By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By Derek Askey
Name: Jason P. Woodbury
Most played song on my iTunes: "Shangri-La" by M. Ward
Favorite single of 2010: "Round and Round" by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Favorite album of 1970: Velvet Underground's Loaded
1. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest — Before their latest album, Halcyon Digest, I didn't consider myself a Deerhunter fan. All my buddies were huge into the group, but their records left me cold. Their last full length, Microcastle, had some sounds I enjoyed, but it reminded me solidly of Christian shoegazer band Starflyer 59's Gold, and what's the use of a record that reminds you of a record you'd rather listen to? Halcyon Digest was another matter entirely. Tracks like "Helicopter," "Desire Lines," and "Coronado" grabbed hold of me, and the album has scarcely left my turntable since. Retrofitting soft psych and '60s pop into garage rock and indie motifs, Deerhunter reminded me that being proved wrong can sound like the best thing going.
2. Kelley Stotlz: For Dreamers — Careening wildly from full-tilt party rock to tuneful power pop, Kelley Stotlz's For Dreamers charmingly blends ELO pomp, Kinks riffs, Beach Boys grandeur, and the melodic intimacy of Nick Drake. Never given to thuggish posturing, Stotlz instead uses the pent-up energy of garage rock to color his sweet observations on love.
3. Strange Boys: Be Brave — Strange Boys frontman Ryan Sambol has one of those voices: a nasal inflection that doesn't exclude him from comparisons to a young Dylan. Like Highway 61 Revisited, the Strange Boys strut and stammer with blues and R&B abandon. I don't think I DJed a single night this year without spinning their damaged, saxophone-laden track "Be Brave." It never failed to get asses moving.
4. Destruction Unit: Eclipse — Destruction Unit main man Ryan Rousseau has got to be one of the most artistically fidgety guys in the Valley. Seemingly minutes after issuing Earthmen & Strangers' instantly classic 45 "Painter" b/w "Space on Our Hands," he switched gears and reconfigured Destruction Unit, a band that once included the late, great Jay Reatard. Whereas older Unit recordings displayed synth-thrash, Eclipse embraces Krautrock, psychedelic leanings, and even spacebound dub (in the album's closer, "Yuman Dance").
5. Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here — Touted as Scott-Heron's comeback record after a lengthy stretch in prison for drug charges, I'm New Here finds Scott-Heron utterly naked to his grief, triumphs, and blues. The record also served as a poignant reminder of Scott-Heron's importance to modern hip-hop: After Kanye sampled him, he sampled Kanye and then added needed levity to Ye's own tragic and brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
6. Fresh & Onlys: Play It Strange — San Franciscans Fresh & Onlys open their album with a song called "Summer of Love," and it serves as a flower-punk mission statement, with reverb-heavy spaghetti Western guitars, fluttering percussion, and Doors-style organ lending beautiful grace to their scrappy rock.
7. Moon Duo: Escape — A side project of Ripley Johnson of Wooden Shjips and Sanae Yamada, Moon Duo's Escape pulses like Suicide and grooves like Can, with infinitely fuzzed guitars and sexy keys stretching out in every direction at once in slow motion.
8. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today — "Round and Round" is my favorite song of the year, and I think my second favorite may be "Can't Hear My Eyes." Ariel Pink is capable of making cheese sound intensely genuine, and Before Today is his opus, with odes to Toto, Michael Jackson, and James Brown — all gloriously overblown.
9. The Black Keys: Brothers — Call me crazy, but I think the best thing that ever happened to The Black Keys was the duo getting sick of sounding like two dudes playing guitar and drums. Lush songs like "Unknown Brother" and the band's dead-on take on Jerry Butler's "Never Gonna Give You Up" showcase the band's soul side, while "Howlin' for You" blasts out a nasty slice of glam funk.
10. Vigils: Full of Wild Energy & Endless Potential — Vigils' lone album before their breakup this year serves as a powerful reminder of how great melodic pop-punk can be. Part of the Valley scene that includes likeminded intelligent punk bands like Rumspringer and Good Men Die Like Dogs, Vigils blasted Lookout-style pop that, at its best moments, was undeniably poetic, as on "Riggs Road," in which singer Tristan Jemsek asks, "Do you remember that night in the desert / Screaming naked at our city under stars?"
