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This year I’m changing the top 10 albums approach. Usually it turns into this tormented process in which I weigh many complicated and mysterious factors to select and order the nominees. Something like {(personal preference + indie coolness + critical credibility) / commercial sell out index} – predictability rating = ranking score. This year I have thrown all Pitchforkian considerations to the wind and gone with the gut! Partly with this funny & succinct blog post on top tens in mind.

To put it nice and simple, only the albums that moved me the most in 2010 have made the cut. A few have moved me literally, urging me onto the dance floor, some have warmed the cockles of my heart with their melodious deliciousness, others brought a delicate tear to the corner of my eye. One thing is for sure, they have all had many many repeat spins on my ipod.

10. Caribou – Swim

I would not consider myself well versed in the world of electronica, but this terrific album obviously reached even a lay person as myself due to its cleverly crafted crossover appeal. It deserves mention for the two standout singles Odessa and Sun alone, but there is much more to discover. The hypnotic trip that is Bowls for in stance, and the poppy track Hannibal with its old school Phoenix vibe. For me though, Sun has got to be one of the best songs of 2010, in addition to winning the award for most minimalistic lyrics.

9. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The incredible amount of raving press this album has received in the last three weeks almost made me want to ignore it, but what a waste that would have been! Kanye is back. He lost me after College Dropout and Late Registration, but he sure put those hamster cheeks to good use on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  So much has been written already, but for me its brilliance is in the diversity, accessible yet innovative beats and production and last but definitely not least: a cast of amazing guest vocalists. Kanye knows he’ll never be Jay-Z, but he can get him to drop some lines and lift a track to a higher level.

8. Foals – Total Life Forever

It’s great to see Foals are still upping their game. Total Life Forever may be a bit less frantic and dancy, but it has made way for a more diverse style, more room for experiment and more catchy mid tempo tunes. In a way it’s a diesel train of an album. You might be lured in by the jumpy drum driven lead single This Orient and then be won over by the raw emotion of Blue Blood or the slow burning repetitive mantras of Spanish Sahara. I am still discovering new corners and side alleys on this album.

7. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

Hot Chip doesn’t dilly dally or beat around the bush. They know what it’s all about: love, synth nerds need it as much as anyone. And so on One Life Stand they set out to pay tribute to the subject in all its guises, and they have the perfect beats and grooves to do the job. You cannot help but smile when Alexis Taylor sings “I’ve known for a long time, you are my love life” in Hand Me Down Your Love, or “We have love, give it up give it up, there is nothing else to be proud of” (We Have Love). And besides smile you must dance. Hot Chip insists.

6. De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig – De Lachende Derde

Yes, in the brokenbranches top ten it is entirely possible that a Dutch hiphop release ranks higher than Kanye’s megalomanic ‘record of the decade’, and for good reason. DJVT have taken their characteristic combination of incredibly sharp and witty lyrics, making up a whole new vocabulary along the way, with Bas Bron’s supreme beatsmanship to another level on De Lachende Derde, their third release. There’s the silliness you would expect in songs like the winning single Sterrenstof and Get Spanish (don’t be fooled though, silly but shrewd as hell). But the youth is growing up too, as can be heard in Zo Volwassen, Zo Beleefd and tear jerker Huilend Naar De Club. Most exciting of all there are some proper dance floor stompers like Sexy Beesten and Elektrotechnique I can’t wait to hear in the club.

5. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

I’ve had a thing for BSS for quite some time now, but somehow they have always remained a bit elusive to me, just out of reach. Perhaps not so strange considering the band is constantly shape shifting. But I’ve really been able to sink my teeth into Forgiveness Rock Record and now I get it. It’s official, they have made it into the ‘favourite bands’ category you’d list on an online profile page. I like everything about this album, the way some songs gently meander (Sweetest Kill, Highway Slippery Jam), others amp up the drama (anthem in the making World Sick and the majestic instrumental Meet Me In The Basement) and how it brings together magical guest contributions like Amy Millan, Feist and personal favourite Emily Haines on Sentimental X’s.

4. Beach House – Teen Dream

Zebra, what a song to open an album with. The mysterious name alone will make you curious, then you’re welcomed with a friendly guitar tune, soothing aaaahhhhhs and Victoria Legrand huskily asking you “Don’t I know you better than the rest?”. It makes you wish it was true. I’m at a loss to pick songs to highlight on Teen Dream, there is such a bounty to choose from. From the woeful wailing of Silver Soul to the light and airy beauty of Norway, the melancholy piano driven Used To Be and Take Care‘s heart breaking lyric “I’ll take care of you, if you ask me to”.

