It’s no secret that people love lists. That’s why you see so many blogs and traditional media outlets deploying them, especially at this time of the year. What is perhaps a bit less well known is that people like making lists too. That’s why you’ve seen a number of my colleagues at Popdose posting their personal picks this week, in addition to the overall Top Albums of the Year list that will appear tomorrow. I am certainly no exception. I look forward to presenting my year-end picks.

If you’ve been reading my reviews, you know that they are mostly positive. That could give you the false impression that everything is wonderful in the world of music. The truth is that I choose what I want to review. Nothing is assigned to me or anyone else here. Naturally I’m going to write about the things I like. It’s ever so much more pleasant. None of this is to say that there isn’t some great music out there these days. Given the fact that more music is available to more people than ever before, it would be nearly impossible to not find something great to listen to. Our job, as I see it, is to filter out as much as we can, and let you know what we think is the music you should hear. So, without further ado, here is my list of the year’s top albums.

1. Arcade FireThe Suburbs

If you know me, this will be the least surprising news that you hear all day. From the opening notes of the album’s title track, I was sold. The album is dense, brilliant, overlong, complex, touching, and uplifting. The music can be as chilly like a Montreal winter, and as warm as Houston in summer. There were simply no other contenders for the top spot this year.

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2. Ryan Adams & the CardinalsIII/IV

This comes as a huge surprise, even to me. Not because I don’t love Ryan Adams, I do. But this album was released two days ago, after languishing in the vault for four years. I don’t know what the thought process was that kept these tracks from being heard for so long, but this double album is Adams’ best work with the Cardinals. Listen and find out why this brilliant and prolific songwriter matters.

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3. Robert PlantBand of Joy

Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but pair him with one of Americana’s brightest lights, the great Buddy Miller, and the result is a dark, brooding, intense effort that features Plant’s best work in years. Miller’s fingerprints are all over one of 2010’s most inventive productions.

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4. Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses Junky Star

Lots of songwriters have been dubbed the “new Dylan” over the years. It almost always turns out to be more blessing than curse. But in the case of Ryan Bingham we actually have a young songwriter who has a chance to live up to the moniker. Already an Oscar winner for his song “The Weary Kind,” Bingham is right on the verge of greatness. Attention must be paid.

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5. Amy PettyHouse of Doors

This is the kind I like best. From out of nowhere, in this case New Hampshire, a brilliant songwriter emerges and knocks the socks off of even the most jaded music writers. Not the sound, but the brilliant blazing soul of the late Laura Nyro is here at every moment of this powerful effort, and for that I am grateful. A stunning voice for the future.

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6. Big LightAnimals In Bloom

Proving that San Francisco could once again become the center of the music universe, a group of guys from MA, NJ, and RI came together in the City by the Bay to create one of the year’s most ferocious and forward looking albums. This album is a blend of undeniable musicality, top notch songwriting chops, and enviable production skills. I’ve turned a lot of people on to this band, and they’ve all thanked me.

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7. John Legend & the RootsWake Up!

Philadelphia’s favorite sons team up to create a tribute to the soul music of the ’60s and ’70s, and the results are breathtaking. The focus is on the uplifting and inspirational, and that focus never fails. Their powerful and profound cover of the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes classic “Wake Up Everybody” is one of my favorite tracks of the year.

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8. Shelby LynneTears, Lies, and Alibis

When it comes to strong, independent musicians, they don’t come much more direct than Shelby Lynne. When her record company decided that her music needed more polish, she basically told them to go fuck themselves. She made the kind of honest, straight from the heart record that she’s known for, and made it her way. Shelby Lynne is a beacon for those who insist on traveling their own road.

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9. Los LobosTin Can Trust

The year’s most welcome return comes from the great L.A. band in the form of their first album of new material in four years. Los Lobos is clearly at home with a variety of styles and genres, and they make each and every one of them their own. The band returned to their roots, recording in East L.A., and the result is the sound of a group of musicians who are thoroughly comfortable with each other 30 years on, and still in peak form.

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10. Dawes North Hills

I saw this young band from Los Angeles at two festivals last summer. Both time they stood out as the strongest act in a very strong field. Superb songwriting chops, appealing vocal harmonies, and overflowing onstage charisma characterize a band that seems to have nearly unlimited potential. These guys are going to be major players on the world’s stages.

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Bubbling Under

Failing to make the Top Ten in a strong year is no disgrace. The following 2010 efforts from artists who just missed the list are well worth your attention:

Kanye WestMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Sure he stirs the pot all the time, but the fact is that he doesn’t have to shut up because he always puts up. An enormous talent who will not be denied.

EverestOn Approach

This terrific California band is not just approaching, they’ve arrived with a powerful sophomore album.

Sufjan Stevens The Age of Adz

This young maestro has been likened to a modern day Brian Wilson, and while that’s high praise indeed, he manages to make the praise stick on his brilliant new album.

The RootsHow I Got Over

Proving that their residency as the house band for Jimmy Fallon has not dulled their edge, the great Philadelphia funk/rock/soul/hip-hop collective released one of their finest albums this year.

Mark OlsonMany Colored Kite

The once and future Jayhawk released one of 2010’s most personal and deeply felt albums.

Black DubBlack Dub

Áœber producer Daniel Lanois’ guitar skills burn brightly on this debut album, but the real discovery here is the soulful young singer Trixie Whitley.

The NationalHigh Violet

A lot of people have placed this album higher up on their lists. For me, although it’s not their best, it’s still head and shoulders above most efforts. One of America’s finest bands.

Pernice BrothersGoodbye Killer

As long as Joe Pernice is making music, I’ll be listening. A typically strong effort from a master songwriter.

Keith MonacchioThe Long Evening

A superb solo debut album from a NJ singer/songwriter who deserves a wider following.

Michael JacksonMichael

This one’s got a lot of tongues wagging. I suppose I can understand the doubt, but the bottom line is that this is one of the more enjoyable listens that I’ve had this year.

Reissues of the Year

The Rolling StonesExile on Main Street

Arguably the greatest rock and roll album ever made, by the world’s greatest rock and roll band at their peak. That alone would be hard to top, but this brilliant reissue includes a second disc full of never before heard songs that were recorded during the original Exile sessions.

Bob DylanThe Mono Recordings

The master’s first eight studio albums in mono, the way God intended them to be. I can say no more.

About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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