Continuing the count down of my 2010 highlights, here's the middle section. Top 10 coming tomorrow, then we can close this all off for another year. If I make this sound like a necessary evil at any point, you should know that I actually love this time of year...so don't let the weary bugger at the end of all this tell you otherwise.
20. Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
The first feverishly anticipated release of the year arrived just a couple of weeks in, with Florida's Surfer Blood living up to their CMJ hype. And then some. One of the purest guitar rock albums of the year, Astro Coast is chock full of mammoth tunes, as well as a diversity in tempo that I certainly hadn't expected of the band. It can be a heavy burden to deliver when you've been built up by all and sundry...happily these lads simply shrugged it all off and kicked the year off in fine fashion.
19. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
Though I'd have little surprise at its inclusion in other year-end lists, that Infinite Arms appears on this one is just that. Previous releases have been just a touch too melancholy for my tastes...pretty but plodding. This album seemed to switch gears, though, as supremely upbeat tracks like Compliments and Laredo spread an unexpected positivity around the more introspective songs, adding up to a superbly rounded album. The mainstream beckons.
18. Dinosaur Feathers - Fantasy Memorial
Another highly anticipated debut - as foreshadowed back in January as part of the H-T-A Ten for 10 picks - popped up in good time for the gorgeous summer it so perfectly sound tracked. Fantasy Memorial builds on the shining indie calypso-pop of 2009's Early Morning Risers EP, as a fully realised body of songs channeling everyone from Animal Collective to Beach Boys. Poppy, good-time melodies mixed with pensive lyrics does an intriguing album make.
MP3: Dinosaur Feathers - History Lessons
17. Comeback Kid - Symptoms & Cures
As CBK's last album almost single-handedly rekindled my passion for hardcore (previously dormant since the late 90's), this album was a most welcome return. True to form, the Canadians deliver their unique blend of ferocious serrated riffs set to an undeniably melodic groove, topped off with traditional hardcore barks and unifying gang vocals. Seething anthems for a new decade.
In the absence of any new Sigur Ros material, lead singer Jónsi decided to take his lustrous pipes and fashion some equally beautiful songs all of his own. Comparisons to the day job are natural yet limiting, as Go leans more on synths and electronics than full blown orchestral movements. The effect is still sweepingly cinematic and surprisingly fast paced, making for a lush, uplifting listen.
15. Menomena - Mines
A bizarre group of chaps, everything about Menomena seems to be instinctive. Experimental rock with jazz leanings and brass flourishes seem only natural to the band, with Mines an exceptional documentation of just how much sense it can all make when effected by skilled musicians with no perception of musical boundaries. That Mines is coherent at all is impressive. That it's also fantastically catchy and continuously engaging over almost one hour is nothing short of remarkable.
14. Solomon's Hollow - Genre Studies
Out of nowhere, Nate Agenbroad's second outing as Solomon's Hollow found its way out of my inbox (a minor miracle in itself) and into my soul. Its quiet, understated acoustic numbers don't demand attention, instead relying on the confident knowledge that their quality richly deserves it. Genre Studies is a naturally beautiful listen and its lead track, Silent Film, is one of my favourites of 2010. What's more? It can be yours too, for nowt.
MP3: Solomon's Hollow - Silent Film
13. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker
A firm critical favourite across the board this year, these Australians richly deserve the plaudits for the intriguing sonic mixture Innerspeaker brings to the party. Hazy, psychedelic washes of sound weave into more traditional rock - garage, classic, pop... the lot - across an album that is alternately spaced out and firmly rooted in the reality of its inspirations. Never derivative, Tame Impala succeed in sewing their influences together into an enveloping listen.
12. The National - High Violet
One of the few firmly established indie-rock artists to actually deliver the goods this year, to my mind, The National stepped into their rightful position as elder statesmen of an ever-sprawling Brooklyn music scene. As all around them fracture into more and more sub genres suffixed with -wave or -fi, these fellas trusted in the power of quality songwriting and lyrics of grace and depth. With songs both immediate and slow-burning, High Violet satisfies both the first time through and each spin thereafter, revealing more of its charms in time-honoured 'grower' fashion. Such growth symbolises The National in general, as they continue to subtly develop their sound with each release.
MP3: The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio
11. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
Without reinventing the wheel, these Jersey boys served up another hearty meal of blue-collar alternative rock. Where they succeed so resoundingly is in creating fully accessible songs that belong on FM radio and imbuing them with a streak of integrity that runs for miles. From beginning to end, American Slang is the complete sing along album, building on all that debut The '59 Sound offered and delivering even more nostalgia for a time most of us never experienced. I have no idea what it was to live in New York City in the late 40's, but listening to American Slang can make one yearn for the era of the Cool as though it was a vivid childhood memory.