The Year In Review: The Top 50 Best Albums of 2010

Jan 3, 2011 7:39pm

 

What a strange year it was for music. If you want to know what the sound of 2010 was, it was really almost impossible to pin down.  If you went outside the world of over-processed pop, everything sounded retro in some way. This made for a dynamic, eclectic group of records.  Very little disappointed me in 2010.  I probably could have very easily made this a list of a hundred records and not have questioned any of their placement.  A lot of records I loved didn’t even make the list. I can’t say that every year.  Music sales may be in decline and yet there is no shortage of great music.  You just have to know where to find it.  And so I present to you, my list for the Top 50 Best Albums of 2010!   ________________________________________ 50. KELE -”THE BOXER” -  Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke goes solo and delivers a collection of tweaked-up dance tunes with bendable bass-lines, glitch-y sound snippets and manipulated vocals.  If you are expecting something like Bloc Party’s 2005 masterpiece, “Silent Alarm,” this isn’t it, but it is quite interesting and noteworthy in its own right.  For the most part, Okereke has replaced guitars with sequencers but his knack for melody has remained intact as is his signature yelp. Favorite Tracks: “Tenderoni” “Everything You Wanted” “Unholy Thoughts” “Other Side” “New Rules”   Read my original review of Kele’s “The Boxer”      49.CORINNE BALEY RAE – “THE SEA” – If Corinne Bailey Rae doesn’t sound quite as bouncy and happy on this sophomore album as she did on her debut, it’s because in 2008 she became a widow after the death of her husband, Jason Rae.  Sadness flows through this record (even through the more upbeat tracks) creating something more intimate and ever so slightly ethereal.  Opening track, “Are You Here” plays like a message to a ghost.  Corinne Bailey Rae is able to channel her sadness into a striking piece of audio catharsis. Favorite Tracks: “The Sea” “Are You Here” “Paper Dolls” “The Blackest Lily” “Feels Like The First Time” “I Would Like To Call It Beauty”   48. NEIL YONG – “LE NOISE” – “Le Noise” finds Neil Young in guitar-god mode.  Through the eight-song set, the “Godfather of Grunge” stands behind a wall of distorted guitars and assorted echo pedal effects.  This is Neil Young at his stripped-down best.  There’s no band, just Neil and producer, Daniel Lanois.  This is an expansive, experimental exercise in sonic texture.   Fans of Young’s acoustic records might still find a lot to love here, since it’s essentially a plugged-in singer-songwriter record. Favorite Tracks: “Angry World” “Walk With Me” “Hitchhiker” “Rumblin’”   47. MASSIVE ATTACK – “HELIGOLAND” – Trip-hop pioneers, Massive Attack’s album, “Heligoland” is a stirring and potent collection.  Employing a strong array of edgy A-List guest vocalists, the group has added yet another masterpiece to their canon.  Nearly twenty years after their debut they still remain on the cutting edge.  Leader, Robert “3D” del Naja  knows his way around a cool groove.  It’s no wonder that the classic “Massive Attack” cut, “Teardrop,” (which is currently the theme to “House”) still feels current well over a decade after it was recorded.  Somehow, in spite of their reliance on modern technology, Massive Attack’s coolness remains uncannily timeless! Favorite Tracks: “Babel” (Featuring Marina Topley-Bird) “Paradise Circus” (Featuring Hope Sandoval) “Saturday Come Slow” (Featuring Damon Albarn) “Flat Of The Blade” (Featuring Guy Garvey of Elbow)     46. PETE YORN – “PETE YORN” -New Jersey native, Pete Yorn enlisted Pixies-leader, Black Francis to produce his self-titled album.  It is Yorn’s third release in roughly a year-and-a-half’s time, given last year’s “Back & Forth” and his surprisingly excellent collaboration with Scarlett Johansson, “Break-Up.”  Black Francis’ production gives this batch of songs the exact rough edge they need.  “Back & Forth” and “Nightcrawler” were great records, but with this added urgency, this self-titled effort stands a couple steps closer to Yorn’s classic debut, “Musicforthemorningafter.”  My overall perception is that not enough people take Yorn seriously.  He really should be more famous.  If you’ve ever heard his excellent live album, “Live From New Jersey,” you know that he can sometimes have a raw vitality in the live set-up not always found on his records.  Black Francis brings that same raw vitality out of him and puts it boldly on display. Favorite Tracks: “Precious Stone” “Velcro Shoes” “Rock Crowd” “The Chase” “Always”   45. SURFER BLOOD – “ASTRO COAST” – Released on January 19, 2010, Surfer Blood’s “Astro Coast” may well have been the very first sign that it was going to be a top notch year for indie-rock.  Sporting a nice dose of fuzz and echo they managed to make a brand of rock that sounded both old and new at the same time.  Sometimes their songs are surf-driven and bold, like on their single, “Swim.”  Sometimes they sound low and rumbly like on the indelibly haunting, “Slow Jabroni.” Sometimes they just craft a flat-out, unquestionably solid song like on “Floating Vibes.”  Sometimes they sound like sixties surf music combined with nineties moshpit-ready grunge like on “Catholic Pagans.” “Take It Easy” even sounds like a surf-driven cousin to Vampire Weekend.  In fact, Surfer Blood’s lack of a concrete identity actually makes them more interesting.  They have a wide variety of sounds and styles at their disposal.  I can’t wait to hear where they go on their second album. Favorite Tracks: “Floating Vibes” “Catholic Pagans” “Slow Jabroni” “Swim” “Fast Jabroni”
