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My favorite albums of 2010

December 29th, 2010 3 Comments

— Lindsey Rae, Indie Rocker

MR Note: If you’re a music lover, take some time with this post.  The musicians Linds features are really awesome. Mumford & Sons is one of my all time  faves and I fell in love with Atomic Tom when she posted that impromptu subway video (below). Where and how she finds most of them, I don’t know and I don’t care.  But she has yet to cease to amaze me with her collection.

Well, kids, here we are.  It’s the end of another year.  It’s been an amazing year full of surprises and adventures for me, not the least of which has included joining the crew here at MTM!  I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside this talented and knowledgeable group of writers.

Among the myriad surprises this year has wrought, I’m happy to count the wealth of diverse and eclectic indie music that has been released in 2010.   As is customary for the end of the year, the lists of top albums are all over the place.  I’ll leave the declarations over best and worst to the experts (spoiler alert: Kanye wins), but I thought this would be a good time to give a quick rundown of a few albums that have made a great impression on me this year.  So in no particular order, here are ten albums that really did it for me in 2010.

Frank Turner, Rock & Roll
A good friend turned me on to Frank Turner just this week, and my life is definitely better for it.  This talented Brit has been rolling solo since his 2005 split with his band, Million Dead.  Rock & Roll, an EP that dropped a couple of weeks ago as a teaser for the forthcoming full release, is robust and exciting in and of itself.  Each track is completely different from the last, which I’ll admit leaves the EP with a distinct lack of cohesion.  Still, it achieves what a good teaser release ought to: it whets the listener’s appetite for the sure-to-be excellent album to come.  The full release is definitely on my list of things to pick up as soon as it’s out.

Jeremy Messersmith, The Reluctant Graveyard
I fell for this truly under-appreciated artist via the track “A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard”, which I heard early this fall on an episode of that cute NBC show Chuck.  Messersmith’s voice is pleasant and his melodies are lovely in their simplicity, but the standout of this album is the grace in Messersmith’s lyrics.  His word choices are weird and vaguely morbid, and there’s something strikingly economical about his writing that evokes generous imagery out of short and simplistic phrasing.  His themes are often sad, but incredibly accessible, and his lyrics are endlessly quotable.  “This is how it has to end/so love somebody while you can”?  Come on.

Atomic Tom, The Moment
Full disclosure here: I am partial to this band due to a personal connection.  We ran in the same circles back in the day when I worked for a little NYC music PR firm, and I’ve had the opportunity to see them perform several live shows.  But I can say without a doubt that I’d have bought – and loved – this album even if I discovered Atomic Tom through the standard channels.  Atomic Tom garnered some excellent publicity with the release of the video above, which caused quite a stir in the news media this fall and boosted their visibility enough to garner them a top spot on iTunes for a little while there.  As an album, The Moment is the kind of anthemic powerhouse that makes it a staple of my regular workout playlist (I’ve even been known to blow through the album from start to finish while banging out a few miles on the bike or the treadmill).  There’s not a downbeat tune in the bunch, but each track is balanced just right, and Luke White’s infectious voice never gets old.

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
Everybody loves Sufjan, and I’ll tell you why: he’s out of his damn mind.  The consummate overachiever did it all over again this year, surprising no one by delivering a project that was completely different from everything he’s ever put out for us before. The Age of Adz is such a departure from the gentle banjos and wispy lyrics of his earlier efforts, but at second glance, it’s more consistent with Stevens’ sensibilities than ever.  The album is meticulously developed and organized – you need only read the manifesto on his website to know that – and Stevens’ trademark fearlessness is all over every track.  Sufjan Stevens is the kind of artist that everyone expects will be surprising, and while that’s a tall order to fill year-in and year-out, he’s certainly made it happen so far.  Oh, and by the way – everyone ever should know that you can download any of several tracks off his record label’s website.  I’ll wait here while you go get that taken care of.

Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record
Are we back?  On to the next album.  Although I am a huge old-school BSS fan (particularly, a You Forgot it in People fan), Forgiveness Rock Record has enough heat behind it to prove that these Canadian indie stalwarts have still got something to say after more than ten years.  My personal favorite off this album is “Forced to Love,” which, in my opinion, absolutely kills.  But the rest of the album makes its own case for brilliance with the kind of cohesion that only true pros can reach.  I had an absolute blast at their show here in Richmond in September, but it’s worth noting that most of my favorite moments of the night came from tracks off of older albums.  Seeing “Lover’s Spit” live?  One of the top ten moments of my year.  I will add to that the caveat that the 15-minute rendition of “Meet Me in the Basement”, off Forgiveness Rock Record, was just as amazing as anything from their more seasoned catalog.  Which I guess is to totally contradict my previous statement.  The music lover’s dilemma, am I right?  Anyway, all this is to say that Forgiveness Rock Record is a strong effort that’s mostly mellow and then shockingly vulgar, which is kind of how I like my music and my men.

The Rescues, Let Loose the Horses
I love love love this album.  As I understand it, The Rescues is comprised of four singer/songwriters who were all active on their own at one point or another, but who later joined forces in the perfect example of a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.  The voices all put together are something truly special to behold, as evidenced on the amazing track, “My Heart With You.”  The track appeared on their early-2010 EP, which is worth picking up just for the one song that was left off the album.  These are voices that were clearly meant to meld together, and they work to devastatingly beautiful effect.

