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CoS Year-End Report: The Top 100 Albums of 2010

on December 17, 2010, 9:00am
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albums thumb 260x260 CoS Year End Report: The Top 100 Albums of 2010The end of the year — CoS‘ fourth on the Internet — approaches, closing a very exciting run. It has been arduously difficult to decipher the commotion over my iPod blasting a ton of new music, and for this, I am thankful. Let us cross fingers that the nukes don’t come out blazing during the New Years’ parties, or else I will miss the fireworks of a loony self-fulfillment.

We could sit here and reminisce on everything of prominence over the past 365 days, and all of you gracious readers that strapped us into the #1 Music Blog position on About.com could bask in nostalgia’s glorious sun shower. In the essence of practicality, while revisiting landmark albums like Exile On Main St. and Pretty Hate Machine, dismantling Consequence of Kanye at the culmination of his Dark Twisted Fantasy, and doling out five stars to Arcade Fire, we had the chance to compile this lovely Top 100 list for your critiquing and commenting pleasure.

This is the cream of the crop from all walks of genre, sub-genre, and fused genres alike. This is the definitive mark, two-thousand-ten’s best album releases, summarily graphed — and generously bled for — by your favorite Web site’s dedicated writers and contributors. So much has happened in such a minute expanse of time, we could not feasibly compress it all into a single article, but nonetheless, here lies the certifiable superlative one-off for 12 months’ worth of music.

[cue the confetti strands and silly string]

Significant moments leave a deep impact during December; we start wondering if things were given due justice. Questions arise as to why certain obligations might have been neglected (did you listen to even half of the albums on our list yet?). Perhaps many will silently renew devotions for the sake of a new year. Personally, I try not to guilt myself too harshly; After all, humans are imperfect creatures. Forget about making some last-minute proclamation of weight-loss goals and nicotine withdrawals. Why not focus on enjoying that year-end martini? If you want to lose pounds or finish your novel, do it for your own reasons, not because it’s the standard.

Make 2011 a time of positive build, not redundant letdown. Other usual goal selections are still worthy causes, but nothing is ironclad. If another passing birthday has taught me anything, it is that life is too short to bitch and moan. Think of the positives instead of the negatives, and you will find that the music sounds much sweeter than it did. The rose tint is absent, the naggers are quieted — What remains is the soothing remedy of a happy medium, the way it makes sense for you.

Welcome to the end of 2010 — May your resolutions be fruitful, may your Armageddon be swift, and may your record collection exponentially grow in value. May Chinese Democracy be your how-to guide for overhype. May the last lone Walkman live long and prosper. And may your iTunes gift card see plenty of use.

In bowing out, we implore you… pop the Scroll Lock from your keyboard — it’s obsolete now.

-David Buchanan
Senior Staff Writer

100. Black Label Society – Order of the Black

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Ozzy Osbourne and Zakk Wylde have both released albums this year: the former’s Scream, the latter’s latest Black Label Society disc, Order of the Black. While Scream seems to have fallen from grace (despite being entertaining enough), Black Label Society have risen from the grave. With old school rising to the nth degree, Order of the Black is definitely one of the best heavy metal albums all year. Is it favoritism if Wylde shares a birthday with my daughter? -David Buchanan

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99. Avi Buffalo – Avi Buffalo

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High school must have been a trip for this fresh-out-the-suburbs band that only recently graduated. Following in the ’60s-recalling footsteps of fellow indie poppers MGMT, Avi Buffalo’s self-titled debut gives us innocence on mushrooms, and plays like their own personal summer of love. “Truth Sets In” and “Five Little Shits” show the craftsmanship behind the music is top-notch. Noodly guitars form flower-child pop rock with forays into folk and country as on “One Last”. The lyrics may be a little high school, but Avi Buffalo write music like pros. The guitar work alone sounds 20 years older, as they work through one sunny jam after another. Avi Buffalo couldn’t have come at a better time, what with so many throwback rock bands making their mark in the past year. While timing is everything, so is having a solid record where every track stands out. With an album like this, it sounds like the next generation will be all right. -E.N. May

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98. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

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Nowadays, rock and roll music is married to a lot of different genres, be it rap, pop, various forms of world music, etc. Rare is the truly good album that is just plain rock and roll. However, The Gaslight Anthem proved rock can still just be rock, with the down-on-their-luck punk rock of American Slang. Pain and frustration roar through the speakers, all on the backs of big, booming guitar and tight-as-it-comes drumming. The album showed that while rock music is drifting further away from its glory days, there’s still tons of room for the good, old-fashioned stuff. -Chris Coplan

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97. Caribou — Swim

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When an artist makes a turn towards pop, one wonders whether the artist has actually improved or simply tricked the listener into accepting the music. I wondered this after hearing Merriweather Post Pavilion and The Suburbs, but 48 listens later each, I’m pretty sure those are both still good albums. Like, 90 percent sure, but I didn’t need to be converted. Caribou sparked these same questions for me with Swim, and going with my instinct was the right choice. It’s hard to put this down, as they used to say when albums were physical objects. Even if you’re not on drugs, Swim will make you feel like you are. It’s not just for dance music junkies though — Caribou has much more to offer than a beat and some synth fiddling. -Harry Painter

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96. Tokyo Police Club – Champ

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After a somewhat disappointing debut LP in Elephant Shell, which failed to capture the spark of their A Lesson in Crime EP, Tokyo Police Club returned in 2010 with Champ. Like its name would suggest, the album feels triumphant in that it reintegrates that catchy vibe and also sees the band expand their lyrical concepts by adding a dash of worldly cynicism and diversifying their sonic output with lots of effects and improved instrumentation. Consider this the band’s musical equivalent of Rocky making it to the top of the stairs. -Chris Coplan

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95. Mike Patton – Mondo Cane

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Mondo Cane in one sentence: Mr. Bungle meets ’50s Italian pop with a backing orchestra. Seriously, it’s Mike Patton! Weird is not his calling card — it’s his genetic makeup, and I look forward to more operatic productions in the future. At the very least, a Mr. Bungle reunion? Pretty please? -David Buchanan

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94. Cotton Jones – Tall Hours in the Glowstream

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Not many records do an artist’s influences perfect justice, creating something strangely fresh without sounding like imitation. But Tall Hours in the Glowstream, Michael Nau’s dreamed out, smoky, hazy exploration of country’s golden age, is exhilarating in both its authenticity and dreamy beauty. -Drew Litowitz

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93. Laurie Anderson – Homeland

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Homeland is a sprawling and desolate quasi-sequel to Laurie Anderson’s first breakthrough 1984 performance piece, United States Live. This revisiting of America rides on the back of economic desperation, global unrest, and the new electronic reality. It’s a fascinating and haunting perspective on our day and age, from America’s greatest performance artist. -Cap Blackard

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92. Weezer – Hurley

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On Weezer’s eighth full-length album, Hurley, the band did what they do best; they made a Weezer album. And as always, Rivers Cuomo kept it close to the heart. He and the guys rehashed the glory days “back when Audioslave was Rage” on the Jackass sing-along “Memories”. Rivers kept the power pop Weezer alive too, with “Ruling Me” and “Hang On”, but also wrote some personal and emotional songs like “Trainwrecks” and “Time Flies”. No matter how many releases they have, Weezer showed us that all they will do is rock. At least as long as they have the limbs to do it. -Ted Maider

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91. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night

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Shoegaze and ’70s AOR make for a strange combination, but together they make The Besnard Lakes‘ sophomore LP, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, which sees the band continue to sharpen their sound with lush, slow-burning jams. Jace Lacek’s classic guitar work and resonant voice fit perfectly with Olga Goreas’ acidy soprano. Turn it up, bang your head, and vibe out. -Jeremy Larson

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90. Antony and the Johnsons – Swanlights

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More a step sideways than a step backwards, the new album by Antony and the Johnsons doesn’t quite reach as many high points as his previous two albums, but it doesn’t have many low points either. It’s another very solid effort from one of the most unique voices in modern music. Adding more guitar-based songs gives this album a wider palate than before, but the highlights are still Antony and his piano. His voice, like always, is the main attraction, and his lyrics are just as affecting as ever. The centerpiece of the album is the title track, a mysteriously sprawling song that is simultaneously one of the strangest songs Antony has ever produced and also one of his best. If his self-titled effort was an introduction, I Am a Bird Now was his breakthrough masterpiece, and The Crying Light was the solid followup to a near perfect album, then Swanlights proves that Antony is here to stay. -Carson O’Shoney

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89. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

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Singer Gareth Campesinos! wants to talk to you about sex. And death. And fighting. And football. And everything in between. Seems like a lot of material to shove into one album, right? Yet, not only does Romance is Boring cover all of this and more, it does so in a dramatic, sarcastic, and anthemic fashion. The sprawling, 15-song effort is full of tasty moments to digest over multiple listens. The band covers sparse arrangements, noise rock, and even what the casual observer may call a hit song. Numbers like the title track, “There Are Listed Buildings”, and “Straight in at 101” are certainly highlights, but this is a record you should hear from beginning to end. Romance may be boring, but Los Campesinos! is anything but dull. -Joe Marvilli

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88. El Guincho – Pop Negro

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The man who has been hailed the “Panda Bear of Spain” followed up his immensely successful sophomore album, Alegranza!, with yet another album of his curiously eccentric brand of pop music. Although this release did not receive the same acclaim as its predecessor, it was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable pop albums of the year. Opening track “Bombay” proved not only to be perhaps the sunniest, most memorable track on the album, but also provided one of the coolest videos of the year. El Guincho stayed true to form on Pop Negro, losing absolutely no integrity, having instead created yet another enjoyable work from his zany imagination. Spanish speaker or not, everyone will be able to understand the obvious musical prowess showcased on this album. -Winston Robbins

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87. The Thermals – Personal Life

