Insight’s Indispensable Records of 2010

It’s a winter’s day in a deep and dark December, and what better time to muse on the banquet of records that 2010 has spread for us than now? Yes, we know you’re probably sick of endless know-it-all critics arguing over whether Janelle Monae’s Archandroid pushed R&B further than Cee-Lo’s The Lady Killer, or if the comeback of the year title belonged to Edwyn Collins or Gil Scott-Heron but, well, tough. We wanted authoritative answers, so we asked our most intrepid musical Jedi knights, Adam and Tom, to unsheathe their lightsabers of criticism and cross swords over their favourite records, whittling them down to an elite 25. After much deliberation (we heard a lot of moaning and groaning) they emerged from their secret music laboratory hidden way out on the windy moors with the following definitive, alphabetic results…

Ali & Toumani

A posthumous release in the wake of the death of legendary Mali bluesman Ali in 2006, this was manna from the heavens for those who fell in love with the duo’s Grammy-winning In the Heart of the Moon. The esteemed six-stringer and kora wunderkind weaved a wondrous tapestry of African blues roots ancient and modern, with a faint ricochet of their musical cousins in the deltas of America. This was a more refined affair than their first; recorded in a London studio and backed with the fervor for African exports brought on by the successes of Tinariwen and Konono No.1. We should be thankful for the trend – it’s allowed a dream collaboration to record a polished, fluid and phosphorescent pinnacle to Ali Farka Touré’s life in music. TK

The Suburbs

Probably the most anticipated record of the year, this somehow didn’t disappoint. Billed as a ‘concept album’, it wasn’t that heavy-handed and, despite its length, seemed to breeze on by. A distant cousin of Radiohead’s OK Computer thematically, the record was full of Win and Régine’s prevailing concerns – neighborhoods, families, religion, ecology and modern paranoia. ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ was the shining star in a constellation of songs, perhaps the best they’ve recorded, soaring on Régine’s confident vocal and a bubbling undercurrent of synthesizers. Filled with dystopian imagery and brimming with the weight-of-the-world musings that have come to define the band, the sound was nonetheless exuberant and mature enough to ensure that this was their great crossover record without a loss of artistic integrity. TK

Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

Detroit might have hit a well-documented slump, but Big Boi certainly does not hesitate to remind you of his most-treasured Cadillac in Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. Nor does Patton shy away from mentioning Katrina on ‘Fo Yo Sorrows’: “When we shout Dirty South, I don’t think that is what we mean”. Clearly Southern hip hop hasn’t felt the same depression; this is an album full of pleasure – quite literally with its numerous sex raps. There are moments of pure funk indulgence such as ‘Hustle Blood’ or ‘Be Still’, terrifying choir-backed fierce raps like ‘General Patton’, but also pop hits like ‘Shutterbug’, Patton’s answer to ‘Hey Ya’. AB


Daniel Snaith’s maths PhD is by now a well-documented anecdote to any Caribou interviews. Everyone expects Snaith to have some calculated the equation for a perfect electronic album, from working late nights over Swim with oscillators and synthesisers. But for Snaith music and maths “are not similar in the way people want me to say, it’s about playing around things and things happening by accident and getting a gut feeling when things are working.” Swim is not an album that sounds as if it has been worked out on a calculator; it feels distinctly human from its varied live instrumentation to Snaith’s out of focus vocals about break-ups, long relationships or lonely women. This is an album for wrongly stereotyped maths enthusiasts everywhere. AB

Crush Depth

Cosmic orchestra of prog-funk Chrome Hoof’s second effort was always going to take us by surprise. But this step up from Pre-Emptive False Rapture was monolithic, a dense, aquatically themed odyssey that brought the mythological virtuosity of Magma 21st century contextualisation. Acid house, doom metal, classical sections, P-funk and disco were all sucked up and converted into an alien form of dance music by the band, whose live spectacle – replete with mirror-ball robes and lazers – laid waste to many a festival over summer. Rarely has that most nerdy of genres – progressive rock – been so accessible yet far-out, so fun yet complex. Collaborations with heroes Cluster, as well as pals Circulus and SMD broaden the vision further. They may well have made prog cool again; Kanye recently sampled King Crimson after all… TK

Dark Night of the Soul

An all-star cast joined Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton and dear, departed Mark ‘Sparklehorse’ Linkous for this haunting record. Released posthumously after the suicides of Linkous and collaborator Vic Chesnutt, their deaths can’t help but give the LP resonance. Boasting partnerships with singers as diverse as Wayne Coyne, Iggy Pop, Nina Persson, Gruff Rhys as well as Scott Spillane of Neutral Milk Hotel, this was always going to be astonishing. DM’s crisp production and Sparklehorse’s always recognisable mix of swooning strings, electronics and crisp acoustic guitars accompany a strangely cohesive selection of off-centre pop songs. This record can also be praised (or blamed) for David Lynch’s recent adventures in sound, featuring as it does two vocals and a photographic booklet from the nightmare visionary himself. TK

Halcyon Digest

“Do you recall?” murmurs Bradford Cox amid the fog of opening track ‘Earthquake’. This is a record steeped in faded memories and recollections: whether coping with lost childhood over ‘Memory Boy’, wistfully remising about the 80s punk and DIY scene in ‘Basement Scene’ or clinging to favourite memories in ‘Revival’. ‘Sailing’ is stunningly minimal, buoyed just by Cox crooning and cooing over shimmering sound effects and subdued guitar strumming. Something of Deerhunter’s intensity has also been lost in this record, silences pervade tracks, and spaces are more pronounced where deafening noise might have previously existed. AB

Blood & Fire

Several bands had a go at re-firing the engine of the rock & roll Cadillac this year; while The Jim Jones Revue played electric white-boy blues at its finest and were deservedly lavished with praise, these scarecrow-haired wildmen from Brighton should really have got some of the attention. Plagued with misfortune – a guitarist poached by NIN, drug abuse issues, being dropped by their label – the Disaster cathartically drove out these demons in 38 scintillating minutes. The six years since The Royal Society clearly stirred the band into a mouth-frothing, bat-biting, frenzy; ‘Love Turns to Hate’ is the best song they’ve written, ‘Man For All Seasons’ is a Dionysian delight, while saloon ballad ‘So, Long, Goodnight’ hints at a hitherto untapped versatility. This record crowns the band as the grisly heirs to Nick Cave’s throne of goth punk. TK


This is the album that J Dilla and Miles Davis would make in some intergalactic parallel universe, perhaps some sort of a creative Valhalla for passed away musicians. Ridiculous statements aside, this is a record that morphs on every listen, at times sounding like a futuristic jazz album, or instrumental hip-hop or even a Sci-Fi soundtrack. One moment you are ambushed by blasts of electronic fazers, next you find yourself in some Galactic-funk nightclub on one of Saturn’s rings. Cosmogramma endlessly stimulates delusional Total Recall-styled day dreaming. Even now, after many listens, there remains a sense of indefinite mystery from its unidentifiable sounds. AB

Total Life Forever

Foals have always, from their first Myspace upload ‘Hummer’, been a conspicuously confident band but the progression from the angular, flittering sounds of their initial offerings to this record’s atmospheric grandeur was astounding. Yannis’s vocal work has matured fluently, evolving from shattered muttering to full-bodied crooning that inhabits the same baroque-pop habitat as Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. Not to underestimate the rhythm section – Total Life Forever wouldn’t be half as buoyant were it not for the beefy basswork and fissure-forging percussion of Messrs Gervers and Bevan. As well as growing more technically proficient, the band has established a greater depth of emotion, discovering a verve for dynamics absent in their earlier work. Overall, the bubbling guitars, depth charge rhythms and vocal acrobatics coalesced to yet again prove Foals to be one of British music’s most exhilarating exports. TK

Have One On Me

Whether you love or hate her, you have to admire the gall of Ms. Newsom, musical marmite as she is. This ambitious triple-album set was an opaque and overbearing prospect to the listener, bristling with invention, virtuosity and the painstaking detail that signifies a master craftswoman. Her Appalachian pixie-voiced folk was, as ever, dizzying, with this record making the same giant leap from Ys as that record made from The Milk-Eyed Mender. She created a musical world comparable to ‘Alice In Wonderland’ in scope, but each song was so concise and perfectly formed that, although the work was of titanic proportions, it slipped down a treat. Her voice, clear as a mountain river, seems so delicate that it could break at any second; you can’t listen to this grandiose opus without falling deathly silent, such is its fragile power. TK

