Originally I intended this as a Top 10. Then as I crawled my Last.fm stats, I realized I really don’t listen to a whole lot of new music. For me, 2010 actually featured a lot of releases from artists I love that turned out to be disappointments (Shakira’s wildly inconsistent Sale el Sol and Star’s yawnfest The Five Ghosts were the biggest). Adding to that, I discovered that a few of my preliminary picks actually came out in late 2009. With this limitations in mind, I humbly present my Top 3 Favorite Albums of 2010.
1. Julieta Venegas – Otra Cosa. Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas made headlines this year for having her first child and for releasing her sixth album. On this album, Venegas, known for her “accordian rock,” showcases her ability to construct likable pop songs on top of traditional styles that utilize a wide range of instruments. I especially appreciate that in an age of singles, this is a well-constructed album that deserves attention in its entirety, so you can appreciate the progression from the whimsical opening track to the more serious, but catchy, closing track, “Eterno.” Perhaps this cohesion may be due to Venegas trying her hand at being a producer this time around. It may be too early to tell, but I think this may be her best album yet.
2. Phantogram – Eyelid Movies. This intriguing debut album from an upstate NY electronic duo layers brooding lyrics over fresh beats. While it’s difficult to pin down their sound — they have referred to it as “street beat pysche pop” — the recognizable influences, from ambient acts like Air, to trip hop and dubstep, are decidedly contemporary. Unlike other artists who alternate female/male vocals and tend to overuse the male, I think the ratio is about right here. While the second half of the album lacks some of the strength of the first half, Phantogram demonstrates their potential and remain artists to watch.
3. Robyn – Body Talk Part 1. Released in early summer, this album from Swedish recording artist Robyn spent a lot of time in my playlists, especially on my drive down the California coast in August. However, at the time I assumed it was throwaway pop and would be forgotten by the dreary winter. However, I was mistaken. For 2010, Robyn set out on the ambitious plan to release three E.P.s as a prelude to an album containing material from each. While the second and third parts (not to mention the resulting LP consolidation) were worthwhile releases, the true gem remains Part 1. It begins with an unexpectedly edgy opener, then features catchy pop hits like “Dancing on My Own,” then shifts gears and becomes more introspective, including an acoustic version of “Hang with Me.” Even as an E.P., it achieves more than most albums and, for me at least, outlived the summer to remain one of the best of the year.
My honorable mention goes to Mexican synth-pop trio Belanova’s Sueño Electro I (2010 was apparently the year to release albums in parts). While still likable, it was a bit of a disappointment compared to their last album. However, I still found it to be full of catchy and likable tracks. I also enjoyed that it had a darker undertone than their recent work.
My disqualified honorable mention (in that it was actually released in 2009) was the self-titled debut LP by Fool’s Gold. This LA band blends African and Israeli influences to create an interesting mix. I’m a sucker for African electric guitar and it shines on the brilliant opening track, Surprise Hotel. On my list, it would have been #2.
This year, I’ll try to listen to more new music and I’ll be looking forward to what 2011 has to offer.