My Picks For The Top 15 Albums and 5 Songs of 2010
Considering that I've been thinking about nothing but music since I posted My Picks For The Best 15 Films of 2010 a week ago (partly due to the fact I've been writing this and partly because I went to see Ween in concert a few days ago, in a show some considered a "train wreck" and others, like myself, considered a bit bizarre but thoroughly entertaining), I guess it's finally time to get my Best Music picks of 2010 finished up.
Last year I offered up my picks for The Top 15 Albums and 25 Songs of 2009, as well as the massive Top Albums, Songs and Artists of the Decade. Well, this year I'm going with just 15 albums and 5 songs.
Well, let's make that 16 albums because I'd like to say something about the final album to be cut from this list:
Neil Young: LE NOISE
For his latest album Neil called up legendary producer and fellow Canadian, Daniel Lanois, but not to give his new collection of songs the famous Lanois treatment. No, bizarrely, Neil decided to bring in the man so famous for his lush, full production and multi-instrumental wizardry for an album featuring him playing nothing but solo - largely electric - guitar. Now Lanois knows a thing or two about making a great set of songs sound even better, as anyone who's ever heard Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind well knows. Not to mention The Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon; Robbie Robertson's self-titled solo debut; Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball; Peter Gabriel's So and Us; Ron Sexsmith's debut; and just about everything released by U2 since 1984.
Don't get me wrong, the songs here are great - particularly "Hitchhiker" and "Love and War" - and I'd say this is definitely one of Neil's two best albums of the past 10 years (the other being Prairie Wind), but, still, I can't help but wonder what the album would have sounded like had it been given The Full Lanois. I want to hear that album!
Hell, make it a Top 17: The other album that just about made this list was Eminem's RECOVERY.
TOP 15 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
ALBUMS #6-15 (in alphabetical order)
Mumford & Sons: SIGH NO MORE
A terrific debut from this modern folk/folk-rock band out of London. Great harmonies, great songs, great album. That simple.
Nowhere near as amazing and jaw-droppingly awesome as her her last album, Kala (my #3 album of the decade), but as ambitious and original as ever... and still one hell of a great album. Forget about Lady Gaga, Kesha and their like, this is the most original woman working in music today.
John Mellencamp: NO BETTER THAN THIS
Almost unrecognizable from the artist who was all over the charts in the '80s with hits like "Jack and Diane", "Hurts So Good", "Crumblin' Down" and "Lonely Ol' Night", this collection of 13 new songs of ol' time-feeling folk music is simply a thing of beauty. Produced by T Bone Burnett and recorded in a church down in Savannah, Georgia, at the famed Sun Studios in Memphis, and in the San Antonio hotel room where Robert Johnson first recorded, this whole album has the intimate feel of those old time places and the classic music they helped produce. Mellencamp's conscious decision to dedicate himself to producing great music regardless of the fact it has no chance of hitting the charts is worthy of praise from anyone who truly loves music. And, the fact is, operating under the popular radar, he's making some of the greatest music of his career.
Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs: GOD WILLIN' AND THE CREEK DON'T RISE
With his fourth album, LaMontagne has switched things up a little, producing himself for the first time and recording the whole album out of his home studio. But it's still that same old beautiful music so clearly and openly inspired by The Band, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and a few other late-60's and early-70's greats. Think Music From Big Pink crossed with Blue crossed with Tupelo Honey crossed with New Morning. Yet this is in no way mere imitation. No, this is clear inspiration. And man does this guy ever have an incredibly distinctive and beautiful voice!
Kings Of Leon: COME AROUND SUNDOWN
Not quite as good as their last couple of albums perhaps (2007's Because of the Times, and 2008's Only by the Night), this fifth album by the Followill boys is still a great shot of straight out rock 'n' roll. "Mary" and "Back Down South" are as good as anything they've ever recorded.
