Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Best Albums of 2010

The years fly by in blurs.  Like overclocked androids or predators dialing in prey, we weave in and out of either stealthy mood landmines or flower beds of emotions. The goals are different..for so many. From world domination...to effortless, mindless consumption...to fearfully flying that uncivil and unrested red or blue until you're red or blue in the face...... or maybe just picking out the bestest and freshest dumpsters into which to dive each day.  For a distinctly small, sometimes snooty or desperate sect... music is the only guide, a compass of sorts..a soundtrack to a cluttered mess of thoughts and back-burnered dreams...a touchstone to sanity...... For others....music is just a vanilla coated soundtrack to get to the middle of the road and back...it is the nameless melodies tuned in on a whim to fuel a dance or a doobie.......pieces of sound to pique whatever, whenever. This list is not for the vanilla prone.

My criteria was simple and much like one of my favorite rock journalists, Greg Kot. I simply thought of the albums I returned to repeatedly this past year and listed them. 2010 was a tumultuous mess of a year. My writing peaked and then fell off into a sea of silent white noise and was quelled even further by my debacle of domesticity. This year, more than most of the recent years, I have depended on music to guide and hide me.

So without further pretense or pandering, here are the 20 Best Albums of 2010:

17)  Option Paralysis- The Dillinger Escape Plan- A manic, brutal and unclassifiable album from the best thing to come outta Jersey since reruns of The Sopranos. These guys have been flying under the radar for much too long and the range, charisma and epic bad- assery of singer Greg Puciato deserves way more attention. Check out "Gold Teeth on a Bum".

16) Stranger-Valient Thorr-  "Shooting at the walls of heartache! Bang Bang! I am a Thorrior!' (Thanx Patty Smyth) Yet another over looked band with overlooked albums..the latest being their latest with an expansion on their heavy rock/shred epic soundcraft complete with the latest batch of knowledge, warning and preparedness laced  lyrics from frontman/ thing Valient Himself. As I take mental notes upon repeated listenings, am I getting any more safe, secure or informed about impending doom, social injustices or alien takeovers? No, but I sure am being rocked the fuck out.

15) Sea Of Cowards- The Dead Weather:  Incorrectly labeled as a Jack White project..This is an Allison Mosshart project. On their sophomore album chock full of modern psychedelic blues and echoing washes of funk, The Kills' front woman moonlights as a restless and brash woman on the prowl, putting on a  husky howl and wailing behind a fog of distorted,edgy vocals and in the sexual drivers seat for the entire ride...chewing up passengers and spitting them out in classics like "Hustle and Cuss".

14) God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise- Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs- Look, I've said it before..Ray has the best voice I've heard since Freddy Mercury...This time out he's got a great band behind him and a supremely pleasant warm batch of Sunday morning music you can use to purposely get nothing done to.  I'll send you to the "radio hit" Beg, Steal or Borrow to start, but try "Like Rock and Roll Radio" as well. The dude just washes over you.

13) Dark Ages-Bison B.C.- Oh Canada!  The first of three Canadian music makers on my list. The Vancouver foursome could be the most overlooked metal band in recent history. Swift and brutal, yet tuneful even under all of that gutteral growl, these songs bleed riffs. The riffs, courtesy of  twin lead guitarists/singers James Farwell and Dan And, cut you like a rusty switchblade on a rainy day. Look out Mastodon, you've got some bloodthirsty Canucks on your heels....and as far as I know, Bisons aren't extinct. Epic cut:  "Stressed Elephant".

12) Diamond Eyes- Deftones - Chino and Co. return with regrouped, refined and reinvented effort that showcases thrusty punches of sex rock mixed with waving, almost narcotic rushes of ethereal emotion. Chino has never sounded more in control or more moved by the source material that sometimes hovers around the concern for their fallen bassist Chi Cheng. Check out "Sextape", one of my favorite songs from this year.