Name: Mike R. Meyer
Most played song on my iTunes: "Factory" by Band of Horses
Best concert I saw in 2010: A Perfect Circle at Marquee Theatre
Favorite album of 1970: (tie) Black Sabbath's Black Sabbath and Paranoid (I refuse to choose between the two)
1. The Ocean: Heliocentric/Anthropocentric — Okay, so my pick for album of the year is actually two albums, but The Ocean's Heliocentric (released in April) and Anthropocentric (released in November) are clearly intended to be two halves of a greater whole. The German progressive metal collective has created a sweeping, 100-minute epic that serves as an all-encompassing critique of Christianity, from its origins to the present day. Along the way, The Ocean name-drops Ptolemy, Nietzsche, and Darwin. It all could easily add up to a bunch of pretentious tripe, if the music weren't incredible. Influenced as much by Isis' soft/loud post-metal dynamics as Muse's melodic neo-prog, The Ocean deliver post-hardcore breakdowns and piano-driven balladry with equal precision. This is music that requires you to think (and maybe even read). It's a long, demanding journey, but one that's absolutely worth taking.
2. Band of Horses: Infinite Arms — One of my biggest regrets as a music journalist was the exclusion of Band of Horses' last album, Cease to Begin, from my Top 10 of 2007, because I didn't hear it until 2008. In retrospect, not only was it the best album of 2007, but, for my money, the best album of the past decade. With Infinite Arms, BoH has created a follow-up that may not attain the perfection of its predecessor, but is still one of the year's best offerings.
3. Fen: Trails Out of Gloom — Another foreign prog-rock album, Fen's Trails Out of Gloom is more accessible than The Ocean's discs but still doesn't skimp on the bombast. The Vancouver-based band writes catchy, melodic prog, à la Porcupine Tree, highlighted by singer/guitarist Doug Harrison's haunting falsetto. Throughout Trails, Fen sounds like a focused, less spastic version of The Mars Volta. Less coke, more weed, perhaps?
4. Zoroaster: Matador — Atlanta's Zoroaster take another quantum leap forward with their third album, Matador, injecting the straightforward doom metal of their previous work with healthy doses of melodicism and psychedelia.
5. Kylesa: Spiral Shadow — Maybe it's something in the water, but the state of Georgia is producing great metal bands at an alarming rate. Mastodon and Baroness had two of last year's most acclaimed releases, and the trend continues this year with Zoroaster and Savannah's Kylesa. With three vocalists and two drummers, Spiral Shadow is this year's headphone masterpiece.
6. Atmosphere: To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy — Kanye West may have trouble walking these days with Rolling Stone swinging from one nut and Spin lovingly clinging to the other, but all the praise heaped on hip-hop's golden boy could just as easily apply to Minneapolis indie-rap godfathers Atmosphere. After all, Slug was doing the whole introspective self-examination thing long before Kanye spit it through the wire. To All My Friends is Atmosphere's second release to feature live instrumentation, and they've clearly jelled as a band, ranging from up-tempo funk to lo-fi trip-hop. The best part? There's no nine-minute celebration of douchebaggery.
7. The Sword: Warp Riders — The Sword bounce back from their sophomore slump with improved vocals and catchier hooks on their sci-fi stoner-rock opus, Warp Riders.
8. Torche: Songs for Singles — Songs for Singles is the aural equivalent of a Fun Size Snickers bar; you barely have time to appreciate its sugary deliciousness before it's all over. Still, it's hard to think of a better way to spend 20 minutes than listening to Torche's latest.
9. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — I loved it. It was much better than Cats. I'm going to see it again and again.
10. The Flaming Lips: The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon — It was digitally released on December 22, 2009, well after most critics had put their "Best of '09" lists together. It'll probably get overlooked this year too, which is a shame. The Flaming Lips et al. make the Pink Floyd classic their own, thanks to a keen sense for when to stay true to the original material or veer wildly off course. It's a fascinating new take on a familiar favorite.
Name: Martin Cizmar
Most played song on my iTunes: "Won't Be Home" by Old 97's
Best concert I saw in 2010: Sufjan Stevens at Mesa Arts Center
Favorite single of 2010: "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga
Favorite album of 1970: The Grateful Dead's American Beauty
1. Band of Horses: Infinite Arms — It's my policy to list only albums I actually enjoyed on my Best of the Year list and to present them ordered roughly according to how frequently and eagerly I listened to them. This year belonged to Band of Horses' Infinite Arms, a record that may just as well have melted into my car's CD player in mid-May for all the time it spent there.
The car is a perfect place for this record, actually. Written in part in a cabin near the Canada-Minnesota border, this country-flecked indie-rock masterpiece is abidingly naturalistic, evoking serene scenes viewed through a pane of safety glass on a comfortably silent car ride into the countryside.
Infinite Arms is as effortless as indie rock comes, and certainly not overly ambitious in any way, so I can understand why it was left off a lot of critics' lists. Still, it makes me sublimely happy.
