Phoning It In: Let’s Get Cynical’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

So, here it is, the moment you’ve probably not been waiting for (and if you were actually waiting for it you’ve surely forgotten about it by now) – my top 10 records of 2010. Yeah, I know I did a top 20 last year, but illness and procrastination has sapped my will to write by this point, so I kinda just want to get this done really. Apologies if this article seems massively phoned-in – oh who am I kidding, it’s not like you care anyway, right?

First up, honourable mentions (or the records that would have made up my 20-11 – ok there are 11 here but shush), in alphabetical order by artist.

Arcade Fire  – The Suburbs
Dinosaur Pile-Up – Growing Pains
Grammatics – KRUPT (EP)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
The Hundred In The Hands – The Hundred In The Hands
Johnny Foreigner – You Thought You Saw A Shooting Star… (EP)
LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
Klaxons – Surfing The Void
Talons – Hollow Realm
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Warpaint – The Fool

Yeah, that is Arcade Fire right there – The Suburbs was originally going in my top 10 but dropped out after I decided it was a tad inconsistent and that I actually liked a couple of other records more. Also, regarding KRUPT, Grammatics have now put it up here for free – so if you haven’t already got it then you have absolutely no excuse not to download it now, you ingrates.

With that said, onward we go to the top 10!

10. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (ii)

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (ii)

While there are still hints of their more abrasive side on show, Crystal Castles’ second record is largely comprised of amazing, glacial floor-fillers. ‘Celestica’ is simply sublime, ‘Baptism’ sounds utterly colossal, and ‘Year Of Silence’ makes brilliant use of its Sigur Rós sample – this is exactly the direction I hoped they’d go in after their first record. I guess it’s kinda cheating to mention the version of ‘Not In Love’ that they did with Robert Smith, but that’s an anthem and a half too.

9. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II

Zola Jesus - Stridulum II

Zola Jesus is in possession of a distinctive, captivating voice – combine that with expansive, atmospheric instrumentation and relatable sentiment, and you have Stridulum II in a nutshell. Whether it be the emotional longing of ‘Night’, the massive-sounding crescendo of ‘Manifest Destiny’, or the beautifully melancholy ‘Lightsick’, the album never fails to impress. Definitely one of the year’s most promising debut records.

8. Sky Larkin – Kaleide

Sky Larkin - Kaleide

Kaleide sees Sky Larkin sounding tighter than ever – they’ve really upped their game on their second record. From the breezy indie-pop of ‘Still Windows’ to more contemplative numbers like ‘ATM’, this album is full of gems, but its mid-section in particular is fantastic. ‘Anjelica Huston’ is effortlessly cinematic, ‘Spooktacular’ is the rawest the band have ever sounded, and ‘Year Dot’ is a sheer bundle of apocalyptic joy.

7. Blood Red Shoes – Fire Like This

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This

If there’s one album that deserves to be my list for sheer consistency alone, it’s Fire Like This – there’s not a duff track on here. There’s no shortage of the loud, clattering indie-punk anthems that the duo are best known for, but they also find time to expand their sound a little bit too. ‘When We Wake’ demonstrates their softer side, and album closer ‘Colours Fade’ is definitely the most epic-sounding thing they’ve done so far.

6. Foals – Total Life Forever

Foals - Total Life Forever

Total Life Forever contains one of the year’s very best tracks in my opinion – ‘Spanish Sahara’ is a stunning centrepiece to a dark, melancholy and more considered second outing for the band. There are hints of the ‘old Foals’ in ‘This Orient’, but the majority of the album consists of far more expansive numbers like ‘Blue Blood’, ‘After Glow’ and ‘Alabaster’. Total Life Forever isn’t just a departure for Foals, it’s a significant leap forward.

5. Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses

Pulled Apart By Horses - Pulled Apart By Horses

Reviewing Pulled Apart By Horses for Muso’s Guide, I called the album “big, raw, gloriously dumb fun”, and that’s a statement I wholeheartedly stand by. Massive riffs, killer hooks and crazy lyrics combine to create one of the most raw, instantly appealing records of the year – and crucially, the album manages to capture the energy of the band’s chaotic live shows. An insane thrill-ride that you will want to take again and again.