11) J Roddy Walston & The Business(self titled)- This album, from a wonderfully ramshackle bunch of ruffians hailing from Baltimore of all places, really snuck up on me over the last few mos. J Roddy is a piano man from a punch drunk bizarro world, where Jerry Lee Lewis as the killer, has been killed and replaced by Richard Manuel( The Band) after a keg party. Part twisted honky tonk, part dark side of southern rock, this fine bunch of seedy songs with titles like Don't Break The Needle and Pigs N Pearls would cause an all out whiskey soaked barroom brawl at any tame dual piano bar...and that's a good thing. Please listen to "Brave Man's Death.

10) The Courage of Others- Midlake   Since when did Denton, Texas become the nucleus of "forest folk"? These geniuses should be getting every gig that those nitwits Fleet Foxes get. If there is The Decemberists, then Midlake are the Januarians. The creamy smooth doubled up vocals of Tim Smith traverse the dreamy voyage through dense trails of flute and folklore in this middle earth of an album. It is the only album, which may or may not have a concept behind its natural theme and feel, that moved me to tears.....Well, Kanye West's fucked clunker did as well, but for a much different reason......Anyway, Midlake, I'm raising a glass of mead in honor of your effort. Truly outstanding.    Be inspired by "Core of Nature".

9) Wilderness Heart- Black Mountain... Maybe its time for all of you rock snobs to switch focus from Montreal to Vancouver,no? This is Black Mountain's third outing..and one of the most incredible things I heard all year, yet all I read about is The Suburbs.....Get out of the subdivisions and take a hike Black Mt.'s way. This band can do it all. Deep Purple keys? Check! New Wave synth beds? Check. Marshall Thick Riffs and licks? Check! Floydian echoes? True Poetry and captivating melody? Check!    And did I mention Amber Webber? Co- lead singer and possessing one of those one of a kind voices......yeah, ....Check!     Check out  "Radiant Hearts" or "Rollercoaster".

8) Warp Riders- The Sword    Surely played more than any other album on this list this year. I'm deep into the concept of concept. Lots of Roger Waters and Rush in my wheel house this year...and lots of the Sword. Warp Riders tells a story of archer who joins a battle to bring light to the dark side of the planet he lives on..I think.  As I pondered that upon the hours of listening to this I was constantly being overtaken by the precise shred assault brought tenfold by JD Cronise and Kyle Shutt...and it made me want to ride my yellow GT skateboard gingerly over to my friend Steve's house, to join the D & D battle going on with the rest of the shut-ins in his basement.  Thanks, The Sword.  Get pummeled by "Arrows in the Dark".

7) Infinite Arms- Band of Horses   Much has been said about the band surrounding this, their third album. Its the old standard, as soon as a band gets a little fame...the purists cry foul. Man, that's so Pitchforkish...  Well, I'm here to tell you, I don't run much in indie circles..and I didn't even know of Band of Horses before I heard "Laredo" . But I truly dig this album. It's warm, inviting and folksy without being too hopeful.....and Ben Bridwell has one of the most beautiful voices this side of Ray LaMontagne. Pure and simple. You should love the song "Evening Kitchen" as much as I do.

6) Spiral Shadow- Kylesa.   Savannah's heaviest quintet burst back with a hearty, concussive blast thanks to Spiral Shadow, their best album yet. There is a brutal beauty in these songs. What sets them apart from mere metal bands is the dual drumming...a massive percussive monster that beats some real sense into you listen upon listen. It sounds like a doubled track, but it is incredibly visceral and bombastic. No fakery there. Mini- metal drum circles just appear in a handful of songs....so awesome.  And yeah, I've got a bit of a crush on co-leader guitarist/singer Laura Pleasants...yeah, so do you and you don't even know it yet.  Get crushed by "Crowded Road".

5) The Brutalist Bricks-Ted Leo and the Pharmacists   Perennially overlooked and under appreciated as the true power punk pop genius that he is. Jersey Ted does it again with a superb set of songs that should have taken over an airwave somewhere, anywhere. Give Ted his due, already.   I like "Ativan Eyes" and "Bottled In Cork".

