First Post of 2011 – Top Ten of 2010

NOTE: Sorry if the pictures take a while to load.  For some reason WordPress seems to be having trouble with the file size.  That has never happened before, and I find it very disappointing.

Thought I’d ring in the new year by remembering the music of the old one.  This was a GREAT year in music, and any ONE of my top ten would have been a #1 in almost ANY other year.  Several of the “also-rans” that didn’t make the top 10 would have been in the top 5 in any other year as well.  (I’ll do a whole post about the “also rans” tomorrow, by the way.  They’re so good they deserve mention even if they didn’t make the final cut.)  There was a WEALTH of stuff to choose from and I had trouble limiting it to only ten.  In fact, I had SO MUCH trouble limiting it that for the first time EVER on my list, there are 11, with #10 being a tie between two records.  

With no further ado…here they are.  My top ten records of 2010!

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10. [TIE] – Henry Clay People – “Somewhere on the Golden Coast” / Old 97’s – “The Grand Theatre”

  • Yep.  A tie.  First time ever for a tie.  At least I’m not one of those idiots who puts a tie at #5 or something like that.  I’m at least admitting that I COULD have limited it to only 10.  But I would have felt bad eliminating either of these records from the list.
  • To begin with, the Henry Clay People’s “Somewhere on the Golden Coast” is a great record.  I saw them a couple of months ago, opening for the Drive-By Truckers, and really enjoyed their set.  The record is a lot of fun and has a jangly punk edge to it while still managing to stay on the “rock” side of the fence.  My only criticism of it is that I think the vocals could have been brought up in the mix a little bit…but song to song, there’s nothing I don’t like.
  • The Old 97’s are always a good listen.  They’ve got a country edge with a rock and roll heart…and not in that horrible, insulting “Zac (Douchebag) Brown” way.  “The Grand Theatre” isn’t their strongest record…but it’s strong enough.  A lot of it is immediately catchy and fun, and some of it is moody and reflective in a way that only happens when a guy who knows how to write a country song writes one (looking at YOU, Murray! …and NOT at YOU, Zac!).

9. Punch Brothers – “Antifogmatic”

  • I’m new to the world of the Punch Brothers.  I saw them on David Letterman back in October performing with Steve Martin as a special guest.  (Steve’s got a little bit of a bluegrass career going now.  The Punch Brothers are not a comedy act.)  I liked the song they did so much, I ran out and bought the record the next day.  I think I’ve described them before as “what would happen if Kansas had any idea of what to do with a banjo.”  I stand by that.  It’s a sleepy listen in some places, but I welcome that.  For weeks after I bought “Antifogmatic” I woke up with one of the songs from the record stuck in my head.  So they accomplished everything they needed to.

8. Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”

  • I was very disappointed with Arcade Fire’s previous effort in “Neon Bible.”  Apparently I was alone in that…but I still don’t think it was a very good record, with the exception of the song “Intervention.”  But this year’s offering of “The Suburbs” made up for the previous disappointment.  Long-winded, sprawling epic pieces mixed with catchy little pop songs.  Felt like a return to the “Funeral” writing style, while embracing the meandering structure of “Neon Bible” in a GOOD way.  They hit the nail on the head with this one.  By the time I got to “Modern Man” (which is in 5/4 time, incidentally) on my first listen, I knew this was an instant add to the top ten.  I read somewhere that one of the music critics described his anticipation of this record by saying, “It’s like a new Beatles record is coming out.”  That guy needs to get out more—or at least re-listen to Sgt. Pepper.  But it’s still a good record, delusions aside.

7. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo”

  • I got into the BRMC because my brother wanted to go see them earlier this year and I was going to go with him.  We ended up not going (I think I was sick, but I don’t recall right now…I’m sure I mentioned it on the blog), but I did listen to “Howl,” “Baby 81,” and this latest offering “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” enough to know it was GOOD.  Of the stuff I’ve heard, this record is probably the band’s most accessible, while still maintaining the uniqueness that drew people to them in the first place.  Catchy, but dense.  Rock, but with a soft side.  Plus, they’ve got a girl in the band now.  So that’s cool.  (And on a side note, once again RIP to Michael Been from The Call, who is the father of BRMC’s Robert Levon Been.)

6. John Mellencamp – “No Better Than This”

  • Mellencamp has become something of a footnote in rock and roll history, with most people only really seeming to recall “Jack and Diane.”  And he seems to be fine with that.  🙂  “No Better Than This” doesn’t have anything on it that sounds like that.  “This” embraces Mellencamp’s fondness for when Sun Studios was king.  He even recorded a majority of the tracks there, using vintage recording equipment.  It shows.  This easily could’ve come out of a jam session between Jerry Lee and Elvis…and maybe Carl Perkins stopped by with Haggard in the backseat, just to mellow it out a little.  Packaged, as you see it above, in just a folded over plastic bag (yet still costing $16.99…wtf?), with a fairly sloppy piece of paper shoved inside serving a “liner notes,” this record celebrates the rawness of music, as it SHOULD be.  Mellencamp performed “Save Some time to Dream” at Farm Aid when it was in St. Louis, and I knew he had something good coming in this record.  I was right.  It’s great.  Probably his best work in YEARS.

