Selecting the best music of 2010 is about as easy as listening to all of it — we may have space to name drop 199 average records, but there's not enough time in 365 days for the true quality that drops under the radar and far above it. But here it is – our 100% objective, highly scientific and honed calls for the best 35 music release of 2010.
Some obvious choices, other long shots, some bound for greatness, others a bad-ass tape release. We are fans of all of them, and you should be too.
The Best Music of 2010
35 Coyote Clean Up, Double Trouble Doo Doo Bubble (self-released)
At one point mid-way through the year it was hard to keep up with the slow drip of syrupy electro collage Coyote Clean Up was dropping at a regular rate. There were Pink Priest dub remixes, comp spots, and slow-mo'd vid footage for tracks off his one-and-a-half hour wacked dance trip Double Trouble Doo Doo bubble
34 Strange Boys, Be Brave (In The Red)
Sambol’s voice garbles in that Marc Bolan-by-way-of-a-Texan-desperado variety, while the band's extended country-ish tendencies veer the Boys in an eclectic direction not typical amongst garage rockers.
33 CoConuts, Coconuts (No Quarter)
CoConuts seem to be scraping at the surface of nightmarish notions, but their morose sounds don’t send you into a k-hole. Rather, it carries you into a Lynch-esque waiting room of echoes and eerie resonance. Without straying from the Goth Australian HTRK thing these guy’s are vibing on, they manage to braid together a murky sea of demonic and divine into a sound that is intensely their own.
32 Delorean, Subiza (True Panther)
Subiza is less interested in “simpler” pop music than its predecessor, the Ayrton Senna EP: it favors texture over quick hooks, richer sounds over cascading anthems, moodiness over perma-celebration, and genuine lyrics over one-line sing-alongs. Ultimately, the album did the best job of combining the high altitude atmosphere of electro-ambience with pure pop sentimentality.
31 Ty Segall, Melted, (Goner)
Ty Segall has always been one talented mo-fo. The touring Segall used to play solo, strumming and foot tapping on a bass drum, pelting out the jams. Lucky for Ty, he's part of a community of psyche-heads in SF that love incestuous recording sessions. Melted is the cleanest Ty record to date, though it's still gritty and hacked with reckless riffing, so don't get it twisted like Ty Segall is going all Lenny Kravitz. Indeed, Ty's knack for catchy songwriting might have suffered from burial in the noisy filth. Polish it up a bit and Ty Segall sounds like a young Paul McCartney – no joke.
30 El-P and Camu Tao, Central Services EP (Definitive Jux)
Central Services' Forever Frozen In Television Time was a collaborative record by El-P and Camu Tao (who died of lung cancer in 2008), recorded without concern for sample clearance or the traditional discourse of hip hop. Camu's panoramic paranoid wild stylings is at its most fully-realized under the freak-funk of El-P's sinister production. It was recorded in 2005, but it could have easily been recorded inside Philip K. Dick's re-animated head.
29 La Station Radar (LSR 030) compilation
Of the many excellent outer-limits compilations that amassed on our collective desk this year, we returned most often to the one hours and 19 minutes carefully laid out over 25 tracks on the La Station Radar compilation, one that put a definitive exclamation point on this year's crunchy-to-chilly avant rock, noise, experimental. It's a right-now snapshot of some of the best obscure and emerging musicians, a gem that already feels both lost in time and timeless.
28 Adam Green, Minor Love, (Fat Possum)
Minor Love is Adam Green's and producer Noah Georgeson's (Joanna Newsom, Devendra Barnhart) attempt to make a 70's folk rock record. For obsessors over Lou Reed solo records or Iggy Pop's Lust For Life: this record feels like walking into a stranger's apartment and finding all of your furniture there. Amidst the dozens of bands trying to wreck our auditory senses all White Light/White Heat style, Green seems to be the first to pursue mature and serene Loaded era.
