Our benevolent leader here, Mr. Hyland, asked his new recruit (me) to include a Top 20 of 2010 list. And these exercises are a bit compulsive to begin with, so I figure I have to get it in here by the end of January or it'll be moot or at least mildly embarrassing.
A couple caveats: I am not longer the completist I once was. This list signifies nothing more than these are records I happened to hear and like a lot. It does not suggest that I think the 20th of these is "better" than say Beach House and all these hip records everyone else thinks is great but I haven't heard. Truth be told, I might have listened more to Exile on Main Street, Bob Dylan and Solomon Burke (whose death was a significant loss in 2010) than all this new stuff combined. So consider this a drive by of sorts.
For many years I have written about and listened mainly to singer-songwriter kind of stuff, but this year found myself gravitating towards rock'n'roll. Which isn't to say this necessarily was an unusually great year for rock (though I believe it was) or off year for singer-songwriters, but more just where my head was at.
I've listed my favorite of year, then gone in alpha order for the rest of a Top 10, then added 10 more. Please excuse the brevity and lack of links and videos, but I know our readers are resourceful. And hey, I'm on deadline here.
Black Keys, Brothers. Hard to believe at this point in the game that anyone could mix the blues and rock’n’roll and come out with something sounding completely fresh and innovative, but these Ohioans do just that. And when I’m driving around and “Tighten Up” gets played on the commercial radio stations in Portland, the sound leaps out of the speakers and sounds awesome. Turn it up.
Alejandro Escovedo, Street Songs of Love. Al has survived a nearly fatal serious illness, every up and down the music industry could provide, and various other life obstacles. So now he just tells the truth, lets it fly like John Lennon. One of my favorite artists doing more quality work with his special brand of Texas roadhouse, garage rock, Rolling Stones, glam rock. Raging.
Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, Goodbye to the Rank and File. I wrote a long piece on Casey for this blog last week and won’t repeat myself. But this unusually well written record is wonderfully varied with rock, waltzes, ballads, Celtic hints, a great Husker Du cover…
Corin Tucker Band, 1000 Years. Corin left the beloved, respected Sleater Kinney and stayed home for a couple years to raise kids. This new beginning took her to new and deep places, the writing here so strong. And it sounds nothing like S-K and has a great deal of stylistic breadth. She's still rockin' though. And who knew Corin could sing, and I mean really sing, like this? Wonderful, triumphant.
Mavis Staples, You Are Not Alone. I love Mavis and love Wilco too, but when I heard they were making a record together, I thought, huh, I’m not sure about that. But Tweedy checked his ego at the door and tapped deep into the songs here much like he did on Mermaid Avenue records. Mavis is so deeply soulful.
The National, High Violet. This is a real rock band, the whole so much more than sum of its parts. Anthemic guitar rock written by super smart guys. It helps to have a kick ass lead singer. Their outdoor live show performing these songs in early September at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland before maybe 4000 people was live rock at its best. I’d much rather see this band than U2.
Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3, Northern Aggression. So how does a guy at this stage of his career make his hardest rocking record ever? Great band, dual guitar attack, great songs. As good as anything the Dream Syndicate ever did and I mean that as the highest compliment possible. Hell, Lou Reed himself would kill for a record this good.
Superchunk, Majesty Shredding. As a former Chapel Hill resident, I have a soft spot for this band. But staying with my theme and biases here – this is some infectious, super intelligent kick ass rock’n’roll by an experienced band who know what they are doing.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, The Brutalist Bricks. A music blog dominated by a bunch of Notre Dame grads simply has to include Ted Leo, easily the coolest guy to come out of Notre Dame in the last 40 years with the possible exception of Joe Montana. Except Joe can’t write songs like Elvis Costello and isn’t a super smart encyclopedic old school punk rock god. Three chords and a cloud of dust.
Teenage Fanclub, Shadows. Don’t call it a comeback… well maybe you should. A terrific return to form by Scotland’s finest. Well crafted power pop, great harmonies. The closest thing to Big Star we have left.
Carolina Chocolate Drops, Genuine Negro Jig. Banjo, fiddle, guitar. Born in 1920, alive in 2010.
Drive-By Truckers, The Big To-Do. Now a venerable and vital American institution. Working class Southern heroes who seem to put out a record every year and never stop touring.
Gaslight Anthem, American Slang. A truly great bar band.
LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening. Post punk, heavily Bowie influenced, urban dance rock is hardly my thing but damn are these guys good. Will I embarrass myself to admit I listen to this while working out?
Los Lobos, Tin Can Trust. More great American music from real pros.
New Pornographers, Together. Confession: I have an autographed photo of Neko Case in my office. And AC Newman’s catchy power pop songs are a lot of fun.
Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise. It almost isn’t fair to have a band this good. Especially if god gave you that voice.
Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses, Junky Star. The guy behind some of the great music in the great film Crazy Heart. Country music isn’t really dead, you just have to be willing to go looking for it. T Bone Burnett produced and that is always good news.
Tift Merritt, See You on the Moon. Delightful and soulful country pop Americana. Producer Tucker Martine (The Decemberists) gets such a warm sound, and help from Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and super sessionist and Pariah Dog Greg Leisz on pedal steel doesn't hurt. Tift’s best ever.
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor. They mean it. Joe Stummer would have loved this band.