Beer and Pavement

The Ten Best Albums of 2010

Posted in Records by SM on December 3, 2010

Or at least it’s a list of my favorite albums of 2010. Although the year as a whole wasn’t totally impressive, I was able to create a list of twenty albums and narrow them down to the following albums that defined my year.

Along with some words that describe the records’ appeal, I’m including a beer pairing as well as a band or album that fills a similar slot on every year-end-best-of list. For example, I might list The Beatles’ White Album on a list of best records of 1968. The beer pairing might be a Hitachino White Ale or Boulevard Smokestack Series Wit[1]. The Best-Of Cliche might be Pavement’s Terror Twilight as it was recorded under the ominous and inevitable sense of the band’s demise[2]. Neither pairing works perfectly, but I’ll try it anyway.

Keep in mind that like all best-of lists, the listmaker’s life should provide context for the choices. I’m 35, married, living in the nation’s belly button, and a parent. So, my lifestyle is pretty slow. I have life experience that feeds into my music taste, but the busy parts of family and work keep me from being as in touch with music as much as I used to be. That said, I’m including reasoning why I chose each album on this list.

Now for the list. It is in order. I did cut out 9-10 good albums. And I stand by my list.

10. Pavement – Quarantine the Past
To kick off their 2010 reunion tour, Pavement put together what has to be the greatest greatest “hits” compilation ever. I mean it. Of course, there isn’t much to compare. That Doors greatest hits albums was pretty good, right? Smashing Pumpkins? Never mind. If you want to introduce someone to Pavement, give them Quarantine the Past. They’ll do the rest from there.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: This is my band. They did nothing to ruin my view of Pavement by writing and recording new material. They just made me a nice mixed tape of all the songs I loved and a few I forgot.
Slot typically held down by: The Beatles have received good press for releasing crap they already sold us forty years ago. They’re about the only ones.
Beer Pairing: Bell’s Expedition Stout – Warming, rewarding, solid stand-by and good in ice cream.

9. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
Teaming up with Sam Prekop was genius and only the tip of the alt world connections Broken Social Scene seems to be making these days. They’ve used recent success and notoriety to record and perform with their heros[3], just what we’d all like to do if we could. And from this and other collaborations, BSS reinvented itself as a live band with subtle chops only viewable from Chicago or Toronto. What a cool album this was. It’s nice that the band reached this point before calling it quits.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: Old dudes like finding cool bands that both appeal to our college years selves as well as stretch our visions of a band. I thought I knew BSS as a rather safe band, but this record proved they can reinvent and be successful while doing it.
Slot typically held down by: The Afghan Whigs gave in to their influences as they progressed from album to album, but it never kept them off year-end lists entirely.
Beer Pairing: Odell’s Saboteur is the brown sour you can drink. It doesn’t always impress the beer nerds who want to pucker to the point of not being able to swallow anymore, but it does satisfy the thirst for sour without losing drinkability.

8. Best Coast – Crazy For You
This formula worked a lot in the 1990’s. A hint of retro over tape his disguised as aesthetic, one great track mixed in with several passable ones, all performed by your indie rock crush…That was basically the Breeders circa 1994, but whatever. Your crush singing about kush and her cat with a grunge dude playing bass just works. Wall of sound and tape hiss always sounds so good.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: Did you read my description above? Anything that simultaneously reminds me of mid-nineties lo-fi, girls I had crushes on, and the Breeders[4] has to work for me.
Slot typically held down by: Liz Phair sounded like she was singing about you in your bedroom while you were out. For that reason, you put her on best-of lists for probably one album too many.
Beer Pairing: For something light but enjoyable, I look to The Bruery’s Saison Rue. I can totally imagine sipping on this beer one July evening while Crazy For You plays over the song of mid-summer crickets.