Elton John/Leon Russell: THE UNION
Elton looks up one of his original inspirations - the seemingly long-forgotten Leon Russell - and together they create some beautiful music on an album featuring guest spots from Brian Wilson, Neil Young, and Booker T, and magically produced, as always, by T Bone Burnett (who seems to be everywhere these past few years). Whatever you may think of Elton's recent output or even if you're not an Elton John fan at all, this is one heck of a great album and is well worth checking out. It should be noted that back in 1971 Russell produced and played piano on one of my all-time favorite Bob Dylan songs, "Watching the River Flow".
Drake: THANK ME LATER
Straight outta Toronto, this rapper, like any self-respecting Canadian, lacks the giant ego and never-ending boasts so common in hip hop. Instead, on his full-length debut, we get self-reflection and introspection. Whereas so many rappers are all about speed, Drake's soul- and R&B-infused raps are all cool, mellow, and laid-back. Guest spots from the likes of Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, The-Dream, Young Jeezy, and Kanye West.
Deerhunter: HALCYON DIGEST
Hypnotic fourth release by this Atlanta, Georgia band led by Bradford Cox. With echoes of The Velvet Underground and even, on the song "Coronado", Bruce Springsteen, this is probably the quietest album on this list. Reminiscent in sound and feeling, in many places, of one of my favorite albums of all-time, Peter Laughner and Friends: Take the Guitar Player for a Ride.
Elizabeth Cook: WELDER
Sounding like a modern-day Loretta Lynn, this 38-year-old singer-songwriter out of Florida serves up everything from the humorous ("Yes To Booty" and "El Camino") to the intensely serious ("Heroin Addict Sister"). Produced by Don Was and featuring all-star guests such as Dwight Yoakam, Rodney Crowell, and Buddy Miller. Do not mistake Cook for one of those Nashville country music products, she's no such thing. If you like Lucinda Williams, then you're going to like this.
Arcade Fire: "THE SUBURBS"
Inspired by band leader Win Butler's memories of growing up in the suburbs of Houston, and sounding, according to Butler, like "a mix of Depeche Mode and Neil Young", this is the Montreal band's best album yet. Whatever you yourself may think this album sounds like, the one thing that's clear is that it's a sound all their own - no one else sounds quite like Arcade Fire.
THE TOP 5:
#5. Vampire Weekend: CONTRA
This second album from New York's Vampire Weekend features the same unique sound and often zany lyrics that made their debut so great... and so fun. And like that outstanding album, every song on this thing is terrific, "Cousins" and "Giving Up The Gun" being highlights.
#4. The Black Keys: BROTHERS
Blues-infused rock from this duo out of Akron, Ohio that feels like one long strange trip back into the late-60s and early-70s, yet somehow still sounds totally fresh and new. Like the Vampire Weekend album above, every song is simply awesome.
#3. Jamey Johnson: THE GUITAR SONG
Channeling the spirit of country greats such as Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings and often sounding eerily like the late Keith Whitley, this is country music at its best. A double album featuring 25 songs without a weak link. And some fantastic guitar work throughout.
Yeah, some redneck sentiments do surface, but what do you expect from a guy who is so damn proud of his home state of Alabama. But a little bit of redneck sentiment can't hold back an album this good.
If you don't like any kind of country music, this album isn't going to change your mind, but for those who like the good kind of country (Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle, and Waylon, to name a few), this is definitely for you.
#2. Robert Plant: BAND OF JOY
Following on from his collaboration with Alison Krauss and producer T Bone Burnett on 2007's great Raising Sand, Plant makes yet another fantastic album.
Working, and co-producing, with alt-country icon Buddy Miller on guitar, and singer-songwriter Patti Griffin on background vocals, Plant has made what is simply the greatest solo album of his career. This is beautiful music. Old time music. What Bob Dylan calls "real music".
