Top CDs of 2010 | Brett Berliner

High Violet is one of the most stunningly beautiful albums I’ve heard in my lifetime.



1. The National | High Violet (4AD)
Not a shock to anyone who’s talked to me about music this year. Yes, it’s dark and moody, yes, it’s sad, but good lord, High Violet is one of the most stunningly beautiful albums I’ve heard in my lifetime. Matt Berninger has burned a lot of rough edges off of his voice and made it just perfect, and songs like “Afraid of Everyone,” “Terrible Love” and “Sorrow” will stick with you for weeks. And even when The National goes up-tempo (for them) on “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Anyone’s Ghost,” they still do it better than anyone else. High Violet is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
2. Kanye West | My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella)
Poor Big Boi. In almost any year, he has by far the best hip-hop album, but Kanye had to trump him—in late November, no less—with this absolute classic. As I mentioned in my individual review, it’s not quite perfect, but it fits together so well and sounds like nothing else on the planet for the vast majority of the album.
3. Big Boi | Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
My feelings on Big Boi over Andre are simple: Just check my iPod for plays of Speakerboxxx vs. The Love Below. As a result, the fact that this album is excellent wasn’t as big of a surprise to me. What is a surprise is that the influences are all over the place here, and instead of providing something jumbling, they provide a new sound for one of the best hip-hop albums in years.
4. Arcade Fire | The Suburbs (Merge)
I didn’t find their last effort, Neon Bible, as disappointing as many did, but this is much closer in terms of quality to Funeral. It’s much more accessible and straightforward than their first two albums, and quite frankly, it rocks. Like their last two, they hop around styles and genres effortlessly, but always impart their influence just the right amount. A can’t-miss in every sense of the word.
5. Vampire Weekend | Contra (XL)
I know that not everyone agreed with my take on their debut, so it should come as no shock if I’ve rated this higher than most. I just think it’s a really awesome step up from their debut, a collection of ridiculously catchy beat utilizing every instrument on the planet. In addition, Ezra Koenig takes a major step up vocally and stylistically, and absolutely takes control. It will be interesting to see if they can keep it up, but for now, bravo.
6. The Roots | How I Got Over (Def Jam)
I don’t understand how this got missed. Maybe it was lack of support, maybe lack of a hit single. Either way, I’m not happy about it. I think sometimes consistency and regularity can be a bad thing in music, as it leads to higher expectations and something truly classic can be missed as a result. But this is the best Roots album since Things Fall Apart, an incredibly diverse effort that’s truly worthy of praise. I’m not sure I would have ever expected to say, “Did you hear the new Roots song with Joanna Newsome? It’s awesome.” It’s just sad that it got missed by the masses.
7. Deer Hunter | Halcyon Digest (4AD)
I wasn’t prepared for this one as it was my first (but not last) exposure to the group, but wow, just a stomach punch of an album. On the surface, it’s a peaceful, mostly acoustic album, nothing too jarring. But listening deeper to the lyrics and the music, it’s an album that will absolutely haunt you and stick with you, even if you don’t exactly understand what it means. Much of it feels like a poem or a dream, and it’s really just a strong record. I have trouble many times with music so abstract, and it took me a few listens, but once it hit, it stayed in my rotation for weeks and probably a lifetime.
8. Black Keys | Brothers (Nonesuch)
Haters will say that it’s too similar to their previous work, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing. No, introducing additional instruments to their tracks isn’t revolutionary, but it provides just the necessary punch to keep it fresh. Who am I to complain if they keep up the quality?
9. Gorillaz | Plastic Beach (Virgin)
Easily the best album in the Gorillaz’ already strong catalog, it never wears out due to its diversity, creativity and varied cast of characters. It’s a strong record that will have a place in my rotation for quite some time.
10. Broken Bells | Broken Bells (Columbia)
This was a definite shock; although I enjoy a good side project, you generally don’t see such solid, new sound from one. Sound can be difficult—it’s hard to cultivate something truly new, and this is a damn good attempt at one, stepping majorly outside the comfort zone for both James Mercer and Danger Mouse while creating a tight, listenable experience.
11. Titus Andronicus | The Monitor (XL)
The influences here are clear: Irish folk music, Sonic Youth, even sporting event chants. It really blends together nicely to deliver something rare: a unique experience, one that’s equally likely to make you nod your head, sing along or get up and smash something. It’s a really excellent record, but at 65 minutes, a bit more of a commitment at times than I am ready to make. But there’s not a bad moment lurking here, and it’s worthy of giving it a shot if you haven’t already.
12. Sleigh Bells | Treats (Mom + Pop / N.E.E.T.)