27 How to Dress Well, Love Remains (Lefse Records)
Somehow HtDW got slugged with a “bedroom R&B” plug as his tracks leaked out over the past year, saw an empire of blog love crumble after one hipster show went awry, but not before releasing one of the most ethereal and blissed out dance records of the year.
26 Danny Brown, The Hybrid (Rappers I Know)
Brown's record can be summed up by one line from “Greatest Rapper Ever,” the opening track, “I rap like a bet my life because in all actuality, nigga I did!” Brown is a cyborg of Detroit rap styles. He's got a screw loose in his stream of consciousness bars, crack recipes juxtaposed with madcap lyrics akin to the D-12 shock value, but no gimmicks here.
25 J. Irvin Dally, Despistado EP (self-released)
Dally seems disaffected by his youth, a weathered nomad before his mid-20s, he sings like a ghost with a broken ghoul-call over acoustic strums that stir up mists of dust. Back from Spain, Dally has transplanted just outside of LA in Santa Rosa – home to Ryan Schmale of That Ghost. It's tempting to call his Despistado EP (which translates to “confused”) a self-released seven-song magnum opus, but given his youth and unbridled brilliance, it's still too early to put ceilings on the kid.
24 Fresh & Onlys, Play It Strange (In The Red)
Heralded as a working class band, they are iconic figures around the Upper Haight district in San Francisco, the Fresh & Onlys bombard Play It Strange with the sound of a group that's been touring for decades, which we hope they one day become. The album's molded together by its influences (and genuine song craftsmanship), though it never sounds pointlessly anchored in tired nostalgia. Rather, the band plays with a cadence that youngins' like “The Surfer Blood” have attempted to capitalize on; thankfully F&O do it with skill, taste, and earnest emotion.
23 Beach Fossils, Beach Fossils (Captured Tracks)
Dustin Payseur’s sure handling of the guitar and talent for melody are what set Beach Fossils apart from the great (chill)wave of beachy, fossily, lo-fi-ish bands that’s been cresting out of Brooklyn and Southern California for the past year.
22 Open Mike Eagle, Unapologetic Art Rap, (Mush Records)
Open Mike Eagle is here to show us how little has changed since De La Soul pioneered the style, while officially introducing us to Mike the person. He raps like a direct descendent to the Native Tongues as he lays out art rap woes with lines like, “I could never be a simple brother / because world ain’t black and white, some of this shit is magenta colored.” Had “Pissy Transmissions” never been recorded the comparison probably wouldn't rise, but we can’t help but think of Open Mike Eagle’s knack for left-brain rhyming as hip hop’s answer to Malkmus.
21 Future Islands, In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)
We tweeted our first time listening through their neo-new wave classic In Evening Air, from which we gleamed lessons alla “Yeasayer can suck a dick,” and, “Samuel T. Herring is the love child of Kate Bush and Tom Waits.” The hard-working band with a prehistory that spans six years, a changed name, and a few lineup alterations, Future Islands continue to write fabulously contemporary pop songs, and I'mma let your boring blog pop finish, but Future Islands got the best live show in America.
20 Teengirl Fantasy, 7AM (Merok/True Panther)
We could explain that when we started getting into this full-length from Teengirl Fantasy, a merman appeared. Instead, let us encourage you to go past “Cheaters” and hit the nebulous dream-loop within this album, that, more than being a reconfiguration of old r&b and pop music, is a redrawing of the line between bedroom experimentalism and dance floor damage.
19 Javelin, No Más (Luaka Bop)
We called No Más “reconstructions of self-made samples put to a Williamsburg beat.” Some of those pieces have never left the regular rotation, both for DJ sets and sitting home in those egg looking pod chairs for which this music is perfectly suited. We worried that at worst they've created the elevator music of the future. But what we've slowly realized is that elevator music from the future is great.
18 The Walkmen, Lisbon (Fat Possum)
2010 may very well have been the year that old dudes broke, for the fifth or ninth time. Amongst the excitement over LCD Soundsystem, The National, Broken Social Scene, The Walkmen were the only band to stand out as the group that we'd be happy to have making albums and touring deep into their forties, fifties, sixties.
