I really need to find a way to turn music listening into a paying, full-time gig. Because that’s the only way I could ever hope to have time to take in all the good (and not-so-good) music that comes out every year. Life really was much simpler when I didn’t even want to make time for anything that wasn’t by Kiss, Rush, or Iron Maiden. So instead of approaching this as a “Best Albums of 2010″ or “Best Music of 2010″ list, it’s more of a “My Favorite Albums/Music of 2010 That I Had Time to Listen To” list. These are the albums that moved me one way or another this year, although obviously this is not (and cannot be) an exhaustive list. I’m sure lots of really swell records got left off, but that’s why there are other year-end lists on the internet, right?
#10. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [Roc-A-Fella]
I honestly haven’t had enough time with this album to decide if it’s worthy of all the praise being heaped upon it. The sheer density of the production means anyone claiming to have figured it all out after a few listens is full of shit. What I can say at this point is that it’s ambitious, hooky in spots, and utterly fascinating. And hey, anyone who can seamlessly integrate a sample of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” into one of his songs gets love from me.
#9. Deftones, Diamond Eyes [Reprise]
My interest in Deftones pretty much began and ended with White Pony, one of the great metal albums of the decade. I can’t say why, it just happened. So on a whim I gave Diamond Eyes a shot, and it instantly recalled White Pony for me. It’s not quite at that level, as some of the pure aggression and epic scope has been dialed back a bit. This is understandable given how much the album is informed by a tragic car accident involving bassist Chi Cheng, who was in a coma for several months and is still in a bad way. That’s not to say Deftones have wussed out, even though some of the songs have a relatively softer edge. This is still high-octane, adrenalized metal, and well worth your time.
#8. Tame Impala, Innerspeaker [Modular Recordings]
It would be easy to dismiss the debut album from Australian trio Tame Impala as one of the scads of albums released each year that do nothing more than recreate bygone eras of popular music. Easy, but not really right. On the surface this is vintage 1960s psychedelic/garage rock with some modern seasoning (it probably doesn’t help that Kevin Parker’s vocals eerily recall John Lennon). But really this is an album in the true sense – 11 chapters that combine to evoke certain feelings or moods. The fuzzy guitars and swirling bass lines merely provide the framework with which Tame Impala delivers their vision. Sure a few more standout hooks or singles would be nice, but I really don’t think this album would be that much better with them.
#7. The Doobie Brothers, World Gone Crazy [HOR Entertainment]
Yes, those Doobie Brothers. As with most legacy acts, it should go without saying that this is not quite on par with their prime ’70s work. But really, this is a surprisingly strong effort with no real weak points. Longtime Doobies Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons have turned in an album of that sounds like good classic rock without being dated. And hey, longtime producer Ted Templeman is back too! Michael McDonald even pops in for one track (“Don’t Say Goodbye”), which is one of the strongest. The inimitable Willie Nelson also joins the festivities. Seriously, check this out.
#6. Iron Maiden, The Final Frontier [EMI/UME]
I’m still amazed at Iron Maiden’s ability to not only retain a core of longtime fans but win new ones as well. There is a sizable group of fans who came on board after the end of the band’s golden age (aka the ’80s), and who swear by albums like Brave New World over Piece of Mind. I always found that a little nuts, but I admired their fierce loyalty. And with this album those fans have ammo for their arguments. The Final Frontier, while by no means an all-time classic, is definitely the best post-reunion release from Iron Maiden. Mid-tempo tracks like “Coming Home” are much more effective than they used to be, and the band manages to experiment a little with the leadoff song, “Satellite 15… The Final Frontier”. A little more songwriting along the style of the latter would’ve been very welcome, but this album still delivers anything a metal/Maiden fan could want.
#5. Maya Beiser, Provenance [Innova]
The audience for slowly developing cello compositions averaging more than ten minutes long is probably a small one, admittedly, but if there were more albums like Provenance that might change. After all you wouldn’t go to an art gallery and spend 10 seconds on each painting, would you? So take the time to soak in these five songs, which are inspired by the golden age of Medieval Spain but are fresh and relevant in 2010.
#4. The Roots, How I Got Over [Def Jam]
How is it that a band that has a gig on a nationally televised talk show and releases album after album to massive critical acclaim can still be considered underrated? It really boggles the mind. But for those tuned into the Legendary Roots Crew, How I Got Over is another artistic achievement. I’m not sure that all the guest appearances are really needed, since these guys are so damn talented on their own, but I guess that’s the thing to do in hip hop and anyway, it all works. Witness the Monsters of Folk on “Dear God 2.0″ and Joanna Newsom on “Right On” to name a few. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – even if you don’t think you like hip hop you have to give it up for the Roots.
#3. Cee-Lo Green, The Lady Killer [Elektra]
Take away the controversial and super-fun “Fuck You!” and you’re still left with one of the most infectious and fun albums of 2010. “Bright Lights Bigger City” is typical of Green’s edgy and sometimes dark take on classic soul/R&B music, a style I’ll call Big Soul (That’s not trademarked is it? If not, then it’s mine). Not every track is a surefire classic, but I guarantee you’ll be dancing along to this in no time. If Motown had a fraction of the popularity or relevance it once did, this man would be their showcase artist.
#2. Trombone Shorty, Backatown [Verve Forecast]
I hate when self-appointed jazz experts like Wynton Marsalis go on and on about what jazz should or shouldn’t be, but I’ll just say this about Backatown – this is what jazz should be. Fun, memorable, swinging, and not in the least afraid to draw upon diverse outside influences (how many jazz albums these days boast a heavy metal guitar solo, and one that works to boot?). Oh sure, there’s always room for more “classical” jazz of the post-bop variety, but if there’s any hope of winning over younger music lovers then there must be more releases like this.
#1. Field Music, Field Music (Measure) [Memphis Industries]
I wrote a lengthy review of this fantastic double-length album in February, and as my thoughts on it are largely unchanged I’ll simply direct you there. It’s a cop-out, I know, but I’ve run out of ways to praise this album. I’ll just add here that my world is a better place because the Brewis brothers are making music. I think that just about covers it.
The Best of the Rest
Any of these albums are worth at least one listen, and could very well have made my list if it were longer (that’s what she said).
- PRISM Quartet, Antiphony
- Robert Plant, Band of Joy
- Backyard Tire Fire, Good to Be
- Goldfrapp, Head First
- The New Pornographers, Together
- Mastodon, Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly EP
- John Mellencamp, No Better Than This
- Everest, On Approach
- Danilo Pérez, Providencia
- Devo, Something for Everybody
- John Legend & The Roots, Wake Up!
- Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Stay Gold
- Midlake, The Courage of Others
- Spoon, Transference
- Emma Pollock, The Law of Large Numbers
- Christian Scott, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow
- Atmosphere, To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EP’s
- Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin