From a 'Kiss-Off' to 'Jolts of Hope'

2010 ANTHEMS

From a 'Kiss-Off' to 'Jolts of Hope'

UNPLUGGED The biggest albums which adorned music lovers’ stacks in 2010

1ARCADE FIRE “The Suburbs” (Merge): Memories of suburbia, questions of integrity, thoughts on time passing and portents of decline fill the ambivalent anthems on Arcade Fire’s third album. Their misgivings are all subsumed in music that can be punky or (more often) orchestral, with ascendant melodies that stubbornly radiate hope.

2. JANELLE MONÁE “The ArchAndroid” (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy/Atlantic): This sci-fi concept album brims over with Ms Monáe’s ambitions: singing, rapping, flirting, fighting for change and absorbing — for starters — funk, psychedelia, hip-hop and show tunes. It’s a tour de force; even the misfires are promising.

3. JOANNA NEWSOM “Have One on Me” (Drag City): Ms Newsom’s rhapsodic, harp-centered songs have grown supple and curvaceous on this two-hour, three-CD album. Her voice is now richer and earthier, and she gives her songs breathing room, making her conundrums newly approachable but no less magical.

4. VAMPIRE WEEKEND “Contra” (XL): A lot goes on behind Vampire Weekend’s relentlessly clever, perky pop tunes. The lyrics, full of carefully deployed proper nouns, simultaneously flaunt and dissect the privileged life, while the production turns manic and kaleidoscopic, hopscotching a world of pop while listeners are distracted by sheer catchiness.

5. SUFJAN STEVENS “The Age of Adz” (Asthmatic Kitty): Electronic blips, drum machines and splotchy distortion are shock treatment for songs that might have been folkier on previous Sufjan Stevens albums. But what starts out feeling invasive turns into part of a more inclusive — and nuttier, and trashier — sound vocabulary, skewing the songs away from preciousness as he sings about love.

6. KING SUNNY ADÉ “Bábá mo Túndé” (Mesa/IndigeDisc): An unassuming concept: to record full-length stage versions of songs. But on the first studio album in a decade by King Sunny Adé, his Nigerian juju music simply flies. The songs are a stream of hand-played percussion, with voices and other instruments popping in strategically, as the production pinpoints every drum stroke and pedal-steel-guitar zing. It’s dizzying dance music that defies repetition.

7. SADE “Soldier of Love” (Epic): Quiet and plush don’t add up to comfortable on Sade’s first album since 2000. There’s deep desolation in the songs, and an aching, bluesy edge in her voice. Her band willfully ignores whatever passes for fashionable in current R&B, while down below, particularly in the rhythms and bass lines, there’s a strange, intricate undertow.

8. SLEIGH BELLS “Treats” (Mom + Pop Music/NEET): Every song on this album merges a noisy kick in the head with a pop enticement, as blasts of low-fi drums and loud guitar bracket girlish vocals. Each whipsaw only whets the appetite for more.

9. KANYE WEST “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam): Self-aggrandising and self-loathing, grandiose and goofy, leaping from stomping drums to cellos to sampled soul to dance-club electronics, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is a wildly multifarious inventory of Mr West’s fixations. These id bulletins may not be timeless, but any obsessive type can relate to them. They add up to the definitive album on the pressures, diversions and payoffs of Internet-era celebrity.

10. DANGER MOUSE AND SPARKLEHORSE “Dark Night of the Soul” (Capitol/Lex/EMI): “Pain” is the first word on “Dark Night of the Soul,” one of the last projects by Mark Linkous, the songwriter who recorded as Sparklehorse, before his suicide in March 2010. His production and songwriting collaboration with Danger Mouse concocted stately, deliberately tarnished roots-rock full of despair and resentment. The guest lead singers — Iggy Pop, Suzanne Vega, Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips — eerily echoed Mr Linkous’s own voice.

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