  44. EELS – “END TIMES”/”TOMORROW MORNING” – Mark Oliver Everett, A.K.A. “E,” released not one but two records this year, the down-trodden tales of break-up on “End Times” came in January and in August we got the more upbeat (and slightly more beat-driven) “Tomorrow Morning.”  These records, along with last year’s “Hombre Lobo” (see #37 on last year’s list) make up a trilogy. They also show E to be one of the most dynamic and interesting songwriters to emerge out of the second or third tier of the nineties buzz-bin.  No wonder Tom Waits is a fan.   Favorite Tracks From “End Times”: “Gone Man” “Little Bird” “A Line In The Dirt” “The Beginning” Favorite Tracks From “Tomorrow Morning”: “Spectacular Girl” “I’m A Hummingbird” “Baby Loves Me” “The Man”
  43. LES SAVY FAV – “ROOT FOR RUIN” – At their best, Rhode Island-formed, Brooklyn-based Les Savy Fav’s music sounds like a pleasurable assault on your eardrums.  “Root For Ruin” is their fifth album.  The band’s ramshackle-punk approach combined with vocalist, Tim Harrington’s aggressive yell brings to mind a more abrasive, hardcore answer to Pavement and Modest Mouse.  This is fist-pumping fun that will hopefully find you chanting along!   Favorite Tracks: “Calm Down” “High & Unhinged” “Excess Energies” “Appetites” “Poltergeist”      42. BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB – “BEAT THE DEVIL’S TATTOO” – No band is currently working harder to advance the hybrid genre of shoegaze blues than Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  Yes, they do sound a lot like the Jesus and Mary Chain sometimes, but they have an earthiness all their own.  Throughout “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo,” the band alternates between spit-infused deadpan rock and more atmospheric and acoustic bluesy numbers.  This formula has worked for them effectively since their epic third album, “Howl,” where they stripped down their sound completely.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are a reliable band.  When you pick up one of their albums, you pretty much know what you are getting, and every now and then, they hand you a surprise curve! Favorite Tracks: “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo” “Aya” “Long Way Down” “Bad Blood” “Sweet Feeling”     41. SHE & HIM – “VOLUME TWO” – “Volume Two” is (as its title suggests) the second collection recorded by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.  Their first collection was stunning.  Deschanel’s unique voice and her knack for crafting songs full of retro kitsch continues to raise the bar of expectation for actors-turned-musicians. It helps to have a real pro like Ward by her side.  This is a solid partnership and this collection betters their first outing by delivering more originals and a strong, appealing set of songs.  “Volume One” was no fluke!  They have delivered yet again! Favorite Tracks: “Thieves” “If You Can’t Sleep” “Brand New Shoes” “In The Sun” “Over It Over Again”     40. LOCAL NATIVES – “GORILLA MANOR” – Silver Lake, California’s Local Natives have perfected vocal harmony much like like-minded indie faves, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, however the Natives’ approach is musically more dense and atmospherically complex.  It’s retro but less crunchy.  “Gorilla Manor” opens with “Wide Eyes,” a dreamy song which also sounds a bit like it could have been an adventurous out-take from The Stills’ 2003 benchmark, “Logic Will Break Your Heart.”  They also take a clever stab at the Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign.”  Listening to this record, it’s hard to believe that it supposedly sat on the shelf for more than a year between its recording and its release. Favorite Tracks: “Wide Eyes” “Sun Hands” “World News” “Cards & Quarters” “Sun Hands”     39. CEE LO GREEN – “THE LADY KILLER” – During his days in Goodie Mob, I somehow would be amazed if Cee Lo could have predicted his future mainstream appeal, both with his Gnarls Barkley collaboration with Danger Mouse and with this album, “The Lady Killer.”  “F__k You” was the most unapologetic hit of the summer.  Before you get offended, give the song a listen.  It is steeped in an old soul tradition some might have thought was long dead.  The track is a throwback to an old Stax sound.  It’s an easy frontrunner for single of the year in its uncensored form. (The cleaned up, “Forget You” somehow doesn’t quite pack the same punch.) “The Lady Killer” is more than a showcase for “F__k You.” There’s plenty more to love here. Even though at this point, he’s getting to be an industry veteran, I get the feeling this is still only the beginning for Cee Lo Green! Favorite Tracks: “F__k You” “Satisfied” “Bodies” “Love Gun” (Featuring Lauren Bennett) “It’s OK”
  38. MALE BONDING – “NOTHING HURTS” – London’s Male Bonding helped usher in 2010′s mini lo-fi rock revolution with their quick tempos and razor-like, tinny guitars. Lead vocals are often near the back of the mix and many songs clock in under the two-minute mark. (The thirteen-track disc runs just over twenty-nine minutes!)  But these guys make the most of everything here.  The songs may be short, but they feel fully formed. Favorite Tracks: “Worse To Come” (Featuring Vivian Girls) “Crooked Scene” “Years Not Long” “Nothing Remains” “Your Contact”   37. KAREN ELSON – “THE GHOST WHO WALKS” – Yes, Karen Elson is a model.  Yes, she is married to Jack White.  No, this is infinitely more than a vanity project by a rock star’s model wife.  Elson can sing and she is able to tell country-folky-bluesy tales of haunted spirits and lost souls. The record opens with the one-two punch of the title track and “The Truth Is In The Dirt.”  If you aren’t sold to stick around for the rest of the record after that, I can’t help you.  