Retro Bummys: Best Albums of 2010

The reason for this 2010 Bummys season is simple: I hadn’t done one yet. Every year since I started college I had done a Top 10 movies and albums, starting with Facebook notes and transitioning to WordPress in 2012. Yet, somehow, some way, I skipped 2010. Honestly, I felt bad. One of the best years for music in recent memory, and I totally ignored all of 2010’s texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. It probably had something to do with 2010 being a terrible year for movies. Oh well.

Anyway, I needed to make amends. The Best Albums Bummys were the hardest; I count so many albums from 2010 in my favorites. The fact that Big Boi, Broken Social Scene, Jars of Clay, Jimmy Needham, Local Natives, and Vampire Weekend were all left out of the Top Ten was a complete shock to me. But 2010 killed in the album department. Terrible year for movies. Wonderful year for music.

Links in the albums’ titles are to streaming services, mostly Spotify.

Top Ten

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10. The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth: Few albums elicit as much joy from me as The Wild Hunt. This Swedish folk troubadour has such a love for the effects of simple music. It showed on his break-through album in his unforgettable yelp and his first-rate finger-pickin’.

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9. High Violet by The National: And so began the rock critics’ switching of allegiances from dad-rock to sad-rock, two terms that completely devalued what The National did on High Violet. It was easy to overlook the balance they struck between self-serious and self-deprecating, since the music sounded so serious. But High Violet is full of insightful commentary on middle-age life with its own brand of humor.

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8. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson: If you don’t like county, you probably wouldn’t have liked The Guitar Song, because this was a lot of country. The Guitar Song was 2 discs and 25 tracks of hard-boiled, deep-fried country music. Jamey Johnson always made country music for his fans and not for the radio, so his songs were actually about real life- hence, songs with titles like “Can’t Cash My Checks”, “Heaven Bound”, and “California Riots”.

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7. Astro Coast by Surfer Blood: It’s impossible to talk about Surfer Blood now without mention of their frontman’s accusations of domestic violence. The story was appalling and has colored all the music they’ve made since. But this album of perfectly calibrated pop rock can’t be sullied; I have too many fond memories of marveling over the riffs and clever lyrics.

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6. Beautiful Things by Gungor: Gungor rose into prominence around the time that David Crowder Band was struggling for a new direction to take worship music after having cemented themselves in the genre’s firm foundation. DCB had a knack for melody unparalleled until Gungor, whose songwriting abilities were matched by their willingness to push the instrumentation into the outer limits of the genre’s reach. They pushed farther on their next record, but Beautiful Things was when it became clear they were providing new ways to worship God.

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5. Counting Stars by Andrew Peterson: This was music at its simplest but most powerful. Peterson was content to remain within a certain stylistic framework, and he milked it for all its potential elegance. He didn’t reach as far as he would two years later on Light for the Lost Boy, but he hints at it on “The Reckoning” and “You Came So Close”, filling out maybe the most beautiful album of the year. He received a lot of attention for the album from Christian publications, but somehow he remains underrated. For me, Counting Stars made Andrew Peterson one of my top three favorite musicians.

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4. Brothers by The Black Keys: The Black Keys have gotten so good at what they do, their last few records have almost sounded bored. That wasn’t a problem with Brothers. Brothers was the sound of master surfers riding the biggest wave of their lives without ever wiping out. Their professionalism was matched only by their populism, filling their best album with hook after brilliant hook. Even more impressive, they were able to equally modulate their prowess across speeds, from the slow “Everlasting Light” to the speedy singles “Tighten Up” and “Howlin’ for You”.

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3. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West: Well, at least he was self-aware. And I use the term loosely, since VMA-gate seemed to belie a complete lack of self-awareness. At the very least, he’s self-aware enough to know that he’s dark and twisted and egotistical enough to assume that his fantasies are beautiful. But all three adjectives are appropriate- this is a dark and twisted album, full of confessionals that would make an NFL player blush. And it’s also beautiful, full of the kind of music even geniuses only get one chance in their lifetime to make.

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2. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire: Arcade Fire are a huge band, both in numbers and in ambition. Even a throwaway song like “Empty Room” was wall-to-wall sound. Arcade Fire had already waged war on the suburbs before in both Funeral and Neon Bible, so naming their third album The Suburbs may have seemed redundant, but it actually functioned more as a purging. On The Suburbs, Butler and his band poured out all the pain of growing older and coming of age in emotionless environments. It’s no wonder Reflektor sounds looser and freer; they buried all their demons on The Suburbs.

