Year in Review 2010
Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
a motherfuckin’ monster.
churning out records at an insane rate 35 years into his career,
Costello struck gold with his latest genre-jumping masterpiece,
his best full album since the mid-’90s.
soul legend’s first record in 13 years is a stirring exploration
of his trials and troubles, set to a singular electro-blues
soundtrack courtesy of producer (and XL Records head) Richard
trials and troubles, from a gay, Midwestern former drug addict.
The members of Midlake provide ’70s folk-pop stylings, while
Grant reels off some gloriously self-loathing prose. Some
of the darkest songs you’ll ever whistle.
Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Outkast rapper’s first proper solo album may not be as sonically
ambitious as Kanye West’s monsterpiece, but it’s every bit
as cocksure and catchy. Best rapper alive? Yeah, probably.
Corinne Bailey Rae
sad, so beautiful. Dark and introspective and exceedingly
maestros bounce back from the mediocre Every Kind of Light
with the best album of their 23-year career. “Licenses to
Hide” is the single of the year.
Portland band’s first album as a trio is a lean, mean primer
on all things Quasi: the flailing guitar skronk; the brilliantly
cynical couplets; the sweet/sour harmonies. Start here and
Daniel Lanois at the controls, Young sets up shop and delivers
the most unique set of his long career. It sounds like nothing
else in Young’s catalog, and like no other “solo acoustic”
album you’re likely to hear.
Elizabeth and the Catapult
Other Side of Zero
second album from the New York act led by Elizabeth Ziman
is a heavenly pop exercise, with songcraft that recalls Aimee
Mann and Fleetwood Mac, and production from Tony Berg that’s
kitchen-sinky but never cluttered.
10 songs totalling little over 20 minutes, Oakland, Calif.’s
Bare Wires keep it short but sweet, with a retro blast of
oh-so-catchy, ’70s inspired garage-punk.
Pop release from San Francisco indie songwriter Stoltz nears
power-pop perfection; in a different world, songs like “Keeping
the Flame” and “I Remember, You Were Wild” would be major
hits instead of unheard masterpieces.
and stoner-rock collide in the best possible way for a hypnotic,
Beatlesque batch of tunes baked in the Australian sun.
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
I’m just a loner in a world full of kids, egos and ids,” sings
Ted Leo on “Bottled in Cork,” one of his best songs yet. Leo’s
had five full-lengths in 10 years with the Pharmacists and
they’re all good.
Francisco psych-rock outfit Moon Duo, a project of Wooden
Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson, played a killer basement
show in Albany this year; the duo’s first full-length has
the mesmerizing grooves, freaky guitar excursions and memorable
melodies of the Shjips’ best.
French pop-electronica with lush arrangements, Gainsbourg’s
breathy vocals, and production by Beck is not a bad combination.
Roky Erickson with Okkervil River
Love Cast Out All Evil
you saw the documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me, you realize
it’s a major miracle that psych-rock pioneer Erickson—who
spent much of his adult life comatose in front of a TV—is
now recording and touring around the world. Some of his live
performances are still shaky, but he did a great job with
return-to-form Superchunk is a good thing.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Learned the Hard Way
a world filled with child pop singers, it’s always refreshing
to hear an adult woman sing it like it is.
definitely don’t hide their influences, from Bruce Springsteen
to Social Distortion, and maybe their music is too earnest
for some, but I still think they released some of the catchiest
rock anthems this year.
the Ghosts Within
in Robert, Gilad and Ros, respectively, wherein Wyatt’s vocals
(and a couple of his songs) are entwined with saxophone and
chamber orchestrations giving such standards as “Lush Life”
and “What a Wonderful World” a bearing that is unshakably
emotive and intimately in the moment.
Are Not Alone
by Jeff Tweedy, and with all the emotive force of her Stax
recordings. The Wilco leader wisely kept the settings built
around her core combo, with his two originals (including the
title track) upping the ante of his own catalog.
Wolf came to the fore in the ’70s and ’80s via the machinery
of musical corporations, they’ve not known what to do with
him for the past two decades, during which time he’s made
the greatest recordings of his life. A large multinational
entity has fumbled the ball, but this album will outlive those
Man Who Fights Himself
Figgs are that rare band who have stayed together long enough
to pass from youth into middle age, while maintaining control
of their own destiny. Meaning, they are not peddling nostalgia,
but affording glimpses into the foibles and frailties of their
own lives, making those who encounter the honest force of
their music all the richer for it.
from solid and simple parts, Los Lobos continue to combine
poetic and economical portraiture with the rhythms of life,
love and community.