4. The National – High Violet

The National - High Violet

I admit that High Violet was a bit of a slow-burner for me, but it won me over with its fantastic lyrics – Matt Berninger has a knack for writing songs that are very much relatable despite seeming deeply personal. Back that up with stately, atmospheric instrumentation and you’ve got a record that you can really connect with, from the heady rush of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ to the overwhelming emotion of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’.

3. Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring

Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring

Romance Is Boring sees Gareth still in fine lyrical form – from orchestrating the downfall of his relationship only to miss out on a place in the top 100 “most heartwrenching breakups of all time” to getting the knives out for an ex-girlfriend’s new lover, he never fails to be relatable or amusing. But what makes Romance Is Boring one of the year’s best records is the feeling that the band have upped their game – and no song quite emphasises that more than the heartwrenchingly brilliant ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’.

2. Lone Wolf – The Devil And I

Lone Wolf - The Devil And I

I first heard of Lone Wolf (aka Paul Marshall) when I saw his video for ’15 Letters’ on the Green Man Festival website. While the puzzle contained within was far too much for my brain to handle, the song itself quickly wormed its way into my head with its beautiful, finger-picked guitar and effortlessly sung lyrics that told the twisted tale of a murderous lover. Seeing him and his band live at the festival confirmed that he is both a masterful storyteller and a skilled guitarist, and I picked up his album The Devil And I at a subsequent gig in Leeds. Like the single before it, I found myself coming back to the album again and again, mesmerised by the way that Marshall weaves an intricate musical tapestry around each dark tale of love, tragedy and death. ‘Russian Winter’ has never sounded more fitting than during the recent cold weather, and spellbinding album-closer ‘The Devil And I (Part 2)’ features a suitably foreboding soundtrack for a tale of dealing with the Devil himself. From start to finish, this is a record that’s beautiful in its bleakness and, in my eyes, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the year’s biggest releases.

1. These New Puritans – Hidden

These New Puritans - Hidden

These New Puritans - Hidden

If I was ranking these records based purely on sheer ambition and inventiveness, Hidden would be album of the year hands down – Jack Barnett learned musical notation from scratch in order to write it, which is a fair indication that the band had set their sights high for this one. Of course, if you’re reading this it’s quite clear that I have put it at number one – and that’s not just for its ambitiousness, it’s also because it’s an utterly amazing album that fuses classical instrumentation with electronic elements, hip-hop, children’s choirs, melons being smashed, the sound of knives being sharpened, and god knows what else. You only need to listen to seven-minute statement of intent ‘We Want War’ to appreciate the scope of the record, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. At times oppressive and abrasive, at times utterly beautiful, Hidden doesn’t so much break boundaries as ignore them entirely.

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1 Comment

Filed under Albums, Music

One response to “Phoning It In: Let’s Get Cynical’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

  1. Geddy P

    Thanks for introducing me to some of this stuff, the lone wolf record completely slipped under my radar until you got me to listen to keep your eyes on the road. I hate when by the end of the year you feel like a record you love should be from some other time because you’ve listened to it to death (crystal castles II, odd blood). Baptisms bleepy sample bit is tremendous.

    With reference to These New Puritans and The National, I imagine they’re records ‘that need multiple listens’. Now at what point do you draw the line with these type of record.Certainly, picking up subtleties within music that make the bolder more prominent pieces of a song stand out can take multiple listens, perhaps with headphones/decent speakers or in another environment.

    Perhaps at heart, I need a hook, I like something to make me notice the other parts of a composition, not ( however epic) that lasts 7 minutes and takes you on a ‘journey’.
    Warpaint and The Hundred In The Hands are tremendous records, but I am incredibly disheartinated to discover no Glasser or Gold Panda in the mix.

    But thanks for your blog, I do always read it and I do discover new things that make the hairs stand up ( the wee back hairs, not the curly ones), and surely thats what relentless thankless trawling through new artists is about?

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