MAGNET’s Top 20 Albums Of 2010

20. BEST COAST | Crazy For You [Mexican Summer]
The subject matter on Best Coast’s first album is largely limited to boys and the occasional shout-out to beloved pet cats and weed. In a radical departure from her earlier work with Pocahaunted, frontwoman Bethany Cosentino takes this restricted thematic palette and runs with it. Crazy For You is awash in unironically sunny vocals and tight guitar hooks that sound like the California-dreamin’ love child of Liz Phair and the Beach Boys. “Boyfriend,” “Honey” and “When I’m With You” are standout tracks, but the album as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable in its focused simplicity and makes good the argument that the West is best.

“Boyfriend” (download):

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19. TED LEO AND THE PHARMACISTS | The Brutalist Bricks [Matador]
It isn’t easy being a 40-year-old teenage anarchist. (Actually, Ted Leo is probably more of a socialist, but since when has American media paid much attention to the definition?) Leo and his Pharmacists are wise to politics but hopelessly adrift in every other category, searching for love and heroism in an increasingly fragmented world. So they recorded The Brutalist Bricks, a series of small explosions that ricochets from song to song like a bag of firecrackers set alight by much younger versions of Billy Bragg and Elvis Costello. Whatever side you’re standing on when the smoke clears, don’t ignore song-of-the-year contender “Bottled In Cork.”

“Bottled In Cork” (download):

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18. ADMIRAL RADLEY | I Heart California [The Ship]
Like a sack-hungry defensive end jumping the snap count, onetime Grandaddy maestro Jason Lytle continues, unabated, to write the most addictive melodies and engaging lyrics of any indie rocker over the past 15 years. The debut from Admiral Radley, a fine blend of two old pals from Earlimart (Aaron Espinoza and Ariana Murray) and Grandaddy drummer Aaron Burtch, continues Lytle’s obsession with his former home turf, penned from his current Bozeman, Mont., sanctuary. “I Heart California” (“I am California, iced tea in my hair/Drugs fall out of diaper bags as Midwesterners stare”) should make Lytle’s musical hero, ELO’s Jeff Lynne, exceedingly proud.

“I Heart California” (download):

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17. IDLEWILD | Post Electric Blues [Nice]
After a 2009 release overseas, Post Electric Blues hit U.S. shores this year. You probably didn’t hear about it, though, as it’s merely the latest Idlewild record (the Scottish band’s sixth) to be greeted in the States with resounding silence. It’s sad, albeit simultaneously predictable and baffling, that an LP this strong, this tuneful, this passionate—holding songs such as rough-edged epic “Post-Electric,” the mournful “Take Me Back In Time” and the grandiosely pop “City Hall”—didn’t garner slavish praise and, more important for the group, an audience outside of in-the-know fanboys. One of these days, these lads are going to finally scrap any notion of conquering America. That’s completely disheartening, but we don’t deserve them anyway.

“Younger Than America” (download):

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16. GUSTER | Easy Wonderful [Aware/Universal Republic]
If 1999’s Lost And Gone Forever was the anthem of Guster’s turbulent mid-20s, then Easy Wonderful marks the age of the content, settled-down dad (in a good way). With the three original members all happily married with kids and a relentless following for a band that’s been going strong for nearly two decades, it’s not surprising that the theme of the Massachusetts quartet’s sixth full-length is an optimistic, sunshiny jangle with catchy hooks and choruses that beg to be sung along to. However, don’t think that the band has strayed too far from comfortable territory: People who have been fans of Guster since way back when it was just Gus will appreciate Easy Wonderful’s familiar feel as well as the band’s growth, while first-time listeners will slip into full-blown fandom with ease.

“Bad Bad World” (download):

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15. DEERHUNTER | Halcyon Digest [4AD]
For all of Deerhunter’s collective achievements so far, this year marked the point when Atlanta’s purveyors of “ambient punk” solidified their rightful place among indie rock’s elite. The quartet’s fourth LP is at the same time filled with the listless waves of noise and pop deconstruction that have endeared Deerhunter to critics for years and an entirely new vision, where harmonicas, saxophones and a general relaxing of its experimental m.o. give way to Exile On Main St. and Motown references. Indeed, Halcyon Digest puts on full display a vitality only hinted at previously, making the thought of the band’s next move that much more intriguing.

“Revival” (download):

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14. BOSTON SPACESHIPS | Our Cubehouse Still Rocks [Guided By Voices, Inc.]
Cubehouse, the fourth rapid-fire Boston Spaceships effort, got somewhat lost in the triumphant shuffle that was the Guided By Voices “classic lineup” reunion tour. A shame, really, as this most British Invasion-centric Spaceships LP (“Bombadine,” in particular, is about as late-‘60s Who as it gets) is further proof of Robert Pollard’s amazing songcraft showing no signs of decline. Sure, it was beyond rewarding to see Pollard and his old crew showered with powerblessings from the devoted, but it’d certainly be nice if the bandwagon jumpers paid as much attention to the glorious Spaceships as to honoring Pollard’s past glories.

