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The Top 10 Albums of 2010

By / Posted on 23 December 2010

The Top Ten Albums of 2010

As the first decade of the 21st century approaches its final year, digital distribution is more important than ever in all forms of media. Record labels have claimed the internet was killing their sales for years, but savvy artists have figured out how to work it in their favor. Some of the best albums this year were released cheaply or for free on the artists’ websites. Other artists pleaded with their loyal fanbases to keep the records under wraps until the day of release, even if they saw it leaked online. 2010 may not have been the banner year for exciting new music that the previous few years were, but there was still some amazing stuff. Here are the releases this past year that kept us coming back for more again and again:

#10: Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

Los Campesinos!'s Romance is BoringStraight in at 101
The beautiful youth of Los Campesinos! grabbed our attention a couple years ago with their relentless energy. The thing about youth, though, is learning control over exuberence. Romance is Boring, the proper sophomore LP from the Campesinos camp (who insist We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was a long-form EP and not a proper record), is simultaneously restrained in its scope and outrageous in its orchestration, a precisely-focused statement on the current affairs of indie rock. Despite slowing down to ensure their aim, Los Campesinos! show no signs of pulling any punches. Romance is Boring is a portrait of a band on a rampage, learning the rules of proper songwriting so that they may intently bend every one of those rules to their will.

#9: Copy – Hard Dream

Copy's Hard DreamStay Away From It
An 8-bit suspense thriller. That is the concept Marius Libman had going into the production of his third album as Copy. What results is an album that is wetter, with more claustrophobic reverberations than his pervious releases. Don’t think that theme is essential for enjoyment, though, as Hard Dream is decidedly fun and danceable on its own merits. There may not be a single moment of Hard Dream that will inspire you to stop bobbing your head and tapping your foot. The whole 80′s slasher film vibe never goes away once you realize it’s there, but there is an air of genuine fun behind it all. Whether you’re the type who roots for the psycho killer or the scared virgin babysitter, you’re sure to enjoy the sweet beats of Copy’s Hard Dream.

#8: Xiu Xiu – Dear God, I Hate Myself

Xiu Xiu's Dear God, I Hate MyselfThe Fabrizio Palumbo Retaliation
It’s been a while since I was excited about listening to a Xiu Xiu album a second time. Jamie Stewart’s been quite prolific this past decade, with an album for nearly every year, but the past few releases have been mostly uninteresting in the long haul with only a few noteworthy songs after the initial hearing. Be it a force of new creativity in replacing longtime collaborator Caralee McElroy with new multi-instrumentalist Angela Seo or the playful nature of writing most of the songs on a Nintendo DS rather than a guitar, there is something intrinsically fun and exciting about the material on Dear God, I Hate Myself. Variety is key, though, as Stewart has learned to never stay in one place for too long. Every hushed soliloquy is countered by a rousing fist-pump of electronic squeals and crashed percussion. Dear God, I Hate Myself isn’t just Xiu Xiu’s most accessible record in years, it’s an adventure.

#7: Das Racist – Sit Down, Man

Das Racist's Sit Down, ManFashion Party (with Chairlift)
Queens’ hottest new rap team are an unlikely crew, an intellectual duo with an endless supply of left field pop culture references, awareness and indifference towards chic couture, and proclivity towards getting higher than 747s. Das Racist released two excellent tapes in 2010, and while neither is perfect, the highs of Sit Down, Man are slightly higher than those of Shut Up, Dude. What starts off sounding like lazy college party rap quickly reveals itself to be socially aware, deeply thoughtful and often hilarious. There’s a reason the boys of DR attracted so many of hip-hop’s biggest producers to collaborate on Sit Down, Man, a mix that was released for free. Jump on the bandwagon before it’s too late.

#6: Anamanaguchi – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game

Anamanaguchi's Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The GameThe Dark One
Brooklyn’s preeminent chip music power pop band released their first full-length LP in the form of a commissioned video game soundtrack. Limited only by the fact that the each track is tethered to particular scenes in a narrative and are designed to be looped continuously, Anamanaguchi have nevertheless turned out an absolute stunner of a soundtrack that rivals the proper songs of their previous EPs catchiness, danceability, and making your own life feel like a videogame. The chiptune cycle has come all the way around for the boys from Anamanaguchi, let’s not hope Scott Pilgrim is their last such project.

#5: Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here

Gil Scott-Heron's I'm New HereRunning
It’s hard to look past the incredible history that precedes I’m New Here, from Gil Scott-Heron’s generation-defining poetry and music to his past decade of incarceration and disease. I’m New Here isn’t so much a comeback album as much as it is a reinvention album. Scott-Heron is backed not by the bongos and upright bass of his youth but by heavy and dark electronic beats, an ambiance that only serves to make Gil’s gravely voice all the more ominous and threatening. What results is arguably Scott-Heron’s most intimate album to date. Terrifying and endearing, Gil Scott-Heron makes himself an open book, a well-worn paperback and an instant American classic.

#4: Fang Island – Fang Island

Fang Island's Fang IslandLife Coach
Fang Island are what we always imagined Wyld Stallyns would sound like at the end of the Bill & Ted movies. Uproarious, celebratory, unrelentingly positive, playful guitar wizardry. Every track is a victory lap at the most badass pep rally in the county, from “Dream of Dreams’” warm fuzz and fireworks to the sky-high crescendos of “Welcome Wagon.” Even the slowest part of the album, the synth warbles of “Davey Crockett,” slowly build to an intensely emotional pulse nearing battle cry proportions. Fang Island is a big album for big dreamers.

#3: LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

LCD Soundsystem's This Is HappeningYou Wanted A Hit
James Murphy defined himself as a forerunner of the dance revival, which is why it’s curious that This is Happening, his third LP as LCD Soundsystem, is the least dance album the band has produced yet. There are still genuine moments of booty-shaking, but more than ever Murphy has become a rock star, comfortable with his voice, his vision, and unwilling to compromise for anybody else’s values. With an average track length over seven minutes, LCD Soundsystem aren’t interested in mainstream radio or television. Murphy has implied it might be a while until we heard from the band again, but thankfully he’s given us a lot to listen to and think about until then.

#2: The Drums – The Drums

The Drums'The DrumsMe And The Moon
You can tell the guys from The Drums got their start in dance music, because their entire debut LP sounds like a 1960′s pop record produced by a 21st century club DJ. The beats are simple and don’t vary much after the first four measures of any given song, the melodies are repetitive but infectious, the vocals are airy enough to float past anyone who doesn’t care to notice. In a club setting, any one of these tracks could easily continue on and on for as long as the DJ cared without any complaints, but in the tradition of classic pop bands the tracks are kept to radio-friendly lengths.

#1: Starscream – The Space Years

Starscream's The Space Years

Delayed from late 2009 to early 2010, but well worth the wait, Starscream’s concept EP about the voyage of an astronaut is a sixteen-minute tour de force split into eight seamless movements. A veritable master’s course in tempo progression, The Space Years sweeps the listener up in its ripe tide of grungy Game Boy noise, ethereal synth warbles and deeply affective drum pounds and cymbal crashes. The boys of Starscream know exactly when a gentle hand is needed and when a punch to the face is deserved. The Space Years is a true meeting ground of prog rock and chiptune, complete with samples of a pleading preacher about forgiveness of sins. More than any other release in 2010, The Space Years put us in a time and place upon every listen that we never got sick of revisiting.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.