White serves as producer, giving it a kind of dusty charm.  Had this record been released between 1968 and 1974, it would have been a huge hit.  I’m actually really glad White produced this record.  As a White Stripes and Raconteurs fan, he has lately left me a little cold.  I like the Dead Weather’s members better than their output, and to be honest, the White Stripes’ live album from this year, “Under The Great White Northern Lights” was an unholy mess that should have never seen the light of day.  It’s nice to see Elson in some way providing White a bit of redemption while shining in a light of her own.  Here’s hoping for a follow-up! Favorite Tracks: “The Ghost Who Walks” “The Truth Is In The Dirt” “The Last Laugh” “Pretty Babies” “Lunasa” “A Thief At My Door”     36. MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO’S – “BUZZARD” – You have to love a band supposedly named after Margot Tenenbaum, Gwyneth Paltrow’s perpetually forlorn character in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums.”  The cover of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s latest album, “Buzzard,” even shows a young, sad-looking woman with a bird perched on her arm, perhaps a reference to Richie Tenenbaum’s beloved friend, Mordecai.  (I am very possibly reading way too much into this!) “Buzzard” is a dingier record than its predecessor, “Not Animal,” but it’s got a sweet core. The centerpiece for me is “Will You Love Me Forever?” a bass-led, often rattling nugget of longing rock.  The verses darkly and humorously depict a pretty horrible person and yet perhaps aided by the melody, the chorus (repeating the title) still comes off as tender.  “Buzzard” is a record with multiple layers. There is an odd sweetness at the bottom. These songs are often funny while somehow maintaining a serious sense of integrity. Favorite Tracks: “Will You Love Me Forever?” “Freak Flight Speed” “Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic” “New York City Hotel Blues” “Earth To Aliens: What Do You Want?”

35. THE SOFT PACK – “THE SOFT PACK” – Formerly called the Muslims, but wisely renamed, San Diego, California’s The Soft Pack is among the growing crop of emerging lo-fi bands bringing rock and punk back to its garage-y essence.  This self-titled, thirty-two minute set is as straightforward as they come but leader, Matt Lamkin is able to pack copious levels of venom into his words.  If you look up their live Letterman performance of “Answer For Yourself” on youtube, it’s pretty obvious to see how they established their reputation. Favorite Tracks: “Answer For Yourself” “Down On Loving” “More Or Less” “Move Along” “C’Mon”     34. LAURA VEIRS – “JULY FLAME” – In some ways Laura Veirs’ album “July Flame” sounds like a feminine response to Fleet Foxes’ 2008 self-titled album.  True to its title, it possesses a campfire-like glow.  This is Veirs’ seventh album. (It is her sixth to see wide release.) Over the course of her career, she has maintained a flow, sitting firmly between the folk and adult alternative worlds.  This album is slightly quieter and subtler than her recent work, but if you have ever heard and enjoyed one of her records before, you should enjoy “July Flame” as well. Favorite Tracks: “July Flame” “Wide Eyed, Legless” “I Can See Your Tracks” “When You Give Your Heart” “Summer Is The Champion”
  33. TOBACCO – “MANIAC MEAT” – “Maniac Meat” is unquestionably the weirdest album on this list.  It definitely isn’t for everyone.  Tobacco is a member of the experimental electronic group, Black Moth Super Rainbow and this is what passes for a solo record.  Oddly tweaked voices are interspersed with oddly tweaked electronics to create a strange and unique sonic concoction.  Beck lends his vocals to two tracks here and he too is curiously placed within the mix.  It’s safe to say that if you aren’t familiar with Tobacco’s previous work, you’ve never heard anything quite like this before. Favorite Tracks: “Creepy Phone Calls” “Grape Aerosmith” (Featuring Beck) “Stretch Your Face” “Sweatmother” “Fresh Hex” (Featuring Beck) “New Juices From The Hot Tub Freaks”     32. PHILIP SELWAY – “FAMILIAL” – You know Phil Selway from his regular gig as the drummer of Radiohead.  This collection of hushed acoustic songs comes as a surprise because as it turns out, he’s got a startling clear voice and can write some pretty memorable songs on his own.  I guess in a post Dave Grohl world, people have stopped questioning drummers who decide they want to grab a guitar and move up front.  Selway indeed makes his case! If you are a fan of Damien Rice, Alexi Murdoch or Iron & Wine, this album should also be on your list. Favorite Tracks: “By Some Miracle” “The Witching Hour” “Falling” “Don’t Look Down” “The Ties That Bind Us”       31. THE LIKE – “RELEASE ME” – “Release Me” is the very retro-leaning, girl-group-esque follow-up to the Like’s debut, “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?”  Five years have passed and with the help of producer-of-the-moment, Mark Ronson and former Phantom Planet-leader, Alex Greenwald, the women have made a record that is straight-ahead and timeless.  This is the kind of playful pop record they used to make in the mid-to-late-sixties. Derivative?  Yes. But it’s also quite excellent! Favorite Tracks: “In The End” “Fair Game” “Narcissus In A Red Dress” “Catch Me If You Can” “Trouble In Paradise” “He’s Not A Boy”   Read my original review of The Like’s “Release Me.”      30. THE DEFTONES – “DIAMOND EYES” – The Deftones were always one of the best bands saddled with the “nu metal” tag.  It’s really unfair to lump them in with asinine groups like Limp Bizkit and Disturbed. Their song-writing has always been better than that of their peers. Chino Moreno, when he really unhinges, has one of the best voices in rock today. Not many lists will mention it, but “Diamond Eyes” is a truly stellar record.  Highlights include the Alien Ant Farm-esque “Risk” (also an under-rated band, by the way!) and the rumbling chugger, “You’ve Seen The Butcher.”   Favorite Tracks: “Risk” “You’ve Seen The Butcher” “Diamond Eyes” “Beauty School” “This Place Is Death”
