Mainly Genius

The Albums of 2010

Welcome along blog fans, and welcome into the first few days of another shiny new decade.  We’ve left behind what has been another enjoyable and emotional year and, as is common at this time of year (and last year), I will be doing a round up of sorts detailing what I believe to be the best of all the musical offerings in 2010.

Honourable mentions that couldn’t quite squeeze onto the page include The Rebs’ unrelentingly catchy and well-produced debut In a Heartbeat (full review here), both End Times and Tomorrow Morning from Eels that see prolific frontman Mark “E” Everett at his most singular and introspective for many years, and (perhaps a touch controversially) retro-rock giants Arcade Fire’s 3rd album The Suburbs, which despite lacking the overt brilliance of Funeral or the dark-pop of Neon Bible, maintains a level of creativity which falls somewhere between the two and completes the trilogy with their most accessible record yet.

Others to have missed out include Happiness – the debut album from electro-rockers Hurts – and the first solo effort from Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi – entitled Go.

Just a quick word for those who are technologically endowed – don’t forget to download the spotify playlist of all the musical delights featured below right here.

Albums of 2010

Turin Brakes - Outbursts

10. Turin Brakes – Outbursts (Released 1st March)

As far as stereotyped bands go, Turin Brakes are victims more than most and can rest assured that they’ll be associated with such terms as ‘folk, ‘singer-songwriter’ and ‘acoustic’ for as long they continue to exist. On the evidence of their fifth album – entitled Outbursts – they’ve done nothing to dispel the rumours (that attempt came in 2007 with Dark on Fire) and in fact, they’ve produced one of the best acoustic/singer-songwriter/folk albums in a long while, and that includes efforts from Laura Marling et al. Far more than doing the simple things well, this albums demonstrates an extremely accomplished level of songwriting and is a enjoyable and stripped back return to form. After their 8-year association with EMI, this is the duo’s first release on independent folk label Cooking Vinyl and it appears to have given them a new freedom and for the first time since Ether Song in 2003, they seem comfortable to do exactly what they do best. Outbursts is the best acoustic session you’ve never heard and coupled with clever string arrangements and a reinvigorated band, makes Turin Brakes one of the most exciting folk artists around (Mumford and who?).

Cherry Ghost - Beneath This Burning Shoreline

9. Cherry Ghost – Beneath This Burning Shoreline (Released 5th July)

Cherry Ghost are more of an underground movement than a band. Their debut album Thirst For Romance, caused some ripples (most notably supporting the Manic Street Preachers on their 2007 tour) and garnered mostly positive reviews but delayed follow-up album Beneath this Burning Shoreline has lead to a fairly low-key release that escaped the radar of most. However, it’s a step up and a real step forward that has lead to a darker, folksier and ultimately improved sound. It seemingly does away with dreams of stardom and stadia and instead evokes images of bar fights and urban greyness that bind the album together. Unlike Thirst for Romance, you won’t find many singles on Beneath the Burning Shoreline but what you will find is a cohesive album that is lyrically excellent and musically not too far behind.

Delphic - Acolyte

8. Delphic – Acolyte (Released 11th Jan, Read the Full Review here)

Not wanting to break with tradition, 2010 began in January and has continued through 12 months to December. Way back when, on January 11th, Delphic released debut album Acolyte and that same week I confidently predicted that come Christmas time it would feature in this very list. Accusations of vote-rigging aside, this is an album that deserves to be here. By combining pulsing synths and pounding drums with old-fashioned well-crafted songwriting, Delphic have produced an album of immense quality that breaks most of the rules that many Indie bands seemly abide by. Only time will tell whether Delphic will feature this time next year but for now, they’re deservingly riding the crest of a wave.


Exit Calm - Exit Calm7. Exit Calm – Exit Calm (Released 17th May, Read the Full Review here)

It’s never an easy thing this music lark, but Exit Calm have worked harder than most. The end result must be vindication for a band on the brink of defeat just 4 years ago and is a real gem for the rest of us. Bringing together elements of Editors, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Verve, this their self-titled debut album is a refreshing change of focus for a new band and proves there’s still much life out there beyond those tight jeans and checked shirts. Guitars drift in and out as the words of frontman Nicky Smith reverberate and float across the drums that underpin the whole operation, and form a solid base on which everything else stands. A confident and refreshing band, Exit Calm have already formed a sizeable and loyal fanbase (slightly worryingly called the ‘Exit Calm Ultras’) and but like few before them, they deserve every success they get and have raised the bar for those that will come after.

Johnny Cash - American VI: Ain't No Grave

6. Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (Released 23rd February)

Posthumous albums are always a dangerous endeavour to undertake. There’s an obvious risk of spoiling or exploiting someone who’s not able to defend themselves but Johnny Cash seems a different prospect. Rather than a selection of greatest hits or b-sides, ­American VI: Ain’t No Grave is a continuation of what was a started during the same sessions of Cash’s initial posthumous release American V: A Hundred Highways. If that album was a lament to his passing, then this one is a brilliant and almost spiritual acceptance of it. To be frank, Ain’t no Grave doesn’t possess a track list that matches up to either of its predecessors but the fact that it’s even come close should be enough. Perhaps this is for the whole American Recordings canon rather that the individual album, but either way the rejuvenation of Johnny Cash and the legions of new fans that have come on board since his 1994 rebirth is something to marvel at and wholeheartedly embrace. If ­­Ain’t no Grave is the last (and it absolutely should be) then it’s a fitting and life-affirming tribute to an American hero and well worthy of a place amongst anyone else in this list.

