adam Franklin – I Could Sleep For a Thousand Years
    Songs to die for: “I’ll Be Yr Mechanic,” “Take Me to My Leader,” “Sinking Ships,” “The Road is Long”
  30. Roky Erickson with Okkervil River – True Love Cast Out All Evil
    Songs to die for: “Goodbye Sweet Dreams,” “Devotional Number One,” “John Lawman” “True Love Cast Out All Evil”

(That weren’t on those albums)

  1. Sufjan Stevens – “Djohariah”
  2. Cee-Lo Green – “Fuck You”
  3. The Charlatans – “Sincerity”
  4. Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Say No To Love”
  5. Surfer Blood – “Swim”
  6. Blake Jones & The Trike Shop – “Everybody’s Got an Andy Story”
  7. Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 – “The Afterlight”
  8. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – “She Ain’t A Child No More”
  9. The Rolling Stones – Plundered My Soul
  10. Vampire Weekend – “Cousins”
  11. Vaselines – “Mouth to Mouth”
  12. Wavves – “King of the Beach”
  13. Black Mountain – Let Spirits Ride
  14. Kasey Chambers – “Train Wreck”
  15. Paul Collins – “Losing Your Cool”
  16. Mavis Staples – “You Are Not Alone”
  17. Posies – “She’s Coming Down Again”
  18. Bettie Serveert – “Deny All”
  19. Robert Plant – “Angel Dance”
  20. Hoodoo Gurus – “Are You Sleeping?”
  21. Delta Spirit – “Golden State”
  22. Teenage Fanclub – “When I Still Have Thee”
  23. M.I.A. – “Born Free”
  24. Neil Young – “Hitchhiker”
  25. The Long Winters – “Connections in Nashville”
  26. Alejandro Escovedo – “Shelling Rain”
  27. The Gaslight Anthem – “Stay Lucky”
  28. The Roots – “How I Got Over”
  29. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow”
  30. Liz Phair – “Satisfied”

30 albums, 150 songs. And there were dozens of records — by artists that I’ve always loved, and ones that I’m sure I will — that I still haven’t had a chance to hear. That’s how great of a year 2010 was.

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