7. Quasi – American Gong
Regularly dismissed and always forgotten, Quasi are the Bad News Bears of indie rock…or something like that. I don’t know why Sam Coomes was overlooked when he played with Elliott Smith. Janet Weiss is just a drummer (for the mother-effing Jicks and god damned Sleater-Kinney). They get no respect, but they make great modern era blues and now they have the guitar-based licks to prove it. Gone is the Rocksichord and here is a little blues guitar and a bassist. The sound is new, more menacing than before, but it’s perfect nonetheless.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: I had a place in my heart for Quasi a long time ago and have stuck with them through the years. They described all my post-college angst when I needed someone to spell it out for me. Without their help, I might still be in that funk.
Slot typically held down by: Quasi is like a Meat Puppets or some other semi-obscure indie band who gained just enough of a following to make it worth while to put out a record once in a while that is typically ignored but heralded by a few.
Beer Pairing: Mikkeller’s Rauch Geek Breakfast is a smokier, dirtier version of the rather popular Beer Geek Breakfast (now with weasel poop coffee!). It’s dark and sweet and somehow smoky at the same time. A perfect pairing for Quasi’s adventures in bluesy dirge.

6. Let’s Wrestle – In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s
Merge finds another gem we all missed. Juvenile, punky, and surprisingly sonic, Let’s Wrestle put out one of the least talked about good albums on a respectable label I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t know how so many missed this record. Sure, most reviews I read were tepid, but no one is even talking about this band. The record is good and at the very least a fun listen.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: Maybe the best song of the year (Let’s Wrestle’s “I Won’t Lie to You”) somehow found its way onto a compilation for my kid, created by her aunt. I heard that song maybe 500 times this year and it never gets boring. If a song meant for my kid is that enjoyable, I have to give it a listen now and then. It was only natural that I bought the album, even if it only came on CD.
Slot typically held down by: Though I love this record, I suspect they will be this year’s Harvey Danger. That band put out an enjoyable single as part of an entertaining album that I’ve pretty much ignored ever since. Still, at the moment of writing a best-of list, it makes the cut.
Beer Pairing: Ken Schmidt/Maui/Stone Kona Coffee Macadamia Coconut Porter is not my typical beer of choice. It’s probably never going to be brewed again. I may have even conveniently forgotten how mediocre it could have been. No matter. The one night I sipped on this great beer will occupy the same space in my heart as Let’s Wrestle. (I also considered my own sticky DIPA, Wowee Zowee, because of its fleeting magnificence.)

5. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
Whatever you do, don’t get in between Carrie Wade and her Cox. Just sayin’[5]. That and don’t ignore Deerhunter just because they do a listenable album. Sure, they’re experimental, lo-fi, and shoe-gaze, but the band crafts good songs. Just except it. This band is a mainstay on any year-end list. I don’t think they can make an uninteresting record. They could do bad, but I doubt they can do uninteresting.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: Sometimes we dads, formerly of the indie rock jet-set, like to fashion ourselves as ahead of the curve. And after reading one Pitchfork article on a band like Deerhunter, we think we know everything. I mean, Deerhunter and pretty much anything Bradford Cox touches convinces us of this fact.
Slot typically held down by: Animal Collective makes records like Deerhunter. They have their side-projects, but the core group does their best work together. They’ve always got that to fall back on. It’s sometimes sloppy and terribly unconventional while being danceable at the same time. How can anyone leave these bands off a year-end list?
Beer Pairing:Lagunitas Hop Stoopid is what it says it is. Why you refuse to pay $4-5 for this monster hop bomb is beyond me. It’s so yummy and cheap. I’m not sure how it pairs with this record, but I want to drink one right now.

4. Beach House – Teen Dream
I tried to like this band once, but it didn’t work. Then, I kept hearing how great this record was. Like several of my favorites this year, I saw/heard them at Pitchfork and was blown away. What a great sounding band Beach House is. Organs, guitars plucked, and that sexy, voluptuous voice. They are slow and sleepy, but the band filled the entire park with a spooky cloud of sound one could not escape and who wanted to?
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: This is either what we all wanted Cat Power to sound like or we still just miss Mazzy Star that much. Seriously, this is what Chan Marshall could have sounded like had she been able to handle her drugs and drink. Now, it’s too late and she’s a bit boring. Mazzy Star is long gone, but Beach House has filled the void for those born in the seventies.
Slot typically held down by: Portishead or some other female-fronted band that mixes a touch of retro with something new to find their way into every budding male feminists’ dorm room by the end of freshman year.
Beer Pairing: I recently had a Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout at a local restaurant. I liked the beer already, but was eager to try a vintage that happened to say “2007”. The three years in bottle had been kind to the beer and kinder to us. The bourbon was there as well as notes of chocolate and coffee and molasses. A forgotten treasure revealed itself to improve with age.

