REWIND 2010: Our Favorite Albums Of 2010


The Suburbs
In a more accurate world, if you looked up anthemic in the dictionary, you would invariably find a picture of the Arcade Fire. Rousing, heartfelt, and everyone-can-sing-along have been, heretofore, the hallmarks of the Montreal band’s recorded output and on The Suburbs, they continue passionately pounding out sweeping, densely layered, stadium-shaking soundtracks for people who have long since made peace with the fact that sooner or later the world will break your heart. If nothing else, Arcade Fire proved that the profound sense of loss – of innocence, of control, of loved ones dead and gone – that is so central to their music has a mass resonance that transcends the parameters of mere pop and, in the right hands, can be transmuted into a communal celebration of sorts. Message: Everybody hurts, but we are all in this together. — JONATHAN VALANIA


A crunch that sounds like a mouthful of amplified Pop Rock mixed with girl vocal icing, Sleigh Bells have a sound that is both big and delicate, scrape-y and cushy all at once, and their phasers are always set for KILL. They start at over-the-top, set up a step ladder and then take you higher. A guy/girl duo from out of Brooklyn, Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss show off a sound so fresh on that they can just stomp around in its rumbling, distorted glory, unleashing their killer hooks on every other song. It gels particularly nicely on “Rill Rill”with Krauss imploring us to “have a heart.” It’s all yours, Sleigh Bells. — DAN BUSKIRK





Even those who loved to hate Ivy League-educated pop merchants Vampire Weekend following their debut album couldn’t deny the hooks or the catchiness thereof. Their sophomore release gave the haters some of the same ammo—the preppy looks, right down to the polo shirt-clad cover, plus more jaunty afro-pop rhythms copped from Graceland—but with a sound that’s less chirpy and far more adventurous. Front to back, Contra rewards both close listening and background-of-the-coffee-shop appreciation, and though it came out early in 2010, I was rarely without it: the rapid-fire patter of “California English” and the did-he-really-hit-that-note vocals of “White Sky” lured me in and got me through the winter, and the way the rat-a-tat of “Giving Up the Gun” dissolves into bursts of sun made the summer fly by. — DAVE ALLEN



Back in 1994 when the rock world was going goofy over the shambling rock hi-jinks of lo-fi deconstructuralists like Guided By Voices and Pavement, Philly championed our own hometown heroes of ragged-but-right unpredictability, The Strapping Fieldhands. With moments that see-saw from being as stirring as early Kinks and as disturbing as The Magic Band, Discus is the band’s magnum opus, an album that dares you to sing, yell and mutter along with its inspired insanity and it stupid cleverness. There was always an expectation that some hip rock producer was going to find a way to bottle this band up and make them alt-rock worthy but it is the rough edges around the band’s sometimes hooky tunes that gives Discus a truly timeless edge, making for sixteen years that this record has sounded brand new. — DAN BUSKIRK



When asked about the state of current music, Bob Dylan recently said, “Today’s musicians don’t know the blues, I don’t think they even listen to the blues.” Dylan could not have been talkin’ about The Black Keys, because these cats not only know the blues but are also fluent in soul and r&b as evidenced on their latest album, “Brothers.” On this their sixth release, the garage soul and punk blues vision which this two man band from Akron, Ohio has been tooling with for over eight years has been fully realized. “Brothers” is their richest and most fully formed album to date. The primal attack and intense approach that Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney bring to the blues have reached it’s zenith moment with this soulful recording filled with passionately textured compositions and brutal musicianship. Most of the tracks on “Brothers” were recorded at the American South’s soul, r&b and blues mecca, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama. This environment may have created an atmosphere–sonically, that brought a beautiful dimension to a lot of the songs and also could be why “Brothers” is strong candidate for album of the year. — COLONEL TOM SHEEHY


My Dark And Beautiful Fantasy

When I asked my friends if they heard My Dark and Beautiful Fantasy, the ones who had would drop their voices down to a whisper to say, “Yeah, it’s realllly good…” The production is too dense to grasp in one listen but the choruses stick like glue: “No One Man Should Have All That Power,” “Can We Get Much Higher?” “Everybody Knows I’m a Mother-Fucking Monster” Like Jacko in his prime, this record sounds more like a collection of greatest hits than the labor of one year. Sure Kanye is crazy, but he inarguably knows what he’s doing. — DAN BUSKIRK


Forget what you know about 16-year-old rappers— Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt isn’t dancing or signing autographs. He raps like he’s covered in someone else’s blood. Not since Big L has hip-hop seen a more ruthless MC. I believe Anthony Burgess coined the term as “Ultraviolence” in A Clockwork Orange… yeah, that’s what it’s like. If you’re God-fearing or even somewhat morally accountable, Earl is not the album for you. But if you enjoy lines about stabbing friends, locking people in your basement or kidnapping high schoolers… well, today is your lucky day. In all honesty, 2010 was Odd Future’s playing board, and Earl Sweatshirt reigns as MVP. — MATTHEW HENGEVELD