“Come On Baby Grace” (download):

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13. THE RADIO DEPT. | Clinging To A Scheme [Labrador]
The long-in-the-making third album from these less-than-prolific Swedish nü-gazers clocks in at a brief 34 minutes, but Clinging To A Scheme eats like a meal. You can throw away those pesky My Bloody Valentine and Pet Shop Boys comparisons once and for all, as the Radio Dept. has clearly come into its own with these 10 tracks, honing its atmospheric, dream-pop sound while sharpening its skills as serious songwriters. If Clinging To A Scheme isn’t providing the soundtrack to all of your daily activities, that’s only because you haven’t heard it yet.

“Heaven’s On Fire” (download):

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12. THE WALKMEN | Lisbon [Fat Possum]
The Walkmen were slow starters in the early-’00s NYC rock race, outsprinted by everyone from the Strokes and Interpol to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV On The Radio. But a decade later, Hamilton Leithauser and his bandmates have taken their treble-charged approach to transcendent victory. The relaxed, sun-sweetened Lisbon earns its Portuguese pedigree, softly splashing around in the glassy eddies of echo-laden guitars and occasionally indulging in brass-band melodies that make it all seem as formally solid and artistically bold as a Goya painting. Here’s to late bloomers and the sound of nowhere in particular.

“Stranded” (download):

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11. DR. DOG | Shame, Shame [Anti-]
Last month, they took a wrecking ball to the Spectrum—the dank, decayed Philadelphia arena where Dr. J and Billy Joel hung their banners from the rafters—and finally serenaded the end of the ‘70s by piping in some Springsteen while the building came crashing down. But it should’ve been native sons Dr. Dog heard at the funeral, for this is the present and future classic rock. Music critics will write that Shame, Shame sounds like the Flaming Lips doing Wilco’s Summerteeth, but Dr. Dog doesn’t warrant that kind of detached thinking. This album is about the late-20s swoon into manhood and the magic in the night.

“Stranger” (download):

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10. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS | Together [Matador]
If memory serves, every one of the New Pornographers’ five albums has graced MAGNET’s year-end list. Even if we drank the initial serving of Kool-Aid, its effects surely would’ve worn off by now; and the fact that Carl Newman’s wrecking crew unfailingly continues to execute thrill-ride pop choruses only makes our jobs here more difficult. There’s no exciting new storyline to Together, except the fact that its title is telling: The lines between vocalists Neko Case and Kathryn Calder are becoming blurred, the distinction between songs by Newman and Dan Bejar are thinner, and the whole gang has honed its mercenary talents into uniform excellence.

“Your Hands (Together)” (download):

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9. THE BLACK KEYS | Brothers [Nonesuch]
With their simple-yet-powerful guitar-and-drum alliance, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s voguish tweak on Memphis barroom rock sadly and unjustly continues to draw comparisons to infamous non-couple the White Stripes. With album number six, however, the Black Keys have shown tremendous growth as songwriters, cranking out 14 surefire originals plus a killer cover of Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The self-produced, back-to-basics Brothers is for people slightly sick of going to shows that consist solely of lights and laptops and want to revel in rumbling guitar riffs, pummeling drums and unadulterated vocals.

“Tighten Up”

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8. TEENAGE FANCLUB | Shadows [Merge]
One of the great mysteries of guitar pop is the fact that anyone with 10 digits and a pulse can string together some jangly chords, yet precious few can take these rudimentary elements and turn them into something memorable. If two decades of helping to write the book on post-Big Star pop hasn’t yet convinced you, the first 15 seconds of Shadows provide ample evidence that Teenage Fanclub has what it takes to permanently implant a tune in your cerebrum. Admittedly, recent output from these Scots has become so breezy as to make contemporaries like the Posies sound like Slayer by comparison, but the fact that they can still bait a pop hook with a recording so mellow and understated speaks volumes about their songwriting powers.

“Baby Lee” (download):

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7. ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI | Before Today [4AD]
Ariel Pink made big moves in 2010. Many listeners were skeptical at the prospect of a “professional” album on a proper label coming from an artist who has notoriously eschewed so many normative modes of presentation. The catchy “Round And Round” dropped in the summer, offering a candy-coated chorus and oddball verses that added up not only to a great encapsulation of Pink’s career but also of his myriad pop-savant neuroses. When the entire album went public, it was clear his thematic intentions had not changed. Before Today begins with Pink imploring someone to get into his STD-filled hot tub and concludes with a jerky burst of agitated post-punk. While some may see Before Today as a step in a more accessible direction, there’s no denying that Pink remains the unrelenting center of his own idiosyncratic universe.

