I'm only make limited comments (trying for a one-sentence overview of my personal feelings on each album). Also, because I love you, a stream per album via grooveshark.
20. Salem - King Night
Dark, weird, haunting, and surprisingly heavy - plus they have the additional advantage of being a "witch-house" band whose song titles don't look like windows character map vomited them up.
Salem - King Night
19. Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
It's just as sprawling as their other albums. As a result, I didn't know what to think about it at first, but it grew on me with every listen.
Gorillaz - Superfast Jellyfish (feat. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul)
18. Jambo Reign - Blinded By the Bright Lights EP
It's only a three song EP, but all three of those songs are hooky pop-rock the likes of which doesn't get made often enough anymore. Shame they're so unknown that they have no US presence, so I can't get a physical copy of the CD.
No direct music link, hit their MySpace up for additional info.
17. The New Pornographers - Together
They're never going to beat Twin Cinema, but that's not really the point. The highs ("Crash Years", "Your Hands", etc) are higher than the highs on Challengers, and the lows aren't as low as the ones on that album. They might not ever make an album that's awesome front to back, but this one is pretty good.
The New Pornographers - Your Hands (Together)
16. Best Coast - Crazy For You
Yeah, her lyrics are juvenile and way overdependent on weed, boys, and talking cats (wait... what?), but this whole CD just feels like a ocean-view summer, and in the middle of a Minnesota winter, that's never a negative thing.
Best Coast - When I'm With You
15. Vampire Weekend - Contra
A lot of people hate this CD. I'm not entirely certain why. I mean, it's not as straight through solid as their first, but that would have been a tall order. Instead, they served up another great pop CD while branching out a little bit - can't fault them for their results. Forget the haters.
Vampire Weekend - Giving Up the Gun
14. Children 18:3 - Rain's 'a Comin'
Not quite the "stand up and pay attention" notice that their debut was, Rain's a Comin' nonetheless is pleasing from beginning to end. Plus, "Lost So Long" is just epic.
Children 18:3 - Lost So Long
13. Memoryhouse - The Years EP
So, this is "chillwave", then. I like it. Denise Nouvion has the perfect sort of dreamy (but never sleepy) voice that makes this type of music work. Plus the backing music is so hazy and lush that you wish that this could be the soundtrack to every daydream for the rest of your life.
Memoryhouse - Sleep Patterns
12. Spoon - Transference
It's a lot more stripped back than Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (but has a much better album title). It takes a little time to get used to the fact that there are songs ending mid-sentence, as well as sentences being seemingly randomly cut off. Once you get used to the album, though, it's got a lot to give.
Spoon - Who Makes Your Money
11. Dessa - A Badly Broken Code
Add this CD to the list of things I wish would get more popular. Dessa knows when to be vulnerable (as on "Into the Spin"), when to simmer ("Dixon's Girl"), and - most importantly - when to just lay all the cards on the table and be who she is (any of several songs). This girl sits in the underground, while Ke$ha make millions? Absurd.
Dessa - Dixon's Girl
10. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II)
It's a lot more "tuneful" than their debut, while easing off the abrasion a bit. I don't think that's a bad thing, it might not have the thrill of newness that the first record had, but the songs are stronger.
Crystal Castles - Celestica
9. Jónsi - Go
Sigur Rós sort of toyed with more pop-music sounds at the end of their last CD, so it's not surprising that their lead singer went in that direction. What is surprising is how consistently great it is. It would have been so easy to make this a silly, saccharine album; instead, Jónsi gives the songs depth and life - while still making them undeniably Jónsi.
Jónsi - Animal Arithmetic
8. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
I was lukewarm on Titus Andronicus' first CD. Patrick Stickles voice rubbed me the wrong way too often. In anything, on The Monitor his voice sounds even more abrasive. Yet through better (and certainly more focused) songwriting, this CD is miles past that one. This album contains all the pissed off anthems a malcontent could ever want.
Titus Andronicus - Four Score And Seven
7. Sleigh Bells - Treats
These folks aren't interested in things like subtlety or gentle foreplay... only bass thumping, guitar flashing, "put on some massive headphones and let's fuck shit up" jamming. Most albums quietly wait for you to unlock their secrets... this album kicks down your front door, downs an unmarked bottle of alcohol and starts setting your furniture on fire.
Sleigh Bells - Infinity Guitars
6. Yeasayer - Odd Blood
God, what awful cover art. I'm glad I hadn't seen it before I heard a stream of the album, or else I might have passed over one of the most enjoyable pop albums of the last couple of years. This album has somehow gotten a bad rep, but for the life of me I can't tell why. People hating catchy music these days?
Yeasayer - Ambling Alp
5. Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
It's almost a little embarrassing that I hadn't really given this band a try until a lot of their music got featured on "Chuck". I'd been missing out on some great raw emotional rock. While this one is a little less raw and confessional than their last (no "Keep Yourself Warm" to be found here), it still has that lyrical edge like only Frightened Rabbit can.
Frightened Rabbit - Nothing Like You
4. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The instant Kanye put "Power" up on his blog, everyone knew that this album was going to be epic. Then the hits kept coming (for free!): "Runaway", "Monster", etc... and the rest of the tracks on the album have no trouble living up to those expectations. The only question is: "How is he going to top this one?"
Kanye West - All of the Lights
3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The first time I listened to The Suburbs, I was disappointed. Here was an album that had neither the exuberance of Funeral, nor the bombast of Neon Bible. Needless to say, the disappointment didn't last long. The album picks up strength as it goes, and by the time "The Sprawl II" comes, the sound starts to feel very much like home.
Arcade Fire - We Used to Wait
2. The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever
Best cover art besides that awesome Klaxons album cover. Also, more great rock music by Craig Finn and company.
The Hold Steady - The Sweet Part of the City
1. The National - High Violet
This album is in equal parts depressing ("Sorrow"), creepy ("Conversation 16"), and defeated-sounding ("Bloodbuzz Ohio").
It's also by a wide margin the most affecting and re-listenable album I've heard all year - and it's not all that close a call. Every song on this album strikes me in some way. I don't remember the last time I could say that about a CD. This list is "My Favorite 20 Albums of the Year", not "The Best 20 Albums of the Year", because how could I really say something like that? I've heard a lot of music this year, but I couldn't possibly even scratch the surface of even the genres that I like. I will say this, though, while I can't say what the other nineteen of the twenty best albums of the year are, High Violet is the best album to come out in 2010.
It just is.
The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio