FEATURE: Starting the Decade in Style: Part IV/V: The Finest Albums of 2010




Starting the Decade in Style


PHOTO CREDIT: @alexiby/Unsplash 

Part IV/V: The Finest Albums of 2010


THE reason I am putting together this feature…


PHOTO CREDIT: @guillaume_t/Unsplash

is to shine a light on the albums that started a decade with a huge deceleration. I feel it is hard to define what a decade is about and how it evolves but the first and last years are crucial – I have already looked at decade-ending albums. I am bringing to life this feature that celebrates albums that opened a decade with a mighty amount of quality and gave inspiration to those who followed. In this fourth part, I am focusing on 2010 and the best ten records from the year. Many assume music sort of peaked before 2010 but, as the list shows, there were some truly wonderful albums coming out. I have chosen a selection of them but, if you need reassurance the 2010s was going to begin with a real explosion, then here is all....


 PHOTO CREDIT: @mensroom/Unsplash

THE proof you need.



LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening


Release Date: 17th May, 2010

Labels: DFA/Parlophone/Virgin


Perhaps the rumor that this is his last LCD album is behind that newfound urgency. If true, it’s a shame, as the band’s Krautrock/Talking Heads-funk fusion has never sounded livelier. (Here, it’s doused in the blaring, off-key synths and jet-engine guitars of Bowie’s Berlin period.) And with the exception of the plodding, “Nightclubbing”-nicking “Someone’s Calling Me,” it never fails to yield satisfying new discoveries. But even if, as Murphy sings, his own “desire for discovery has been used up,” at least he’s given us three great albums to help us keep discovering each other” – The A.V. Club     

Standout Track: Dance Yrself Clean

Arcade Fire The Suburbs


Release Date: 2nd August, 2010

Labels: Merge/City Slang/Mercury


The anxieties of Neon Bible still lurk in some of these songs – the unease of the "Modern Man" is rendered with the deceptive naivety of Talking Heads, and the futile search for "the places we used to play" in "Sprawl 1 (Flatland)" is beautifully evoked by shimmering strings. But part of the band's appeal derives from its ability to balance music and emotions in poised equilibrium while grasping confidently for the future, so the misgivings are forever being swept aside by hope.

Playing the character of a trapped suburbanite with unfulfilled dreams, Regine Chassenet sings in "Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" about how "these days my life, I feel it has no purpose; but late at night these feelings swim to the surface". As if to suggest those lurking ambitions, it's sung over cycling synthesisers, in the manner of some self-assertive Euro electro-diva. Despite it all, she will survive” – The Independent  

Standout Track: Ready to Start

John Grant Queen of Denmark


Release Date: 19th April, 2010

Label: Bella Union


Backed by superfans Midlake, these are songs of impossible love, near-suicide and redemption, with an air of vastness and contemplation recalling Dennis Wilson's masterpiece, Pacific Ocean Blue. With pianos and flutes, songs such as I Wanna Go to Marz and Where Dreams Go to Die combine a surreal, David Lynch, sideways look at capitalist America with choruses most artists could only dream about. The jauntier Silver Platter Club and JC Hates Faggots brutally poke fun at rich jocks and Grant's time as a gay child in a religious household respectively. But the emotionally wringing ballads – the witheringly honest Queen of Denmark and Jeff Buckleyesque Caramel – most suggest a man whose time has come” – The Guardian

Standout Track: Caramel                                

Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can


Release Date: 22nd March, 2010

Label: Virgin


The new Marling is darker and more sophisticated. She opens proceedings with a drunken, midnight maypole dance of a song. Devil’s Spoke builds from a shadowy portrait of pastoral loneliness into an increasingly frenzied, banjo-spun romance ending with lovers “eye to eye, nose to nose/ripping off each others clothes in a most peculiar way”. Whereas so much music coming from the “nu-folk” scene sounds like nature recollected in safety, by the glowing fire of some Olde Taverne, Marling’s sounds starkly exposed to the English elements. Her songs are simple yet complex, weird but quotidien like hedgerows – twisted, full of thorns, fruit, life and death. You can hear a thrill at the savagery as well as the sweetness of our landscape in the unflinching alto that sings: “I’ll never love England more than when covered in snow.”

Many of the songs struggle with Marling’s conflicted yearning for both traditional monogamy and unfettered independence. “I tried to be a girl who likes to be used,” she sings on Goodbye England, “I’m too good for that/ There’s a mind under this hat.” Elsewhere she gazes back into Greek mythology for female companionship, addressing the marriage goddess Hera and conjuring the spirit of Odysseus’ patient wife Penelope. I Speak Because I Can is my favourite release of the year so far – and certainly an album worth sailing home for” – The Telegraph

Standout Track: Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)

