Under the Radar’s Top 50 Albums of 2010

Dec 20, 2010
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Under the Radar's writers re-listened to many of 2010's notable albums, debated, and then each submitted a list of their Top 20 albums of the year. Those lists were all combined and tallied up to form Under the Radar's master Top 50 albums of 2010 below.

This list also appears in our Year-End/Best of 2010 Issue, which is on stands now (until late-January 2011). That issue also features interviews with many of the artists on our Top 50, including Sufjan Stevens (who's on the cover), Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Avi Buffalo, Beach House, The Black Keys, Caribou, Club 8, Delphic, Rose Elinor Dougall, Gayngs, Lost in the Trees, Janelle Monáe, of Montreal, Owen Pallett, Plants and Animals, Mark Ronson, Sleigh Bells, Tame Impala, Vampire Weekend, Sharon Van Etten, and Yeasayer.

1

Sufjan Stevens

The Age of Adz

Asthmatic Kitty
2010

After years of being a tour guide and putting himself in other people’s shoes, Sufjan Stevens looks inward and finds a wealth of material, as well as a new sound. More electronic, more focused, more muscular, and yet more personal and vulnerable, The Age of Adz shows another side of Stevens. No album better encapsulates our confusing times. By Jim Scott

2

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs

Merge
2010

Win Butler and company find majesty in suburbia and aging—taboo rock subjects turned into one of the most relatable albums in recent memory. Few lyricists can use the first person plural (“We Used to Wait”) to such a welcoming effect. The Suburbs feels like a hug from someone you haven’t seen in a long time. By Jim Scott

3

Beach House

Teen Dream

Sub Pop
2010

Seductive siren calls, tangled organs, and slide guitar swirl and ooze through each song on Teen Dream, the third and most enticing Beach House record. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have always had a way of haunting songs with a plush, autumnal aura, but this time, pulsing beats and percussion bring life to the dreamy landscape. By Danielle Sills

4

Deerhunter

Halcyon Digest

4AD
2010

Vestiges of The Strokes, Stereolab, and author Dennis Cooper waft through the ether like holy ghosts on Halcyon Digest. Bradford Cox wears his influences and heart on his sleeve, but never in a manner that deigns to cheap sentimentality, as exhibited on closer “He Would Have Laughed,” his heartbreakingly poignant tribute to Jay Reatard. By John Everhart

5

Janelle Monáe

The ArchAndroid

Bad Boy/Wondaland Arts Society/Atlantic
2010

Signing to Diddy’s Bad Boy label did nothing to tame outsider soul singer Janelle Monáe’s eccentricities on her full-length debut, a brazenly ambitious art-funk opera with a dense, sci-fi mythology worthy of Isaac Asimov. Monáe’s show-stopping voice sells this material, but it’s her unabashed geekiness that makes it so lovable. By Evan Rytlewski

6

The National

High Violet

4AD
2010

Even without cover stories in Under the Radar and The New York Times Magazine, The National still would’ve been on everyone’s lips this year. Both maudlin and sophisticated, High Violet maintains its last-call buzz all the way through, as the band meets every expectation that Alligator and Boxer thrust upon them. By Aaron Passman

7

Local Natives

Gorilla Manor

Frenchkiss
2010

2010’s most pleasant surprise, the debut by Local Natives shows a remarkable sense of confidence, going full bore for 12 highly melodic tracks without a dip in quality. Matt Frazier often leads the assault with his creative and energetic drumming, but the beauty is in the luscious harmonies. Gorilla Manor doesn’t reinvent the wheel, sounding like a harder-charging Fleet Foxes, but produces a very satisfying ride indeed. By Jim Scott

8

Mark Ronson and The Business Intl.

Record Collection

RCA
2010

Mark Ronson’s aptly titled third full-length plays like the 14 best pop singles you’ve never heard, performed by an eccentric mix of performers that includes the likes of Rose Elinor Dougall, Boy George, Simon Le Bon, and Q-Tip. This is a party you want to join—a bombastic celebration of kitsch-splashed pop that often exceeds even the loftiest dance ambitions. By Laura Studarus

9

The Black Keys

Brothers

Nonesuch
2010

Already a go-to act for hip TV show/commercial soundtracking, The Black Keys finally broke out with the release of Brothers. For their sixth album, the duo pulled off an irresistible hook-up between blues-rock, garage rock, and soul that would have been unthinkable as a hit 10 years ago. By Hays Davis

10

Club 8

The People's Record

Labrador
2010

Swedish duo Club 8 provided an antidote for people’s woes with The People’s Record. After a string of albums offering well-crafted pop pleasures, Karolina Komstedt and Johan Angergård brought in some friends to look well beyond their borders for a giddy mix of Brazilian polyrhythms, Afrobeat, and pure sunshine. By Hays Davis

11

Yeasayer

Odd Blood

Secretly Canadian
2010

Yeasayer transcend their neo-hippie tag on the stunning Odd Blood. A headphone listen reveals nuances evocative of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when astronaut Dave Bowman flies through the sound and wind tunnel and everything blurs into a rush of colors and sounds. It’s that scary. And good. By John Everhart

12

Joanna Newsom

Have One on Me

Drag City
2010

The singer/songwriter/harpist exhibits greater vocal agility and a more direct style of lyric writing on her third album, an expansive triple LP that juxtaposes compact harp-and-voice ballads with winding, eclectically arranged narratives. Piano and percussion are more prominent, while influences range from Faulkner to Joni Mitchell to European folk, making Have One on Me Newsom’s most diverse work yet. By Chris Tinkham

13

Delphic

Acolyte

Dangerbird
2010

The Manchester trio’s debut album Acolyte is a spry salute to youth, filled with cool beats, crisp guitars, and icy synths. Impossibly catchy and impressively cohesive, there’s a party waiting to happen in every one of these 10 tracks. Delphic has aimed high, and hit even higher. By Laura Studarus

14

Sleigh Bells

Treats

Mom+Pop/NEET
2010

Why did people respond to Sleigh Bells? Maybe because if Treats was playing anywhere within earshot, it was inescapable. With guitars set to stun, beats designed to weaken building foundations, and Alexis Kraus’ inviting vocals riding over the top like a siren song, resistance was futile. By Hays Davis

15

Avi Buffalo

Avi Buffalo

Sub Pop
2010

A thesis statement of sorts, Avi Buffalo pay homage to the likes of Wilco, Neil Young, and The Shins throughout their terrific self-titled debut. But they do it without losing touch with the imagination of youth, while still evincing a vulnerable self-awareness that augurs a fine dissertation to come. By John Everhart

16

Twin Shadow

Forget

Terrible
2010

George Lewis Jr., aka Twin Shadow, could write a how-to manual on crafting killer synth hooks. But what really makes Forget resonate is the astounding emotional clarity with which he addresses the deterioration of a relationship, which, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t make himself forget. By John Everhart

17

LCD Soundsystem

This Is Happening

DFA/Virgin
2010

James Murphy and Co. conclude a remarkable trilogy with possibly the strongest of the bunch. With playfully acerbic wit and a heavy heart, This Is Happening does just as much to define the beginning of the decade’s generational gap as it allows us to lose our worries by shuffling our feet to Murphy’s consistently compelling tunes. By Anthony Lombardi

18

Surfer Blood

Astro Coast

Kanine
2010

Announcing itself with a two-chord riff and thunderous drums, Surfer Blood’s debut bursts out of the gate and never looks back, channeling the likes of early Weezer and Built to Spill with big choruses and fuzzy guitars. Top to bottom, Astro Coast never loses steam, always sounding familiar, but never derivative. By Aaron Passman

19

Plants and Animals

La La Land

Secret City
2010

The trio’s last album was one of 2008’s best, but the follow-up is even better, expanding upon the band’s folk-flavored sound with diversity and a rougher edge. The hazy “Swinging Bells” segues into the rhythmically pulsing “American Idol.” “Undone Melody” builds to string-filled catharsis, and “Kon Tiki” is saucy, swinging soul. Plainly, La La Land is Plants and Animals’ masterwork. By Frank Valish

20

Big Boi

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

Def Jam
2010

Too often seen as just the straight man to André 3000 in OutKast, Big Boi reveals himself to be one hell of a court jester on his solo album, a delirious party-rap record that has way too much fun to stop and congratulate itself on how boundary-pushing it is. By Evan Rytlewski

21

The Radio Dept.

Clinging to a Scheme

Labrador
2010

At this point, The Radio Dept. could write the book on indie. The tools are simple: drum machines, strummed guitars, samples, and a disembodied voice so soothing and surprisingly optimistic, you might miss he’s actually telling you about love and labors lost. The result? Another near-classic mediation on the complexity of youthful sadness. By Laura Studarus

22

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

I Learned the Hard Way

Daptone
2010

23

Motorifik

Secret Things

Modern Language Recordings
2010

24

The Love Language

Libraries

Merge
2010

25

Rose Elinor Dougall

Without Why

Scarlett Music
2010

26

Mumford & Sons

Sigh No More

Glassnote
2010

27

Best Coast

Crazy for You

Mexican Summer
2010

28

The Besnard Lakes

Are the Roaring Night

Jagjaguwar
2010

29

Owen Pallett

Heartland

Domino
2010

30

Interpol

Interpol

Matador
2010

31

Jónsi

Go

XL
2010

32

Gorillaz

Plastic Beach

Virgin
2010

33

Vampire Weekend

Contra

XL
2010

34

Caribou

Swim

Merge
2010

35

Sharon Van Etten

epic

Ba Da Bing
2010

36

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Before Today

4AD
2010

37

MGMT

Congratulations

Columbia
2010

38

How to Dress Well

Love Remains

Lefse
2010

39

Grinderman

Grinderman 2

ANTI-
2010

40

The Walkmen

Lisbon

Fat Possum
2010

41

Gayngs

Relayted

Jagjaguwar
2010

42

Glasser

Ring

True Panther
2010

43

Lost in the Trees

All Alone in An Empty House

ANTI-
2010

44

of Montreal

False Priest

Polyvinyl
2010

45

Tame Impala

Innerspeaker

Modular
2010

46

The Tallest Man on Earth

The Wild Hunt

Dead Oceans
2010

47

School of Seven Bells

Disconnect From Desire

Vagrant
2010

48

Broken Social Scene

Forgiveness Rock Record

Arts & Crafts
2010

49

The New Pornographers

Together

Matador
2010

50

Belle and Sebastian

Write About Love

Matador
2010

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