Each year around this time, it seems like every blog serves up their lists of the best albums of the year. I’ve been doing this for awhile too and this year is no different. I think this was a deceptively good year for music and there were plenty of albums that I almost put on the list but couldn’t. So here are albums 25-11. Check back tomorrow for my top ten!
25 Dessa – A Badly Broken Code
Dessa is a member of the Doomtree hip-hop collective in Minneapolis, but when she isn’t collaborating with them she’s writing and performing as a solo artist. This album, her second solo release, showcases her unique grasp of the language and poetry of hip-hop and gives a glimpse into her personal life as well. The opening track, “Children’s Work”, has a great hook and tells of Dessa’s relationship with her younger sibling. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year.
Key tracks: Children’s Work, The Chaconne
24 Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Brian Eno is a busy guy – producing some of the biggest albums of all time and also crafting his own music. With his first solo release since 2005, Eno gets back to some of the styles that made him famous in the late 70’s – namely ambient soundscapes that could be the scores to imaginary films. According to interviews, much of the album was improvised, which makes it that much more impressive that it holds together so well.
Key Tracks: Dust Shuffle, Complex Heaven
23 Gayngs – Relayted
Members from some of the best indie acts of the upper midwest banded together this year to form the supergroup known as Gayngs. Their music is a study in irony and glamour. Drawing from 80’s soft-rock, they produced a record of chill-out songs – all of which are recorded at 69 BPM. While this album could easily have become a parody, it ends up being a really good record. This band had so much buzz going for it earlier this year that it was rumored that Prince was back stage at their show at First Ave ready to join them for a song or two (ultimately deciding they had it under control by themselves).
Key Tracks: The Gaudy Side of Town, The Last Prom on Earth
22 Beach House – Teen Dream
Beach House’s music has been placed in the catagory of “dream pop”, so the title of their new album seemed fitting. The indie duo is known for their excessive reverb and airy vocal lines. This record finds the band growing into their own skin and perfecting the sound of their previous two discs. The reverb is still there, but it seems a little more controlled. The centerpiece of the album is lead singer Victoria Legrand’s vocals – which are just beautiful. This album should win the band many new fans.
Key Tracks: Norway, Lover of Mine
21 Chromeo – Business Casual
This is a band that has been around for a few years, but I just discovered their music this year. Chromeo features David Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel, childhood friends who produce infectious electro-funk dance music. This album snuck up on me and has been a great companion for my drives home from work in the snow. You just can’t get frustrated when you’re nodding your head to these beats.
Key Tracks: Don’t Turn the Lights On, Night by Night
20 School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire
I was saddened to hear that shortly after the release of their 2nd album, this band lost one of it’s members and become a duo. One of the best things about the music of School of Seven Bells is the amazing interplay between the two female voices (sisters Alejandra and Claudia Dehaza), so with one vocalist gone (Claudia) the sound will take a hit. They are at full strength on this album, however, and the eastern rhythms backing up huge guitars and synths make this band a dreamy joy to listen to.
Key Tracks: Windstorm, Dust Devil
19 Spoon – Transference
Britt Daniel’s little indie band has become one of the biggest indie bands around – this album debuted at #4 on the Billboard charts! The punchy and smart lyrics are expertly delivered by Daniel and the music veers more and more into the territory of the experimental (which I really like). The danger of such experimentation is that an album can come out sounding overly processed or produced. I don’t think that’s the case here as the band incorporates their experimentation perfectly with their established style and shows that they are just growing and stretching rather than toying with gadgets because they can.
Key Tracks: The Mystery Zone, Written in Reverse
18 Cloud Cult – Light Chasers
Probably my favorite local band, Cloud Cult was rumored to be breaking up following their last album. Those rumors proved unsubstantiated as the band took a break (so the Minowas could have a baby) and then recorded a brand new album. Light Chasers is more strictly structured than the bands previous albums and has a ceremonial (or even liturgical) organization to it. Familiar themes of spirituality and discovery are here and the music is as euphoric as ever. “You’ll Be Bright” is a fantastic song and “You Were Born” really makes me think of my own son. I feel like I write this every time I review a CC album – but I hope we haven’t heard the last from this great band.
Key Tracks: “The Invocation (Part 1)” – You’ll Be Bright, “The Baby” – You Were Born
17 The Album Leaf – A Chorus of Storytellers
The Album Leaf are a model of consistency. Their music is always perfectly orchestrated and chill. This is another lovely album of post-rock composed of washing guitars, sparkling piano and gentle strings. I love this album for background music while reading or writing and it’s the perfect companions for a rainy spring day.
Key Tracks: Until the Last, Stand Still
16 The New Pornographers – Together
The indie-rock supergroup was back this year with another great release. On this album, the title sets up the fact that the band has also invited a number of other artists to contribute to the group effort. St. Vincent, Beirut and Okkervil River all chip something into the mix. With the already stacked band roster, you would worry that the kitchen must be getting overcrowded with cooks, but the album stays tight and doesn’t feel overblown. A.C. Newman holds the reigns and Neko Case does her best work as part of this band. It’s a fun record to jam to.
Key Tracks: Your Hands (Together), My Shepherd.
15 Menomena – Mines
It’s been a long three years between albums for Menomena. During the break, band members worked on various side projects, but this is the band that gets their best efforts. The unique process that the band uses to piece these songs together results in an album that is so collaborative that it’s hard to decipher what any one member is contributing at any time – the finished songs are so homogeneous and yet so mosaic. This album seems to be an even more mature effort than their last one as the band continues to strive for perfection in their loop-slashing techniques.
Key Tracks: Killemall, BOTE
14 Amiina – Puzzle
Amiina is one of my favorite “secret” bands. Not many people talk about them and that’s a shame because they are insanely talented. After cutting their teeth as Sigur Ros’s backing string quartet, the four women struck out on their own with their minimalistic and diverse music. Playing saws, bells, wine glasses, loops and strings; these women really produce amazing music unlike any you’ve heard. With this new LP they have added two more to their group and their sound has grown slightly bigger while still maintaining the intimate tones. If you want some lovely and sometimes quirky chamber music – check out Amiina.
Key Tracks: Ásinn, What Are We Waiting For?
13 Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
It’s been five years since the last record from Canada’s premiere indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene. With member numbers at an all time high, the band decided to really let their sound swell on this album and it sounds amazing. I have to say that “All to All” is definitely one of my favorite songs of the year. And the build up of “Chase Scene” gets me every time. I just love picturing this large group of musicians getting together to see what they can do to bring out the best in each other.
Key Tracks: All to All, Chase Scene
12 Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard
Another great Minneapolis-based musician! The Twin Cities really put out some great music this year. Jeremy Messersmith is turning into one of the best acts in the area with his charming indie-pop. His flawless tenor paired with his compositional skills result in lovely sing-along music. This album shows that he’s always expanding his sound with more and more songs featuring string ensembles (which I’m a sucker for). Later in 2010, Messersmith released a single entitled “Tattooine” and the video has become a viral sensation. Perhaps Jeremy is poised for some mass media recognition!
Key Tracks: Violet!, John the Determinist
11 Vampire Weekend – Contra
This was one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Following the hype surrounding their first LP, would the band be able to capitalize on the fame and deliver another good album or would they succumb to the “sophomore slump”? The answer is definitely the former. VW produced a great record that perfectly builds upon the groundwork laid in their first release. Denser arrangements back up their (now signature) punchy and smart lyrics. And now they can join the club of indie-bands who sell their songs to be overplayed in commercials since “Holiday” has been ubiquitous these last few weeks. They’ve arrived!
Key Tracks: Giving Up the Gun, Cousins