No, Really, Listen Up!

Our critics are still making their picks for the best albums of the year

Because you have an unquenchable thirst for lists this time of year, and because our critics want nothing more than to please you (mmm hmmm), here we present Part 2 of our lists of favorite albums of 2010.

Sean Bottai

(in alphabetical order, except for the first one)

Album of the Year: Robyn, Body Talk (Konichiwa/Cherrytree)

See the review on Page 50.

Avi Buffalo, Avi Buffalo (Sub Pop)

When I first heard Avi Buffalo's debut, I expected to give it a single listen and then move on. Instead, it's stayed on heavy rotation for the better part of the year. This is a gem of a pop record, the kind that begs you to sing along with it. Even better, it is cut through with a sadness that makes its glittery edges shine all the brighter.

Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop)

A dream-pop classic, Teen Dream is made of impossibly wide soundscapes that are warm and vivid, but alien. Victoria Legrand's vocals are androgynously seductive, which only adds to the weirdness.

Born Ruffians, Say It (Warp)

Perhaps to most, a trifle, but to me, Born Ruffians' second album is a mini-masterpiece of frustrated desire mixed with yelping enthusiasm. I haven't been able to stop listening to Luke LaLonde's punk-pastor channeling the Violent Femmes. These songs—"Blood, the Sun and Water," "Oh Man," "Nova-Leigh," "Higher and Higher"—still sound amazing, small-scale gestures that are compressed with lustful hallelujahs.

Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (II) (Universal Motown)

In a year filled with many ballyhooed electro-noise records (Salem and Sleigh Bells, for starters), not a one was better than Crystal Castles' sophomore release. "Birds" is the perfect anti-pop song, with its ColecoVision squelches, grinding guitars and angel-in-a-tornado vocals. On "Year of Silence," '90s-era Wax Trax! industrial folds in upon itself; "Suffocation" filters Cocteau Twins through a Satanic discotheque.

The Drums, The Drums (Downtown)

This year's quintessential summertime record, The Drums' debut is a consummate '80s swirl of reverbed guitars, processed snare hits and thin, throbbing basslines. It's a set of songs about loss and lament, but delivered with pep and cheer—a smiling-through-the-tears kind of record.

The Roots, How I Got Over (Def Jam)

In a year of great hip-hop albums, The Roots stole the show. From the ethereal "Right On" (which features Joanna Newsom, of all people) to the jazzy minimalism on "Now or Never" to the aggressive, stripped-raw bass on "Web 20/20," How I Got Over is a reminder that hip-hop is as vital as it's ever been.

Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge)

Majesty Shredding manages to distill everything that's wonderful about Superchunk into 11 new songs. It's mostly all momentum, from the opening notes on "Digging for Something," with momentary pauses for quasi-balladeering ("Fractures in Plaster," "Hot Tubes"). "Winter Games" is a highlight on an album filled with highlights.

Surfer Blood, Astro Coast (Kanine)

Astro Coast is a great guitar record, from the melancholy drone of "Anchorage" ("I don't wanna spin my wheels / I don't got no wheels to spin") to the fuzzy stomp of "Fast Jabroni" to the Beach Boys-through-a-wind-tunnel grind of "Swim," one of the year's standout tracks.

Yeasayer, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)

It turns out Yeasayer made the sequel to MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, a sprawling psych-pop record, though Yeasayer's signifiers are more rooted in early '80s post-punk/new wave than MGMT's aquatic disco-funk was. From the ballad "Madder Red" (despite that stupid Kristen Bell music video) to the schizophrenic dance-pop number "Love Me Girl," the album is catchy, unsettling and absurdist in equal measure.

Curtis McCrary

Top 13—'cuz it's luckier than a Top 10!

(in no particular order)

Spoon, Transference (Merge)

Another minimalist mini-masterpiece from Spoon, a bit darker and more off-kilter than is typical, which is apropos enough in these dark and off-kilter times.

Aloe Blacc, Good Things (Stones Throw)

The first cut on Good Things, "I Need a Dollar," was the theme song for HBO's awful How to Make It in America dramedy, and the best thing about the show. You are forgiven for thinking Blacc is the second coming of Bill Withers. But would Bill Withers ever have covered the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale"? Methinks not.

Ty Segall, Melted (Goner)

Melted like your face will be after listening to this scorcher, that is. Hat-tip to my main damie Josh for texting me about it.

The Budos Band, The Budos Band III (Daptone)

Superhot instrumental funk, like the J.B.'s something something. No, just like the J.B.'s, and that's awesome.

Drake, Thank Me Later (Cash Money/Universal Motown)

Although Drake is generally not credited with inventing "hashtag rap" (basically removing "like" from rap simile couplets), he is undoubtedly responsible for its 2010 ubiquity. That aside, Thank Me Later is proof of a major new talent.

LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening (DFA/Virgin)

James Murphy can do no wrong in the studio—in this case, the famous Mansion in Laurel Canyon—and Happening is a brilliant coda to an all-too-short canon. Here's hoping he changes his mind about retiring.

Seashell Radio, What Do You Have Against Happiness? (self-released)

Answer: nothing at all. Which is why I love this record.

Harlem, Hippies (Matador)

I'm partial to this band because of the Tucson connection, and also because I stand in solidarity with my fellow Curtis (O'Mara), but even absent any of that, this collection of grimy pop songs belongs on e'rybody's list. Seemingly, it is.

The Black Keys, Brothers (Nonesuch)

The Black Keys make their most accessible album to date, license the shit out of their music, and reap well-deserved accolades and success. One can only hope that they won't be tempted to take their talents to South Beach like the other famous so-and-so from Akron did.

Sleigh Bells, Treats (Mom and Pop)

Fun, inventive, unique and, for some reason, divisive, due to the misguided anti-"hipster" backlash. Haters gonna hate, but remember the corollary: Lovers gonna love.

Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL)

A ripping American rock record like they used to make in Minneapolis. Your move, Hold Steady.

Das Racist, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man (independent release)

Very smart comedo-rap that doesn't descend to the level of piss-take, except on maybe "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" (but that was released in 2008, anyway). This is what multiculturalism is all about, people: rappers of Mexican and Indian ethnicity, who met at Wesleyan, making fun of Dinesh D'Souza over wacky beats.

The Acorn, No Ghost (Bella Union)

People were too busy slavering over The Suburbs to notice that No Ghost was the best album out of Canada this year. Subtly sad, understated pop recorded in the intentionally isolating cabin-in-the-piney-woods style, with predictable effect (or should I say "affect"?).

2010's Best Jams: Cali Swag District, "Teach Me How to Dougie"; Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, "Round and Round"; Far East Movement, "Like a G6"; Charles Hamilton, "Telemundo."

Eric Swedlund

(in order of preference)

1. The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)

Swedish folk firebrand Kristian Matsson plays as if the mainstream rock music of the past 50 years never existed. His songs are organic, elemental and timeless, and whether or not he intends the effect, those songs seem to have sprouted straight from the ground. Perhaps the best description of The Wild Hunt is in "Burden of Tomorrow," as Matsson mythologizes his own origin: "Rumor has it that I wasn't born, I just walked in one frosty morn, into the vision of some vacant mind."

2. The National, High Violet (4AD)

The National's lush darkness takes on a new elegance on High Violet, a record of distilled passion that conveys the sense of coming undone, walking an anxious line toward anything that can serve as catharsis. Singer Matt Berninger is convincing in every pang of sorrow, loneliness and self-doubt that blankets High Violet with a slow-burning intensity.

3. Dr. Dog, Shame, Shame (ANTI-)

The band improved on its idiosyncratic charms with a taut, live-sounding record of endlessly catchy songs. "Shadow People" and "Jackie Wants a Black Eye" have an off-kilter joy despite the songs' exploration of life's rougher times. It's certainly true that keeping the wrong company is a way out of loneliness.

4. Delta Spirit, History From Below (Rounder)

Matt Vasquez sings with an earthy passion that ties together the band's garage and soul elements, but it's his songwriting that distinguishes Delta Spirit's second album. "Vivian" is a love letter from the grave; "Bushwick Blues" captures the propulsive yearning of a romance that's pulling apart; and "Ballad of Vitaly" is pensive storytelling at its best, touching on war, tragedy and redemption.

5. The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

The Montreal band's third record bathes in a sense of apocalyptic doom and still manages to flash moments of beauty. Post-rock and proggy at their edges, the songs awaken slowly but leave in fits of noise, with wild guitar slashes that complement the nightmarish cannonball haze of the album cover.

6. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge)

More of a conventional rock album than its predecessors, The Suburbs is nonetheless evidence that the band is still improving. It's a start-to-finish powerhouse, with songs like "Ready to Start" reaching arena-rock grandeur.

7. Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (Elektra/Asylum)

The brash and eccentric Green can sing with both a demented enthusiasm and a Motown sweetness, and has all of the right instincts on The Lady Killer, a funky, catchy and dance-y neo-soul triumph. What's more, Green turns in the year's best single with the infectious "Fuck You."

8. The Walkmen, Lisbon (Fat Possum)

The band's least-hurried or vigorous album is also its most cohesive and relatable. While not exactly minimalist, Lisbon manages to draw forth more power from a smaller foundation.

9. Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fat Cat)

Singer Scott Hutchison plays the part of a restless journeyman, enthusiastically embracing the dark corners of life, tempered by an unrelenting confidence that matches the band's effortlessly buoyant sound.

10. The Canon Logic, FM Arcade (Lights Camera Wolfgang)

Full of bright harmonies and "oh, oh" choruses, the piano-driven Brooklyn quintet's self-released debut album is the type of rewarding new arrival that reaffirms the joy of seeking out new music year after year.

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