“Round And Round” (download):

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6. JENNY AND JOHNNY | I’m Having Fun Now [Warner Bros.]
She & Him just got their lunch handed to them, while Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan didn’t even make it to the cafeteria—they’re stuffed in a locker somewhere. Are we having fun yet? 2010’s best girl/guy duo resisted the urge to sound like dusty old lovebirds and instead held hands while jumping into a sparkling pool of West Coast power pop. No offense to Rilo Kiley and the 16-year-olds who loved them, but Jenny Lewis sounds positively freed from the indie-rock straitjacket, partnering with boyfriend Johnathan Rice for this bubblegum-smacking, carefree triumph that practically unfolds your arms for you.

“Scissor Runner” (download):

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5. SUPERCHUNK | Majesty Shredding [Merge]
The churchies will tell you that “make a joyful noise” has something to do with the Book of Psalms, but with apologies to the devout, we need to co-opt that shit in describing Superchunk’s latest. Admittedly, healthy exuberance has always been part of the band’s m.o., but still, it’s no small feat to craft something this buoyant and hook-laden after 20 years of jamming at the altar of indie rock. As Mac McCaughan sings on “Learned To Surf,” listeners should approach Majesty Shredding thusly: “Put your suitcase down/And leave your shoes gently by the door/In a puddle with your blues.”

“Digging For Something” (download):

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4. BROKEN BELLS | Broken Bells [Columbia]
You can tell from the Shins’ last album, Wincing The Night Away, that frontman James Mercer was frantically scratching from inside a Shins-shaped box and wanted to head into a more beat-heavy, aviator-shades-in-the-dance-club direction. That’s where Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton came in. Broken Bells combines Mercer’s folksy nostalgia with Burton’s mixing prowess. “Vaporize” commences with Mercer’s mournful vocals and a strumming guitar, then dives into a swift harmony of synths, drum beats and trumpet blasts, but it still retains its wistfulness. Like that song, the entire album strums a taut heartstring tied between the two artists’ signature styles to create a mesmerizing experience.

“The High Road” (download):

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3. THE NATIONAL | High Violet [4AD]
On their fifth album, these Brooklyn-by-way-of-Cincinnati favorites have synthesized their influences and refined their moody vibe to create a cohesive statement of 21st-century angst. The National has expanded its trademark Americana-tinged tales of confusion, hope and despair into surging epics. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is a driving, hypnotic reflection on the past with drums that pound like artillery fire. The true nature of the band is better revealed on “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” though; the melody is gently beautiful, and singer Matt Berninger is at once mournful and subtly humorous. “All the very best of us string ourselves up for love,” he notes, neither celebrating nor bemoaning his favorite topic: human nature.

“Bloodbuzz Ohio” (download):

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2. ARCADE FIRE | The Suburbs [Merge]
Between Madison Square Garden performances, Terry Gilliam-directed YouTube videos and Grammy nominations, it was pretty difficult to avoid Arcade Fire this year even if you wanted to. Indeed, the Canadian collective’s third album was one of the most hyped and well-received releases of 2010, and it’s not hard to see why. Easily the most accessible Arcade Fire record, The Suburbs captures the mixed feelings of comfort and nostalgia that come with going back to where you came from, tackling the big questions and putting them into sweeping, epic musical moments—complete with multi-part songs, reprises and interludes. This album hits you where it hurts, but in all the right ways.

“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”

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1. BEACH HOUSE | Teen Dream [Sub Pop]
“Dream” is a word that practically defines Beach House. The Baltimore duo’s third album is entitled Teen Dream, critics refer to its style as “dream pop,” and virtually every song on this record feels like a dream: hazy and half-remembered, beautiful and unsettling. “Norway” introduced legions of new fans to Beach House’s deceptively simple aesthetic: Woozy, pitch-shifted keyboards drone, plaintive guitar picking circles around the rhythm track, and Victoria Legrand’s Nico-meets-Marianne Faithfull rasp bores into your subconscious, helped by her breathy backing “hah hah hah”s. Musical partner Alex Scally orchestrates soundscapes from the slightest of elements, building them into sophisticated, forward-looking pop. “They say we will go far/But they don’t know how far we’ll go,” Legrand croons on “10 Mile Stereo.” There’s no need to know; Beach House has already arrived.

“Norway” (download):

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Written by Danielle Bacher, Ryan Burleson, Ross Burlingame, Jud Cost, Emily Costantino, Maureen Coulter, Matthew Fritch, Matt Hickey, Liana Katz, Eric T. Miller and Matt Ryan

This entry was posted in BEST OF 2010. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

21 Comments

  1. Posted December 16, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    “Phosphene Dream”

  2. Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    No Titus Andronicus?
    Really?
    The Monitor towers over most of these albums.

