At last we arrive at The Wounded Jukebox’s Top 10 albums of the year. These are the records that we’ll cherish far beyond 2010 — the ones that made a lasting impact, that got repeated listens both for their quality and for the emotions they stirred in our hearts and guts. This list was the melding of the musical tastes of everyone here at TWJ. It was hotly debated, and it is our pleasure to bring you our cream of the crop. Thanks for reading all this year, and we’ll continue to bring you great tunes. Promise!
10. Sharon Van Etten – Epic
Sharon is in our top 10 because we felt that her Epic was a huge leap forward, not only in quality, but in boldness and confidence. Her songs on this album are more complex musically, but emotionally, they’re stripped down. Way down. Most of them are big middle fingers towards the figures of her past that have done her wrong. And through this simplicity, we the listener get to dwell in a single feeling and begin to understand it from her side of the track. “A Crime” is defiant pain. “Peace Signs” is a giant boot up your arse. “Don’t Do It” is protective mechanisms. And Van Etten’s voice is the alluring feather dance that reveals just enough to keep you peeking around the corners of the wings the whole way through. TWJ recommends Epic because it’s music done right, and well. –Matt
9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Asking Kanye West to exercise restraint is somewhat akin to requesting a child return the lollipop he just received. Forcing it to happen won’t end well, and it’s almost certainly better to just leave it alone.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a shameless display of excess. West crams every drum loop, every percussion element, every guest star and every last sample he can into this album. And guess what? By and large, bigger is better. The beats assault the ears in a totally awesome way, exploding in the ears and unfolding into undeniably catchy rhythms. The bars his guests contribute impress, in some instances more than West’s own schizophrenic musings.
MBDTF is compelling lyrically as well as musically. West bounces — often within individual tracks — from the overconfident douche bag that many consider him to be to the insecure producer turned rapper who sounds as though he is attempting to convince himself, along with everyone else, just how talented he is. The douche bag has become self-aware: West asks for a toast to those maligned — he might say misunderstood — souls who are what they are, warts and all.
The layered elements and the production strengthen every track, with only a few small failures. Few people have the ambition to try what West’s skills as the architect allow him to accomplish successfully here: give the listener everything that fits, some things that don’t, and thoroughly impress in the process. — Sean
8. Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt
I wrote Kristian Matsson off the first time I heard him. He has a scratchy and raspy voice, and is by no means The Tallest Man on Earth, at 5’7″. But when he is up on the stage by himself, he seems so tall. It’s annoying to be compared to Bob Dylan. The main reasons are his voice, and the way he writes his lyrics like intricate poems, catchy but with a deeper meaning. There is no doubt that he is an excellent guitarist, leaning towards upbeat finger picking, creating tunes that lay the base for his songs. The Wild Hunt is full of good songs, and one would think it would be hard to distinguish one song from the next if it’s only one guy with a guitar, but Tallest Man does a good job of changing speeds to keep the songs different. He goes from softer ballads, like “Love is All”, to the rousing “King of Spain”, which seems to be a crowd favorite. I also adore “A Thousand Ways”, one that shows he can soften his voice. Overall The Wild Hunt is a great addition to the new wave of rootsy folk music. Who would of though it would come from Sweden? — Glenn
7. The Black Keys – Brothers
Who would think that two badass dudes from Akron would become the strongest blues-rock outfit around today? That point might be debatable, but one thing isn’t: Brothers slays, man. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have delivered an album that blasted from our car speakers pretty much all summer. It fits the high temperatures, because everything here — the fuzzy bass lines, the kickdrum beats, the alternating soulful low croon and lovely falsetto vocals — is hot. Melt your face hot.
Aside from the rollicking instrumentation on Brothers, there is the gift this duo has for telling tales of woe in an undeniably funky way. The break-up anthem (“Next Girl”), the cautionary tale about falling for a wild-living gal (“Tighten Up”) and the tale of a jealous lover preaching revenge down the barrel of a gun (“Ten Cent Pistol”) — they’re all compelling, and they all work swimmingly. Listen closely, wade through the funk, and there’s some wonderful stories here as well. This album made us smile more than most this year. — Sean
6. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
Prepare to dance. One, two, or a million times a listen. James Murphy quickly and successfully integrated a third LCD Soundsystem album into the hearts of indie hipsters. However, the first single “Drunk Girls” never made it on the radio (but that might have something to do with the song’s content). In an interview Murphy stated that this was the best LCD Soundsystem album to date, and will most likely be the last. And, thats a damn shame.
Murphy balances charm, energy, and marvel into the music and lyrics of the album. He brings Generation Y themes into the lyrics with references to actual jerks, long bathroom lines, the back of the bus, booty texts, and the return of the police. And the music just makes you want to dance! Dance yourself clean!
The first track on the album, “Dance Yrself Clean,” respectively, stands as the ultimate Murphy ballad. The nine minute song takes listeners on an energetic journey. You start out with a stroll in Central Park wearing studio headphones. Soon you are jogging to synthbeats at markers 1:45 and 2:45. The outdoor aerobics class starts at 3:10. Take a short breather at 5:50. Then, at 8:12 you are on your cool-down walk to the bus stop. Other highlights on the album include another equally energetic song “Pow Pow” and more relaxed songs such as “All I Want” and “Somebody’s Calling Me.”
This album is made for dancing. This is Happening was re-released earlier in the month with bonus iTunes tracks, two videos, and iconic songs from all three albums preformed in a London recording session. If you’ve never picked the album up or aren’t as consumed as I am, the re-release is a nice collection for your library. And, hey, its only $12.99. 20 tracks! 2 videos!