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It ain’t easy squeezing a respectable catalog out of three chords. Few bands do it well, but The Thermals have thankfully stepped up to join the ranks of artists like The Bouncing Souls and Bad Religion as the modern day torch carriers of power punk. Unlike their earlier work, Personal Life displays more new wave tendencies, with lovelorn, bass-heavy tracks like “Only for You” and “Never Listen to Me” owing more to The Cars than The Germs. But mellowed out or not, 10 perfect songs in under 35 minutes is an equation that can’t be beat, even by their younger, rabble-rousing selves. -Dan Caffrey

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86. Interpol – Interpol

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Even though Carlos D was in the studio for Interpol‘s fourth go-round, the self-titled LP will always be associated with the visible bassist’s departure soon after its release. This is not completely unfair; If it weren’t for Paul Banks’ distinctive monotone, it would be hard to recognize this as an Interpol album. True, it’s not the Interpol we remember and expect, and it’s no Turn on the Bright Lights. But, my, did this LP not deserve to be ignored the way it was. This is more an album of scattered standout moments than one of constant pop perfection, but given repeat listens, those standout moments are worth the time. It’s hard to give Interpol the benefit of the doubt at this point, but here’s hoping the future improves for the New Yorkers. -Harry Painter

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85. Four Tet – There Is Love in You

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It turns out that 2010 was an amazing year for emotional, powerful electronic music, but none is more emotionally strong than Four Tet‘s There Is Love in You. It’s a powerful album where a baby’s heartbeat is turned into an actual beat. The vocals, the beats, the atmosphere — it’s all beautiful. -Evan Minsker

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84. Delorean – Subiza

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Spanish quartet Delorean know what they’re doing. Subiza offers layer upon layer of samples, synths, and catchy melodies that result in an uplifting, atmospheric album sure to have your toes tapping. Repeated, airy vocals entrance the listener and add even more depth to the already complex and varied soundscape. The album plays like a DJ set, songs flowing in and out of one another, keeping true to the band’s Balearic roots. Animal Collective references aside, Delorean has forged a home in today’s overpopulated realm of electronic pop music. Whether it’s the ,majestic single “Stay Close” or “Warmer Places”, with its anthemic repetition of “Never settle, never settle, never settle”, Subiza does no wrong. -Caitlin Meyer

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83. Pete Yorn – Pete Yorn

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Before the drowsy acoustics of 2009’s Back and Fourth and a bubbly collaboration with Scarlett Johansson, Pete Yorn was roughing it up in the garage with producer Frank Blank. At the Pixies frontman’s behest, Yorn swiftly recorded his eventual sixth album in 2008, giving his usual classic rock stylings a newfound sawtooth urgency. Pete Yorn‘s first half is pared down to nothing but crunchy distortion, with power pop nuggets like “Velcro Shoes” and “Badman” recalling a scrappier T. Rex, while the more jangled second half pays tribute to R.E.M. and Big Star. “Come on wheels, take this boy away,” he croons in the twangy closing track. As long as it’s back to where he started, we’ll all be in good shape. -Dan Caffrey

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82. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM

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Inspired by Charlotte Gainsbourg’s brush with death and subsequent time spent in an MRI scanner, IRM reveals Gainsbourg’s continued evolution and maturation as a singer. Through producer and co-writer Beck’s diverse instrumentation which ran the gamut between lush and minimalist, Gainsbourg’s distant, barely there whisper offers the occasional peek behind her mystique. The collaboration between Gainsbourg and Beck is a match made in heaven, with both artists bringing the best out of each other. Who else but Beck could replicate the pulsating rhythm and sense of claustrophobia produced by the machine, and turn it into such captivating music? IRM is two artists nearing 40 exploring and reflecting upon death, and the result is the best Beck album since Sea Change. -Frank Mojica

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81. Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love

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A new Belle & Sebastian album is a welcome outcome in itself; Such is the band’s track record. This latest offering doesn’t disappoint, but requires repeat plays to really sink in. Once there, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that B&S have delivered yet another first-class pop album — bright, breezy and accomplished, both vocally and in the tight, rich ensemble instrumentation. -Tony Hardy

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80. Damien Jurado – Saint Bartlett

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On his ninth LP, the grossly undervalued alt-folk lion continues his decades-long odyssey into the broken heart of America, working with friend and producer Richard Swift to deliver a collection steeped in vintage sounds and ideas. Damien Jurado‘s work on Saint Bartlett is timeless and penetrating, at once a sonic nod to mid-century production techniques and a reminder of the importance of storytelling in an age that increasingly has little appetite for nuance and reflection. Indeed, his thoughtful, literary tales and troubled, but familiar characters have never seemed so vital. -Ryan Burleson

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79. Wild Nothing – Gemini

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Upon listening to “Summer Holiday”, the first single from Wild Nothing’s debut full-length Gemini, it would be too easy to lump the band and its principal actor Jack Tatum in with other bands currently feeding on ’80s nostalgia pop, like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. In fact, tracks like “O, Lilac” do sound as if they came out of the Pains’ playbook. However, the album as a whole is a bit more diverse. Not simply relying on fuzzy tones or shrilly synths as a crutch, Wild Nothing also owe something to early ’90s indie pop for its sound. The more I listened to Gemini, the more I also heard elements of the Drop Nineteens and the Swirlies (or other bands from the early SpinArt roster), especially in the way Tatum plays his guitar. Everything is utilized loosely to help highlight the wistful haze surrounding Wild Nothing’s particular approach to dream pop. The carefree jangle theand gorgeous vocal harmony on “Our Composition Book” is like Galaxy 500 on caffeine. “Bored Games” has an underlying dance beat that is akin to some of the sounds found with IDM artists on Ghostly International, and “Chinatown” is simply a strong pop song oozing with dreaminess. -Len Comaratta

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78. Fang Island – Fang Island

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Give credit to these punks. They’re punks in the true sense because their style and sound is something at odds with the status quo. The frugality that 2010 favors in its music is laughed at by Fang Island’s three part guitar harmonies and the band’s exuberant vocal power. Their sound is that of a band incubating until they someday find themselves in a stadium or an arena. You’d be hard-pressed not to have people tell you it’s prog, but underneath there’s a rich cushion of the history of rock, metal, and strong arena melodies. In other words, they make what they do sound authentic — the highest form of currency in 21st century music listening. -Jeremy Larson

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77. The Drums – The Drums

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If there was a perfect pop album from cover to cover this year, a strong argument could be made for the Drums‘ self-titled full-length. Coming off the success of 2009’s Summertime EP, the Drums returned with a strong, vibrant album that captured elements of ’60s pop melodies and blended them with the jaded post-punk/new wave attitude of many U.K. bands from the late ’70s. The full-length featured a few repeats from the 2009 EP, including a re-recording of “Let’s Go Surfing”, the hot single that started it all; But newer tracks like “Forever and Ever Amen” and “Best Friend” demonstrate that the band has for-real potential. Their look and sound is vintage U.K. new wave and if they were to be subjected to a time machine accident dumping them out on the streets of post-Punk Revolution London or Glasgow, nobody would bat an eye. With that in mind, the Drums are in no way derivative and they do for the pop sounds of the era what bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand did for the post-punk/dance punk sounds of bands like Gang of Four and Wire. -Len Comaratta

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76. of Montreal – False Priest

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Coming off their proggiest album, 2008’s Skeletal Lamping, of Montreal could have gone any direction with this release. Fans and critics alike criticized Skeletal for being too nonsensical and tough to grasp, which are spot on analyses. Fortunately, of Montreal stuck to their guns for False Priest, expertly cranking out infectious psych-pop. But, of course, in true of Montreal fashion, the sound of the music did not remain static. This album incorporated the usual Prince/David Bowie influences, but also a largely unexplored territory for the psych-rockers: R&B. Citing Stevie Wonder as a major influence for the record, front man Kevin Barnes deliberately included appearances from longtime friend and psych R&B darling Janelle Monáe, as well as Solange Knowles, the younger sister of pop enigma Beyoncé. In the end, the record wasn’t their strongest, but it was a return to the youthful, lovable of Montreal we’ve all become so enamored with. -Winston Robbins

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75. My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

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My Chemical Romance made its name on vampire songs and screamy music for sad kids. This will only take you so far in terms of earning critical respect, though. They followed up 2006’s heavy-handed concept album The Black Parade with 2010’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. This is another concept album, to be sure, but it’s one that rings true and doesn’t overwhelm the music. The album takes us through a radio show piloted by pirate DJ Dr. Death through a post-apocalyptic wasteland controlled by a mysterious corporate behemoth. Luckily, alter-egos the Killjoys are on the loose, providing us with death-defying escapades, corporate defiance, and, of course, some of MCR’s best music to date. It’s still guided by Gerard Way’s snarly, self-indulgent punk vocals, but this time, they’re layered over the top of some solid rock music. Danger Days takes the best of MCR’s skill set and combines it with incredibly listenable, textured rock tunes that will lend MCR some much-needed cultural relevance for many years to come. -Megan Ritt

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74. School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire

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For School of Seven Bells, creating atmosphere is what it’s all about. On their second album, they do more than succeed at that lofty goal. Each track transports you to a new location, one that’s different, yet still familiar. It turns from the high-pitched, rhythmic vocals of “Windstorm” to the rave-inducing “Dust Devil” and back to shoegaze without any jarring transitions. The duel vocals of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza move between angelic and haunting within the same song. Meanwhile, guitarist Benjamin Curtis brings up a whole array of effects that he masterfully uses to his advantage. My recommendation? Lie back, close your eyes, and lose yourself in this album. You won’t regret it. -Joe Marvilli

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73. Goldfrapp – Head First

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These days, there are a ton of bands who readily make use of the musical cash cow that is the 1980s. However, none do it as skillfully as Goldfrapp on their fifth LP, Head First. Full of shiny synths, melodies like sweet ear candy, and coming off like ABBA meeting Olivia Newton-John on some glorious dancefloor in paradise, the album is everything most people loved about the ’80s with an update, thanks to some kicking house and dance music. Plus, you don’t have to wear shoulder pads or neon to enjoy it. -Chris Coplan

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72. Miniature Tigers – F O R T R E S S

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It was going to be hard to top Tell It to the Volcano, but Miniature Tigers did just that on the followup to their 2008 debut LP. F O R T R E S S was greatly overshadowed by the hype surrounding Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs (which was released a week later), but music fans who overlooked this album missed one of 2010’s brightest nuggets of precision-crafted pop and a timeless collection of songs that our own E.N. May called “so close to perfect, it hurts.” -Ray Roa

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71. GAYNGS – Relayted

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GAYNGS’ debut LP led to The Purple One attending (and almost playing at) their first show ever, but what Relayted really accomplished was giving us something to chill to without having to call it “chillwave.” Filled with bowel-shaking low end and airy vocals, the 11-track effort from this super collective – which features members of Bon Iver, Megafun, and Solid-Gold – was surely the soundtrack to many a joint-smoking session. -Ray Roa

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70. PS I Love You – Meet Me at the Muster Station

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PS I Love You‘s album was a pleasant surprise this year — a rock ‘n’ roll record without pretensions or frills from a band who broke through with one single. Paul Saulnier churns out some instant hits here: “Facelove”, “Breadends”, and the title track all come to mind. Killer rock, no gimmicks. -Evan Minsker

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69. Revere – Hey Selim!

