Ed McMenamin selects his favorite music of 2010.
1.) Titus Andronicus “The Monitor”
Arcade Fire might be the more well-known band to release a Bruce Springsteen-influenced, sign-of-the-times record in 2010, but Win Butler doesn’t have half the neurotic anger of Titus Andronicus general Patrick Stickles. He sees Springsteen’s New Jersey as both home and hell — a place where “tramps like us, baby, we were born to die.”
“The Monitor” is the story of Stickles leaving the Garden State and returning just as quickly, only now filled with heartbreak and despair. Stickle’s ennui is framed by a rambling Civil War narrative — there’s talk of gurneys and mules — and the drums and propulsive guitar conjure images of a bloody charge.
Counting only 10 songs, yet clocking in at over an hour, “The Monitor” is 2010’s most ambitious and self-contradictory record. It’s an indie-punk record with guitar solos and prog-rock’s scope and song structures. And it carries the burden of a near-ludicrous premise that should buckle under its own weight. It doesn’t, to the credit of Stickles’ genius, his droogs’ musical chops and our own quest to find meaning in a decaying nation.
2.) Deerhunter “Halcyon Digest”
Deerhunter’s third proper release hopscotches across more genres than the band’s first two: there are glimpses of the debut’s nearly aimless shoe-gaze, the post-punk rhythms of their sophomore standout, “Microcastle” and the best moments of “Halcyon Digest”— the ’60s gypsy reverie of “Revival,” the rolling tide of guitar on the heartbreaking “Helicopter” — recall singer Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound solo projects. But the real strength of “Halcyon Digest” is Cox’s ability to take all the disparate influences, and an excellent song-writing turn by bandmate Lockett Pundt on “Desire Lines,” and make the songs distinctly their own. A 2010 playlist could easily contain any number of tracks from what nearly sounds like a lost best-of album from a band many decades older.
3.) Surfer Blood “Astro Coast”
Surfer Blood introduced itself to the world with the 2009 single “Swim,” a song with a big chorus and even bigger chords, with reverb piled so high the talents of singer John Paul Pitts weren’t immediately clear.
“Astro Coast,” the debut record that followed, showed the young Floridians were not using reverb as a mask for weak melodies or lazy guitar.
Album opener “Floating Vibes” ambles along on the kind of effortless guitar that allowed Pavement such open space, while also showing ambition shunned by those ’90s icons — strings, and a slow build reminiscent of Built to Spill — and vocals that recall the mom’s-basement sincerity of Weezer’s first two records.
Elsewhere, the record is very much 2010, with the near-obligatory African rhythms on “Take it Easy,” and the bro-friendly melodies coming from many of today’s young bands reared on ’90s alternative rock.
4.) Kanye West “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
Kanye West is our very own walking, talking Duchamp urinal.
His life is an instillation piece, asking the observer whether the man (and his inseparable work) is a pisspot or a flowing, ready-made fountain. He makes you ask, “is this art,” to which “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” clearly answers “yes.”
Yeazy is a human pile of contradiction, from the winking, self-deprecating admission of douchebaggery in the chorus of “Runaway” to the staunch defiance and musical confidence undercut by a schizoid’s paranoia on “Power,” a song built on samples only a producer of West’s talent could affably assemble.
The record sounds nothing like anything else in hip-hop or pop — while at the same time straddling the line between the two — and it borrows the epic scope of classic rock. For an album that mostly avoids cliche so effortlessly, it’s two weak posse cuts, overstuffed with guest appearances and after-thought choruses, that keeps Kanye’s otherwise impeccable return to form from the No. 1 spot.
5.) Beach House “Teen Dream”
Has there ever been a band with a more suitable name?
The Baltimore duo make the kind of weightless dream pop best served with a pillow and an early beer to cure the hangover.
Their third record is by far their most accessible, with the emphasis on the “pop” half of “dream-pop” and less reliance on “dream,” which allowed for far too much directionless floating on the first two albums. The band even reveals a bit of a classicist streak, as many critics have moved away from the Nico comparisons and more toward Stevie Nicks.
Victoria Legrand’s vocals have never been better — mature and sultry, haunted and longing — and Alex Scally’s guitar complements with unobstructive slide quivers and tremolo echoes between the subtle drums and whirling organ.
Rest of the top 20:
6.) Black Keys “Brothers”
7.) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti “Before Today”
8.) Sleigh Bells “Treats”
9.) Tame Impala “Inner Speaker”
10.) Avi Buffalo “Avi Buffalo”
11.) LCD Soundsystem “This is Happening”
12.) Spoon “Transference”
13.) Arcade Fire “The Suburbs”
14.) Warpaint “The Fool”
15.) The National “High Violet”
16.) Yeasayer “Odd Blood”
17.) Girls “Broken Dreams Club” EP
18.) The Hold Steady “Heaven is Whenever”
19.) Dr. Dog “Shame Shame”
20.) Harlem “Hippies”
Ed McMenamin may be reached at email@example.com.