3. Arcade Fire – Suburbs
This album is not about the suburbs. It’s about our suburbanized perspective on everything and anything. We are limited by the homogeny encouraged by structures such as modern, American suburbs. Even when we think our perspectives differ, we’re really just taking on the viewpoints of our neighborhoods. Arcade Fire challenge these limitations and in anticipation of your assessment, they call you out as well for your cynicism and lack of imagination. So, you hate Arcade Fire for their elitism, their thematic simplicity, and for sounding like Bruce Springsteen. However, you all missed the point. Sure, Win Butler uses the words “suburbs” and “sprawl” ad nauseam, but those are just code for “complacency” and “group-think”. Come on. Wake up. No kids died in a fire playing Pac-Man during the recording of this record. Relax and just enjoy Arcade Fire before they’re gone.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: Arcade Fire are our U2. Sure, they’re annoying and a bit pretentious, but their my annoying, pretentious band. I don’t think Funeral is that much better than Neon Bible and I don’t think either are that much better than Suburbs. They’re all different albums that should be appreciated on their own. That and they’re not all about the suburbs. I didn’t grow up in the suburbs, so I don’t have the foggiest idea what that’s like. However, I somehow don’t think everything has to be about that sort of upbringing. This record can have meaning for those of us who grew up in rural Ohio. You suburbanites got John Hughes movies, let us have our Arcade Fire.
Slot typically held down by: Arcade Fire.
Beer Pairing: Mikkeller did this beer called 1000 IBU. The human is thought to only be able to sense something around 100 IBU’s (international bitterness units). The beer was thought to be over the top and just a stunt. It was expensive and came in fancy packaging. I loved it. Never could I have imagined as good a beer as this one. I don’t know that it’s my favorite of all time, but it’s pretty damn close and it’s at least a good talking beer. That is, when you’re done talking about how much the suburbs suck or something.

2. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz
I truly got this record after reading about Royal Robertson, the schizophrenic, misogynistic, zealot-level religious fanatic, outside artist who painted his pain in the form of science fiction spaceships carrying God to earth. And that about describes the insanity that is The Age of Adz. Knowing this background along with Stevens’ struggles with faith and his own health provide the context where a cluster-fuck like this actually makes sense. Some have issues with the 24-minute final track, but it’s one of the most complex love songs ever and it all comes out in the wash by the end. Besides, everything before that is this shy of genius.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: Even though I’m not religious, I appreciate a little religion in my life. I do the major religious holidays out of a sense of tradition. I want my kid to understand a religious point of view and come to her own conclusions, not mine. She loves “Chicago” and “The Perpetual Self, or ‘What Would Saul Alinsky Do?'”, so why not just send her to the church of Sufjan Stevens?
Slot typically held down by: Radiohead’s Kid A came on the heels of Radiohead’s greatest triumph and it completely destroyed their brand. The reinvention was accepted by few and rejected by many, but it confused everyone. Eventually, the genius of  Kid A was realized, prompting many to include it on year-end lists or retroactive all-decade lists after some time and context had passed. Even with the seismic change in aesthetic, the album is still unmistakable as a Radiohead piece.
Beer Pairing: A 2007 New Belgium La Folie made an appearance at a recent Colorado beer tasting. Noses turned up, mouths wrinkled, beer geeks cringed. The wet horse blanket of a beer was too much for some, nearly undrinkable. I found the beer complex and fascinating. I would have had more had there been more available. La Folie isn’t the same in their new flashy bombers as they were in the simple 750-mL bottles circa 2007. It’s an acquired taste, the La Folie, but certainly worth the acquisition.

1. The Walkmen – Lisbon
The Walkmen don’t make bad records. They just don’t. They dress well. Their consummate professionals. The Walkmen are a reliable lot and this record is nor different from past efforts. It sounds like a mid-August evening, just before schools reopen. I can hear evenings on the deck, sipping on a cold one and avoiding mosquitos. The album is warm, comfortable, and friendly. It moves the listener to move. It’s just a quietly great record and I’m ashamed I haven’t sung its praises until now.
Why a 35-year-old dad likes it: This is my band of the century. They describe my nights out, nights in, and all the nights in between. They know my break up stories as they are their own. If they drink beer, they drink the same beer I do. The Walkmen are my current Pavement and for this I have no other option but to perpetually place them at the top of the heap.
Slot typically held down by: They are Wilco but without a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to their resume…but also without a Sky Blue Sky. Wilco is the older, more midwestern version of The Walkmen, a band we look forward to drinking with someday, a band that will play the songs we want to hear. Wilco always finds a way into the conversation, so do The Walkmen.
Beer Pairing: Goose Island Nightstalker is as smooth and tasty an imperial stout as you’ll ever have. It’s elegant but blue collar. It’s big city, but warms you as you sit looking across corn fields or verandas or whatever The Walkmen see when they write those songs. Sip on this with Lisbon playing and you’ll understand both.