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Revere is an eight-piece London outfit that skilfully blends rock and orchestral instrumentation to create a lush and majestic sound. This fusion, attached to some great songs and an expressive lead vocal, is an explosive mix. This debut album provides a glimpse of the intensity of the band’s live performances through epic songs like “The Escape Artist”. The group is still relatively unknown outside the U.K., but the impact of this album has already led to an invitation to SXSW in 2011. -Tony Hardy

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68. Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Night: Songs for Lulu

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All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu finds Rufus Wainwright in an intense place, both musically and personally, as the album was written as his beloved mother succumbed to cancer. This album, full of love songs to the dark muse, represents a major evolution for the songwriter. He’s dark without being morose (“Zebulon”, “What Would I Ever Do with a Rose”), he’s heartbreakingly earnest (“Martha”), and respectably well-read (“A Woman’s Face”, “Shame”, and “When Most I Wink”, all adaptations of Shakespearean sonnets). The resulting album — performed on tour in a grand, uninterrupted song cycle — is a moving collection of 12 tracks that represents some of Wainwright’s most well-composed and executed work to date, music to be remembered by. -Megan Ritt

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67. Liars – Sisterworld

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This dank, echoing gem of an album accomplishes something I didn’t think possible: It comes close to the glory that was Drum’s Not Dead. And Liars achieve greatness on Sisterworld with string arrangements as they did on Drum’s with feedback. Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill, and Julian Gross masterfully produce dark, powerful rock without delving into the overt theatrics of metal or the macabre-for-the-sake-of-it aesthetics of goth material. The disc plays out like the soundtrack to an expressionist horror film yet to come. Not the slasher “he’s right behind you!” type, but the eerie, “what’s going on here” type. -Adam Kivel

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66. Torche – Songs for Singles EP

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If Mastodon has its passion for epic themes, and ISIS was Tool with a twist, Torche is most likely a candidate for the second coming of Kyuss and Beaver. Strapped with a wall of stoner metal fuzz, ethereal vocals, and a drummer on speed, 2010’s Songs for Singles EP keeps up the tradition of ’08’s Meanderthal — short bursts of Torche awesomeness that leave ringing in your ears. -David Buchanan

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65. Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now! – Fixin’ the Charts, Volume 1

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Known for his work with Art Brut, Eddie Argos combined forces with his girlfriend, Blood Arm member Dyan Valdes, and came up with a unique concept for an album: make responses to famous pop songs. Whether it’s telling Bob Dylan that ex-girlfriends should think twice or playing the part of Billy Jean’s bastard son, Argos and Valdes crafted a concept album that isn’t weighed down by its concept, instead being free to be smart and funny and appealing without being overly cerebral. Pop music ain’t perfect, but they’re the best maintenance team we could ask for. -Chris Coplan

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64. These New Puritans – Hidden

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Tighter around the frame than its predecessor, mixing elements from trip-hop, theatrical music, jaunty keyboard, and avant-garde, Hidden is what future critics will undoubtedly label as These New Puritans‘ 2010 magnum opus. Regardless of who is right or wrong, this Immediate Music meets Interpol for the Dead Man’s Bones fans (the handful left) will stay stuck to your brain, sobriety be damned. -David Buchanan

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63. Cee-Lo Green – The Lady Killer

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Known for being a member of Atlanta-based rap group Goodie Mob, Cee-Lo Green returned with his third solo album like he was the blaxploitation version of James Bond. The Lady Killer was drenched in the sounds of soul, R&B, and top-40 radio from the ’70s, every song about being done wrong by a she-devil. With a voice to match, Green demolished a lot of preconceived notions and forged himself an album of the best vintage sounds he could cull, and that’s as one-of-a-kind as the introverted and bombastic singer himself. In a phrase, he killed it. -Chris Coplan

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62. The Chemical Brothers – Further

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The Chemical Brothers‘ seventh studio album holds a special place in the electronic genre. With the romantic swirl of “Snow” and “Escape Velocity” giving way to the soaring highs of “K+D+B” and “Wonders of the Deep”, the Brothers Chemical showed on Further that electronic music can be cool, slick, technical, danceable — and most importantly — emotional, moving, even almost religious. The results are an endlessly listenable album that transports the audience to a higher place. -Megan Ritt

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61. The Walkmen – Lisbon

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Lisbon plays out like the music a civil war-era punk band might conjure up, if time, technology, and knowledge permitted. With click-clacking trashcan drums, minimally vintage electric guitar, occasional strings, lush brass, and, of course, Hamilton Leithauser’s reedy howl, Lisbon takes The Walkmen sound deeper into the past. By imitating the sounds of yesteryear with contemporary instrumentation, Lisbon sounds like something entirely new. -Drew Litowitz

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60. Ryan Adams – Cardinals III/IV

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In a year where Ryan Adams released a bunch of crappy demos and a metal album, the realization of the long-awaited Cardinals III/IV was a sight for sore ears. While Adams’ journey into the mythology of metal was a fun distraction, this two-disc album demonstrates what Adams does best: He makes rocking, folksy music with a down-home appeal and lots of deviation and experimentation, songs that, at their core, are universal and eat their way into your bloodstream. It’s good to have you back, Mr. Adams. -Chris Coplan

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59. Avey Tare – Down There

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In 2010, Camp Animal Collective has been the fodder for the TMZ of indie rock, with every critic and fan pouring over relationship updates (Is Deakin back in the band?),and impatiently waiting for a sequel to the surefire decade list-topper Merriweather Post Pavilion. Meanwhile, Avey Tare (Dave Portner) quietly released this slightly minimal album of electronic textures, full of repetitive journeys through the aural equivalent of a hellish swamp. The dark vibes on Down There were inspired by dark times (his sister’s cancer scare, family deaths), but there’s also a joyful release to the mournful music, like a tripped-out New Orleans funeral march. We’re still impatiently waiting, but this is one hell of a holdover. -Ryan Reed

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58. Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back

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Cover albums are often forgettable or regrettable, but when a massively influential artist like Peter Gabriel steps up to the task of reimagining some of his favorite songs, the result is nothing short of amazing. The music is simple, somber, and stripped of any bells and whistles, leaving only raw intentions, pure lyrics, and Gabriel’s passionate voice. This collection of tracks, culled from everyone from Paul Simon to Radiohead, are laid bare, exposing just what makes the originals beautiful and brilliant while lifting them up to an emotional catharsis they may have never intended to go to. What’s more, Scratch My Back is part of a double-album concept in which the artists Gabriel covers return the favor by covering him. If the moons align, the reciprocal follow-up compilation, I’ll Scratch Yours will be out next year. -Cap Blackard

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57. The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme

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Hailing from Sweden, relative unknowns (except to a very small, devout following) The Radio Dept. have kept a low profile for the majority of their career, which began back in 1998. And that’s where they’d like to stay, I believe. Does that mean they have to make bad music to stay out of the eye of the masses? Absolutely not. They have released dozens and dozens of tracks that are as solid as any indie pop out there, only they haven’t marketed the music to those selfsame masses. Due to very minimal touring and virtually no deliberate public accolades, The Radio Dept. has remained relatively low key. Clinging to a Scheme is their third official studio album, but was the first heard for many individuals. The album is a testament to a band who has honed in on their craft and made it everything it can/should be. Don’t be surprised if The Radio Dept. continues to release good music, but also don’t be surprised if Scheme becomes their magnum opus. The perfectly placed vocal samples, the wonderfully ethereal musicianship, and the pop mastery are hard not to like, and make for The Radio Dept.’s most polished work. -Winston Robbins

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56. The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack

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The Soft Pack‘s opening track “C’mon” coaxes listeners to sing along and dance — and with the band’s straightforward, high energy, ridiculously catchy brand of punk rock, they don’t have to try too hard. The simplicity of The Soft Pack‘s sharp lo-fi is what makes their music so charming; You know all of the lyrics to the choruses halfway through the songs, and can’t help but sing along. The album is reminiscent of a night of drunken debauchery with its rapid tempo, atonal vocals and, honestly, endless fun. There’s no profundity in the lyrics, no pretension in the instrumentation. The Soft Pack isn’t out there to hide meaning in their songs, they’re there to make you dance. This honesty and straightforward approach is refreshing, and the result is a downright addictive 30 minutes of punk bliss. -Caitlin Meyer

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55. Menomena – Mines

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On their fourth release, Menomena take everything that worked so well on Friend or Foe standouts like “Muscle and Flow” and spread it all over the place. The Portland, OR trio’s homebrewed approach to music-making can be heard in the playfully layered loops of spontaneous riffs and bangs on tracks like “Tithe” and “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy”. Mines gets haunting on “Dirty Cartoons” and “Killemall”, while bringing elaborate rock on “TAOS.” One of their best to date, Brent Knopf and crew have created an accessible record that stays unabashedly unconventional. -Ben Kaye

