Combination, Collaboration, Liberation: The Best Music of 2010

January 1, 2011

Each employing different methods of compiling and listing, Interference editors and webzine writers bring you some “Best Of 2010 musical picks.

Luke Pimentel, Editor

5. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening

4. The Walkmen, Lisbon

3. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

2. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma

1. Titus Andronicus, The Monitor


Colin Alford, Contributing Writer

The End of ’10: A Music Fan’s Favorites

It’s the end of December, so its the time of year when music fans nitpick, bicker, and argue heatedly over what should be considered “the best”.  Personally, I spent most of 2010 with 2009′s albums in heavy rotation, so I’m not qualified to judge what was best this year.  Since most of the albums I bought will end up being praised on various high traffic blogs or large circulation magazines, I’ve decided to skip the critic in me and write as a music fan.  Few of the records I picked up this year were acutely memorable; therefore, I am limiting my list to songs only.  So without further ado, here’s my 2010 aural report.

Mac Miller – “Outside”

I’m not typically a fan of rap and hip-hop.  I’m also not overly enthusiastic about songs singing the praises of the drug culture.  However, Mac Miller’s ode to the blithe and bucolic days of youth always puts a bounce in my step and a smile on my face.  The best songs make a synesthete out of even the tone deaf, and “Outside” vividly conjures sunny, Southern days spent sliding on creek beds and warm, summer nights on back porches with coolers full of beer and the best of company.

Jamey Johnson – “Can’t Cash My Checks”

For many of us, the last years of the “naughties” will be remembered as a time when money was itself a luxury item.  Jamey Johnson’s album, The Guitar Song, perfectly captures the fear and uncertainty present throughout the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Especially haunting is his song “Can’t Cash My Checks.”  On the chorus, Johnson moans, “You can’t cash my checks/And you can’t feel this hunger/You can push me into the water/ But you can’t hold me under.”  During a time when the middle class is shrinking, the poignancy of Johnson’s lyrics transcend the class lines typically drawn by country music, making this song a true work of art if only for its timeliness.

Yeasayer – “Ambling Alp”

If Hell were personalized, mine would be a room with The Breakfast Club on eternal loop while a man in spandex with big hair played me songs composed on his keytar synthesizer.  That being said, Yeasayer’s retro infused romp through the 80′s, “Ambling Alp”, has been the most repeated song on my stereo this year.  The gooey, flashback inducing intro is instantly memorable, and the drum beat, hook and melody sound like they were stolen from Phil Collins’s wet dreams.  If you like your sugary sweet pop music with more than a dallop of reverb and a side of sawtooth leads, this song is sure to satisfy.

Arcade Fire – “Modern Man”

I have finally reached the age when many of my friends have graduated, have real jobs, are married, and have kids.  So when I first heard Arcade Fire’s newest album, The Suburbs, I was intensely moved.  “Modern Man” is the track that stands out the most, as it epitomizes the angst only the aging young can have about their lives.  The vocal performance bellows the urgent dread of becoming numb to youthful passions while the guitar hook is pure, juvenile pop.  Though the album ultimately closes the chapter on the frivolity of juvenescence, this song encapsulates what it feels like to be stuck in the mire that is growing up.

Josh Ritter – “Another New World”

If there was ever a musician who deserved the title of poet, it is Josh Ritter.  His 2010 release includes what will undoubtedly be his lyrical masterpiece, “Another New World.”  Using the same meter as Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”, Ritter crafts a story of adventure, intrigue, heartbreak, and ultimately despair through a captain and his beloved ship, the Annabel Lee.  In 7:39, Ritter amalgamates the best of 18th century Romantic literature into a single song.  This gothic horror version of Captain Ahab cannot be topped by any of the best 1960′s folk songs.