Queen of Denmark

Growing up gay in the Midwest sure isn’t easy. But John Grant, former ex-singer with the underrated Czars, converted decades of trouble and strife into the most beguiling debut of the year. Backed by folkster fans Midlake, they foolishly seemed to put their best efforts into this collaboration rather than their own record, ‘The Courage of Others’. Their baleful, mellow backing of warm guitars, luxuriant woodwind and spacey keyboards provided the perfect canvas for Grant’s rich, dark baritone. With jet black lyrics swinging from the profane to the sublime, subjects include childhood sweet shops, space travel, a list of the subjects of Jesus Christ’s hatred, and Alien actress Sigourney Weaver. He comes on like a catty, rakish fusion of John Cale and David Ackles, these mordant but sanguine love songs sounding like classics lost in time. TK

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

What is there left to say about this album? Shovel more hyperbole on the mountains of critical acclaim, or play down its significance by stressing that its success is all down to ‘context’. It is almost as exhausting reading about it as it is to listen: never for a moment letting up with its overblown production streak from start to finish. Whether this is truly the classic critics (and Kanye) have led us to believe; only time will tell. But for now let me throw some more praise on the heap and agree that is indeed a good album. Not that you needed to hear it. AB

Absolute Dissent

From hiding from the imminent apocalypse in Iceland to recording in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Egypt, as well as being ripped off by Nirvana and creating symphonic versions of Pink Floyd tracks, Killing Joke have always seemed ahead (and to the side of) of the pack. The first recording by the original line-up of Jaz, Geordie, Youth and Paul since 1982, this is a seamless triumph. ‘European Super State’ is a belting concoction of geopolitical declamation with DFA-style hard house and EBM beats. ‘This World Hell’ beats Godflesh and Neurosis at their own game, a titanic slab of industrial metal, while ‘The Raven King’ soars. Rife with 21st Century paranoia, conspiracy theorising and esoteric lore, this blows any other intelligent, dance-savvy post-punk effort out of the water – I’m looking at you, These New Puritans. TK

This Is Happening

With James Murphy teasing us with rumours of retiring LCD Soundsystem, it is imperative to mention your heartbreak and loss at this news in every mention of the band. And that is honestly how I felt on first listen; it was like being given a small bottle of whiskey in consolation for a break-up. In retrospect I’ve come to terms with the niggling feelings I had all along that maybe this wasn’t quite up to Sound of Silver. Sure it’s brilliant; it’s everything I would expect from Murphy: the weary self-abandonment of ‘Dance Yrself Clean’, the swirling funk of ‘Pow Pow’ and the pleading ‘I Can Change’. But like any long-term relationship, you kid yourself nothing has changed, while secretly knowing things aren’t quite as amazing as the beginning. AB


We’ve come to expect an entirely new sound-world from each Liars release, but this one seemed to soak up their previous canon and refine it. There’s a queasy mixture of beauty and horror throughout, best identified in curtain-raiser ‘Scissor’, which, after a minute of so of calm-water vocals swirls into a typhoon of brutal guitar battery. ‘Scarecrows On A Killer Slant’ has become a live calling-card, perhaps the most vicious song they’ve recorded. Based on a real-life shooting which occurred during the writing of Sisterworld, it’s a nauseous, fearful rant of fuzz and bloody noise that could put the shits up Lieutenant Dan. This is a hazy, sickly record, which cements the band’s reputation as art-punk terrorists once more, but here they are more refined, sophisticated, and – dare I say it – mature. They’re all the more harrowing for it. TK

Crooks and Lovers

From their 7” releases Mount Kimbie have been dogged with one tiresome question: how do you define your music? It is post-dubstep, ambient, post-rock or IDM. This kind of fixation with classification is something usually best left to biologists differentiating between moulds. If anything, it has been useful as an example of how wide ranging the scope of this record is. Surprisingly this variation isn’t alienating when listening to Crooks & Lovers. There are tracks which stand out as more obviously dubstep such as the oppressively bass-driven ‘Blind Night Errand’ or the dancefloor funky of ‘Mayor’, but these are about the only reference points. Both Kai and Dom have stated this is a record about London, but this isn’t the London of Burial, this is one tempered by light-hearted as well as bleaker moments. AB

