1. Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Some songs are so good they make you pull over to the side of the road to let them sink in. “Helicopter” is one such song. I’m talking goose bumps on your arms good. And it speaks microcosmically to Halcyon Digest’s effect as a whole. As Carrie Brownstein wrote of this record for NPR: “How can chord progressions make me cry?” Exactly.
2. Janelle Monae, The Archandroid (Bad Boy/Wonadaland Arts Society)
I hate albums that everyone says you have to hear. I’m invariably let down. Not this time, though. This girl is amazing. And she’s a freak, albeit one with vision and ambition. There’s a reason Prince asked her to open up for him on his “Welcome 2 America” tour. You have to hear this album…
3. Sleigh Bells, Treats (Mom + Pop/N.E.E.T.)
Treats wouldn’t be the same record without the blown-out-in-the-red production, and when you add the throwback, 60’s girl-group hooks, Sleigh Bells sounded like no one else in 2010. I was sure I would tire of the schtick after a few listens, but I kept coming back for more. Infectious pop music that decimates your stereo.
4. Weekend – Sports (Slumberland)
A friend of mine texted me out of the blue a few weeks ago that I might like the new Weekend record. Indeed. Ever since, I’ve been borderline obsessed with the opener “Coma Summer.” Harkening back to the dark feedback terror of Psychocandy, Weekend apes its influences with middle fingers blazing, just daring you to call them out on it.
5. Crystal Castles, II (Fiction)
My favorite song of the year is Crystal Castles’ “Not In Love,” featuring vocals by The Cure’s Robert Smith. As I’ve said before, it’s the best thing The Cure hasn’t done in 20 years. Sadly, the album version of that song is nowhere near as good, as Alice Glass’ vocals are buried to the point of being unintelligible. However, the album broadens the scope of Crystal Castles 8-bit assault into a clearer pop vision, still mired in enough anger and dissonance to please early fans.
6. Land of Talk, Cloak & Cipher (Saddle Creek)
Lizzy Powell’s voice slays me enough as it is, so it’s just a bonus that her band writes such sullen, engrossing music. Seriously, Powell has one of those “sing the dictionary” voices; it’s that good. Cuts you to the core. Cloak & Cipher doesn’t match the immediacy of 2008’s Some Are Lakes, but once it sinks its hooks in you’re staying a while.
7. The Magnetic Fields, Realism, Nonesuch
The many (solemn) faces of Stephin Merritt pop up on my shuffling playlist far to often to ignore. Having not been blown away by the past few Magnetic Fields records, I must say Realism reminded my why I adore this gay old misanthrope and his endless bag of bon mots.
8. Laetitia Sadier, The Trip (Drag City)
Lateitia Sadier’s first proper solo album is not too dissimilar from a Monade or Stereolab album, though there are subtle differences. One thing you can’t mistake is Sadier’s voice; it’s a constant comfort. And where this darkly elegiac album succeeds is in showcasing the strength of that voice. No longer is it competing with an onslaught of moogs and noisemakers, straying away from the monochromatic detachment inherent to her tone and emphasizing its empathetic nature.
9. Gauntlet Hair, “Out, Don’t…” 7” (Mexican Summer)
This is the band I’m most excited about from the past year, despite the ridiculously dadaist name. “Out, Don’t…” is a reverb-soaked racket with soaring vocals, shimmering, early 80’s guitars, and explosive, unpredictable percussion that sounds like it was recorded in a cathedral and a bedroom all at once.
10. Zola Jesus, Stridulum EP (Sacred Bones)
Zola Jesus is the Siouxsie and the Banshees that the Swans would listen to. That is to say, the music would scare the shit out of the boys and girls smoking cloves in black drapes and white face paint. Nika Danilova’s voice is the centerpiece of this, the group’s most polished work. And yet, despite the slightly more accessible production, Zola Jesus compromises nothing in terms of its disquieting effect on the listener.
Close calls: No Age, Everything in Between; The Walkmen, Lisbon; Superpitcher, Kilimanjaro; LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening; Gorillaz, Plastic Beach ; Shit Robot, From the Cradle to the Rave; Murder By Death, Good Morning Magpie