Zach Roth's 2010 Top Ten
1.Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
I originally barred Sigh No More from my Top 10 because it was technically released in 2009. But you know what? This album is probably the best album I have heard in either '09 or '10. In fact, it's probably one of the best albums I've heard in years. Earnest and earthy, folksy grit smoothed over by dulcet vocals with a distinctive British twang (I have such a thing for accents), Mumford & Sons had me at hello, or maybe "chip chip cheerio!" However Brits greet people. Cultural insensitivies aside, Sigh No More is an album I can put on at any time of day, in any mood, at any volume (but I prefer blaring), and it will always be great. They have such a knack for songwriting-- and harmonizing. I can't listen to "White Blank Page" without singing along almost instantly. If more bands like this roared into popularity, the radio - and the world - would be a much better place.
2.Letlive - Fake History
Fake History invokes all the best aspects of bands like At the Drive-In, Bear Vs. Shark and Glassjaw. The songs are free-wheelingly agressive and chaotic, yet wildly singable. "Le Prologue" into "The Sick, Sick, 6.8 Billion" may just be one of the best album intros in the history of music. Doubling the impressiveness of this album is the band's marked improvement and evolution following the release of Speak Like You Talk. I'm not sure anyone saw this album coming.
3.The Wonder Years - The Upsides
The Upsides isn't a revolutionary album in any respect. I checked it out on a whim back in January when it dropped, and quickly forgot about it. Driving to JFK this summer, windows down, A/C compressor busted, I returned to it and it suddenly just clicked. At their core, The Wonder Years play simple pop punk, but the lyrics are why I love this band so much-- and this particular release even more. They're written from the perspective of a dude from Philly, fresh out of college and jaded with the world around him. If I didn't live an hour north of there, I'd be tempted to think this album was about me. It's bittersweet connecting with an album's lyrics so thoroughly, especially when songs like "Melrose Diner" remind me of that girl I was picking up from JFK that summer day. Obviously, what I'm describing is hardcore niche appeal, but fuck you, this is my Top Ten list.
4.Tides of Man - Dreamhouse
Tides of Man fills this hole in my heart that Damiera left. They're some exceptional triangulation of Fair to Midland, Dead Letter Circus, and Circa Survive: mathy guitar riffs, glorious, soaring vocals, and a punchy mix of aggression and tenderness. There isn't a song I don't like on Dreamhouse. The a capella opening of "Not My Love 2" is really quite courteous of them. You know from the very first second whether or not you're going to like Tilian Pearson's polarizing vocal range. But even if you don't, the rest of the album really is worth a listen, from the M(Us)ic-esque instrumentation of "Statues," to the controlled and lush tones and sullen lyrics of "A Faint Illusion." Unfortunately, Pearson and the rhythm guitarist quit on December 20th. Merry fucking Christmas, Tides of Man fans.
5.Hellogoodbye - Would It Kill You?
I had thought Hellogoodbye imploded. Release a wildly popular gimmicky EP? Check. Follow it up by expanding your gimmick into a full-length and have your lead single go platinum? Check. Realize that there's nothing left to your band but its gimmick, cry bitter tears for the death of your musical integrity, and break up the band, only to reunite as a D-list touring group, doomed to play the songs you hate for pennies? Che-- No, wait. Hellogoodbye must have realized that the auto-tune and cheap synth weren't going to last forever. Lead singer Forrest Kline had a studio installed in his garage, the band wrote and wrote and wrote-- heck, with real instruments, no less! After four years of relative silence, the release of Would It Kill You? has absolutely floored me. Orchestrated power pop with substance and quality songwriting. The real tragedy is that Would It Kill You? won't sell like their last album, but it brims with as much integrity as it does talent.
6.Maps and Atlases - Perch Patchwork
Maps & Atlases constantly impress me. While I loved the math-tinged intensity of Tree, Swallows, Houses, the band challenged me to expand my horizons with their EP You and Me and the Mountain, which replaced the technicality I adored with a certain cheery indie rock sensibility. Perch Patchwork actually flew under my radar for months. The moment I discovered they had dropped an album without telling me, I tore my poster of the band off the ceiling above my bed and pouted, but once I recovered, I got my hands on the album as fast as I could. I was immediately disappointed. "Where is the math rock?!" I shouted at the torn up shreds of my ceiling poster. But Perch Patchwork is a different beast entirely. The kind of beast that stalks you with a tender subtlety during your first few listens and then sinks its catchy and indomitable claws directly into your brain through your ear drums. Just like with Letlive., Maps & Atlases' combo intro track, "Will," segueing into standout, "The Charm," sets up the rest of the album beautifully. The songs are well-written and engaging, and complicated, despite their inherent simplicity at first listen. There's a lot to listen to. The biggest tragedy here is that the album's about as long as Michael Vick's leash.