Far East Movement – “Like A G 6″

Every year, Top 40 radio never fails to provide me with a guilty pleasure.  While Kesha kept me busy last year and most of this year, “Like A G 6″ quickly became my favorite way to feel guilty when I heard it last month.  The simple, repetitive beat raises my primal urge to move, and there is something oddly sexy about the boozy, nonchalant vocal delivery on the chorus.  I have no idea what the lyrics say nor inclination to find out, but I’m sure that the Far East Movement will keep my head bobbing into the new year.

Amelia Tritico, Contributing Writer

I’m an avid music listener, but it takes me a while to warm up to the current musical trends, so much so that I’m usually at least one year behind.  For example, though “Gold Digger,” by Kanye West debuted in 2005, it didn’t show up on my radar until 2009.  Yeah, that’s how far behind I am.  I like to look at it as me savoring what I am listening to.  This year, I’ve become enamored with the Glee Season 1 soundtrack, The Best of Etta James and all things Southern Rock.  Just to show that I’m not completely out of the loop, however, I have complied a list of my top albums of 2010.    (These albums were actually released this year, and these artists are actually current.)

My Top Albums of 2010 (in no particular order)

Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise

I’ll always be a fan of this guy.  This album is little bit rootsier than his previous albums and definitely a big step away from the horns-driven “You Are The Best Thing.”  Nevertheless, it’s beautiful in its own rite.  My favorite track is “New York City’s Killing Me,” but the rest follow suit right up to “The Devil’s in the Jukebox.”

The Dirty Guv’nahs – Youth Is In Our Blood

This album takes number one for my summer jams!  I dare you to listen to “We’ll Be the Light,” “Baby We Were Young” and “It’s Dangerous” without at least tapping your foot.  Expect great things from these guys in the future.  Six intelligent, passionate guys from Knoxville, Tenn. on a mission to show people what rock ‘n’ roll is really about.  It’s feel-good music at its very best with life lessons snuck in when you least expect it.

Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer

A little out of place in my top albums, Cee Lo Green’s The Lady Killer made the top cut for me simply because I just love R&B.  There’s a lot of good, modern R&B out there, but I’m a sucker for the artists that hint at throwbacks while creating amazing, new music.  I really feel Cee Lo Green hit the nail on the head with this album.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

Potter first caught my attention a few years ago with This Is Somewhere, so I anxiously anticipated the release of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. I definitely wasn’t disappointed.  With more polished lyrics and punchier melody lines, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals have established themselves in the world of rock ‘n’ roll and aren’t going away anytime soon.

Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues

Earle is my completely new artist for 2010.  I had never even heard of him until I was asked to write a review of Harlem River Blues. One listen through the album, and I was hooked.  “One More Night In Brooklyn,” was stuck in my head for at least a week, and “Christchurch Woman,” has that repeat button quality.  Great album overall!

Carole King and James Taylor – Live At The Troubadour

Okay, you got me, the material on this album isn’t exactly new, but it’s refreshing that after fifty-plus years of making music for King and forty-plus years for Taylor, they still have that special spark.  All my favorites from both of them were on the album, and that’s why it made my top albums of 2010.

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More

Though I haven’t quite caught the Mumford & Sons fever, yet, I have listened to the album a few times through.  I am in tune enough to know that these guys are huge.  I’m sure I will love them by this time next year.  Talented blokes from England that have a knack for literature through song, how could I not end up loving them eventually?

She & Him – Volume Two

Volume Two continues the mission of Volume One: create simple music while paying homage to those who created simple music before them.  Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have a knack for creating great music.  I didn’t like Volume Two quite as much as I liked Volume One, but I liked it enough to look forward to hearing Volume Three should they decide to make it, and I hope they do.

Andrew William Smith, Editor

I’d have to say that 2010 was another great year for new music. This list comes in the form of an annotated playlist that includes the artist, a song, the album release date, all followed by a brief comment on the music’s emotional/spiritual impact on my life.

