2010 Music Review

Once again Thanksgiving reminds us that another year will soon be in the books, and I begin to think about my Top 10 albums for the year.  Actually I have been thinking about it all year.  Since this represents my fourth year of a formal review, I take the responsibility all the more seriously.  For 2010 I am adding a slight new wrinkle, I am preparing this list before the national media (not trying to sound like Sarah Palin) publish theirs.  This way the list cannot be influenced by other year end reviews.  So for the record, this list was complied Thanksgiving weekend and uninfluenced by Paste, Rolling Stone, Inquirer, etc.

The current world seems to carry a fair amount of uncertainty.  We just witnessed another political shift.  Our economy feels like it wants to move forward but European issues and real estate debt are keeping economic growth in check.  The sports world’s current obsession is Michael Vick and his rise to the top of the NFL after a dramatic fall from grace.  Golf fans wonder if Tiger can recapture his greatness after his publicly revealed dark side and subsequent divorce.  Yet, one of the most uncertain businesses continues to be the music industry.  Sales of recorded music once again experience steep drops.  The album model seems less important with increasing individual song downloads.  To make it easier for you to listen to great albums I present my Top 10 for 2010!

Top 10 CD’s of 2010:

Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More – This quartet from Scotland leads my list with their debut release.  With driving banjos, great harmonizing, a background trumpet, and folksy lyrics, they sound almost Americana making it hard to believe they are from across the pond.  The album is easy to listen to from the get go and then continues to grows on you with each listen.  A very pleasant surprise and the best album of 2010.

The Roots – How I Got Over – Philly’s finest just gets better and better.  The hardest working and best live act in hip hop produced two great CD’s this year, have a regular gig on the Jimmy Fallon show, performed as the house band for a Haiti telethon and still manages to tour.  They are lead by MC/singer Black Thought and his high school classmate Questlove, who may be the best drummer on the planet.  The rest of the band are also excellent musicians.  This CD has tremendous variety from the slow redo with Jim James on “Dear God” to the gritty “Out in the Streets”.  Their other release was the very good “Wake Up” made with Philly resident and smooth crooner John Legend and featuring covers with political themes from the 60’s.  I love the Roots!

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs – This Canadian band features lead singer and primary song writer Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne.  After previously tackling the heavy themes of religion (Neon Bible) and death (Funeral), they now go after the dreariness of suburban living.  It’s hard to imagine how a traveling band of artists under 30 can understand life in the burbs, but the songs are easy to relate to.  Concepts and images covered include too many shopping malls, looking for cool people in the big city, and losing touch with old friends.  There are 10 plus in the band, and many of them play multiple instruments so the sounds are all over the place, albeit somewhat poppy.  Arcade Fire songs frequently build slowly and end up as anthems. I saw them outdoors at the Mann Center, and it was my top concert of the year.

Kayne West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Go ahead and tell me that you hate Kayne.  Yes, he can be really annoying.  Yes, what he did to innocent Taylor Swift was horrible, but the guy is one of the greatest pop talents in music today, and he released what may be the best record of his career.  The lyrics are his typical bravado (and at times profane), but he seems almost apologetic at times for his recent obnoxious behavior.  The CD has an all star collaboration list including Jay Z, Pusha T, Elton John, Beyonce, Chris Rock, John Legend, Common, and Rhianna, but the lyrics and beats are all Kayne.  “No one man should have so much power” is a quote from one of the better songs, a great hip hop beat, and typical introspection from Kayne.

Broken Bells – Broken Bells – This collaboration from Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and James Mercer, (the lead singer from the Shins) came out in early 2010.  And while James Mercer’s vocals are unmistakable, Danger Mouse gives it the extra edge – little funky beats and hooks to make it a great album

Delta Spirit – History From Below – Delta Spirit released their third release mid – 2010.  This band from San Diego features unconventional instruments like trash can lids and orchestral bass drums.  Their music could be classified as alternative country but there are rock and soul influences which make it unique.  The lyrics contain an almost spiritual quality to them. Another band with a similar sound that I enjoyed is Dawes and their album North Hills.

Herbie Hancock – The Imagine Project – This jazz icon continues perfecting his craft with his latest musical journey.  This album of covers focuses on the theme of the title, – Imagine if we could all live in peace.  Herbie, who has been a driving force in jazz music for over 50 years, still wants to grow and promote a better world.  Guest singers include John Legend, Pink, Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeski, Dave Mathews and Los Lobos.  The songs were recorded all over the world and include singers from Africa, Ireland and Jamaica. Herbie finds ways to make any song sound as if it was his original.  While this is not a true Jazz album, it is an album that reflects his journey to a better place.

The Heavy – The House That Dirt Built – Although technically this didn’t come out in 2010 I discovered it in early 2010 and it is one of my favorites.  You have heard the hit “How Do you Like Me Now” but the whole CD rocks, with some soul, blues and jazz thrown in for good measure.

The Black Keys – Brothers – These two buddies from Ohio went back to what suits them, basic blues rock from a drummer and a guitar player and no one else.  Danger Mouse produced their last album and it just didn’t feel right.  These guys seem like they are two low-life, flannel shirt-wearing, beer-guzzling slobs, but boy can they play and make a big sound come out of two instruments.  Lyrics are not their strong suit, but playing some good ole blues is!

The LCD Soundsystem –  This Is Happening – James Murphy has perfected the  electronica  and dance sound.  He is also a tremendous lyricist.  This CD contains so many catchy and funny songs.  Electronica can sometimes sound repetitious but James Murphy never lets that happen.

Honorable mentions go out to Nas and Damian Marley for their rap/reggae release, Titus Andronicus (a kind of punk meets Bruce Springsteen), and of course Bruce Springsteen’s Promise which contains unreleased songs from the Darkness on the Edge of Town album.  All my Springsteen-hater friends do not need to comment!

Memorable shows included Arcade Fire and Herbie Hancock a week apart at the Mann Music Center; John Legend and the Roots at the WCL during the Non-Com convention in June; Carbon Leaf, sitting at the stage in the tin angel; Black Crows at the Tower; Dawes at the WCL Free at Noon the day I closed on a building in Ardmore!

Hope 2010 was good and 2011 is even better!