It’s hard to put together these Top 10s in years where there aren’t one or two albums that you know are going to be permanent fixtures on one’s playlist for years to come. Instead, 2010 was a year of great songs on otherwise imperfect records. These stood out amid a crowded pack of good-not-great releases I happened upon during these last 12 months. * The National, High Violet (4AD) — Previous National albums had been uneven affairs, with lesser material barely supporting tentposts like “Abel” and “Mr. November.” This time, there’s still the great “Bloodbuzz, Ohio,” but nothing else falls too short, as singer Matt Berninger laments life in “the Manhattan valleys of the dead.” A group of brooding indie rock veterans finally unfurls a classic album. * Ed Harcourt, Lustre (Nice Music Group) — Ed Harcourt blends all the stylistic diversions that held back his last two records into something organic and downright tuneful. The English piano-based songwriter now has a second great work to stand with his 2001 debut Here Be Monsters . * Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD) — I wrote in The Reader a few months ago just how close Bradford Cox and company’s latest was to greatness. Well, if Deerhunter never does better than this, they will still have left behind a startling beautiful record of hazy, dreamy, noisy, cathartic garage pop. * Henry Clay People, Somewhere On the Golden Coast (tbd) — The so-called West Coast Hold Steady aren’t so much fanning the Bruce Springsteen flame as they are acting as boozy Replacements acolytes, “praying for a Saturday night.” This is a literate bar band with a taste for classic rock that would sound perfect pumping from a 1970s model Camaro, as it tears ass down some coastal highway in California. * Backyard Tire Fire, Good To Be (Kelsey Street/Thirty Tigers) — Songwriter Ed Anderson gained a city edge on his roots rock sound, having settled in Bloomington, Ill. after starting his playing days in North Carolina. This is working class stuff, drawing from Tom Petty and the better angels of John Mellencamp, as Backyard Tire Fire sing of life on the road and being happy living life with next to nothing, as they do on this great record’s title track. * Black Angels, Phosphene Dream (Blue Horizon) — Austin, Tex. psych rockers the Black Angels found new edge to raise they pitch-black drone jams into captivating and raw rock ‘n’ roll. Where they used to aimlessly space-out, they now add a pop-wizened urgency that makes this record worth repeated listening well into the future. * Los Campesinos!, Romance Is Boring , (Arts & Crafts) — Gareth Campesinos!, the singer of the band, reaches deep inside and rips out tragicomic diary entries, where sarcasm and fatalism take stage. The band’s darkened outlook hasn’t changed the hurtling energy, but it has switched channels from exuberance to anger. There’s still some wit shining through, when Gareth proclaims “We need more post-coital and less post-rock.” * Deer Tick, Black Dirt Sessions (Partisan) — John McCauley chooses more of a forlorn expression of loneliness on the latest from the Rhode Island indie Americana act. It’s Jeff Magnum gone to the bottle and the howling pangs of depression on what could be the last stark Deer Tick album, with the band promising a rock record next time around. * Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday (Sub-Pop) — Kyle Thomas got Sub-Pop’s attention by recording a bunch of power pop in his bedroom. When he formed his power trio Happy Birthday, the label signed him almost immediately. This self-titled debut proved his pop smarts were no fluke, as “Girls FM” and “Subliminal Message” are instantly unshakeable. * Crowded House, Intriguer (ATO) — Neil Finn settled back into his long-running pop band after reforming in 2006. At 52, Finn has changed songwriting focus, but these minor key gems are still packed with detail and are immaculately crafted.

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