Best Music of 2010

2010 has gone and now it’s time to share some of my favorite music of the year.  Everyone has a top 10 list, so I thought I’d try something different.  Well, that, and I can’t seem to whittle my list down to ten.

2010 was a great year for music.  For the last few years music executives have been crying that the sky has falling as music sales decline.  What they need to remember is that quality beats quantity – when they stop focusing on hit makers and on quality music and artists who will last, the sales will be there.

Without further adieu, and in no particular order, here is some of my favorite music from 2010:

Best album using guest vocalists:  David Byrne & Fatboy Slim:  Here Lies Love – Who ever thought that a concept album about Imelda Marcus would be made, much less be a great album?  David Byrne had been rumored to have been working on this for years, and with help from Fatboy Slim and guest vocalists including Tori Amos, Sharon Jones, Florence Welch, Santigold, Cyndi Lauper, St. Vincent, Sia and more, the album turned out great.  Check out this image for all of the artists involved.

Best Summer Music:  (Tie) – Free Energy and Best Coast –  Free Energy is a Minneapolis born and Philadelphia band who burst on the scene this year, in part thanks to my local radio station, 89.3 The Current.  With infectious pop hooks, the single Bang Pop became one of my top earworms of the year.  Free Energy will be playing The Current’s 6th Birthday Party at First Avenue later this month.   Best Coast had the quintessential summer album that makes you want to roll down the windows, hit the gas and blare the music.  Best Coast’s California garage rock will get your foot tapping and with the average song only two and a half minutes the album will be over before you know it and you’ll be hitting the play button again.

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Best cover album:  The Bird and the Bee – Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates –  I’ve already talked about this album a bit, but I love the fact they went back and covered some pure 80’s pop classics.  I think you’ll be surprised how many songs you remember from your childhood.

Best 50’s revival:  The Like – Release Me –  With a look and a sound that will instantly remind you of 50’s girl power pop, The Like hit the scene this year with some catchy songs that are modern yet take you back to a simpler time.  Listen to the title track, Release Me, as the best example.

Best Debut Album:  Local Natives – Gorilla Manor – My friend Steve’s review is 10 times better than anything I could hope to write:

We can never get through a year without being introduced to a handful of bands who, no matter how popular with the listening public, seem to be loathed by critics (see Mumford & Sons). Local Natives fit into this same mold, making some local bloggers pass this off as Boring Yuppie Music (sorry Josh at Reviler). I’ll admit, Local Natives is an awful band name…the album, though, not so much. I’m a sucker for untraditional percussion, and _Gorilla Manor_features some progressive and driving rhythms throughout. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for Boring Yuppie Music.

Album I should have bought and not listened to Steve:  LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening –  Steve and I had a Twitter conversation where he didn’t recommend buying LCD Soundsystem (I was going to buy it on vinyl).  I took his advice and then a few months later Amazon had it on sale for $3.99.  Bought it, listened to it, loved it.

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Best Album released in December that didn’t make anyone’s Best of 2010 lists:  Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – III / IV – One of the problems with everyone’s Christmas creep in releasing their lists early is they will inevitably leave off an album that’s released after their list.  This year, that album was III / IV.  I’m a huge Ryan Adams fan and somehow missed the announcement that the album was available and pre-order and it sold out within days on his website.  Luckily, Amazon had the vinyl album available.  III / IV are the outtakes from my favorite Ryan Adams’ album, Easy Tiger.   At 21 songs, it’s easy to find some songs that are clearly inferior to the Easy Tiger album, but there are a handful of songs that are as good as, if not better, than some of the tracks on Easy Tiger.  One of my favorite releases on vinyl this year, the album came with great art inside, and the vinyl albums themselves are beautiful – one red, one blue.  Pictures are available here.

Best album released in the same year the band broke up:  Wolf Parade – Expo 86 – I was sad to hear a few weeks ago that Wolf Parade was breaking up (though pleasantly surprised to learn that one of the members fronts Handsome Furs).  Yulia was a catchy song, if a bit overplayed locally.

Best single:  Mumford and Sons – Little Lion Man – Released in October 2009 in the UK, but February 2010 in the US, Mumford and Sons just barely makes the best of 2010 list.  The first time I heard this song I had two thoughts:  I can’t believe this is playing on the radio (let’s just say they have to bleep out the chorus constantly) and second, wow, this will be in my head for days.  The rest of the album came to grow on me.  And more bands need banjos.

Best packaging – of Montreal’s False Priest (red vinyl deluxe package): A beautiful double LP on 180 gram red vinyl, it also included stickers, buttons and a great 20 page book of paintings by David Barnes.  It also included posters and a great t-shirt.  of Montreal is on the Polyvinyl record label, who truly gets not just how to be a successful independent record label, but how to connect with fans and offer high quality vinyl releases.

Best Side Project:  Broken Bells – Broken Bells – The Shin’s lead singer James Mercer along with Danger Mouse (one half of Gnarls Barkley and famous producer) came together to release one of the year’s best albums.  The whole album from start to finish is absolutely amazing and I’m just kicking myself for not going to their December show at First Avenue.  (The Current is streaming that show at their website).  Both artists have promised this is just the beginning for Broken Bells and I can’t wait to see what their next album holds.