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54. B.o.B – The Adventures of Bobby Ray

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B.o.B had some serious all-star power behind his highly anticipated and fulfilling debut. Hayley Williams, Eminem, Bruno Mars, Rivers Cuomo, and more helped make B.o.B’s dreams come true with one of the best albums of the year. It was a big year for hip-hop, and this album stands as one of the best. The hit single “Airplanes” was everywhere this summer, and “Nothin’ on You” featuring Bruno Mars netted a Grammy nomination. B.o.B shows all of his talents on this album and his vocals are just as good as his raps. The Adventures of Bobby Ray is as entertaining as it is impressive and proved that it was highly worth the wait. -Kevin Barber

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53. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding

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Waiting nine years between albums is a potentially lethal move. But for indie royalty Superchunk, their unique blend of boyish ache and super sweet chops proved that time means nothing when you’ve still got something to say. Despite being in their 40’s, the guys and gal of Superchunk prove on Majesty Shredding that their nervous, awkward ways can still translate into relatable, rocking songs that transcend any generational gap. The album’s so good, we’d consider waiting another decade for the next one if necessary. –Chris Coplan

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52. Phosphorescent – Here’s to Taking It Easy

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Phosphorescent‘s last album was a full-length of Willie Nelson covers, so it was relieving to discover Matt Houck and company still had the goods on Here’s to Taking it Easy. His fifth album may be so refreshing because his company is more stable this time around. As Philip Cosores pointed out, it’s Houck’s first time recording an album with a traditional band, and this is reflected in the sound. It feels like we’re experiencing an assault of alt country and folk rock, but Phosphorescent has been under the radar for too long and this record would shine in any era. -Harry Painter

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51. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

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This record is a paradigm of artistic collaboration, with the band members sharing creative duties on nearly every aspect of its formation. The resulting indie smorgasbord is alive with ethereal tones and charging rhythms that expose impressive craft for a young debut. Simply masterful harmonies reflect on lost family members and European excursions from an almost Keatsian perspective. Gorilla Manor reveals a group so talented and thoughtful, you’ll wish you’d spent time in the house of the title, waxing poetic about past loves and future possibilities. -Ben Kaye

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50. Hans Zimmer & Johnny Marr – Inception: Original Motion Picture Score

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Equal parts Bernard Hermann and Elliot Goldenthal, Hans Zimmer and Johnny Marr‘s encapsulating score to this summer’s strongest film, Inception, echoes of sleek, silver-lined decadence. From the strictly lucid start (“Half Remembered Dream”) to the heart-thudding finale (“Time”), it’s easy to understand why the film lingers in people’s minds, even five months later. In a recent episode of South Park which parodied Christopher Nolan’s film, one of the characters starts mimicking the score in the corner of a room. It’s an incredibly coarse imitation, but the score’s become so iconic and memorable that it’s impossible to be lost on the joke. That says something. It also means South Park‘s reaching pretty far these days. Sheesh. -Michael Roffman

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49. Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone

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Mavis Staples‘ album You Are Not Alone, recorded with Jeff Tweedy, is everything it should be — an amazing showcase of both talents. The title track is a gorgeous ballad written by Tweedy and expertly sung by the soul legend. The disc also includes a series of amazing gospel tunes. This is the roots album cure for “too much T-Bone Burnett”-itis, and it’s a pure delight to listen to from front to back. -Evan Minsker

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48. Jukebox The Ghost – Everything Under the Sun

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Prog rock is a wasteland of complicated musical creations built for boys. However, thanks to the infusion of happy, piano-powered rock and lyrical sentiments about life as a 20-something on Everything Under the Sun, Jukebox the Ghost found an oasis in the grandiose sound for anyone to come and drink of the sweet water of frenetic, overjoyed pop rock. And, oh, how sweet it tasted. -Chris Coplan

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47. Frog Eyes – Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph

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Paul’s Tomb is the definition of the word epic. Carey Mercer’s already acrobatic, wild voice has an added growl to it, another trick to add to his repertoire. The fuzzed out, clanging guitar that opens the album on “Flower in a Glove” is the standard-bearer of the pomp and destruction within. Drummer Melanie Campbell’s maniacal thumping and guitarist Ryan Beattie’s lightning-bolt stabs lend tracks like the concussive “The Sensitive Girls” and the expansive title track a conquering air. Mercer’s songwriting just keeps getting stronger, tighter, more insular, and more powerful. -Adam Kivel

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46. Foals – Total Life Forever

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Foals‘ 2008 release, Antidotes, revealed a debut full of rapid percussion, rhythmic guitars, melancholy, and, interestingly enough, an undeniable urge to dance. Two years later, Foals have returned with Total Life Forever, grown and matured. Vocals receive more of a focus in this second outing, and as opposed to competing with entrancing rhythms and guitar, they work together superbly. Furthermore, instead of giving us the beat up front, “Spanish Sahara” and “Blue Blood” make us earn it — and we love every second of it. Sporadic touches of funk bring to life tracks such as “Miami”, the juxtaposition of styles truly allowing both to shine. Each song is markedly different, yet Total Life Forever fits together seamlessly to create a thoroughly engaging, enjoyable record; hopefully this is indicative of future releases from this young band. -Caitlin Meyer

45. Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns

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Before its release, Mike Shinoda described A Thousand Suns as genre-busting. It doesn’t quite reach that level, but it does blow away any restraints on what Linkin Park could be. This is not the same band that showed up 10 years ago as part of the nu-metal movement. Instead, A Thousand Suns features a more mature, experimental Linkin Park, one that took the best parts of their first three albums and threw them into a blender with Pro Tools. After two and a half albums of screaming lyrics about his own life, singer Chester Bennington has joined Shinoda in looking outwards. The band really stepped up their game for this one, making a statement loud and clear — they’re going to make the music they want and they’re here to stay. -Joe Marvilli

44. Warpaint – The Fool

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Warpaint was subject to some sudden focus this year thanks to the band’s live performances of tracks from its still unreleased debut full-length album, The Fool, so its October release elicited unfounded worries of sucktitude. Needless to say, it did not suck; In fact, it’s safe to say this was the best debut album by an all-female indie rock quartet this year. Heh, kidding. But while Emily Kokal’s voice borders on whiny at times, The Fool is every bit the brooding art rock gem that tourmates The xx’s debut was in 2009, and Warpaint will likely have similar overbearing pressure to follow it up. -Harry Painter

43. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can

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I Speak Because I Can is a record that impacts immediately, yet has such depth that you grow fonder of it over time. It marks a true coming of age as Laura Marling goes beyond cataloging the trials of young love and speaks maturely as she explores the roles and responsibilities of full womanhood. The quality of the songwriting is astonishing, as traditional folk sensibilities are seamlessly worked into a modern thesis. Musically, the songs are subtly embellished, yet space is left for Marling’s exceptional vocals to rule. -Tony Hardy

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42. Wolf Parade – Expo 86

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Recently, Wolf Parade concluded a Toronto performance with the announcement of the group’s indefinite hiatus. With the sheer energy and masterful avant-pop of Expo 86, I doubt many people saw it coming. On their latest — and potentially last — outing, Krug, Boeckner, and the rest of the pack have created yet another collection of songs bursting at the seams with the coked out, danceable gloss of glam, the intricate song structures of prog, the quickfire licking of math, and the catchy synths of electro. If they are indeed signing off, they bow out with the utmost grace. -Drew Litowitz

41. Kylesa – Spiral Shadow

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To consider an intersection between mathcore, punk, and metal is to define the very essence of “heavy.” Kylesa is a pulsating breed of sophisticated, a haunting juggernaut on the verge of scaring you senseless, and 2010’s Spiral Shadow fleshes them out completely. Think you’ve heard everything? Give standouts like “Drop Out” and the title track a try, and whisper, “There’s no place like home.” -David Buchanan

40. Grinderman – Grinderman 2

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Nick Cave has always been a badass. For years now, he has been pumping out dark and terrifying rock, and his new outfit, Grinderman, has continued the assault with reckless abandon. Their sophomore album, Grinderman 2, took a bit of a more psychedelic turn, but still was able to creep you out and make you want to thrash all over the damn place. With strong lead singles “Heathen Child” and “Mickey Mouse and The Good-bye Man”, Grinderman 2 punched you in the throat, picked you up, did it again, and then you still came back and asked for more. As elder statesmen, Cave and his bandmates continue to push forward and keep consistent, where bands half their age falter and stumble under the pressure. -Nick Freed

39. Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame

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Dr. Dog is part of the modern cache of bands that have spent quite some time perfecting its craft. What once was a band of dual personalities finally came together on Shame, Shame. Combining the styles of Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman, the album gives the band one sound meshing McMicken’s Beatles style pop rock with Leaman’s bluesy growl. The harmonies are flawless, and the song writing certainly has its moments of genius. This isn’t anything new for Dr. Dog however, this is just how they’ve always make records. -E.N. May

38. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

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Nary a moment of bloat during its 63 minutes, Broken Social Scene’s fourth album is a joyfully poignant, slow-burning collection of indie pop and post-rock anthems. More cohesive and less chaotic than in the past, the Canadian supergroup continues to epitomize the indie rock collective ideal with the special guest-laden Forgiveness Rock Record. It may have been five long years since their last album, but Forgiveness Rock Record was worth the wait. -Frank Mojica

37. No Age – Everything in Between

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The duo that is No Age made one of the most sonically interesting records of the year with their third album, Everything in Between. The drumming builds and builds throughout every song, while the guitar work sounds totally unique. The opener, “Life Prowler”, is a fine example, with guitar loops building upon and crushing one another, all as the drums set the mood. There’s also plenty of punk shredding, with tracks like “Fever Dreaming”, “Shred and Transcend” (which comes complete with whaling feedback), and the despair of “Valley Hump Crash”. But at the same time, there is plenty of artistic instrumental work with tracks like the longing “Positive Amputation”, the choppy “Dusted”, and the constant aural change of “Chem Trails”, a finale that will keep this album on your stereo for weeks to come. -Ted Maider