17 Jniero Jarel, Android Love Mayhem EP, (Label Who/Alpha Pup)
The sounds emanating from Jarel’s Android Love Mayhem EP suggest that it’s several galaxies to the left of where we currently reside. Dr. Who Dat? is back in the driver’s seat, propelled by low-end rhythms with amoeba-like structures, changing shape and genre without warning.
16 Prince Rama, Shadow Temple (Paw Tracks)
2010 was a great year for Prince Rama, who went from Boston-basde perennially touring underdogs to Avey Tar/Deakin accolytes opening for frickin' Neon Indian at Brooklyn Bowl. But it was the shimmering psychedelic production of their Shadow Temple LP that helped reveal the ecstatic energy of their live act to a wider audience.
15 PC Worship, Millennial Kreephause (Night People) and Live Reduxion 7-inch (SHDWPLY)
We're making a slight exception to this little “best of” process by nudging a tape and a 7-inch vinyl into a list of full length albums. They may not have made their grand forty minute opus this year but it didn't matter – the sun-scarred tunage that emerges in these two releases filled out the burnt core of their earlier psych-damaged improv sessions with pure melodic bloom and beautiful White Light/White Heat carnage. (And a sick cover of Black Flag's “Wasted”.)
14 Gary War, Police Water EP (Sacred Bones)
It may take some listening through the haze to realize the insane brilliance of Gary War, sort of a Sun Ra or Captain Beefheart of hypnogogia. A disorienting quality prevails, and this is the rare release that benefits from sameness. Like many production technique-centric acts, when Gary War figures out how to pull this off live, he’ll be poised to take over the world of tomorrow, today.
13 Big Boi, Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
Jive cock-blocked Andre 3000 from appearing on the record, but couldn't succeed in stopping the thing from achieving masterpiece status. Conclusions: “Tangerine” set the summer on fire and Jive are some jive-ass turkeys that should fold as a label.
12 Aloe Blacc, Good Things (Stones Throw)
Blacc's record could not have come at a better time. With the resurgence of soul music via labels like Stones Throw, Now & Again and Truth & Soul, Blacc's style fits nicely into the canon of these brilliant times in revival. “I Need A Dollar” was a great tune. Try not to spread any hate just because it landed on some HBO licensing money.
11 Sonny and the Sunsets, Tomorrow Is Alright (Soft Abuse)
Sonny Smith is a renaissance man. His band Sonny and the Sunsets gained much-deserved popularity with Tomorrow is Alright, their debut full-length for Soft Abuse, but Smith's been on the scene (and various other scenes) forever. (Read our interview.)
10 Kemialliset Ystävät, Ullakkopalo (Fonal)
It's a walk-off masterpiece of unhinged sound palette expressionism, and anyone with a passing interest in outer worldly transgression should strap on a third eye and hone in on any one of 14 tracks on this 42 minute excursion, preferably the whole thing.
09 Atlas Sound, Bedroom Database Vol. 1-4 (self-released)
We've liberally spread our love of these late-November releases all over our bests, and we'll repeat ourselves again. All four of these “volumes” are good enough to blow most of the bedroom pop that drops daily out of the bath tub; Cox is a songwriting savant with a good sense of how to play on noise and texture with supple, melodic delay and looping. But count him more immediately a descendent to the songwriter's tradition that might include Michael Hurley, Todd Rundgren, his own self-avowed favorite Bobby Conn.
08 Guilty Simpson, OJ Simpson (Stones Throw)
OJ Simpson is possibly one of the most gangster names for a rap duo since Smif-n-Wessun. The Juice must be rattling the bars at his Lovelock Correctional Center digs. Detroit’s Guilty Simpson and mad professor Madlib combined their efforts and names (Byron Simpson and Otis Jackson) to create rap duo O.J. Simpson. While having little to do with the real life Orenthal J. Simpson, Guilty and Madlib transformed the name into the new character of a ghetto pimping kingpin. The result is a masterfully produced mixtape to accompany your travels through Oxnard, California en route to Detroit, Michigan.
