FensePost Top 33 and 1/3: The Best Albums of 2010

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The problem with so-called best-of lists, is that they are really just a collection of items organized based on experience and time, in that there will be plenty of albums heard the following year and beyond that will hold just as much weight as these we dub as “Best.” So, as of right now, at this particular time in the tail end of 2010 and the first moments of 2011, these albums are the best. There’s no question about it; it will change. My next list (which I’ve started, but may take a while to publish) is dubbed, paraphrase: the best albums I didn’t check out in 2011 for some reason or another.

Ultimately that will include greats as notable as Deerhunter, LCD Soundsystem, The National, and Surfer Blood. Why didn’t I check these bands out? Their albums, in their entirety, were not sent to me. With limited funds due to a mortgage, bills and a super sweet European coupe (pictured above) that will be an endless pit of money for me over the course of the next few years, I didn’t have enough free cash to afford them.

Despite not checking out many of the albums topping other bloggers’ top album lists, I have to say that 2010 was a pretty amazing year for music. Locally, there were some really legit bands, and that trend seemed to extend across the states and over the ponds. My list is populated, as usual, with several from Sub Pop. You’ll also find a self-released LP here or there, and albums from label favorites such as Labrador, Hometapes, Hardly Art and Abandoned Love.

I digress. Enough banter — let’s begin.

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1/3. Dream Talking 7″ by Family Trees

First, the one-third. An honorable mention. The only 7″ single to make the list. With a mere single — this one — under their belt, Family Trees has captured my heart. This band’s old-time lo-fi pop sound is borderline perfect throughout all three songs on the Dream Talking single.

Download: “Dream Talkin” by Family Trees

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33. Tidelands by The Moondoggies

I was going to slip in the Carissa’s Wierd compilation of songs from all their albums, which was released by Hardly Art this year at the same time they reissued all three of the band’s LPs, but then my friend Pete Voss reminded me of how great The Moondoggies’ Tidelands was. As all the music on Tidelands was put out this year as opposed to previous years, I figured I’d bump CW in favor of this one, and I’m glad I did. Revisiting Tidelands, we’re quickly and easily reminded of just how great this band has become. A definite do not miss that was almost left off.

Download: “It’s A Shame, It’s A Pity” by The Moondoggies

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32. I Will Be by Dum Dum Girls

2010 continued the obsession with lo-fi fuzzy pop, and that’s what Dum Dum Girls create best. A lot of people hung on to “Jail La La” from the get go as a favorite, but I latched onto title track “I Will Be” almost instantly. Word is that Dum Dum Girls will have a follow up in the very near future. If it’s anything like I Will Be, we’ll be in for a treat.

Download: “Jail La La” by Dum Dum Girls

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31. Expo 86 by Wolf Parade

Much like the albums of Canada’s Stars, Wolf Parade’s records have always been sleepers for me. There are a lot of great songs on Expo 86 and it picks up, in many ways, where At Mount Zoomer left off. It doesn’t have that epic style of track like Zoomer‘s “Kissing The Beehive” though; still, I’ll probably regret putting it so low on the list in six months.

Download: “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way)” by Wolf Parade

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30. Unrecognize by Cock And Swan

Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford are the two main forces behind Cock And Swan, an experimental electronic group based in the northern outskirts of Seattle. They’ve been a FensePost favorite since the beginning, having released Noon Hum around the time of this blog’s launch in 2006. I ran into the duo at the final Dept. of Safety show in Anacortes and they slipped me this record. It finds them expanding their experimental nature while growing in confidence and ability.

Download: “Stash” by Cock And Swan

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29. Frolics In The Pink EP by Son Of Rams

The project of Joseph Pruitt whose band Family Trees began this list, Son Of Rams is his garage-based solo project that blends extreme fuzz with crazy good vocals and the sound of three decades ago.

Download: “Triple Eyed” by Son Of Rams

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28. Zeroes QC by Suuns

A descriptive word comes to mind while listening to Suuns, and that elusive word evaded me for quite some time. Then I saw it tucked into the words from Sean Moeller of Daytrotter: paranoia. Their music is filled with hints of it, and while the experience of paranoia is not always a pleasant thing, you’ll like their take on it. It’s wild-eyed and frenzied, anxious and nervous. And it will blow your mind.

Download: “Arena” by Suuns

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27. Lupon by Y La Bamba

The best folk music, in my opinion, isn’t just folk music. It always includes something a little more, something orchestral or experimental, something that sets it apart from traditional folk. Y La Bamba crafts their unique folk elements out of highly original vocal harmonies, occasional pop-worthy guitar riffs, and orchestral hooks.