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1. The Monitor by Titus Andronicus: The pinnacle of emo and the peak of pop-punk, even though Titus Andronicus would probably deny those labels while pissing in your face. In 2010, when I was facing life after undergrad, these songs became my anthems- internal anthems, since I wouldn’t advise singing these out loud on the bus or anywhere else public. The profanity alone would get you thrown out of restaurants, not to mention the anxious existentialism that would depress everyone around you. A concept album that framed a young man’s migration from Jersey to Boston loosely within Civil War imagery, The Monitor managed to be both full of fun and totally angsty at the same time. With my graduation from OU pending, The Monitor provided me with a rock opera worth rolling my windows down and belting, as if I didn’t have to care about anything.

Another Fifteen (alphabetical by artist)

Into the Morning by Ben Rector: His style will never garner much critical attention, but to those of us who have submitted to his easy-going affect, Ben Rector means nothing less than bliss, and this was his most blissful album.

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty by Big Boi: Big Boi showed off why he was every much Andre’s equal when it comes to his flow and that he was nearly as off-the-wall with his production choices.

Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene: Criminally overlooked that year, Broken Social Scene were known for their status as a collective of indie rock minds, and the variety on Forgiveness Rock Record is a testament to that- it could have been messy, but the range comes off more generous than anything else.

Thank Me Later by Drake: I’d forgotten how many hit-worthy songs were on this album, but it makes sense, since Thank Me Later was far more commercially inclined than Drake’s next two releases, proving that he could do mainstream rap as well as or better than anyone.

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem: Not as appealingly hangdog as their first album, The ’59 Sound, but its more polished sheen didn’t take away from the sense that the band was still telling real stories.

One Life Stand by Hot Chip: Electronic nerd-pop shouldn’t be my thing, but this record totally was.

The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe: R&B has become one of my favorite genres, which I think you can trace back to this album. It opened my eyes to the lack of limits within the style.

The Shelter by Jars of Clay: Albums based around high-profile collaborations are usually boring, low-risk affairs, but The Shelter was a joyous, highly-listenable affair. Jars of Clay kept up their streak of defying expectations.

Nightlights by Jimmy Needham: I prefer Needham’s earlier, more stripped-down records, but Nightlights is chock-full of songs that should have been hits on Christian radio, if we lived in a world without the Fall.

This Is Happening by LCD Soundsystem: More inscrutable than their universally-beloved Sound of SilverThis Is Happening was nevertheless a worthy final statement for the great electronic band.

Gorilla Manor by Local Natives: Before Gorilla Manor, indie rock was just a genre that sounded cool, but Local Natives’ debut included a lot of songs that touched a nerve in my 21-year-old self.

Body Talk by Robyn: Robyn’s brand of robo-pop has been severely missed since she rocked the known world with Body Talk.

The Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens: Sufjan was never a normal dude, but he went all in on weirdo with Age of Adz, nevertheless making beautiful, meaningful songs with everything and the kitchen sink.

Contra by Vampire Weekend: So far, Vampire Weekend still hasn’t eclipsed the sunny blast of indie-pop from their self-titled debut, but Contra got real close.

Gemini by Wild Nothing: Wild Nothing’s Gemini had a blazed-out nostalgia to it that hooked me and continues to stir up wistful emotions even today.

Future Top Tens

2013

Jason Isbell: Southeastern
Beyoncé: Beyoncé
Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle
Patty Griffin: American Kid
Sandra McCracken: Desire Like Dynamite
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience
Beautiful Eulogy: Instruments of Mercy
Kanye West: Yeezus
KaiL Baxley: Heatstroke / The Wind and the War

2012

Andrew Peterson: Light for the Lost Boy
Lecrae: Gravity
Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE
Japandroids: Celebration Rock
David Crowder*Band: Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do
The Olive Tree: Our Desert Ways
Benjamin Dunn & the Animal Orchestra: Fable
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city

2011

Gungor: Ghosts upon the Earth
Adele: 21
Over the Rhine: The Long Surrender
Bon Iver: Bon Iver
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
Drake: Take Care
Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’
Beyoncé: 4
Matt Papa: This Changes Everything

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