Distilling a full year of furtive, easily distracted, constantly overwhelmed listening down to a mere 10 albums is a ridiculous, agonizing, thoroughly loathsome undertaking, and yet here we all are, pulling nine fully formed sonic universes together and capping it off with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, because that’s what we all did in 2010. Try Warpaint’s morose “Undertow” when you want to feel sorry for yourself, Sleigh Bells’ spectacularly violent “Straight A’s” when you want to feel sorry for whoever you’re about to punch in the face, and the morosely spectacular “Runaway” when you want to feel sorry for, well, Kanye. This was my year, with all the distractions finally, mercifully filtered out.
The-Dream, Love King
Sleigh Bells, Treats
That piercing scream in the middle of “Kids” floors me every time, giddy teenage girls smashing Slayer into Clipse and turning Battle Royale into a comedy, winning the Gender and Loudness Wars with one swing of the blade. The 2010 sonic universe I most want to live in, even if it obliterates my eardrums entirely.
Wolf Parade, Expo 86
My favorite of the Pitchfork-era Canadian indie-rock supergroups, with dense, nefarious prog inclinations and lyrics that make absolutely no sense, except when they do, decrying the frigid loneliness of both outer space and empty nostalgia. Relentlessly tuneful keyboard bloops for days.
Warpaint, The Fool
Joni Mitchell’s fetal-position longing, Moon Pix-era Cat Power’s breathy otherworldliness, and the Slits’ dexterous post-punk propulsion, backing the dual thesis “Nobody ever has to find out what’s in my mind tonight” b/w “Don’t you call anybody else ‘baby.'” Total devastation, in which your awe at how well every cooed vocal, slithering guitar line, and lithe drumbeat fits together is the only thing sustaining your will to live.
I get depressed. I listen to this amniotic, vaguely Anticon-affiliated, lovingly yelped bedroom-pop mini-masterpiece. I feel slightly less depressed, or at least, my depression feels way more romantic and life-affirming. It’s really that simple. And yes, it was brought to you by this guy.
Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
After watching a local Northern Californian goth-pop band totally botch a live version of “Road to Nowhere,” I called them up and offered them $20 out of my own pocket if they promised never to cover Talking Heads again. I am protective. This record proves why — that combination of nervous white-funk percussion and sensitive-indie-guy pathos is deadly in the wrong hands and even deadlier in the right ones. Come for their “Warning Sign,” then, and stay for the half-dozen original songs worthy of it.
Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern
After two impressive but deeply exhausting albums you can basically summarize as NOTESNOTESNOTESNOTESNOTESNOTES, the noise-pop queen of ill-advised trend pieces (song title: “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black”) stops giving you a headache just long enough to give you heartache instead — the unbearably romantic chord changes underscoring “The Things You Notice” are her turning point, the moment the robot learns to feel. Needs more vagina jokes, though.
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor
One sad-sack, smart-ass New Jersey punk mocks his comically oversized self-loathing by blowing it up to yet more absurd, operatic proportions: The Civil War, as soundtracked by Bruce Springsteen, all that blood washed away by a soothing monsoon of absolute narcissism. Listen to him scream, “Tramps like us/Baby we were born to die” and tell him flipping that line is a cliché.
Vampire Weekend, Contra
Smart, witty, sneakily warm Google Earth pop that honors its first-world-problem contradictions by embracing them, throwing better parties (“Cousins”) and giving better hugs (“Giving Up the Gun”). The cover is worth whatever they end up paying for it.
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Consider “Blame Game,” presenting the agony and ecstasy of Kanye West’s 2010 in (relative) miniature: perfectly wrought romantic pathos nearly (but not quite) ruined by Chris Rock ranting endlessly about Pussytown. You love the former, so you tolerate the latter for so long that soon you grow to love that, too. That’s how the douchebags get you.