Welcome to the Leaps And Bounds obligatory end of year lists.

Starting with ten albums that fell out of the top ten that I wanted to write about. This was culled from a big list. Several albums, such as ones by Old 97s, Crowded House, Nada Surf, Vampire Weekend and Lazy Susan did not make this list. Even though I like them more that some records here, they are a) pretty obvious for me and b) not much more to say other than I love them and they are great. Here are 10 fantastic albums that, on the whole, surprised me with how good they are.

(These ten are not really in order)

11. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

It only doesn’t make the ten because it’s too long, and large sections of it pass me by. But the highlights (The Suburbs, Modern Man, City With No Children, Month of May) are out of this world. I love a good concpet album, and I love the Springsteen working class element. I also love that they made something eally simple and open, after the bleak darkness of Neon Bible. A landmark record by an important band.

12. Free Energy – Stuck On Nothing

There’s a fair bit of hype on these guys, mainly cos they are on DFA Records and their album is produced by James Murphy. But I wonder what the indie hipsters make of it when it basically sounds like a Cheap Trick record. Sweet, 70s guitars, and a carefree pop sense makes this album a lot of fun. The kind of fun usually associated with power pop and the kind of retro-dagginess that is found in bargain bins quite quickly. I love me a bit of silly stadium rock and I’m glad someone else thinks so, here in 2010.

13. The Morning Benders – Big Echo
Rough Trade

This record is worth noting for the breathtaking opening track – Excuses. It is my song of the year. It’s heartfelt Spector-ish pop, with a mountain of strings. The rest of the album does not live up to that track, but there’s plenty of pretty moments. If they can trump Excuses on their next album then we have a keeper.

14. Pernice Brothers – Goodbye Killer
Ashmont Records

I’ve not really loved a Pernice Brothers record since 2001’s The World Won’t End. In fact – I wrote them off. But this record came out of nowhere. It doesn’t break a single boundary, but it is significantly better than the last 3 of their albums. There is an element of fun. We Love the Stage in particular is kind of – funny. And Joe Pernice is about the saddest songwriter I know. The guitars sing, the songs are crisp and even Joe sounds excited to be there. It wont change their career but I’ll be pretty happy if they keep making this album for the rest of their career.

15. She & Him – Volume Two

I loved She & Him Volume One so much, it was going to be tough to follow it up. Initially, this album was a bit of a letdown – the innocence and naivety had gone. But slowly the sweetness, and that voise, won me over. A little more produced than their debut, it was  fragile and lovely thing regardless. It would be suicide if this was Volume Three, but as an act trying to cement a career, this is a fine effort.

16. Spoon – Transference

This is their LCD Soundsystem album. All sound and rhythm. These guys can almost do no wrong. Killer chops, a one of a kind voice and musical turns that no one sees coming. Coming off their most produced and slick album, they made something raw and daring. A for effort, and B+ for songwriting – kind of let down by a long record, lending an air of being unfocussed. Would have been a monster of a 10 track album.

17. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

A friggin excellent guitar record. It hints at the interplay found in Television, but riffs as simple and primal as Nirvana. They perfect that indie guitar and vocal sound too. The album is short, sharp and snappy. I have no idea what any of the songs are about either. What is worrying is everyone I know who knows these guys reckon they are the biggest cocks they have ever met. So much so that it’s tainted them, leaving them sitting outside the ten. That said, even good albums happen to bad people.

18. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows

Five years since their last album, the Fannies return with their lushest, warmest album to date. We are so far away from that noisy four piece band from the 90s. Sometimes the lyrics kind swing towards banality, but on the whole the loveliness cuts through. This record is one big, happy hug. So many highlights too – Baby Lee, Dark Clouds, When I Still Have Three to name but a few. I kind of miss having a couple of rockers but I repsect these old hands for trying something different.

19. Tift Merritt – See You On the Moon

So many of those country-ish songwriters I used to love have fallen by the wayside. Merritt was never one of my favourites, but her last album, Another Country, was something special. See You On the Moon makes it two for two. It’s hard to explain why – other than it’s a solid album. The songs are her best yet – always tender and clever without being showy. Merritt is in fine voice. And it’s what’s not there that makes the difference. No self centered depression, cartoonish genre studies or any need to show off at all. There are times when I feel like a smart, simple songwriter album with no faults, and this year was this one. It may be a little unspectacular but damn it’s good.

20. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

And now for something completely different. This album is utterly mad. With all the stops and starts, I wonder if the mastering house put the CD gaps in the wrong place. It was a year for rock, and this was easily the weirdest rock album of the year. Four 7-minutes-plus epics, usually played at thundering pace and a hail of lyrics, all based around the American Civil War. It’s definitely an American brand of rock – part Springsteen (again), part Neutral Milk Hotel. It’s played with such passion I don’t know if it’s a band or a knife fight.

Next time…number 10!