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Friday, December 24, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 10-9

10. Kylie Minogue - Aphrodite

After a disappointing comeback in 2008, Minogue returned to what she does best: pure, unadulterated dance pop. Even with a few clunkers, the success of this album is that it sounds like an album. The songs fit together as one body of work. Thank producer Stuart Price for that, who has no less that three albums in my countdown this year. Kylie hasn’t felt this alive or relevant for years now. Who else, at this stage in their career, is capable of making an album this good? It’s a pretty big achievement.


9. Hurts - Happiness

One of my most conflicted inclusions on this countdown. Last year, if I were to have strung all of Daggers’ demo recordings into one album, the band would have easily had the album of 2009. Of course, Daggers are no more and in their place are Hurts. And while this is a solid release, it’s obviously not my album of the year. It’s a case of knowing that they can do better. I mean, I’ve heard it myself. That being said, judged by any other standard this is easily one of the year’s highlights. Theo’s moody vocals are intact and they even threw a couple of the (lesser) Daggers songs onto the album for good measure. I am eagerly waiting to see what evolves from them next.


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 25-21

25. Gravitonas - Kites

Alexander Bard’s new band’s first single proved to be their best--a slowly building electro-rock grind that becomes more immense with each passing second.

24. Ola Svensson - All Over The World

He came back this year with two tracks worthy of standing beside his best work. This easily could have been the Summer’s anthem had it been released sooner.

23. Hurts - Better Than Love

I’ve known of this song for a couple of years now in its original demo form and it was such a treat to hear it as a single in 2010. This is the kind of uptempo track Hurts should be releasing more of.

22. Short Stack - We Dance To A Different Disco, Honey

I was skeptical that Planets was a one-off and these guys would revert back to their old, annoying sound, but then this came out and blew me away. A brilliant example of radio alt-rock at its best.

21. Ola Svensson - Unstoppable (The Return Of Natalie)

My favorite entry in this year's Melodifestivalen, delivered by one of the most consistent popstars in Sweden. The piano riff is absolutely insidious. But it’s that chorus that seals the deal.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 12-11

12. Yeasayer - Odd Blood

This was released very early in the year and became one of my first obsessions of 2010. The band’s previous release had been a dreamlike, aural collage of sounds and vocals that I found quite haunting, but with their follow-up they chose to fully embrace 80’s pop and go for big hooks. It was an utter success, containing some of the year’s strangest, most compelling pop songs. Ignore the experimental opening track. It’s a red herring of sorts, because what follows is a collection of tunes heavy on melody. It’s the album MGNT should have released this year.


11. Bjørn Johan Muri - Airwaves

Rarely is a Eurovision hopeful’s debut so engaging. The genius here lies with the material Muri was given. Instead of trendy, urban pop (which would have been the obvious way to go), this album’s filled with soft-around-the-edges, lightly electronic music that is tailored for radio without losing any of its artsy cool. It’s all carried through by Muri’s instantly recognizable vocals. Polished radio pop didn’t get much better this year. It takes the Norwegian "Donkeyboy" sound and augments it into something more youthful and interesting.


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 30-26

30. Marina & The Diamonds - Hollywood

Her calling card in a year full of great Marina singles. This was the song that finally convinced me that she was worth a listen. So glad it did.

29. Alcazar - Headlines

Their second Melodifestivalen entry in as many years, this string-laden disco track was unfairly shut out from the finals. Pity, as it’s one of their best.

28. Katy Perry - Firework

More anthemic and touching than I thought Katy Perry could be. Loved this as an album track, but as soon as I saw the video I knew this would be one of her biggest hits.

27. Take That - The Flood

Honestly, as much as I liked their singles in the past, this was the first time Take That became required listening for me. The grandest song on the list.

26. Carpark North - Burn It

I never thought they’d be able to match the quality of 2006’s Human, but with this gargantuan greatest hits single they came back in perfect form.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 14-13

14. Ola Svensson - Ola

He’s given us some of the best pop songs of the last decade, but I‘ve never enjoyed an entire album of Ola’s material. This changed that. If he’d stuck to the Nilsson/Bassflow combo for the entire album (they’ve penned and produced most of his hits), we could be talking about a collection of songs that could have easily made my top three. Instead, he went for a more American urban pop sound, which worried me at first. Luckily, even though most of the material doesn’t come close to matching his best stuff, this was an album of great contemporary pop. He’s still got one of the best and most recognizable voices for the genre.


13. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream

No album on my countdown as spawned (and will continue to spawn) so many top ten hits. Like it or not, this is a career-defining pop album and will be looked back on as the sound of 2010. There are so many hits here, and so many yet to come. I wasn’t a fan of Perry’s debut at all, but she upped her game by working with the best commercial producers and compiling a tracklist of colorful, critic-proof material. I hate the term “guilty pleasure,” but I think it most definitely applies here. It’s rare in this day and age to hear an album where every song could be a single.


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 35-31

35. Taio Cruz - Break Your Heart

His North American breakthrough and the first song that made me stand up and take notice of his way with hooks. Listen to the original Ludacris free version, though.

34. Goldfrapp - Rocket

The year’s best “up yours” kiss-off song, set to a synth beat with enough pep to power a spaceship. It was Summer come early.

33. Timoteij - Kom

Laughed it off originally, then backed it to win this year’s Melodifestivalen. There’s no resisting that ethno-synth stomp.

32. One Night Only - Say You Don’t Want It

A reinvention that worked wonders. It wasn’t able to be sustained through an entire album, but here it’s three and a half minutes of pop bliss.

31. Hurts - Wonderful Life

The song that represented the shift from the Daggers to the Hurts sound. Began life this year as a charming mystery of a song. Ended it as a solid hit.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 16-15

16. Mcfly - Above The Noise

Five albums in, these guys opted for a more current, dance-influenced sound. It resulted in their best album since 2006’s Motion In The Ocean. Really, you could graft any current trend or genre onto their music and it would still be a pleasant listen because they’re great pop songwriters. Unlike so many bands their age (and style), they know their way around a hook. Like many of the albums in the lower half of my countdown, this is completely driven by the singles and soon-to-be-singles, but even the filler is pretty consistent.


15. The Ark - In Full Regalia

What to say about the soon-to-be-departed Ark? They are my favorite band of all time, which makes it very difficult to place this album all the way down at number fifteen. Unfortunately, though, this is easily the Ark’s worst effort (reflected in sales and radio success as well). I’ll support them in whatever they do because they’ve given us some of the best music ever recorded. This, though, almost sounds like a different band completely. Gone is the bombast in favor of dull 70's rock. I tried to love it and couldn't get past a casual "like." But they’re the Ark. And even the Ark at its worst is better than a lot of stuff out there. (and hey, the Delays--another personal fave--didn’t even make it on this countdown!)


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Top 50 Singles of 2010: 40-36

40. Katy Perry - California Gurls

The song of the summer, no doubt. And even with all the hundreds of times I heard it on the radio, it never really got to the point of oversaturation. That’s quite a feat, especially for such a stupid song.

39. Yeasayer - Ambling Alp

In just one song, these guys transformed themselves from a band that I could appreciate to a band that I could really love.

38. The Hoosiers - Choices

A shockingly ace new sound from a band that I had only tolerated before. This was the stateliest electro-pop on the radio last August.

37. Staygold - Backseat

What a surprise it was to hear Salem Al Fakir letting loose and trying on a completely new style on this track. As far as I’m concerned, he should never go back to the old stuff.

36. Sweet Thing - Change Of Seasons

A sweet summer song from a sweet Canadian band. It didn’t surprise me at all that this became ubiquitous this Fall as the soundtrack to movie ads.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Top 20 Albums of 2010: 18-17

18. Goldfrapp - Head First

Though I can’t say the incredible promise of the singles was completely fulfilled in the album as a whole, I was nonetheless impressed by this shift in sound from Goldfrapp. By exorcising the whole electro-folk thing they had going on with the last album, they found aural success with a new bright, summery sound. It was an album of standouts and more atmospheric pieces, which at times made for an odd, disjointed listening experience. But it’s one of the band’s best releases and deserved to be far more successful than it was.


17. Linda Sundblad - Manifest

The long awaited follow-up to this Swedish pop princess's debut, Manifest represented a subtle shift in sound for the singer. And while the r&b leanings on parts of the album suited her voice, it was the bombastic numbers that cemented this as an early Spring highlight. They don’t make pop albums like this in any part of the world but Scandinavia. She's like the poppier Robyn--minus the experimentation and indie-cred. It can be a good thing and a bad thing, but this is bubblegum pop at its best.


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