Friday, December 24, 2010

25 Best Albums of 2010

There's a lot of retro in my choices this year.  That may say more about me than it does about the year in music. But in 2010, I heard great power pop, soul and bands that mined the best of the 1960s and 70s.  And why not?  Killer riffs, great hooks and soulful grooves are timeless.  Here are my favorite albums of 2010:

25. Spoon – Transference

Spoon is either one of the most overrated or one of the most underrated acts around. According to Metacritic, the band from Austin was the artist of the decade. That seems a bit much, but there’s something very convincing in their tight grooves and Britt Daniel’s snarl. This is an album that grew on me.

24. Delta Spirit – History From Below

Well-crafted rock anthems from an up-and-coming San Diego band. Keep an eye on them.  Standout Track:  "Bushwick Blues."

23. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Mojo

Universally regarded as one of rock’s elder statesmen, Petty’s more recent work tends to get overlooked. On Mojo, Petty and the Heartbreakers again find their stride with a big bluesy album featuring the ordinarily restrained Mike Campbell playing some ferocious guitar.

22. Some Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Let it Sway

An excellent and underrated power-pop outfit, SSLYBY sounds like the love child of Weezer and Fountains of Wayne.

21. The Mynabirds – What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood

Beautiful. Laura Burhenn sounds like the reincarnation of Dusty Springfield.

20. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

There’s a bit of U2 and Coldplay in the way this Scottish band creates lovely, layered and majestic anthems.

19. Free Energy – Stuck on Nothing

In a year that saw the passing of Alex Chilton, it was nice find Big Star's power pop legacy evident in up and coming bands like Free Energy and SSLYBY and also in fine releases from warhorses, Teenage Fanclub and the Posies.

18. Drive-By-Truckers - The Big To-Do

Solid album from one of the most solid bands around.

17. Peter Wolf – Midnight Souvenirs

The J. Geils Band front man sounds as good as ever. There are some gems on this album and guest appearances from Merle Haggard, Shelby Lynne and the ubiquitous Neko Case.

16. Two Cow Garage – Sweet Saint Me

It’s hard to stand out as an alt-country band, especially when your lead singer sounds just like Lucero’s Ben Nichols. But Two Cow Garage pulls it off here – an ambitious album from a band that has arrived.

15. The New Pornographers - Together

Another great offering from the New Pornos When was the last time Neko Case was involved in a musical project that wasn’t impressive?

14.  The Black Keys - Brothers

Like Jack White, these Midwestern guys make 70s guitar riffs and classic blues sound dirty and invigorating.

13.  Murder by Death - Good Morning, Magpie

True story.  For a while ITunes had them listed as a metal band.  And maybe it's their name that 's holding them back, but Murder by Death is one of the best and most interesting alt-country bands around.

12.  Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - I Learned the Hard Way

Sure it's retro - 60s R&B, 70s funk and lots of soul.  But it's the real deal.

11.  The Like - Release Me

Whereas Sharon Jones (a former Ryker's Island prison guard) serves up authentic soul, The Like's take on retro is entirely contrived.  The band consists of the daughters of music industry big shots and with the help of Mark Ronson's production, they try to sound like a tough 1960s girl group.  And they really do. This album has some of the best and catchiest songs you'll hear this year.

10.  Surfer Blood - Astro Coast

Excellent debut from indie rockers who borrow surf-rock, pop and punk to create something that sounds both familiar and excitingly new.

9.  The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

Not as great as their last couple of albums.  But there's more than enough on this album to affirm an earlier conclusion:  If any band can save rock 'n' roll, it is the Hold Steady.

8.  The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

If the Hold Steady isn't rock 'n' roll's savior, The Gaslight Anthem just might be.

7.  Roky Erickson with Okkervil River - True Love Cast Out All Evil

A great album and a great comback story.  Erickson was a psychedelic rock hero of the 1960s (13th Floor Elevators) whose descent into drugs and mental illness made Syd Barrett seem like a model of sanity by comparison.  His pairing with fellow Texans, Okkervil River is nearly perfect.

6.  Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Yeah, it's big, bombastic and a bit pretentious.  It's also pretty awesome.

5.  Alejandro Escovedo - Street Songs of Love

Another great rocker from Austin, Escovedo is incapable of making a bad album.  This might be his best since Thirteen Years.

4.  Titus Andronicus - The Monitor

Now this is my kind of album.  Springsteen-inspired punks record an energetic, concept album about the American Civil War.  You know you're in for something different on the first track when Patrick Sickles screams, "Tramps like us, baby we were born to die!"  Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

3.  The Indelicates - Songs for Swinging Lovers

Deliciously witty, dark and dystopian indie pop.  Brilliant stuff.

2.  Bruce Springsteen - The Promise

Well, sure. (see review below).

1.  The National - High Violet

I was reluctant to believe the hype but after one listen, I became a believer.  And after repeated listens, the richness of his album only grows.

Honorable Mention:
  • The Walkmen - Lisbon
  • Phosphorescent - Here's to Taking it Easy
  • Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone
  • Robert Plant - Band of Joy
  • Grinderman - Grinderman 2
  • The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack
  • Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away


Anonymous said...

Excellent list. I would've placed The Hold Steady higher than, say, The Indelicates....however they win points for recycling a Sinatra album title.
Happy New Year, Citizen Ghost Town.

jwharding28 said...

I must say, I actually look forward to these lists from you. Part of it is because it's just fun. Part of it is because I never know all the names on the list, so I'm learning. I don't know if that says more about your knowledge, or my inability to track down more good music.

With the end of the aughts, is it not time for the Albums of The Decade list?

But no pressure...