15 July 2010

Top Albums of 2010 So Far

Initially I was not going to make this list but the pressure of a helpful reader lead me to believe that it would be a fun idea. Although this is not as comprehensive as I would like it to be, here are my top 10 favorite albums of 2010.

01. The National - High Violet
It is no coincidence that the best band in the world also came out with the best album of 2010 so far. While it's their most melodic, accessible album to date, it's the emotion of each song that brings this album to life and lets me find new things with each listen. This Brooklyn-based, indie rock band also managed to get their highest ranking ever on the Billboard charts with this album during one of music's slowest weeks of the year. That alone proves their power. Soaring ballads like the gorgeous "Runaway" are balanced by poppy fare like the catchy "Anyone's Ghost" but really it's the entire album as a whole that will leave you unable to listen to anything else for the rest of the year. This is the best album I have heard in the past five years, forget the past seven months. I promise you will not be able to get Matt Berninger's voice out of your head.
Best Tracks: Conversation 16, Lemonworld, Runaway, Bloodbuzz Ohio, Anyone's Ghost (in that order)

02. Jack Johnson - To the Sea
Although I was a huge fan of Johnson's 2001 debut, Brushfire Fairytales, I was never overly impressed by his follow up albums until now. To the Sea continues Johnson's appreciation for relaxed, upbeat little songs but unlike some of his other recent work, you can't as easily picture Curious George singing along with them. There is a maturity on this album that makes his music much more lush and introspective. Somehow I believe him more on this record than any before and I have fallen in love with a few of these songs. A song will start off barely audible and turn into a fun, strange story within seconds. "Only the Ocean", the closing track, is a slow, painfully beautiful ode to the ocean that even has a non-swimmer like me relating to. Although "Flake" off Brushfire remains my favorite Johnson track, To the Sea has become my favorite Jack Johnson album overall.
Best Tracks: You and Your Heart, Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology, Only the Ocean

03. The Bird and the Bee - Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates
While this album came out in March, it was a recent, accidental discovery for me. I had been searching on iTunes for different versions of the Hall and Oates classic "One on One" when I noticed that The Bird and the Bee had done a cover. I had heard of the band before so I just listened to the 30 second sample and it blew my mind. A female voice singing these familiar radio mainstays was not only interesting but happily refreshing. It brought an entirely new perspective to the lyrics while their arrangements stayed very true to the original, only updating the sound slightly. After purchasing "One on One", I went on to get the best track - and probably best known - "I Can't Go For That" which far exceeded my expectations. As a big fan of Hall and Oates, I didn't anticipate appreciating a cover so much. I don't know why The Bird and the Bee thought a Hall and Oates tribute was necessary or if there will be a volume two focusing on a different band, but I am now a believer in this band's abilities.
Best Tracks: I Can't Go For That, One on One, Kiss on My List

04. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - I Learned the Hard Way
This may be a biased choice as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are one of my favorite bands, but this particular album is so smooth and funky that in it's own genre there is nothing that has come out this year that can compare. There's been a lot of talk about Sharon Jones singlehandedly leading the soul revival of the past few years and while I believe that to be true, it has to be mentioned that Jones herself is 54 years old and in fact grew up with the music that these competing twentysomething bands are trying to mimic. Sharon Jones is the real deal and this album, like her other vintage-style classics, proves it once again. Unlike many, she is contributing to the '60's soul sound, not copying it.
Best Tracks: Better Things, I Learned the Hard Way

05. The Black Keys - Brothers
This is one of the only albums in 2010 that I was actually looking forward to ahead of time. There was an anticipation lingering in the air for several months before the record was released and airplay of the single, "Tighten Up", made it that much more exciting. Somehow it's come about that I still have yet to spend a lot of time with each of these songs but there are some tracks I've listened to more than any of their previous work. The album, released on May 18, marks the band's highest selling album to date with 73,000 copies sold in its first week and received almost unanimous praise from critics.
Best Tracks: Tighten Up, Howlin' For You

06. Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
Also released May 18, Infinite Arms is Band of Horse's third studio album and released on their own record label after leaving Sub Pop. Although it received some of the best reviews of the year, I like it particularly because I don't think it strays very far from the band's other albums. The soothing rhythms and overall appeal of their specific style is still clearly intact and this record seems to serve as a continuation of 2007's Cease to Begin. In contrast to what a lot of bands seem to do on studio albums, Band of Horses is okay with staying one pace throughout and content to do what they do best - there is no experimentation or shocking bits. It's a great album for sitting in the dark.
Best Tracks: Laredo, On My Way Back Home, Blue Beard

07. Raul Midon - Synthesis
Mr. Midon has one of the best voices. It is like melted honey falling off a soft teddy bear's tongue. It astonishes me that someone like Michael Buble can attract a massive audience and yet only few know about a voice like Raul Midon. Blind from birth, it seems Midon has acquired supernatural musical powers that allow him to makes sounds with his mouth that perfectly mimic the entire family of woodwind instruments. He has successfully collaborated with living legends Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock and on his third studio album, Midon is at his finest both vocally and lyrically. These tracks are both surprising and familiar. They feel like coffeehouse songs you've been hearing for years with a mischievous twist.
Best Tracks: About You, These Wheels

08. Usher - Raymond v. Raymond
Definitely the most mainstream record on the list, Raymond v. Raymond, is not only undeniably catchy but rather inspired as well. Usher may be seen as a popular R&B star that dances and cheats on his girlfriends and wives but this record once again proves that he also makes long lasting pop music that falls under that guilty category despite genuine craftsmanship. With this record, Usher continues his trend of honestly confronting his own life through song while still maintaining a great high energy, rhythm-centric sensibility. As much as I don't want to, I really like this entire album.
Best Tracks: There Goes My Baby, OMG

09. Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away
I am certainly not the first person to say that every Josh Ritter song sounds like a sweeping epic. The cover of this album pretty much says it all: with a dimly lit ocean liner and a bridge in the distance, the photograph is a 2D representation of the mood Ritter sets with his eerily serene voice and flowing arrangements. Luckily for me, this is one of the most loved records critically of the year so I have no problem recommending it. With a glass of wine and no one home on rainy day, you'll definitely thank me. Listen to the entire album twice.
Best Tracks: Change of Time, Southern Pacifica

10. Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea
This is Rae's first album since the untimely death of her husband Jason Rae following an accidental overdose at their home. Not surprisingly, compared with her self-titled debut album, the material on The Sea is much darker and deeper. There's a beautiful sexual undercurrent and a strange mix of love and pain that makes it a difficult yet worthwhile listen. Considering that a musician's sophomore album is usually known for being poorly received, it speaks volumes that Rae's album was not only critically praised but artistically lauded. Although it is just number 10 here, it's probably one of the album's most worth your time.
Best Tracks: Closer, I'd Do it All Again

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