Kanye West–Lost In The World (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released November 22, 2010) Without weighing in on the layers of love, hate, and hype that surround Mr. West, “I’m lost the World/I’m new in the city” captures a year of much transformative transition for me where the angels and devils of reality revealed their faces oh-so-clearly.

Cee Lo Green – Old Fashioned (The Lady Killer, released November 5, 2010) In a century where old-school has felt entirely fresh, it’s hard not to get intoxicated by records that sound this timeless.

Yeasayer – I Remember (Odd Blood, released February 8, 2010) A hidden spring gurgles up tribal memories for the future, narrating liberation and romance as it goes down, outside my head and in my headphones.

Jonsi – Go Do (Go, released April 5, 2010) Euphoric Icelandic vegetarian falsetto sings in English what could easily be the anthem for my life (and also, apparently, for car commercials) on an album of sweet affirmation. “You will survive we´ll never stop wonders/You and sunrise will never fall under/We should always know that we can do anything.” May it be so! And what are we waiting for?

Sufjan Stevens – Now That I’m Older (The Age of Adz, released October 12, 2010)

Wisps of wisdom, whispers of reflection, and in this refraction, I finally got infected by Sufjan’s vision. Impending maturity feels better by the day.

Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land (The Winter of Mixed Drinks, released March 1, 2010) An anthem and epiphany of letting go and moving on. Song still moves after multiple listens. Listen: “Swim until you can’t see land/Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?/Up to my knees now, do I wait? Do I dive?” And finally: “Let’s call me a baptist, call this the drowning of the past.”

Band Of Horses – Evening Kitchen (Infinite Arms, released May 18, 2010) Crafted songcrafters come crisply into cozy maturity, singing songs that linger on the soul, leaving a sweet aftertaste of truth: “And if you’re ever left with any doubt/What you live with and what you’ll do without/I’m only sorry that it took so long to figure out.”

Kings Of Leon – Pickup Truck (Come Around Sundown, released October 19, 2010)When I moved to the mid-south from the midwest in the mid-90s, I had no idea that our music city would become the icon of rock that it is. These kings follow the footsteps of the king and give good guilty pleasure and hometown pride.

J Roddy Walston And The Business – Used To Did (J Roddy Walston And The Business, released on July 27, 2010) I “used to did,” but “now I didn’t.” Tell it like it is (!) in balls loose lightning boogie.

The Black Keys – Next Girl (Brothers, released on May 18, 2010) On Brothers, the Keys get honest, and so must I: as in life, so in love, we make mistakes, and we move on. I am so glad that I too got another chance.

John Mellencamp – No Better Than This (No Better Than This, released August 17, 2010) It defies and fulfills logic that the same man who thrilled the radio with “Hurt So Good” or “Jack and Diane” some three decades ago would be a wise-and-fit elder and prophetic poet of a country-church-meets-hotel-room Americana. Go John.

Robert Plant – Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (Band of Joy, released September 14, 2010) Traditional and medicinal, this magical hymn makes amends and bends the narrative. Nothing against Zepheads pining for a reunion, but these Nashville-fueled folk-fusions bury the dead of that epic past with a musical dawn we all hope will last.

Laura Marling – Devil’s Spoke (I Speak Because I Can, released March 22, 2010) Forget all notions that folk this good, this haunting, and this beautiful is all pentangled up in the past. Marling moves the mountain of your soul with her sole sincerity and stunning singing.

Ray LaMontagne And The Pariah Dogs – Devil’s In The Jukebox (God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise, released August 17, 2010) Maple syrup slips on an old mountain road as Ray rips Joe Cocker-croons about yellow moons, a slinky serenade with slow sexy steam—kitchen kicking summer soundtrack still soothes on winter playback.

Delta Spirit – Devil Knows You’re Dead (History From Below, released June 8, 2010) Give a man a roof and road and a lyric sheet to pen eulogies like this.Matt Vasquez visualizes with his mouth a musical truth outside time but for our times and of our time. I am honestly surprised this record has not found a wider audience and a higher acclaim.

