We usually compile a top ten albums of the year list, but in recognition of 2010 being one of the best years in recent memory for indie/alternative releases we’ve decided to double the size.
The year started well with ambitious albums by the likes of Field Music, Los Campesinos! and Owen Pallett and got better with stellar releases from the likes of The National, the welcome return of Belle and Sebastian and some surprises from the likes of Janelle Monae. Some familiar names return to our end of year countdown on a list that features some excellent new UK music. Sit back, get your emails to Santa ready and enjoy Neon Filler’s Top 20 Albums of 2010.
1. Field Music Measure
Measure, a double album no less, sees the band move on yet another level. There are aspects of the sweeping, mazy songs on their eponymous debut as well as the jerky, more structured pop of second album Tones of Town, but a whole lot more has been added. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, even ELO, XTC, The Move and 10cc are thrown into the mix. This album came out at the beginning of the year but its breadth and ambition continues to astound as the year comes to an end. Read our full review here.
2. The Miserable Rich – Of Flight and Fury
Of Flight and Fury is the second album from Brighton’s The Miserable Rich and it picks up from where their excellent debut left off. Part of Brighton’s Willkommen Collective they are the most compact and focused of the bunch. One of our top ten bands to watch out for in 2011, we are expecting big things from this band. Read our full review here.
3. Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern – Essex Arms
The album is the second part in a trilogy about Hayman’s native Essex and continues with a warts and all nostalgic look at working class England. Like its predecessor Pram Town (which topped our Top Ten Albums of 2009 list) Essex Arms is wonderfully evocative of a place and time, without descending into sneering or cloying sentiment. Surely Hayman has earned national treasure status by now. Read our full review here.
4. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Deerhunter have named their fourth album Halcyon Digest for good reason, as once again the US band serves up an unusual and effective mix of music that takes a range of influences from the golden years of rock n roll to the 1990s shoegazers. Halcyon Digest is lush, layered and timeless. Deerhunter’s most focused and accessible album yet. Read our full review here.
5. Janelle Monae
The debut album from former stage school kid and Outkast collaborator Janelle Monáe could well be the most eclectic album of the year so far. Mixing orchestral pieces, hip hop, soul, pop, psychedelic rock, folk and even a collaboration with Of Montreal into 18 tracks. It is ambitious and mesmerising as it effortless travels between genres. Read our full review here.
6. Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love
It’s been a long wait for such adoring fans, but the band are now firmly back after a four year hiatus touring and with a sparkly new album, Write About Love, a concept album of sorts about, well, love. So where does Write About Love sit in its catalogue? For us its one of their best yet. Welcome back Belle and Sebastian. Read our full review here.
7. The Walkmen – Lisbon
With Lisbon US band The Walkmen have delivered a perfect follow up to their last album You and Me, which topped our Top Ten Albums list for 2008. Retaining You and Me’s stripped back, timeless production with nods to the 50s and 60s, Lisbon has plenty more goose bump moments and once again offers a perfect showcase for lead singer Hamilton Leithhauser’s stunning rock vocals and the band’s love of vintage instruments. Read our full review here.
8. Owen Pallett – Heartland
With the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara involved, Heartland is at times pure Brian Wilson as it effortlessly takes in aspects of classical music, electronica, pop and indie-cool. Read our full review here.
9. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast
As debuts go Astro Coast is already a modern indie classic. Full of a marvellous mix of riffs, indie rock influences such as Sonic Youth and Pavement, passionate singing and some neat tricks as well. It is all that is good about the best of modern US indie rock. Read our full review here.
10. The National – High Violet
How can a band this good, this radio friendly, this professional not be bigger? Why is it that the likes of Muse, Radiohead and Coldplay play in front of multi-zillion seater stadiums and headline major festivals and not The National? After the release of High Violet The National are well on their way to similar success. Read our full review here.
11. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago.
When the end of the world comes, as pollution lays waste to the Earth, Shearwater’s leader singer Jonathan Meiburg will be on a nuclear ravaged tropical island somewhere screaming bloody murder in his haunting baritone at the corporations and politicians. This indie/folk/rock album is powerful stuff. Read our full review here.
12. Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson, who takes to the stage under the name Tallest Man On Earth, must be bored to tears with being compared with early Bob Dylan, especially when in many respects he is actually better than the great man at the same stage in his career. Read our full review here.
13. Broken Bells – Broken Bells
Opening track and lead single ‘The High Road’ kicks things off beautifully on this debut album from Shins frontman James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse and is a sign of the good things to come. By the time you’ve listened to ‘Vaporise’ and Mercer’s surprisingly good falsetto on ‘The Ghost Inside’ you know that the duo have produced something worthy of an end of year best of list. Read our full review here.
14. Beach House – Teen Dream
The slicker production and attention to detail on Teen Dream compared to previous releases unsurprisingly coincides with a move to the label Sub Pop, which has a strong track record of getting the best out of its eclectic mix of artists ranging from The Fleet Foxes to Postal Service. Read our full review here.
15. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring
Los Campesinos! are among the most divisive of bands. A bunch of shouty students, spouting immature teen angst to some, one of the most innovative British bands around for others. Their 2010 release Romance is Boring is a pretty good case for the latter’s cause. Read our full review here.
16. New Pornographers – Together
When we first heard the song ‘Your Hands (Together)’, from the fifth album by The New Pornographers, we were disappointed. So much so that we avoided the album and didn’t review it on this site. But after hearing another track from the album, the brilliant ‘Crash Years’ (one of our songs of the year) we realised we were missing out. Building on the more subtle styles of 2007’s Challengers with a return to the more bombastic power chords of their earlier albums this is classic pop music at its best.
17. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night
After the first 30 seconds of opening track ‘Like The Ocean Like The Innocent’ we were sceptical. We’ve heard enough meandering drone rock to last a lifetime, but nine minutes later at the end of the track we were converted. This is music with genuine substance and power. Read our full review here.
18. Allo Darlin’
Allo Darlin’s self titled debut is a near perfect slice of British “twee” pop played by associates of Amelia Fletcher and Darren Hayman. Melodic, sweet and sensitive it has possible singles from start to finish. The more jaded listener might find songs like ‘Heartbeat Chili’ a little hard to stomach, but if you keep your mind open there is much to love here. One of the discoveries of 2010, and very much a band to watch in 2011.
19. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
Second appearance for Danger Mouse in our top 20, this time his long awaited collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, aka Sparklehorse. Unreleased for some time due to contractual wrangles it was originally intended to accompany a book of visuals by David Lynch. The book was published, but the album itself was shelved and emerged some months later during 2010. It features contributions from a number of singers and musicians including the Flaming lips, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, can be a difficult listen in places but as you would expect from Linkous and Danger Mouse, stunning in others. Read our full review here.
20. Fang Island – Fang Island
Imagine if you will Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyons, but better, speeded up and backed by members of Primus, Faith No More and The Descendents. It’s a heady mix of humour, power chords and squealing solos that Fang Island pull off with aplomb. Read our full review here.
To hear more by the bands above (and some other great acts from the year) listen to our best of 2010 Spotify playlist.
Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers