It has come to the point where we can safely proclaim that Floridian quintet Anberlin could not record a bad album if they tried. Their fifth LP, Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place, may not be as ambitious or influential as Cities, nor as catchy and immediate as New Surrender, but it turns out to be a real grower. Densely layered and subtle musical touches abound, but it is Stephen Christian’s majestic vocal work that takes center stage. From the catchy ‘Impossible’ to the acoustic ‘Down,’ from the hard-hitting ‘To The Wolves’ to the splendid ‘The Art of War,’ there is something for everyone on this slightly back-loaded LP that contains absolutely no filler. – Davey B.
The Saddest Landscape got everything right in 2010. Mostly, it involved just being there. See, ever since their hiatus five years ago, there’s been a Saddest Landscape-shaped hole in the musical scene where a band who continually pushed sonic boundaries used to be. Then, out of nowhere, they took everything that happened in post-hardcore since their departure and crammed in all into one sterling example of what could be done when everything just falls into place. It’s all here: the dazzling post-rock influenced dynamism, the angular dissonance cut through with passages of melodic catchiness, and of course, the ever recognizable pained shouts of one Andy Maddox, whose passion and power infects every remarkable moment of You Will Not Survive. Ultimately though, it’s the way these elements are woven together, with precision and grace, that allows it to stand in line with any of the greatest records this year. – Alex S.
As far as battles to compartmentalize things down to the tiniest detail go, heavy guitar music is rivalled only by the artsy end of dance music. It’s simply not enough for something to be metal or punk anymore; if there isn’t at least one qualifier in front of those words, you’re not listening hard enough. It’s great to hear a band like Kvelertak completely confound that notion, then – they can do hardcore, melodeath, thrash, black metal, and classic rock, and can switch from one to the other in the blink of an eye. Don’t think of it as some Bungle-esque gimmicky monstrosity, though – the way they make it sound so natural is the album’s greatest strength. Even the cheeky lifts from Pixies (compare ‘Rock Music’ to ‘Mjod’) and Jimi Hendrix (the riff from ‘Foxy Lady’ makes an appearance in ‘Sultans of Satan’) transcend tokenism. There can’t have been many debut albums in 2010 that showed as much potential. – Nick B.
The greater ambition and maturity evident on Foals’ second album Total Life Forever could hardly have been foreseen by anyone. While it may not be an especially immediate LP, its slow-burning qualities turn what initially seems a little messy into a satisfyingly cohesive release. From the measured beginning of opener ‘Blue Blood’ through tense closer ‘What Remains,’ the band continuously take your breath away; no more so than on the epic, spine-tingling seven-minute behemoth that is ‘Spanish Sahara,’ a bona fide song of the year contender. On ‘Black Gold,’ Yannis Philippakis sings “The future is not what it used to be.” If Foals continue this improvement, it won’t be long before the Bloc Party comparisons are scrapped for fellow Oxford quintet Radiohead. – Davey B.
We’re Here Because We’re Here probably started out near the top of quite a few 2010 lists. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the fact that this is the most developed album of Anathema’s career, and that they have finally found their own sound — a sound that doesn’t blatantly rip off Radiohead or Pink Floyd. It’s easy to find plenty to love about the album: the melodies are excellent, the songs are beautiful and the addition of the full time female vocalist rounds out the band’s sound perfectly. The problem is that it doesn’t age well. After countless listens it becomes apparent that the last part of the album simply doesn’t live up to the first two-thirds. The fact that We’re Here Because We’re Here is still going to top many music lists this year is a testament to the flawless quality of those two-thirds. – Trey S.
Inspired by Jim Adkins’ perusal of two photojournals and his subsequent ‘object writing,’ Invented is a mellifluous and confident album complete with the requisite catchiness we’ve come to expect from the Mesa, Arizona quartet. With the current line-up intact for over a decade and a half, it’s remarkable the band continues to churn out quality records while retaining its tried-and-true sound. Recommended tracks: ‘Coffee and Cigarettes,’ ‘Littlething,’ ‘Invented.’ – Jom
The Birthday Massacre may have stripped away the final layer of sadistic atmosphere, but the end result is more than worth the loss. Pins and Needles is easily the most professional album the band have ever released. The production is huge and flawless, the songs are catchy as hell, and Chibi’s vocals are spot-on. The band may have perfected the formula for combining goth, industrial, metal and pop on a previous album, but this album manages to push the pop even further without sacrificing most of what has always made this band endearing. – Trey S.