The Tallest Man On Earth – Burden of Tomorrow (Wild Hunt, released April 13, 2010) Gritty folksinger Kristian Mattson is “carving riddles,” and we are fed when we listen.

Justin Townes Earle – Workin’ for the MTA (Harlem River Blues, released September 13, 2010) Just his name conjures a jones for his voice, Justin Townes Earle owns retro folkabilly with metro sensibility and sears the ears and banishes fears.

Ryan Bingham – The Weary Kind (Crazy Heart Soundtrack, January 19, 2010) Bingham brings it on this song and on his album Junky Star. I began the year in a ball of tears in an almost-empty Nashville movie house on a weekday afternoon. We drove an hour to see a film which unrolled our lives on celluloid. This song won an Oscar for its plaintive summary of the alcoholic artist’s path. It sounds so sad, but its message is ultimately so hopeful.

Mumford & Sons – Roll Away Your Stone (Sigh No More, released February 16, 2010) On the hottest and dustiest of afternoons that would be Bonnaroo, I crammed to the front of the tent to sing this song out-loud with a few thousand other frenetic fans. Like so many other songs this year, the lyrics here say what I am thinking before I think, tapping my feelings with profundity: “It seems that all my bridges have been burned/But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works/It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart/But the welcome I receive with the restart.”

Anais Mitchell – Why We Build The Wall (Hadestown, released March 9, 2010) Duets and collaborations remind that music is ultimately a community affair for campfires, barn-raisings, work parties, weddings, funerals, rallies, protests, and prophecies. Mitchell and an army of friends make it real for all-of-the-above-and-them-some, preachin’ it with such precise passion that we don’t mind her preachin’ about walls and how wars are never won and how poverty is the enemy.

Natalie Merchant – Peppery Man (Leave Your Sleep, released released April 13, 2010) While some critics cast aspersions at Merchant for getting too maternal and professorly on this dynamic and dissertationesqe collection, the combination of folk genres and folksy themes is anything but sleepy. When Natalie toured through Nashville and brought these songs to the Ryman Auditorium, she mentioned the powerful experience of working with our own gospel luminaries the Fairfield Four on this phenomenal track.

Mike Farris & The Cumberland Saints – Down On Me (The Night the Cumberland Came Alive, released October 26, 2010) Another great gift of the last year: further discovering rock-blues-gospel-Americana sparkplug Mike Farris and getting the spirit at the revival of his live shows. On this disc, a cast of collaborators (including the McCrary Sisters, daughters of the aforementioned Fairfield Four) and local champions take it to church (literally, in this live recording cut in a local sanctuary) to offer musical healing and Nashville flood relief.

Patty Griffin – Move Up (Downtown Church, released January 26, 2010) Mike Farris most likely got the idea to record at Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church after collaborating on Patti Griffin’s deeply personal, heartfelt, and universally-appealing folk-gospel album simply called Downtown Church, one of many recent efforts to tastefully and dramatically bridge the indy-folk-Americana and traditional gospel genres.

Mavis Staples – Wrote A Song For Everyone (You Are Not Alone, released September 14, 2010) Getting “born again” (again!) as a Christian in middle age can really alter one’s music-listening-as-meditation habits, and I am so thankful for all the great gospel that crosses-over to indy and inclusive and intelligent, making an altar of sound in my heart and mind. Mavis Staples is a grand matron of rock-pop-gospel anthems, and this new record really earns an “Amen.”

Lizz Wright –I Remember, I Believe (Fellowship, released on September 28, 2010) Following in the steps of the Staples family tradition as well as that of Bernice Johnson Reagon, Lizz Wright spins so much sweet honey to soothe the sinner’s soul with a testimony towards salvation and liberation.

This playlist aired live on Monday, January 3 at 8pm CST on Teacher On The Radio on WTTU 88.5 FM in Cookeville, Tennessee.