Black Noise

Pantha Du Prince has a knack for apt album titles. Previous record This Bliss delivered that by all accounts and Black Noise, also a term for a frequency audible only as silence to humans, is equally appropriate. Tracks begin by rippling the surface of silences with drips, reverberations, flickers of sound gradually becoming rhythms and beats. But unlike most minimal techno, nothing is sustained for long; producer Hendrik Weber unwinds each song by introducing one new element after another. Natural clinks of bells and soft xylophone are merged with electronic bleeps and thumps of bass. If they had to have a breakout album, this is the closest yet. AB

How I Got Over

The Roots have always been one of the most open-minded and musically literate of hip-hop groups. But take a quick glance at their list of samples and guest spots on this ninth release and you might be surprised; Monsters of Folk, John Legend, Joanna Newsom and Dirty Projectors all crop up in various forms. This sonic mellowing out is perhaps a consequence of this being their first record borne of the Obama administration – the more irritable jitters of their last two LPs replaced with jazzy textures more comparable to their mid-90’s output. Not that political calm has stunted them artistically; while often mellifluous and relaxed, there are still powerful lyrics about child soldiers in Sierra Leone, deforestation and corporate monopolies, with Black Thought coming on like a more soulful J Dilla. The shift in aural palette is remarkably successful, making this LP their best since the classic Phrenology dropped in 2002. TK

Take The Curse

The year was mauled by stonking metal releases from the likes of High On Fire, Electric Wizard and Black Breath. But while all three discharged sterling records, they pale in comparison to the underrated ‘Take The Curse’. Ramesses are two-thirds of Electric Wizard’s deranged former rhythm section, fired from that band for various offences (including punching a cop). Their dying-sloth groove, undead Bonzo percussion, and blacker-than-a-tarpit wall of fuzz hark back to their former project, but drawing in a wealth of influences from the wider field of occult-obsessed music has allowed them to unearth sounds more ogreish than ever. Be it the bursts of necro-magickal black metal on ‘Black Hash Mass’ or the opium-addled guitars on the title track, this is a pulsating, flesh-bound grimoire that paralyses any other metal release this year. TK

King Night

From its beginnings as a vaguely linked assortment of special text characters, ‘witchhouse’ has been assailed by intense blog-crazed attention. Salem are one of the few bands to emerge with an album, and have assumed the position of High Priests within the genre. In the clambering to expose the band, some ridiculous stories have emerged from male prostitution-funded drug habits to hysterical accusations of John Holland’s raps as racist imitations. Behind all this is one of the most affecting albums released: often terrifying, always unsettling, it is strictly night listening for those seeking to conjure up some dark visual imaginings. AB


One of the most unpredictably successful records we heard, Sleigh Bells was one half a noisy nutter from screamos Poison The Well and the other a girl whose mother match-made the two in a café. They deliver a whopping wall of sound, with reverberating R&B rhythms colliding violently with sugar-sweet vocals and freeform guitar noise. Managing to transcend its artier tendencies by exercising a saccharine pop nous, this record is turned all the way up to 11, and all the more irresistible for it. ‘Rill Rill’ was an obvious single, a bouncy snort of coke that could make a dead man jump, while ‘Crown On The Ground’ confused and befuddled with it’s two-front war of catchy melody and buzzsaw guitar. Overall, the sound was like having something big, happy, shiny and new smash your face into pulp. And no-one who heard it had a hope of resisting. TK

My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

When it was announced that Michael Gira was re-convening Swans, stomachs across the land churned as faces blanched, and flocks of birds fell out of the sky. The record was expected to be as skull-scorchingly cataclysmic as past efforts, and didn’t dissatisfy. From bone-blackening industrial wastelands to the ominous freak-lullabies and rattling tribal soundscapes, this was an unnerving, apocalyptic journey, the aural equivalent to Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. Indeed, there is a certain Western bleakness to proceedings, with Gira’s deceptively lucid croon sifting through ash-strewn remnants of whirling jazz lines that sound like falling aeroplanes, while drifting post-rock meanders like a lost soul to a dead horse. Collaborations with Gira’s 3 year old daughter and Devendra Banhart add bizarre flourishes to the sonic template. It’s been a 13 year hiatus, but the world through Swans’ eyes is just as terrifying as when they left it. TK