Little Light On
noble bandleader and songwriter has gone into the studio without
his combo for this set, mixing originals with a few well-
chosen covers. This is presented with just an acoustic guitar;
Cebar set aside the groove of the dancefloor for the intimate
confidence of a fireside recital.
to Os Mutantes: El Justiciero Cha Cha Cha
album is that rare creature, a tribute album that works on
its own terms. It flows, honoring the originals, while allowing
itself room to breathe its own oxygen, leaving room for its
dramatic indeed—the drama of world events, interpersonal intrigue
and mortality have again shaped Thompson’s latest set of songs,
given further edge by dint of their having been recorded live.
for over 30 years, Brave Combo are still celebrating polkas
and dance music from around the world, but they are now the
leaders of their own parade, following only their own sound
Roky Erickson with Okkervil River
Love Cast Out All Evil
a perfectly titled album, and the grim truths found in many
of the songs are offset by Erickson’s life-affirming triumphs
against demons from within and without.
Age of Adz
lesson from 2010 is that hype and anticipation can be a serious
jinx for otherwise great artists (re: M.I.A., MGMT, Yeasayer,
and the Panda Bear album that wasn’t). Sufjan Stevens gave
the world a month-and-a-half notice for his first proper LP
in five years, and it turned out to be his most ambitious.
Another lesson: The world has finally (rightly) stopped regarding
ambition as pretentious. The Age of Adz is Stevens
at his most crushingly sincere and emotionally direct—accompanied
by a robot orchestra. It’s the sort of project that whole
new genres and movements are born of, and I can’t wait to
hear what gets produced in the wake of this electro-baroque-folk-rock
One on Me
of ambition, harpist-pianist Joanna Newsom has made a game
of topping audience expectations with each subsequent release,
this time producing a triple album of tracks averaging seven
minutes in length. It’s a commitment (best digested over the
course of months), but well worth the effort, as Newsom’s
songwriting is dense and nourishing, often opening into Joni
Mitchell-esque choruses as a final afterthought to an otherwise
patient, literate track. A hip-hop producer friend of mine
once lamented that Newsom is “utterly un-sample-able,” and
it’s precisely this quality that makes Have One on Me such
a welcome relief from disposable blog fare.
sometimes the blogs are right, and bands like Fang Island
go from being virtual unknowns to opening for the Flaming
Lips almost overnight. Self-described as sounding like “everyone
high-fiving everyone,” the band work big-group vocals and
the sound of fireworks into their manic, uptempo three-guitar
rock. Their debut is a short little burst of a record, but
it’s worth putting on repeat.
get chills just thinking about this record. Such is the power
of crisp three-part harmonies. Mountain Man are hardly out
of Bennington College, but the female trio’s debut of spare
folk tunes is so haunting that it makes you want to deny their
upcoming tour opening for the Decemberists and pretend they’re
your own personal band of minstrels.
was a burst of excitement this year in the world of indie
electronica. But while artists like Caribou, Four Tet, Gold
Panda, Pantha du Prince (et al.) generally leaned on a steady
pulse reminiscent of early Detroit techno, Flying Lotus produced
Cosmogramma, a masterful collage of fractured hip-hop,
cosmic free jazz, dexterous instrumental collaborators, and
Fight the Big Bull
Is Gladness in the Kingdom
Matthew White makes a strong case on this record that the
big-band formula is as fertile as ever. It helps that slide
trumpet legend Steven Bernstein is present to second the motion.
Fight the Big Bull are rapidly becoming the face of Gen Y
jazz, collaborating this year with Megafaun and Bon Iver,
but All Is Gladness in the Kingdom is their most stirring
was a MASS MoCA residency that led to the creation of The
Way Out, a record that combines the Books’ sterling musicianship
with their thrift-shopper’s sense for found audio. Self-help
tapes constitute the bulk of the album’s cheeky vocal samples,
and they’re used in a way that’s both humorous and earnest
enough to complement the band’s warm, searching syncopations.
many, I was a total naysayer when, in 2008, Vampire Weekend
became poster children for the power of the hype machine.
Thing is, they make really friggin’ catchy music. Contra
is an album full of radio hits, and, authenticity be damned,
the band’s lilting Afropop is still one of the most distinctive
things to happen to indie rock in a long time.
It Look Like I’m Here?
a year when every block in Brooklyn housed a “glo-fi” or “chillwave”
band, synthesizer sales were not suffering under the recessionary
economy. Emeralds, however, were distinct in that they understood
how to operate them. Updating a brand of ambient electronica
that minimalist Terry Riley originated, Does It Look Like
I’m Here? is a perfect example of how thin the boundary
has become between experimental and popular methods of musicmaking.
Impala are another success story of the blogosphere, and were
it not for that chatty cafeteria table, we’d probably be ignorant
of these Perth, Australia, natives, who’ve since toured with
MGMT and the Black Keys. Their nostalgia goes back a decade
more than most, to the fuzzy, driving guitar rock of the ’70s,
which comes as a nice break from synthesizers and drum machines.
God I Hate Myself
sound of a tortured man making gorgeous music with ugly noises:
Morrissey meets Einstruzende Neubauten; Joy Division meets
Laibach. My own personal heaven.
glory of the Bowie’s Berlin trilogy smashed up with irony
and stabbing techno synth lines. The club mix for awkward
The Black Keys
The Keys added bop and groove to their blues and delivered
the most nuanced album of their career.
