PoMo Jukebox's (and friends'!) Top 25 Albums of the Year

Welcome to PoMo Jukebox's first ever Album's of the Year List (2010 edition). By now it seems pretty evident that 2010 was all about excess. We had Kanye West's excessive production and ruminations on celebrity, Sleigh Bells' excessive volume, Joanna Newsom's excess of material, The Arcade Fire's excessive everything, and Sufjan Stevens' excess of feeling and whatever the hell else is going on with The Age of Adz. Oddly, through all of this excess 2010 ended up being a pretty incredible year for music. While excess has traditionally been a dirty word when talking about music, all of a sudden our excess of excess ended up giving music fans an excess of exciting, larger-than-life albums that managed to mix raw enthusiasm with their unchecked ambition.

Over the course of this week, we are excited to be rolling out our 25 favorite Albums of the Year list. We, literally, couldn't have made this list without you, our friends and readers. After our call for lists we received well over twenty lists with votes for over a hundred albums. What follows is the result of your tastes and ours. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

25. The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt
Label: Dead Oceans

One of the great moments of the year for me was hearing The Tallest Man on Earth’s “The Wild Hunt.” Singer/songwriter Kristian Mattson, from Sweden, sounds American with his Dylanesque melodies and reminds me how much I love folk music. Highlights include “King of Spain” and “The Wild Hunt,” but “Love is All” may be the true ode to early Dylan. A purely simple, quiet album that gets better with each listen. --Brandon Hobson

24. The Black Keys - Brothers
Label: Nonesuch

Six albums in, the blues-rock revisionists The Black Keys still sound fresh. Brothers demonstrates what the band does best: mixing old sounds with the new. While they haven’t reinvented themselves here, the album feels more relaxed than anything they’ve done – yet they’ve maintained that sonic atmosphere that gives their sound its tightness. Brothers sneaks up on you and upon first listen, you get the feeling you’ve been here before. However, this is not a rehash – the songs on Brothers feel like they’ve always been here. --Andrew Terhune

23. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Label: Def Jam

When people thought of Outkast, they often pictured Andre3000, his antics and costumes. On Sir Lucious, Big Boi shows he is every bit as weird as Andre and every bit as talented, if not more so. While the album drags on a little long, and while some of the guest appearances are questionable (I mean, Vonnegutt? Why?), on many of the tracks, the rhymes are as fresh and the beats are as tight as anything Outkast produced. And a little Janelle Monae certainly never hurts anything. --Joshua Cross

22. Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love
Label: Matador

I love every album Belle and Sebastian have put out, and “Write About Love,” their seventh studio album, is no exception. For me, their approach is always hypnotic, like vintage light sixties pop, but this time with lyrics less haunting than past albums. Still, “I Didn’t See it Coming,” is a fantastic opener, and “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” featuring Norah Jones, is a highlight to this really fine album that won’t disappoint B&S fans. --Brandon Hobson

21. Titus Andronicus - The Monitor
Label: XL

The American Civil War serves as a controlling metaphor on The Monitor, both in the form of era-specific speeches and in lyrics that reference battles on land and sea. But ultimately, this album is about being young in present-day New Jersey and feeling that all your options are closed, as evidenced by lyrics like “down in North Carolina, I could have been a productive member of society / But these New Jersey cigarettes and all they require have made a fucking junkie out of me.” While thematically dark, this is one of the loudest, most energetic albums of the year. --Joshua Cross

20. Das Racist - Sit Down, Man
Label: Mad Decent / Greedhead / Mishka

Das Racist have had a busy year. Over the summer, everyone was singing their ridiculous "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," which they promptly followed with the full length mixtape, Shut Up, Dude, a collection of beats and rhymes that pleasantly surprised anyone who was familiar with their fast food homage, but ended up being dwarfed just a few months later by a second mixtape, the fun, impressive, and sharp Sit Down, Man. On this second mixtape, Das Racist expand on their promise by opening up their song structures while continuing to reference everything from soap operas to obscure Star Trek lore. If the fact that Heems and Kool AD are able to load an album with tight wordplay and solid beats isn't enough for you, Sit Down, Man also likes to get subversive with ideas of race and privilege. But that's not really the point, is it? --James Brubaker

