Best Music of the Year 2010

Best Indie Pop Albums

Beach House Teen Dream
Teen Dream

Teen Dream offers both immediate and lasting pleasures. The arrangements seem simple—and perhaps they are—but Beach House ends up delivering one gorgeous pop lullaby after another. Singer Victoria Legrand has a sweet, husky voice that seems to be a mysterious amalgam of 70s female superstars Carole King? Karen Carpenter? Carley Simon? You can't quite place the voice, yet it sounds evocative and dreamy and familiar. Meanwhile, the music is ambient and of-the-moment. Teen Dream is an altogether impressive accomplishment and easily the best album of 2010. I'll be listening to this one for years to come.

Points of Reference: the sweeter pop leanings of Yo La Tengo, Cat Power

Standout tracks: Walk in the Park, 10 Mile Stereo

The Radio Dept. Clinging to a Scheme
The Radio Dept. - Clinging to a Scheme

Here’s a collection of fuzzy, reverb drenched pop songs from Sweden. There’s nothing particularly sharp about the lyrics (sung in English), but the songs are swooningly lovely and full of wonderful little flourishes: chiming bells, synthesizers, ambient effects. Clinging to a Scheme feels effortless and entirely charming.

Points of Reference: The Clientele, Shout Out Louds

Standout tracks: A Token of Gratitude, You Stopped Making Sense

Stornoway Beachcomber's Windowsill

The debut Stornoway album puts one in a quandary. It’s almost slavishly indebted to Belle and Sebastian’s landmark If You’re Feeling Sinister, and yet, in spite of the near-mimicry, Beachcomber’s Windowsill manages to be an outstanding and thoughtful and beautifully crafted collection of pop tunes. (And to be fair there are other influences here beyond Belle and Sebastian.) In the end I had to surrender my concerns about originality. This is deeply appealing and joyful music.

Points of Reference: Belle and Sebastian, The Proclaimers

Standout Tracks: I Saw You Blink, Boats and Trains

Best Indie Singer-Songwriters Albums

The Tallest Man On Earth The Wild Hunt &
Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird
The Tallest Man On Earth

It’s worth celebrating—and wonderfully reassuring—that The Tallest Man on Earth (aka Swedish-born Kristian Matsson ) was widely embraced by 2010 indie music fans, and yet he sounds as if could fit right in riding the rails with Woody Guthrie. The Tallest Man on Earth released both a full LP and a five-song EP in 2010, and they’re both exceptional. These are nimble folk songs sung in a creaky, Dylan-esque voice. But Kristian Matsson is entirely committed to what he’s doing, and he’s produced two collections of lovely, rousing, and melancholy songs.

Points of reference: Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie

Standout Tracks: Love is All, Like The Wheel

Alela Diane To Be Still
Alela Diane

To Be Still is technically a 2009 release, but I discovered it last year and it’s a gorgeous and haunting country-folk album. There are other female alt-country artists working in this vein, but, like Gillian Welch, there’s something antiquated and distinctive about Alela Diane’s voice and sensibility that makes To Be Still a standout.

Points of Reference: Gillian Welch

Standout Tracks: Dry Grass and Shadows, My Brambles

Best Reissue Album

Destroyer Streethawk: A Seduction

To my ear The New Pornographer’s music has always sounded a little too frantic. The best songs have always been Dan Bejar’s (aka Destroyer). With his own band, he’s gets to slow down a bit and spread his wings. Destroyer songs take off in all kinds of interesting directions. They feel improvisational and inflected with a distinct and eccentric perspective. But somehow there’s real magic in Destroyer’s eccentricities. Streethawk: a seduction is a glorious rock album.

Points of reference: David Bowie, Van Morrison

Standout Tracks: English Music, Streethawk II

© 2010-2012, John Dalton

Photo of cabin used in illustration by StormeTX

Others used in illustration by Katharine Roberds

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