The Top 10 Seattle Albums of 2010

Our favorite releases from the bands and labels that make the scene great.

For good reason, Seattle bands carry the mantle of the Seattle music scene throughout the world. If someone's talking about Seattle music, they're likely talking about one of the many bands that make this city an unmatchable haven for homegrown music.

Too often taken for granted is the infrastructure that these bands have to work within. Not every city in the country has a KEXP or KNDD, a vibrant music press online and in print, a handful of internationally recognized record labels, independent record stores to spare, and clubs in every neighborhood accommodating to bands on the rise.

With this in mind, we've widened our definition of what constitutes a "Seattle album." Our alphabetical list includes not only records released by bands based here, but also ones from the local labels that nurture their fair share of out-of-town bands—a critical component of the Seattle scene as well.

Enjoy. —Chris Kornelis, Music Editor

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The Absolute Monarchs!, self-titled

March 8, self-released

Sales to date: not available

When the Monarchs opened for Les Savy Fav earlier this month at Neumos, it was one of those rare rock moments when almost every single person in the audience seemed uniformly impressed. Guitarist Shawn Kock tore into leads that would make any Swami or Touch & Go Records aficionado epileptically euphoric, and vocalist/keyboardist/hedonist Joel Schneider nearly destroyed his instrument while a leaden wall of reverb shuddered and quaked around him. A wave of heads began bobbing like dominoes falling across the room. The Monarchs' beautifully recorded debut was just a hint of their potential as heavy art-metal punks who know how to negotiate the treacherous precipice between sheer sonic free fall and sharp, tenacious hooks. HANNAH LEVIN

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T.L. Barrett, Like a Ship (Without a Sail)

Re-issued July 27, Light in the Attic

Sales to date: 2,000*

The music establishment—present company not excluded—was still too intoxicated by Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends, Light in the Attic's release of early Kris Kristofferson demos, to be in any place to appropriately appreciate T.L. Barrett's Like a Ship when it dropped. The record was met mostly with crickets, but those who revisited it have been in for a treat.

Originally released in 1971, Like a Ship is a gospel-soul masterpiece, buoyed by the Youth for Christ Choir. You don't have to be a believer to be moved by the title track or the ethereal "It's Me O Lord." This is the sweet spot for the crate-diggers at LITA, who have the ability to comb through history and pluck out gems popular and obscure with equal prowess. CHRIS KORNELIS

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Beach House, Teen Dream

January 26, Sub Pop

Sales to date: 91,000

Early in the year, Beach House's third album (and Sub Pop debut) set the bar for the slew of dream pop that became the vogue in 2010. But no record matched Teen Dream for sophistication, bare passion, and pure loveliness. It's difficult to decide whether the songs ache with loneliness or romance; ultimately it seems that the Baltimore band has combined and found inspiration and beauty in both states. On breathtakingly eloquent songs like "10 Mile Stereo" and "Walk in the Park," Victoria Legrand's dusky vocals and intoning organ coalesce with Alex Scally's fluid, balmy guitar to create an unforgettable sound for lovers, loners, and dreamers alike. ERIN K. THOMPSON

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Fences, self-titled

September 28, Onto

Sales to date: 2,000

Whether due to his appearance, marked by head-to-toe tattoos, or his addiction-riddled past as a Berklee School of Music dropout, Chris Mans-field is far from a universally loved character. But the onetime "self-proclaimed fuck-up" has an undeniable talent for crafting all-too-literal songs of heartbreak and emotion. Produced by Sara Quinn of Tegan & Sara, his debut record is as tender as it is sparse, filled with brooding introspection and beautifully melodic pop/folk ballads that fully employ his restrained, half-spoken vocals. The debut screams shy of Mansfield's full potential, but his music—and story—is one to hear. NICK FELDMAN

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The Head and the Heart, self-titled

June 29, self-released

Sales to date: 8,000

Blessed and cursed with deafening industry buzz just months after their inception at Conor Byrne's open-mike night, THATH found an instant audience with their undeniably uplifting pastoral-pop compositions and impassioned live performances. The Head and the Heart soars from start to finish, with an undercurrent of ambiguous spirituality, a wellspring of crystalline harmonies, brisk piano lines, and buoyant percussion. The band's signing to Sub Pop is all but official, so look for this one to be re-released in 2011, most likely with the addition of live favorite "Rivers and Roads." H.L.

