The Mostly Armless Top 50 Albums of 2010 – The Top Ten

Update: I have done a Spotify playlist of a track from each of the 50 (where available) here.

10. The National – High Violet
I only discovered The National when I heard their last album “Boxer” and subsequently went on a mission to devour everything they’d produced up to that point! Through this act I decided that their output had increased in quality with every release (although “Alligator” and “Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers” tend to swap places in my affections now and again). So I was excited to hear “High Violet” when it was released and after a few listens I decided this was up there with “Boxer”, Matt Berninger’s dour baritone again contrasting but complimenting the hum-along melodies. I am not one of those people who dissect lyrics, in the main I’m not usually that bothered with what an artist is singing, but with The National I do find myself wondering what certain cryptic couplets mean, “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees/I’ll never marry but Ohio don’t remember me” (Bloodbuzz Ohio), “You and your sister live in a Lemonworld” (Lemonworld), “I was afraid I’d eat your brains” (Conversation 16). Whatever they mean, they and everything else make this album pretty special.

Listen, Look, Buy

9. Kvelertak – Kvelertak
In the field of music fandom there is little to beat that feeling of discovering something, not only new, but incredibly invigorating to the point it feels like someone’s thrown a bucket of cold water in your face! Which is similar to how I felt when I checked out the video to single “Mjรธd” by Norwegian band Kvelertak, if I hadn’t been leaping around the room like my arse was on fire, my jaw would have been well and truly on the floor! This “black ‘n’ roll” band, as they have been christened, fuse black metal style screamed/shouted vocals with a rock melody and pounding beats, as I said, a recipe for leaping around like an idiot! As with The National their lyrics are again quite impenetrable but in this case that’s due to me not speaking any Norwegian, but I believe their name means “stranglehold” and “Mjรธd” means “Mead”. As for comparisons the only one for me that comes across is Turbonegro, they are Norwegian and have a similar tempo and style with regards to melody and beat but that’s where the likenesses stop, Kvelertak sound far more serious, I can’t imagine them turning up on stage in sailor suits, fur coats and elbow length black rubber gloves as I saw Turbonegro do! ๐Ÿ™‚

Listen, Look, Buy

8. Wild Nothing – Gemini
One of the most summery albums I heard this year, even listening now with 6″ of snow outside its dreamy, shoegazey pop still evokes balmy summer evenings (not that we got many of them this year here in the UK!). Wild Nothing is effectively a one man band otherwise known as Jack Tatum, after playing in various bands he starting recording under the name Wild Nothing in 2009. His brand of lush dream-pop has contemporaries in bands such as M83, Asobi Seksu, Blonde Redhead and Maps and is successfully riding the current wave of artists looking to late 80s/early 90s bands such as Lush, Ride and Slowdive for inspiration.

Listen, Look, Buy

7. Caribou – Swim
Like Wild Nothing above, Caribou is basically one guy, Dan Snaith from Ontario. Earlier making music under the moniker Manitoba until he was forced to change to Caribou following legal threats by Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba frontman of The Dictators (no, me neither), as Snaith himself said “it’s a bit like The Smiths suing John Smith or something”. Anyway, through his four previous albums as both Manitoba and Caribou he has altered his style each time, going all Krautrock on album “The Milk of Human Kindness” and getting a bit more hands-in-the-air dancy on “Swim”, his breathy vocals almost getting lost in the insistent beats of opener “Odessa”. Having seen them live a couple of weeks ago at The Brudenell I must also give props to the rest of his band, I’ve been trying (and failing) to find out the name of the drummer he had with him as he was flippin’ amazing!
Listen, Look, Buy

Caribou @ The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 22/11/10

6. Her Name Is Calla – The Quiet Lamb
There are some albums you can just dip into, listen to a couple of favourite tracks and move on, Her Name Is Calla’s full length debut proper is not one of these albums. You need to set aside some time and immerse yourself in it for its full 80 minute length to fully appreciate it. I first saw HNIC supporting I Like Trains at The Cockpit in Leeds in 2007 and it’s fair to say they blew me away, on the one hand I was impressed at the confidence and audacity of a support band to perform the 17 minute long opus that is “Condor & River” (included here as centre piece, although re-recorded and tweaked), and on the other hand, well just impressed. Following on from their “mini” album The Heritage (still clocking in at 51 minutes) they went on indefinite hiatus following main songwriter and vocalist Tom Morris’s breakdown, leading to many thinking that it may all be over before it truly began. Then this year we finally saw the release of “The Quiet Lamb”, the culmination of everything they’d been working towards. It is an epic record, leading the listener through heart-rending emotional songs such as “Pour More Oil”, the delicate plucked strings on “Long Grass”, the almost Thom Yorke sounding “Thief”, the 17 minute post-rock odyssey that is the aforementioned “Condor & River”, all the way to the three part closer “The Union”, containing a full on five minute noise break of squealing guitar feedback, a suitably epic (there’s that word again, it’s unavoidable with this band!) symphony to round off this really rather beautiful piece of music making.

