The Black Keys came roaring out of the second wave of garage rock revivalists, bringing blues and psychedelic rock to the forefront of popular music again. Classical music collective The Vitamin String Quartet latest effort VSQ Performs The Black Keys pays tribute to the duo’s grittiest songs with unique string arrangements of Lonely Boy, Tighten Up and more.
So after much deliberation, head scratching, discussion, and more head scratching, we have MM’s favourite albums of 2010. And we choose our words very carefully here, because we would not presume them to be the best, only those that have given us the most pleasure and enjoyment, records that we have returned to again and again, and for whatever reason have captured a moment or special place in our hearts.
And while we have limited our selection to 25 albums there were many, many more that could have, and maybe should have, featured. But there that’s the beauty of music, entirely subjective and based on individual opinions not fact.
So without further ado, here are our 25 favourite albums of 2010.
25 Sharon Van Etten – Epic
Haunting, ethereal and stunning album from a modern day siren. Sad prairie folk music indeed.
The son of the peerless Steve Earle comes of age with a perfectly judged set of tales that in their honesty and unashamed frankness are worthy of Townes himself.
Listen to Harlem River Blues.
21 Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
With repeated listens the sheer power and passion of The Monitor becomes overwhelming. So what if it is a concept album about the American Civil War, its ambitious, rebellious, and rousing. Just play it loud!
Another perfectly judged record from the perfectly matched duo. Campbell’s lovely whispering tones offset by Mr Lanagan’s threatening growl.
Listen to Snake Song.
19 Lower Dens – Twin Hand Movement
An album of dreamy, unsettling rock melded with freak-folk to provide one of the year’s most unusual and most rewarding listens. At times it sounds like an evil Beach House and at others spare and caustic where hope is slowly, but firmly drowned in a swirling, atmospheric mix of twinkling guitars and alluring voices.
In the vein of the much lauded and genuinely good Tame Impala, Tweak Bird were louder, faster, and simply rocked harder. A superb mix of motorcycle rock riffs with dirty fingernail blues and even a hint of jazz. This was stoner rock for the 21st century and it was brilliant.
Indie rock with a country inflection, Delta Spirit packed History From Below full of dusty, rural Americana and bar room blues boogie. With the impassioned and distinctive voice of Matt Vasquez backed by a rumbling juggernaut of percussion and rhythms, the album was a welcome addition to the long tradition of classic American rock.
Indie gods manage to live up to, and then surpass the hype with The Suburbs, an album full of outstanding tracks that demand they be listened to as a whole – a proper music album.
Watch Ready To Start.
12 Band Of Horses – Infinite Arms
Despite some occasional iffy AOR moments, Infinite Arms was like the girl with the curl, and when it was good (which it mostly was), it was brilliant.
11 Black Keys – Brothers
Authentic blues duo cranked out their best yet and in tracks like Sinister Kid and Howlin’ For You added some more classic cuts to their catalogue.
Watch Tighten Up.
10 Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
Showcasing her incredible natural talent despite such tender years, I Speak Because I Can truly marked Laura Marling out as a worthy heiress to Joni, Emmy Lou and the like. Darker, stronger, and more confident than her debut, she is surely poised for great things.
Watch Rambling Man.
9 Liars – Sisterworld
A brilliant collection of crushing guitars, machine gun percussion and soaring vocals that retained its experimental art-noise edge but became much more accessible and much more listenable – welcome to the big league time?
Listen to the superb Proud Evolution.
8 The National – High Violet
Overcoming the music blogger’s ‘big band’ prejudice with ease, High Violet was bigger, better and more affecting than anything the National have done to date.
Listen to Conversation 16.
7 Strand Of Oaks – Pope Killdragon
Having caught our attention with their wonderful Springsteen cover on Hear Ya, Strand of Oaks more than lived up to our expectations with Pope Killdragon. Sparse folk tunes mixed with occasional and abstract guitar wigouts and also showcased Tim Showalter’s ability to grab the attention with some of the best lyrical couplets of the year. Stand out track Alex Kona a case in point, starting “Alex Kona was twelve feet tall, his mother was killed by a bowling ball” – what’s not to like?
Spare, beautiful, mournful and melancholic, the fragile folk of Mathew Sawyer hid whiplash lyrics and biting black humour that revealed and revelled in a bittersweet world where daydreams and nightmares fought to the death for supremacy.
Backwards-looking it maybe, but that’s to miss the point of Black Mountain. This was an album bursting with rock riffs that were so good you thought they must have been invented in the classic age of rock, and in Let Spirits Ride, the band provided the headbanging anthem of the year.
Another wonderful record of rousing, country infused tunes. Each listen revealed more of its anthemic charms and spirited, rugged rock on an album full of top notch tunes from start to finish.
Watch Shadow People.
3 Blitzen Trapper – Destroyer Of The Void
A brilliant and worthy follow-up to the exceptional Furr, and in songs like The Man Who Would Speak True, Blitzen Trapper showed they had worthy successors to classics like Black River Killer and the like. Full of prog-folk, dusty rural ballads, sci-fi synths and more, Destroyer of the Void was a stunning record.
After the sublime To Willie tribute last year came the originals. From the loose, ramshackle rock of It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama) to cowboy ballads, transcendental homages, and the climactic, Neil Young like, epic album closer L.A.
Despite Wither Thous Goest, Cretin only receiving an initially limited release, and despite it being overshadowed by the subsequent release of (the also excellent) The Death Seat on Michael Gira’s label, Wooden Wand delivered an album of stunning simplicity, in equal parts poignant, heartbreaking, and redemptive.
With lyrics that are the match of any songwriter we know (“He had just enough rope in his trunk to make her nervous”) allied to sparse, plucked folk on the one hand and footstomping barnyard rhythms on the other, there is not a wasted moment, nor a false step on the entire album.