1. LCD Soundsystem, “This is Happening”
LCD Soundsystem’s “This Is Happening” emerged amid rumors that the band would cease to be, but thankfully those have settled down. Leader James Murphy’s greatest strength is his ability to effortlessly switch from hilarious, funk-drenched rockers (“Drunk Girls”) to tender allusions to David Bowie’s “Heroes” (“All I Want”). No band out there is making music as consistently smart and enjoyable as LCD Soundsystem; let’s just hope they’re not gone too long.
2. The National, “High Violet”
The National’s “grown-up” alternative shows that aging doesn’t always necessarily involve slowing down, selling out or becoming obscure. “High Violet,” the band’s third consecutive hit album, is the most acclaimed to date, toting undeniable tracks such as “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Terrible Love.” Combined with subtle yet powerful instrumentation, Matt Berninger’s deep, dark, poignantly introspective subject matter is sure to make waves well beyond 2010.
3. Kanye West, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
Kanye West is that one kid from high school — the Ferris Bueller type — who didn’t just throw wild house parties but also had to invite the whole school. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” was a rager for the record books as well as 2010’s most dense and ambitious rap album. The life of the party shared the spotlight with the freshman (Nicki Minaj), the shy guy (Justin Vernon of Bon Iver), the class clown (Chris Rock), and even one of the cool teachers (Elton John). Jay-Z and Rihanna, Prom King and Queen, stood out too of course.
4. Das Racist, “Sit Down, Man”
“Shut Up, Dude” introduced us to Himanshu Suri, Victor Vazquez and their “pan-brownism” raps, a collection of rhymes riddled with nonsense, wildly obscure allusions and the most lazily articulate flow you’ve ever heard. Their next tape, “Sit Down, Man” cemented their status as murderous emcees with copious amounts of polished ridiculousness and equally meticulous production that sampled far and wide (think “Days-of-Our-Lives”-theme-song-wide) to keep things diverse and interesting.
5. Big Boi, “Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty”
The often-overshadowed member of Outkast explodes in a supernova of Southern style with “Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty.” The album contains tracks to satisfy all types of hip-hop tastes. From “Daddy Fat Sax” to “General Patton,” listeners get all the different personas Big Boi has to offer, including collaborations with Gucci Mane on “Shine Blockas,” George Clinton, Yelawolf and Janelle Monae, among others.
6. Broken Social Scene, “Forgiveness Rock Record”
The last time Broken Social Scene put out an album, George W. Bush’s approval rating was above 50 percent. Five years and numerous solo efforts from band members later, the Canadian all-star team of avant-garde reunited and successfully worked their tails off for fans’ forgiveness with “Forgiveness Rock Record,” a collection of gripping, masterfully layered and disarmingly beautiful pop rock songs that encompassed the best of their past accomplishments, yet was the sound of a new beginning.
7. Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs”
The first two full-lengths from these Quebecois were both hailed as indie rock landmarks and with good reason. With “The Suburbs,” the band turns its focus to making the most complete album experience of its young career, and it succeeds with flying colors. Win Butler and co.’s pilgrimage back to the suburbs of their youth is a vibrant exploration of the human attachment to the familiar, and it’s delivered with more hooks than you can shake a Wiffle Ball bat at.
8. Sufjan Stevens, “The Age of Adz”
Finally following up one of the decade’s best albums in “Illinoise,” Sufjan Stevens continued to make stylistic left-turns with “Age of Adz.” Stevens continues his trip into darker sounds and uneven electronica. “Adz” (pronounced “odds”) dabbles in all different textures and noise, different from previous instrumentation, but the usage is the same. Extended breaks and light vocals keep it very Sufjan, but with a sonic spin.
9. Deerhunter, “Halcyon Digest”
Deerhunter have been clawing their way up the ranks of indie and experimental bands, culminating in “Halcyon Digest,” their strongest statement. Leader Bradford Cox focuses more on tight songwriting than noise and dissonance, and it pays off. Deerhunter are (sometimes derisively) labeled trance-rock, but entrancing rock would be a better term. Standout track “Helicopter” has already launched Deerhunter to their first TV appearance; perhaps “Halcyon Digest” will launch them into the mainstream.
10. Titus Andronicus, “The Monitor”
A band name based on a Shakesperian tragedy, an album named after the United States Navy’s first ironclad ship and 65 minutes of Civil War-era concepts seems like one of either the dumbest or most pretentious combinations ever. However, Titus Andronicus somehow makes it all work on their sophomore effort, “The Monitor.” Full of sprawling seven-minute-plus opuses full of rage and frustration, “The Monitor” never lets the conceptual replace the raw emotion underneath.
The Black Keys, “Brothers”
Take funky bass lines, propulsive beats,
swinging whistling, seductive falsetto and mix in a helping of White
Stripes rocking, and you have the Black Keys. The band’s been busy over
the last decade, and “Brothers” is a groovy, rockin’ culmination of all
they stand for, making for an indie album with a distinctive sound
unlike anything this year.
Freddie Gibbs, “Str8 Killa”
Frightened Rabbit, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks”
Gorillaz, “Plastic Beach”
Sleigh Bells, “Treats”
Beach House, “Teen Dream”
“Teen Dream” is Beach House’s third album, and it showcases the group’s maturing dream-pop sound. Victoria Legrand’s hauntingly beautiful vocals shine through a lush backdrop of clean guitar and entrancing synth. The album was a great critical success and offers listeners an incredibly relaxing respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Curren$y, “Pilot Talk”
Small Black, New Chain
The Tallest Man on Earth, “The Wild Hunt”