As disappointing as it was to hear that Sigur Rós would be going on hiatus back in January, the release of Go helped soften the blow considerably. That isn’t to say Jónsi Birgisson’s first solo record properly replaces the Sigur Rós album that was rumoured to be released in 2010, but thankfully this is moot – Go doesn’t try to be the next Sigur Rós album. Instead, the sound Jónsi opts for is far poppier, far happier sounding, and, dare I say, far more grandiose than what we’ve come to expect from Sigur Rós. And it works; Jónsi’s vocals are as strong as ever, and mesh perfectly with the sprawling, symphonic themes he explores. It’s easy to love, particularly considering the celebration it is. – Mike S.
Butch Walker’s fifth solo album pulls away from the wounded introspection that marked 2008’s Sycamore Meadows and replaces it with a looser, more rock n’ roll-inclined feel. The result is a more organic-sounding record that celebrates the good as well as mulling over the bad. A wicked sense of humour permeates tracks like ‘House of Cards’ and ‘50s rocker ‘Days/Months/Years,’ while closing highlight ‘Be Good Until Then’ is the latest contender for the mantle of Walker’s greatest regret-filled masterpiece to date. – Dave D.
Depending on the angle of the light, it may come as either a total surprise or a case of expectations fulfilled that the word most commonly used to describe Sisterworld is “terrifying.” In the Lewis Carroll way, mind you, rather than Stephen King. It’s the way that musical textures swirl above and below some indiscernible point to tie it all together; it’s the way that misty whispers and droning swaths of noise bleed into proto-punk rock outs that are as creepy as they are fun. It’s the way, quite frankly, Liars have been running their ship ever since their singular appearance on the musical stage. Of course none of this is to say that it’s business as usual – far from it, Sisterworld, for all its dark and looming visage, is the band’s most accessible record to date. At least, as accessible as neurotic pulses of rhythm and nerve-racking melodic phrases go. But for all that, it remains inviting. Just look at the album art: Victorian doors, yellowed and hinged, down, down the rabbit hole they lead… – Alex S.
Let’s face it, Body Talk, the album released at the end of Robyn’s domineering 2010, seemed more the result of bad label decisions than another assertion of Robyn’s dynamic art-pop. With five new tracks and a sampling of her previous two Body Talk mini-albums, it looked like more of a cash grab. Instead of opening with the energy of ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do,’ she opens with mid-tempo lead single ‘Dancing on My Own’ (on the US version). Where’s Diplo’s brilliant ‘Criminal Intent’? Likely thrown by the wayside to make room for ‘None of Dem’ so Royksopp wouldn’t get their feelings hurt. So at #40 on our list, let’s celebrate all of Robyn’s Body Talk releases this year: the wonderfully majestic acoustic (and by acoustic, she means full string ensemble) versions of ‘Indestructible’ and ‘Hang With Me,’ the Swedish traditional ‘Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa,’ the genre-bending ‘Dancehall Queen’ and ‘Criminal Intent,’ the injections of independence and feminism in ‘Dancing on My Own’ and ‘Fembot.’ Body Talk is brilliant pop with a conscience, one deeper and firmer than Gaga will ever manage. – Tyler F.
For years (well, from ’03), Menomena made dense, psychedelic kaleidoscopes of songs, tricked out with all sorts of studio wizardry. And then the band stopped getting along, almost broke up, decided to persevere, still hated each other, and made their fourth album by email. That album, titled Mines, is understandably less flashy and fun, and much more depressing, than their previous stuff. It’s the sound of resignation, of wanting to give up and go home. Yeah, that description makes it sound unbearable to listen to, but then there’s the songs. By lessening the energy and amplifying the maturity, Mines fully reveals that the band can write songs that don’t even need all of the extra excesses and flourishes, evidencing an unrealized facet of the band’s sound, acting as a polar opposite of their extravagant debut — as if on purpose. It’s an appropriate swansong — unless Menomena can hang on. – Cam
Rosetta’s A Determinism of Morality is the most grandiose statement made in the atmospheric metal world since, well, the release of their debut album Galilean Satellites back in 2005. With A Determinism of Morality, the Pennsylvanian quartet draw you in with vibrant washes of droning noise and heavy reverb as they guide you through an audio tour of the universe, all the while never forgetting that even the most violent events can shimmer with the utmost beauty. With the dissolution of ISIS earlier this year, it looks as though Rosetta have already stepped up to fill in the void. – Adam T.
