Management undoubtedly will hold up my bonus if I don't publish my 2010 Top 20 soon, so here it goes:
1. Orange Juice, "Coals to Newcastle" -- This isn't a greatest hits collection, it is an "everything they've ever done" collection. The group is an indie rock icon and an inspiration for many who followed. Is there a negative? Yes -- it is expensive. The silver lining is that your purchase will never be outdated by a subsequent package, because there is no more.
2. Frightened Rabbit, "The Winter Of Mixed Drinks" -- More mature and cheerier than the prior album, and with higher production values. Not everyone liked it better, but for my ears it still is a top album and I'm listening to it regularly many months after purchase. As for the tone of the songs, I've not going to blame a songwriter for finding potential redemption after pouring desperation and cynicism out in prior albums.
3. The Radio Dept., "Clinging to A Scheme" -- This album is pretty much perfect Scandinavian guitar pop to my ears. In their comfort zone, this band has the complete package of songwriting, hooks and delivery. They won't bowl you over with blasts of noise or gritty rock riffs, but they deliver matchless music.
4. Girls, "Broken Dreams Club" -- I love the sound this band produces, and only worry that to satisfy me that much they must be living inside my head. While only an EP, I think it is good enough to justify inclusion on the list of top albums for the year.
5. Kid Canaveral, "Shouting At Wildlife" -- Widely acclaimed in their native Scotland, I think they are virtually unknown on this side of the pond. And that is a shame, because they are a very good indie pop/rock band. Their music has the hooks, flourishes and, when needed, muscle, while their lyrics are actually worth hearing. There will be a proper review with links on this site in the near future.
6. Surf City, "Kudos" -- In 2009 I bought an import EP from a New Zealand band called Surf City. I loved the touchstones of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Surfer riffs and shoegaze (Surfgaze, anyone?), and didn't mind the somewhat casual approach to the lyrics and vocals. I must admit that it occurred to me that I might never hear from them again. I'm thrilled to report that Kudos builds on the EP with a smashing full set of songs that seem more mature, but just as vibrant and exciting. That Kudos didn't receive more attention in 2010 is a shame. Correct it--get a copy.
7. The Henry Clay People, "Somewhere On The Golden Coast" -- I was early on the bandwagon for The Henry Clay People, and nothing since has pushed me off. To my ears this album has a bit more guitar muscle than the first two albums, but that's not a development I'll complain about. In terms of genre, I'd say its a well executed mixture of bar band, Pavement, and The Replacements.
8. Avi Buffalo, "Avi Buffalo" -- Excellent tunesmithing and guitar playing and an interesting back story. I consider this group one of the finds of the year, and I hope to be hearing new things from them for years to come. Some folks compared them to the Shins, but frankly, I don't think any in The Shins (and I like The Shins a lot) can hang with Avi on the guitar. Mercer may write better lyrics, but he's been at it for more than a decade longer.
9. Jonsi, "So" -- I'm not a big Sigur Ros fan, but this album pleasantly surprised me with its sonic breadth and upbeat tone.
10. Beach House, "Teen Dream" -- I went around in circles about this album. I first heard a few songs, and liked them. But I also concluded that I wouldn't be interested in a full album of dream pop performed at that tempo. Accordingly, I entered the album on my running list of contenders for the year and expected it to get knocked down. I am surprised at this point to write that in a year that contained a lot of quality music, I still rate this album pretty highly. Less surprising is that a couple of the songs are on my playlist of favorite songs of the year.
11. Yeasayer, Odd Blood
12. Vampire Weekend, Contra
13. Surfer Blood, Astro Coast
14. The Young Evils, Enchanted Chapel
15. The Drums, The Drums
16. Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
17. The High Dials, Anthems for A Doomed Youth
18. She & Him, Volume Two
19. Perfume Genius, Learning
20. Tame Impala, Innerspeaker