Top 10 records of 2010

From button-down brainiacs to primal chic
By JIM MACNIE  |  December 22, 2010

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2010 was full of riches: plenty of terrific albums came down the pike. There are more pop and rock discs I want to make note of, and maybe I'll do so next week if there's room after listing the year's Top 10 jazz titles.

SLEIGH BELLS | TREATS | MOM & POP

The cheerleader chirps, the Tron-tastic guitar licks, and the boom boom pow their computers created — call it racket as relief, or explosions as entertainment, and kick yourself for not coming up with the idea: you shoulda known that crossing the Ting Tings with the Boredoms woulda been a righteous move.

THE NATIONAL | HIGH VIOLET | 4AD

Their interest in gray atmospheres borders on obsession, but their dedication to rhythm buoys all the gloom. Drummer Bryan Devendorf uses everything from primal tom-tom pummels to "Theme From Shaft" hi-hat rolls to widen the music's emotional scope and charge singer Matt Berniger's perpetual sorrow. Their great subjects may well be solitude and sympathy, but they approach them with big hearts and open arms.

NO AGE | EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN | SUB POP

On their third disc, the LA noise rock duo cleaves a chunk of the sonic debris that marked their early work and chips their way toward eloquence. That doesn't mean this stuff is pristine, of course. Fuzz, dissonance, and drones still surround the cloudy vocals. But their integration is architecturally insightful and — here's the best part — emotionally powerful.

DAS RACIST | SIT DOWN, MAN | MIXTAPE

Syllables bounce off each other like Orville Redenbacher kernels popping in the microwave. Meanings morph a mile a minute. Rhymes are turned inside out and upside down. The Brooklyn trio takes their clever pills before grabbing the mics and, like their lyrical (not musical) forebears the Beasties, they pump a non-stop parade of images that feels like the pages of a dictionary being flipped.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND | CONTRA | XL

Button-down brainiacs have a right to get their grooves on, too. And when it's done with the kind of panache these dapper post-grads bring to the table, there's plenty to celebrate. Their tunes get over on individuality, not mood. And whether they're bouncing to ska, clicking on the Auto-Tune, or riding a West African guitar lick, they're just as engaging as this preppy band is privileged.

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THE FALL | YOUR FUTURE, OUR CLUTTER | DOMINO

I always had my fingers crossed that toothless crank Mark E. Smith wasn't a goner, and this gnarled little comeback is a testament to hanging in there. The 53-year-old singer's latest crew employs the typical Fall formula: add abstract declamation and hazy non-sequiters to fragged-riff guitar rock and booming drums. In some ways it's wildly primal; in some ways it's wildly arty. Boasting some of rock's most idiosyncratic wordplay, Mark E. is going to turn into William Burroughs yet.

FLYING LOTUS | COSMOGRAMMA | WARP

Consider this sprawling electronica essay a unique addition to the canon of Cali psychedelia. There's no cacophony here — Lotus likes his dreamscapes to be a tad more tempered — but the labyrinth of textures and rhythmic implosions delivers a steady stream of peaks. From Thom Yorke's murmurs to Ravi Coltrane's shrieks, everything finds its place.

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