The Hold Steady, Heaven Is Whenever
If you’ve never seen The Hold Steady live, you’ll want to watch the embedded video for a primer on lead singer Craig Finn’s beyond-adorable affect.  This Brooklyn band has obviously been floating around for several years, but I only had an opportunity to see them for the first time this fall.  I remember remarking to my roommate that Finn just seemed like he was having so much fun on stage – like he’s some little kid they picked out of the crowd to sing along with the band.  It’s an experience that translates beautifully to the album, a well-paced collection of what I can only describe as summer songs.  There’s not a whole lot of variety in the melodies, but if you’re a Hold Steady fan, you’ll know that the melodies are superfluous to the honest and funny storytelling in each song.  The whole album brings to mind the kind of hot summer nights where old friends sit around telling tall tales.  On “Our Whole Lives,” Finn croons, “we’re good guys, but we can’t be good every night,” and it might as well be the motto for the entire album; it evokes the feeling that these are a bunch of good guys who like to cause a little mischief every now and then.  Which is completely fine by me.

Freelance Whales, Weathervanes
I’m pretty sure I picked up on these guys via Grey’s Anatomy (please don’t criticize my questionable taste in TV), but I’m not quite sure how I ever lived without them before.  Freelance Whales’ music calls to mind melodies by Joshua Radin and details by (yep) early Sufjan Stevens, but there’s a crispness to their music that avoids the drowsy sentimentality of the aforementioned gentlemen.  There’s also something younger about their sound – a hopefulness, perhaps – that I find completely spellbinding.

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
Now, before you give me a hard time about this one, I’m completely aware that Sigh No More was released in 2009.  But it came across my path in early spring 2010 – recommended, in fact, by the same friend who brought Frank Turner to my ears. And let’s face it, the world fell in love with Mumford & Sons in 2010.  You couldn’t turn on a prime-time soap or flip past an MTV commercial this fall without hearing the strains of one of their soulful anthems.  The band members are also prolific bloggers on their website, and they’re widely known for creating a welcoming, comforting atmosphere at their live shows.  Not that I would know, because who could get a ticket for one of their US shows this fall?  Regardless, I love this album more than I could even begin to express – and to be honest, I don’t even want to try.  It’s the kind of album you can just marinate in, one that improves with every listen and practically begs you to add your voice to their hearty chorus.  You’re missing out without this album.  End of story.

The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt and Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird
Everything I feel for Mumford & Sons goes double for the Tallest Man on Earth, also known as the rather slight-of-frame Kristian Matsson.  He released The Wild Hunt, earlier this year and followed it up in September with the five-track EP, Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird, following the tremendous success of his brilliant 2008 debut, Shallow Grave.  I’ll skip the easy Dylan comparisons that have been done to death, and just say that I find more to love about every new release from this prolific artist.  He is the true master of his reedy guitar, and it’s always obvious he knows his raspy voice perfectly well, and uses both instruments to their fullest.  Matsson shows growth from one effort to the next, and I love the range he shows with the piano-driven ‘Kids on the Run”, the electric guitar on “The Dreamer” and the charming melodic departure of “A Lion’s Heart”. Sometimes the Blues… is a lovely coda to the trajectory set by The Wild Hunt, and I daresay the two releases deserve to be placed together on the shelf.

That’s it for my 2010 album picks, but I’d love to hear what you all discovered and loved this year!  Be sure to point out any egregious exclusions from the list in the comments.

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  • emily

    i’ve noticed this in other lists of great albums, but what a disturbing lack of female musicians. i get that the rescues has women in it (and i agree they are fantastic) – but i find it hard to believe that there are not other great albums that women are involved in making. i speculate that it is not that women aren’t out there recording great music, but perhaps they haven’t gotten the same attention/marketing push as others.
    (and i mean no offense as i am not singling you out; rather, i see this is a problematic phenomenon this year in music recap lists).

    • Well, the first women who come to mind when I combine female, music, and marketing are Katy Perry, Kesha, and Lady Gaga. And by no means would their music ever be my “favorite” although I like to belt out California Gurlz and Tik Tok like a teenie-bopper.

      That being said, I hear what you’re saying. I’m not sure why indie women aren’t getting more recognition this year. Maybe women were popular last year…. I honestly don’t think of the sex or race card when it comes to music. I’m moved by the sound, beat, lyrics, etc.

  • Lindsey Rae

    Emily, I don’t disagree with you at all, and I certainly welcome you to point out where you see problems in my posts. With regard to your comment about the marketing of female artists, I couldn’t possibly speak for the industry as a whole. But I will say that In my own experience as a publicist, we promoted our female artists with as much fervor as our male artists. There’s an awful lot to say about how female artists are promoted, how they’re received, and even how they behave in comparison to male artists, and I certainly have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but I’m not sure this is the place for such a discussion. I’m not even sure I’m the person to have it with, to be honest.
    I will say that I was truly disappointed not to include any female artists in this list. It certainly did not escape my notice. There were certainly some great releases by women this year – it’s just that none of them were particular favorites of mine. You can be sure that I plan to feature some great music by excellent female artists in the coming year. Thank you for your comment!