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Top 10 Albums of 2010: 6-10

There was some contention last week over the first half of this feature, specifically the inclusion of the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I feel that I should better explain where I'm coming from with this list. Pop music is a varied and ever-shifting, not to mention subjective, thing. It's not really enough to approach it from the angle of your favorite stuff or even what you think is the most interesting. Both of those things can and will change over time. For example, back in 2003 The White Stripes hit it big with Elephant, a great album by all accounts and certainly more culturally relevant than, say, Rufus Wainwright's Want One. But which album do I personally listen to more often in 2010? Well, Rufus. As good as Elephant is, the whole garage rock revival thing burned out ages ago while pretty piano music is timeless. So, when I make a year-end list of music, I feel responsible for covering as much ground as possible. I don't know which of these albums I'm going to keep listening to several years down the line, just that something about each of them stood out for me in 2010. Without further ado and in no particular order...

The Depreciation Guild- Spirit Youth

This album is here for two reasons. First, I'm of the opinion that shoegaze should never die so long as it has a competent singer in front of it. Second, the eponymous debut of The Pains of Being Pure At Heart didn't come across my desk until months after it launched in 2009 and so I'm compensating for the fact that I never got to critically praise it. Kurt Feldman, drummer for The Pains, takes the lead with The Depreciation Guild and does exactly what any good shoegaze vocalist ought to: He doesn't go beyond his limits or try to be the center of attention. Spirit Youth is a beautiful collection of dreamy fuzz that's both conversant in the shoegaze genre and capable of expanding upon its principles.

 

Gorillaz- Plastic Beach

Variety is the name of the game in Gorillaz's first release in years, a triumph of collaboration and musical experimentation that defies genre not to be abrasive, but to be universal. There's very little noodling around on Plastic Beach for being such a playful album. Instead, it lets incredibly beautiful moments like the mid-track takeover of "Empire Ants" by Little Dragon and engineering delights like the chorus of "Super-Fast Jellyfish" just happen.

 

Mark Ronson and the Business Intl- Record Collection

In a vein similar to Plastic Beach, pop journeyman Mark Ronson brought a unique congregation of artists together to make the surprisingly affecting synth album Record Collection. 80's New Wave luminaries like Boy George and Simon Le Bon share space with rappers Q-Tip and Ghostface Killa, as well as pop singers like Rose Elinor Dougall. The result is an album that seems nothing short of a celebration of modern music, a perfectly constructed stack of dance tracks with heart and brains to spare.

 

Sleigh Bells- Treats

Krunk music is terrible. It may be fun and it may get people on the dance floor at da club, but it also revels in its own stupidity and is happy to trade actual music and lyrics for vibrating bass and monosyllabic grunts. That's why the debut album by Sleigh Bells is so amazing. It takes the very principles of krunk and give them real rhythm, a glitchy toolbox sensibility and disarmingly feminine vocals. It's an experiment that works, if only once.

 

The National- High Violet

I'll be the first to admit that High Violet doesn't rock. It's a lush, carefully orchestrated album of songs that sound intelligent without being literary and emotional without being overblown or sappy. I hate to slap it with the label "adult contemporary" because that would put it alongside a lot of awful music, but it's just so damn grown up and modern that no other niche fits. Sometimes it soars, like in the closing moments of "England", and sometimes it wails, as in "Afraid of Everyone", but High Violet never falters. A stirring collection of songs from front to back, it's the latest entry in The National's six-year streak of powerful albums and the most durable listening experience of 2010.