2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs — The third record from Arcade Fire is broadly ambitious and almost without fault, beginning with the title track opener. Win Butler sings about trying to reconcile the nostalgic comforts of his suburban Houston upbringing, the values he espoused as a hipster 20-something in Montreal, and the longing for parenthood that comes with his budding maturity.
On the second song, "Ready to Start," Butler starts grinding his ax with the expectations of the people who made him, singing, "If the businessmen drink my blood / Like the kids in art school said they would / Then I guess I'll just begin again." Here's hoping Arcade Fire does just that — taking their talents to another level yet, perhaps even outgrowing their dedicated base of bloggers in the process of creating a timeless classic with the sort of commercial appeal we'd expect from U2 or R.E.M.
Actually, The Suburbs might be it.
3. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz — Sufjan's incredibly ambitious electro-prog departure from the banjo-plucked folk of his critically acclaimed early work was both stunning and challenging. Adz has some miscues — the much-discussed 25-minute opus "Impossible Soul" chief among them — but the overall product is worthy of high praise.
4. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening — The dance-punk genre is losing some of its luster, but you'd never know it to hear the latest from James Murphy's LCD Soundsystem project. Calling This Is Happening a "dance" record is a little odd, actually, since it's mostly too slow for that — but it's hard to peg it elsewhere.
5. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — Kanye West has released five classic albums. If anyone lets what he says about George Bush or Taylor Swift dull their appreciation for his work, they're only cheating themselves.
6. Toubab Krewe: TK2 — Count this as my "weird" pick. Toubab Krewe is a North Carolina band that does instrumental rock fusing the music of the American South with that of West Africa. The result is a jammy mishmash of contrasting string sounds that's even better live than on record. TK2 is the sort of album that's hard to tire of, layered densely enough to offer something new every time you spin it.
7. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: The Brutalist Bricks — Nothing super-new here — just thinking-man's punk offered from an always sincere, often funny, and almost self-consciously politically aware 40-year-old from Indiana.
8. Girl Talk, All Day — Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, is doing something better than anyone has ever done it before. Well, anyone besides his younger self. His latest sound collage, All Day, isn't quite as amazing as Feed the Animals, my top album of 2008, but it's pretty damned good.
9. Weezer, Pinkerton (Deluxe Reissue) — I know some people will bitch about the inclusion of a reissue on a list of the best albums of the year — I'm pretty sure I've never done it before — but the deluxe Pinkerton reissue earns its place. The original 1996 album is obviously a touchstone, but it's the additional album's worth of extra tracks that put this album in my top 10 of 2010.
10. Best Coast: Crazy for You — Another year of great releases from Los Angeles lo-fi bands — Wavves, No Age — with no commercial breakthrough in sight. Bethany Cosentino's delightfully hazy debut, which has just a few songs about some boy she may or may not "like" just a little was the best of the bunch this year.
Name: Chris Hansen Orf
Most played song on my iTunes: "Near You" by Teenage Fanclub
Best concert I saw in 2010: Merle Haggard at Mesa Arts Center
Favorite single of 2010: "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo Green
1. Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song — Country music fans holding out for Nashville's redemption have their torchbearer in biker-bearded Jamey Johnson, who against all Nashville conventions put out a two-disc collection of mostly self-penned and co-written tunes that hark back to the 1970s golden age of outlaw country. The Guitar Song is not only the best country album of 2010, it's the best country album of the decade. It's a sprawling, bluesy, traditional, pedal steel-laden "fuck you" to contemporary pop/country. And it went gold, too, proving that the public will buy an honest-to-God country album.
2. Marty Stuart: Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions) — Perhaps more than any other contemporary country artist, Marty Stuart respects country music's traditions — in addition to being a shit-hot guitarist and a great singer/songwriter, Stuart is also a published country music journalist and historian. Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions) is a love letter to the genre, a jambalaya of Bakersfield twang, bluegrass, rockabilly and heartbreak ballads.
3. Merle Haggard: I Am What I Am — Merle Haggard is simply the greatest country artist to ever breathe. He has a bigger body of work than Hank Williams, a longer career than Buck Owens or Johnny Cash, and he has remained true to himself throughout country's tectonic shifts through the Nashville Sound and today's current Swiftian country pop.
4. Drive-By Truckers: Big To-Do — Led by singer/songwriters Patterson Hood (son of Muscle Shoals studio legend David Hood) and Mike Cooley (grandson of '40s and '50s country legend and wife-murderer Spade Cooley), Drive-By Truckers' "Neil Young meets Lynyrd Skynyrd" thrash-and-bash twang comes closer to carrying on Uncle Tupelo's No Depression-era country punk blueprint than other band in the genre.