Dark Twisted Fantasy
West is an egotist who loves pomp, and he did this album up
with the right kind of bombast. I’m the kind of prick who
can’t possibly deny that kind of self-indulgent swagger. Let’s
hear it for the douchebags!
Goodnight to the World
songs keep getting slighter and slighter. It’s almost like
he is slipping away into the ethereal world he sings about.
That point where life and death meet—that sweet pain. Say
Goodnight to the World is simply haunting.
twisted piece of electronic-punk music that plays with the
listeners’ emotions better than Hannibal Lecter. Like Aphex
Twin’s “Come to Daddy,” this album “will eat your soul.”
summery riffs, cheeky lyrics, with a beach vibe, all laid
out on an impressive debut.
best metal album of 2010 explodes with art-damaged noise and
a lead singer ranting and mumbling like a drunk-on-the-toilet-seat
These New Puritans
labyrinthine album constructed with disparate styles and ideas—samples
smashed together with oboes. What an absolute trip.
a perfectly tart f-you to expectations. And it’s catchy, too.
electronica, as warm and ever-changing as the waters that
and their floppy-haired brother are rocking the psychedelia
these days, but this Aussie outfit made a more compelling
album than the rest by making sure hooks and groove won out
over looks and attitude. Sonically, think Revolver-era
Lennon fronting a band equal parts Sabbath and Stereolab.
meditation on the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles keeps us
on the edge of our seats throughout, exploding now and then
into a punk fury that feels corrosively cleansing after all
the slinking in the shadows.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
freaky, fun, unpredictable, maddening and ridiculous—a gander
into a brainpan skewed by 1970s bubblegum and ’80s pop radio.
Sharon van Etten
gone widescreen—you love her for both the honesty of her voice
and her point of view.
Sun Kil Moon
utterances from the temple of melancholy; Mark Kozelek’s Spanish
guitar embodies light, his voice, a kind of wisdom.
to Taking It Easy
music Gram Parsons might have made if he was stuck in 21st-century
Brooklyn with the country blues again.
Up, Dude/Sit Down, Man
askew rhymes by these nerdy NYC stoners bring to mind both
the eccentric creativity of early Native Tongues (particularly
De La Soul) and the aggressive grime of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Jokey or not, these stripped-down concoctions feel more kinetic
and “true to life” than the overproduced psychodramas of most
of today’s millionaire rap stars.
One on Me
artful if wordy tales of maturity are my kind of clear-eyed
Age of Adz
most dependably pensive neo-folkies of the last decade have
gone maximalist on us. Acoustic guitars and banjos have been
replaced by gurgling electronic filigree and warped angelic
choirs, built through the arcane architecture of Pro Tools.
Like Kanye West’s ballyhooed latest, this album is endlessly
inventive and relentlessly navel-gazing; I prefer this one
because it is even grander in its madness.
Best of 2010
following releases were selected by our staff as the cream
of this year’s regional crop. They are presented unranked
Asili y la Banda Rebelde
lineup of la Banda Rebelde reads like a U.N. subcommittee,
and War Cry, their debut, sounds equally diverse. Taina
Asili is uncompromising in her political and spiritual convictions
(singing in a number of languages), allowing the record to
ring with an increasingly rare element of optimism and empowerment.
“Carefully” Loiacono is a solitary man in an interconnected
world. Community Balloon is his attempt to integrate a vast
email list of collaborators into his guy-with-a-mandolin-and-effects-
suitcase act. It works because what better way is there to
draw in your audience than to make them a part of the process?
Man Who Fights Himself
older and a tad more world-weary on their latest, the Figgs
still offer up plenty of the instantly memorable tunes that
the Saratoga boys are known and loved for; add Mike Gent’s
“Stuck on Leather Seats” and Pete Donnelly’s “I Need a Reason,”
among other new tunes, to the lengthy and growing canon of
great Figgs songs.
It All Comes Down
Livingston’s quartet have pulled off a rare balancing act.
The sociopolitical character of his songs are given such confidently
forceful flight by the taut guitar-bass-drums that the music
is not a backing track to broadsides, but its beating heart
equal. It’s also a well-known fact that if you don’t have
a good drummer you might as well stay home, and in Al Kash,
the Last Conspirators have a great one.
George Muscatello makes his bread playing jazz gigs around
town, but Angel Dust, his long-awaited debut album,
shows his affection for metal, Cuban classical composer Leo
Brouwer, and just about everything in between. It also features
a great cast of local jazz talent.
be remiss without mentioning the record that put our part
of upstate New York on the national map these last 12 months,
one blog post at a time. The heavy-touring Saratoga Springs
duo kicked off the year with their debut album being released
by indie heavyweight Barsuk. As 2010 came to a close, their
single “Mouthful of Diamonds” was chosen as “Jam of the Week”
by rapper Big Boi. More like jam of the year, we say.
returning to his power-pop roots, singer-songwriter Rob Skane
made the album of his career, at least so far. Phantom
Power Trip overflows with short, sharp power-pop gems
like “I Waited” and “Would You Be There,” upbeat but reflective
songs that can stand alongside those of Skane’s power-pop