Download: “Juniper” by Y La Bamba

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26. Cracked Love & Other Drugs by Unnatural Helpers

Thick guitar riffs and rough drums fronted by gritty vocals. Everything about Unnatural Helpers is loud, and that’s what makes it so freakin’ sweet. It’s raw and harsh, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Download: “Sunshine / Pretty Girls” by Unnatural Helpers

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25. Travellers In Space & Time by The Apples In Stereo

Of all their records, The Apples In Stereo have impressed greatly, but I don’t think any have, as a whole, struck me as ‘great’ as much as Travellers In Space & Time. The futuristic pop melodies and lovable pop hooks had me from the opening moments of “Dream About The Future”. Plus, who couldn’t love that music video with Elijah Wood!?

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24. Again & Again by Thieves Like Us

I’ve been obsessed with Again & Again since first hearing “Shyness”. Hinting of an 80s style electronica, filled with heavy synths, dreamy beats, and emotive vocals, Thieves Like Us continues to impress.

Download: “Shyness” by Thieves Like Us

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23. Each Other All The Time by Cowboy Indian Bear

From the hometown of The Anniversary (Lawrence) comes Cowboy Indian Bear, whose music is similarly sonic and equally excellent. It’s dreamy yet lucid. Each Other All The Time meshes pop and rock brilliance with epic, swirling guitars.

Download: “Saline” by Cowboy Indian Bear

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22. Crazy For You by Best Coast

My 2009 love for garage pop continues, albeit not nearly as strong. Best Coast fits that sound and Crazy For You mixes a sound similar to Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls, and other girl-fronted garage groups. This one takes the cake, though, thanks to brilliant songs like “Boyfriend”, “Crazy For You” and “When I’m With You”.

Download: “Boyfriend” by Best Coast

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21. Transference by Spoon

A lot of people dropped that Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga album on their best of lists back when it was released, but that album didn’t hit me as hard as Kill The Moonlight or Gimme Fiction. Transference, on the other hand, does. It’s warrants a place on year’s end lists.

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20. Play It Strange by The Fresh & Onlys

The Fresh & Onlys’ style of garage rock/pop has been hyped up a lot over the past few years, and it’s easy to hear why. Their songs are extremely good. “Waterfall” dominates as a favorite, but in truth, much of Play It Strange is just as great as their hit single.

Download: “Waterfall” by The Fresh And Onlys

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19. Beach Fossils by Beach Fossils

God I love Beach Fossils’ style of beach pop. Ringing lo-fi guitars, totally beachy, and lovable reverb-filled vocals are their signature and it’s all super dreamy and overwhelmingly catchy.

Download: “Youth” by Beach Fossils

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18. The Goodnight Loving Supper Club by The Goodnight Loving

I’ve been hooked on this band since first hearing their LP The Goodnight Loving Supper Club. Their sound is one that is unexpected, yet amazingly original. They blend a southern style of folk and rock and (yes, even a bit of) country with a clever sounding garage pop.

Download: “The Pan” by The Goodnight Loving

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17. Elf Power by Elf Power

Not since Back To The Web has Elf Power made such a strong impact. Focusing on creating excellent music rather than crafting a clever album name, Elf Power’s self titled release is perhaps their best yet.

Download: “Stranger In The Window” by Elf Power

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16. Piecemeal by Like Pioneers

Like Pioneers was a hidden gem, released by a local favorite, Abandoned Love Records. It was unexpected — this album is just as good as anything released by my two favorite ALR bands, The Lonely Sparrows and Virgin Of The Birds.

Download: “Gift From A Holiday” by Like Pioneers

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15. Hippies by Harlem

I’ve been a bit obsessed with Hippies by Harlem since first hearing it. This album accompanied me on many trips to Seattle and Bellingham. I’d have songs like “Prairie My Heart” and “Someday Soon” and “Tila And I” on constant repeat. This is rough, sloppy garage pop at its absolute best.

Download: “Gay Human Bones” by Harlem

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14. Beach Dreams by Teen Daze

Technically, this is an EP, but I felt compelled to include it in the list because it is just that good. Beach Dreams has become a complete obsession in the last few weeks of the year with well over 30 total spins. With this EP, Teen Daze has created a perfect balance between beachy pop and lo-fi fuzz. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better song to fit these two pop sub-genres this year than “Let’s Fall Asleep Together”.

Download: “Let’s Fall Asleep Together” by Teen Daze

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13. Odd Blood by Yeasayer

Odd Blood took a while to catch on for me, but when it did it became as much a mainstay on my playlist as All Hour Cymbals ever was. Yet it took a slightly different direction from that album; this one has some of the experimental elements, yet adds electronic ones. It vibes differently, lacks some of the instrumentation, but it’s just as good.

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12. Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian

Just outside the top ten, Write About Love is perhaps my least favorite Belle & Sebastian album, which says a lot about my feelings toward this band. Write About Love strayed a bit from the band’s previous work, a bit too much. Still, it was a solid album for the most part thanks to super standout songs like “I Didn’t See It Coming”, “Come On Sister” and “I Want The World To Stop”.

