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Album of the Year

December 31, 2010

2010 has been a great year for music. We’ve compiled our favourite picks from the last 12 months. Click below to see the list!

15. Four Tet – There Is Love In You [Domino, 25th Jan 2010]

Four Tet, the moniker of London-based artist/remixer/DJ/producer, has been an underground favourite amongst fans of electronic music for many years. 2010’s There Is Love In You can be considered Hebden’s first commercial success, reaching out to a wider audience with an altogether more mainstream/indie sound. Four Tet’s sound is no longer constrained by the necessity for avant-garde beats, off-timings and glitchy samples (he got that out of his system with collaborations with Steve Reid and Burial) and There is love.. brings us a crossover into a more conventional, less ambient electronic genre which may not please fans who have been there from the start, but this old fan thinks it sounds great. RBiz

Four Tet – Angel Echoes

14. Massive Attack – Heligoland [Virgin, 2nd Feb 2010]

After being blown away by their performance live at the Heineken Jammin’ festival last July, I felt I had to download Massive Attack’s latest album Heligoland. Just as intense, catching, engulfing was their live music, so is their album. The name comes from a German archipelago, which makes me think of each song as an independent island, named after the numerous artists featuring in it – to mention a few, Damon Alban, Martina Topley-Bird and Tunde Adebimpe – all grounding to the same foundation, the eclectic genius duo that is Massive Attack. Its multi-facetedness is what makes it an ever alluring album. Marina

Massive Attack – Paradise Circus

13. Delphic – Acolyte [Polydor, 11th Jan 2010]

Delphic’s Acolyte was one of the earliest of our albums of the year to be released, coming out as it did in January of 2010. Their first single Doubt was a delicate but definite poppy number most notable for its excellent video and catchy introduction sample. The rest of the album follows a fairly similar approach in terms of taking a basic indie sound and completely revamping it with electronic beats and samples. The highlight of the album by far though is the title track Acolyte. With a slow build up over 9 minutes the eventual crescendo and uplifting climax of the song provide a euphoric feeling rarely found within the indie scene. Chris Bingo

Delphic – Acolyte

12. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can [Virgin, 22nd Mar 2010]

At only 20 years old, Laura Marling has already written two albums, which struck me when I first listened to her: I found her voice so warm and low that I couldn’t believe she was so young! On I Speak Because I Can, she shows that her first album wasn’t just a fluke. With her swaying melodies, her acoustic guitar picking and her finely worked lyrics, she manages to reach the attention of the general public as well as folk acolytes. It is rare to see singer-songwriters (and guitarists!) making a name for themselves. Laura is there to prove that it still happens. She is young, talented and not bigheaded which will take her far. Athé

Laura Marling – Alpha Shallows

11. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty [Purple Ribbon/Def Jam, 5 July 2010]

Outkast’s 2003 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was an unprecedented success, with each half of the double-album being written solely by Big Boy or Andre 3000. Andre continued to find success in other projects but it wasn’t until 2010, with his first solo album, that Big Boi has really found his feet as a solo artist. Sir Lucious is a fresh new twist on his sound, with an inventive use of samples and a lyrical focus which is rare in a pop-rapper. A plethora of guest appearances, including one with up-and-coming star Janelle Monae on (see: Tightrope) on “Be Still” have really shot Big Boi into the limelight as one of the years top rappers, and bodes well for the next OutKast album! Athé

Big Boi – Tangerine

10. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs [Mercury, 2nd Aug 2010]

The first and only time I spoke to the band, they invited me for a game of basketball just before I saw them live. Three years later, here comes The Suburbs which has invaded my ears for the last few months. What I really enjoyed is that they stopped being too rigorous and, instead, reached a certain simplicity. I found it easier to tame than Neon Bible, their second opus, which was more dark and gloomy. Their music is still very intense, but Hallelujah my friends, it’s no longer keyboards galore! However, keyboards are still involved on some songs (We Used to Wait), but Arcade Fire’s guitars manage to sound like Springsteen’s in ‘City with No Children’. Among the explosive tracklisting, there is a treasure of electro-pop called ‘Sprawl II’. To close the album they offer us a remake of the catchy hit ‘The Suburbs’ which is well worth it. To sum up, this is an abrasive album of seventeen parts. Julie

