Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members' top albums of 2010. The next list is from station volunteer Josh Lesser.
(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members' picks.)
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Sure, at first blush a punk concept album loosely based on combining coming of age in New Jersey and the American Civil War seems like an unlikely pick for best album of the year. But Titus Andronicus puts the full force of their rage, youth, and passion into track after shout-alongable track, and thesis statements on the state of America and youth abound ("we have enemies everywhere", "you will always be a loser", "its still us against them"). Listening to the album, or, even better, at witnessing their live show, its impossible not to get swept along with them. Essential Tracks: "A More Perfect Union", "Four Score and Seven"
Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago (Matador) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Shearwater continues their growth from folk side project (from Jonathan Meiburgs former band, Okkervil River) to one of the most unique bands out there with this album. Lushly orchestrated and densely lyrical, each song builds its own particular mood and atmosphere while Meiburg wails and howls and whispers above it. The album moves effortlessly from gloriously uplifting to ominous and claustrophobic and back again. Essential tracks: "Uniforms", "God Made Me", "Castaways"
Girl Talk – All Day (Illegal Art) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
While I havent lived with this album as long as some of the others, I can't say I was more excited about any album on this list dropping. And while on first listen it didnt seem as immediate or complex as former albums, the test for me for Girl Talk is whether it makes me want to giggle and dance at the same time. And once he mixes Rhianna and Fugazi on the second track, it did. Essential Tracks: "Let it Out", "Thats Right"
The National – High Violet (4AD) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
When I want existential dread and wine soaked–sadness, I need look no further than this incredible record. Even the hopeful songs have terrifying images (being carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees, for example). Themes of protecting your children, craving sorrow, and, of course, zombies infuse this record with a maturity that wasn't present as much on the previous National albums, and they are no worse off for it. Essential Tracks: "Bloodbuzz Ohio", "England"
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Brutalist Bricks (Matador) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Brutalist Bricks explodes out of the gate with a song about suicide bombings, and never looks back. Returning to the political rabble rouser form he did so well on Shake the Streets Ted Leo and co. sound tight, together, and focused. Perfect for long drives and short bursts of righteous anger. (bonus points for the amazing, Paul F. Tomkins-starring, music video sending up American Idiot: The Musical) Essential Tracks: "The Mighty Sparrow", "Bottled in Cork"
Midlake – The Courage of Others (Bella Union) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Pretty much any album Midlake released after the near-perfection of Van Occupanther would have been a let down for me, but Courage of Others goes a long way towards soothing that pain. Rainy day music written by druids, its almost surprising to hear them address more direct, less mystical notions on songs like "The Courage of Others" (which evokes neither ancient kingdoms nor moss covered hillsides, and speaks more to emo kids than forest children). But they do both eually well, it turns out. Essential Tracks: "Rulers, Ruling All Things", "Acts of Man"
Frightened Rabbit – Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fat Cat) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Like Midlake, Frightened Rabbit had the tall order of following up one of my favorite records of the last five years (Midnight Organ Fight). And while this album took a while to grow on me, grow it did. No other band reaches quite the heights that Frightened Rabbit does at its best when it mixes pedestrian images with soaring backings to pack the perfect punch. Sadness rarely sounds as joyful as they make it sound. Essential Tracks: "Things", "The Loneliness and the Scream"
Sun Kil Moon – Admiral Fell Promises (Caldo Verde) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
I've been saving this one for the winter, because a July release date for a Sun Kil Moon album seems somehow inappropriate. While I will admit Kozelek stripping back to his man-and-his-Spanish-guitar persona is not my favorite one of his (preferring the more produced, full band sounds of the Red House Painters and his first Sun Kil Moon album), I will eagerly absorb anything this man does, and Admiral Fell Promises has not disappointed. I look forward to many cold winter days alone with this album. How many things can you that about? Essential Tracks: "Alesund", "Sam Wong Hotel"
"Ready to Start" from The Suburbs by Arcade Fire (Merge) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
Maybe this is out of place on a Best of the Year list, but I feel I can't in good conscience discuss this year in music without pointing out the two albums that disappointed me the most. Two new albums from two of my favorite bands...I felt my cup would runneth over. But try as I might to get into The Suburbs, I just cant do it. There are tracks that I like, and one track that I love (hence giving the nod to "Ready to Start" as a standout of the year) but I fell in love with both Funeral and Neon Bible within the first couple of listens. And while it may not be fair to compare them all, compare I must, and this album just does not clear the bar. I'm still holding out hope for Arcade Fire, that someday it might just click...
"We Can Get Together" from Heaven is Whenever by The Hold Steady (Vagrant) BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
...As for The Hold Steady, "We can get together" is a great song, and keeps with the bands mission statement, but for the most part, the rest of the album is pretty forgettable.