  29. THE ROOTS – “HOW I GOT OVER” – “Game Theory” showed the Roots at the top of their game.  “Rising Down” was then a colossal disappointment. Luckily, the guest-packed “How I Got Over” plays more like a follow-up to the former than the latter.  How this genre-defining hip-hop crew still manages to find time to record while being Jimmy Fallon’s house-band, I do not know.  There’s a remarkable eclecticism to this band.  I never thought I’d ever hear Jim James or Joanna Newsom singing hooks on a hip-hop record, but here they are. With each record, the Roots have attempted to widen their scope and expand on their sonic palate. It increasingly seems like they will work well with just about anyone, fitting any visitor firmly within their universe. Favorite Tracks: “Right On” (Featuring Joanna Newsom & STS) “How I Got Over” (Featuring Dice Raw) “Radio Daze” (Featuring Blu, P.O.R.N. and Dice Raw) “Now Or Never” (Featuring Phonte and Dice Raw) “The Fire” (Featuring John Legend)     28. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS – “TOGETHER” – Canadian supergroup, The New Pornographers’ fifth album, “Together,” finds both A.C. Newman and Neko Case coming off of excellent solo records.  That residual energy is felt here. The group’s last record, “Challengers,” was subtle and took a few listens to really blossom.  This record is slightly more immediate with bizarrely appealing numbers like the Dan Bejar-led “Silver Jenny Dollar” and the Neko Case standout, “Crash Years.” Favorite Tracks: “Crash Years” “Silver Jenny Dollar” “Valkyrie In The Roller Disco” “We End Up Together”   27.  TRACEY THORN – “LOVE AND ITS OPPOSITE” – The title says it all. Former Everything But The Girl vocalist, Tracey Thorn tackles a great deal on her latest solo record, from divorce, to sexual identity, to hormones (both on the rise and in decline) to being newly single again and placing yourself in a “Singles Bar.”  It’s a weighty, poignant record and it’s a compelling listen as well. Favorite Tracks: “Singles Bar” “You Are A Lover” “Oh! The Divorces” “Kentish Town” “Late In The Afternoon”   Read my original review of Tracey Thorn’s “Love And Its Opposite”    26. JUNIP – “FIELDS” – Junip is a band led by Swedish singer, José González. On his solo records, González is often alone.  Just him and his guitar.  So, it is nice to hear him flesh out into a band setting.  His songs become even more atmospheric and his dour, Gilbert O’Sullivan-esque voice carries even more weight with this expanded sonic backdrop.  “Fields” is a bold record that is simultaneously both dark and dream-like. Favorite Tracks: “In Every Direction” “Without You” “Sweet & Bitter” “Always” “To The Grain”  
25. BIG BOI – “SIR LUCIOUS LEFT-FOOT… THE SON OF CHICO DUSTY” – And the award for best album title of the year goes to…. As one half of Outkast, Big Boi isn’t a stranger to critical love.  Sure, he’s always been rougher around the edges and the more “dirty south” member in comparison to Andre 3000, (He won’t be doing anything like “Hey Ya!” any time soon!) but he’s definitely been rightly seen as a trailblazer.  “Left Foot” was long-delayed for a number of reasons, but for the fans eagerly waiting its arrival it was worth the wait.  The record fully earns its advisory sticker and is not for the easily offended, but it is indeed quite a thrill ride.  Zapp & Roger-esque synths are all around.  George Clinton makes an appearance. Beats sound like glass-breaking in tempo. Big Boi’s not afraid to throw in a guitar and take a few left turns.  This is an adventurously funky record. Favorite Tracks: “Shutterbugg” (Featuring Cutty) “Follow Us” (Featuring Vonnegutt) “Back Up Plan” “You Ain’t No DJ” (Featuring Yellawolf) “Be Still” (Featuring Janelle Monáe)
  24. THE RADIO DEPT. – “CLINGING TO A SCHEME” – Sweden is always good for a musical curveball and this year that curveball is “Clinging To A Scheme” by The Radio Dept.  Describing their music can be difficult.  It’s part atmospheric, light-shoegaze, part dance.  Like Peter Bjorn & John’s “Writer’s Block,” in 2007, this record uses deceptively simple backdrops to create songs that ultimately stick in your head.  Drum machines and slightly fuzzy guitars sit beside synths and acoustic instruments.  “Heaven’s On Fire” would probably be your most unlikely party jam, but it’s highly danceable and always brings a smile. Favorite Tracks: “Heaven’s On Fire” “This Time Around” “The Video Dept.” “Never Follow Suit” “You  Stopped Making Sense”
23. BEACH HOUSE – “TEEN DREAM” – I’ll be honest. When this album came out in late January, I hated it.  All the critics loved it. Initially, I found it boring and unimpressive. The DVD that accompanied it, I found grotesque for the sake of being “arty.”  My how things change.  It took me up until the end of the year, but this album has won me over and it’s partly because I have listened to it loudly and I have let its sounds envelop me.  Victoria Legrand’s voice is a throaty, lived-in warble that sounds like it is packed with wisdom beyond her years.   I still have a few issues with the videos on the bonus DVD, but this record is one you should listen to and enjoy.  If you don’t hear what the fuss is about right away, give it a few months! Favorite Tracks: “Walk In The Park” “Take Care” “Silver Soul” “10 Mile Stereo” “Lover Of Mine”