Teengirl Fantasy are hardly unique in filtering the R&B and pop of their formative years, through modern dance music. But they are one of the few to do so in such a hypnotic manner. A duo of college students from Ohio, Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss have cut and picked their influences from Chicago House, Balearic beats and soul. Two tracks stand out in particular: vocal track ‘Dancing In Slow Motion’ is a R&B slow jam that sounds as if it has been resurrected from the 90s. And ‘Cheaters’, has a stunning heart-bursting sample of 70s disco-funk from group Love Committee that will instantly solidify your affection for this album. AB


Grainy VCR tape, a man fully dressed in denim, in what looks like the interior of a cheap garden shed and an off-screen cameraman soliciting all too personal answers. Twin Shadow’s George Lewis Jr. in a video for song ‘Slow’, a homage of banned Eighties Calvin Klein adverts. Many bloggers have hastily labelled him the ‘Black Morrissey’ due to the vocal resemblance, but this is no Smiths tribute record. An Eighties aesthetic saturates Forget but it is far from a pastiche. Lewis’s voice reverberates with a past-longing sadness in ‘Tyrant Destroyed’, and occasionally gives way to fitful bursts of emotions such as the throat-stretching chorus to ‘Slow’. Arrestingly beautiful, and one of the freshest sounding forays into the Eighties for a long time. AB

Honourable Mentions:

Antony & The Johnsons Swanlights, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti Before Today, Avey Tare Down There, Drake Thank Me Later, Dum Dum Girls I Will Be, Endless Boogie Full House Head, Forest Swords Dagger Paths, Four Tet There Is Love in You, Hauschka Foreign Landscapes, Gil Scott-Heron I’m New Here, Grinderman Grinderman 2, Janelle Monae The Archandroid, The Jim Jones Revue Burning Your House Down, Robyn Body Talk, Rumer Seasons Of My Soul, Shining Blackjazz, Sufjan Stevens The Age of Adz, Tame Impala Innerspeaker, Zola Jesus Stridulum II.


  1. 13 Dec ’10 at 5:12 pm

    Alan Pardew and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    Nice to see The XX omitted, that album is sheeeeeeeet

    Reply Report

  2. Probably because it was released in 2009. I don’t really get the hate for the XX. They are no worse than some of the bands selected here. That album also spawned some extremely good remixes.

    How Four Tet didn’t get in here is mental.

    Reply Report

  3. Four Tet do get a namecheck in the Honorable Mentions bit. Along with Tame Impala, who are awesome.

    Reply Report

  4. 13 Dec ’10 at 7:08 pm

    Pint of Guinness please Sir

    I’ve heard of literally none of these (bar Kanye and Arcade Fire). Oh and its nice to see that anything considered “heavy” has been omitted…

    Reply Report

  5. 13 Dec ’10 at 7:59 pm

    Peter Beardsley

    @Pint of Guinness please Sir

    ‘its nice to see that anything considered “heavy” has been omitted…’

    Chrome Hoof, Ramesses, Killing Joke, Shining and Swans are all mentioned. Maybe read before commenting next time.

    Reply Report

  6. 13 Dec ’10 at 11:57 pm

    Pint of Guinness please Sir

    I knew that comment would piss someone off haha

    Reply Report

  7. Sorry I’m blind.

    Reply Report

  8. May I suggest Bring Me The Horizon’s “There is a Hell, Believe Me I’ve Seen it. There is a Heaven, But Lets Keep it a Secret”?

    Reply Report

  9. 16 Dec ’10 at 12:37 pm

    Annoying Nouse commenter

    Eminem’s album is hands down the best one of the year. Good to know Nouse music is still as ‘alternative’ and pretentious as ever.

    Reply Report

  10. That Eminem album was terrible. Most of it was spent admtting how crap he was. He used to be brilliant for about 3 albums but the last few are just awful.

