Best Music of 2010

Surprise! It’s an end of year list at the beginning of the year. What, it took me til February to sort out my favorite music of 2010. But it’s still a valuable guide for all you cats and kittens, right? Or at least a quick reference if you’re looking for some new tunes in your life. Keep in mind how I feel about “best of” lists and enjoy.

FAVORITE ALBUMS

These are the albums I’ve been listening to over and over again, with no sign of getting bored.

Midlake — The Courage of Others 

Pitch perfect for obsessive repeat listens during those long winter days and nights. Every review I’ve read has mentioned that it’s a medieval-sounding album, with acoustic guitars and flutes, and that it’s a throwback to ’70s guitar rock. True enough; I immediately thought of Lindisfarne and early Genesis. These minor key melodies sung in echoes have haunted me in the best possible way all year.

 

 

Yeasayer — Odd Blood

When one of these songs pops up on shuffle, I have to go play the whole album through. It’s absolutely that catchy; the bouncy pop, wailed lyrics, and ’80s/futuristic production coalesce into the most joyous album of the year. Yep, even when they’re singing about heartbreak, you’ll be singing along with a smile on your face. Bonus: great live show.

 

 

Wolf Parade — Expo 86

Apparently, Spencer Krug wanted to make a rock album you could dance to, and that’s just what he, fellow songwriter Dan Boeckner, and band did. I don’t know how they settled on the name Wolf Parade, but they always sound a little wolfish to me — aggressive, driving, and wild-eyed. Which is as it should be. Rock n roll should make you shiver.

 

 

Cee Lo Green — The Lady Killer

I think I must be one of those people who talks in their sleep, because while I don’t remember Cee Lo calling me up and asking me what kind of classic Motown style songs updated for the 21st century I’d like to hear on his next album, I must have answered the phone in my sleep, since The Lady Killer is the perfect such album.  The single everyone knows, of course, is “Fuck You,” but “It’s OK” and “Cry Baby” are also winners. You’ll be singing into your hairbrush in no time.

 

Patty Griffin — Downtown Church

Clearly, you could happily listen to Patty Griffin sing from the phone book, such is the power and vulnerability of her voice. She’s also a stellar songwriter, which is why I was a bit nervous about this latest album, a collection of spirituals and hymns. But I needn’t have worried; Patty is a wonderful interpreter of songs and this album is no exception. Her “I Smell a Rat” is appropriately loose and dangerous, and I haven’t heard a spookier “Wade in the Water.”

May Erlewine — Golden

Daisy May has dropped the stage name and now goes by her full name, May Erlewine, but she continues to write the same lovely tunes just perfect for singing along to around a campfire, especially “Down in the Valley” and “Heavy.” She and some other Earthwork Music folks came through Chicago last year, and only noise laws kept them from playing (and us cheering) all night long.


Frightened Rabbit — The Winter of Mixed Drinks

When “more of the same” means more bleak lyrics, catchy tunes, and a mesmerizing urgency, it’s a good thing. Frightened Rabbit’s follow-up to their sophomore album is a fantastic continuation of the sound.


Robyn — Body Talk Part 1

Last July I mentioned how exciting it was to see Robyn at Pitchfork Music Fest, but looking back I can say that it was my favorite concert of the year. She was just so damn happy to be dancing and singing as we all joined in, and this album (as well as Part 2, which I don’t know well enough to include here) is like having that dance party in your pocket.

Janelle Monae — The ArchAndroid

There’s a reason Janelle Monae topped so many critics’ lists; she’s an amazing artist, and the album is bursting with new sounds, new beats, and a mythology made up of equal parts history, cinema, and funky invention. Don’t let the mania for Lady Gaga obstruct your view of this visionary artist and her wonderful music.

FAVORITE HALF-ALBUMS

I pick and choose songs from these albums, but they’re some damn good songs. I generally like more than just the songs in the parentheses, but those are my most favorites.

New Pornographers — Together (“Moves,” “Crash Years,” “Up in the Dark”)
The National — High Velvet Violet (“Anyone’s Ghost,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio”)
Bettye LaVette — Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (“Nights in White Satin” and “It Don’t Come Easy”)
Mark Ronson — Record Collection (“Bang Bang Bang” and “Hey Boy”)
Deerhunter — Halcyon Digest (“Memory Boy” and “Helicopter”)
Lissie — Catching a Tiger (“When I’m Alone,” “Loosen the Knot,” and “This Much I Know”)

GOOD SINGLES OFF ACCLAIMED ALBUMS THAT JUST DON’T MATCH UP

Arcade Fire — “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Nicki Minaj — “Right Thru Me” and “Dear Old Nicki”