Arcade Fire – Suburban War

9. Spoon – Transference [Merge, January 2010]

Texan rockers Spoon formed in 1993 and have recorded 7 studio albums, punctuated by 2010’s Transference. While many seasoned acts lose their cool and opt for a radical change of direction, Spoon have simply built on what they do best. This may be a double-edged sword, since Transference doesn’t leap out above Spoon’s previous efforts. But with edgy timings and great melodies (with the new additions of electronic delays and reverse effects) and the ever-present gravelly vocals of Britt Daniels, Transference doesn’t need to be any more than this. And with a great live show to boot, Spoon’s honest rock stands out from the crowd. RBiz

Spoon – Written in Reverse

8. Beach House – Teen Dream [Sub Pop, 26th Jan 2010]

To me, Beach House had always seemed like a diamond in the rough: their sound rare, unique and from another time. In Teen Dream, Beach House’s third album, we see the polished article – the pure, immaculate realization of the essence of their sound. The murky veil that engulfed their previous albums is lifted to reveal Beach House’s glowing inner core: a sanctuary of warming synths and undulating guitar melodies. Unlike any Beach House before it, Teen Dream has a feeling of edifying closeness, like that of a dream. “I’ll take care of you” sings Legrand – and she does. mDilsh

Beach House – Lover of Mine

7. The Black Keys – Brothers [V2 Coop, May 2010]

More of a songbook than an album; Brothers is an homage to the potent simplicity of roots music. The Keys return with intense swagger, and their sound with a richness that belies their limitations as a duo. For an album of many moods, each song is approached with a sense of affirmation and focus that coerces the listener into the moment. Auerbach’s newfound falsetto drives his ersatz-gospel exultations on ‘Everlasting Light’, whilst The Keys seem just as content to kick grit in your eye with their Zeppelin-infused blues-rock on ‘She’s Long Gone.’ Brothers is an impassioned record and probably the finest rock ‘n roll album in recent memory. mDilsh

Black Keys – Tighten Up

6. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [Mercury, November 2010]

Outrageous by name, outlandish by nature, Kanye’s latest album is his best yet – no small feat. It incorparates everything he has done so far and distills it to the point of perfection. The Ronseal™ nature of the title gives MBDTF a nightmare-ish, halloweeny edge that avoids the worst bits of navel-gazing from his previous album, yet still feels personal despite the huge number of collaborators and completely over-the-top personality of the songs. His rapping is as good as it’s ever been, but it’s the production of the album that really stands out; Kanye has always had some of the best beats around, but his songwriting and ability to collaborate so effectively have put him in a league of his own. Coupled with the insane and surprisingly awesome ‘Power’ video, I came away thinking one thing: this man is a genius – truly the most entertaining personality in music right now. j-diz

Kanye West – All of the Lights

5. Bonobo – Black Sands [Ninja Tune, 29 Mar 2010]

Bonobo’s long awaited fourth studio album appears on Ninja Tune more than four long years after its predecessor. Black Sands delivers chilled jazzy arrangements and uplifting beats with more diversity but less consistency than previous releases. Always in the down-beat end of the genre, producer Simon Green combines an eclectic collection of instruments with driving electronic beats, often broken, to craft music that is perfect in either fore or back-ground. Strings, horns and electronics soar and energise repeatedly, maintaining a highly uplifting tone throughout the all-too-short forty minutes. This collection is pure soul music designed to inspire, bliss-out and motivate.
To me, Black Sands is more “night-club” than the “evening-music” of previous albums, and the dancey, almost glitchy “1009” blurs the line between dream and nightmare. The haunting “All In Forms” shows off Green’s inspired (and maybe underused) effect-heavy approach to lyrics on this record and has to be my pick from the tracklist. The last two songs just demand to be played live and could very well be live recordings captured with such pristine clarity, the production quality here is just superb. Black Sands has been well worth the long wait, but is over much too quickly. Krys