How did I leave the following off this list? Maybe I should return my indie cred to the record store where I found it.

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Maybe the best record about both the Civil War and moving from Jersey to Boston ever screamed.

Liars – Sisterworld
Most sinister album of the year with a touch of punk made me want to drink nothing but beers brewed in bourbon barrels and ash trays.

Here We Go Magic – Pigeons
Inventive, unique, and sounds just like Talking Heads. Still, this is what Secretly Canadian sounds like in one band.

And these…
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt
Wolf Parade – Expo 86
Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring
The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack
The National – High Violet
Spoon – Transference
Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years

I know some of you hate my list, but your only choice is to post your own and link back to mine. Do it. That and I dare you to pair beers with your albums.

1Also pairs well with fish.
2Not really, but hang with me.
3Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Sea & Cake, etc.
4See Head to Toe EP.
5Britt Daniel, I’m looking your way.

19 Responses

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  1. Carrie said, on December 3, 2010 at 12:49 am

    “The Walkmen don’t make bad records”
    you mean you liked 100 miles off and Pussy Cats?

    you’re a man alone in your principles, clearly.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 7:57 am

      100 Miles Off was and is a good record. I never count Pussy Cats as it was basically a side-project. The back story on the original is interesting. I’ll give you that Pussy Cats was crap, but I will not concede 100 Miles Off.

  2. doublewordscore said, on December 3, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Still not a Suburbs fan. The perils of groupthink/complacency are the easiest target for folks who want to claim the moral high ground this side of George W Bush. Maybe the Arcade Fire is right–maybe we need to break out of our uptight neighborhood cocoons to become free-thinking, non-consumerist (except for $3.99 Arcade Fire downloads from Amazon) butterflies. But is it art?

    • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 8:00 am

      The Amazon thing is not their fault. That’s like blaming The National for $6.99 CD’s at Best Buy. We may just have to agree to disagree on this one.

      What I like is that two intelligent and informed music lovers can have completely different takes on the same record. Well, I know you’re intelligent anyway.

      • doublewordscore said, on December 3, 2010 at 9:22 am

        Maybe the Amazon thing isn’t their fault. Did you collect all eight album covers, though?

      • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 9:29 am

        No. I bought one. They’re no worse than Wilco putting out the same album with crappy extras a few months later.

        While I get your subtle critique, I think one can separate the packaging and Amazon fiascos from the music (which is totally fine that you don’t like it, but I don’t get why). Every band does some questionable marketing, but if they are to make a buck making art they have to make those calls. What band is in it just for the art? They have to make a living.

      • doublewordscore said, on December 3, 2010 at 9:42 am

        I usually roll my eyes at special editions with pointless extra tracks and all that, but it really bugged me with the Arcade Fire’s new one for some reason. I think it’s because the album aims for this anti-mass-consumerism thing, but everything surrounding the album is savvy nü-capitalism.

        Which’d be forgivable if the album was better. Some of the songs sound quite good, but quite a few of them are either forgettable or (worse) feel like they’re just there to advance the plot.

        WordPress isn’t designed for discussions that go more than two or three responses, it seems. I hope this ends up in a sort of logical place.

      • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 9:50 am

        doublewordscore, I get your point and have always appreciated your comments, but I think we are on different frequencies on this one. Bands do fancy packaging, special releases, extra tracks, whatever. It’s part marketing, part artistic vision. For example, Sufjan Stevens wanted Illinois to be a double album. It didn’t work for sequencing purposes on vinyl (or some similar reason), so he released the Avalanche with all the “extras”. He had an artistic vision which wasn’t practical, but to the uninformed it looks as if he’s gouging his fans.

        There are plenty of examples like this. I’m not so quick to dismiss an album based on packaging and marketing, but I still get the critique.

