2010 was an amazing year in music, filled with exceptionally fantastic debuts, stellar follow-ups, and even some long-awaited releases from favorite acts. Compiling this list was harder than figuring out what to ask Santa for this year, and far more than the 20 albums listed here deserve recognition. For that, I direct you to the many other genre-specific lists our writers here at LA Music Blog have compiled over the last few weeks: Top Electronica/Dance and Dubstep Tracks; Top Metal Videos and DVDs; Top LGBTQ Piano, Pop, and Rock Artists; Top Female-Fronted Albums; Top Love Songs; and Top Tracks with Swagger.
As for me, these are the albums I couldn’t live without in 2010.
#10 Lissie – Catching a Tiger
I’ve described Lissie as sounding like the girl who would get you in trouble in high school. You know, the one you couldn’t help but want to skip class with to smoke cigarettes behind the cafeteria? Her voice just has that tone of soulful rebellion, giving off an air of worldliness despite the artist’s youth. Oh and did I mention that this Midwestern girl can really SING? Can’t wait to hear more from her.
If you only listen to one track: “Stranger”
#9 Fitz and the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces
If you haven’t been to a Fitz and the Tantrums show, you haven’t experienced the very best in live music that LA has to offer. The dynamic between vocalists Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs is at the heart of this LA six-piece (complete with horn section), and the Motown-influenced, soulful tracks on their debut full-length make good on the promise of 2009’s Songs for a Breakup Vol. 1 EP.
If you only listen to one track: “L.O.V.”
#8 The Constellations – Southern Gothic
This debut from the Atlanta, Georgia eight-piece goes down as my pick for “Most Underrated Album of 2010.” The genre-spanning collection of tracks on this concept album takes the listener through the seedy streets of Atlanta on a night rife with sex, drugs, and—you guessed it—rock and roll. Did I mention everyone’s favorite spurned lover Cee Lo makes an appearance on the album? Well, he does.
If you only listen to one track: “Love Is A Murder”
#7 Minus the Bear – Omni
2010 was the year I discovered Minus the Bear. I know, I know, this is their fourth full-length and everyone and their (hip) mother has been listening to Minus the Bear for ages, but Omni (the group’s first release on Dangerbird Records) was the album that won my heart. Sue me.
If you only listen to one track: “My Time”
#6 Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
I suspected these guys were something special when they overshadowed White Rabbits as the opening act at El Rey Theatre back in November ’09, and in 2010 they proved me right with their debut album. Full of luscious harmonies, Gorilla Manor feels both nostalgic and modern, and I expect big things from these local boys in the coming years.
If you only listen to one track: “Airplanes”
#5 The Black Keys – Brothers
The blues-rock duo’s highest charting album to date, Brothers has a soul and swagger that is simply indefinable, but think Jimi Hendrix mixed with the feeling you get after a few drinks, when you’re the coolest person in the room. From the opening beat of “Everlasting Light” through the final yearning strains of the guitar on “These Days,” this album had my attention in 2010.
If you only listen to one track: “Tighten Up”
#4 Steel Train – Steel Train
Anytime I was stuck in one of those “What the hell do I want to listen to now?” musical limbos, I found myself putting on this self-titled release from the New Jersey indie rock quintet. It just seemed to always satisfy whatever sonic craving I was experiencing. With influences ranging from Modest Mouse to the Boss, Steel Train is fun, young, catchy, and perfect for any occasion.
If you only listen to one track: “Bullet”
#3 Sleigh Bells – Treats
Treats got me through more sessions on the treadmill than I can count this year (but probably not as many as it should have), and their performance at El Rey Theatre in October was simply electric. I cannot wait to see what the duo of Derek E. Miller (songwriter, guitarist, producer) and Alexis Krauss (vocals) puts out next because this album was noisy, sexy, ballsy perfection from beginning to end. If only it were longer! But then again, I was usually pretty spent by the time the last song finished…
If you only listen to one track: “Infinity Guitars”
#2 Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Five years after Demon Days dropped, Damon Albarn unleashed Gorillaz’ third album, Plastic Beach, on the world, and on behalf of the world, I’d just like to say, “Thank you!” Featuring everyone from Snoop Dogg and Mos Def to Lou Reed and Bobby Womack, the album is intricately composed and full of pop perfection. As I’ve said time and time again since Plastic Beach found its way onto my iPod, if every Gorillaz album is as good as this one, I’ll gladly wait 5 years between releases…but I’d really rather not.
If you only listen to one track: “Superfast Jellyfish”
#1 Mumford and Sons – Sign No More
As my LA Music Blog cohort Mikiel pointed out, the debut from the UK’s Mumford and Sons solidified its place on this list all the way back in January. Twelve months later, I still can’t think of an album with more emotion, musicianship, and passion than Sign No More, and the group’s performance at The Music Box was my favorite live show of the year. I never thought I’d hear a banjo and stand-up bass on KROQ, but that’s the kind of cross-genre appeal this band has. Here’s to Mumford and Sons changing the meaning of “mainstream” in America!
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
These didn’t crack my Top Ten, but they put up a damn good fight.
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Audra Mae – The Happiest Lamb
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo
OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
Neon Trees – Habits
Broken Bells – Broken Bells
Foxy Shazam – Foxy Shazam
The National – High Violet