9) Sufjan Stevens- The Age Of Adz: Unless he really gets crazy, it's hard to imagine Stevens ever recording another album as divisive and different-from-his-previous-work than The Age Of Adz. Sure, it's not the kind of album I can make it all the way through every time I listen to it, but in this case that's not a bad thing. Whether this more experimental and extroverted/dancing-on-stage-unironically Stevens is here to stay or just a temporary phase a la David Bowie or Beck, I can't say for sure. I hope he sticks with it for at least one more album, though, because I have the feeling he could top this in the same way that Illinois topped Michigan.
8) Sun Kil Moon- Admiral Fell Promises: Ultimately, yes, all of my top ten albums of the year are my opinion. But Admiral Fell Promises is such a personal and specific sort of album that I don't foresee any music sites or magazines having it on their year-end lists. When it comes to an artist like Mark Kozelek, you're either all in or all out, and, well, I am definitely all in. Though the sound of this album was predicted by his recent solo acoustic live albums under his own name, Admiral takes his acoustic guitar mastery to an altogether higher level. Utilizing a hypnotic playing style that's half epic acoustic folk a la Roy Harper and half Latin flamenco guitar (as previewed on earlier tracks like 'Si Paloma' and Red House Painters' 'Cabezon'), this is a rich, dense album that demands your full attention but rewards your patience and, some would say, indulgence every step of the way.
7) Vampire Weekend- Contra: At this point Vampire Weekend have supplanted The Shins as my favorite indie pop band. Oh sure, they're labelled Afro-pop or synth pop or whatever, but at their core they're pure indie pop. By which I mean, catchy, melodic songs and deep hooks that never quite leave you even when you set the album aside for a few months. I had all but forgotten how good this album was until I was going back over 2010 releases to make my list, and damn if it didn't immediately re-earn this spot.
6) Flying Lotus- Cosmogramma: Yeah, OK, here's my token electronic album. Whatever. Cosmogramma straddles the line between glitchy, quixotic electro-whatever and instrumental, jazz influenced hip hop...and sounds way more natural and amazing than that awkward description implies. As the man behind Flying Lotus is related to John Coltrane, it only makes sense that Cosmogramma has a jazz player's flair for repeated motifs and improvisational open-ness. Yet it also shows the keen rhythms and ultra-modern sound/production of electronic music and hip hop to make it unique and its own genre entirely.
5) Frog Eyes- Paul's Tomb: A Triumph: I often wonder when the rest of the world will wake up to the fact that Carey Mercer is a genius. That may seem like strident hyperbole, but I truly mean it. No one in the world makes music like him, whether in Frog Eyes, solo as Blackout Beach, or as part of the 'supergroup' Swan Lake. Anyway, I seem to be amongst the few who prefer Paul's Tomb: A Triumph to their earlier albums, so what do I know, right? Well, I know this is a hell of an album, raging and passionate and dense and demanding. And it's an ass kicker of a guitar rock album. If nothing else, go download 'Flower In A Glove', turn it up just below the “lease breaker” volume level on your stereo, and prepare for greatness. And I'll say this: I never thought about making a Wikipedia page for something before, but it's criminal that Paul's Tomb lacks one. Criminal, I say!
4) Wolf Parade- Expo 86: We're a scattered minority, but there are those of us who think that this band just gets better with each album. Expo 86 was recorded live as a full band in the same room, just as Frog Eyes' Paul's Tomb was, and it somehow has an even more live and full bodied sound than that beast. To put it another way, this is as 'live' as it gets without an audience. The songs all go on for a minute too long, which is to say, they're perfectly played and maximalist in their force and interplay, and therefore also exactly long enough. Expo 86 is one of the best indie rock albums to drive to and leaves me wishing more bands would push their labels to record and release live albums.
3) The National- High Violet: High Violet was the reason I got into this band, and while I now hold both Alligator and Boxer near and dear to my music nerd heart, High Violet is an even more accomplished and enjoyable album. Its darker atmosphere led me to compare it to post-punk and/or trip hop bands, and it does lack levity, not to mention any fast paced or energetic material. Yet I can't hold that against it because High Violet is either the band's first masterpiece or yet another masterpiece, depending on if you've heard their last two albums or not.
2) Beach House- Teen Dream: For the majority of the year, I was certain this would be my top pick. While it didn't win out in the end, it is still an incredible album. As I put it in my review, “Teen Dream is the kind of album that a band builds a reputation on. Everything that is good about this band is at its utmost best here...” I don't imagine they could record a better album...yet I'm dying to hear them try. If it's half as good as Teen Dream, it'll make my list for whatever year it comes out, too.
1) The Walkmen- Lisbon: I'm reluctant to write too much about this choice because I feel like it's the sort of release that more and more people are going to discover as the years go by and curse themselves for not seeking it out sooner. The problem with a band like this is that their music is so disconnected from trends and hype that it's difficult to get other people excited about them without forcing them to sit still and listen a couple times through one of their albums. Still, The Walkmen are highly regarded by critics, fans, and their peers for good reason: Lisbon is a timeless masterpiece that could just as easily have been released in 1972 as it was 2010. Much as I have grown to love this band over the past few months and dig all of their stuff, nothing they've done before touches Lisbon. The band's “only use what is necessary” minimalist finesse and keen songwriting are at their apex here, and their always-just-under-the-surface-and-now-that-you-hear-it-more-prominently-on-Lisbon-you-can-go-back-and-hear-it-in-their-older-stuff surf rock fascination is in full swing. No, it isn't to say it's a surf rock album, as a majestic track like 'While I Shovel The Snow' and the Spoon-like rhythmic grooves of 'All My Great Designs' will attest. But I have no doubt if they did decide to go for a straight surf rock sound, they would knock it out of the park.
Lisbon is the only album this year that came close to Teen Dream, and not only came close but supplanted it. It gives me no end of pleasure to sit here disproving my comments in my review of Bows + Arrows: Lisbon has been showing up on the top slot of some other year end lists, and they did manage to top Bows + Arrows, too.