LeBron James may have taken his talents to Miami, but there was no shortage of musical ability coming out of Ohio in 2010. Akron’s The Black Keys put out their sweatiest album to date, a lo-fi masterpiece that finally, finally, got them the mainstream attention they deserved. The licks on “Sinister Kid” would have made Duane Allman proud, while “Ten Cent Pistol” sounds like something Ennio Morricone would have worked up in a dope-infused haze. And that doesn’t even cover “Everlasting Light,” “Tighten Up,” and “Howlin’ For You,” which front-load Brothers and bathe the ears with sonic, sweaty goodness. Did I mention this album is sweaty?
Yo Kanye, I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but while you were going on and on about how hard it is to be you on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Cleveland’s Kid Cudi was dropping the best hip-hop album of 2010. Cudder’s Man on the Man II is loaded with dark, futuristic beats and personal, introspective lyrics that come across as genuine, rather than as the ramblings of a delusional headcase (Nas flow, Yeezy? Fuck right off). Man on the Moon II is proof that the album is not in fact dead. Turn off the lights, lie down on the floor, and let this record take you to a different atmosphere.
Sigh No More-Mumford & Sons
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-Kanye West
Technically, Sigh No More is a 2009 release, but since it didn’t hit North America until 2010, it’s on my list. I refused to like this band at first, seeing them as nothing more than an English rip-off of the Avett Brothers, but I grew to love them, and this album. And, as much as I just crapped all over My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I have to admit that its creator might be a musical genius. An R. Kelly-like genius, but a genius nonetheless. I don’t care at all for the lyrics on the album, but I can’t deny that the beats are absolutely sick. “Power” is probably the best song of the year (Cee Lo’s “Fuck You” and “Howlin’ For You” being my other choices), and the RZA-produced “Dark Fantasy” is an instant head-bobber. Put me down as one of those in favour of banishing Nicki Minaj to a distant galaxy, however.
American Slang-The Gaslight Anthem
Come Around Sundown-Kings of Leon
Two albums from two of my favorite bands, and both took a long time for me to enjoy. Both bands decided to confound expectations with their 2010 releases. The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon abandoned the literary references and lyrical pathos that had tied the band so closely to the music of Bruce Springsteen, while KoL attempted to return to the southern sound that defined their pre-Stadium Rock Gods status. Neither was completely successful, as anyone listening to “The Diamond Church Street Choir” or “The End” can attest to, but ultimately it didn’t matter. There are worse things to be associated with than The Boss and the Jersey Shore Sound, and the Followill brothers haven’t lost their voices or their rhythm. My expectations for both these records were far too high, but once I gave them time to saturate and become their own entities, rather than what I wanted them to be, I learned to love them (for a delicious treat, check out Cee Lo and his band Scarlet Fever doing a cover of KoL’s “Radioactive”).
Preservation: An Album To Benefit Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Band-The Preservation Hall Band
The Promise-Bruce Springsteen
Neither of these records are a traditional release, but who cares? Preservation is exactly what it sounds like, musicians from New Orleans’ legendary jazz hall playing some of the great songs of the American musical canon. Yes, it’s essentially an album of covers, but throw in vocals from Jim James, Tom Waits, Paolo Nutini, Brandi Carlisle, Dr. John, Del McCoury, Merle Haggard, Ani DiFranco, Richie Havens, Steve Earle and The Blind Boys of Alabama, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a record.
The songs from The Promise are over 30 years old, recorded as part of the original Darkness On The Edge of Town sessions. Darkness was released in 1978 (featuring only 10 tracks), but many of the songs from the three-year long recording sessions were never officially released. Springsteen’s high standards and belief that many of the songs sounded too much like rip-offs of other sounds prevented that from happening. Songs like “Fire” and “Because The Night” were given to other musicians (The Pointer Sisters and Patti Smith), but it wasn’t until 2010 that The Promise finally collected those, and other songs, into a 21-song double album. As both Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt have noted, The Promise is not an album of outtakes. It is a fully-formed, distinct and complete album. Listening to The Promise is like finding the Christmas gift you always wanted up in your parents’ dusty attic. At first you’re pissed that they never put in the time and effort to find it and give it to you, but then you’re just happy that, at long last, you finally got your hands on it. Grateful is the word I’m looking for.
I had lots of other albums that could have made the final two slots, so rather than picking two and leaving a bunch of others behind, I’ve decided to just list them all.
Dear Companion-Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore
The Lady Killer-Cee Lo Green
Good Things-Aloe Blacc
B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray- B.o.B.
The Wild Hunt-The Tallest Man on Earth
Sometimes The Blues is Just a Passing Bird (EP)-The Tallest Man on Earth
Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty-Big Boi
Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening-Aziz Ansari
The Brothers of Chico Dusty-Wick-it the Instigator
Best Songs of 2010
Fuck You-Cee Lo Green
Scott Mescudi Vs. The World-Kid Cudi (feat. Cee Lo Green)
Howlin’ For You-The Black Keys
Beach Side-Kings Of Leon
The Diamond Church Street Choir-The Gaslight Anthem
Ain’t Good Enough For You-Bruce Springsteen
Down By The Water-The Decemberists
Angel Dance-Robert Plant
Only a Song-Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore
The Dreamer-The Tallest Man On Earth
Nobody Gets Me But You-Spoon
The High Road-Broken Bells
The Cave-Mumford & Sons
I Will Remain-Matthew and the Atlas
One More Night in Brooklyn-Justin Townes Earle
St. James Infirmary-Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Yim Yames
It Ain’t My Fault-Gulf Aid All-Stars (feat. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Mos Def, Lenny Kravitz, & Trombone Shorty)
Dear God 2.0-The Roots (feat. Jim James, Monsters Of Folk)
I Need A Dollar-Aloe Blacc
Bonus Track: Everlasting Shine Blockaz-The Black Keys/Big Boi
American Slang-The Gaslight Anthem
Sinister Kid-The Black Keys
Infinity Guitar-Sleigh Bells
Loving You Is Killing Me-Aloe Blacc
Hard Times-John Legend & The Roots
The Fire-The Roots (feat. John Legend)
Bright Lights Bigger City-Cee Lo Green
Tightrope -Janelle Monáe (feat. Big Boi)
Follow Us-Big Boi (feat. Vonnegutt)
Don’t Let Me Fall- B.o.B
Dark Fantasy-Kanye West
White Sky-Vampire Weekend
Try-Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore
The Wild Hunt-The Tallest Man On Earth
Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing-Preservation Hall Jazz Band (feat. Tom Waits)
White Blank Page-Mumford & Sons
Like Rock & Roll And Radio-Ray Lamontagne And The Pariah Dogs
We Did It When We Were Young-The Gaslight Anthem
Bonus Track: Backup Pistol- The Black Keys/Big Boi
Bonus Track: Georgia-Band of Horses. Cee Lo covered Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” on The Lady Killer. Here Band of Horses return the favour with “Georgia,” the Cee Lo single released in July that (bizarrely) never actually made it onto The Lady Killer.