This was another good year for a music hack like me. Many well established and experienced artists released their fourth or fifth albums in 2010, while hundreds of lesser known acts appeared on the scene with debut or sophomore releases. In previous years, I have spent countless hours putting together best of lists, trying to narrow down the yearly output into a list of those discs I could listen to again and again.
This year, thanks to the vast amount of excellent releases, the wide array of up and coming acts, and an ever-expanding taste in music, the traditional Top 10 list idea was nearly impossible for me to accomplish.
However, the following albums were some that rarely, if ever, left my CD player for more than a week at a time. But please, after reading these 11 summaries, note the longer list of other albums that surely deserve your attention.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – presenting my choices for the best music of 2010! (in no particular order)
Frightened Rabbit — the Winter of Mixed Drinks
This third album will play with your emotions, tugging your heartstrings in all sorts of different directions. Every single track is solid gold, with amazing lyrics used in perfectly worded arrangements. Some songs inspire you to dance, others to sob quietly in a room by yourself. Some make you smile, others make you think. A five-piece from Scotland, Frightened Rabbit are hard to classify. Call them indie pop, indie folk, indie rock – call them whatever you want – I call them simply amazing.
Shout Out Louds — Work
From Stockholm, Sweden, the Shout Out Louds first came to my attention in 2005 through Lethbridge’s own little station that could, CKXU 88.3 FM. Their first album was promising, their second was catchy as hell, and this, their third – well, their star just continues to shine. ...
It's truly the best album, they've ever done. They offer a unique blend of 80’s pop and modern indie rock. If The Cure made sweet love to Belle and Sebastien and had a beautiful two-headed baby – that baby’s cry would sound a lot like Work. While they’re not breaking any new ground as far as rock and roll formulas go, the songs get stuck in your head for days – and you’ll feel sad when the memories are gone.
Five Alarm Funk – Anything Is Possible
A hyperactive 11-piece afro-funk orchestra from Vancouver, this band’s third album almost manages to capture the infectious grooves and bash-on-a-bus atmosphere of a Five Alarm Funk live show. This band never ceases to amaze me, and these newest tracks of pure awesomeness turn any situation into an immediate dance party. Lots of variety means it appeals to all ages, and the huge rhythm section turns what would otherwise simply be super fun funk tunes into something more – something mind-blowing.
Klaxons – Surfing the Void
The Klaxons first offering came out at an inconvenient time – somewhat forgotten in the shadow of other British dance-rock bands like Bloc Party, Hot Chip and the Arctic Monkeys. But with Surfing the Void, all those other bands seem like whimpering little groups choking on galactic dust. This album is just demented enough to be a head-scratcher but with enough hooks to be thrilling. When each song ends, there’s a sense of breathless anticipation, as to how in the world they can top that – and then they do. It’s a bit experimental to be sure, but is so full of memorable moments and produced on such an epic scale that when it’s over, you’ll be reaching for the play button one more time.
Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives
When I first heard that Bob Marley’s youngest son would be collaborating with one of today’s biggest rap superstars, I was skeptical. I expected it to be some sort of lame cash grab, with lacklustre reggae grooves disguised beneath half-ass hip hop lyrics; in other words, sub-par for both performers. But boy, was I wrong.
Not only do I now call it one of the year’s greatest albums, I’d go so far as to call it one of the 21st century’s best collaborations – period. This album is full of beauty, full of magic, full of politically charged and uplifting lyrics. Simply put, this is a prime example of two trademark musical styles melding perfectly – intense and energetic one moment, anthemic and old-school the next. Gorgeous and surprising.
The Wild Hunt — The Tallest Man on Earth
This lovely little folk album reminds me of Bob Dylan; if he were 25 again, full of piss and vinegar, singing about love, loss and everything in between. Filled with incredibly strong song writing and a half dozen standout tracks, I listened to this album non-stop during the month of September everywhere I went. It inspired me to drink a lot of Guinness, while attempting to sing my own lyrics along with the unique flow and awkward arrangements. And just for the record, The Tallest Man on Earth is really just one dude, of average height.
Deadmau5 – 4x4=12
Finally, after 10 years in the electronic music biz, Montreal’s Deadmau5 (pronounced Deadmouse) releases his first official studio album. Every track on this 70-minute album is solid – full of huge house beats, crazy synth lines and an array of electro styles, ranging from dubstep to progressive trance. Caution though – the bass on this album could easily blow both your speakers, and your mind. It’s great music for highway driving, video gaming, nights on the town and annoying your neighbours. Those same neighbours will eventually ask you: “What is this? At first I thought it was noisy – and now I think it’s wicked!”
The Roots – How I Got Over
Forgetting the fact that these guys are the house band on one of late night TV’s most annoying programs, The Roots continue to amaze and astound, reinventing themselves over and over – kings of organic hip-hop. Infused with enough soul and talent to bring James Brown back from the dead, How I Got Over will have you singing along and dancing in the kitchen by the end of the second track. These guys have outdone themselves this time, delivering a hefty slab of sheer brilliance, while keeping their signature Roots sound intact. Never content to rap about girls and fucking, wealth and guns – they focus on real life, in a way that makes the listener reflect on everyday issues. I am a humbler man today, since adding this to my collection.
