Monday, December 27, 2010

Top Albums of 2010: The 25 very best

Just glance at the top of my desk and you’ll see how much music is released in any given year.

Hundreds of CDs are piled in one corner, while a couple hundred more are in boxes on the floor. Even more are in some file cabinets.

But they’re not all great. Many aren’t even very good.

No matter what the year, some recordings stand out above all else. They’re the ones that make you dance, make you go to a show or make you feel something.

Here it is, the best albums from 2010:

10. Superchunk, "Majesty Shredding"

Since Superchunk put out the record “Here’s to Shutting Up” nearly 10 years ago, I was afraid that the group was taking its album title seriously. But this year’s news that the band was touring (through Omaha, no less) with a new record was good indeed. And this album from one of the rockingest of indie rock groups shows that they haven’t lost the touch. From the feedback on the first note of “Digging for Something” to Mac McCaughan’s high and catchy croon, to the chorus of “Everything at Once” (which didn’t leave my head for days), I hope the next album (and tour) doesn’t take another nine years.

9. The Hold Steady, “Heaven Is Whenever”

With “Heaven Is Whenever,” The Hold Steady delivered 10 more dude rock anthems perfect for listening to while swilling a couple cheap beers and jumping up and down in a sweaty crowd. This time, the power-chord rock group reflects on getting a little older: what it was like to live in the cool part of town (“the parts with all the bars and restaurants”), dating a younger chick (“You’re a beautiful girl and you’re a pretty good waitress”) and trying to get people to understand your rock ‘n’ roll problems (“Some writer’s by the fridge, said he didn’t make the gig.”)

8. It’s True, “It’s True”

It’s True was the band that everyone in Omaha was talking about, making it one of the year’s local success stories. Local shows were well-attended and the group got some buzz at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. It also dropped an album in April. Then, after being named one of the main stage acts at the Maha Music Festival, the group decided that gig would be its last. Still, the noise-rock group left a lasting impression with its self-titled, self-released album. The combo of ‘50s-pop doo-wop harmonies and Adam Hawkins’ ethereal voice singing “Don’t ask me if I still get lonely” on “Take This One From Me” gets me every time.

7. Kanye West, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

Where did this record come from? Fresh off of the mediocre album “808s & Heartbreaks,” as well as his well-publicized interruption at the MTV Video Music Awards, West made a record better than we thought he ever could. Good rhymes, great beats and some catchy hooks keep this very surprising album spinning in my CD player over and over.

6. Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, “Lonely Avenue”

Who knew Hornby (author of “High Fidelity”) was a songwriter, too? And a dang fine one at that. Folds, a talented musician and producer, took Hornby’s words and added music and voice to them. The result is a roller-coaster ride of classic pop music. Sad stuff in “Picture Window” (Hope … has no place in days like these”) is followed with semi-serious yet funny lyrics in “Levi Johnston’s Blues” (“I say mother-in-law, no, we ain’t getting married.”) Another unexpected triumph.

5. Tim Wildsmith, “Little Armor”

Tim Wildsmith proved that a guy whose name starts with C and rhymes with Honor Noberst isn’t the only talented songwriter in town. Wildsmith put his full songwriting talent – and his musical chops along with his band’s — into creating this record. The love he puts into these rock songs comes out in every tune. The songs are moving whether they’re performed by a full band or just by Wildsmith himself, and that’s good’s songwriting.

4. Titus Andronicus, “The Monitor”

With every song on this album, Titus Andronicus goes for epic. It’s like every loud, sweeping song you’ve ever heard crammed into one record. Oh, and it’s about the Civil War. They must be feeding something weird to the kids in Glen Rock, N.J., because I have no idea how these guys funneled that much energy into this album – and their live shows – and managed to stay standing.

3. Mumford & Sons, “Sigh No More”

When Marcus Mumford sings “It was not your fault but mine/I really (messed) it up this time” in the song “Little Lion Man,” you really feel for him. Because you’ve been there. And Mumford’s lyrical writing and the band’s acoustic, bluegrassy leanings really put the oomph in the songs. They’re at once toe-tapping and heartbreaking.

2. The Mynabirds, “What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood”

When Laura Burhenn set out to make a new album, she said she wanted to do something that was like Neil Young making a soul record. She accomplished at least that much, but also left the studio with quite an amazing recording. I’ve seen the Mynabirds live more times than I’ve seen any other band this year, a testament to the Burhenn’s voice, the band’s talent and the strength of these songs.

1. Frightened Rabbit, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks”

If you’re curious what it’s like to be an insecure, questioning, loving male in the 21st century, you should talk to Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks,” a season we’ve probably all lived through, is the band’s third effort and its best. The Scottish group’s album has the drive of a Coldplay record and the lyrical nuance of someone like Conor Oberst, who entertains you while still making you understand exactly what he’s trying to convey. When Hutchinson gets to “Nothing Like You,” a tune sang toward a former lover, you know just what he means (even if you’ve never lived it yourself) when he sings “She was not the cure for cancer/and all my questions still asked for answers/There is nothing like someone new/This girl, she was nothing like you.”


Those weren’t the only good albums released in 2010. The following 15 are those that were great, but didn’t quite fit in the top 10. They’re listed here in alphabetical order.

»Band of Horses, “Infinite Arms”

»The Black Keys, “Brothers”

»Blitzen Trapper, “Destroyer of the Void”

»Cee Lo Green, “The Lady Killer”

»Eminem, “Recovery”

»Everybody Was in the French Resistance...Now!, “Fixin’ the Charts, Vol. 1”

»Free Energy, “Stuck on Nothing”

»Girl Talk, “All Day”

»Jenny and Johnny, “I’m Having Fun Now”

»New Pornographers, “Together”

»Satchel Grande, “Dial M For Mustache”

»Sleigh Bells, “Treats”

»Spoon, “Transference”

»Tim Kasher, “The Game of Monogamy”

»Yeasayer, “Odd Blood”


  1. I'm sure you mean "Recovery" by Eminem, as "Relapse" is from 2009 and is super shitty.. probably shouldn't make your list if you can't get the album name correct.

  2. Yes, you are correct. That album was awful and I've corrected it to say "Recovery."


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