        That said, I’d like to know what tracks you didn’t like. I feel there is a similar percentage of filler on Funeral, an album no one questions as being great. I think it’s pretty similar. In fact, the filler on Suburbs is far superior than the filler on previous Arcade Fire records.

      • doublewordscore said, on December 3, 2010 at 10:21 am

        It’s funny you mention Sufjan. I’m preparing a 2010 in review blog right now, and I was just typing about him.

        I like about half the songs. The Suburbs, City with No Children, Half Light II, and Mountains Beyond Mountains speak to me. Those songs, plus maybe one other (Rococo or Modern Man, maybe), would make a killer EP.

        The sprawl between Half Light II and Mountains Beyond Mountains is really, really boring. I can’t find anything to connect to in that stretch.

        The last track, that dour version of the opening track, makes me furious every time I hear it.

      • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 10:31 am

        Hmmm, I like “Suburban War” and “Month of May”. “Wasted Hours” is a nice change of pace and “Deep Blue” begins the build up to the stretch run. I really like “We Used to Wait” both musically and thematically. “Sprawl I (Flatlands)” was maybe my least favorite for a while, but I started to pay attention to it as an intro to “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” and in that way it works. I’ll give you the final track, but it’s a circular ending, man. (I used to teach 4th and 5th grade, yo.) So, it has a purpose.

        The key difference is that I like several of these songs and see the sequential purpose for the others. As an album, this is easily Arcade Fire’s best work. I’m a sucker for albums.

      • doublewordscore said, on December 3, 2010 at 10:38 am

        Think we’re going to have to play the “agree to disagree/apples and oranges” card on this one. I’m an album fan, too, but mostly when they links aren’t so overt.

        At least it’s all the way back at #3 on your list. I’m pretty sure we can agree on most of the others on the list. Except for Sufjan. I have it on my mp3 player but haven’t listened yet. I’m scared.

      • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 10:47 am

        Agreed. I can see the overt connections, but I think there’s something more covert going on there. Whatevs.

        I won’t lie. The Age of Adz (pronounced “odz”) is as difficult as they come. Someone somewhere wrote that the final track is a make or break. Don’t judge the record on the first listen (not that you would). Also, I really got into the first ten tracks as an album and the last track as a bonus or even its own bizarre EP. That helped me appreciate what’s there. It takes work, but I think you’ll like it. If not, I totally get that as well.

  3. Steve said, on December 3, 2010 at 3:56 am

    Good to see the Walkmen love. It’s a pretty low-key record, so is easy to overlook, but it is just a joy from start to finish. There’s no fuss, no fanfare, they just get on with the job of making great music. They are like a reliable old friend. I even liked Pussy Cats – if only because it led me back to the original.

    I’m mulling over my list, but I haven’t really listened to that many new releases, certainly not as many as I did in my younger days. Of what I have listened to, Arcade Fire and Deerhunter will certainly be there or thereabouts.

    Best Coast – fun singles, but I really couldn’t stomach a whole album of it. They pretty soon got dumb and annoying. And not even in a good way.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 8:02 am

      That’s a good take on The Walkmen album. It’s good that someone besides my sister and myself appreciate its greatness and craft.

      I see the Best Coast critique. Honestly, I haven’t listened to it a ton. I purchased in the midst of several other records and it had to share time. It’s the one album I can see collecting dust in a year, but for now I like it a ton.

  4. GE said, on December 3, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Guess being a couple years older and having 2 kids makes you even more out of touch. Will check out Quasi and Let’s Wrestle now…
    Hope you’re well,

    • builderofcoalitions said, on December 3, 2010 at 9:25 am

      Hey, good to hear from you. Paul and his family joined us for Thanksgiving this year. (That just ruined what little indie cred onto which I was clinging.)

      Yes, do. Have you even been a Quasi fan? That might help.

  5. Justin said, on December 5, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Ahhhhhh. The Pavement and Expedition Stout pairing rips out my heart. I have been searching all over for this expedition stout. And now that I see it paired with Pavement the quest gets that much more intense.

  6. […] busiest day of the year was December 3rd with 153 views. The most popular post that day was The Ten Best Albums of 2010. This just encourages me to post more top-whatever lists of music. I guess you crave my opinion […]

  7. Martha S said, on October 21, 2021 at 11:07 pm

    Nice blog thhanks for posting

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