Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Mojo: Big surprise, I know. But not only did "I Should Have Known It" vault into my Top 5 Heartbreakers songs the first time I heard it - and make me a bigger Led Zeppelin fan in the process - but others like "Candy" and "Good Enough" also held up a big funhouse mirror to my life in 2010. I won't go into why, but in a year I really didn't like a whole lot of new albums, Mojo was far and away the best.
Old 97's, The Grand Theatre Vol. 1: The (somewhat) Dallas band snapped back into pre-Satellite Rides form big time with this one. My favorites were "State of Texas," "Champaign, Illinois," "The Magician" and "Every Night Is Friday Night," but they're all winners.
Mike Stinson, The Jukebox In Your Heart: An empty bottle, a broken heart, and you're still on my mind. On his first album as a Houstonian, Stinson makes a solid case that he's the smartest, sharpest and saddest honky-tonk songwriter since Gram Parsons.
The National, High Violet: This year I was reminded of the main reason the National remains one of my favorite bands; they consistently and reliably release high-quality, emotionally aware records. This year's High Violet is no exception. Brooding frontman Matt Berninger brings endless dramatic brilliance to its lyrical content, expressing his signature unreservedly romantic sentiment on tracks like "Conversation 16." High Violet is the soundtrack to emotional ruin, the coming of age, and obsessively devoted love; such a manic combination earns this record the title of my favorite of the year.
Beach House, Teen Dream: While the Baltimore duo's third release doesn't exactly deviate from their ardently characteristic dream-pop sound, it successfully meshes droning organ, hazy guitar effects, and hazy vocals with a listener-friendly quality that the band's previous records may have lacked. Teen Dream blends front woman Victoria Legrand's smoky vocals with influences of soul and 70s pop, a la Fleetwood Mac meets Mazzy Star meets Nico. Tracks like "Take Care" showcase Legrand's patiently-awaited emotional baring, as she professes, "I'll take care of you/ If you ask me to/ In a year or two."
LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening: What I like best about LCD mastermind James Murphy is once I think I've pegged his genre, I'm proven wrong. Murphy piles on electro dance beats, electric guitar riffs, and introspective and simultaneously humorous lyrics. Happening includes everything a quality record should: A couple of addictive radio-ready singles ("Drunk Girls," "I Can Change"), a sarcastic satire ("You Wanted a Hit"), and an empathetically intelligent track ("All I Want"). Rumor has it Happening will be Murphy's final LCD album; I'd say it's one hell of way to bow out.
LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening: Admittedly, I checked into LCD Soundsystem rather late. Nothing makes me happy the way this album can. If it's playing in my house, I'm almost certainly dancing with shameless abandon, much to the horror of my cat.
The Gold Sounds, Seismic Love: If there is a local band more criminally underrated than Deer Park's The Gold Sounds, please let me know. This album blew me away on first listen, and even in February I had it pegged for local album of the year. Seismic Love is big, stomping, and fun, with some nice gritty rumble in the bass. It's not a one trick pony, either, and the slow songs fit in nicely with the big rockers. Think Zeppelin, The Who and Tom Petty, with a dash of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Howl.
The Black Keys, Brothers: The Black Keys can do no wrong, it seems, but Brothers appears to be the album that finally broke them into the mainstream conscious, and for good reason. I had this on repeat for days when I first bought it, and while it has a couple misses, the majority of this album is solid gold.
John Seaborn Gray: I didn't hear anywhere near the amount of new music I should have this year, but of the albums I heard, I have to say I keep coming back to The National's High Violet. It's what they've been building to over their past few albums: a cohesive collection of stirring, gorgeous music.
Other than that, I'd say I was most pleasantly surprised by Neil Young's Le Noise, in which he basically invents a genre - American folk metal - while somehow sounding stripped-down and epic at the same time. My favorite new act this year would have to be Janelle Monae, whose The ArchAndroid updated weird, spacey funk for a modern age. She's just fantastic.
Rolling Stones, Exile On Main Street (reissue): This blew everything else away for me this year, even though it came out a good decade before I was born. The second disc of new tracks and cleaned-up boots smoked too.
Beach House, Teen Dream: This one never left either my car, or my player at home. It was soothing and swelling, and altogether unlike most of the stuff I run around with.
Kings Of Leon, Come Around Sundown: OK, I get it. We are all supposed to hate Kings Of Leon now, since "Sex On Fire" came out in 2008 and their fanbase was overran with pretty girls and dudes in baseball hats and brown sandals. But the secret about Come Around Sundown is that it was a well-crafted throwback to the expanses of Because of the Times that we liked so much and sealed the deal for us on the band. If anything, it was them biting back at the new people and daring them to like it.
Jef With One F:
2010 saw some really stellar releases. After being out of the public eye for a while, Bauhaus/Love and Rockets/Goth legend Daniel Ash dropped an incredible death rock disc called It's a Burnout. Technically, the album came out in the closing days of 2009, but I didn't get a chance to listen, review and interview the man until the first part of this year, so I'm counting it. The four-song EP is short, dirty, hard, and is one of the best things Ash ever put out. That's saying something.
Closer to home, we get San Antonio electro-duo Hyperbubble's Candy Apple Daydreams, released just after Valentine's Day. The synthesizer couple is very much on the rise, and just recently got back from a European tour. Candy Apple Daydreams is the best synth-pop album to come out of Texas in almost a decade, and I'd be remiss in leaving it off a best-of-2010 list.
But if you're wondering what local album really kicked donkey right in the kong this year, it was Devils That We Are by Hollywood Black. Sure, it's less old-school spooky than Ash, and less new-school boopy than Hyperbubble, but it's also a genre-twisting short masterpiece that is the best in a loooong list of epic shorts from Houston artists this year. The album is a loose tale of the rise and fall of very flawed popular religious leaders, and it just such a chord of great narrative that I can't help but hand the palm of local victory to them. Well done, boys.
The Black Keys, Brothers: I wasn't originally sold on the Black Keys' first album; maybe it was the lack of bass, or maybe I'm a production groupies, but it didn't strike me the way it struck many of our friends. Brothers, however, got me to hop on the bandwagon as quick as I could. After watching the hilarious video for "Next Girl," I decided it was time to give Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney a second go, because it's one hell of an album.
Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager: Forget Kanye. As far as I'm concerned, Cudi's the new sheriff in town. But even when you're not comparing the two, Mr. Rager held its own as a solid follow-up to a strong first showing. From the album's first track, the Cleveland native challenges his own style of rap, maintaining a somewhat lazy, stoner-ish flow while spraying listeners with an onslaught of lyrics akin to a machine gun blast. On his first album, Cudi brought us into his dreams. On Mr. Rager, he brought us into his reality, and we dig it.
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SHOW ME HOW
Johnny Cash, American VI: Ain't No Grave: Do I even have to justify this one? It may not be his greatest album ever, but it definitely deserves to be in the list of top albums of 2010. Hell, even if it were just one track, "Ain't No Grave," I would still listen to it on repeat for years to come. And it's the last Cash album featuring original material from an American legend. Want to fight about it? Bring it on. God bless Johnny Cash.
Shea Serrano: Non-Houston albums: Kanye's album (regardless of what Craig says), Big Boi's album and Yelawolf's mixtape, in that order. I think I've mentioned that before.
Brittanie Shey: As if I listened to any modern music this year.
William Michael Smith: These.