Almost all of us here has at least one record that we have an intense personal connection to, and I fell hard for Be In Love simply because of its simplicity. Mix equal parts antiphony, hand claps, finger snaps, straightforward melodies – and sprinkle in a bit of Beatles-esque flair for good measure – and you’ll be pleased with the record’s charismatic sound, assuming you approach the record with the carefree nature it permeates throughout. Recommended tracks: ‘The Whip,’ ‘Darling, It’s True,’ ‘Days of Youth.’ – Jom
“Why didn’t you kill yourself today?” goes the first lyric from Dangers’ second album. The band’s temperament doesn’t improve from there. Dangers’ massive, cartoonish anger from their debut carries over to Messy, Isn’t It? and is expanded upon to a full nineteen tracks of fury. If it sounds daunting, it kind of is; the first time through, Messy, Isn’t It? listens like an album packed with way too much vitriol to be understandable. However, with time, one picks up on the jokes, the wry little winks that betray that Dangers aren’t as serious as they might appear, at least not completely. The album casually and ironically references Mitch Hedberg, Kurt Vonnegut, possibly Outkast, and anything else that Dangers can use and twist to their own end. Hell, I’m not entirely sure that the suddenly-reverb heavy break in ‘Check Please’ in which the vocalist belts “Mademoiselle, s’il vous plaaaaaaait!” isn’t a brief send up of European skramz, but whatever Dangers do, they’re fucking sick, and that in itself is probably their goal. Ultimately, of Messy, Isn’t It?, we can be sure of only one thing: that Dangers are pissed off at everything, including you, and by the end of the record, one has to be more than a little inclined to think they have a point. – Adam D.
The Walkmen have always been, ostensibly, a singles band: a group that don’t necessarily know how to write a killer tune so much as they stumble upon two or three of them every time they release an album. Lisbon doesn’t break this pattern – this time around, the killer tunes are ‘Angela Surf City,’ ‘Woe Is Me’ and ‘Juveniles’ – but what Lisbon does introduce is a Walkmen that are, for once, mellowed out. These aren’t The Rats of Bows and Arrows; these Walkmen sound older and somewhat wiser, turning down the seething fury to more thoroughly explore sandy beach balladry and end up sounding mature and satisfied in the record they produced. While Lisbon doesn’t completely avoid lulls, it hints that there’s a classic in The Walkmen yet. Till that’s released, Lisbon serves just fine as another excellent outing from a band that, thankfully, refuse to fade away. – Adam D.
Los Campesinos! are cheeky little bastards. The UK’s purveyors of boisterous, loud, obnoxious indie rock have titled their latest album Romance Is Boring yet the album itself proves that love is anything but. Songs like ‘The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future’ and ‘Straight in at 101′ showcase the neurotic angst of Gareth Campesinos’ [yes that’s a psu-diddly-udonym] bratty self loathing and relationship fatigue but the Cardiff collective glue everything together with more than enough witty one-liners and saccharine sweet twee-pop eccentricities to create one of the most endearing and fun releases of the year. – Adam T.
Coyote was composed during the death of the band’s friend Yuko Sueta, and with that event comes the most subdued and grief-stricken Kayo Dot release to date. Toby Driver’s construction of the album combines a gothic rock-based aesthetic with long form composition to create a journey of an album that lays aside the “epic” climaxes of his earlier work in favour of a work that plods and meanders towards a conclusion that brings little closure. All of this, of course, lends itself masterfully to the album’s subject matter, and to Driver’s sheer skill as a composer. While Coyote’s subject matter and its purposeful eschewing of climactic moments means that it is a difficult album to continue to return to, it is nonetheless comprised of many moments of brilliance that are among the best in Driver’s ever-expanding body of work. – Andrew H.
The third album from Australia’s most hard-working band was quite a departure; not in the band’s minimalist post-punk approach to songwriting, but in the depth and range of emotions contained therein. Where the band’s previous two records were tight and precise, Little Joy is a record that feels much more loose, and that presents a band more sure of itself, more willing to play whatever comes out. To those familiar with the band’s history, the beauty and warmth of Little Joy is surprising on first listen, but the record’s depth and complexity unfolds over time and reveals it to be the most varied, personal, and impressive of the group’s career. – Andrew H.
In 2008, much ado was made about The Gaslight Anthem’s Springsteen-esque ’59 Sound, but newcomers The State Lottery will make you question whether any other band should be branded with that descriptor. When the Night Comes is raucous and fun without sacrificing a lick of integrity. If this album is any indicator, The State Lottery have a long, fruitful career ahead of them. – Channing F.