If you happen to be questioning this being so high up on my list, I'll just mention that I first fell in love with music as a kid listening to ol' time folk and country-infused music by artists such as of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, John Prine and Johnny Cash (not to mention Ken Whiteley), so I'm a sucker for this type of stuff. This and John Mellencamp's album above. So you may not agree with my inclusion of this so high up on the list, but, either way, take a few listens and see if you don't agree it's simply an incredible album.
And for those of you wondering why Plant is making this type of music rather than joining Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for a Led Zeppelin reunion tour, I think this quote from the 62-year-old rock legend in a recent Rolling Stone interview sums up his thinking quite succinctly:
"There's nothing worse than a bunch of jaded old farts, and that's a fact," he says. "People who have written their story — they've gotten to the point where nothing moves. I don't deal in that, and I don't deal with anybody who deals in that."
And, really, who needs to relive past glories if you're capable of making brand new ones?
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
#1. Kanye West: MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY
When it comes to album of the year, nothing else even comes close. This is, without question, Kanye's best album so far. And that's coming from someone who placed three of Kanye's previous four albums in his list of the Top 30 Albums of The Past Decade.
Whatever you may think of the guy as a person (award show antics, massive ego, etc.), there's simply no denying his greatness and overflowing genius when it comes to creating awesome music. And you haters out there might be surprised to know he's taken some time to reflect after the infamous Taylor Swift incident (at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards) sent his image, and self-confidence, plummeting. And, believe it or not, he's come back at least somewhat humbled. When he sings "Let's have a toast to all the scumbags..." in the amazing song "Runaway", he's clearly singing about himself.
Wildly ambitious, and, as with all Kanye albums, featuring amazing cameos (none better than Nicki Minaj's mindblowing turn on "Monster"), this album completely blows the competition away. The genuis of this guy can be heard not just in such classic tracks as "Power" and "Runaway", but also in how he so effortlessly and smoothly combines the seemingly dissimilar sounds of Bon Iver and Gil Scott-Heron into one beautiful whole to wrap-up the disc with "Lost In The World/Who Will Survive In America".
Like a modern-day Blonde On Blonde or Songs In The Key Of Life, this album is so musically and lyrically rich, it offers up something new every single listen. Simply put, a masterpiece!!
TOP 5 SONGS OF THE YEAR
#5. Neil Young: "LOVE AND WAR" Listen
One of Neil's most intimate and personal - and best - songs of the past 20 years.
#4. Kanye West: "POWER" Listen
Few artists ever record a song this great in their entire careers, but in Kanye's case this isn't even his best song of the year (and some would even argue that "Monster" is as good or better than this, making this his third best song of the year).
#3. Ray LaMontagne: "NEW YORK CITY'S KILLING ME" Listen
Last year one of my top songs of the year was Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' ode to New York, "Empire State Of Mind" (listen). Well, this year my third favorite song paints a very different picture. And melodies simply don't come much more beautiful than this.
#2. Kanye West: "RUNAWAY" Listen
Let's have a toast indeed. Perhaps Kanye's greatest song ever, and equally qualified for the #1 spot on this list.
#1. Cee-Lo Green: "FUCK YOU"
I have this beating out Kanye's much-more ambitious "Runaway" for song of the year simply based on the fact that this is one of the catchiest songs - and greatest kiss-offs - ever recorded. Yes, insanely catchy and, like his best work with Gnarls Barkley (i.e. "Crazy"), deeply immersed in old school soul, R&B and funk. And the video is awesome too. Check it out here, and make sure to put it on Full Screen and TURN IT WAY UP:
Cee-Lo Green - FUCK YOU (Official Video)
Now that you've read my choices, consider leaving a comment. Maybe you think I missed something obvious and/or you strongly agree or disagree with one, or many, of my picks? Then go ahead and post your thoughts. Or leave a Top Songs and/or Albums list of your own.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Sunday, January 30th, 2011
And now check out My Picks For The Best 15 Films of 2010
And, once again, here's the link to my picks for The Top Albums, Songs and Artists of the Decade
And make sure to check out My Picks For The Top 100 Films of The Decade