19. How to Dress Well - Love Remains
Label: Lefse

If I had a nickel for every time I've described Love Remains as haunted, I'd have enough nickels to fill the up sock I should use to knock myself out for being so goddam redundant. That said, How to Dress Well is a marvel of lo-fi, decomposed production. Tom Krell starts with half-rotted song sketches that have a bit of an R&B flavor, then under records them so they end up sounding like distant, totally fucked howls of distorted emotion. While "Decisions" is the easy highlight, Krell somehow manages to build an entire album of these disintegrated pop songs that works as a unified--and stunningly listenable--whole. You might even say the whole affair is beautifully haunted. --James Brubaker

18. Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Label: Warp

When Cosmogramma first leaked, I wrote a review describing it as sci-fi noir. I stand by that descriptor, but what hadn't sunk in from those early listens was just how elegant and warm Flying Lotus's arrangements are. Mixed in with the cool synths and interstellar beats are breathless bursts of jazz and a dazzling orchestral sweep. While these elements seem disparate, FlyLo blends them together seamlessly to make an album that doesn't just sound like foreboding future cities, but that makes jazz music feel more relevant than it has in a long, long time. --James Brubaker

17. Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can
Label: Astralwerks

If you live on this side of the Atlantic, this is the best record you probably haven’t heard this year. Marling, however, is no secret in her native Britain, where I Speak Because I Can, her sophomore LP, debuted at number four on the charts. Though only 20 years old, Marling’s confident songwriting, urgent lyrics, and at times Nick Drake-esque guitar work create an ethos that well surpasses her years. This is among the most engaging folk music to come out in years, without equivocation. Do yourself a solid and listen. --Joshua Cross

16. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
Label: Kanine

Surfer Blood has drawn comparisons to Weezer, Vampire Weekend, Japandroids, Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., and even early Cure. (OK, so that last one may just be me. But listen to “Harmonix” and tell me you don’t hear echoes of Three Imaginary Boys.) And all of those with good reason. There’s the fun hooks of the Blue Album, there’s the fuzz of Post-Nothing, there’s the frat-party fist-pump of Vampire Weekend. But while this is a fun, fuzzy, fist-pumper of a debut LP, there is an intricacy underlying many of these songs that suggest these Floridians have bigger things in store. --Joshua Cross

15. M.I.A. - /\/\/\Y/\
Label: Interscope

/\/\/\Y/\ is arguably the most challenging piece of pop released in 2010. On it, M.I.A. reconfigures her multicultural brand of hip-hop into deconstructed dance music. The disorienting but pleasant sounds of “Galang” and “Paper Planes” have been replaced by the disfigured party beats of “Teqkilla,” the meth-rush of “Born Free,” and the stammering, headbanging glory of “Meds and Feds.” Lyrically, M.I.A. is all over the place, as concerned with the trappings of fame as she is with the elimination of privacy in the instant information age. /\/\/\Y/\ may be her best album to date, as well as her most unlistenable. —Brian Flota

14. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid
Label: Bad Boy/Wonderland

Janelle Monae sort of surprised everyone this year by coming out of nowhere to release one of the best albums of the year. Using a thin, and unnecessary (but fun) sci-fi concept as a through-thread, Monae manages to annihilate just about every genre and aesthetic expectation known to man. Veering from straight R&B, to hip hop (w/ Big Boi), to indie pop (w/ Of Montreal), to psychadelic folk, The ArchAndroid is easily the most adventurous and exciting album of the year. --James Brubaker

