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The 10 Best Records of 2010

By Christopher Schutte

Only a healthy dose of critical distance will reveal whether music in 2010 was everything it was purported to be. Some critics claim it was the best ever, others claim it was the beginning of the end (that’s what Lady Gaga does to some people).

Truth is, it was pretty great. Artists pushed the boundaries in nearly every conceivable direction with some stunning results. With apologies to a strong group of contenders who didn’t quite make the cut, including LCD Soundsystem, Kanye West, James Blake and Surfer Blood, here’s our best of 2010:

Deerhunter: “Halcyon Digest” [4AD]

“Halcyon Digest” is sure to be divisive amongst the Deerhunter fan base who has grown accustomed to near impenetrable sonic shrouds of distortion and ambient noise cloaking Bradford Cox’s lo-fi gems. A virtual travelogue of musical styles with stops at garage revival, Britpop and T. Rex stomp, Halcyon Digest” is a confident record by a band just hitting their stride. As much as I liked “Microcastle,” I think it’s also easily their strongest front-to-back effort. Key track: “Desire Lines”

'Treats" By Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells: “Treats” [Mom + Pop]

In much the same way as Public Enemy’s “It Takes A Nation of Millions…” and My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless,” “Treats” challenges our conception of what recorded music should sound like. From the opening howl of “Tell’em,” your speakers will shake under the weight of blown-out fuzz. Underneath the noise, however, lie some of the catchiest melodies and Shangri-Las style “ah ah’s” of the year. Key Track: “Kids”

“The Age of Adz” By Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens – “The Age of Adz” [Asthmatic Kitty]

First, a confession: Sufjan’s “Illinois” (the best reviewed record of 2005) did nothing for me. That’s why I was so completely blown away by “The Age of Adz. I’ve started referring to this as Sufjan’s “OK Computer moment” – the point where the grandiose thoughts, electronic whirring and emotional heft coalesces into a masterpiece. If you knew how much I love Radiohead, you’d realize that this is high praise. Key track: “Too Much”

Menomena: “Mines” [Barsuk Records]

Easily the year’s biggest surprise for me since Menomena was faintly even on my music radar until “Mines. A multi-layered sound collage, but never too fussy, “Mines” moves deftly between styles. In less-capable hands, what comes across as sprawling ambition might have been too schizophrenic. Since the three primary band members apparently barely spoke during the recording process, I’d call that a miracle. Key track: “Taos”

Vampire Weekend: “Contra” [XL Records]
With “Contra, Vampire Weekend pulled a neat trick on the haters. They amped up the very quirks that alternatively ingratiated, or distanced them, from listeners: more afro-pop, more hyper-literate lyrical references and squeaky-clean production values. In a year where bedroom recording and introspection reigned, “Contra” could be taken at face value for exactly what it is … a great listen. Key track: “Cousins”

“Cosmogramma” By Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus: “Cosmogramma” [Warp]

LA-based producer Steven Ellison has created a kinetic world of drum ’n’ bass, avant-jazz flourishes, dubstep and hip hop beats that fuse together into one of the most ambitious records of the year. “Cosmogramma” plays like a cohesive album – you might remember those from the 1980s. The nephew of jazz great Alice Coltrane lives up to his lineage by dropping a post-hip hop masterpiece that reads like a free-jazz classic. Key track: “Zodiac Shit”

Beach House: “Teen Dream” [Sub Pop]

I’m not sure what draws me to Beach House’s sound. Maybe it’s the gauzy shoegaze atmospherics and Victoria Legrand’s lovelorn voice – sort of a Cocteau Twins meets Fleetwood Mac vibe. It’s also one of the best sounding releases of the year. “Teen Dream” is a rich, soulful record with a healthy dose of nostalgia and longing at its core. Immediately satisfying, yet better each time you hear it. Key track: “Norway”

“Transference" By Spoon

Spoon: “Transference” [Merge]

In stark contrast to their rep as near mathematical studio perfectionists, Spoon turn the tables with “Transference,” a comparatively messy affair with abrupt stops and aggressive fills around Britt Daniel’s signature riffs. Maybe not on a level with Spoon’s best, but that’s a measure that few if any bands can live up to. Key track: “Written in Reverse”

How to Dress Well: “Love Remains” [Lefse]

The challenge here is in getting you to understand exactly what makes this one of the best records of the year. I’m pretty sure that calling “Love Remains” narcotized, below-fi R&B won’t do the trick. One of the key themes of music in 2010 was nostalgia and How to Dress Well does nostalgia better than almost anyone else. There’s a palpable emotional weight to these tracks that words can’t explain. Key track: “You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’”

Best Coast: “Crazy For You” [Mexican Summer]

Let’s begin by acknowledging the fact that Bethany Cosentino is not the world’s foremost lyricist. But at least she mostly sings about things she loves – boys, her cat and weed. On the plus side, she cranks out reverb-drenched fuzz-pop gems with apparent ease. While this record may not stand the test of time, it was the soundtrack to summer and still sounds great with snow on the ground. Key track: “Boyfriend”

Reach DCP freelance writer Chris Schutte at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com.

About Christopher Schutte

View all posts by Christopher Schutte
Chris is a freelance drinker who spends most of his free time doing really cool things. Things you wouldn’t believe even if he told you. He enjoys consuming things, making things and writing about things while wearing fashionable clothing and listening to recorded music. He also has a pug named Miles. Reach Chris at chrisschutte@daytoncitypaper.com.

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