Listen, Look, Buy

5. Crippled Black Phoenix – I, Vigilante
Third album by the UK post-rock supergroup, a mini-album by their standards, clocking in at a mere 48 minutes! Kicking off with a sample from the film “The Young Poisoners Handbook” the song “Troublemaker” has more in common with Pink Floyd than some of their other post-rock contemporaries. In fact labelling them as solely post-rock is wrong, there are a myriad of other styles in this album making it pointless to try and shoehorn it into one particular pigeon hole. Although track “We Forgotten Who We Are” is possibly my favourite on here, the real jewel of this album is “Bostogne Blues” a 12 minute post-rock epic that begins with a recording of a WWII veteran re-telling an emotional story of how he is still haunted by having to shoot a young German soldier who was advancing on his position. Rounding off the album are two cover versions, “Of A Lifetime”, a brilliant cover of a track by 70s soft-rockers Journey and a rather odd choice of “Burning Bridges” which on further digging is the theme tune to “Kelly’s Heroes”.

Listen, Look, Buy

4. North Atlantic Oscillation – Grappling Hooks
I’ve been racking my brains and I can’t remember for the life of me what drove me to get this album! I saw them supporting Explosions in the Sky last September but at the time I don’t remember being particularly grabbed by them. Well, whatever it was I’m glad I got it, the Edinburgh band’s debut sees them producing an album of tunes that have echoes of Grandaddy or latter day Flaming Lips, their rockier tracks channeling fellow countrymen The Phantom Band and even Biffy Clyro. The Grandaddy comparison is most startling on track Some Blue Hive which could have been tacked onto the end of “The Sophtware Slump” and no-one would have noticed! If that sounds like a criticism I didn’t intend it to, this album is full of great tunes that just don’t conform to one direction or another, just when you’re thinking they sound like one thing the next track veers off into other territory. I think it’s a real shame that this album hasn’t propelled them into the big time as Grappling Hooks is aptly named, full of memorable hooks and great tunes!

Listen, Look, Buy

3. Deftones – Diamond Eyes
Deftones were planning on releasing an album in 2009 that was going to be called “Eros” for which they had a fair bit of material written and recorded when bassist Chi Cheng had a serious car accident in Nov 2008 leaving him in a coma or minimally conscious state. Partly due to this, in 2009 they decided to delay “Eros” indefinitely, leading to “Diamond Eyes” being released in May this year and for me it is their most blisteringly great album since 2000’s “White Pony”. Somehow they have managed to record an album that has brutality (Rocket Skates) and beauty (This Place is Death) side by side and often in the space of the same track, Chino Moreno’s alternately crooning and screaming vocals coruscating through each. After having their plans so tragically shaken up it says something that an album this consistently ace can be then written, recorded and released in such a relatively short space of time (none of the tracks on here were written for “Eros”), I can’t help but wonder what “Eros” might have been like had fate not intervened.

Listen, Look, Buy

2. Benoรฎt Pioulard – Lasted
LOVE…..THIS…..ALBUM!! Reviewed previously here.

Listen, Look, Buy




1. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
This album was released so early this year it would have been easy to forget it in favour of another more recent and fresh in the memory record, such has been the quality of stuff I’ve heard this year. But when I heard this way back in February I made a promise to myself that unless something absolutely gobsmacking came along this would have to get the accolade of best of the year. Well, here we are and despite some of those above in the top ten seriously competing for the hallowed top spot, listening to it again has reinforced my decision of ten months ago to keep this at numero uno! At an almost too brief 28 minutes, “I’m New Here” is a curious little album, there are only a handful of ‘proper songs’, the title track being a cover of a track by Smog, interspersed with short intervals of recorded speech and tracks of poetry backed by simple samples or percussion. With an almost physical texture, Gil Scott-Heron’s tobacco-ravaged voice sounds amazing, especially through headphones. The moment I first heard “New York is Killing Me” with its insistent hand-clap rhythm has stuck with me and is one of things that has kept this at the top of the pile. Do your ears a favour and get this album in your life!

Listen, Look, Buy

So, there we have it, another year gone by with some marvellous albums and no doubt plenty more that I just haven’t had time or chance to listen to. I hope you found something in this list of 50 that pressed some of your buttons! To round off I want to mention a couple of EPs that really grabbed me this year. Being EPs they didn’t really fit into the top 50 albums list but still deserve your attention;

And So I Watch You From Afar – The Letters EP
Belfast instrumental rockers serve up more foot stomping axe-shreddery!
How To Destroy Angels – How To Destroy Angels EP
Trent Reznor and his missus Mariqueen Maandig’s new band sound like NIN with a female vocalist, which is a good thing!