Best Mashup Album: Girl Talk – All Day – Thanks to the popularity of Glee, America was introduced to the term mashup in 2010.   But mashups have been around for years, and Girl Talk is currently the poster boy for the mashup album.  Where dance club mashups tend to be 2 or 3 songs put together, Gregg Gillis uses dozens of songs and samples to create a new song.  All Day features 372 samples and I’m amazed he’s getting local airplay here in Minneapolis, which I think is great.  (Which makes me wonder – if only the songwriter gets paid for radio airplay, who gets paid?)

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Best re-issue:  Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine –  Trent Reznor’s debut album, out of print for most of the 1990s, finally changed ownership a couple of times, and Bicycle Records, the new owner allowed Reznor to do the remastering he had longed to do.  It was worth the wait.  The muddled and muted vocals are fixed and balanced with the music, which is brighter and cleaner.  I bought this on both CD and vinyl, and it worth buying both.  When I first bought my turntable this past spring, one of the first albums I searched for was this – which goes for $100 and up due its rarity.  The CD was worth it just for the new packaging.  Rob Sheridan, Trent Reznor’s long time designer, did a great interview where he talks about the difficulty in re-creating the original artwork.

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Best album I wish I had purchased earlier:  Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest –  I finally picked this up earlier this week at a local record shop, Down in the Valley.  About a month ago, The Current featured it as their album of the week.  Mark Wheat, in his review, called it “ambient punk” and the label fits.  He also said that when friends and family ask you what indie music is, you should hold up this album as the example.  He’s right – this album is truly indie and the sound is like no other, from start to finish.  I can’t stop playing it these past few days.

I don’t have any witty descriptions for the following albums, other than these were some of my favorite albums that came out in 2010:

Yeasayer – Odd Blood – One of my top three albums this year.  A unique sound and the album I played the most in February and March and then throughout the year.  Loved the video with Kristin Bell.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin: Let it Sway – Another Polyvinyl release, SSLYBY brings an infectious, bright pop sound to indie music.  Sink/Let it Sway was a staple on The Current over the summer, and I was glad to hear them get the airplay.

The New Pornographers – Together – I was disappointed to see how many critics left this off their best of lists this year.  I think the issue is that they put out such high quality albums time and again, that when another great album comes out, it’s exactly what the critics expect and they don’t get the credit they deserve.  I loved this album and it was one of the first vinyl albums I bought after buying my turntable.  AC Newman’s use of the entire ensemble and harmonizing between the male and female leads gets me every time.

Cloud Cult – Lightchasers – Members of the mailing list were able to buy this album three or four months before it was released and was it worth it!  The ethereal sound of Cloud Cult and their live shows are something no one is able to re-create.  This album celebrates the birth of their child (after losing a child a number of years ago) and their optimism shines brightly throughout this album.

Minus the Bear – Omni – I’m told that Minus the Bear fans don’t think too highly of this album, but I loved it due to the fact it introduced me to them.  Buying some of their older albums is high on my wish list to compare.

Jonsi – Go – The guitarist and lead vocalist for Sigur Ros goes solo (though he promises they haven’t broke up).  Let’s just say if you like Sigur Ros you’ll like this album.

Spoon – Transference – Spoon strips down and goes back to their beginnings with a rougher sounding album and less catchy melodies and it works.

Band of Horses – Infinite Arms – I don’t know what I can say that other critics haven’t already said about this album.  Go listen to it now.  I guarantee that On My Way Home will stick in your head for days.

Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now – Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley and her boyfriend Johnathan Rice release their first album together and it lives up to the title of the album.  I love Jenny Lewis’ voice and Johnny plays off her well.  This was also a great package, that when pre-ordered from their website, you got the vinyl, CD, a cassette tape and multiple 7″ records of the album.

The National – High Violet – I didn’t think The National would ever be able to improve on Boxer, and then they release High Violet.  It’s one of those albums where you love the music and the more you listen you hear and understand the lyrics and you understand the true genius of a band.

Last, but definitely not least, probably my album of the year:

Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue – Having grown up playing the piano, I’m a sucker for musicians who play the piano, and Ben Folds has been one of my favorite artists for years.  Not just because of his piano skills (which are incredible) but his witty lyrics (and penchant for swearing).  When I heard a year ago that he was collaborating with author Nick Hornby, I couldn’t wait.  (You probably know Nick Hornby from the his novels adapted for movies including High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch.  All of his novels are fantastic).  At the same time, Ben Folds started asking questions on a vinyl record forum to gauge interest in releasing the album on vinyl, which they did do.  The vinyl albums was mastered and pressed at some of the most famous studios left for vinyl and the quality shows.

The album itself is fantastic – Hornby’s tongue in cheek lyrics to start the album in A Perfect Day ripping on bloggers to his timely lyrics about Levi Johnston and Sarah Palin In Levi Johnston’s Blues (my favorite song on the album) showcase Nick Hornby’s skill with a pen.  Ben Folds puts his trademark sounds, including piano solos and his unique vocals, to good use, making it one of the most unlikely, but great, collaborations to be released in a long, long time.

2010 was a great year in music and I can’t wait to see what 2011 brings!

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