3. Local Natives – Gorilla Manor

Now it’s getting serious, top three time. Let’s just get those two words out of the way first: Fleet Foxes. Yes, Local Natives have had a good listen to their west coast peers, but in my opinion they have masterfully blended americana and folk influences with a hearty dollop of indie and pop sensitivity and have come up trumps with this extremely accomplished debut album. There is a remarkable number of quality hook-laden singalongs like Wide Eyes, World News, Shape Shifter and Talking Heads cover Warning Sign. And let’s not forget the moving single Airplanes, about a son who misses his mother. Go see them live too, such a nice and talented bunch!

PS Just found out this album was already released in november of 2009! Oh well, I only discovered it this year, allow me one cheat…

2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Well, no surprise for any brokenbranches regulars, this one was bound to end up in my top 3. A stroll through blogville and twittland have taught me it is apparently uncool to list this album for your top ten as it is too predictable a pick and ‘not that good’. Well, I beg to differ! This is the album Arcade Fire have been aiming for over the last years, the soundtrack of a generation. It is the perfect culmination of years of pent up suburban boredom, having to grow up, longing for days gone by and fear of what is to come, clinging to those you want close to you in the face of approaching ugliness. The Suburbs is therefore the perfect opening song and album title, moving straight into the excitement of Ready To Start. Other album highlights include the haunting Rococo, a real showcase of Win’s growing confidence and ability as a frontman, We Used To Wait and Deep Blue. It might take you longer to let The Suburbs into your heart than Funeral or Neon Bible, but it’s a keeper.

1. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1

The number one slot is even a bit of a surprise to me, but so deserved. I have played Robyn’s first Body Talk release to death! For anyone who hasn’t noticed yet: the days that Robyn was a mainstream poppy R&B chart girl are long gone. Her 2005 self titled release saw a definite turn in her career and the Body Talk trilogy has sealed the deal: make way for Robyn the electropop hiphop dancehall queen. I could have gone for the final of the three releases which combines most of Body Talk Part 1 & 2, but I think the first one stands out on its own.
Dancing on My Own is easily one of the best songs of the year, and the super-disco-sexy Röyksopp co-production The Girl And The Robot will stick in your head for days. Part 1 has the acoustic version of Hang With Me, which holds it’s own and turns into Part 2’s standout track in the electronic version. Dance Hall Queen and None Of Dem show off Robyn’s sassy side, and I was able to witness in Paradiso she has all the necessary moves to back it up. Robyn has really come into her own. Her music is sincere, from the heart and from the gut, and she has a perfectly tuned ear for what makes a good song amazing. To see her on stage is a delight, a confident, gorgeous and talented woman doing what she does best.

If you’re on Spotify, check out these albums in my best of 2010 playlist.

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“I know there’s no such thing as ghosts but I have seen the demon host” sang Timber Timbre‘s Taylor Kirk, but it sure felt a bit spooky with his eerie voice in the almost unlit church venue. A very atmospheric start to Crossing Border‘s second full on festival night.

I got more into the festive swing of things with Belgian band Marble Sounds, who I had shamefully never heard of until last week. Time I check out their debut ‘Nice is good’, because their melodic and slightly melancholy sound deserves further exploration. Maybe ditch the girl singer, but that might just be a matter of taste.

I finally got to see Tokyo Police Club next, and though they were a lot better live than I expected, there was only one conclusion for me. It’s music much better suited to the two fifteen year old semi-emo girls standing next to me, bursting at the seems with excitement.

Sadly I wasn’t able to get in to the Spoon gig because the venue was supposedly full (twitterbugs claimed otherwise, but oh well). To pass the time I took a stroll back to the church where the bewitching Smoke Fairies were playing. I was surprised to find myself quite mesmerised with the beautiful combinations of husky yet angelic vocals and country twang guitar.

With a line around the block for people wanting to see The National, I was happy to go the other way and get right up close to Local Natives. They cleverly opened with World News, which is such a stomper that after barely two minutes one guy jumped out of his seat and a wave of people all the way to the back of the posh theatre room followed. Who can sit still for this? The band member smiled and seemed to turn it up a notch. “This one is for the people who stood up, during our very first song. The pressure is on.”