  22. KANYE WEST – “MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY” – This is definitely Kanye’s most ambitious record.  It’s also one of his best if not his best.  Many people would put it higher and here is why I didn’t.  Kanye is an excellent producer but he’s still not a great rapper.  His guests best him time and time again on here. (Nicki Manaj’s game-changing verse on “Monster” brings to mind Busta Rhymes’ classic verse on “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. No joke!) Lyrically, I wish this album was more in step with the production, but you can’t deny Kanye what he deserves.  “808s and Heartbreak” was dreadful.  His behavior at award shows was dreadful.  This album in a round-about way acknowledges that. It’s the most personally direct album he could have delivered.  Like him or not, there are few artists in hip-hop with Kanye’s sense of vision or scope.  This might be Kanye’s best album yet, but I think he’s going to continue to climb. Favorite Tracks: “Monster” (Featuring Jay-Z, Nicki Manaj, Rick Ross and Bon Iver) “Power” “Runaway” “Hell Of A Life” “Gorgeous” (Featuring Kid CuDi and Raekwon)
  21. JESCA HOOP – “HUNTING MY DRESS” (2 DISC DELUXE VERSION) – Jesca Hoop is one of those unique artists who comes in with her style fully formed.  She’s got her own strange vocal inflections and her songs have their own plucky bounce. “Hunting My Dress” is her second album after 2007′s “Kismet.” “Bed Across The Sea” is almost spring-loaded before it momentarily devolves into a dreamy soundscape. “Tulip” is a pounder with surprisingly bluesy heft. Had she released this album in 1993, she would’ve been one of the stars of the alternative revolution. Favorite Tracks: “Bed Across The Sea” “Tulip” “Feast Of The Heart” “Angel Mom”
  20. MENOMENA – “MINES” – To call the trio, Menomena “experimental” is perhaps an understatement.  Sure, the Portland, Oregon band plays a lot of the same instruments that other members of indie rock bands play, but in addition they fill their recordings with assorted percussive instruments and whistles.  Listening to one of their records can be like driving a carnival through a music box. Put that together with a keen grasp for melody and you’ve got an anything-goes, refreshing D.I.Y. approach. They somehow manage to produce a large mountain of sound. “Mines” is their forth record and I guarantee before the end of the first listen of “Dirty Cartoons” you’ll be singing along when they repeatedly sing, “I’d like to go home.” Favorite Tracks: “Dirty Cartoons” “Killemall” “Tithe” “Five Little Rooms” “TAOS”   19. MARK RONSON & THE BUSINESS INTL – “RECORD COLLECTION” – If you were like me and you really dug Mark Ronson’s covers record from a couple of years back, “Version,” be warned.  Ronson doesn’t repeat himself.  He keeps his fans on their toes.  “Record Collection” combines two genres rarely put together, hip-hop and eighties synth pop.  Where else can you find an album with everyone from Q-Tip, to Boy George, to Spank Rock to the London Gay Men’s Choir to Ghostface Killah.  Yes, Ronson has long stopped being merely a “celebrity DJ” and has become a true force of musical nature! Favorite Tracks: “Bang Bang Bang” (Featuring Q-Tip and MNDR) “Lose It (In The End) (Featuring Ghostface Killah) “The Bike Song” (Featuring Spank Rock and Kyle Falconer) “The Night Last Night” (Featuring Alex Greenwald and Rose Elinor Dougall) “You Gave Me Nothing” (Featuring Andrew Wyatt and Rose Elinor Dougall) “Glass Mountain Trust” (Featuring D’Angelo)   Read my original review of Mark Ronson & The Business Intl's “Record Collection.”      18. DEERHUNTER – “HALCYON DIGEST” – The Atlanta band, Deerhunter is led by enigmatic frontman, Bradford Cox.  Their fourth record, “Halcyon Digest” is a giant, sprawling indie rock record jammed with gentle and inventive production touches and tracks that will get you at your core.  “Helicopter” plays like a dying man’s prayer. “Coronado” has a vaguely Velvet Underground-like shuffle. “Don’t Cry” has an early-rock bounce.   “Halcyon Digest” is an extremely strong, career-changing record. Favorite Tracks: “Helicopter” “Desire Lines” “Don’t Cry” “He Would Have Laughed” “Basement Scene”
  17. SUPERCHUNK – “MAJESTY SHREDDING” – “Majesty Shredding” is Superchunk’s ninth album.  It’s hard to believe that it’s also the flagship artists of Merge Records' first proper record in nine years. The more things change, the more they stay the same.  They were once a strong indie rock band and they are still just as strong an indie rock band.  “Crossed Wires” and “Learned To Surf” are classic examples of fuzzy pop-punk done right. Favorite Tracks: “Crossed Wires” “Learned To Surf” “Fractures In Plaster” “Rosemarie” “My Gap Feels Weird”

16. KATE NASH – “MY BEST FRIEND IS YOU” – I was not a fan of Nash’s first record, “Made of Bricks.”  Sure, I liked “Foundations,” but that was about it, so my warm feelings towards her followup came as a huge, welcome surprise.  She enlisted former (London) Suede member Bernard Butler to give this album a rougher edge.  Nash explores multiple genres. One moment she’s singing in a sixties-girl-group style, the next she’s unleashing her inner Riot Grrrl. It’s pop-driven one minute and visceral the next.  I’m excited to hear how she will build off of this record.  Kate Nash is indeed someone to watch! Favorite Tracks: “Do-Wah-Doo” “Pickpocket” “Kiss That Grrrl” “I Just Love You More” “Take Me To A Higher Plane” “I’ve Got A Secret” “You Were So Far Away”   Read my original review of Kate Nash’s “My Best Friend Is You.”    15. CHEMICAL BROTHERS – “FURTHER” (DELUXE CD/DVD VERSION) – Over the course of eight seamless tracks, the Chemical Brothers reassert their dominance.  “Further” is a mind-blowing multi-media project, packaged with a DVD with videos for each of its tracks.  It doesn’t have any big name vocalists.  It’s mostly just Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons doing what they do best.  They haven’t been this groundbreaking and vital in years.  What we have here is quite possibly their best record to date and a true electronica masterpiece. Favorite Tracks: “Wonders Of The Deep” “Swoon” “Dissolve” “K+D+B”   Read my original review of The Chemical Brothers’ “Further.”    14. BLACK SHEEP – “FROM THE BLACK POOL OF GENIUS” – Dres is now alone as Black Sheep.  Nineteen years have passed since “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing” and he has hit another career highpoint.  He gets political, discussing his opinions about the state of the world on “Born To Che,” uplifting himself and his people on “Elevation” and “Power To The Pih-Poh,” his everyday life on “Forever Lulvlee” and religion on “Reason To Pray.”  Never one to mince words, Dres isn’t afraid to offend, but whatever your opinions and if you agree with him or not, it can’t be denied that he’s giving his genuine point of view.  This is the album Black Sheep should have released years ago and if enough people hear it maybe Dres can get the legendary status he has long deserved.  This is a more thoughtful and mature Black Sheep record. This is classic hip-hop. Favorite Tracks: “Elevation” “Birds Of A Feather (Featuring Q-Tip, Trugoy the Dove and Mike G.) “Born To Che” “Power To The Pih-Poh” (Featuring Rhymefest) “Splash (Intro)” “Winner” (Featuring AZ) “Victory”   Read my original review of Black Sheep’s “From The Black Pool Of Genius”      13. BEST COAST – “CRAZY FOR YOU” – On paper, Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics are the kind of basic sentiments you’d find scribbled in a lovelorn teenage girl’s school book, but what she and her band-mate, Bobb Bruno do with these lyrics is amazing. Their sound is a retro, lo-fi, surfy, punked up concoction, spinning a strong dose of Connie Francis and Everly Brothers influence into garage-rock gold.  No record this year captures the feeling of heartbreak better than this one.  Sometimes the direct approach is best. Favorite Tracks: “When I’m With You” “Summer Mood” “Crazy For You” “The End” “Honey” “I Want To” “Goodbye”   Read my original review of Best Coast’s “Crazy For You.”    12. JIMMY EAT WORLD – “INVENTED” (DELUXE EDITION)- This is one of the most misunderstood records of the year.  Upon its release there were critics who said that Jimmy Eat World were getting too old for emo.  Had they really listened to the record?  It’s beautiful!  It doesn’t hit you over the head like their 2001 classic, “Bleed American,” but give it a listen and you’ll find that it’s an excellent, quieter-yet-equal counterpoint.  Jim Adkins delivers some of his best songwriting in years.  The title track has an amazing rise between the 4:16 and 5:44 marks that rivals any other minute-and-twenty-eight-second stretch on a rock album this year, At its essence, “Invented” is a pensive meditation on the human condition, concerning love and loss.  It’s a mature and expansive record.  It rocks out only a few times, leaning more toward dreamy atmospheric backdrops.  In some ways, it reminds me of The Cure’s “Disintegration.” This is a record I believe will show its impact over time.  Sure, it might not be very emo in the most punk-driven sense, but Jimmy Eat World have always been more than just an emo band.  They’ve always had this record in them.  Its dreamy expansion is payoff, building off of their beloved sixteen-minute opus, “Goodbye Sky Harbor.”  If this isn’t an honestly emotional record, I don’t know what is. Favorite Tracks: “Coffee and Cigarettes” “Evidence” “Invented” “Cut” “Littlething” “Mixtape” “Movielike”   11. FITZ & THE TANTRUMS – “PICKIN’ UP THE PIECES” – Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick is the most unlikely of soul men, but in a post Amy Winehouse, post Sharon Jones world, there has been a niche created for this kind of back-to-basics record. With his co-vocalist, Noelle Scaggs, Fitz and his band create something timeless and enjoyable.  Yes, the lyrics cover very basic topics of love, but if 2010 has taught us anything, it’s that we are heading back in a stripped down direction.  Nothing gets to the core and is more universal than a purposely vague love song with a catchy chorus.  That way, everyone can relate. Favorite Tracks: “Winds Of Change” “MoneyGrabber” “Don’t Gotta Work It Out” “Tighter” “Breakin’ The Chains Of Love”
  10. RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS – “III/IV” – Arriving in mid-December, this is the most recent album on the list.  It’s also the oldest in some ways, when you consider it was apparently recorded at the same time as Adams’ 2007 album, “Easy Tiger,” and left on the shelf.  “III/IV” is a double album.  At sixty-seven minutes, it should be on one disc, but for reasons unknown, it’s on two. (A waste of resources if you ask me!)  That being said, it’s also Adams in rock mode.  There is not a bit of country to be found.  Reminiscent of Adams’ 2003 highpoints, “Rock N Roll” and “Love Is Hell,” this record hits with a double-shot of greatness.  It may not be as spiky as “Rock N Roll,” but it has teeth.  One gets the feeling that Adams looks up to Paul Westerberg the way Westerberg looked up to Alex Chilton.  Adams, himself has proven to be very prolific.  It’ll be interesting to see who will take grasp of his influence. Favorite Tracks: “Happy Birthday” “Dear Candy” “Breakdown Into The Resolve” “Gracie” “My Favorite Song” “No” “P.S.”
