By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The thing that makes writing about music at once an exciting and frustrating endeavor is the fact that enjoyment of the art is subjective. One critic's trash could be another critic's treasure (see: easily the most debated album of the year, Sleigh Bells' Treats), just as one critic's treasure can leave his peers scratching their heads (see: Noah W. Bailey's pick of Joel Alme's Waiting for the Bells as his top disc of the year).
That's why we find it imperative, in presenting our picks for the best albums of the year, to offer our readers different perspectives—so you can pick the critic with the taste closest to your own and maybe discover a few new favorites by scanning over ours.
Fact is, there's no easy consensus to be reached in conversations like these. Though Phosphorescent's Here's To Taking It Easy (a near-miss for my top 10 list, as well) came close, not a single record made every one of our critic's final lists. But making the lists still inspires some fun discussions.
On that note, we give you four of our critics' selections for their favorite national albums of 2010 so you, too, can join the debate. Or, if need be, so that your procrastinating ass can go get that music-loving friend of yours a last-minute Christmas gift. Don't worry, we won't rat you out. —Pete Freedman
Pete Freedman's Best Albums of 2010
10. Crystal Castles — Crystal Castles II
9. Delorean — Subiza
8. Vampire Weekend — Contra
7. Gorillaz — Plastic Beach
6. Sleigh Bells — Treats
Whether you hate or love Sleigh Bells' aesthetic of blown-out guitars, machine-gun percussion and infectious hooks, there's no denying the fact that in 2010 they created an aesthetic that could safely be called their own. In this age of rehashed sounds, that's a production feat worth celebrating.
5. The Black Keys — Brothers
4. Arcade Fire — The Suburbs
3. Titus Andronicus — The Monitor
Finding an analogy between the Civil War and one's breakup with an ex may seem excessive, but in Titus Andronicus mastermind Patrick Stickles' case, it provided inspiration for the best concept album of the year. Flippant, angry and almost overly dramatic, this collection of pop-indebted punk isn't afraid of grandiosity, and it reaps the benefits.
2. LCD Soundsystem — This Is Happening
1. Kanye West — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Despite having long been embraced by the purveyors of pop, hip-hop has almost without fail resisted reciprocation. Odd, then, that a disc as self-aware as this one would be the one to buck the trend and embrace the inevitable transition. Self-deprecation has never sounded less pitiful.
Noah W. Bailey's Best Albums of 2010
10. Mavis Staples — You Are Not Alone
9. Possessed By Paul James — Feed the Family
Possessed By Paul James is the nom de plume of Konrad Wert, a deadly one man-band. Imagine the entirety of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music rolled into one stompin', singin', fiddlin' package.
8. The National — High Violet
7. Laura Viers — July Flame
5. Dr. Dog — Shame, Shame
4. Cotton Jones — Tall Hours in the Glowstream
3. Phosphorescent — Here's To Taking It Easy
Here's To Taking It Easy isn't the first Phosphorescent LP to make one of my top 10 lists (actually, it's the fourth), and as long as singer-songwriter Matthew Houck keeps writing country songs as perfect as "The Mermaid Parade," it certainly won't be the last.
1. Joel Alme — Waiting for the Bells
Though Alme's virtually unknown in the States—strange considering the Stateside success of fellow Swedes like Jens Lekman, Dungen and The Tallest Man On Earth—it's not for lack of trying. His second straight LP of faithfully executed Spector-esque pop combines his Swedish flair for drama with a thoroughly red, white and blue swagger borrowed from legends like Dion and Springsteen.
Merritt Martin's Best Albums of 2010
10. Phosphorescent — Here's to Taking It Easy
9. Dr. Dog — Shame, Shame
8. Harvey Milk — Small Turn of Human Kindess
7. Apples In Stereo — Travellers in Space and Time
If you want good, infectious pop that inspires a dance-off, a wardrobe change and a replay, you'll find it here. The Apples work up an inspired set, incorporating nods to ELO, traces of Jellyfish and a healthy dose of space-age bliss for an LP that's totally far-out.
6. Titus Andronicus — The Monitor
5. Laura Veirs — July Flame
4. Rowland S. Howard — Pop Crimes
3. Liars — Sisterworld
2. The National — High Violet
High Violet tempers fever-pitch rock with lush layering—at times, tearing through its own anxiety-ridden soundtrack with frontman Matt Berninger's screams—and somehow replicates a chapter of life in 11 songs.
1. Grinderman — Grinderman 2
Grinderman's eponymous debut sounded exactly like a side project from exceedingly talented gents who really wanted to return to earlier Bad behavior and Birthday suits—something to be excited about, for sure. But, with 2, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn Casey exceed expectations by offering up adventurous, sleazy and bluesy rock 'n' roll that satisfyingly experiments with control as much as it does with abandon.
Daniel Hopkins' Best Albums of 2010
10. Phosphorescent — Here's To Taking It Easy
9. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti — Before Today
When Ariel Pink released Before Today, he shattered all of his own rules, and by moving away from the murky, lo-fi noise-pop of his earlier records, he rewarded his listeners with some of the biggest choruses of the year (see "Round and Round").
8. Vampire Weekend — Contra
7. Deerhunter — Halcyon Digest
6. Here We Go Magic — Pigeons
5. Twin Sister — Color Your Life
4. Arcade Fire — The Suburbs
On The Suburbs, Arcade Fire have performed a miracle, offering up 60 minutes of music that rarely bogs down the listener's attention span. Don't underestimate that accomplishment, either: They've managed to create an album for a generation addicted to singles.
3. The National — High Violet
2. Beach House — Teen Dream
On Lisbon, The Walkmen proved that they are the kings of "less is more," stripping their production (courtesy of Dallas' own John Congleton) back to a few microphones, some audio tape and little else. In doing so, they proved their songwriting strong enough to stand on its own.