OTHER GOOD ALBUMS THAT DON’T GET A BIG WRITE-UP

Beach House — Teen Dream
Tame Impala — Innerspeaker
Vampire Weekend — Contra
Mountain Man — Made the Harbor
Macy Gray — The Sellout
Teenage Fanclub — Shadows
Blitzen Trapper — Destroyer of the Void
Marina and the Diamonds — The Family Jewels
Roky Erickson With Okkervil River — True Love Cast Out All Evil (be sure to check out my friend Josh’s in-depth review of this album at his blog, We Check Records)
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings — I Learned the Hard Way
The xx — xx
Neon Indian — Psychic Chasms
John Mellencamp — No Better Than This
Bryan Ferry — Olympia

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Black Mountain — Wilderness Heart
Tom Petty — Mojo
Best Coast — Crazy for You
The Black Keys — Brothers

NO THANK YOU, STOP TRYING TO TELL ME IT IS THE BEST THING EVER

Kanye West — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

ALBUMS I MIGHT WANT TO GET TO KNOW IN THE FUTURE

Mumford & Sons — Sigh No More
Retribution Gospel Choir — 2
Les Shelleys — self-titled
Mavis Staples — You Are Not Alone
Robert Plant — Band of Joy
Los Campesinos — Romance is Boring
Motion City Soundtrack — My Dinosaur Life
Peter Gabriel — Scratch My Back
Erykah Badu — New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Cairo Gang — The Wonder Show of the World
Drive-By Truckers — The Big To-Do
MGMT — Congratulations
Nada Surf — If I Had a Hi-Fi
The Fall — Your Future Our Clutter
Phosphorescent — Here’s to Taking it Easy
Nas and Damian Marley — Distant Relatives
Reflection Eternal — Revolutions Per Minute
Jenny and Johnny — I’m Having Fun Now
Tift Merritt — See You on the Moon
Various — Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine
MIA
The Books — The Way Out

So what did YOU like best from the last year?

Note: All images taken from Paste Magazine, Pitchfork Media, and other music review sites.

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14 thoughts on “Best Music of 2010

  1. OK, proof-positive I raised you right. Per usual I will go through each one of these…love 5%, like 40% and be 100% glad you made the effort to compile such a list. I understand how much time it takes…but I also get how much the music matters. This is wonderful. I have my hands, er, uh, my ears full for quite a while. Thanks!!

    • Thanks, Dad! Of course I learned from the best.

      I love that you’re going to try it all. I’m guessing you’ll like Midlake (I think I already recommended them), Lissie, some of the Bettye LaVette, some of Wolf Parade and maybe Frightened Rabbit. You won’t like Mark Ronson, Robyn, or probably Janelle Monae (although watch “Tightrope” on YouTube so you can see the awesome Charleston-type dance she does). Did you like the new Tom Petty or did you similarly find it a letdown?

  2. Well, I can only listen to so much at a time..but you are absolutely correct in that Midlake is already well-liked. I did not know about The Courage of Others CD though, and like it very much already. It does bring to mind 2 artists/CDs you might want to check out. Both were surprises to me. One: The death metal band, Opeth’s, “Damnation”. The other is Pain of Salvation’s, “12:5”. So, one down, 40 bazillion to go!

  3. This has not been a year of new music for me (in both the “new to me” and “new to the world” sense). Since I’ve been writing so much, my music listening has been limited to “music to write to” which has all sorts of peculiar requirements. New stuff that has somewhat fallen under that category is Sea of Bees (mostly just listening to her myspace page, especially “Wizbot”) and the new Joanna Newsom, which I was surprised to find I liked quite a bit since I wasn’t drawn to Ys. It has a jazzy or bluesy feel to it, I think, especially songs like “Does Not Suffice,” “On A Good Day,” and “Good Intentions Paving Company.”

    Otherwise, you’ve reminded me how much I was liking Yeasayer and I agree that both Robyn and Janelle Monae are awesome. Have you listened to the EP that preceded The ArchAndroiod– Metropolis: The Chase Suite? “Many Moons” and “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!!!!” are great.

    And I really liked Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait” along with “Sprawl II” and have liked the album more as a whole after returning to it after a break.

      • I haven’t listened to Metropolis. May I borrow it? Also, have you seen the old movie that whole persona/story is based on?

        I think I may like more of The Suburbs as time goes by, but so far it seems like there’s too much filler on that album.

      • You can definitely borrow it. I haven’t watched the movie yet, though the restored version is on instant watch. I’m waiting to feel up to 148 minutes of a silent movie. Maybe I’ll watch it in installments?

        Agreed about there being too much filler on The Suburbs. Though I like it more now, I don’t listen to it all that often. And I still skip “Month of May” when I do.

    • Hahaha. Of course it is! Oops.

      Sleigh Bells was enjoyable in concert, but I never choose to listen to them when I’m picking out songs. Maybe one or two would be good for a rude awakening kind of alarm clock, though.

  4. Did The Besnard Lakes’ Are the Roaring Night come out in 2010? I think it did! In which case it definitely deserves a spot on the “OTHER GOOD ALBUMS THAT DON’T GET A BIG WRITE-UP” list. Epic without pretension — perfect!

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