  9. SADE – “SOLDIER OF LOVE” – Few artists can take a break of over eight years and expect the fanbase to remain just as interested upon return.  Sade has done this twice in a row with great success.  This is a testament to both Sade the woman and the band that shares her name.  Why do the fans stick around?  The music is always excellent.  In nearly thirty years, “Soldier Of Love” is only Sade’s sixth studio record.  She and her band take their time and it shows in their music.  As a vocalist, the years have not altered her delivery.  She still has that same buttery-smooth voice.  Early Sade records wound up being “Lite” radio and “cool jazz” classics.  On “Soldier Of Love,” the beats are a little harder, fitting her work closer to the trip-hop and chill variety.  This is the best R&B record of the year and it’s from a true legend. Favorite Tracks: “Soldier Of Love” “The Moon And The Sky” “Babyfather” “Skin” “Bring Me Home”
  8. THE BLACK KEYS – “BROTHERS” – It feels like with “Brothers,” the Black Keys finally broke through.  More is being written about them and next week they are even going to be on “Saturday Night Live.”  Well, if Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have ever released an album worthy of a bigger audience, it’s this one.  It’s a very solid fifteen-song set of rumbling blues-rock.  It’s the kind of record that is so on point that while you are listening, you can’t help but shake your head in amazement.  Songs like “Next Girl” and “She’s Long Gone” are captivating and authoritative, while “Tighten Up” is a pleading song about love.  Extra points go to the person who decided to make the disc label heat sensitive.  When you touch it, it changes color.  A special touch for a very special album.   Favorite Tracks: “Tighten Up” “She’s Long Gone” “Next Girl” “Never Gonna Give You Up” “The Only One” “Sinister Kid”     7. BADLY DRAWN BOY – “IT’S WHAT I’M THINKING, PART 1: PHOTOGRAPHING SNOWFLAKES” – Supposedly the first disc of a planned trilogy, Badly Drawn Boy’s latest record finds Damon Gough at his most tender.  A strong dose of reverb on his voice gives this batch of songs a sad and dramatic urgency.  In the quietest of moments, say for instance on the album’s opening track, “In Safe Hands,” his chilled performance brings to mind the likes of Elliott Smith.  There’s a gentle, haunted nature to this record, as if it were tailor-made for snowy Sunday evenings. Favorite Tracks: “In Safe Hands” “This Beautiful Idea” “Too Many Miracles” “It’s What I’m Thinking” “I Saw You Walk Away”     6. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG – “IRM” – Charlotte Gainsbourg’s third album is collaboration with Beck.  He produced it and wrote (or co-wrote) the songs.  It’s a more successful pairing than Gainsbourg’s outing with Air, (“5:55″) three years ago.  These two artists seem to be very like-minded and in sync with each other.  Rather than limit her to a hushed whisper like many of her previous recording, we hear something stranger.  Take note of her deadpan delivery on the title track, complete with MRI samples, the basis for the song and album’s title. She rocks out on “Trick Pony” and sings some left-field folk on “Me And Jane Doe.”  In many ways, this is like a progression from Beck’s “Modern Guilt” with a female voice.  In any case, together, Gainsbourg and Beck have made a hypnotic and mysterious record.  Let’s hope this isn’t the end of the creative partnership. Favorite Tracks: “Trick Pony” “Me And Jane Doe” “Greenwich Mean Time” “La Collectionneuse “IRM” “Voyage”     5. GIRL TALK – “ALL DAY” – Released as a free download on Illegal Art’s website, “All Day” shows Girl Talk (A.K.A. Gregg Gillis) in top form.  He is the mash-up king,  Yes, all of the songs on here have been released before. Some of them are actually on the old side.  If you are questioning me putting a mash-up disc on a “best-of-the-year” list, you are missing the point.  Gillis approaches the mash-up like a virtuoso musician.  These songs are recognizable but are given drastically new context.  Who thought that Radiohead’s “Creep” and O.D.B.’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” would blend so well together?  Did you know that Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” went so well merged with Fugazi’s “Waiting Room?”  What Gillis does is create an all-inclusive party.  Artists are all combined in a massive sonic soup.  This album is like a seventy-one-minute cohesive course on the last forty years of popular music.    The way he combines song-snippets seems effortless. Kids, if you want to know how you use math in the real world, here you go.  Putting this record together and timing everything out perfectly must have been a massive sonic equation.  If this was a hard-copy release, it would earn a massive parental warning sticker, so be warned.   It was specially made under what’s known as a “Creative Commons License.”  Every artist included here should be grateful.  Gillis’ level of skill speaks volumes about his respect for the medium. Favorite Tracks: The whole thing!  It’s designed to be listened to as one continuous set.
