Yesterday, I shared with you my picks for the ten best songs of 2010. Expanding on the music theme a bit, here are my ten favorite albums of the year:
The veteran synth-pop group’s 11th album (and first since 1996) is pure 80’s prom on a plate. It was as if the band’s original line-up (Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Malcolm Holmes, and Martin Cooper) had locked themselves away in a time capsule, isolated from any music post-1985. The result is this ebullient collection of uptempo synthpop perfection tempered with a few of the band’s signature moody ballads that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the celluloid world of a John Hughes movie all over again.
The Canadian ensemble’s fifth album blends a decidedly distinctive Beatles aesthetic with the group’s trademark symphonic bombast and soaring, hook-laden choruses on this unassuming collection of breezy, folky-rock throwbacks. The supergroup’s four primary vocalists – A.C. Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar, and Kathryn Calder – seamlessly trade vocal duties and anchor the collection like four distinct colors on the same artist’s palette. As likely to snatch your breath with their poetic lyrics as they are to drive you to compulsive toe-tapping with their sunny harmonies, The New Pornographers continue the brilliant musical experiment they began with 2000’s Mass Romantic.
#6) Scissor Sisters | Night Work
On its third album, the colorful NYC band eschews the trademark subtle homoerotic playfulness of its first two efforts with this brasher, rainbow flag-waving set of queer subculture set to music. Aiming less for mainstream gay sensibility here, frontman Jake Shears and company strike out to explore the darker underbelly of the gay ghetto. The result is a bolder, less compromising effort that audaciously explores the promiscuous hedonism and sometimes violent fetishism of the gay sexual underground – perhaps the direct result of Shears’ year-long binge in East Berlin. As always, the Scissor Sisters’ music itself is grounded in the articulate, smart-pop sensibilities of the Pet Shop Boys and emboldened by the sleazier, high-energy sexuality of Dead or Alive, while the vocal tradeoff between Shears and Ana Matronic calls to mind the falsetto versus baritone brilliance of Jimmy Somerville and Sarah Jane Morris, circa The Communards era.
#5) Groove Armada | Black Light
The electronic music duo of Andy Cato and Tom Findlay proudly wears its New Order, Gary Numan, and Human League influences on its sleeves on this, the elder statesmen of dance music’s sixth studio album. Deep, propulsive rhythms and synthesized bass lines form the backdrop for the Armada’s latest coterie of vocalists – including Bryan Ferry, Nick Littlemore, Fenech Soler, SaintSaviour, Jess Larrabee, and Will Young. The result is stylish, sophisticated dance music with a decidedly 80’s vibe that gives the album a trans-generational quality.
After a protracted maternity leave, the former 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman returned with this eclectic collection of poetry set to folk-meets-world music. Dizzyingly and dazzlingly brilliant — and well worth the wait since 2003’s underappreciated The House Carpenter’s Daughter. Highlight: The unadulterated childhood whimsy of “Bleezer’s Ice Cream”, a quirky ditty about Pomegranate Pumpernickel and twenty-seven other curious concoctions of the titular frozen confection.
#2) Elton John & Leon Russell | The Union