36. Eminem – Recovery

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After a couple of confusing and aggravating releases, Eminem returned this year to release Recovery, and the title could not be more fitting. He kicked his drug addictions, ditched the annoying voice impersonations, and put his focus back on creating witty, quick, and hilarious rhymes, all while producing his best album since 2002’s The Eminem Show. The inspiring single “Not Afraid” and the Rihanna featuring “Love the Way You Lie” both spent multiple weeks at number one. Not only did this release bring Marshall Mathers back into the spotlight, it also revitalized a gifted artist who had lost his ways for years. It’s safe to say, Eminem has truly recovered. -Kevin Barber

35. Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing

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In the opening moments of Stuck On Nothing, lead singer Paul Sprangers optimistically affirms “we’re gonna start a new life, see how it goes.” It’s a fitting allusion to a new musical beginning for a band that formed out of the ashes of Minneapolis rockers Hockey Night. But if Free Energy is an attempt at rock and roll redemption, it appears, then, that this Philadelphia-based quintet has grabbed their second chance by the horns. Stuck on Nothing offers ten throwback songs of freewheeling 70’s-influenced rock seemingly posed to force its way into the ranks of today’s great bar-rock bands. -Max Blau

34. Owen Pallett – Heartland

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Trading the Final Fantasy moniker for his birth name, Owen Pallett has fully come into his own with Heartland. Incredibly intricate string arrangements, dynamic and compelling in their own right, nicely complement Pallett’s vocals, syncopated rhythms and synths bouncing between headphones. All of these result in a beautifully complete, complex album, perhaps Pallett’s most accessible work to date. The album is a story, but also a study in song construction and pop perfection. The masterful “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt” epitomizes the strengths of Heartland, with upbeat percussion, full orchestral crescendoing, and a triumphant repetition of “I’m never gonna give it to you”, which, like the rest of the album, keeps toes tapping and humming going for hours after listening. -Caitlin Meyer

33. Jason Boesel – Hustler’s Son

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As the drummer for indie rock darling Rilo Kiley, Jason Boesel has spent his time making albums that flirted with a kind of country, folk-y feel. For his debut solo effort, though, Boesel dives head first into the heartache like a modern day Kris Kristofferson or Don Henley, living life in the desert and recounting every painful scar on his acoustic guitar. Jenny Lewis had Johnny, but Boesel’s debut shows there’s life outside RK. -Chris Coplan

32. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

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It’s easy to forget that Ted Leo was once a mainstay of hardcore music. The energy on The Brutalist Bricks reminds us of Leo’s punk past while maintaining the diverse style that’s made him legendary. On the opening track, “The Mighty Sparrow”, Leo declares that he’s “coming to” and, although this track is classic Leo, that is how the remainder of the album feels, like a reawakening. Lately, the vocalist has expressed his frustration with the music industry and, more specifically, his own career. Perhaps that’s where the sense of urgency heard in this album comes from. Regardless of its source, it is certainly welcome. -Michael Cromwell

31. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

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Fuck the 50 States. The Age of Adz, while not as consistent or unanimously life-altering as 2005’s obvious opus Illinois, is an even more important album for Sufjan Stevens. Side-stepping a musical identity crisis (in which he questioned the entire point of releasing another album), Stevens does the long player another service, indulging up to his eyeballs in auto-tune, analog synths, and a boatload of brass and woodwinds. “Fucking around” never sounded so good. -Ryan Reed

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30. OK Go – Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky

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With Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, OK Go have become something so much more than Internet video darlings. True, they’re still pulling out all the stops with their visual accompaniment, but musically, they’ve evolved into so much more. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky is pure art rock – fun, soulful, funky, with just enough cynicism to keep things raw. Their matured sound is built on the backs of greats like The Pixies, Talking Heads, and Prince, but ultimately the sound is their own, and OK Go have now joined their ranks. Between the album, the videos, forming their own label, and endless hi-jinks both on the road and at cutting-edge arts festivals, 2010 has proven that OK Go are true musical artists. -Cap Blackard

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29. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

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Halcyon Digest isn’t the album Deerhunter will be remembered for—that award goes to 2008’s Microcastle, which immediately usurped its widespread acclaim with bold, surprisingly direct soundscapes and a handful of hooky anthems, downplaying the raw experimentation of their previous work. Halcyon Digest is ultimately more of the same: focused instrumental textures, headphone engulfing production, and occasionally accessible melodies. So while it doesn’t arrive with such a resounding jolt as Microcastle, the quality of the songs proves it to be well more than a step sideways. Working with producer Ben Allen (who helped introduce Animal Collective to this pesky thing called “bass” on Merriweather Post Pavilion), Deerhunter creates a slightly more reserved album, casually revealing its gently crafted charms over time. From the crawling, minimalist psychedelia of opener “Earthquake” to the collage of borderline tribal rhythms in the euphoric closer “He Would Have Laughed” (a dedication to recently deceased comrade Jay Reatard), Halcyon Digest is built for the long haul, their most consistently compelling collection yet. -Ryan Reed

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28. The Black Keys – Brothers

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Thanks to Brothers, it’s obvious now how much working with Danger Mouse has had an effect on The Black Keys‘ songwriting. Their debut record, The Big Come Up, rose straight from the wax of Junior Kimbrough, weathered and distorted as Dan Auerbach piped his delta blues revival through a beat up bass amp. It’s been a long time since the blues sounded that heavy. That was 2002, and over the past eight years the duo that is The Black Keys have evolved from a two man blues band into a pop rock band with soul. Brothers is the culmination of that evolution, taking what they started with on Attack and Release and finishing it. Now they are as far removed from the garage rock scene as it gets, yet The Black Keys remain exactly who they were from the beginning: a couple of guys obsessed with the blues. From the start, “Everlasting Light” is full of that dug up soul sound, doo-wop back up singers and all. The crunchy guitar and heavy blues riffs remain constant. Added instruments on “The Only One” and “Never Gunna Give You Up” turn The Keys into an R&B band. This move to broaden their sound was exactly what the band needed, and Brothers makes it sound effortless. That’s what made this record great, and it’s what will keep The Black Keys that way into the future. -E.N. May

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27. Best Coast – Crazy for You

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I saw posters for this album long before I ever heard it, and the artwork made me assume it to be silly. But it’s not silly; It’s sort of joyful in that little kid way that makes you want to color outside the lines. Best Coast combined Kim Deal’s voice and the Beach Boys’ musical chops to create Crazy for You, one of the best half-hours/catchiest indie records of the year. Tracks like “Boyfriend”, “Goodbye”, “Happy”, and “When the Sun Don’t Shine” stick in your brain on repeat with their catchy chords and simple lyrics. It’s fun when it’s easy to sing along. Meanwhile, there are more mood altering numbers, like the longing “Summer Mood”, the grungy snarl of “Bratty B”, and the despair of “Honey”, the longest track on the album, which barely cracks three minutes. If you’re lucky, you got the bonus track, “When I’m With You”, a catchy 50s style tune that will play in your stereo for days. Basically, this album was an enjoyable and simplistic breeze; It lasted a second, but left a positive impression. -Ted Maider

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26. Les Savy Fav – Root For Ruin

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With labels like post-hardcore and art rock attached, you’d expect something loud and stuffy from the likes of Les Savy Fav. However, for the band’s fifth studio album, and the first since 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends, the NYC-based indie rock outfit takes itself less than serious, crafting an album full of sarcasm and a sense of humor. Doing away with a lot of their previous effort’s aims to expand musically, the group have opted instead to make a straight-forward rock album. The record’s comfortable feel stems from the act finally reaching a happy place regarding their sound, free of the demands of innovation and able to truly take advantage of that frenetic, sweaty vibe that hangs over a lot of its live shows. The ragged sensibilities that the band had held on to for much of its existence also seemingly soften, without coming off as the band giving up or losing their edge. And that ain’t no joke. -Chris Coplan

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25. Neil Young – Le Noise

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In the past 20 years, Neil Young has done work that’s been less than thrilling. There were some total jams on Fork In The Road, but come on, an entire album about an electric car? That’s why Le Noise, Neil’s atmospheric opus helmed by Daniel Lanois, was such a delight. “Walk With Me” and “Hitchhiker” anchor the album with boisterous, barking autobiography. “Angry World” gets into that whole political thing, but this time, it’s not as preachy as it was on Living With War, or in his documentary CSNY: Deja Vu. And to top it all off, Lanois adds this sonic atmosphere that’s absolutely entrancing. It’s one of Young’s best in recent memory and it competes with some of his best from his heyday. -Evan Minsker

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24. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me

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A good portion of listeners who have given Have One on Me a spin have surely given up mid-rotation. A member of this group might be a guy who normally listens to, you know, all the stuff other hip dudes listen to these days — The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Kanyizzle. So, as our imaginary hip listener browses the tubes for music news throughout the year, he undoubtedly comes across Joanna Newsom enough times to pique his curiosity — Who the hell is she and what’s so good about her? And what the fuck has she done to deserve a tribute album? Our friend hits up Grooveshark, finds Newsom’s new album, assuming he’ll love it, and after three or four songs, is confused, angry, bored out of his mind, or all three.