I’m not sure how to describe this album, but I’ll try: Absolutely, utterly and completely original, incredibly intricate, hauntingly beautiful and ridiculous at the same time. It sometimes delves too much into just being crazy noise, but it has me salivating for their next release, while never leaving my rotation.
13. Grinderman | Grinderman 2 (Anti-)
The best compliment I can give Grinderman 2 isthat it’s one of the most seedy and vile-sounding albums I’ve ever heard, without being explicit. Nick Cave is fantastic here, howling, barking and crooning, fitting in perfectly with the awesome melodies. It’s very different from anything Cave has released with the Bad Seeds, but of a similar quality, earning it listen after listen without getting old.
14. Various Artists | Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Original Soundtrack (ABKCO)
lthough I’m not a big soundtrack guy, I can’t deny that this one uses a perfect blend of known classics, up-and-coming artists and original material perfectly. The real victory is in the fictional artist’s tracks, such as Beck’s work for Sex Bob-omb and the absolute home run from Metric, “Black Sheep.” Not just a good soundtrack, it’s ultimately a great album.
15. Devo | Something for Everybody (Warner Bros.)
It’s hard to believe that a band can release their first album in 20 years, keep their style and still sound relevant, but I don’t think anyone’s shocked that Devo can. There’s nothing drastically different here, but the few changes they do make keep this record sounding like a 2010 version of Freedom of Choice and an absolute joy to listen to.
16. LCD Soundsystem | This Is Happening (Virgin/Parlaphone)
Considering how good Sound of Silver is, I just can’t ignore that when rating this album. It’s still excellent —a lot more angry but still danceable and solid. But it just doesn’t have anything close to as catchy as “North American Scum” or classic as “All My Friends.” A great record for fans of the band, but it’s just not quite as good, and the fact is, I’d still rather listen to Sound of Silver anytime.
17. Broken Social Scene | Forgiveness Record Record (Arts & Crafts)
This is a pretty big step up in terms of focus. Some of the earlier BSS works suffer from being difficult to get into, and I think their brilliance shines here while creating much more easily accessible rock. It isn’t quite their best effort, but it is easily the one with the widest appeal and it’s still really damn good.
18. Surfer Blood | Astro Coast (Kanine)
The best compliment I can give Surfer Blood is they remind me of a much simpler time, when I could turn my brain off and enjoy music. The throwback themes here never seem rehashed, as they try many new things, but Astro Coast is elegant in its simplicity, undeniably catchy and an impressive debut.
19. Crystal Castles | Crystal Castles (Fiction/Last Gang)
As excellent as their debut was, this is a huge step forward. It’s much more focused, melodic and artistic as opposed to their past work, which is at times a bit much. While there’s a place in my heart for the original Crystal Castles, they keep the sequel from being stagnant by developing their sound much further than I would have expected.
20. Beach House | Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
I don’t usually end up getting so into music that’s so spacey or sad, let alone both, but Victoria Legrand’s voice is almost impossible not to fall in love with. Their style is just awesome as they do an excellent job of keeping you engaged in every moment of every track with their intricacy and attention to detail, something that spacey pop music like this doesn’t always has.
21. Sufjan Stevens | Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
Absolutely shocking. Never could exactly get into Sufjan, but that was before he completely changed his sound and kind of lost it. I can really appreciate an album that sounds a lot like a mental breakdown, but also perfectly planned at the same time has a spot on any list I write.
22. Spoon | Transference (Merge)
This one baffles me: People love Spoon but clamor for Britt Daniel to show more emotion. Then, when they write their angriest album, it gets looked over. It’s a shame, as this should be getting more love than it got.
23. Yeasayer | Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian)
Inconsistency must be noted when discussing this record, but few albums come packed with such amazing tracks as “ONE,” “Ambling Alp” and my favorite, “Madder Red.” Worth the purchase just for the 75% of the album that works perfectly.
24. Blood Red Shoes | Fire Like This (V2)
I find it hard to believe they haven’t broken out in America yet, but maybe the quality of their second effort will help. Their trademark infectious energy is enhanced here with a bit more epic tones than the duo brought last time, and it fits together nicely.
25. Rihanna | Loud (Def Jam/Roc Nation)
Although there’s nothing on here quite as good in terms of singles as “Rude Boy” or “Take a Bow,” this is her best album by far. As expected, it’s unbelievably catchy, but she takes a step up in her content choice and themes and delivers a shockingly bold album.
26. Hot Chip | One Life Stand (Astralwerks)
27. Ghostface Killah/Method Man/Raekwon | Wu-Massacre (Def Jam)
28. Foals | Total Life Forever (Sub Pop)
29. John Legend & The Roots | Wake Up! (Columbia)
30. Drake | Thank Me Later (Young Money Entertainment)
| Brett Berliner


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