2010, Best Of: My Year In New Music

Any list of best music should really be called “favorite music,” and mine has to begin with the standard caveat: I didn’t listen to or absorb nearly enough to make an informed choice.

But in addition to that, and possibly as a result of my advancing age (49), I find myself less infatuated with “the new” and “the next,” so don’t chase after the latest & greatest with the same zeal I once had. And there are diminishing finances to consider in this slumping, sluggish economy. While I’m always interested in hearing great new music, sometimes that amounts to discovering early Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac or a neglected John Fahey disc. Shouldn’t I just spend more time exploring the Kinks back catalog? So a lot of things that were new to me in 2010 were not at all new to the world, just new to mine.

That said, here goes:

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This was the year when I derived a lot of pleasure from the so-called British nu-folk movement, especially new disks from LAURA MARLING (“I Speak Because I Can”), MUMFORD & SONS (“Sigh No More”), TOM McRAE (“The Alphabet of Shadows”), and STORNOWAY’S debut (“Beachcomber’s Windowsill”).

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I also fully endorse some of the obvious choices, more on the hipster tip: ARCADE FIRE (“The Suburbs”), THE NATIONAL (“High Violet”), BROKEN BELLS (“s/t”), BEACH HOUSE (“Teen Dream”), and BLACK KEYS (“Brothers”). Love each one of those disks.

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In terms of singer-songwriters, I especially liked SHARON VAN ETTEN (“Epic”), LAURA VEIRS (“July Flame”), THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH (“The Wild Hunt”), and CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (“IRM”).

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A few old favorites came through with solid efforts, led by TEENAGE FANCLUB (“Shadows”), their best since “Songs of Northern Britain.” Others: PETER WOLF (“Midnight Souveniers”), and THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (“Together”). In the alt-country vein, RYAN BINGHAM & THE DEAD HORSES (“Junky Star”), PHOSPHERESCENT followed up their disk of Willie Nelson covers with “Here’s to Taking It Easy,” and I’m still trying to wrap my ears around JAMEY JOHNSON’S 25-song, double-CD, “The Guitar Song.”

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More rock-based bands that I liked: TITUS ANDRONICUS (“The Monitor”), DEERHUNTER, (“Halcyon Digest”), and THE LIARS (“Sisterworld”).

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Some things that didn’t easily fit into the categories above: BLITZEN TRAPPER (“Destroyer of the Void”), BAND OF HORSES (“Infinite Arms”), and WILLIAM TYLER (“Behold the Spirit”). Bubbling Under: JOSH RITTER (“So Runs the World Away”).

Lastly, things I would own (and likely like) if I had more money: CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS (“Genuine Negro Jig”), JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE (“Harlem River Blues”), MIDLAKE (“The Courage of Others”), THE WALKMEN (“Lisbon”), FRIGHTENED RABBIT (“The Winter of Mixed Drinks”), THE ROOTS (“How I Got Over”), SPOON (“Transference”), THE VILLAGERS (Becoming a Jackel”), JOHNNY FLYNN (“Been Listening”).

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Acclaimed that I did not care for: VAMPIRE WEEKEND (“Contra”), THE BOOKS (“This Way Out”). Then there’s a lot of stuff I elected not to own, based on limited listenings, such as SLEIGH BELLS, WAVVES, YEASAYER, and a boatload of others that were praised elsewhere and I never gave, for a variety of reasons, a fair listen. Hey, my ears can’t be everywhere. And my taste currently leans much more into wooden music than electronica, and for me song craft continues to trump attitude.

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That leaves KANYE WEST’S “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which is probably the most widely praised disk of the year. As a personality, I find Kanye unbearable –- and as a live performer on television I find him bloated and dull (an unlikely but devastating combo). Yet he does have an undeniable musical gift and made a compelling disk, with all kinds of high marks. The opening track, “Dark Fantasy” strikes me as ground-breaking and brilliant. Not to mention any time a rapper brings together King Crimson and Bon Iver is worth at least a wtf. I won’t listen to this CD much, but there’s definitely some head-turning moments that I couldn’t ignore.

So . . . My Top Nine:

Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, The National, Black Keys, Beach House, Jamey Johnson, Tallest Man on Earth, Broken Bells, __________.

I’ll leave the tenth spot blank, because I probably didn’t hear it.

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As always . . . your mileage may vary. Hopefully you’ll find something you like here.


  1. Kurtis Scaletta says:

    Good list… it’s hard to keep up with all the music out there, but I like Justin and think he’s a worthy successor to his dad and his namesake. As you know, I love High Violet…. that’s probably my favorite album this year. I agree that Contra was a disappointment after a really fun first album from Vampire Weekend, but maybe you just flat-out don’t like the band. I’ve heard The Walkmen and Deerhunter but haven’t formed an opinion yet…

    I just bought MGMT’s second album, which had mixed reviews… it was only five bucks… maybe that’s the #10 you missed.

  2. Kurtis Scaletta says:

    The title song led to the saddest video ever made.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Yeah, I guess I find Vampire Weekend a little too precious. There’s a lot of “aren’t we clever?” in them.

  4. Kurtis Scaletta says:

    Do check out the MGMT though. I really like it.

  5. Ann says:

    Thank you. I’ve planned, baked, wrapped, decorated until my mind is holiday mush. Thank you for a moment of “ahhh … something new and wonderful.” Thank you.

  6. jimmy says:

    Ann, I’ve spend most of my life shushing people, saying, “Hey, listen to this song!”

    And I know that’s kind of annoying. Thanks for listening.

  7. Scope Notes says:

    I look away for one minute and you go and post an awesome best music of the year list. I’m with you on many of your picks. I especially liked Tallest Man on Earth and Beach House. You also gave me a few to check out. Appreciated!

  8. jimmy says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Travis. Yes, Tallest Man on Earth strikes me as the most singular talent to emerge this year. His Daytrotter concert (free download) is also wonderful. What do you recommend? What did I miss?

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