5. Darrell Scott: A Crooked Road — If you listen to contemporary country radio, you've heard some Darrell Scott songs ("Long Time Gone" by the Dixie Chicks and Travis Tritt's "It's a Great Day to Be Alive"), but you've probably never heard Scott singing them. For "A Crooked Road," Scott recorded the double-disc set in his home studio playing every instrument himself. The result is a work of stunning lyrical and acoustic beauty.
6. Whitey Morgan and the 78's: Whitey Morgan and the 78's — These Michigan-based honky-tonkers are a rough-and-tumble bunch whose barroom twang would not have sounded out of place at legendary beer and blood dive The Blackboard in Bakersfield, circa 1965. A little bit Waylon and a little bit Haggard, this is honky-tonk at its best.
7. Dierks Bentley: Up on the Ridge — Hometown hero Dierks Bentley has sold millions of records and has plenty of country hits, so why record an acoustic bluegrass album and risk alienating his fan base? Because he can. You won't see Kenny Chesney or Trace Adkins attempt something like this — they don't have the chops to pull it off.
8. Old 97's: The Grand Theatre Volume One — After a decade of album misfires and singer/songwriter Rhett Miller's focusing on a rock solo career, The Old 97's have made their best album since 1997's classic Too Far to Care.
9. The Secret Sisters: The Secret Sisters — Produced by roots music icon T-Bone Burnett, Alabamans Lydia and Laura Rogers,, sing pure country harmonies as well as any siblings this side of The Louvin Brothers on their retro-country debut disc.
10. The SteelDrivers: Reckless — Eschewing the drawn-out hippie jams of "newgrass" acts such as Yonder Mountain String Band, The SteelDrivers' compact neo-traditionalist bluegrass song structures owe a debt to both Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers.
Name: Michael Lopez
Most played song on my iTunes: "The Bears Are Coming" by Late of the Pier
Best concert I saw in 2010: Caribou at the Clubhouse
My favorite single of 2010: "Tin Man" by Future Islands
My favorite album of 1970: The Stooges' Fun House
1. Caribou: Swim — A true number one album (and if not the entire album, then one select song) stands out on its very first listen. Swim has that indelible standout quality, thanks in part to its transcendent lead single and first track "Odessa." Those lukewarm about Dan Snaith's music in the past — myself included — were instantly hooked the first time "Odessa" came out of their speakers. Swim is Snaith's most club-worthy album to date, yet it embodies a complex narrative that finds its brilliant crux with the hauntingly melodic closing track, "Jamelia."
2. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest — Halcyon Digest may be an album appreciated best while listening to it as you're doing something. Though you may initially marginalize the album, further spins reveal a record that demands one's full attention — and there's no better example of this than the song "Helicopter." It starts off innocently enough, but once the chorus kicks in, there may be no more captivatingly sublime moment from this year.
3. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening — James Murphy's third LCD Soundsystem album is his most complete work to date. Save the confusing lead single "Drunk Girls," This Is Happening throws right hook after right hook of heavyweight dance-punk blows. The slow tease of "Dance Yrslf Clean" meshes into the Talking Heads-esque "All I Want," while all nine minutes of "You Wanted a Hit" cement the album's legacy.
4. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — There is no doubt that West is an insufferable ass. He has, however, more than shut my bitching up with his fifth album. Good music — regardless of genre and egos — is good music. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy puts to rest all the trepidation toward West as a person and focuses on the man's capacity to produce overarching music that even the most curmudgeonly former fans of West can enjoy.
5. Beach House: Teen Dream — Teen Dream is one of those albums that is solid from start to finish. Victoria Legrand's vocals are equally as airy and cherubic on every single song. Her vocal laments/warnings on the latter half of "Better Times" are the most fun I've had listening to any album this year.
6. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today — Endearingly off-center, Before Today finds Ariel Pink at his most '80s pop-nostalgic. Weirdness abounds throughout the album, yet it's the band's polish that propels the songs into such charming, eccentric offerings.
7. Sufjan Steven: The Age of Adz — From the moment Stevens announced his art-inspired concept album, The Age of Adz was destined to become an unorthodox album. It's through that eccentricity that Adz truly shines, though, with Stevens putting down the goddamn banjo and embracing the synthesizer to produce some of his most inspired, grandiose-for-the-sake-of-being-grandiose work to date.
8. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma — FlyLo managed to outdo himself with Cosmogramma — which is really saying something, since many felt his last album, Los Angeles, was his crowning achievement. Tracks like "Do the Astral Plane" have indescribably vivid acid jazz overtones, thrown in with FlyLo's trademark synths. The mellower quality present on Cosmogramma only helps solidify its place amongst the year's best.
9. Sleigh Bells: Treats — Stripped down and chock-full of ingenuity, Sleigh Bells garnered plenty of hype throughout the year, and justifiably so. Their mix of Derek E. Miller's gnarly guitars and Alexis Krauss' "fuck you" vocals shows how you can create a unique sound with the barest of equipment. Songs like "Infinity Guitars" and "Treats" are loud for loud's sake, but the duo crafts their music with an insane amount of polish and originality.
10. Menomena: Mines — It's not enough to be an indie band these days — there has to be substance along with the beards and ironic haircuts, perhaps even a sax or two. Menomena show off their astuteness on Mines, from the dark, harmonic "Five Little Rooms" to the meandering "Tithe," the payoff of which is one of the more sincere offerings of the year.
Name: Nicki Escudero
Most played song on my iTunes: "Shake Tramp" by Marianas Trench
Best concert I saw in 2010: Gorillaz at Coachella
Favorite single of 2010: "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars
Favorite album of 1970: Elton John's Elton John
1. Girl Talk: All Day — I've always been a fan of Girl Talk, but All Day, with the abundance of pop music in its mixes, really blew me away. There is everything from Lady Gaga to Miley Cyrus to Kesha to Willow Smith, and while I don't necessarily think they're the most talented artists out there, it was nice that the disc included relevant artists on the album.
2. Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops and Hooligans — Bruno Mars is my pick as the most impressive singer to hit the scene in 2010. He's charming, an amazing songwriter (he co-wrote Cee Lo's "Fuck You"), he can hit notes many pop singers can't, and he's on-point in concert. I love that his debut album drew from all kinds of influences — reggae, R&B, pop, and, of course, doo-wop.
3. Never Shout Never: Harmony — Never Shout Never singer-songwriter Christofer Drew freaked a lot of his fans out by announcing he's done with the indie-pop sound and is moving on to more rock melodies and a new name — Christofer Drew and the Shout. Harmony supposedly will be NSN's last album, and its songs get real personal: Drew sings about being cheated on, breaking up with someone, and approaching sell-out status.
4. My Chemical Romance: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys — My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade is one of my favorite albums of all time, so Danger Days had the potential to be a let-down. They took their music in an even more fun direction on this album, though, adding some dancey melodies in addition to their signature sing-along choruses.
5. Marianas Trench: Masterpiece Theatre — The sophomore album by the best Canadian band you've never heard of really is a grand effort, with orchestras on several tracks and an epic seven-minute cut, "Masterpiece Theatre III," that samples lyrics from MT's previous tracks. Singer Josh Ramsay pushed himself vocally on this album, and the lyrics were very heartfelt and meaningful — not your typical pop-punk music.
6. The Pretty Reckless: The Pretty Reckless EP — Sadly, this three-song EP is the only music out right now by the Taylor Momsen-fronted The Pretty Reckless (their full-length is available in England.) It's a small but a powerful release, with each song having such a distinct style that it's making me really excited for the full-length. And you also get to listen to a 16-year-old sing about getting it on with a priest. Pretty awesome.
7. Gorillaz: Plastic Beach — Gorillaz just continue to impress with their wide variety of musical styles and A-list cameos. Snoop Dogg does the intro for this album, and there's a track about super-fast jellyfish—what more could you ask for? Gorillaz' performance at Coachella this year was also my favorite concert of the year, and their live show at Comerica Theatre was stellar, too.
8. The Spill Canvas: Formalities — The Spill Canvas singer Nick Thomas is a master at mixing emotionally charged, relationship-focused lyrics with super-catchy melodies that you just want to groove to. Formalities also has three cool acoustic jams on it, proving Thomas could definitely go the singer-songwriter route if his band ever breaks up.
9. Neon Trees, Habits — You probably first heard Neon Trees on that commercial for Las Vegas with their Julian Casablancas-like "Animal." Their debut full-length album is an '80s New Wave-inspired, upbeat disc with some dark and deep moments, too. Singer Tyler Glenn's voice has a hypnotic quality that draws you in and is so smooth.
10. Kesha, Cannibal — Kesha smartly released this EP after her debut album, Animal, blew up, and it's in the same vein melodically but goes a little deeper lyrically. She sings about her newfound fame on "Crazy Beautiful Life," and while she gets a little brash while talking about a "dude with a vag" on "Grow a Pear," at least she's attempting to have a sense of humor.