13. Best Coast - Crazy For You
Label: Mexican Summer

If we define 2010’s musical landscape in terms of excess, then there’s something refreshing about Best Coast’s simplicity. Short, catchy songs, repetitive lyrics, simple chord structures, and standard songwriting about themes like love, longing, and loneliness. There’s something both immediately familiar and refreshingly novel about Crazy About You that makes it stand out in a list of the year’s best albums. Throw in talking cats and Bethany Cosentino’s larger than life, though incredibly down to earth, presence on Twitter (not to mention Snacks the cat’s tweets!), and Best Coast is one of more intriguing acts to emerge from 2010. --Joshua Cross

12. No Age - Everything in Between
Label: Sub Pop

The slashing punk rock guitar, booming drums, and MBV atmospherics of No Age’s debut album (Nouns) are tempered slightly on its follow-up by greater production values. The opening single, “Glitter,” is loaded with shimmery keyboards and feedback as well as an improved vocal sound. Just because they’ve grown up some and listened to a little more of The Cure than they used to, though, doesn’t mean they can’t still bring tha noize. Tracks like “Fever Dreaming,” “Depletion,” and “Shed and Transcend” rock as hard as anything they’ve recorded. While it’s no Nouns, it’s great to see them growing musically. --Brian Flota

11. Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Label: Asthmatic Kitty

Jesus, Sufjan. You go away for a few years, talk about writing fiction, make some crazy-ass multi-media art and this is what you come back with? A sprawling, messy, cantankerous bit of cathartic pop that kicks us in the balls while running its fingers through our hair? This album is long--aided by its epic twenty-five minute closing track--and it can even be a bit alienating, but in the best possible way. By seamlessly blending icy electronics with warm orchestral and choral flourishes, Stevens has built an album about what it feels like to be blown apart, drifting away from whatever it is that we make our core, and hanging on for dear life. By album's end, two things are clear: Sufjan won't let go and he's not fucking around. --James Brubaker

10. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Label: Merge

Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs is a more delicate, intimate recording than their past albums. With strong, orchestral arrangements, songs like “Sprawl II” shine, though the first song sets the subtle mood of the album. Win Butler’s lyrics about childhood and youth are charming and well-written, even humorous at times, and make this a strange but well deserved place in their catalog. --Brandon Hobson

9. Beach House - Teen Dream
Label: Sub Pop

Teen Dream continues the distinct dream-pop sound Beach House had crafted on their first two records, but also represents something of a musical growth for the Baltimore duo. Victoria Legrand’s signature deep, smoky vocals are still present, as are her droning keyboards and Alex Scally’s spacey guitars, but Teen Dream expands that reliable aesthetic to a sound that is somehow simultaneously both darker and brighter. Songs like “Silver Soul” and “Norway” match the bleak backdrop of the album’s January release, while others like “Walk in the Park” have shades of pop heretofore unheard in previous releases. Of all the albums that came out at the beginning of the year, this is one of the most listenable eleven months later. --Joshua Cross

8. Vampire Weekend - Contra
Label: XL

You’ve probably heard Vampire Weekend’s song “Holiday” on all those Honda commercials, but that’s only just a taste of this fantastic album. Contra, their second album, is more adventurous and upbeat than their first album. The opener, “Horchata” is a surge of synth-pop and guitars and as catchy as anything I’ve heard in a long time. “White Sky,” another catchy tune, shows the band’s versatility—but the whole album, in fact, is a nice blend of West African guitars, reggae, and ska. Contra is my pick for album of the year. --Brandon Hobson

7. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today
Label: 4AD

Bad 1970s and 1980s pop music can be identified by its forceful use of then-new synthesizer technology, ultra-compressed beats, and cheesy saxophones. On Before Today, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti revisit these nauseating sounds not with nostalgia, but from the perspective of musical anthropologists seeking to excavate these broken shards of sound from an abandoned mound of refuse. As a result, the group produces washed out music that just doesn’t like it’s from another time, but from some forgotten place in our collective musical unconscious. The unmistakable highlight is “Round and Round,” their hypnotic ode to Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English.” —Brian Flota