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11. Home Away From Home by The Blank Tapes

In a recent issue of Seattle Weekly, The Long Winters’ John Roderick listed his top ten reasons why he’s not doing a top ten list this year. It was brilliant. The ninth item on the list states that it’s all depends on who has the best publicists. In many cases of top ten lists, I’d have to agree with him. In the case of The Blank Tapes, this is about as far from the truth as possible. I received a nondescript little CD sleeve picturing that there cover above and a little note from one Matt Adams, the band’s front man. I popped it in my laptop and have been hooked ever since, from the upbeat pop of “We Can Do What We Want” to the wild solo concluding “Flashing Before Your Eyes” to the experimental elements of opener “Black Hair”. It’s all excellent.

Download: “We Can Do What We Want To” by The Blank Tapes

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10. Magic Central by Breathe Owl Breathe

I noticed a bit of a change in my listening habits throughout 2010, and it can be reflected in the top ten. Dreamy folk and pop albums, hints of orchestration, and an overall predilection toward pleasant harmonies and melodies. Magic Central by Breathe Owl Breathe sits on the folk side, but they blend in dreamy, poignant melodies ripe with originality.

Download: “Own Stunts” by Breathe Owl Breathe

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9. Trilogi by Fredrik

Fredrik returns with Trilogi, which is actually three EPs molded together as a single album. Trilogi picks up almost exactly where Na Na Ni left off; the band continues to create haunting experimental dream pop that is insanely good.

Download: “Vinterbarn” by Fredrik

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8. The People’s Record by Club 8

The transformation Club 8 took between The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming and The People’s Record is almost shocking. The Swedish duo held onto what matters most — their super infectious pop hooks, their superb songwriting ability, and those indescribable elements that makes you fall in love with the band. Then they added hints of psychedelic pop dominated by a warp-speed West African style of drums.

Download: “Western Hospitality” by Club 8

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7. To Dreamers by Kelley Stoltz

I dug Stoltz before To Dreamers, but it was really just select songs that I pinpointed off his albums. As a whole, they were good but not great. To Dreamers, however, is great. This album is solid throughout.

Download: “I Don’t Get That” by Kelley Stoltz

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6. The Head And The Heart by The Head And The Heart

I think The Head And The Heart took everyone by surprise this year. Their self-titled debut was praised to no end on Sound On The Sound, and after checking them out I’d have to say it all was warranted. There’s good reason the band signed to local label Sub Pop, and I know I’m not the only one looking forward to what this crew has in store for us next.

Download: “Coeur D’Alene” by The Head And The Heart

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5. To Travelers & Trunks by Hey Marseilles

It was the year for orchestral pop and Hey Marseilles, who takes the cake as best show of the year (albeit I only went to a handful of shows in 2010), excels at creating this style of music. To Travelers & Trunks is a solid debut with near perfect instrumentation, from keys and horns to strings and percussion.

Download: “Rio” by Hey Marseilles!

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4. Maintenant by Gigi

Gigi, the project of Nick Krgovich (No Kids, P:Ano) and producer Colin Stewart, hints of a different era — the pop music of the 1950s and 60s and of early Phil Spector. Maintenant finds the two debuting under the moniker and sound with help from such notables as Rose Melberg, Owen Pallett, Mirah, Joey Cook (Pomegranates) and Karl Blau.

Download: “Strolling Past The Old Graveyard” by Gigi

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3. We Built A Fire by Seabear

After Sindri Mar Sigfusson’s solo project Sin Fan (formerly Sin Fang Bous) released Clangour last year, I didn’t think We Built A Fire would come close to topping it. It took a while, but the album has become a mainstay thanks to highly orchestral pop movements paired with Sindri’s unique vocals.

Download: “Lion Face Boy” by Seabear

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2. Teen Dream by Beach House

2010 found a few surprise albums reaching epic heights after either being dormant for a while, or being flat-out absent from my top albums as far as the past was concerned. Beach House was one of these bands, and Teen Dream proved all preconceived thoughts of this band wrong. Their first album I found a hint boring, and the second — well, I just didn’t take the time to get to know it. But from the moments I heard songs like “Zebra” and “Norway”, I knew this album would be in the top 3.

Download: “Norway” by Beach House

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1. Avi Buffalo by Avi Buffalo

Upon first hearing “What’s In It For”, I had no thoughts of Avi Buffalo reaching this cherished Best Of spot. But it grew on me. A lot. And as I replayed it over and over on my walks to work and on my drives around town, I fell in love with the technical genius of this band. They can play, and they do it with immense skill and great emotion.

Download: “Remember Last Time” by Avi Buffalo

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