Early Man – Death Potion
If you like it loud – you’ll love Early Man. This 3-piece from Brooklyn have created a genre-defying mix of speed metal, stoner rock and old-school thrash that will have you headbanging like you’re 16 years old all over again. Get the horned hands ready, crack a cold one and try to keep up.
The Budos Band - III
I stumbled across this band a number of years ago, and have been following their career with interest ever since. On this, their third album, the Budos’ huge funky grooves, incredible rhythms and masterful chillout sessions certainly don’t disappoint. A little bit darker and more mysterious than their previous works, this disc is chock-full of African influenced good vibrations. I recommend lighting a big gagger, cranking the treble, and sailing away into wonderland. It’s also great music to clean to.
Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
This album is topping charts and turning heads for a reason. You’d never guess these guys were from West London, considering how well they’ve managed to reproduce the truest essence of Americana. If you like the Avett Brothers, Kings of Leon.... hell, if you like music in general, you’ll enjoy this album. I’d recommend you buy it for everyone you know – if only so I can hear it more often everywhere I go. More than banjo, more than mandolin – popping this disc in is like soaking up a Master’s degree in roots music by osmosis.
Twinkranes - Spektrumtheatresnakes
The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
Yeasayer - Odd Blood
Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Warpaint - The Fool
Crocodiles – Sleep Forever
Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This
Of Montreal - False Priest
Menomena - Mines
New Pornographers - Together
Paper lions – Paper Lions
Born Ruffians – Say It
Ghostkeeper – Ghostkeeper
Tokyo Police Club – Champ
Plants and Animals – La La Land
Dangermouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
Meligrove Band – Shimmering Lights
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists — the Brutalist Bricks
Brasstronaut — Mt. Chimaera
Broken Social Scene — Forgiveness Rock Record
Hot Hot Heat — Future Breeds
Land Of Talk — Cloak and Cipher
Russian Futurists — the Weight's On the Wheels
Stars — the Five Ghosts
Wintersleep — New Inheritors
Wolf Parade — Expo 86
Bombay Bicycle Club - Flaws
Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork
Darker My Love – Alive As You Are
Mystery Jets - Serotonin
Thermals – Personal Life
School of Seven Bells – Disconnect from Desire
The Whigs – In the Dark
The Coral – Butterfly House
Oceansize – Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up
Cloud Cult – Light Chasers
Paperbacks – Lit From Within
Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
Villagers - Becoming a Jackal
Xavier Rudd & Izintaba– Koonyun Sun
John Butler Trio – April Uprising
Greg Macpherson – Mr. Invitation
Jeremy Fisher – Flood
Fred Eaglesmith – Cha Cha Cha
Basia Bulat – Heart of My Own
Bill Callahan – Rough Travel for a Rare Thing
Matt Costa – Mobile Chateau
Fistful of Mercy (ft. Ben Harper) - As I Call You Down
The Acorn - No Ghost
She & Him – II
Danny Michel – Sunset Sea
High On Fire - Snakes For the Divine
The sword - Warp Riders
Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis
Bison BC – Dark Ages
Cancer Bats – Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones
Soilwork - The Panic Broadcast
Norma Jean – Meridional
Kylesa – Spiral Shadow
Underoath – 0 / Disambiguation
Karma to Burn – Appalachian Incantation
Quest for Fire — Lights from Paradise
Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent
Torche – Songs for Singles
Comeback Kid – Symptoms and Cures
Les Savy Fav – Root For Ruin
John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up!
D-Sisive - Vaudeville
Cee Lo Green — the Lady Killer
Jamie Lidell — Compass
Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
More or Les – Brunch with a Vengeance Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
Lyrics Born -As U Were
Aloe Blacc - Good Things
Sage Francis – Li(f)e
Cut Chemist – Sound of the Police
El-P - Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3
Atmosphere - To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EP's
Buck 65 – 20 Odd Years EPs
Sia – We Are Born
Slowcoaster – The Darkest of Discos
Bedouin Soundclash – Light the Horizon
Lupe Fiasco – Lasers
Reflection Eternal - Revolutions per Minute
Caribou — Swim Four Tet — There Is Love in You Matthew Dear — Black City
Faithless – The Dance
Underworld – Barking
Chemical Brothers – Further
Crystal Method – Divided by the Night
UNKLE - Where Did the Night Fall
Massive Attack – Heligoland
Miike Snow – Miike Snow
Ratatat – LP4
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Simian Mobile Disco - Delicacies
Girl Talk — All Day
Goldfrapp — Head First
!!! — Strange Weather Isn't It?
Holy Fuck — Latin
Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise
Bonobo – Black Sands
Gotan Project – Tango 3.0
Blockhead - The Music Scene
Rjd2 - The Colossus
A Jazzy World
Grupo Fantasma – El Existential
Cat Empire - Cinema
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – I Learned the Hard Way
Hot club of Detroit – It’s About That Time
Souljazz Orchestra – Rising Sun
Konono No1 – Assume Crash Position