It’s not easy music, and there are no easy answers to our hero’s questions. We’re talking about a dolphin-voiced harpist from an inconsequential town in Northern California who has put out three albums of sleepy, almost nauseatingly pretty harp tunes, and this time around she’s given us two hours and 18 tracks that often clock in around 10 minutes (and this is supposed to be her accessible album!). Not exactly a recipe for popular approval, but we’re largely not talking about a work of pop music; We’re talking about a work of anti-pop that makes Björk sound like Britney. This is no criticism of Björk, of course; It’s simply to say that in a still rock-dominated world, Newsom has made it (sort of) big ignoring everything that goes into the conventional rock formula. The result is not something to bob your head to as much as gape in awe at. If Have One on Me is the peak of her creativity, she should not feel shame. -Harry Painter

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23. Wavves – King of the Beach

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While Astro Coast may have the upperhand thanks to less gimmickry, there’s no denying the fact that the super baked music of Wavves belongs toward the top of the list thanks to one simple fact: it isn’t Wavvves. Unlike the previous LP, and thanks to the inclusion of the former backing band of Jay Reatard, the project of Nathan Williams became more than just a stoner in his basement making the most unrefined, nihilistic fuzz rock; It became a real band. The album saw the addition of more complicated musical constructions, songs with more subtlety, chord progressions, melody, varied speeds, and a range of influences from ska to punk to doo wop, all without losing Wavves’ sense of dread and stripped-to-the-core sound. As a lyricist, in front of new band members Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes, Williams grew by leaps and bounds, leaving behind some of the trademark anti-social tendencies to talk about love and growing up, once again without losing the minimalism the band was known for. No other follow-up album from a band was so vastly different and yet so unbelievably familiar than Wavves’ third offering. Not bad for a guy who was probably stoned out of his gourd 90% of the time. -Chris Coplan

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22. Deftones – Diamond Eyes

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In 2008, the Deftones had been in the middle of writing Eros, their highly-anticipated follow-up to the underrated experimental album Saturday Night Wrist, when bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a tragic car accident. Eros was halted indefinitely while the band had the difficult decision of what to do next – disband in honor of the critically injured Cheng, or continue doing what they do best: making music. The Deftones ended up soldiering on and recorded Diamond Eyes, and we’re glad they did. The result is one of the best rock albums of the year. From the crunchy, melodic waves of the opening title track and the angry, demanding ride of “Cmnd/Ctrl”, to the intense urgency of “Rocket Skates” and the beautifully written push and pull of “Risk”, there isn’t a weak track to be found. The haunting notes and Chino Moreno’s stirring vocals on the last track “This Place is Death” is the perfect closer to an emotional ride. This album is what the Deftones are all about. It may not be too brave in the sense of musical deviation, but the fact that the Deftones were able to put out such an undeniably solid album in the wake of tragedy shows the band’s braveness in a different way. Cheng would be proud. -Karina Halle

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21. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid

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Following up on her initial plans to create a comprehensive piece of work based on her alter ego in a science fiction universe, Janelle Monáe celebrate 2010 with one of the year’s quirkiest and most listen-able albums. Utilizing the friendships she’d made over the past few years (namely Big Boi, Diddy, and of Montreal), Monáe dropped her much anticipated debut, The ArchAndroid, to universal critical praise. Her album sits at the number three position for the year on critical aggregating website metacritic, behind only Bruce Springsteen and Kanye West. Not bad for a debut. But all things considered, it makes absolute sense. Her off-the-wall themes, impressive lyricism, tight musicianship, and even more impressive vocal capability all exceed the mark on this release. What’s more, to do it all on an R&B concept album (very few of those, historically) that can be performed live is more than noteworthy. Her live show (which opened for of Montreal this summer/fall) may be the only thing that exceeds the glory of the studio recording itself. Monáe has always sworn by the free-thinking mentality, and given her successes thus far, the only way up for Miss Monáe is up. It’s a career that we’ll all have our eyes on closely, and we advise you do the same. -Winston Robbins

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20. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

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Live energy is a powerful ally, but when you can harness that into studio form, it speaks volumes. Hot Chip remains wildly present here on One Life Stand, a record that feels louder, cleaner, and sharper than anything I’ve heard from the band previously. Whether it’s on the discotheque-inspired “We Have Love”, “I Feel Better” meets evangelical “Brothers”, the tongue-in-cheek malaise of “Thieves In The Night”, or the classy jangle of “Hand Me Down Your Love”,  One Life Stand‘s final product feels ready to take on every nightclub in the 50 states, and then some (not to mention the band’s creative lead in music videos to rival OK Go).

Having a lead singer who looks like Wayne Coyne on a techno beat with the classiest lounge/electro band at his side doesn’t hurt, either. -David Buchanan

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19. Robyn – Body Talk

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It’s easy to give pop music nowadays a bad rap. A lot of it is watered down and derivative, produced as if it were processed by a mainstream Hits Factory. That doesn’t mean, however, that pop music has to be ignored, and we’re not talking about poppy indie music. Yes, uber saccharine, top 40 music can be just as important and vital as any Arcade Fire LP. That is, of course, if and only if it comes from Swedish songbird Robyn. With two releases toward the beginning of the year, the aptly-titled Body Talk Pt. 1 and Body Talk Pt. 2 combined to make Body Talk toward the end of the year, Robyn has made pop music light and airy, full of nymphomaniacal sex appeal, loneliness, and devastation, all with a beat that demands to be moved to. Unlike other pop vixens, the transition from heart-wrenching ballads crying out for a lost love to hyper-sexualized gimmicks involving ripped pantyhose don’t feel quite as artificial. Robyn has mastered the art of being seemingly invulnerable, a disco valkyrie, still damaged and open, picking and choosing moments of depth as she pleases, readily tossing them aside for frivolity at a moment’s notice. There’s a lot, emotionally, throughout the course of the collected songs, but one thing’s for sure: it’s all fucking real. -Chris Coplan

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18. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Leftfoot

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A lot of things could have happened with Sir Lucious Left Foot:The Son of Chico Dusty. Big Boi could have fallen into the trap of unnecessary, lackluster collaborations with every name in the game. He could have ended up with the auto-tuned, kick drummed, drug-ridden monotony that plagues today’s generic rap. He could have eulogized the Outkast days. None of these scenarios knows Big Boi.

Instead, we’re given “one half of the Outkast return like ghost of Christmas past”, 80’s synths, stellar guest appearances, and an album that is, seriously, so fresh and so clean. His clever verses paired alongside excellent production make you want to put it on repeat for hours at a time. Each song offers something different, keeping Sir Lucious a constantly engaging listening experience. Dancing to “Shutterbugg”, driving to “General Patton” with full bass, going out to “Tangerine” — there’s a little bit of everything and it’s all executed masterfully. Even the questionable components of the album, such as Vonnegutt’s chorus on “Follow Me” or Yelawolf’s appearance on “You Ain’t No DJ” are quickly countered, respectively, by layered, irresistible synths and Big Boi’s refrain and killer beat. For a man who has been in the game for so long, with Sir Lucious Left Foot, Big Boi has once again seduced us with something new and potent. -Caitlin Meyer

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17. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

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While it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for James Murphy to top “All My Friends” on any given individual track, he doesn’t have to on This Is Happening. If cohesive albums are the measure, then the third time’s a charm for LCD Soundsystem. The group has demonstrated their versatility throughout their career, ranging from disco-punk to sprawling anthems and everything in between. But This Is Happening brings it all together into one fluid masterpiece. “Dance Yrself Clean” blows the doors open with a dynamic nine-minute entrance, while “Drunk Girls” brashly maintains their sardonic perspective. “I Can Change” showcases LCD Soundsystem at the most sentimental, and “Home” closes shop with Murphy’s nod to The Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”. LCD Soundsystem has visited all these places at one point or another, but This Is Happening brings it together like never before. -Max Blau

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16. Yeasayer – Odd Blood

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2010 was a big year for a lot of bands. It was the year to put up or shut up, and for Yeasayer, well, it was us that shut up. Odd Blood is a new beginning for the band, one that scrapped any notion of who they were and shifted the focus to who they could be. It was exciting and very fresh; Peter Gabriel should be proud. They switched from a loser jammy bohemian sound to tightly constructed electro-jams, ditching most of the traditional instruments for computer programs and other electronics. It worked so well, but only because they kept their original essence found on their debut All Hour Cymbals that got them noticed in the first place: a free form feel that, no matter how carefully constructed the song actually may be, the ideas still feel natural and freaky. Chris Keating and Anand Wilder sound amazing on the bohemian disco track “O.N.E”, with Keating, at four and a half minutes in, providing the band’s first big dance hook. The Prince style funk of “Mondegreen” is an energized, sexualized romp with its horn section and sleazy guitar solo. All the tracks are exercises in vocal gymnastics as well, and as we hear on “Madder Red”, they nail every move. It was one of the first hyped records, and now at year’s end, it has more than proven itself worthy of a year’s worth of spins with many more to come. -E.N. May

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15. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards

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The Dead Weather‘s followup to their 2009 debut, Horehound, took Jack White and Allison Mosshart’s “Evil Twin” relationship and ramped it up a few notches. If they were a playful duo before, in Sea of Cowards they’re skirting the edges of madness together, egging each other on in a slinky showdown that’s dramatized by the album’s schizophrenic mix of blues, soul, and psychedelic rock. The album kicks off with the throbbing grooves and twang of “Blue Blood Blues”, while White sings “shake your hips like battleships”. The album moves on to the dark and vibrating single “The Difference Between Us” and the disorienting thump of the psychotically-tinged “I’m Mad”, where Mosshart gets to show off her convincing cackle. The dizzying showdown culminates with the quickly rattled fuzz of “Jawbreaker” and the haunting “Old Mary”, a track that closes the album with a sense of unease and claustrophobia. At times during Cowards you can’t even tell which one of the two is singing (or yelping or snarling), which makes you wonder if they are indeed mirrors of each other or perhaps two people in one, battling to rise above the fury. If anyone walks away a winner though, it’s the listener, for having heard one of the most interesting and defiant rock albums of 2010. -Karina Halle

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14. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

the tallest man on earth the wild hunt CoS Year End Report: The Top 100 Albums of 2010

