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Top Ten Albums of 2010

As I do every year, I’m gonna list some albums here that kept my ears occupied more than others in 2010. It was a little harder this year coming up with ten, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad year for music. As always, I’m looking for more great stuff to listen to, so please feel free to leave your own picks!

In high rotation on my iPod this year were:

The MelvinsThe Bride Screamed Murder

It seems a little weird putting one of the most peculiar yet uniquely charming metal bands of the past three decades in the top spot, but there’s no album I listened to more this year, and that’s always my primary criterion. This is their most accessible and best album in years, thanks again to the contribution of the Big Business dudes on rhythm and in harmony. Epic riffs, beautiful and haunting vocal melodies, and a sick dual drum assault.

The SwordWarp Riders

Every year there’s a “guitar album” I make sure to include, and this is it. The Sword have followed through again with another showcase of towering and intricate riff-rock. The smokin’ chops and blazing solos of Warp Riders are a delight for any guitar player. It makes me want to plug in and make myself even deafer.

Damian Marley & NasDistant Relatives

Anyone familiar with both of these artists should know what to expect from a collaboration. But this album is so much more than just fusion of rap and reggae. Each allows the other to flourish in the right spots on the right tracks, and when they come together it’s nothing short of stunning. Both are legends in their respective genres and they marry their talents beautifully on this album.

Blitzen TrapperDestroyer of the Void

On first listen this sounds like ’60s Dylan, ’70s Bowie, the Band and the Grateful Dead all crammed together. I wasn’t a fan of catchall classic rock homage bands before, but there’s a lot to be said for paying tribute to the legends all at once through your own original music. Many of their songs tell epic stories both lyrically and musically. Whenever I put this album on, I almost always find myself listening to it the whole way through.

BaronessThe Blue Record

This is probably “guitar album #2” on my list, but with a little more sauce. Baroness is the most under-appreciated band in modern metal, and it’s really a shame. Building off their last Red Album, this one carves out a deeper sound with more complicated guitar melodies and vocal ranges. Their songs are both sweet and brutal, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a band nowadays that can pull that off effectively.

The Dead WeatherSea of Cowards

Usually I’m all for anything Jack White puts his name on, but I was pretty disappointed with this band’s first album. But when he’s just the drummer in what sounds like a standard bar band, I guess expectations should be lowered slightly. On this one, he steps up a bit more with his voice and his guitar and it adds more value to the rock on this record. Not to take away at all from Alison Mosshart – she’s an amazing singer with a huge live presence. She saved my life at Bonnaroo.

High on FireSnakes for the Divine

Matt Pike. That’s all you need to know.

Blakroc

Everyone and their grandma loved the Black KeysBrothers album this year. It was pretty alright, but I thought this was their better recent effort. They basically made a hip hop album with the RZA and a whole bunch of other dudes (including a resurrected Ol’ Dirty Bastard) and it kicks ass. It’s only natural that a stripped-down band that specializes in rhythm and blues makes a foundation for some pretty enjoyable rap music.

Wab KinewMide Sun Music

While not his official follow-up to Live by the Drum, it’s a stellar mixtape featuring some of his greatest musician friends from Winnipeg and beyond. Wab embodies what it is to be a young, educated, and dedicated Anishinaabe in today’s Canada. The tracks on this collection are honest, heartfelt, powerful, and funny. I’m stoked for Die by the Drum in 2011.

Joanna NewsomHave One on Me

When I first heard she was putting out a triple album as a follow-up to the impeccable Ys, it made me a little uneasy. Her music is a little hard to digest at first, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure enough, I could only listen to one song at a time initially, but once I got through them all I remembered why she is a musical genius with the ability to shake you to the core.

Honorable Mentions:

Chic GamineCity City

Some of the most unique music I’ve ever heard in my live. Check it out for yourself.

BiipiigwanGod’s Hooks

They get to open up for big names in metal whenever they’re in town. They must be doing something right.

Rock on in 2011!

Random Recent Album Reviews

I only review albums that I like. Here are a few new ones that I’ve been digging lately.

