With the end of the year approaching, it's time to look back at the 10 albums which made 2010 a great year for music. Which record will be crowned album of the year?
10. The Drums –
It's been a strange old year for New York indie-pop group The Drums. They started the year in fine form – filling many of the "next big thing" features in the press. Yet, despite the hype, they didn't enjoy single success – both Best Friend and Forever And Ever Amen came and went relatively unnoticed. Then, just when it seemed that the band weren't going to live up to the puff, they released their self-titled debut album. A cross between The Cure, The Smiths and The Beach Boys, its mix of laid-back summer tunes, such as the marvellous Let's Go Surfing and Book of Stories, together with the downbeat tracks It Will All End In Tears and Down By The Water made the album a great addition to any indie fan's music collection. It's a great album which more than deserves its place in the year's top 10 albums.
9. The Coral –
When The Coral emerged amid the so-called Cosmic Scouse Brigade in 2000, their music was awash with the influence of Captain Beefheart (RIP Captain) and Love. Now, six albums in, those more eccentric overtones have gone, and in have come sumptuous West Coast harmonies a la Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Byrds and Revolver-era Beatles. The shift suits them perfectly, with not a duff note on Butterfly House, and the band sounding more self-assured than ever before. More Than A Lover and Two Faces are among the highlights of this criminally underrated record.
8. Stornoway –
Oxford-based quartet Stornoway had been around for a while before finally releasing their debut album, but it was most definitely worth the wait. Nature and ageing are among the themes addressed on a wonderfully introspective album, and while there are one or two misfiring tracks, Brian Briggs's heavenly voice and the band's musicianship more than compensate in other areas, namely Zorbing, The Coldharbour Road and the heart-breaking Fuel Up, which tells the tale of returning to a hometown years after leaving.
7. Caitlin Rose –
Own Side Now
Raised in Nashville, 23-year-old Caitlin Rose had already alerted country fans to her blossoming talent on her EP Dead Flowers, yet it was her debut album, released in August 2010, which really impressed. A perfect blend of traditional country and pop, Rose took her sophisticated Nashville stylings and produced an album which provided the perfect crossover album. Her tales of heartbreak on such tunes as Shanghai Cigarettes, For The Rabbits and Own Side perfectly complemented the reflective Learning To Ride and pure country anthem New York City. Rose quickly drew comparisons with Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and even Emmylou Harris. Yet, while the singer can clearly count these artists as influences, Rose can rest assured that she has made a distinctive album which should provide a great starting point for a glittering career in music.
6. Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From A Young Man
The Manics have had an eventful career. From their punk upstart roots, they delivered a career-defining album in Everything Must Go, before starting off on something of a decline which reached its lowest point with 2004's Lifeblood. Postcards continues the wave of resurgence kick-started by Send Away The Tigers in 2007, and finds the Blackwood band on confident form and taking on the banks, politicians and the collapse of Britain's remaining industry. They may have mellowed over the years but they've still got it where it counts.
5. The Roots –
How I Got Over
Philadelphia collective The Roots have, over the last 10 years, become a force in hip hop. The politically conscious group may not top the charts but what they miss out on in number ones they make up for with an avid and committed fan base. Their 2010 album How I Got Over not only proved
to be a hit with their followers but also reached out to a new generation of hip hop fans. With a host of special guests, including Phonte (of Little Brother fame), Patty Crash, Joanna Newsom and John Legend, the group sounded fresh, reinvigorated and in tune with exactly what their fans wanted. So while Questlove's drum skills dominated the tunes, the group's delicate instrumentation, as demonstrated on tunes such as Right On and The Day, combined with Black Thought's powerful lyrics proved to make this one of the most addictive hip hop albums of the year.
4. Foals – Total Life Forever
When Oxford five-piece Foals released their bouncing indie-dance debut album Antidotes in 2008 it seemed the group were likely to become a band for partying teens to attach themselves to. Yet, in 2010 they returned with a more mature
sound, something that fans of both Radiohead and Hot Chip could identify with. From the guitar driven, slow-building Spanish Sahara to the repetitively addictive Black Gold, every track on Total Life Forever is expertly crafted and, most importantly, wonderful to listen to. Arguably the best indie-rock album release of the year.
3. Best Coast –
Crazy For You
Deserving a top 10 placement for the album artwork alone, Californian group Best Coast, fronted by Bethany Cosentino, released this summer tune-filled album in the, erm, summer. There's nothing particularly deep about this bunch of songs – but there doesn't need to be. With simple melodies, guitar hooks and drumbeats this album is lo-fi indie-pop at its best. From the smashingly repetitive Boyfriend to the wonderful I Want To, which manages to transform from a downbeat number into a bouncy pop tune in less than three minutes, each song leaves the listener transported to a sunnier climate in seconds.
2. Janelle Monae –
Janelle Monae was virtually unknown before her appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman earlier this year. Immediately afterwards, the video did the rounds on the internet and the 24-year-old Kansas City native was an overnight star. Coming over like a cross between James Brown and Audrey Hepburn, it's not hard to see why her debut Archandroid, which blends old-school funk, Prince-inspired RnB and sci-fi visions of the future, is possibly the most exciting album of the year.
1. Album of the year: Laura Marling –
I Speak Because I Can
Laura Marling's debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, had a mosaic-design cover and an apologetic title, while lyrically and musically it boasted innocence and youth. Just two years later it was all change for the twice Mercury Prize-nominated songwriter. There she was, bold as brass on the sleeve of her second album, and the title, I Speak Because I Can, brimmed with confidence. The contents showed almost exponential growth and wisdom way beyond her 20 years. Channelling the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Greek mythology, there's no shortage of gravitas to Marling's second album, but there are also tender moments, delicate vocals and heart-wrenching melodies. Amazingly, despite all this, there's also the feeling there's still even more to come from this staggering talent.