No pressure at all, an effortless win for this charming and multi talented band from Los Angeles. With great songs like Shape Shifter, Wide Eyes, Talking Heads cover Warning Sign, the beautiful Airplanes and explosive set closer Sun Hands all the ingredients were there from the start. And they still only have one album to play from! I for one am really interested to see what this band does next.

angelic Lowlands visitor

After a semi-relaxed schedule on Friday the tables turned on Saturday and the running-around-like-a-blue-arsed-fly-phase announced itself. I even missed out on a couple of promising acts, but one must make tough choices in these harsh circumstances…

SATURDAY 21-8

Starting your Lowlands day at 1 PM pretty much feels like 5 AM on an average week day, but it was worth it for the silliness that was “Lowlands Sings“. The biggest festival tent was completely packed with people excited to start their day with the ultimate in cheesy communal karaoke. On stage: a few comedians presenting and about 30 people handpicked to be the choir, in fetching outfits. We sang classics the likes of Killing In The Name Of, Rammstein’s Die Sonne (choir dressed in lederhosen) and Hey Jude. The crowd was not having any R&B though, Alicia Keyes’ New York tune was relentlessly whistled to a halt. Guitars please!

Foals showed they can whip up a storm in any setting with their sublime brand of funky eighties electronic indie. I went to see them a while ago in Tivoli (much smaller venue), but they still managed to create the same atmosphere in the big Bravo tent. With a pang of pain I left before the end of the set in order to go and see Jack Parow and his Zef tunes. He was playing in the X-Ray and before he even started there was such a crowd they could have put a Y-Ray beside it. The tube-style venue was wafting fumes of body odour and stale beer in the heat, but people were sticking it out all the same. No wonder, Parow gave a very entertaining performance with massive beats, cool artwork and most improtantly, his trademark witty lyrics.

guy with Parow-style cap

As I walked across the festival terrain I decided to buy those protective ear plugs I used to snigger at (I’m getting on a bit) and it proved to be not a day to soon: the Blood Red Shoes gig was set to volume level ‘destruction’ I reckon. I’ve seen them a few times so it didn’t come as a surprise that they’re loud, but many of the people around me were covering their ears for fear of brain melt it seemed. The band was in good form, energetic and smiling at each other, giving it all despite the intense heat. Still I couldn’t help the sneaky feeling that their songs are starting to sound a bit ‘samey’, both musically and in the often repetitive lyrics.

Blood Red Shoes at Lowlands 2010 (photo Jelmer de Haas via 3VOOR12)

Time for some peace and quiet, some poetry, some contemplation: Villagers. Their debut album has steadily been growing on me over the last weeks and I was excited to see them. The setting was perfect, the sun just dipping behind the Charlie open air marquee, and Conor O’Brien taking the stage without band to do a ballsy acoustic performance of Twenty Seven Strangers. He had me at hello. I was struck by the heart felt and decisive delivery of O’Brien’s lyrics, for instance in I Saw The Dead and the sublime Becoming A Jackal. But the band is also well able to pick up the pace, with some of the songs ending in a howling O’Brien and band members frantically flailing arms at instruments. Part Elliott Smith, part Bright Eyes and a dose of Patrick Watson, sheer beauty.

Villagers

Hanging onto my mellow folky mood I was in luck: Local Natives were up next. I was amazed at how wonderful their harmonies were live, such a warm sound that reaches out to you. I can’t say anything to fault this show, they were just spot on. Warning Sign sounded like a classic seventies folk song in their rendition, with a taste of west coast peers Fleet Foxes. There was an absolute goosebump moment with the beautiful Airplanes. Can’t wait to see there guys in a full concert.

Local Natives live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Here comes a little brokenbranches confession. Despite strict military planning I wasn’t able to go and see the LCD Soundsystem set in the tent due to the inability to stand for another minute. Running across the festivalgrounds takes its toll even on me, and so it happened that I was singing along to Drunk Girls whilst munching on a curry in the neighbouring food area. Slightly annoyed with myself, but what can you do.

I managed to recharge my batteries just about enough to go and see Beach House for a wonderfully dreamy end of the evening. The band took their time to get going, but at some point you could see they had the audience won over and I saw several lovey dovey couples canoodling during gems like Heart Of Chambers and Norway. One thing that’s even more astounding live: how did Victoria Legrand get her voice to be so husky?

Beach House

Collateral damage of the day: I wussed out at LCD, I missed the apparently great gig by La Pegatina and the Bloody Beetroots’ grimey beats. You can’t win’em all. This is also true for the Lowlands organisers who had a slight blemish on their otherwise immaculate festival: playing a late night film (The Expendables) in a tent with 8 massive pillars obstructing the view from about 75% of the possible seats in the tent. Fail.

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