10. All Delighted People EP – Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz garnered the bulk of the attention for Stevens this year, but for me, it was this “EP” that provided far more interesting moments. All Delighted People is chocked full of the gorgeous, wispy melodies that Stevens is known for, and songs such as “Heirloom” and “Arnika” are just as stirring as anything on 2005’s Illinois. I would take this bare-bones acoustic guitar over computer blips any day.
9. The Monitor – Titus Andronicus
It often seems like the attention-deficit internet culture has shortened our tolerance to no more than one three minute song per artist. But The Monitor (loosely linked together by Civil War themes and Abraham Lincoln soundbites) makes a convincing case for the album as an art form. These New Jersey punks pull influences from a wide range of decades and genres to create an audacious sophomore effort. The guitars chime and lead singer Liam Betson snarls with the proper disdain, and The Monitor flows together like one long, lovely clarion call.
8. Halcyon Digest – Deerhunter
Deerhunter is a band that I’d never listened to much prior to the release of this album, but one listen through of Halcyon Digest was enough for me to know that this was a band/album that I could really get into. “Helicopter” is, of course, a highlight, but the each song is as enjoyable as they are varied.
7. I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling
Listening to I Speak Because I Can, the thought it was written by an eighteen year old seems almost incomprehensible. Marling sings with a startling world-weariness, and she tackles emotional depth and wordplay that some songwriters twice her age would shy away from. Her songwriting has inevitably matured since her debut effort, 2008’s New Romantic, and producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Rufus Wainwright) adds appropriately subtle flourishes to give the album a more polished sound. Marling is certainly one to watch.
6. Brothers – The Black Keys
For some reason, 2010 was the year that The Black Keys broke out, despite the fact that they have been making albums for years now. Perhaps it was the strength of the songwriting on Brothers that did it, because this is garage-y blues rock at its best. Dan Auerbach’s voice always drips with passion, and the production here is tighter than ever.
5. Been Listening – Johnny Flynn
Johnny Flynn has no right to be this pretty AND talented. It’s just not fair. But with a voice beyond his years, Flynn beefs up the bare-bones guitar folk of his debut album and goes big(ger) on his sophomore disc, Been Listening. “Howl” explores blues to great effect, while “The Water”, a lovely duet with Laura Marling, sticks closer to his roots. Flynn’s greatest vocal asset is the wail that he can unleash, but he wisely uses that sparingly, making those heated moments all the more striking. He’s a songwriter with a knack for understated melody, and Flynn shows growth, and heaps of potential, here.
4. King of the Beach – Wavves
On King of the Beach, the newst album from Wavves’ Nathan Williams, he ups the production values, but doesn’t compromise his cheerfully defiant slackerdom. The album’s title track, “Post-Acid”, and “Green Eyes” embrace catchy surf-pop melodies, while other tracks such as “Baseball Cards” embark on a more drawn-out, experimental route. Either way, Williams’ creativity and exuberence is infectious, and King of the Beach is a front-to-back snarkily fun time.
3. The Wild Hunt – The Tallest Man on Earth
Kristian Matsson’s voice takes some getting used to. But even though the tone of his voice can initially seem harsh, this Swedish singer-songwriter sings with a tenderness that highlights its lovely, ragged peaks. And the contrast Matsson’s empassioned singing style and his delicate melodies intertwines perfectly. And boy, does Matsson know how to write a melody. The songwriting here is impeccible, with “Burden of Tomorrow” and “King of Spain” serving as rousing highlights.
2. Gorilla Manor – Local Natives
In a similar vein to Fleet Foxes, this is an album full of layered vocals and organically percusive rhythms. And this L.A. quintet plays that card very well. The songs are uniformly fantastic, with highlights including “World News”, and the Band of Horses-esque “Wide Eyes”. Considering that this vivacious collection of songs is only their first album, Local Natives is a band that I will definitely be following closely in the future.
1. Sigh No More – Mumford and Sons
Mumford and Sons was one of the year’s biggest success stories, and with their debut album, they proved that the attention was well-deserved. With propulsive banjos and beautiful melodies, this rousing group of folk-rock stompers begs for repeat listenings. Something about the timbre of Marcus Mumford’s voice is infinitely pleasing.