6. Joanna Newsom - Have One on Me
Label: Drag City

While nobody was expecting Joanna Newsom to turn around and put out a 3xLP set this year, we shouldn't have been surprised. It's not like here last album, Y's was lacking in ambition with its five songs starting from seven minutes, and its grand, orchestral sweep. What should surprise us about Have One on Me is how easy Newsom's transition from those larger than life songs back to more straightforward singer-songwriter material would be. Of course, using straightforward as an adjective for anything Newsom related is a big misleading, and though Have One on Me finds Newsom's songs getting a bit hookier, and a bit more direct, the complexity of both the arrangements and the emotional content is impressive. And while "Good Intentions Paving Co." might be Newsom at her most timeless, "Does Not Suffice" might very well be this album's crowning achievement, and the best "last song" of the year, as Newsom packs up her things, looks back at a failed romance and turns out the light before showing us the door. --James Brubaker

5. Sleigh Bells - Treats
Label: N.E.E.T. / Mom & Pop

After generating a killer bee swarm of buzz in 2009, the duo Sleigh Bells delivered on it this year with their aptly-titled debut CD Treats. Singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist/keyboardist Derek Miller create the ultimate party-rager’s music, influenced as much by late 1980s techno and industrial as by early Andrew W.K. Miller’s aggro-beats are offset by Krauss’ comparatively ameliorating vocals. The juxtaposition of these two musical counterpoints has the effect of seeing Sigur Ros perform live in downtown Baghdad the night the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. For as anarchic as this all may sound, Sleigh Bells are great because given sheer amount of volume they produce, they are exceedingly accessible. This is music equally suited for peaking trippers as well as cheerleading competitions. Sleigh Bells is packed with entertaining numbers like the opener “Tell ‘Em,” the hit “Infinity Guitars,” and metal-stomp of “Crown on the Ground.” The group also displays a knack for effective sampling on “Rill Rill,” cribbing Funkadelic’s psych-gospel masterpiece “Can You Get to That,” creating the most chill moment on the album. Sure, one could criticize Treats for being slight, but so is some rock’s best music (“wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boo” to you). —Brian Flota

4. The National - High Violet
Label: 4AD

More than any National album before it, High Violet is immediately accessible and moving, and for a band that released a contemporary classic like Boxer, that’s saying something. Similarly, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” may be the tightest, strongest song The National has released to date, and it stands as one of the best singles of the year. Like the rest of the album, “Bloodbuzz” is catchy yet complicated, with all the instruments and voices coming together in a perfect and unified whole. “Bloodbuzz” also serves as a good representation of the album’s major themes: love, loss, the search for a solid plateau to place one’s feet on. Other highlights include “Terrible Love,” “Afraid of Everyone,” and “Runaway,” though High Violet has no truly weak tracks. From first note to last, it is a tightly crafted, beautiful album that deserves all the commercial success and critical recognition it received this year, and then some. --Joshua Cross

3. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Label: 4AD

Over the past few years, Bradford Cox has become one of the most important voices in indie rock, both with Deerhunter and his solo project, Atlas Sound. Halcyon Digest stands above all of Cox’s prior releases as the most coherent, beautiful, and devastating work. In short, this album is his masterpiece to date. What sets it above Deerhunter’s past works, and many of the year’s other best albums, is its cohesion, the way it functions as a proper album, not just a collection of great songs. While the first two singles, “Revival” and “Helicopter,” are both excellent songs on their own merits, isolating them from the rest of the album makes any of the songs seem somehow out of place, a quality usually found exclusively in proper concept albums. While Halcyon Digest is not necessarily a concept album in that it does not tell a story from beginning to end, the themes of isolation, aging, and coming to grips with one’s mortality form one harmonious whole that forces us to consider the album as an entity. And a powerful entity at that. The move to 4AD exclusively (the label had previously distributed Deerhunter overseas) brought a slightly higher budget to the album’s production. But somehow the band managed to retain their signature bedroom recording feel, psychedelic dreampop sound, and DIY aesthetic while benefitting from the production, rather than losing intimacy and immediacy. All told, Halcyon Digest is a hallucinatory dream that catches the listener the moment the needle drops and doesn’t let go until long after you hit the run-out groove. --Joshua Cross

