I’ll remember 2010 as the year I started to actually pay attention to fresh non-pop music. Or to put it another way, I will remember it as the year in which I began to make an effort to keep up with quality bands and albums as they released new work, enough so that I feel confident in putting together a list of favourites. It was also a year in which I solidified my appreciation of artists, some of whom I began exploring in 2009, but who did not release albums in 2010: Joe Henry, Over The Rhine, Okkervil River, The Mountain Goats, David Bazan, Florence and the Machine, to name a few. And Radiohead. Heck, even Bob Dylan. I have had a very sheltered listening life.
To put things in context, my music-listening tastes have always been months or years-long affairs dominated by one major genre or type. Besides a childhood raised in traditionally Anglican church musical setting (and discounting my brief, second-grade flair with new country) film scores were my first great musical love. At fourteen I discovered Switchfoot and almost immediately after, CCM, both of which dominated my high school life. I still love Switchfoot to this day; the CCM of my teen years, not so much (and for those who care, I would indeed defend the notion that Switchfoot should not be described as CCM).
For the last couple of years my listening time has been devoted to more “indie” bands and artists (and catching up on 30 years of U2). And for the first time ever, I’m enjoying a truly wider variety of styles all at once.
When I put together a list like this, I don’t really have a critical hat to wear as I would if it were a film list. If it moves me in some way — emotionally or physically — or if I think it reaches down into that spot a bit to the left and below the stomach and presses my melancholy buttons, it’s probably going to make the list. And to be honest, 2010 had a lot of melancholy moments.
These were the albums, the songs, the notes, the words, that would come alongside and sigh like an old friend. These works went a long way to making the hard times bearable. Or they were just plain fun. Either way, I needed these albums.
- Arcade Fire — The Suburbs (Half-Light II)
- The National — High Violet (Bloodbuzz Ohio)
- The Roots — How I Got Over (Right On)
- Daft Punk — Tron: Legacy (End of Line)
- Janelle Monae — The ArchAndroid (Cold War)
- Mavis Staples — You Are Not Alone (Wonderful Savior)
- Shearwater — The Golden Archipelago (Black Eyes)
- Titus Andronicus — The Monitor (The Battle of Hampton Roads)
- Anais Mitchell — Hadestown (Wait For Me)
- Tobymac — Tonight (City On Our Knees)
John Legend’s collaboration with The Roots, Wake Up!, deserves an honorable mention. I’d also be remiss to avoid the fact that one of the single most possessive and, somehow, satisfying singles I heard in 2010 was B.o.B’s “Airplanes.”
In terms of non-2010 releases, I was immensely moved by David Bazan’s Curse Your Branches (2009), thoroughly wowed by the lyrical dexterity of Okkervil River’s The Stage Names (2007), and, in what was perhaps my favourite musical experience of 2010, brought to my knees again and again as I worked my way through Joe Henry’s output. Civilians (2007) is a masterpiece for the ages.
Soundtrack-wise, I didn’t hear much besides Tron: Legacy that really gripped me, although Hans Zimmer’s surprisingly excellent Sherlock Holmes score does technically qualify as 2010 music release. I greatly admired John Adams’ work on I Am Love, but have not heard it as an album yet.
And that was 2010. The new year has already brought at least one album that I’m fairly certain will be on this list next January. Onwards and upwards, then.
EDIT (3/3/11): Shuffled Mavis up to #6. It’s a beauty.