7.Rosetta - A Determinism of Morality
A Determinism of Morality is the reason ISIS broke up. Aaron Turner listened to the opening seconds of "Ayil," turned to his band mates with tears in his eyes and said, "Alright guys. Let's pack this the fuck in. The students have become the masters." Rosetta are brilliant on their third full-length. A Determinism of Morality is more focused and concise than previous efforts, yet it retains the band's characteristic atmosphere; and it is just as brutal, but in shorter, more forceful bursts. And, following The Wonder Years, Rosetta is the second band of three from Philly on my Top Ten. It was a good year for the city of brotherly love.
8.Four Year Strong - Enemy of the World
Four Year Strong are simply a fun band to listen to. With just the right blend of aggression and singability, Enemy of the World is catchier than Swine Flu. The acoustic cuts of choice tracks on the deluxe re-issue of the album only serve to strengthen it. They're just a talented bunch of dudes with an ear for both acoustic and electric music, and they've got a finger firmly planted on the pulse of their fans. If they don't blow up with their next album, then that means the world blew up in 2012.
9.Circa Survive - Blue Sky Noise
And now, the third band from Philly in my Top Ten. There weren't many better songs than "Get Out" in 2010. Circa Survive tightened their songwriting up, removed a lot of their atmosphere (for better or worse), and dropped Blue Sky Noise in the midst of a swell of excitement over their lead single. And most of the other songs were just as good, if not better. However, some songs just fall flat for me. "Spirit of the Stairwell" felt like a b-side from Anthony Green's solo work, "The Longest Mile" has a pretty uninspired chorus, and I'd trade "Compendium" for a more fleshed-out instrumental or the recorded version of "Everyway" on any day of the week. That all being said, Blue Sky Noise is a great god damn album despite my nitpicks, and it deserves its spot inside my illustrious Top Ten.
10.Minus The Bear - OMNI
OMNI is as marked of a departure from Minus the Bear's sound as Planet of Ice was in 2007. Truthfully, every album Minus the Bear has ever released is a marked departure from their "sound." Complacent fans who still swear by Highly Refined Pirates won't "get" OMNI, but those who can appreciate a masterful blend of pop with Minus the Bear's signature mathy, funky indie rock have a meaty album to sink their teeth into.
Listening to Fang Island is like waking up Monday morning and seeing that school is cancelled, or like cannonballing into a ten-foot deep pool of jello, or like your hand gently grazing the hand of that special someone who doesn't know they're special just yet; and then you use that hand to high five a new-car scented unicorn surfing on a rainbow sporting an extra pair of muscular man arms. They well up this tingling euphoria in the pleasure center of your brain, raise up the little hairs on your lower back that you're self-conscious about, and fire up the dancing genes in your very DNA.
Aggressively overshadowed by acts like Bon Iver and the ubiquitous Mumford & Sons, Bombay Bicycle Club quietly released a stellar folk album this year. Subtle and understated like a good indie film, Flaws isn't going to turn your head, but it will inspire you to bob it back and forth with a firmly cemented smile.
Fuck this album. Seriously. I gave it a listen after watching the leaked video for "Monster" and I haven't been able to turn it off since. The album is so busy, but in the best way. Disparate influences, tons of instruments and voices. My only complaint is that it almost doesn't feature Kanye enough. The lyrical content is great by just about everyone. Hip hop has so much potential when it isn't wasted on rapping about your fucking cars.
I was comparing Foxy Shazam to Queen back when Introducing came out in 2008, and I think Eric Nally heard me. Foxy have just about entirely forsaken their thrashy, Blood Brothers-esque roots in favor of some seriously overbearing glam rock sensibilities. And you know what? I don't mind at all. Nally has the pipes of a sequined, flamboyant god, and the fearlessness (shamelessness?) to back it up. And if their live show and music videos are any indication, the band is 100% behind him. They're just as zany and supercharged as ever. Some members flip and wildly dance, others play their instruments with their feet. The band's attitude hasn't changed, just the genre.
Periphery probably deserves to be higher up on my list, but I am a fiend for pop music at heart. The band, who after 5 djent years djent have really crafted a djentacular djent djent of djentic proportions and djent djent djitterbuggin to djent djent djent and 72 minutes later you can't wipe the djenty smile off of your djent.