The National High Violet


Release Date: 10th May, 2010 

Label: 4AD


Less outwardly aggressive than even the relatively restrained Boxer, and yet big and grand enough to fill the large theaters The National finally occupy after spending a decade slowly building an audience, High Violet is carefully considered without being labored, richly detailed without being fussy. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Anyone’s Ghost” satisfy the band’s quota of driving, brooding pop songs, but the breathtaking “England” rises to an unprecedented climax that puts the band squarely in Arcade Fire territory. “Afraid Of Everyone” is another landmark for The National, with Berninger taking on a potentially trite subject—being a new father—and making listeners feel the sledgehammer pounding of a scared (but committed) man’s heart. With High Violet, The National has graduated from being a critic’s band. Now it belongs to everyone” – The A.V. Club

Standout Track: Bloodbuzz Ohio

Robyn Body Talk


Release Date: 22nd November, 2010

Label: Konichiwa


Sweden has long punched above its weight with music, but Robyn deserves a special spotlight. Swedish House Mafia are mangling early ’90s dance and setting it as the solid cornerstone of today’s UK pop-rap phenomenon; their sound is merely Robyn turned up with added oldskool sentiment. Production hype will come and go; Robyn knows when and how to associate with it, but then she leaves it behind.

She has done cuddly R&B and now she’s grown into a manga pop star. However the sound of today evolves, she’ll do it first and keep rolling. Body Talk shows just how easily she can churn out hits more frequently than labels can process production teams. Robyn deserves her success. As Body Talk (Part Three) ends with the lyrics “You and me together/Stars forever” to a bouncing house beat, it’s impossible to think of a better pop communicator for our time” – musicOMH

Standout Track: Dancing on My Own

Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Release Date: 22nd November, 2010

Labels: Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella


The contrast in “Devil in a New Dress,” featuring Rick Ross, is of a different sort; a throwback soul production provided by the Smokey Robinson-sampling Bink, it’s as gorgeous as any of West’s own early work, yet it’s marred by an aimless instrumental stretch, roughly 90 seconds in length, that involves some incongruent electric guitar flame-out. Even less explicable is the last third of the nine-minute “Runaway,” when West blows into a device and comes out sounding something like a muffled, bristly version of Robert Fripp's guitar. The only thing that remains unchanged is West’s lyrical accuracy; for every rhyme that stuns, there’s one deserving of mockery from any given contestant off the The White Rapper Show. As the ego and ambition swells, so does the appeal, the repulsiveness, and -- most importantly -- the ingenuity. Whether loved or loathed, fully enjoyed or merely admired, this album should be regarded as a deeply fascinating accomplishment” – AllMusic    

Standout Track: Dark Fantasy

Deerhunter Halcyon Digest


Release Date: 28th September, 2010

Label: 4AD


The topical ground covered here is inspired, too: "Revival", a sort of Southern gothic folk-rock baptism, embraces religion. "I'm saved, I'm saved!" Cox exalts, "I felt his presence heal me." Recorded to four-track, "Basement Scene" "dream[s] a little dream" that soon turns nightmarish: "I don't wanna get old" quickly becomes "I wanna get old" as Cox weighs the alternative. And first single "Helicopter" is a beautifully watery electro-acoustic farewell that uses a tragic Dennis Cooper story about a Russian prostitute (graciously reprinted in the liner notes) to support its emotional bleakness”– Pitchfork

Standout Track: Fountain Stairs

Vampire Weekend Contra


Release Date: 11th January, 2010  

Label: XL


The band’s longest-ever song, ‘Diplomat’s Son’, mixes dancehall reggae, Tetris bleeps and MIA’s vocals (hypnotically sampled from ‘Kala’’s ‘Hussel’), all of which beautifully underscores a sprawling narrative of love and double-crossing, played out against the backdrop of the US’ similarly convoluted overtures towards Nicaragua’s Contra rebels back in the early ’80s. ‘I Think UR A Contra’ wraps things up with a hymnal warning about the dangers of needlessly stirring up raw emotions.

It’s fair to say that with so much going on ‘Contra’ is much less immediate than its predecessor, requiring a bit of patience to uncover its true shades, contours and charm. But it’s certainly worth sticking with, because with their second album Vampire Weekend have escaped their collegiate niche without sacrificing their true essence. Two more years, and they can do it all over again. No problem
” – NME      

Standout Track: Holiday

Beach House Teen Dream


Release Date: 26th January, 2010

Label: Sub Pop


The songwriting is also more focused, using Devotion songs such as “You Came to Me” and “Heart of Chambers” as templates for the album's elegant longing. Like Teen Dream's title, these songs are wry and wise enough to know better about idealizing love, and romantic enough to still believe in it. “Zebra” positively swoons, while “Walk in the Park,” with its graceful coda and chorus lament “In a matter of time/it will slip from my mind/In and out of my life/you would slip from my mind,” makes losing sound beautiful, even if it's anything but a walk in the park. Despite the wintry sorrow that dominates Teen Dream and songs like “Used to Be” and “Better Times," in particular, Beach House lets a little hope into the album before it closes with “10 Mile Stereo” and “Real Love.” Though it's not as eclectic and whimsical as their earlier work, Teen Dream is some of their most beautiful music, and reaffirms that they're the among the best purveyors of languidly lovelorn songs since Mazzy Star” – AllMusic

Standout Track: Silver Soul