  4. DAFT PUNK – “TRON: LEGACY” – Interestingly, I have not yet seen this movie, but its soundtrack blew me away.  When I heard that the score to this movie was going to be by Daft Punk, I was intrigued.  The end result is really different (and much cooler) than what I expected.  I expected that it was going to be in line with their other work and be in more of a techno/house vein.  No,  The end result has electronic elements, but it’s more orchestral. Think about John Williams’ “Star Wars” score with an electronic flavor. This is essentially an experimental classical record.  This is more than I expected from the loop-centric, drum machine masters that brought us “Homework.”   NOTE: I should note that “TRON: Legacy” is a Disney movie. Disney is ABC’s parent-company. Rest assured, that had no effect on its placement on this list.  This soundtrack is on here because it impressed me on its own merits.   Favorite Tracks: “Overture” “Derezzed” “Recognizer” “Arrival” “The Game Has Changed” “Solar Sailer”   3. MARTINA TOPLEY-BIRD – “SOME PLACE SIMPLE” – The idea was as simple as it was brilliant.  Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz told Martina Topley-Bird that she should rerecord some of her songs with minimalist, stripped arrangements.  Topley-Bird is probably most famous as the voice singing hooks on many of Tricky’s earliest songs, but she’s established an interesting solo career and is always a welcome guest on just about any record.  Albarn’s idea was to release the album on his own imprint.  Interestingly, in the U.S., the record was picked up by Mike Patton’s label, Ipecac. The reason why this album is noteworthy is because Albarn was more than right!  Like a great “unplugged” record, some of these stripped down performances really blossom in ways that the fuller versions don’t.  Topley-Bird’s sweet voice becomes the center.  The true beauty in these songs comes forth.  If you aren’t familiar with her work, this is an excellent starting point.  It’s also proof that she really should be an international household name. Favorite Tracks: “Lying” “Too Tuff To Die” “Snowman” “Kiss Kiss Kiss” / “Harpsichord Kiss” “Da Da Da” “All Day”     2. DUM DUM GIRLS – “I WILL BE” – For reasons unknown, I found this record to be thoroughly addictive from the moment I got it.  I’ve listened to it over two-hundred times! Dum Dum Girls are a California lo-fi group led by a woman named Dee Dee.  She co-produced the record with Richard Gottehrer, who is an industry veteran.  (He co-wrote “I Want Candy” and “My Boyfriend’s Back and has over the years, produced a number of noteworthy records.)  Since Dee Dee and her bandmates are going for a retro-sixties vibe fused with an late-eighties/early-nineties shoegaze layer of guitar fuzz, Gottehrer was a good fit.  Like Best Coast’s “Crazy For You,” this is a very straight-ahead record.  I am not sure it does anything particularly new, but the way it does what it does is stellar.  “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout,” “Jail La La” and “Rest Of Our Lives” are all strong cuts.  The first two are forceful, fuzzy, tin-driven rockers, the last is a Jesus and Mary Chain-like ballad.  In 2010, everything old was new again and some interesting sonic combinations were  assembled.  This is a catchy, appealing, fuzzed-out record! Favorite Tracks: “Bhang Bhang, I’m A Burnout” “Rest Of Our Lives” “Blank Girl” “Jail La La” “I Will Be” “Lines In Her Eyes”     1. BROKEN BELLS – “BROKEN BELLS” – Making a list this year was easy.  I found myself impressed with a lot of records, so finding fifty great ones was almost second nature.  Determining which record deserved to be number one was the hardest part.  I determined that James Mercer and Danger Mouse deserved the title for 2010 for their self-titled Broken Bells album.  “The High Road,” “October” and “The Ghost Inside” have been running through my head all year.  This record is exciting and enjoyable.  I remember being anxious for it when it came out in March and  having it not disappoint me in the least.  Here is a meeting of the minds that truly sounds like the sum of its parts.  Let’s hope that Mercer and Danger Mouse will continue to work together!  They make an excellent team! Favorite Tracks: “The High Road” “October” “The Ghost Inside” “Mongrel Heart” “The Mall & Misery” “Vaporize”   Read my original review of Broken Bells’ ‘Broken Bells.”    In closing, it was a better year for music than 2009.  Let’s hope 2011 is even better!  Happy New Year and happy listening!   FURTHER READING:
The Top 50 of 2009.    The Top 50 of 2008 Part One and The Top 50 of 2008 Part Two   The Top 50 of 2007 

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