2. LCD Soundsystem - This is Happening
Label: DFA / Virgin

I was not entirely sold on LCD Soundsystem until their latest effort, This is Happening. James Murphy’s overt debt to David Bowie and his very hit-or-miss attempts at humor in some of his songs always struck me as a weakness. For every stunning track like “All My Friends,” there has been a “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” to undermine it. On the new album, these moments are kept to a minimum (even the record’s most troublesome cut, “Drunk Girls,” possesses irresistible pop hooks). The album moves briskly; few hour-long albums seem this brief (this is a compliment). Beginning with the slow-building opener “Dance Yrself Clean,” James Murphy’s focus is sharp. The first three minutes of the track are barely audible. Then, the drums kick in, along with a sick blast of Atari 2600 keyboard goodness, and the song instantly becomes legendary. “All I Want” is his one direct stab at Bowie, drawing heavily from “Heroes,” with its intermingled, atmospheric guitar lines. The lyrical self-reflexivity of “You Wanted a Hit” is as playful as its propulsive beat. Unlike most of the great European/American dance music of the past twenty years or so, This is Happening is largely free of drug-fueled pretensions, aesthetically speaking. This is direct, minimal dance music, driven by a “motorik” drumbeat, bass, guitar, synthesizers, and vocals. There are no samples, overdriven drum machines, or disorienting keyboard textures. This approach makes it one of the strongest albums of the year. —Brian Flota

1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Label: Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella

After the initial fervor surrounding the release of Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy died down, I've been trying to figure out the perspectives of those who can't get into it. While this year's Kanye West earthquake (measuring a 10.0 on the Richter, erm, I mean Pitchfork Scale) may have been a surprise to many, especially coming as a follow up to the interesting but heavily flawed 808's and Heartbreaks, not to mention West's status as Most Hated Celebrity in America, the album makes perfect sense for our time and place. That time and place, of course, is somewhere adrift in a distorted, fragmented version of pop culture that permeates our every move and leaves us always a bit suffocated by its ubiquity. Enter Kanye. I get how people can be alienated by My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--the absence of commas from the title alone is enough to make me want to punch a nun--but, in a way, this album is about alienation. Not just West's alienation as he grapples with fame and identity, but the alienation we feel in our relationships with spectacle.

That's why West's excess works, here. It doesn't matter that he doesn't have the best flow, or that the songs are all six-plus minutes long, or that production is over-blown, or that the Chris Rock skit goes on a bit too long. Those are all details, ill-considered quibbles thrown against a juggernaut text that sets out to do nothing less than put Kanye West and the idea of pop spectacle in an outhouse together then blow them the fuck up. And that's just what My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy does. West alternates between euphoria ("can we get much higher" from album opener "Dark Fantasy") and self-hatred ("I'm a motherfucking monster" from, of course, "Monster") in an exploration of the fame and the sense of entitlement with which it comes. One of the album's more controversial moments, the extended vocoder outro on "Runaway" also manages to work as the album's cathartic core--after putting himself on the line, turning himself inside out and more often than not finding a repulsive, angry, arrogant man, we are offered that man's soulful, but mangled pleas for inner peace.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy isn't a masterpiece because it is relateable, or because it is all about Kanye (it's not either of those things). The album is a masterpiece because it's about the way we relate to pop culture and celebrity, and the ways we forge our identities through interactions with that very culture. Now, thanks to West, we have been confronted with just how fucked (and fuckin' ridickahliss) that culture is. Still, that shouldn't keep us from coming back for more. --James Brubaker