4) Snakes For the Divine- High On Fire  Could a polished, more melodic and tighter than ever High on Fire album be this good?  Hell fucking yeah, my metal brethren!!! If riffs could talk, the riffs of every other metal band would be complaining to each other in group therapy, about being bullied, abused and forgotten by Matt Pike's riffs.  There is no equal.  Tony Iommi runs like a little bitch from these riffs.....but hey! Guess what? The songs are better than they ever were before. Matt's been working on the singing and songcraft..maybe because its his riff religion, and he already wrote the bible.  The scream near the end of the title track will pull bone from muscle every time. But the showcase of the album is the best song of the year....."Bastard Samurai" . So dastardly epic. Yes, and then some.

3) Spark- Alain Johannes    Alain Johannes is the genius songwriter, sideman, producer and guitarist that has largely and ridiculously gone unheard of for the past two decades unless you happen to be a fan of the family tree that has grown out from under Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme. He and his late wife Natasha Shneider were two thirds of the great 90s band Eleven. This album is an intensely intimate look at his response to her untimely passing from cancer in 2008.  It hits so close to the bone for me, having lost my sister as well, in 2008.  Mostly composed on his trademark cigar box guitar, amidst an almost tribal, percussive feel of playing at times, yet with certain songs like "Spider", there is a sparse, hollowed out longing..a ghostly presence .   The single most influential song I've heard all year..perhaps in many years is the album's closer "Unfinished Plan".  It it the perfect mix of pain and beauty. Simply breathtaking.

2) Brothers- The Black Keys.   This album was made by 2 people from Ohio. Not Mississippi, Tennessee or Georgia. This album brings dirty doings and grimy, funky blues to the forefront of American Rock music better than any band has done in the last 25 years.  Dan Auerbach is the new face of the true blues musician. He's 31 years old and white as white can be. I really didn't think they could do better than the Danger Mouse produced Attack and Release from 2008....and then came Brothers . Brother...if you ain't movin', when you listen to this, you under the ground....you drownin' in deep water..... Listen to "Next Girl", "Ten Cent Pistol", "Sinister Kid"...fuck it ..get yerself to a juke joint with a fist full of quarters and play the whole damn cd on the jukebox...over and over...well into the morning...Nobody will leave that dance floor. Wallflowers will grow wild.. Bouncers will bounce.

1)  The best album of the year is Le Noise- By Neil Young.  It's so good, I couldn't review it when I heard it. I still can't.  It's so Neil Young and so NOT Neil Young at the same time. There's not a drum to be found within the whole damn album......Uhh, Hmmm.... I can't even explain it to you, and why should I?  Just go listen to it. You'll see. And thank you, Mr. Lanois.

And thank you, my friends and readers.

I'm not writing this for my health, you know.

I am writing this for my health, you know.


  1. here's hoping that we both have a hell of a lot better year in 2011. I'm 2.5 years overdue for a good year so this better be it or I'm giving up.

  2. okay great post except now i have to go listen to these albums i some how missed a couple so need to go listen. thanks for the post and for the new music.

  3. 17, not 20. I wonder what the other three albums might be? I too will now have to go out and listen to many albums. Thanks for push in the back

  4. Dan, I couldn't think of 20. I might not have listened to more than 17 new releases this year, that I actually liked. I had my head mostly in the past.

  5. Nice list and reviews, I haven't listened to about half of this list so I'm filing that under exciting. You always push me towards the more dirgy side of music, and that's good.

    Big props also on the Midlake inclusion, that band absolutely blows my mind. Every time I hear "Roscoe" (I know not on this year's release) I silk into a forgotten smooth cocoon of highlander nostalgia.

    My Top 21 of 2010 is below, and surprisingly (or not?) there's not one cross-over with yours.

    I'll be in Philly ironically enough for Hixxmas, so will miss the jam, be sure to pour a little 'Gansett, or whatever they drink up there out for me. Have a good holiday man!


  6. Nice to see Midlake on there... LOVE that band and that album. Nice nod to Black Mountain as well...

    Great list... some stuff I hadn't heard of that I will definitely check out now. Cheers!

  7. Thanks for sharing. I have always been a huge fan of this artist and they have influenced me to be good musician, a guitarist to be more specific.