Lawless Darkness

When Swedish black metal band Watain toured the US last year they somehow managed to bring over a container full of goat’s heads that they impaled on stakes at the front of the stage each night. The maybe unforeseen, maybe intentional, issue traveling in a bus with no refrigeration presented was that by midway through the tour the heads were totally rotted and fetid. Clubs were losing on bar profits because so many people were leaving early since they couldn’t deal with the overwhelming, vomit inducing death stench that filled the entire space. Club owners would move through the crowds with containers of Vicks vapo-rub for fans to smear under their noses so they could make it through the show without gagging. The band itself also drenched itself in blood before each show and didn’t seem to shower much in between so they themselves reeked of such nauseating rot that they were either so accustomed to or mentally ill not to notice that a lot of would be interviewers balked. Which was fine with the band, because anyone who approached them were met with hostile silence, anyway. So Watain came back to America to play the Maryland Death Fest earlier this year and guess what came with them? That’s right, THE SAME FUCKING GOATS HEADS FROM LAST YEAR (full set, all obviously not safe for lunch), which by this point are basically mummified. Oh yeah, they put an album out this year, too, called Lawless Darkness and it destroyed everything. Check out the album’s “single,” a catchy little diddy called REAPING DEATH. — JEFF DEENEY


Everything’s Berri
Since ’99, New York has been a hip-hop dead-zone. After the decline of boom-bap, the city never regained its own sound and borrowed from other regions to stay relevant. Roc Marciano changed this with his noir-hop album Marcberg, but many overlooked its companion, A.G.’s Everything’s Berri. Better known as Andre the Giant from the Digging In The Crates Crew, A.G. is a 20-year veteran. Everything about this album is original; A.G. switched up his flow for the project, Ray West constructed the smoothest beats of his career. Songs like “Destroy Rebuild Repeat” have the same callous darkness of an old Mobb Deep track. Others, like the ultra-laidback “I Wanna Chill,” are completely uncharacteristic for A.G.’s usually aggressive style. This album plays like a film. That’s the way hip-hop is meant to be. — MATTHEW HENGEVELD


Have One On Me
After the success of her debut The Milk-Eyed Mender, there was the obvious question—can she do it again? Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom’s latest 18-song release, delves into a much fuller sound than her previous work. The once baby-voiced, folk-darling of indie music junkies the world round, has definitely matured—in her now smooth, full vocals, the contemplative introspective lyrics and the developed musical depth backed by winds, percussion and strings—from the sounds of The Milk-Eyed Mender. Newsom has come into her sound, finding her favorite instrument to still be the harp, Have One On Me is full of as much rambling as could be expected of Newsom, inviting us to bring a friend to the Garden of Eden in “’81” getting dangerously close to a dance song with “Good Intentions Paving Company”. This is one of those rare gems; where the highlights are nicely spread throughout, making it a thoroughly enjoyable listen. — PELLE GUNTHER


How I Got Over
After Jimmy Fallon and NYC adopted Philadelphia’s legendary Roots crew a lot of hip-hop heads were skeptical. Could ?uest and them boys come through with yet another banger? Well, the afro’d one, in his truest Mingus fashion, proved all the skeptics wrong. What they created was a bonafide collection of recession-survivalism. From the moment-of-clarity in “How I Got Over” to the outrageous braggadocio of “Web 20/20” something about this album just feels good. Anybody who has balanced jobs to get their shit straight can relate to lines like: “I get off work, right back to work again. I probably need to get my head examed.” How I Got Over is an adequate examination of life in modern times. — MATTHEW HENGEVELD


Up From Below
After a short spell in rehab, Alex Ebert—of jerky, dancy, punk rock number Ima Robot—emerged with a brand new persona in his 11-12 piece band Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. Their debut album Up From Below is definitely a bold step away from Ima Robot, but from energetic vocals and strings of “40 Day Dream” to the tribal hippy chant full of rain sticks and pounding piano called “Om Nashi Me”, they use their tribe well, creating a very approachable album with songs for all tastes. The obvious standout is their tune “Home” which seems to evoke the archetypal feeling of love down to the back and forth between Ebert and his band mate Jade. Through this album, Ebert definitely seems to have redirected his energy from his nervous jerk-punk days into friendly, excitement driven vocals and rocking good vibes. — PELLE GUNTHER


American Slang
What do Arcade Fire and The Gaslight Anthem have in common? Both bands enjoyed a surprise on stage visit from Bruce Springsteen in the recent past . This was the Boss’s way of thanking both bands for their poignant appreciation of his music. However, with The Gaslight Anthem, Springsteen took things one step further by inviting Gaslight Anthem’s lead vocalist Brian Fallon to join him and the E Street Band onstage for a vocal duet on “No Surrender.” This rousing moment is included in “London Calling: Live in Hyde Park, a two DVD set the Boss released this year. This year also saw the release of “American Slang,” The Gaslight Anthem’s third album, and second produced by Ted Hutt which went to number one on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums Chart. On “American Slang,” this New Bruswick, New Jersey based melodic punk band have fully hit their stride. Brian Fallon’s lyrics and vocal interpretations swing from the boisterous and energetic to the literate and bittersweet. Some scribes have compared TGA to Social Distortion. Dare I say it? What I am hearing is the American answer to The Clash. — COLONEL TOM SHEEHY