07 Women, Public Strain (Jagjaguwar)
R.I.P. (for now) these guys. Women released one of the best records of 2008 with their self-titled debut. Two years and one side band (see honorable mention Friendo) later they returned with Public Strain, a sophomore album that could just as well be the dark and stormy closing period of a much older band (and will have to be a bookend, thanks to the on-stage turmoil that broke the band up late this year).
06 Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars)
We didn't have any nasty pre-planning sessions for the Marnie Stern interview that was construed into one of the more definitive small arms indie battles of 2010. If Stern was hitting on something when she called Best Coast's act a joke, it was the lack of the kind of emotional weight that amplifies her own work, more than ever before in this year's self-titled, an album that was 100% confessonial without shedding a single spark of her guitar-savant shred style.
05 White Fence, White Fence (Make a Mess/Woodsist)
Is there anything Darker My Love’s Tim Presley cannot do? In between working on the upcoming DML album and providing guitar and additional vocals for the Strange Boys, he has saved some of his wildest material for this solo project. We went a little White Fence crazy in 2010, going to his first show, mythologizing his leaked tracks, and comparing his self-titled record to demigods of the late 60s.
03 Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
Before there was an army of lo-fi bedroom artists trying to replicate the sound of haze and nostalgia, there was Beach House doing it without all the reverb. Teen Dream solidified the Baltimore duo's place as one of the great song-writing projects of our generation.
02 Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Before Today (4AD)
Before Today may be known as the album that broke Ariel Pink and his band to the indie-conscious mainstream, but it also stands as the crowning masterpiece of his pop sensibilities. The immaculate production quality achieved under the guidance of Quincy Jone's grandson (Sunny Levine) and Rik Pekkonen evaporates any condensed questions about Pink's intention in older, scruffier releases; Before Today is the sound of Pink's majestic pop dreams.
01 Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma, (Brainfeeder/Warp)
One of the first things noticeable about Cosmogramma is while it's clearly Steven Ellison’s brainchild, there’s an enhanced spirit of collaboration on the album that wasn’t as prevalent on Los Angeles. It’s an impressive guest roster, but FlyLo’s vision remains at the heart of this release, an expansive and inclusive vision that stretches from the streets of LA to stratospheres beyond this universe. With Cosmogramma, Flying Lotus has created a panoramic work that connects the free jazz of a previous generation with the forward motion soundscapes of the next.
Air Waves, Dungeon Dots (Underwater Peoples)
Oneohtrix Point Never, Returnal (Editions Mego)
Guardian Alien, Live WFMU Session
Das Racist, Sit Down, Man (Mad Decent/Greedhead/Mishka)
Nocando, Jimmy The Lock (Alpha Pup)
Intuition, Girls Like Me (Hellfyre Club)
Ô Paon, Courses (self-released)
Versis, Illcandescent (self-released)
Plucky Walker, Raw Story (self-released)
Dibia$e, Machines Hate Me (Alpha Pup)
Mahjonng, The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger (K Records)
Tan Dollar, Change Your Mind (Beko DSL)
Lower Dens, Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonong)
Toro y Moi, Causers of This (Carpark Records)
Zach Hill, Face Tat (Sargent House)
Dustin Wong, Infinite Love (Thrill Jockey)
Doldrum's VHS release
Dinowalrus, % (Kanine)
James Ferraro, Feed Me (Olde English Spelling Bee)
Child Abuse, Cut and Run (Lovepump United)
Ninja Tune XX boxset
Indian Jewelry, Totaled (We Are Free/Monitored)
Sisters, Ghost Fits (Narnack)
Friendo, Cold Toads (St. Ives)
Pill Wonder, Jungle Surf (Underwater Peoples)
Cool Runnings, Babes Forever EP
Woods, At Echo Lake (Woodsist)
Thee Oh Sees, Warm Slime, (In The Red)