Bonobo – All In Forms

4. Born Ruffians – Say It [Warp, May 2010]

Born Ruffians are a Canadian threepiece fronted by vocalist/guitarist Luke LaLonde, whose distinctive style gained the Ruffians much critical acclaim with the release of their debut album Red, Yellow and Blue in 2008. At a glance, their sophomore effort, the aptly titled Say It doesn’t have the instant feel-good charm of their debut. They have shed some of their boyish charm and now sound darker and more mature, with Say It being distinctively ruff-er at the edges. Their second album is an undoubtedly a rawer, meaner, stormier album, with a less polished feel than its predecessor. But once you scratch under the surface you’ll see that the fun-loving Ruffians are still up to their old tricks, with innuendo and jokes delivered in an up-tempo fashion, humourously and piercingly with LaLonde’s distinctive vocals and quirky guitar stylings. Album opener “Oh Man” sets the scene with a sparse effect-laden guitar, and the lyrics “I’ve got a funny feeling.. I think she might be cheating” hint at moodier things to come. However, the impulsive mix of wise-cracks and seriousness (that I love the ruffians for) is the very same thing that may confuse and ruff-le the feathers of some listeners. But if you can’t appreciate why they have songs with titles like “Retard Canard”, then you have missed the point of Born Ruffians, and what makes them so appealing to so many. Say It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. RBiz

Born Ruffians – Oh Man

3. Vampire Weekend – Contra [XL, January 2010]

Vampire Weekends follow up to their fantastic self titled debut couldn’t be more …delightful.Their sound just resonates a simple joy that few others can replicate. With tracks like Cousins and Holiday providing something of the old albums core of rhythm guitar led pop monsters, the majority of Contra shows a steady development of the sound that won the band so many fans; by bringing some arguably better production value and superb use of samples and synths. From the opening tracks xylophone and vocals overture with some classically quirky lyric, you know you are in for a treat. The sound has been overhauled on some tracks such as California English where even a bit of delay and autotune is used to add extra depth to the vocals. Highlights include White Sky which took me by pure surprise on hearing how the song sounded in comparison to their previous work. Run is also a masterful bit of songwriting with some unusually darker undertones running throughout, emphasised by a sinister off key note on the outro of the tune. Special mention also goes to the final song I Think You’re A Contra which definitely grows on you over time. A definitely deserved 3rd place for album of the year. Chris Bingo

Vampire Weekend – White Sky

2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach [Parlophone/Virgin, 3rd March 2010]

With every cultural shift comes an anxiety of impermanence (people said The Beatles would be lucky to release three albums before they were forgotten).  The growing redundancy of physical media has paved the way for a vast, global template of music and this, in turn, has lead to a renewed spirit of impermanence. How admirable it is, therefore, that a mainstay such as Damon Albarn has upheld a vision in the form of Gorillaz.

Plastic Beach represents something of a sea change in this vision. Gone are the cartoon doppelgangers from albums past, with a new level of anonymity being forged in an almost ludicrous smattering of cameos from eclectic pop-stars from all walks of musical life.  All throughout the tracklisting, indie legends are paired up with hip-hop pioneers; a process that feels like an attempt to transcend the notion of genre altogether. It would all threaten to fall apart at the seams if it were not for the compositional genius of Albarn, who marries the tracklisting with some of his finest pieces since Think Tank Blur.

Synthesizers take on interstellar proportions all over Plastic Beach, with their melodies often superseding a need for vocals during chorus sections.  This effect of vast, cosmic space results in the feeling that Plastic Beach is something otherworldly. It is, however, with a spirit of unity that I think Albarn has crafted Plastic Beach, and this mood of transcendence only goes to show that what he has in fact created, is something entirely new. mDilsh

Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill

1. Everything Everything – Man Alive [Geffen, August 2010]

One of the best debut albums that a British band has ever produced.

Hyperbole? Hardly – brave, ambitious and crammed with ideas, Man Alive leaves the competition looking bland and outdated. They are the perfect example for acts in the post-Napster generation – able to integrate a variety of influences and assemble them into a cohesive whole, their music is hard to pigeonhole but for all the right reasons. When EE switch gears from the twitchy energy of ‘Schoolin” to the  Baroque emptiness of ‘Two for Nero’, it always sounds like them , unlike some of their eclectic peers. That has a lot to do with their liberal use of 4 part vocal harmonies, Jonathan’s constant falsetto, savvy use of synths and the generally great musicianship that the band possesses. And their lyrics are something else: at once funny, charming, witty, clever and just plain weird they are constant source of enjoyment. But the best of all their many attributes are their songwriting chops – no two songs are the same, with interesting song arrangements and structures literally everywhere.

For some it is apparently too much – too many ideas, too much music, too much passion. Don’t listen to them – listen to me: this band represent everything that is great about music, and everyone everyone needs to pay attention to these boys. j-diz

Everything Everything – Schoolin’

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