I don’t have much to say as a benediction to 2010. While I enjoy a good disposable pop song as much as the next person, there were so damned many of them this year, it all just became white noise after a while. My moods tended to be a bit darker than usual, for whatever reason, so there were only so many times I could hear “California Gurls” or “Alejandro” or their ilk before tuning out.
That’s not to say I didn’t want to have fun—my album of the year, by the phenomenal Truth & Salvage Co., starts with a chorus about “heads full of reefer and … bellies full of beer.” I bobbed my head to the Roots and the awesome Nas/Damian Marley combo, and looked around for a lighter to hold up when listening to the new Manic Street Preachers record.
But none of these records are as ephemeral as I imagine Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, or others who have commandeered the radio this year. I imagine ten years from now, possibly on my fiftieth birthday, pulling up Truth & Salvage or Oranjuly on whatever we’ll use for music playback then, and listening with a smile. I can’t say I’ll remember any Ke$ha song then. In fact, I’m having trouble coming up with a Ke$ha song right now, as I’m writing this.
Anyway … Fare thee well, 2010. Here’s how I’ll remember you:
1. Truth & Salvage Co. — Truth & Salvage Co.
A marvelous amalgam of the Band’s brown album, the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, the fourth Black Crowes record, and the Eagles’ Desperado. Great songs, great harmonies, and a loose vibe make this one a keeper. I cannot wait to hear more.
2. The Black Keys — Brothers
The expanded sound of Attack and Release was an unexpected pleasure; here, the songs are tighter and catchier, the attack heavier, the overall effect more profound.
3. Nas & Damian Marley — Distant Relatives
They’re spotty on their own; together, they’re unstoppable. This could be the start of a bee-you-tee-ful friendship.
4. Against Me! — White Crosses
“Do you remember,” Tom Gabel asks, “when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?” On the band’s fifth studio album, Gabel is still setting things aflame, albeit with a more textured (dare I say Springsteenish) sonic approach.
5. Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden — Jasmine
A sequel, of sorts, to Jarrett’s masterful solo set The Melody at Night with You. While not as transcendently beautiful as the earlier album, Jasmine has something special, namely bassist Haden, and the complex interplay between musicians that these masters accomplish effortlessly.
6. The Roots — How I Got Over
The best band on the planet right now—I don’t want to hear any argument to the contrary—delivers possibly their best record, recorded between nightly stints as the best television house band ever. And Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter still has the best stage name of any MC.
7. Drive-By Truckers — The Big To-Do
Another slice of kick-ass southern rock and roll from Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and their crew. Hood’s stuff absolutely kills—”The Fourth Night of My Drinking,” “Fuck this Job,” and the heartbreaking “Daddy Learned to Fly” are the latest highlights in what’s become a classic oeuvre.
8. Manic Street Preachers — Postcards from a Young Man
I’ve never heard consecutive albums as polar opposite as the Manics’ previous (the amazing Songs for Plague Lovers) and this one. Where the Steve Albini-produced Songs was acid-hot and loud to the point of distortion, Postcards is comprised of one expertly produced, radio-ready anthem after another. This is crazy big music, a stadium-sized blast of sound you have to hear to believe.
9. Oranjuly — Oranjuly
Up in Boston, mad genius Brian E. King creates classic American pop music, with knowing and loving nods to his forebears (Brian Wilson, Alex Chilton, Elliott Smith, among others). This concise, tuneful album introduces him to the masses, and, with any luck, will be only the first entry in a long discography.
10. Lucky Soul — A Coming of Age
Harkening back to classic girl group pop, this London-based act’s sophomore album extends the sound and themes of their debut (2007’s The Great Unwanted) and proves that such sounds are still worth making, when they’re made this well.
Track of the Year: Quasi, “Bye Bye Blackbird”
A churning, burning maelstrom of rock, playing with that well-trodden soft-loud-soft dynamic. It’s absolutely mind-melting when played at appropriate volume (really fucking loud). The album from whence it came, American Gong, was spotty, but this song hooked me and kept me hooked from the minute I heard it. Fantastic stuff.