5. The Drive-By Truckers – “The Big To-Do”

  • Okay.  Not their best record.  But how often can they release “Decoration Day?”  “The Big To-Do” is a solid record by one of the most solid bands working today.  Jewels like “After the Scene Dies” and “Drag the Lake Charlie” will be in the consciousness of every DBT fan for decades.  “Birthday Boy” and “This Fucking Job” will have you screaming for more every time.  And even my least favorite track on the record (which is also one of my least favorite tracks in DBT’s career—sorry) “The Wig He Made Her Wear” is a pretty good story, even if it lacks melody and smacks of over-effort.  So yeah…not the best thing they’ve ever done, but one of the best things anyone did this year.  Even when DBT releases a record that, for them, is just “okay,” it’s still top 10 material.  Even top 5.  🙂

4. The Black Keys – “Brothers”

  • When I first heard this record I thought it was dismissable.  Then I heard it again.  And again.  And now I don’t know WHAT I was thinking on that first listen!  Easily one of the best records of the year.  I bounced back and forth between putting this at #4, #3, and #2.  It ended up at #4, mostly because I’ve just listened to the top three more than I’ve listened to this one.  (Plus, the top three also have a special something to each of them that made them rise above the pack.)  “Brothers” brings back memories of classic R&B while still making sure your feet are planted in the 21st century.  And there’s only two guys in the band, and they produce awesome music.  So that’s cool too.  Maybe Dave and I will give that a shot.  😉

3. Rufus Wainwright – “All Days are Nights / Songs for Lulu”

  • Easily one of the ballsiest records I heard all year.  It’s just Rufus and his piano.  That’s a format that is almost BOUND to irritate pop critics.  But Rufus wrote such a dark, personal record in “All Days Are Nights / Songs for Lulu” that it’s virtually a middle finger to the critics, without ever feeling like it.  I don’t even MISS the other instruments.  This record allowed Rufus such an opportunity to shine with his amazing voice and equally amazing piano playing that any other instruments would ruin it.  It’s a very brave, personal, deep record, written in the struggle of knowing that his mother (Kate McGarrigle) was dying—being completed just days before her death.  Most of the tour has featured Rufus travelling with just his piano and no band, performing the record in its entirety alongside other songs from his catalogue.  And—suck it record execs—he’s been regularly selling out huge theatres, even playing a HIGHLY esteemed show at Carnegie Hall this year, and boasting an upcoming five-night stay at the Royal Opera House in July.  The songs are absolutely beautiful and the execution is one of the bravest things any performer can choose to do.  Rufus presented his songs naked to to the world.  They returned clothed in white.

2. The Hold Steady – “Heaven is Whenever”

  • The Hold Steady just keep getting better and better at what they do.  I don’t know that anyone else mixes the rawness of rock and roll with the sweet, soft grind of a slide on an acoustic guitar as well as they did on “Heaven is Whenever.”  Notably Southern in influence (as most things on this list seem to be), the sing-talked vocals bounce off rich keys, and screaming guitars in a way that’s just magical.  No track on this record is a miss.  “Soft in the Center” will be on my “awesome songs” playlist for YEARS.  “We Can Get Together” provides a lush, invigorating tale of what music can DO between two people.  “A Slight Discomfort” brings us into a epic-sounding, almost overwhelming realization of just why people pick up guitars and drumsticks in the first place.  The Hold Steady may be one of the best bands going today.  And this is certainly one of the best records anyone produced this year.

1. Shooter Jennings & Hierophant – “Black Ribbons”

  • There was no question.  The second I heard this record, I knew it would take the number one spot on my list this year.  Shooter Jennings BROKE with his country roots to deliver something really special with the concept-record, “Black Ribbons.”  Built on a foundation of political, musical, and personal intrigue, layered with cynicism and fun, fueled by anger and longing for change…and then there’s the music.  This is one of the few records I’ve heard in years that actually manages to capture the same thing in the music that it does in the lyrics.  Genre-defying?  You better believe it.  I don’t know HOW to classify this thing.  There’s standard rock.  There’s an acoustic ballad.  There’s hip-hop.  (And yes, even our old friend auto-tune makes an appearance or two!)  There are spoken word moments—provided by Stephen King, no less.  There’s borderline metal, in places…  Fuzzed-out guitars…  No one word or genre expresses it.  Polt-wise, it’s a chilling story of what actually COULD happen to freedom of speech/freedom in general in this country (don’t fool yourself) mixed with the escapism of an awesome rock record.  This works on EVERY level and is not only the best record of this year, it’s probably the best record I’ve heard in about 5-10 years.  It’s that good.  If you missed this, GO BUY IT NOW.  But be forewarned…it just might change how you see the world.  But…that’s what art is for, isn’t it?

And there you have it.  I hope you enjoyed the read, and I hope you’ll go out and discover some new music because of it.  If not…it’s your own fault.  🙂

Tune in tomorrow for the list of “also-rans.”

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And on a side note…  America…I love you…but you’ve GOT to stop putting sea salt all over everything.  Sea salt blows, isn’t much better for you than real salt, and I miss eating things that taste good.  There.  I said it.

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