Ray LaMontagne - God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise5. Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise (Released 17th August)

Traditionally, Ray LaMontagne has been a fairly singular individual. Previous albums Be Here Now and Trouble are almost one-man-band affairs and as a result, were introspective and emotional arguably beyond normal realms. However, this is a man whose roots lie in country music and it’s on this his 4th album that LaMontagne (la-mon-tain) really finds a balance between the former and latter. At times upbeat-country and at other times heart-wrenchingly brilliant, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise is his first collaborative release and it’s no coincidence that’s it’s his best. Perhaps performing with others has forced a change or maybe it was a natural progression, but either way new touring band The Pariah Dogs have injected a new life into LaMontagne’s songwriting and whilst for some the new sound may be at odds with his previous (and loyally guarded) acoustic style, for many more it’s a welcome refreshment that strikes the perfect balance between old and new – or good and great.

Alex Cornish - Call Back4. Alex Cornish – Call Back (Released 27th September, Read the Full Review here)

As a pupil from the DIY school of music, Alex Cornish has worked harder than most for his modest success. The majority of his debut album Until the Traffic Stops was recorded in a bedroom studio of sorts with most of the music played and performed by Cornish himself. However, it’s his second album that brings everything together and has resulted in a steady increase in popularity over the course of the year. The imporoved balance of studio and home has resulted in a level of freedom but without sacrificing any of the professional production or clever arrangements that occasionally stood out on Cornish’s debut. It’s not groundbreaking but that’s not what Call Back has set out to do. It’s an emotional voice that stands out from the already overcrowded market and combined with smart and interesting songwriting, should pave the way for more success to follow in 2011.

The National - High Violet3. The National – High Violet (Released 10th May)

After the success of fourth album Boxer in 2007, the expectations were high for The National in 2010. Needless to say, they lived up to them with grace and all their usual helpings of brilliance. The baritone voice of lead singer Matt Berninger puts many like him to shame and the often-ignored importance of lyrics are given their full quota here. Written and arranged as another instrument in themselves, they form many of the most emotional and evocative moments on the record, and it’s only the competition it’s up against that has kept High Violet off the top spot this year. It’s a record full of sentiment, resignation and consistency that will melt all but the most wooden of hearts – The National have managed reach the heights they set for themselves and will no doubt have picked up many new fans along the way. A worthy number three.

Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks2. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Released 1st March)

As with The National above, Frightened Rabbit shot themselves in the foot somewhat with their critically lauded 2nd album The Midnight Organ Fight – by making it so good. Although perhaps not so widely spread as High Violet, the anticipation for this year’s follow-up was still teetering on the side of extreme. Unlike Hight Violet however, The Winter of Mixed Drinks more than lives up to expectations and far exceeds them. Throwing off the shackles of ‘miserable indie band’, they’ve opened up and become masters in their field – singing songs of hope (Swim Until You Can’t See Land), salvation (Foot Shooter) and sorrow (Yes, I Would and Fun Stuff) that can mix with the best of them, Frightened Rabbit are on the brink of the mainstream and deserve to be one the underground success stories of 2011. No longer alt-folk or indie-pop, they’ve moved the sound forward and have found a place where they’re most comfortable and, on this evidence, at their best.

Manic Street Preachers - Postcards From a Young Man1. Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From a Young Man (Released 20th September)

Prior to release, Manics protagonist Nicky Wire called Postcards From a Young Man ‘one last shot at mass communication’, carefully preparing the ground for the giant of a record that lay ahead. When it finally came, what we got was exactly that. Unashamedly combining sweeping strings, gospel choirs and trademark guitars, this is a record that is the culmination of 4 releases since their last great album This is My Truth Tell Me Yours. Across it’s 43 minutes, this records constantly delivers moments of brilliance and after the re-energising and exorcising experience of Journal For Plague Lovers they’ve rediscovered a radio-friendly, melody-heavy new life that sounds refreshed and clean once again. It’s not to say that the discography of the last ten years have been poor, far from it. It just feels as though they’ve rediscovered the balance between pop, rock and punk and formed them into one complete, coherent album. Some may disagree, but many more won’t – Postcards From a Young Man is impossible to forget and as a sucker for a great melody, there’s so much here to enjoy. Yes, a surprising choice and yes, they’re signed to a major label but most importantly, it’s absolutely brilliant.

So there you have it. No doubt there are many amongst who disagree with some, most or all of these choices but before you disappear to consume yet more lists, why not listen below to a sampling of some of the scribblings above (or better yet, listen to the spotify playlist)

Taken from the Manic Street Preachers Postcards From a Young Man is 2nd single Some Kind of Nothingness featuring Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen no less. Also on offer is the excellent Swim Until You Can’t See Land taken from Frightened Rabbit’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks and finally, why not wrap your ears around The National’s heart-wrenching England.

Manic Street Preachers – Some Kind Of Nothingness

Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land

The National – England


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

The Exit Calm review,cheers but the bit about their fans calling themselves ULTRAS is not true.
apart from that…..keep it up

Comment by Jolly

Ah, well apologies for that. My reference came from the Twitter account named @exitcalmultras which I (mistakenly) assumed was a kind of official fan site type thing. Glad you like the rest of it!

Comment by mainlygenius

[…] to just one track out of twenty six on offer. But since rediscovering the band 18 months ago (especially latest album Outbusts) I’ve come to realise what I’ve been missing out […]

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