High on Fire
Snakes for the Divine

The adrenal gland needs its own theme music. When that rush of adrenaline is pumping through your body, there are very few fitting genres of music. High on Fire has been specializing in brutally powerful riff metal for a long time, and their formula will have the meekest music enthusiasts ready to pound down brick walls. Matt Pike and his band have honed a very distinct brand of metal that’s based entirely on fast, loud, and ethereal guitar chops, rounded out by growling vocals and the tightest and heaviest rhythm section in the genre.

As usual, the album comes out swinging with the title track. A searing finger-tapping opening riff reminiscent of a cross between Black Sabbath and Van Halen. But it’s Pike’s expansion on that seemingly basic theme along with the ferocious bass licks and pounding drums that elevate this music well above that basic comparison. The riffs also begin simply on other standout tracks like “Frost Hammer” and “How Dark We Pray”, but as the cornerstones of most High on Fire songs, they unravel into beautifully complex heavy metal melodies. It’s an evolution that’s thrilling to trace within each track.

That’s the trademark High on Fire sound, and it’s a formula they’ve stuck to since 2005’s Blessed Black Wings. Fans won’t hear much of a departure from that album. But if there’s anything metal fans appreciate, it’s consistency, and you can count on these guys to get your adrenal gland pumping album after album.

Blakroc

Aerosmith and Run-DMC thought it’d be a good idea back in 1986 to record a rap/rock collaboration of “Walk this Way” and bring it to the mainstream. Then Anthrax and Public Enemy did a better job with a heavier “Bring the Noise” in 1991. Then a couple years later, the Judgment Night soundtrack came out, a full album’s worth of rap/rock/metal collaborations from the most popular artists of the time. But as the 1990s progressed, bands devoted their whole careers to mashing rap and rock, and with each copycat the music got progressively worse and we listeners got dumber for hearing it.

But finally in 2010, Blackroc has reversed that trend. The brainchild of Akron, Ohio’s The Black Keys, this album captures the original spirit of that partnership of making revolutionary music and building bridges. Here you have soulful melodies and beats rapped and sung over by some of today’s best artists in rap and R & B, like Raekwon, the RZA, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Ludacris, Q-Tip and Nicole Wray. They even dug up some old Ol’ Dirty Bastard vocal tracks and made a song around them.

It’s a very energetic and eclectic project, due largely to the obvious enthusiasm and dedication of everyone involved. The Black Keys have always played stripped-down and soulful blues-rock – something that’s very translatable to hip-hop. Almost any of their older albums could have easily become Blakroc, because of the universal riffs and rhythms. Perhaps they waited until now to release it because of the saturation in the rap/rock genre earlier in their careers. Regardless, this album has restored the faith of music fans who had to endure the all the garbage of the late 1990s.

Joanna Newsom
Have One on Me

One of my all-time favourite albums is Joanna Newsom’s Ys. I bought it on a whim after reading a few glowing reviews shortly after it was released at the end of 2006, and it totally blew me away. It was unlike anything I had ever heard and whenever it came on I became so captivated that I’d have to listen to it right to the end. One of the main reasons is she plays the harp, and there’s not much I listen to based on that ancient and bizarre instrument. On top of that, she weaves intricate and epic narratives into her massive songs. Some may find her lyrics a little strange and perhaps esoteric, but after a few listens they totally suck you in.

So to follow up that masterpiece, she just released a TRIPLE album. If the last one wasn’t enough of a mindblast, she decided to bring it threefold on this one. But before giving it a spin, I went into this one a little cautiously. In contemporary music, excess and eccentricity don’t necessarily make good albums. Quality over quantity, less is more, blah blah blah. I was delightfully surprised to hear an album of focused, shorter songs that flow rather seamlessly. Have One on Me is also a journey, but a slightly less intense and equally enjoyable one as Ys.

The unconventional instruments are still there, along with her nasally voice delivering sometimes bizarre ballads. But there’s also a lot more percussion – something totally missing on her last album. That should make these songs more accessible to newer fans. At over two hours of music, I’m still digesting it, but I’ll always appreciate the new path she’s trying to chart for modern music.

Do you have any new music recommendations? Leave them in the comments!

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