My number-one album of the year, LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening, is proof that when dance music is infused with a human element, powerful alchemy ensues. The masterpiece of 40-year-old James Murphy—a New York clubgoer perpetually reconciling lifestyle with age—This Is Happening is a portrait of coming down from the giddy highs of youth and maturing into the stance captured on this, a pulsing dance record refreshingly aware of real life. Murphy's tenderness is stabbed by blurby analog synths, dirty hi-hats and sardonic humor throughout; it's probably the first-ever club banger for the long dark teatime of the soul, and it's what I listened to more than any other record in 2010.
A pair of records both from the Type imprint grab my second and third slots. Type is a "noise" label, however a curious shift this year was that noise, as a genre, got a lot less noisy. Thus for all the abrasiveness of the Yellow Swans' Going Places, from Portland, Ore., a simple, buried beauty manifests itself anew with each listening. Beauty is more overt on Johann Johannsson's And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees, a piano-driven score with miraculously soaring themes and brilliant orchestration. Uplift never sounded so effortless.
I danced on my own more times to Robyn's Body Talk, Pt. 1 than any other record this year, and though I truly loved only half its songs, that it still hit number four on my list is testament to their power. Sandwiched between an opening track called "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do" and a closing cover of a jazz song sung in Swedish, the diminutive pop star delivered a message of joy not lost on a world crippled by recession and war. Rather than deliver listeners from war, Titus Andronicus' The Monitor at number five is a fierce blast of history-obsessed Civil War-era inebriation, at home alongside the Clash, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements.
Number six brings Standard Fare's The Noyelle Beat, which has more hooks than any other nonpop record. The three-piece churns out compact melodies and guitar riffs with lyrics set on heartbreak—is it any wonder they're from England? The lo-fi snapshot of innocence from Woodsist Records that is Welcome Home (Diggin' the Universe) will take any musician back in time to recording his first garage band on a Radio Shack cassette player. With each listen, every song grew on me, ranking it in at number seven.
After a four-year silence, the Velvet Teen's No Star marks such a welcome comeback that it would probably make this list even if it wasn't a complete revelation. As it is, the genre-defying music, complex yet fluid, pads a voice of resurrected purity for a number eight slot.
Purity pervades Jack Attack's My Rights Were Violated, a self-released effort by a high-functioning mentally disabled Santa Rosa musician who found catharsis from being bullied in his visceral, undeniable metal anthems of reclamation. Even after tracking Jack down at his job rounding up shopping carts and getting to know him, I remain beguiled by every moment in his music, making for a clear number nine.
Coincidentally, number ten is Jason Moran's Ten, the sound of truly singular pianism and easily the year's best jazz record. Rounding out the extended 2010 list are albums by Goodriddler, Nicki Minaj, RVIVR, Daniel Bjarnason, Hanalei, Sam Amidon, Superchunk, Hearse, Flying Lotus, Best Coast and plenty more. See the full year's overhaul at www.citysoundinertia.com.