We’ve already looked at the best and worst of the hits, now it’s time for my top 5 albums of the year! It’s not a short list because I didn’t listen to a lot this year’s music, it’s a short list because I wanted to just focus on the truly great stuff and what I had time to digest. Also, I’m still just one guy doing this blog in his (depressingly little) free time, so if I missed your favorite, don’t sweat it. Anyway, here we are!
5. Candy Hearts – Ripped Up Jeans and Silly Dreams
And we start with the obscurest choice on the list. Candy Hearts is a pop punk band operating out of New York, and “Ripped Up Jeans…” is their debut album. And it manages to shame most mainstream bands with how consistently great it is. Candy Hearts write about experiences we’ve all had: frustration, unrequited love, fun, and friendships; all with some of the most adorably thought out lyrics I’ve heard. It’s backed by solid instrumentation, clever hooks, and great production (especially valuable when “shit” is the current indie scene’s production fetish). The band fires through 13 tunes with talent, energy, and poise, and by the time closer “Cracks Beneath Closed Doors” ends, you want more.
4. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang
These Jersey boys follow-up their 2008 breakout The ’59 Sound with a lean, ten song record that stands up excellently next to their finest. Despite being shorter than previous outings, American Slang throws in more ideas than Gaslight’s tried before, but their precision-tuned Springsteen inspired punk rock doesn’t suffer for it. Fallon aims a little higher on his singing, and his stories of Americana lyrics are still a high-point for a band riding a wave of well-deserved success.
3. The Roots – How I Got Over
Serving as the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s late night show would slow down most bands, but then again, most bands aren’t The Roots. Black Thought, ?uestlove, and the rest of the crew (plus a slew of collaborators including Johanna Newsome, John Legend, and Monsters of Folk) set down 40 minutes of soul and jazz fused grooves about isolation, perseverance, and, well, how to get over. Instead of slowing down, The Roots picked up momentum, and as a result, How I Got Over is a rare start to finish treat.
2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
2010 was a year chocked with ambitious records. And while Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn can’t claim the title of most ambitious record (sup, Kanye?), he makes a pretty damn good case for one of the best albums as far as the ambition:quality ratio is concerned. As Snoop Dogg leads through the smooth “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach”, you being to realize that Plastic Beach asks you to sail away to somewhere else entirely. Dreamy and dreary synths, orchestras, and a boat-load of collaborators all find somewhere in the sand, and Plastic Beach has my pick for most underrated album of the year.
1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Instead of Funeral‘s explosive catharsis or the preaching of Neon Bible, Arcade fire use The Suburbs to temper their sound into their most well-crafted and broadest album to date. That doesn’t make it any smaller than the band’s past work; The Suburbs is a sprawling 16 track hour plus mammoth that looks at the mentality of white picket fences and landscaped yards for understanding and meaning. These weighty concepts are made accessible by smart song structure and dynamic performances by Win Butler and company. Hitting low points of desperation (“Suburban War”) and exuberant highs (“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains”), Arcade Fire realize that everyone’s gotta grow up, but it doesn’t mean giving up.