This Is Happening
After the arrival of“Losing My Edge”, a slap in the face too all the pretentious, better-than-thou-art indie music kids, LCD was here to stay. With Sounds of Silver they raised the bar to a level that seemed hard to top. The new album, (and rumored last,) titled This Is Happening is on par with SoS, with James Murphy’s distinctive sound coming through in new and original forms once again. He starts the album off with the fantastically slow build of “Dance Yrself Clean” who’s dying notes fade into the shout-happy Brit Rock fluff song “Drunk Girls”. The album is chock full of beautifully layered, eight minute long dance numbers, all culminating in “Home”—summing this album perfectly and bidding fond farewell to these rockers who are about to head back home. Far from losing their edge, we can only hope this isn’t the last we hear from LCD Soundsystem. — PELLE GUNTHER


Halcyon Digest

Over the years, Bradford Cox has consistently to pushed sugary pop hooks and sticks-with-you-all-day-long melodies like a very reliable drug dealer — whether it was Crytopgrams that got you, Microcastles, or maybe even one of Cox’s solo albums under the name Atlas Sound.  Listening to Halcyon Digest is like revisiting an old favorite record lost and forgotten within the pile. It has the fresh experimentation you want to be pleasantly surprised by, but still retaining the familiar signposts that made you fall in love with the band in the first place. I was surprised to hear somebody other than Cox on songs such as “Fountain Stairs” and “Desire Lines”, and Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt consistently brings a new gold sounds to the table. Then there’s “Coronado”, featuring a heretofore un-used saxophone and Cox singing in a biting tone, which seems to take influence from Matador’s Kurt Vile & the Violators, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Deerhunter have covered Vile’s “Freaktrain” in the past, and have even called Vile a genius on their blog.  Vile’s not the only Matador alum to get a tribute. “He would have laughed” pays homage to Jay Reatard, who tragically passed away this year at the tender age of 29. — TIFFANY YOON


I’m New Here

It had been sixteen years since proto-rapper/singer-songwriter Gil Scott-Heron had released a record, and he wasn’t exactly living a comfortable retirement. In fact, he was in Rikers Island prison when producer Richard Russell looked him up to cut a new record. The man who recorded “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “Johannesburg” and “B-Movie” did not survive his stay on the dark side he had fallen into, I’m New Here instead sounds like a record his ghost has made. The man does not sound vigorous and renewed here, instead he sounds weary, haunted, and reflective. Much like those final Johnny Cash records, Scott-Heron seems heavily propped-up by his producer here, whose beats and rhythms support his man’s rumination and regrets, sometimes converted into songs, other times it is just chatter. But now and then it improbably rises into moments that stand with his greatest works, like the “Iko-Iko”-like handclap driven “New York is Killing Me” and the pain-wracked cover of Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil.” — DAN BUSKIRK



Acclaimed Tennessee native Sharon Van Etten’s sophomore LP, Epic, was produced by Philly local Brian McTear.  I first had the pleasure of seeing Etten in 2009 at Johnny Brenda’s, and though I didn’t know who she was at the time, her voice totally enraptured me — it’s the kind of voice that stops conversations and quiets a loud room.  I again had the pleasure to see her play live at Philly’s A.K.A. Records for a Weathervane Music fundraiser with Philly band Reading Rainbow and Brooklynites Twin Sister.  Etten did a cover of Blaze Foley’s “Oooh Love” (often mistaken for pretty blue eyes) and you could’ve heard a pin drop.  Epic stops you in your tracks, and pulls you close like lover or someone about to impart a deep, dark secret.  — TIFFANY YOON


CEE-LO GREEN “Fuck You”There are so many ways to tell someone off, but none could be simpler or pithier, more satisfying or more explosive, than “Fuck you.”  The story of the song that, against all radio-friendly logic, bears this name goes like this: It dropped; it went viral, first through a simple flowchart of its lyrics in bold font and then through a regular video; the radio edit (“Forget You”? Forget it) hit the airwaves; William Shatner and Gwyneth Paltrow covered it (separately, though as a duet it would have really been something); then we all forgot about it. But Cee-Lo’s kiss-off-with-a-smile jam still packs a few surprises: It comes on like “Love Train” but dumps your ass instead of praising universal brotherhood. It sells us on soul from a kinder time then drops us back in our harsh modern world. It uses gospel stylings in the service of a phrase that would be unspeakable in the House of the Lord— and says it over and over again. It’s forthright and funny, as Cee-Lo does what we all want but rarely get to do: saying exactly what’s on his mind with no consequences. We knew he had pain in his chest— all those mid-tempo, down-in-the-dumps jams from Gnarls Barkley were proof enough—but the sheer glee (not the capital G kind) in this track blindsides me every time: The sharp, percussive f-bombs, the mellifluous oo-oohs, Cee-Lo’s own Pips chiming in. If he’s more like an Atari, we should all just trash our XBoxes now. Ain’t that some shit? — DAVE ALLEN

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