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Damien Jurado, Saint Bartlett

May 25, Secretly Canadian

Sales to date: 6,000

In 2010, Damien Jurado finally found his voice. It's a surprise for fans of Jurado's 13-year Seattle music career, built on his distinctive style: bleak instrumentals and gently plucked guitars, sad falsetto vocals, and dark, lonely lyrics. But on this year's Saint Bartlett, the 37-year-old crossed a threshold: Still tinged with sadness—the songs represent the story of an unnamed, tragic close friend of Jurado's—Saint Bartlett is beautiful but comfortable, flawed but effortless. Most songs were recorded in one take; producer Richard Swift added unconventional instruments later, like crinkling metal on the mostly acoustic and echoing "Pear." Combine that production with rich lyrics ("Forgive my living/Keep me from breathing" on "Kalama"), and the result is simply stunning. PAIGE RICHMOND

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Vs. (Redux) EP

October 20, self-released

Sales to date: 1,000

As a front-running duo in a hip-hop scene starving for national recognition, cracking the iTunes hip-hop top 10 and overall top 100 were undeniably triumphant moments. Following the original rock-sample-heavy Vs. EP that dropped in late December, Redux includes the same loved tracks but with guest production from some of Seattle's finest, including Sabzi, Jake One, Budo, and P Smoov. The remix of the addiction-exploration track "Otherside," featuring Fences, is an especially poignant moment, but ultimately it's Macklemore's ability to deliver both unfairly fun and goddamn moving hip-hop that makes the record great. This duo could be Seattle hip-hop's next ticket to the big time—and Vs. (Redux) is proof. N.F.

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Pearly Gate Music, self-titled

May 18, Barsuk

Sales to date: 1,000

Zach Tillman comes and goes like a tornado. After touring casually with Siberian and playing in Final Spins, he launched a solo career just a few years ago, playing unexpectedly powerful shows as Pearly Gate Music. First known as the younger brother of Fleet Fox J. Tillman, Zach was soon critically adored as Seattle's great pop hope, and signed to Barsuk. His resulting debut is awe-inspiring but unpredictable: Songs move from lo-fi soundscapes ("Navy Blues") to bouncing, brilliant pop ("Big Escape") to heretical religious dirges ("Oh, What a Time!"). Tillman laid low after the album's release in mid-2010, but Pearly Gate Music is an unstoppable force: Tillman completely rearranged the album's songs during a recent Seattle show and a Daytrotter session. The album's potential can't be contained by just one recording. P.R.

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Phantogram, Eyelid Movies

February 9, Barsuk

Sales to date: 22,000

Barsuk's boldest release this year came from the upstate New York "street beat" duo Phantogram. The lush Eyelid Movies was producer/guitarist/vocalist Josh Carter and keyboardist/vocalist Sarah Barthel's full-length debut, and they used it to introduce themselves as genre-blending game-changers. The music's sharp electronic beats and humming synth makes them seem the successors to the Massive Attack/Portishead trip-hop crown, but Eyelid Movies doesn't stop there. Phantogram incorporates elements of '60s French pop, funk, drony indie-rock, and even Motown on standout tracks like "As Far as I Can See," "When I'm Small," and "Mouthful of Diamonds," all of which showcase Barthel's breathy, beautiful vocals. E.K.T.

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Unnatural Helpers, Cracked Love & Other Drugs

April 27, Hardly Art

Sales to date: 1,000

Dean Whitmore, leader and songwriter for Unnatural Helpers, does not know how to play the guitar. He does not even have a rudimentary understanding of any melodic instrument. So when the drummer/singer/songwriter sits down to write a song, he flips on an audio recorder and scats into the mike: "Dah, dah, dah, de de de, but I'm never gonna give it up!"

Whitmore's sizable handicap makes it all the more impressive that he produced what is easily among the best records to come out of Seattle in a number of years. Cracked Love & Other Drugs brings punk-pop out of the mall and back into the garage. It's not an Oscar-moment record that will be critically loved and quickly forgotten; Cracked Love's ironclad song craftsmanship is made for heavy rotation on a regular basis. C.K.

*All sales figures according to SoundScan.

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