As a reminder, the whole top 50 looked like this;

1. Gil Scott Heron โ€“ I’m New Here
2. Benoit Pioulard – Lasted
3. Deftones โ€“ Diamond Eyes
4. North Atlantic Oscillation โ€“ Grappling Hooks
5. Crippled Black Phoenix โ€“ I, Vigilante
6. Her Name is Calla โ€“ The Quiet Lamb
7. Caribou โ€“ Swim
8. Wild Nothing – Gemini
9. Kvelertak – Kvelertak
10. The National โ€“ High Violet
11. Lone Wolf โ€“ The Devil and I
12. The Dillinger Escape Plan โ€“ Option Paralysis
13. Oceansize โ€“ Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up
14. Monster Magnet – Mastermind
15. Built To Spill โ€“ There Is No Enemy
16. I Like Trains โ€“ He Who Saw The Deep
17. God is an Astronaut โ€“ Age of the Fifth Sun
18. of Montreal โ€“ False Priest
19. Karma to Burn โ€“ Appalachian Incantation
20. Holy Fuck – Latin
21. The Besnard Lakes – …Are The Roaring Night
22. Underworld โ€“ Barking
23. These New Puritans – Hidden
24. The Sword โ€“ Warp Riders
25. Sleigh Bells โ€“ Treats
26. The New Pornographers – Together
27. Zola Jesus โ€“ Stridulum II
28. Red Sparowes โ€“ The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer
29. Archie Bronson Outfit – Coconut
30. Lafaro โ€“ Lafaro
31. 65daysofstatic โ€“ We Were Exploding Anyway
32. Black Mountain โ€“ Wilderness Heart
33. Melissa Auf der Maur โ€“ Out Of Our Minds
34. The 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster โ€“ Blood and Fire
35. Arcade Fire โ€“ The Suburbs
36. Errors โ€“ Come Down With Me
37. Dangermouse & Sparklehorse โ€“ Dark Night of the Soul
38. Butterfly Explosion โ€“ Lost Trails
39. Midlake โ€“ The Courage of Others
40. Killing Joke โ€“ Absolute Dissent
41. Kylesa โ€“ Spiral Shadow
42. Padang Food Tigers – Born Music
43. These Monsters โ€“ Call Me Dragon
44. Tunng โ€“ And Then We Saw Land
45. Eleven Tigers โ€“ Clouds Are Mountains
46. Frightened Rabbit โ€“ The Winter of Mixed Drinks
47. Trans Am – Thing
48. Tweak Bird โ€“ s/t
49. The Phantom Band – Wants
50. Broken Bells – s/t

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  1. #1 by nic on December 3, 2010 - 7:37 pm

    Great reviews. I look forward to this every year, can’t wait to check some of this stuff out having missed most of it. Your no 10 is definitely my no 1, high violet is the best they’ve put out imho.

    • #2 by MostlyArmless on December 3, 2010 - 8:30 pm

      Thanks very much mate! I agree with you re High Violet, definitely their best, it just goes to show how good the other nine are (imho) for this to be where it is!

  2. #3 by PermanentPlasticHelmet on December 5, 2010 - 2:03 pm

    Nice list,
    Can’t go wrong with that Caribou album!

  3. #4 by James on December 9, 2010 - 8:10 am

    Great list! Nice to see Heron in there, though I wouldn’t have put him first. Also, I think that Built To Spill album is 2009. ๐Ÿ˜›

    • #5 by MostlyArmless on December 9, 2010 - 9:29 am

      Thanks. What would have been your No1 out of interest? Just done a bit of digging re the BTS album, looks like it was released in the US in Oct 2009 but didn’t get a UK release until Jan 2010, just sneaked in! “You in Reverse” took even longer to come out in the UK.

  4. #6 by James on December 10, 2010 - 2:21 pm

    Ah, lucky!

    If we’re counting live albums, I’d have to say Mono’s Holy Ground, it’s stunning. If not, I’m torn between Her Name Is Calla’s The Silent Lamb, Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown and World’s End Girlfriend’s Seven Idiots. Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me was great too. I must confess I haven’t actually listened to many albums this year, so I’ve grabbed quite a few in the past week or so (including a fair few from your list) to prepare for the inevitable list-making!

    • #7 by MostlyArmless on December 10, 2010 - 2:35 pm

      I didn’t know Mono had a live album out! Will have to check that out! Spooky as I’ve just published a post about post-rock! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. #8 by Kuz on December 12, 2010 - 12:42 pm

    You echo my feelings exactly about Kvelertak. Such an exciting record. I’ll also be seeking out Crippled Black Phoenix as it had completely escaped me they had an album out. Really interesting list – it’s really pleasing to see so many heavy records in there along with more p4k-approved bizzo (no offence intended, I like a lot of those albums too).

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