    Reply Report

  11. @ annoying Nouse commentor

    “Good to know Nouse music is still as ‘alternative’ and pretentious as ever.”

    Fuck Off.

    Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Big Boi and Foals, three have sold out some of the biggest indoor venues we have, Big Boi (as part of Outkast, has had some of the most mainstream albums and songs going (Speakerboxx/Love Below, Miss Jackson)

    Reply Report

  12. 20 Dec ’10 at 10:30 pm

    Annoying nouse commenter

    @Andre 3k

    Yes, I agree with you, I love arcade fire and all the artists you’ve mentioned are popular and have had big albums this year. However, the majority of the albums on the list are obscure bands that few people are going to have heard of. I myself am I fan of indie or alternative music, but the fact is that the majority of york uni aren’t and the music section needs to cater more to these people. They need to focus more on including all genres of music.
    I know you’re probably going to tell me that they have/do, and I agree with you that the albums on this list do encompass a variety of artists.
    But many are just too small for people to have heard of.
    Also, I’m a bit pissed of that you telling me to fuck off hasn’t been moderated, but my comment calling nouse music pretentious was at first.

    Reply Report

  13. @Annoying nouse commenter, all comments on this website are manually moderated therefore the amount of time before comments appear is varied.

    Reply Report

  14. 21 Dec ’10 at 7:57 pm

    Adam Bychawski

    @Annoying nouse commenter

    As with this list, we try to represent a wide as possible spectrum of music in Nouse. Obviously we can’t do this in every single edition, that would entail printing a two page spreadsheet of genre-categorised news, where the latest on Crunk is spelled out in size 6 on grid L1LJ.

    I don’t think music magazines have to “cater to everybody”. That would be fucking boring. Maybe in some purgatory where we all simultaneously unwrap our critically acclaimed copies of Coldplay’s latest album on Christmas morning. It’s not pretentious to try expose music we find good, before checking that everyone in campus has in fact heard it.

    Anyway obscure, really? At least 13 of the list have appeared in big music festivals this year. These are hardly releases we found on limited cassette, containing recordings of static and defecation.

    shouldn’t have fed the troll

    Reply Report

  15. @ Annoying Nouse commenter,

    This list covers hip-hop, indie, punk, soul, blues, pop, metal and electronica. I don’t think you can really accuse us of being elitist and niche. Most of the records on it have cropped up in various end-of-year lists and really aren’t that obscure. Maybe they’ve passed you by. Sure there are a couple of entries from lesser known acts, but we’re just trying to be fair to those artists. Just because they’re not hyped doesn’t mean we should ignore them. As for pandering to what’s popular just to please people, I’d rather not adhere to fads and popular opinion. If I did want to do that I’d be writing PR rather than journalism. If you reckon there’s any genre of music you feel is being ignored at Nouse music (I’ve been wanting a power electronics column for a while), submit something! We’re always looking to broaden horizons and cover as wide a selection as possible which is why it’s a bit disappointing to be accused of being pretentious.

    Also, I’m afraid I have to agree with Lucas, that Eminem record was a crock of shit.

    Reply Report

  16. 21 Dec ’10 at 10:53 pm

    Oliver James Hutchings

    @ Pint of Guiness please Sir

    Here is a delightful link to some sort of hipster-metal countdown, enjoy, it’s heavy as fuck.

    @ Annoying Nouse commenter

    I must say I like the idea that Nouse ‘needs’ to do something in order to cater for everybody; as if universal justice commands it or something.

    1.They’re a bunch of students, they don’t actually need to do anything. 2.Your comment that there are too many small bands perplexes me, was this list meant to merely reflect your partial beliefs on the top records of 2010?’s a list of ‘indispensable’ records in alphabetical order, designed to draw your attention to some great but easily overlooked records.
    4.You’re on the internet just go somewhere else if you don’t like this list.

    I’m joining Adam (explicitly) and Tom (implicitly) in choosing to feed the Troll here, but seriously I just don’t understand what you were expecting this list to do?

    Reply Report

Leave a comment

Please note our disclaimer relating to comments submitted. Please do not post pretending to be another person. Nouse is not responsible for user-submitted content.