10. The New Pornographers – Together
Few records in our house got as many spins this year as this one. A.C. Newman’s crew hit their stride before this record, but have shown they can sustain the pace with their latest. The on stage chemistry persists too as evidenced by their performance this summer at the Variety Playhouse. There might not be a bad track on this record. Listen to “Crash Years”, “Silver Dollar Jenny” or “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco.”
9. Old 97′s – The Grand Theatre Volume One
There were two “comeback” albums contending for this list. The other – Superchunk’s Majesty Shredding – is already on Alex’s list and will grace many others before the year end. It’s a well deserved honor. Instead, I prefer to promote the strongest Old 97′s (or Rhett Miller) record in the last ten years into the top 10. Satellite Rides was one of my favorite records of the first decade of this century and The Grande Theatre follows directly in its footsteps almost as if the intervening nine years hadn’t happened. If you were a fan of these Austin boys back then and have always hoped that Rhett & Murray would find their way again – well, they have.
8. The Roots – How I Got Over
I stopped listening to Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne, even B.O.B., and all that other ego-centric, hey look at me, hip-hop a long time ago. This year I had finally given up on even trying to give anybody in the genre the “courtesy” listen. Fortunately, I didn’t skip The Roots. My Yankee Rose pointed this one out to me and I am glad she did. ?uestlove and his crew have delivered the only Monsters of Folk and Joanna Newsome songs I have ever wanted to listen to more than once. The record represents what modern urban music can be in the hands of thoughtful and truly creative artists. This is the kind of record I hope that Janelle Monáe ultimately creates to accompany her fantastic live shows.
The Roots – Dear God 2.0
7. Mynabirds – What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
I don’t know exactly what it is about Luara Burhenn’s voice that captures me, but it does. It did it on the very first track I heard – “Numbers Don’t Lie.” Not just her singing voice either. Her lyrical voice ranges from reflective and heartfelt (“What We Gained in the Fire”) to clever and honest (“Let the Record Go”). This record has the energy, authenticity and hooks to keep me coming back for more. It moved into this list quickly and still may be climbing.
6. The Black Keys – Brothers
This is record occupies a mandatory slot on the top ten list this year. I don’t know how many times I have used the phrase (that I admittedly borrowed) “A band at the peak of its powers” to describe the new Black Keys record. It would be a little disingenuous of me to not include Brothers among my favorite records of the year. This Akron duo have fully transcended what might have once been described as the novelty of their two piece, guitar/drum sound. This might not be their best record ever, it is just their best record so far. The fuller arrangements that started with Attack & Release have taken a great step forward with Brothers. Listen to “Tighten Up” or “Everlasting Light” or anything else on this record and you should see what I mean.
5. Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song
Classic country, old country, real country, what ever you want to call it, is what I grew up on. It holds a dear spot in my musical heart and it is increasingly hard to find. Former stalwarts like Dwight Yaokam and Willie Nelson have disappointed in recent years. Johnny is dead and George (Jones, that is) isn’t recording. Fortunately, Jamey Johnson stepped up to the mic. This double record received a fair amount of hype and I expected to be disappointed. To the contrary, I was blown away. This is the best country music record I have heard in years. If you have the least bit of interest in authentic American country music you should buy this record. You should buy it today.
4. Luna Versus You
Is this the perfect pop album? No. Is it the best pop album you haven’t heard this year? Absolutely. The maned man behind Luna Versus You has one of the fullest, most commanding voices you have ever heard on a song that can make you (and your seven year old) bounce your head in cadence. Not triple tracked. Not autotuned. Straight vocal power. This is what pop music once was and I miss it. For those of you familiar with the Beach Boys records not called Pet Sounds this might make some sense. The songs stand on their own and each has meaning beyond far beyond its easy hook. Listen to “The Greater Good” or consider whether we have lost our way when we can’t see the constellations anymore with “Lights Out Lovers”, then turn up the stereo and dance.
Luna Versus You – Lights Out Lovers
3. Josh Ritter – So Runs The World Away
Josh Ritter is the finest songwriter in America today. He is a story teller in the grand tradition of none other than Robert Allen Zimmerman. He departs from the all too tiresome singer-songwriter paradigm by almost exclusively writing songs that are not whiny musings about his own [insert short-coming here]. He taps into literature, history, and mythology to craft tales of characters and circumstances that each seem to have the potential of a novel or screenplay. He references folklore, religion and science the way so many singer-songwriters tap into me, myself and I. He has surrounded himself with a broadly talented ensemble in the Royal City Band and has made another outstanding record. Listen to “The Curse” or “Another New World” or “Ratting Locks” and please tell me you can’t feel it.
2. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
I’m surprised that I haven’t seen the phrase art rock associated with this album. Despite the almost universal reasons for its wide acclaim – literary and historical references, transcendent themes of alienation, sheer ambition – this record most often is dropped into the vague category of New Jersey punk. This album is a far greater artistic statement than anything by art-punks Les Savy Fav or Japandroids – who both put out some good music this year. Listen the to the last sound of the album cut of “A More Perfect Union”; the truncated last syllable of the spoken line “I will be heard” is a statement in itself. Without referencing the CIA and the United Nations, it is more political than Ted Leo’s fine new album. Please tell me that the single sentence that is the sole lyric of the second track is not political: “The enemy is everywhere but nobody seems to know or care that the enemy is everywhere.” Keep listening and ponder the lines “I need an exit strategy/down in North Carolina I could have been a productive member of society” from “Theme from Cheers.” Maybe the critics can’t swallow the obligatory Springsteen reference or couplets about Keystone Light and a kegger on Friday night and still think art rock. I can. And I do. This is not my number one record of the year, but it is the most ambitious musical project of the year. And it delivers.
The world needs to know that Atlanta has more than one musical act whose work isn’t derivative or borrowed. Bradford Cox is one and he may the Atlanta music scene’s MVP of 2010. Cox and his Deerhunter project have nurtured their always artistic output into a beautifully accessible package with their latest album. Oryx and Crake, however, have done it with their first.
I was floored the first time I heard Ryan and his collective play the Earl many months ago and I hounded him for tracks for some time. Though I did get an early of mix of “Pretty How Towns” out of him, I understood later why he held his music so closely. He knew he could make it great and he did. The talent of this band is not only in the strength of the songwriting but the ability to record a complex album with enough space in the production that you can hear the music. Many purveyors of the orchestral pop movement create records with soaring vocals and rising strings that in the end sound like a sonic sandwich. That is not the case here.
This is not just a technical feat though. The lyrics of songs like “Bed Death” and “I Could Be Anyone Anymore” should move you. The hook of “Pretty How Towns” should grab you. The soaring climax and descending strings of “Deep Sea Diver” are simply amazing. Captivating.
This record is ambitious, well-writen, and well-executed. This was my top choice for record of the year a long time time ago. It still is.
Oryx and Crake – Fun Funeral