Inherently, achieving notable differentiation within folk music is pretty difficult. The idea is that this music is for the folk by the folk, so, virtually anybody can play it. Thus, while a lot of the genre’s sounds are beautiful, passionate, and authentic, innovation–especially aesthetic in nature–tends to contradict the genre’s very basis. That’s where wailing Swede Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth, comes in. His innovation shines through his stunning songcraft, a style that feels at once familiarly folked-up and almost entirely novel. Over frenetically masterful acoustic fingerpick/strum combinations, Matsson’s hair-raising vocals borrow from Dylan as much as they do contemporary pop, R&B, and pretty much everything else. On The Wild Hunt, his voice soars even higher and cuts even further into his impeccable fingerwork. The record comes off like a collection of brilliant, but undiscovered pop songs, found and reworked by an incredibly gifted folk singer so that they suit the genre. As the record progresses, Matsson’s gravelly voice gallops through vivid metaphorical imagery, expressing some of the most complex of human emotions beautifully, passionately, and, of course, authentically. -Drew Litowitz

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13. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 2010 is the year of surf rock. No other sub-genre had as much impact and appeal within the indie rock community than the uber sweet lyrics and jangly guitar sound of surf rock. Countless acts took the lo-fi blast of sonic destruction that was so big in 2009 and infused within it the feel-good vibes of youthful abandonment and heartache. But while Wavves was busy blowing people’s minds with noise and melodies, and Best Coast was making us sullen with her Sixteen Candles-esque feelings of girly forlorn, Surfer Blood was one of the first acts of the year to show the power of the genreitself. Done without quite as many gimmicks and substantially less sunshine, Astro Coast is the angry, witty brainchild of a group of lads reared on the Pixies, pop culture, and a love of the very basic framework of surf rock, adorned with the trappings of worldly influences, lyrical maturity without losing the heartache, and a dash of much-needed oomph. With the band recently signed to Warner Bros., it’s clear that their kind of music was the big kahuna in an ocean of seemingly-identical competitors. -Chris Coplan

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12. Devo – Something for Everybody

 CoS Year End Report: The Top 100 Albums of 2010

It’s hard to believe that Devo had not released an album since 1990’s Smooth Noodle Maps, a mediocre album at best that left a bleh taste in the mouths of Devo fans around the world, leaving us longing for another Freedom of Choice. When word came down that the boys had recorded a new album, needless to say, I was not thrilled. I half expected some regurgitated retro mess of new wave synthesizer sounds buzzing chaotically, or, at best, a once great band trying to re-capture some element of its previous grandeur. I was wrong. Completely and totally wrong. The album begins with a hard driving synth-drum combo and, immediately Devo takes off as if 1986-2009 never happened (or hadn’t happened yet). The opener, “Fresh”, and the following number “What We Do” are somewhat autobiographical with lines like “So fresh, it’s giving me a second life” and “What we do, is what we do, it’s all the same, there’s nothing new.” As the album plays out, it becomes pretty obvious that Devo are being Devo. They haven’t changed anything of what they do, other than perhaps using a more contemporary means of production and recording. Devo looked at what worked for them, went back and created an album that could fit perfectly within the frames of Freedom of Choice and New Traditionalists, all while maintaining a relevance to today’s audience. In a decade marked by a resurgence of sounds from the 80s and the new wave movement in particular, I find it most appropriate that the decade ends with a release from a band that was in part responsible for the stereotypical sounds of the era. -Len Comaratta

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11. Sleigh Bells – Treats

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A lot of bands broke new ground 2010, but Treats was the golden shovel. How can this album sound like everything you’ve ever heard and alternately like nothing you’ve ever heard? It’s a noisy, hooky, abrasive 35-minute ride fit for everything from impressing your metal friends to en bloc blackout nights at the club. So many bands make their two-person rock duo sound broken and cheap, but Sleigh Bells carve their sound from the richest and purest of elements, creating perfect gems. Opener “Tell ‘Em” is their ubiquitous standard-bearer, “Rill Rill” shows they can craft a pop hook fit for tween television, and “Infinity Guitars” may contain the most rocking moment of the year in its final verse. Alexis Krauss and Derick Miller find success with their vulgar production and copious use of lyrical repetition, blurring the line between dance and metal. Krauss’ vocals are just as unpredictable as Miller’s guitar work. Will she be cooing, rapping, or letting out a banshee scream? Will he be shredding, synth-ing, or letting out a banshee scream? And did I mention all of the hooks? -Jeremy Larson

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10. The Roots – How I Got Over

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In a year of gigantic hip-hop releases from the likes of newcomers Drake and Nicki Minaj and heavyweights Big Boi and Eminem, The Roots‘ ninth LP is easily the one that came in under the radar of many fans and industry insiders. Despite the lack of comparative buzz, the album easily out-punches its competitors. Full of technical skill thanks to ?uestlove and the band, the rhymes of Black Thought and guest MCs like Dice Raw get a high-energy, live feel that adds a bright sheen to the dreary rhymes about everything from religious experiences to life in the street and on the grind. With heavy, heavy influences of soul (especially with the addition of John Legend), blues, and even funk, the album hits the standard benchmarks of black music while experimenting with indie elements, thanks to cameos by Jim James and Joanna Newsom. No other hip-hop release had as much sonic diversity, production value, innovation, lyrical depth, or catchiness as How I Got Over. Plus, it wasn’t even the band’s only release of the year. Apparently, hard work is the answer for getting over. -Chris Coplan

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09. Jónsi – Go

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What’s gotten into Jónsi over the past few years? As frontman for critically lauded Icelandic art-rock giants Sigur Rós, he’s layered his angelic falsetto into some of the most majestic, transportive tunes of the decade. But for all the weeping audiences and descriptions like “god weeping tears of gold in heaven,” Jónsi and company have never exactly been known for their good humor. That is, until 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, their most accessible, upbeat release to date, with a handful of legitimate pop songs (and even one minor toe-dip into English lyrics).

Go marks Jónsi’s first adventure into solo material, and it’s an actual adventure. The last Sigur Rós record was just a preview of the sonic carpe diem explosion that weaves its wondrous way throughout these nine tracks. Working with arranger extraordinaire Nico Muhly, boyfriend/multi-instrumentalist Alex Somers, and Swedish percussionist Samuli Kosminen (aka unexpected God of Drums), Jónsi creates a musical landscape of truly unlimited possibilities. In the sort-of title track “Go Do”, he sounds positively enthralled in the sounds and feelings, his childlike plea surging over a flurry of woodwinds and tidal wave percussion: “We should always know that we can do anything!” On his excellent debut, he pretty much does. -Ryan Reed

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08. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

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According to Steve Ellison, or Flying Lotus, cosmogramma is the relationship between the universe and the hereafter– heaven and hell. It’s a cosmic drama. It’s something he learned from his great aunt, Alice Coltrane, and his relationship with the space-jazz queen comes across on Cosmogramma, which, as he says, sounds like a cosmic drama. It’s a mostly-instrumental album with a pointed soundscape, but with a lot of different sounds– glitches, clicks, drums, weird voice samples, scat, horns, and beats, to name a few. Cosmogramma sounds like an adventure, a love story, a drama– an epic. Sure, it could be called “trippy,” but it’s so much more than that. It’s an album that creates its own universe without needing to bother telling a story.

The supporting cast of the album only adds to the drama: the jazz tinges of Ravi Coltrane’s horns, Thundercat’s bass, Laura Darlington’s smokey vocals, and Thom Yorke’s album-stealing guest shot on “…And The World Laughs With You”. But the star here is obviously Ellison, whose work hearkens back to those “Space Is the Place” jazz days of the ’70s (there are songs on here called “Arkestry”, “Satelllliiiiiteee”, and “Galaxy in Janaki”) while maintaining its own post-Dilla vibe. This isn’t an album to be used as incidental music at a gallery or in the kitchen– this is an album to really get lost in. -Evan Minsker

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07. Beach House – Teen Dream

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Look at how far Beach House has come between over the past two years. Devotion was bleak, lonely and mysteriously beautiful, hazily drifting from song to song. Melancholic? No question. Beautiful? Definitely. But it lacked purpose. On their third record, Teen Dream, lead singer Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally found the resolve that was lacking throughout Devotion on both a lyrical and musical level. This time around, Beach House finally peaked outside the constraining doors of their bedroom dream-pop, awakening from the demons haunting them throughout their earlier work. In doing this, Teen Dream makes a subtle, yet pivotal progression.

Legrand’s serene voice has always remained the focal point of Beach House. That’s still the case on Teen Dream, but the pieces have come together around her to round everything out. Scally’s layered guitars no longer exist as background accompaniments, instead providing prominent staples of their wearily drifting warmth. The slide guitar acts as an equal counterpart to Legrand’s heartrending croon on “Silver Soul”, while Scally also places his musical fingerprints all over “Norway”. More importantly, acoustic percussion has largely replaced the lo-fi drum machines of Beach House’s past, a change evident from the first moments of the album opener “Zebra, a track laced with shimmering, crashing cymbals and timely syncopation. All the pieces come together gloriously on “10 Mile Stereo”, as Beach House awakens from its customary dreaminess, ascending into an astounding climax that stands as their finest work to date. For a band previously known for their minimal, lo-fi dream pop, Teen Dream represents one gigantic step forward. -Max Blau

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06. The National – High Violet

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Perfection is a dangerous word to use when it comes to something as subjective as music. When you say an album or song is perfect, you’re just asking for a fight. Well, you know what? Bring it on. To me, High Violet is a perfect album from beginning to end. The National have been building towards this moment for a long time, ever since they broke through with Alligator. While both that record and Boxer are incredible, their latest effort distills the band’s formula into its most essential state. The 11 tracks within use every trick the group has shown us before, plus some new ones thrown in for good measure. For one thing, it gains so much power in its restraint. There’s nothing as aggressive as “Abel” or as straight-forward as the chorus of “Fake Empire”. Instead, all the emotion is barely kept hidden behind the curtain, until those moments when the band does cut loose, when it floors you.