  3. Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    This covers half of my top 20, but you’re missing some great ones:
    Local natives, Yeasayer, Matthew Dear, Four Tet, Phantogram, LCD Soundsystem, Sufjan Stevens.
    And my favorite overlooked album of the year by White Hinterland.

  4. shitegeist
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Deerhunter at #15 (should be #1) and no Twin Shadow?… i can’t take this list seriously.

  5. Vic
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The rankings usually matter less to me than the opportunity to learn about albums I may’ve overlooked. But this year’s list seems oddly uninspired. I especially have to agree with Dan above. Magnet’s overlooking Titus Andronicus reminds me of the year the Oscars slighted Raging Bull in favor of Ordinary People.

  6. pantleggs
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Where are the following albums?

    Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
    Glossary – Feral Fire
    Phosphorescent – Here’s to Taking it Easy
    Horse Feathers – Thistled Spring
    Shooter Jennings and Heirophant – Black Ribbons
    John Mellencamp – No Better Than This
    Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues
    Chatham County Line – Wildwood

  7. Ralph Bullivant
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    ……….and John Grant – he has been wooing us in Liverpool

  8. Posted December 16, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ve found that picking a “Top Records” list for 2010 is virtually impossible. Any attempt turned out to have glaring omissions upon review.
    That said, I’m sure that recordings by The Joy Formidable, The Prids or Wintersleep could have all been #21 on this list. I haven’t seen many lists that include The New Pornographers. Kudos for that pick. Sure all of their records are good and expected to be so but given the broader perspective, they are still better than most,

  9. Garcia Dann
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Bow Thayer & Perfect Trainwreck cd Bottom of the Sky came out Nov 16 and is amazing start to finish.Independent to the bone.Recorded live at Levon’s go get some.

  10. Christian
    Posted December 16, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Do I think Superchunk’s “Majesty Shredding” should be #1 on your list!!?? Yes, Yes I Do!!

  11. Kevin
    Posted December 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    nice to see Admiral Radley and Dr. Dog in your list. Stuff not on your list that people should check out: Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans (to be released in US in 2011?), tame impala, wolf parade, junip, surfer blood and the thermals.

  12. Howard Lord
    Posted December 17, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    The Fall: Your Future Our Clutter. Oh yeah, you guys have traditionally ignored The Fallover the years!!

  13. paperparks
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    I usually fall right in line with magnet, but this list leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, I had to go back and make sure tallest man on earth’s wild hunt actually did come out in 2010 (it did) because it was left off. You guys have got to be aware of this album, right? It just seems like a major oversight to leave it out.
    I always thought of you guys as a good alternitive to the to hip for the room blogs (yes I’m talking about pitchfork) but going down the list I was expecting to see kanye at #1. I know pitchfork is the giant, but every 2010 list I’ve seen so far looks like a play by play of pitchfork favorabaly reveiwed albums. Are these list not about discovering new artist?
    Oh but I was glad to see adrad up there. Sorry to rant but I was excited to see magnets picks, but blown away at some glaring omissions. With that said here’s me top 5.
    5.Mgmt-congratulations
    4.shadow shadow shade-self titled
    3.sufjon stevens- age of adz
    2. Cotton jones- tall hours in the glowstream
    1. Tallest man on earth- the wild hunt

  14. Posted December 21, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    phosphorescent
    superchunk
    national
    boston spaceships
    soft pack
    woods
    male bonding
    soft boys deluxe re-issues
    neil young

  15. Posted December 21, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    oh
    admiral radley
    tallest man
    nice calls

  16. paperparks
    Posted December 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    can we all just agree that 2010 was an amazing year to be a music fan??

  17. Adam K
    Posted January 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Ever since “Teen Dream” was released I’ve been waiting for it to be named “Album of the Year”. Well done Magnet.

  18. BMartin
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    There seems to be a typo in the No. 1 spot; “BEACH HOUSE – Teen Dream” is actually spelt “Gil Scott Heron – I’m new here”

  19. Jeff
    Posted January 15, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    As usual, I discovered some interesting stuff by consulting your Best of the Year list. I’d never heard of Deerhunter, now suddenly I’m an instant fan. But speaking of “ambient punk,” how could No Age’s “Everything in Between” not be on this list?

  20. Gutter Rock
    Posted January 19, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Well at least Kanye didn’t make the list.

  21. Brett
    Posted May 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Though I was glad to see the inclusion of Dr. Dog’s Shame Shame, I was equally, if not more, disheartened by the absences of Doug Paisley’s Constant Companion, Gil Scot-Heron’s I’m New Here, and, most importantly, John Grant’s Queen of Denmark. The latter of these stands as one of the finest albums of the last 10 years.

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