Regardless, this is a must listen. — Shiloh
5. Future Islands – In Evening Air
Future Islands = Samuel T. Herring’s clipped croon etched across the electronic canvas with an emotional spectrum injected straight to the heart. The Maryland based band aren’t new, but they created a record that hit the world like they were fresh from a motivational retreat. They are bright and shiny and lay the world out before them with In Evening Air. It sounds like our Great Great Grandfathers reaching from beyond the grave to knock the grit back into our heads. Every song sounds like a last gasp of final words, a final message to give, a bit of wisdom to impart. Herring plays the conduit well, and we’ll buy whatever tool he needs to do it again. There are mountains in each word (“Tin Man”), and keen swords in each second (“Vireo’s Eye”). The record opens with a door and closes with a fall. You fall with it. It is number 5. –Matt
4. Jesca Hoop – Hunting My Dress
We wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t heard Jesca Hoop’s Hunting My Dress. She came out of nowhere a few years ago, and her sophomore record is rapidly emerging, cloud busting stuff. Her move to Manchester has done her multitudes of good; her voice has grown richer, more confident, and far more likely to flip your ears on their backs than ever. Headphones are a must-have to hear everything Hoop does on this record. The trills and the leaps and bounds her voice takes are just the surface of it all. The instrumentation and actual magic woven in is what makes this record one of 2010’s best. Not-one-single-thing can be taken for granted in her music. Nothing is obvious nor ordinary.
Her tongue does gymnastics in “Whispering Light.” The wood crackles and she paints tales in the firelight in “The Kingdom.” Jesca sinks beneath and swims under the waves in “Feast Of The Heart.” And that’s just the first three. We’re in love with the bending strings, the syllable phrasing, the visuals rendered and outlandish chances Hoop takes. It ALL WORKS.
Hoop’s songs are as likely to take a turn in the absolute opposite direction, as you are to take another breath and bat your eyes in amorous response. Six-part harmonies pop up at frequent intervals, and 10 second highlights can be spliced from any song at ANY time. We’re absolutely smitten with her words and her sound. — Matt
3. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
Laura Marling is one of the main reasons that I think the highlight of 2010 was women in folk. Along with fellow British groups of Mumford & Sons, who play back up on a few songs on the album, and Noah and The Whale, Marling’s former band, there has been an explosion of folk music coming from England. I Speak Because I Can is headlined by an old-timey song, “Rambling Man,” that sounds like its written by someone much more seasoned than 20 years old. The first song, “Devil’s Spoke,” starts off strong and fast, quickly flowing and jumping from line to line. “Made by Maid” has a resemblance to a fellow Brit, Nick Drake, with finger picking and a soft, sad sound. “Hope in the Air” is also a solid track, in the vein of “Devil’s Spoke” with a powerful and sorrowful feel, like walking through a field of wispy tall grass. Although many of the other songs may not be as catchy as the singles, they have the worn-down feeling from someone who has lived a long, hard, life, and has sung the songs over and over again. — Glenn
2. The National – High Violet
It’s not usually that hard to recognize a song by The National. Matt Berninger’s baritone voice takes care of any ambiguity. And the band has a certain style, albeit one that’s changed and evolved since their Cherry Tree days. But with High Violet, the band have truly outdone what they do best. Everything here is close to perfect, but leaves a few rough edges that poke the ears in all the right places.
With the banging “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, I unsafely drummed on my lap with one hand on the steering wheel. I sang the line I was afraid I’d eat your brains, ’cause I’m evil — from “Conversation 16” — at the top of my lungs in the shower like it was the most beautiful poetry I’d ever heard. I stared blankly at the wall during the beginning of “England”, let the keys and the strings and the guitar-plucking just wash over me. High Violet is understated but it is powerful.
The fact that this quintet’s music is so readily identifiable makes the pain they ooze from every track all the more piercing. There is such beauty on High Violet, and I think it’s because the music soars above our heads and beats in our hearts all at once. — Sean
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Arcade Fire are a rare thing in indie music. They are a sure thing. Sure, not every track they’ve ever produced — from Funeral to Neon Bible to now — is a bulls-eye, but the listener can count on quality music and earnest effort. That kind of consistency is not easy to find.
With The Suburbs, the Montreal septet have produced their most complete work yet. Each track centers around a universal theme and yet doesn’t ever feel trite or contrived. There is such variety here, from the piano jangle of the title track to the grinding rock guitar of “Month of May” to keyboards and simple-but-wonderful Regine Chassagne vocals on “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”.
The music takes many forms here, and all of them sound fresh and inviting. The heartbeat drums and weighty background effects of “Half Light II (No Celebration)”, the synthbeat and wonderful piano melody of “We Used To Wait,” or the tension-building guitar strum that gives way to a pounding keyboard stroke on “Deep Blue”. It’s all there, and it all beckons the listener to engage, and to love it.
I listened to this album more than any other this year because it never got stale. The guitars, the thumping drums, the bass lines, the emotion. None of it ever rang hollow, and that’s a credit to how solid this record is. The theme on The Suburbs is one we can all identify with. The loss of passion and individuality in all its avenues — music (“Sprawl II”), physical landscape (“The Suburbs”) and love (“Ready to Start”) to name a few — are woven into every track, and it rewards repeated listening. We obliged. — Sean
–The Wounded Jukebox