• Blog
Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork album cover 2010

Five Underrated Albums of 2010

written by: on January 17, 2011

For my list, I focused on five albums that received substantial press, even positive reviews, but did not rank as high on year-end lists as I thought they deserved (if they made lists at all.) Here’s a full list of albums that flew under the radar. I know I’m going to be kicking myself for forgetting something. Nevertheless, the albums listed have been sources of great pleasure for me since they dropped. If you looked at my top ten for the year, you would see what you’d expect to see by now on the average critic’s list, but having heard a hundred-something albums this year, my list extends quite a bit beyond that and includes the following:

The Books – The Way Out Temporary Residence Limited

The Books - The Way Out album cover
After five years, The Books returned with The Way Out. With more actual vocals intermingling with their trademark sound collage music, the album is wholly pleasant and even relaxing. The intro features spoken word over a soothing, bubbling sound intended to put you at ease so that you can just lay back and soak up all of the wonderful music that follows. There are still a few tracks true to their original quirky, frenzied folk like “Cold Freezin’ Night,” but it’s tracks like “All You Need Is a Wall” and “Free Translator” that steal the show. More subdued and pretty (and, as stated earlier, with actual vocals), they are absolutely sublime. It’s a refreshing addition to the group’s work, which after a long wait is all the more satisfying.

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis

The Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis album cover

The Dillinger Escape Plan are back, doing what they do best, and what only they can do. Instead of making a huge stylistic leap as they’ve done consistently over the years, DEP created a streamlined summation of all of their past successes. Taking Calculating Infinity’s raw aggression, Ire Works’ newfound knack for melody and the strangely cohesive variability of Miss Machine, the band fires on all cylinders throughout Option Paralysis. They turn on dime, going back and forth between dissonance and harmony, loud and quiet. The album reaches its climax in the center of the album, with the short, spastic “Endless Endings” pulling you in so many direction its dizzying followed by “Widower,” an intense ballad (Dillinger style of course), which is utterly tense and awe-inspiring. Option Paralysis is another impassioned release from one of the most remarkable bands in heavy music.

Fang Island – Fang Island

Fang Island - Fang Island album cover

Albums that are pure fun often have a short life span, but not Fang Island’s self-titled debut. This music is indeed the sound of everyone high-fiving each other, as promised. Listen to “Daisy” without putting on a smile or resisting the urge to jump up and down with makeshift streamers. The group is clearly talented, and they don’t shy away from the technical exhibition and bombast of prog rock, but their riffs never overindulge and there’s not a slice of cheese to be found. OK, maybe there is occasionally, but it’s something good like havarti. Tracks like “Welcome Wagon” sound like victory and you just want to celebrate. Having a bad day? Easy fix: put on Fang Island.

Maps & Atlases – Perch Patchwork

Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork album cover 2010

Maps & Atlases debut full-length might be unfulfilling at first, but repeated listens will reveal many, many qualities. Though it is a bit transitory at times, the bulk of this record is well-textured, melodic and on point. The group’s transition from frenetic math rock to a more folk-based sound continues. All of their key elements are still intact: the fractured rhythms, the angular riffs, the quirky wail of singer Dave Davison, only instead of an electric guitar, it’s an acoustic paired with some subtle but perfect auxiliary percussion. “The Charm” boasts simple, yet immediately relatable and effective lyrics, while “Living Decorations” and the closing title track boast their ever-increasing penchant for hooks.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt album cover 2010

It’s remarkable what you can achieve with just a voice and a guitar. The Tallest Man on Earth’s sophomore album The Wild Hunt scored positive reviews, but seemed to go unremembered at the end of the year. It’s a wonder, because each of the ten tracks on this album have lyrics that go straight to your soul by way of beautiful melodies sung by a unique voice and wonderfully strummed acoustic guitar. It’s a simple formula, used by many, but rarely as effectively. It’s near impossible not to fall in love with the opening title track, and even more impossible not to be obsessed with the album by “The Drying of the Lawns.” Call him Dylanesque if you want, but there is so much more to his music than an occasionally similar raspy croak.