Most people have probably heard the big songs like “Terrible Love” and “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, but the deeper cuts are what hold the album together. Listen to the grinding guitar in “Little Faith”. Hear how Matt Berninger gradually loses control as he coughs out the ending of “Afraid of Everyone”. The piano from “England” takes you down the Thames on a gentle, rainy day. As for “Conversation 16”, hell, just take in everything that the track has to offer. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many other albums that are as strong from front to back as High Violet. It’s beautifully fragile, lyrically haunting, and musically ambitious throughout every second. There’s only one word that comes to mind for an album like this. Perfect. -Joe Marvilli

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05. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

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An important thing: this album isn’t about The American Civil War. I mean, no more than Julius Caesar is about The Liberators civil war in 42 B.C. Rome. Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar in anticipation of the growing Protestant/Catholic tensions arising from Queen Elizabeth’s frequent capping of Protestants. Titus Andronicus and their poet laureate Patrick Stickles aren’t interested in telling you the tale of the famous ship the album gets its title after. There are more important matters at hand, both micro and macro. There are binary relationships and post-modern nihilist philosophy, Bret Easton Ellis and Bruce Springsteen, whiskey and cigarettes, punk and rock & roll, and the pursuit of the American dream in a place so absurd as America.

What The Monitor is is a kind of punk manifesto. At its most extroverted, there are rallies around the flag, cries of unity against “them,” and two warnings as to the ubiquity of the enemy. Conversely, the album revels in public solitude, as Stickles continually airs his personal grievances. But even at its most introverted, the album reaches out to the listener by ripping pages out of music’s greatest books. A chapter from The Boss, a little Pogues, and some Minor Threat all build the pretense that The Monitor is just one shout chorus after another, but underneath it’s a meticulous and existential look at our/his bleak and irrational world, perfectly couched in punk anthems. Stickles leads by example, putting his heart, mind, and country into the abyss of self-analysis. And while it ain’t always a pretty site, it’s what our forefathers fought for, and it’s what we should continue to fight for in 2010 and beyond. –Jeremy Larson

04. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

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It took five years for the Gorillaz to return to our stereos, the charts, and concert venues with a new album, but it was obviously worth the wait, as Plastic Beach went on to be one of the finest pop/rock records of the year. Damon Albarn’s songs were some of the sharpest his animated side project has ever been accounted for, showing that his craftsmanship is only improving with time. And Jamie Hewlett provided a new Gorillaz aesthetic to their videos, their album art, and their live show display. But it was the tunes on Plastic Beach that made this disc so memorable.

Snoop Dogg joined the brigade for the first time, a match made in heaven, for the track “Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach”. The Gorillaz stocked their band up with a little celebrity status by adding members of the Clash on the title track, and on their tour. Lou Reed even made a vocal appearance on the acclaimed track “Some Kind of Nature”. Albarn composed a few gems with his memorable vocal style, including the ever-catchy “Rhinestone Eyes”, and the serene “On Melancholy Hill”. The Gorillaz kept the dance and hip-hop elements at an all-time high with bizarre numbers with De La Soul (“Superfast Jellyfish”), Michael Jackson-esque grooves and high pitched vocals (“Empire Ants”) and, of course, a super poppy, rap gem that everyone could bump in their stereos. This obviously refers to the Mos Def and Bobby Womack featured song, “Stylo”.

“All we are is dust,” the cartoon band sang on one of this year’s finest records. We all may be dust, but this record is solid musical gold. Cheers. -Ted Maider

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03. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

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Every so often, an album comes along that speaks from the collective consciousness of a generation. The Suburbs was made specifically for this moment in time, for the twenty-somethings of 2010. The world as we know it is changing. The Suburbs isn’t just a portrait of restless former suburbanites and the listless teenagers they used to be, but of the world that this generation was the last to know, and what’s already been left behind. The digital age has come. Everything is instantaneous, no one is truly lost anymore, and it’s easy to feel lost in memories for a pre-Internet existence that seems like a lifetime ago.

The Suburbs marks the efforts of Arcade Fire’s previous albums combined – the darkness and rich musical layering of Neon Bible, and Funeral’s dream-like hopefulness in spite of the world. It doesn’t place suburban sprawl and teen angst on a pedestal, nor does it condemn them. As a concept album, it embraces the full scope of angles and emotions, keeping the songs from choking on their own sentimentality. What makes The Suburbs stand out amidst other teenage snap-shots is that it’s not just a simple photo, it’s a panorama. And it belongs to us. -Cap Blackard

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02. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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At this point, all there is to be said about Kanye West‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has been said, and then some. We’ve seen praise and hate, album reviews that all but declare him as the second coming of Christ, and college essays explaining how he is actually the real-life incarnation of the devil. Some, like our Mike Denslow, declare West’s fifth LP “hands-down the most ambitious mainstream rap album ever made.” Others say you can’t review it without taking into context West’s well-publicized meltdowns and, for that, can we truly bestow him with such praise?

At the end of the day, however, I think the most insightful thing I read regarding My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came during a late night troll on a message board dedicated to the rapper, as I awaited one of those G.O.O.D. Friday tracks to drop. Someone wrote that the album is great because it’s a culmination of West’s previous four studio albums, taking each of their strengths — the soul of College Dropout, the pop of Late Registration, the electronics of Graduation, and the art of 808s & Heartbreak — and making a greatest hits album of sorts, only the content is entirely new. While The College Dropout may forever be known as West’s best album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the one which will likely best reflect his self and his ideals when it’s all said and done. It’s innovative, it’s risk-taking, it’s charming, it’s frustrating (people still complain about the mix), and, most of all, it’s plentiful, which I think might be the word that best describes Kanye West. Just as Kanye never stops, this album never stops. Even on the 15th or 25th listen, there’s something new to discover between the time Nicki Minaj’s fake British accent introduces us to “Dark Fantasy” and Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken-word “Who Will Survive in America” leaves us as confused as Kanye is.

No, Kanye is not the greatest ever and, yes, he still needs to work on his manners, but if My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy proves anything, it’s that one can be innovative while still being accessible. “Runaway” and “All of the Lights” are two of West’s most ambitious feats to date, but they’re also two of the album’s biggest hits. “Power” is as exposing as it is appropriate for Monday Night Football, and “Blame Game” is smart beyond its years, while still leaving us with room to laugh. Regardless of your perception of him, if you think he’s only an average lyricist or that the album is overhyped, there’s no denying how beautifully put together this album is, how much work went into it, and how at the end of the day it will likely influence generations to come. The only question now is what he’ll do next. -Alex Young

Buy: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

01. Vampire Weekend – Contra

 CoS Year End Report: The Top 100 Albums of 2010

Leave it to Vampire Weekend to release the year’s best album. Wait! What? Believe us, we were surprised, too. When we first sat down to hammer out this list, most of us came to the table with arguments supporting the latest from Kanye West or Arcade Fire or even the Gorillaz. But, then we started to think. You see, once you start playing the Devil’s advocate, it’s hard to return to your original argument. It’s sort of like that episode of Seinfeld, where Costanza buys a cashmere sweater for Elaine, and it looks beautiful and quite a bargain…until someone points out the glaring, red dot to him. Throughout the episode, naturally, the running gag is that every time Costanza attempts to pass the sweater off as a gift, someone notices the dot. And once it’s seen, the whole thing’s fucked. ANYWAY, after four hours of debating, none of us felt comfortable with our choices. That is, until someone muttered two words:

Vampire. Weekend.

People respect redemption tales. They cherish epics. But, above all, they love success stories. Now, it’d be ridiculous to assume that Vampire Weekend is indie rock’s Rocky Balboa, or Coach Gordon Bombay (depending on your preference of fictional sports characters with remarkable comebacks), but turn the clock back a year and you’ll find the band in a very unfavorable position. They weren’t underdogs per se – after all, they were roping in thousands of fans per festival gig – but they were sailing on some rough wake of hype. What would happen with their sophomore record? Just about every indie blog from here to Australia pegged ’em for disappointment. In certain respects, everyone waiting for the sophomore slump preceded the actual music that would end up on Contra.

But all that went away. Instead of a jarring, forgettable, or even taxing listen, Contra added up to be, well, one of the better sophomore albums in recent memory (The Strokes’ Room on Fire comes to mind). What started with their self-titled debut sure enough continued here. The sunny Afro-pop still intact, frontman Ezra Koenig vacationed within his perspicacious lyrics, digressing on subjects that, at the time, felt typical of his background. Only now, some 12 months later, they come off just downright smart…fitting even.

Music is all about escape. It should take you places. With Contra, Koenig plays the part of a “friend with access” more than the chic aristocrat that so many make him out to be (myself included). He makes sure there’s room in the backseat, so you can hear about “how the other private schools had no Hapa Club” or realize “there’s nowhere else to go.” Some might argue most of his stories are irrelevant, one-sided, or even pretentious. But, at face value, this band makes no secret about either its identity or its influences. You don’t walk in expecting to relate to these guys, you walk in surprised at how much you do relate to them. Also, who doesn’t love a pop song with references to Futura font?

By far the most appealing aspect to Vampire Weekend, and something that’s evolved greatly since the band’s debut, is how cognizant and well versed they are in terms of instrumentation. This isn’t the sound of your typical “indie band.” It’s the result of a real band, who has fully realized its potential and continues to expand. Anyone still tossing out the Paul Simon comparisons aren’t truly listening. This goes far beyond Graceland. A song like the genre-spanning “Diplomat’s Son” sounds nothing like the driving indie rock of “Giving Up the Gun”, yet they blend seamlessly into one another. And, as if to throw the finger at those that felt they only had “A-Punk”, they did one better and issued even stronger singles with “Cousins” and “Holiday”, two songs that perfectly capture how witty and musically sincere this band can be.

In their review of Contra, NME called Vampire Weekend “one of the most unique bands on the planet.” We don’t necessarily agree with them all the time, but they’re absolutely on the money there. In a year that’s seen the market flooded with buzz band after buzz band, it’s important to acknowledge the New York scholars. They removed themselves from the muck (an agreeable and enjoyable muck at times, sure, but, nevertheless, still a muck). Instead, they braved the storm, nullified all odds, surged ahead, and issued not only a stellar sophomore album, but this year’s most solid release. If we’re to assume there’s a holy brethren of releases this year, then for us, we can’t think of any other leader than Contra. -Michael Roffman

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