For almost a decade now, I’ve been doing a year-end list of my favorite music. I started doing this with my writing partner, Will Carroll, at the Juice Blog. Even though we finally dissolved that site in 2008, we still put out a year-end list. (Look for Will’s tomorrow.) I had told Will last month I didn’t think it was a very good year for music, but after digging around in it, I have to amend that some, as it was better than I gave him credit for. Good depth of product, so I went with 15 records, instead of just 10. It’s a little hipper than I generally like, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on any successful pop music this year.
1. Eminem- Recovery
So is that the way it’s going to be, Marshall? At the beginning of each decade you are going to release the best rap album we will hear. Back in 2000, Eminem’s debut, Marshall Mathers was the best rap record of the decade. After some pretty spotty work after 2002, Eminem comes back strong with his raging Recovery record. It is the sound to me of what you would feel driving through the urban decay of Detroit. Few artists have been more honest in their assessment of their current state as Eminem is on this new classic. I almost don’t even want to call it a rap record, as the sound of it is rock. Never has Dr. Dre brought more raw feel to his production. While Kanye West made the record most of the critics are falling all over themselves for, Eminem made the one with a punk sneer that I think is pretty powerful.
2. Mumford and Sons- Sigh No More
Someplace between the bands Frightened Rabbit and Fleet Foxes is the best debut of 2010. Mumford and Sons bring bluegrass instruments to beautiful harmonies and dramatic musical arrangements. No band made a bigger impression on me in 2010 than these blokes.
3.Black Mountain- Wilderness Heart
For most of the decade, Jack White dominated my year-end, Best of lists, be it White Stripes or Raconteurs. While definitely mining similar influences, Black Mountain is more Black Sabbath than Led Zeppelin, with the male/female vocal exchanges bringing a new vibe to psychedelic hard rock. My favorite rock record of the year and much better than anything Dead Weather did. Feel the Deep Purple organ riffs of Old Fangs.
4.Black Keys- Brothers
While the previously mentioned White Stripes have been the main focus for 2 piece blues revivalist bands, the Black Keys have been right behind them. They have always reminded me of Robin Trower, which is a big compliment. Brothers is their best record, as it has the band sounding like a great 60’s psychedlic blues band. The spectacular guitar fuzz is all over the place, but every rock band should listen to how they record their drum sound, as it’s vintage, dirty Charlie Watts. This is best late-night soundtrack for a dive bar in years.
5.Arcade Fire- The Suburbs
There have been a few critic-favorites that I’ve never been able to get totally behind like My Morning Jacket, TV on the Radio, etc. I felt the same way about Kings of Leon, but Only by Night found the band putting it all together for me. (btw, back to being kind of spotty for me on their 2010 release.) No band had fit this scenario more for me then Arcade Fire. I really liked a few of their singles, but I never could embrace the whole record. No longer. The Suburbs begins with a great Bowie-influenced, the title track and is solid for the next few songs. The Suburbs really starts to kick-in on the 2nd half beginning with the great Suburban War, with it’s Byrds’ chiming guitars. This sounds like a modern update of a lot of what I liked on college radio in the 80’s. OK, I’m officially on-board.
6. The Constellations- Southern Gothic
The recording of 2010 that I’ve turned more happy people on to is by this band from Atlanta. They remind me of INXS with a Southern-flavor, with some strong hints of Beck thrown in their funky stew. Not a perfect record, but like a 2010 Dandy Warhols, they know how to make great singles. Check them out, you will thank me later.
7. Gaslight Anthem- American Slang
If you would like to know what a bunch of young guys from Jersey who wear their Springsteen allegiance on their sleeve would sound like, take a listen to Gaslight Anthem. They don’t have the depth of lyrics that the Boss has, but they know how to produce a great sounding record, which is something Bruce seems to have forgotten. On American Slang, they meld the early Bruce sound with a Clash attitude. It’s a really fun record.
8. Roots and John Legend- Wake Up
There have been a lot of great soul-revival records released over the past few years, but with the talents of John Legend and The Roots coming together the potential seemed to be sky high. And unlike few, this one lived up to its potential. Covering some great 60 and 70’s, this has a great live-sounding production. The gospel-tinged I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free has Legend at his best, as you are listening to the greatest church band backing him.
9. Broken Bells
This was my most difficult pick, as I don’t think it’s a great record, but if I was rating it on 5 songs, it would be at the top of my list. The High Road and The Ghost Inside being in my Top 50 singles list of 2010. So start there and see what else you like.
10. Elizabeth Cook- Welder
Not long ago there were many great releases by folk/country artists, but it when I look at my list this year, I just wasn’t finding much that connected with me. Here was the best exception. Produced by Don Was, Welder is funny like an Amy Rigby or Lucinda Williams, but has more of a twang to her vocals like classic country artists. She might not rule the charts like Taylor Swift, but this is what would be on my country playlist.
The Thermals- Personal Life
Not a great year for power-punk, but The Thermals follow-up their excellent 2009’s Now We Can See with the more consistent Personal Life. There is nothing as great as Now We Can See, but there are plenty to seek here. Slamming percussion and snotty vocals lead the way.
Deerhunter- Halcyon Digest
I’m not as big of fan as some of this band, but Halcyon Digest had me falling for their trippy sonics. Start with Helicopter and especially the 60’s stomp of Revival.
Marina and the Diamonds- Family Jewels
I am not a hater of Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, as I don’t listen to pop radio, which keeps me from being sick of their stuff. When I hear one of their songs I completely get why they are so popular, as they know how to craft a good pop song. I just think they have been more about singles than putting together a good album. I just recently discovered Marina and her Family and have really come to like the Kate Bush meets Abba world she inhabits. It’s a lot of really strange fun.
Sarah Jaffe and Nathaniel Rateliff
My final 2 picks are singer/songwriters who made a couple beautifully quiet records. Sarah Jaffe has a great tone to her voice, which blends beautifully with the tasteful strings (especially the cellos) that pop up all over her record, Suburban Nature.
Nathaniel Rateliff also uses his vocal timbre to express a weariness to his songs which really connects. These 2 releases are not going to get people on the dance floor like the Black Eyed Peas, but sometimes you just don’t want to raise the roof. Right?