We're heading into the homestretch of 2010, as record companies scramble to unload their biggest, baddest albums of the year just in time for the holidays. But before new albums by Kings of Leon, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift go into heavy rotation on our iPods, we're taking one last critical look at the summer's best releases. Like past years, the hot months were filled with luscious ear candy (Katy Perry), black-hearted beach music (Disturbed), and indie rockers looking to be a little less indie (almost all of them). Here are five of our favorite albums from 2010's third quarter.
WHAT'S THE BUZZ? The Canadian collective's third album is filled with arena-sized rockers that are bigger and grander than anything they've ever done before. On The Suburbs, Arcade Fire sound like the most vital band in the world, even if they're not actually there yet.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? Everything about The Suburbs says Important Album. From multipart songs to bookending the album with the title track to making statements on subdivisions splitting communities as well as souls, it's a record that reveals new details with each listen.
CHANCES IT'LL MAKE YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS: 95 percent. Arcade Fire are the closest we got to a Radiohead these days: a band that almost every rock critic claims to love. Even if they really don't.
Crazy for You
WHAT'S THE BUZZ? Frontwoman Bethany Cosentino writes three kinds of songs on her L.A. band's debut: about boys, weed, and her cat (no, that's not a euphemism; she really likes her cat). Crazy for You is one of the year's most obsessive records.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? Crazy for You combines Ronettes-style pop melodrama, the Jesus and Mary Chain's wall of noise, and the Beach Boys stuck somewhere between the garage and the waves. Cosentino may sing with casual indifference, but she's just waiting for you to let your guard down so she can pounce.
CHANCES IT'LL MAKE YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS: 65 percent. After about a half-dozen listens, the album doesn't have any more to give. It's a brief summer fling.
JENNY AND JOHNNY
I'm Having Fun Now
WHAT'S THE BUZZ? Jenny is Rilo Kiley frontwoman and indie-rock fox Jenny Lewis; Johnny is her boyfriend, Glasgow-raised singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice. Their first album together sounds like it came out of a Laurel Canyon living room, circa 1977.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? Lewis and Rice write super-hooky power-pop songs, together and alone. Bonus points for not getting all lovey-dovey on songs like "Scissor Runner," "Big Wave," and "Committed," which soak in sweet and occasionally barbed harmonies.
CHANCES IT'LL MAKE YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS: 45 percent. I'm Having Fun Now often plays like an album made between real albums. No doubt, most critics will treat it that way.
The Guitar Song
WHAT'S THE BUZZ? This double CD's launching point is a country-music staple. Redemption is at the core of this concept album about a self-destructive artist who starts out in an out-of-town bar and ends up on a front porch in his hometown. It's the year's most ambitious song cycle.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? Johnson looks like the kind of guy who'd kick your ass for just glancing in his direction. He sings that way too, injecting The Guitar Song's mix of originals and covers with equal doses of Hank Williams and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
CHANCES IT'LL MAKE YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS: 70 percent. It's the best country album of the year, but country albums don't usually fare well in Animal Collective fans' Top 10 lists.
Band of Joy
WHAT'S THE BUZZ?
On the surface, Plant's follow-up to the Grammy-hogging Raising Sand he made with Alison Krauss sounds like more of the same sleepy mood rock. But dig deeper and you'll hear a livelier if less textured set of songs simmering here.
BELIEVE THE HYPE? Despite Band of Joy's laidback nature, Plant hasn't sounded this inspired in years. There's a bunch of old songs about salvation, damnation, and not much in between. It's a roots record all right, but one filtered though an Englishman's sense of style.
CHANCES IT'LL MAKE YEAR-END TOP 10 LISTS: 75 percent. Band of Joy may lose a few points for kicking up Sand's atmospherics, but Plant is on his first creative roll in 40 years.
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