It’s that time again. That special time of year where I ramble on about my favorite albums of the year. If you’re reading this, you must really care about me – and that means a lot. So without further ado, here are my top 10 albums of 2010.
10. She & Him – Volume 2
Zooey Deschanel makes me smile. It’s not often that someone from the acting world makes a great music, but with “Volume 2,” Zooey has two great albums under her belt. With this newest release, the duo of Deschanel and M. Ward essential trim the fat from their first offering and craft a tighter, more cohesive body of work. I’ll admit, it takes a lot for me to get into a folk band, but there’s no question in my mind that these two do it as well as anyone.
9. My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
While being one of my most anticipated albums of the year, “Danger Days” was also simultaneously one of the most confusing. At times it appears that the band can’t decide whether it wants to be pop or rock, taking the listener on a sonic rollercoaster – lots of jerks, drop-offs, and a few moments that take your breath away. My conclusion is that this is what MCR was going for, and if so, they may have crafted the most clever album this year. If you still feel like you don’t know who My Chemical Romance really are as a band, that’s okay. I think that’s the point. “Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back” is a major highlight and maybe the best rock song of the year.
8. Surprises – All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Die
After the band Sullivan dissolved three years ago, many where left to wonder whether we would ever get to hear the voice of front man Brooks Paschal again. After a short break from the sound booth, Paschal returned this year, quite triumphantly, with his self released, self produced, solo album under the name Surprises. Many of the tracks on this album consist of laid back acoustic numbers, but he also delves into some electronic sounds. Most impressive are his vocals – especially the standout track “Accident,” where Paschal’s voice soars further than ever before. Already back in the studio working on more music, it’s safe to say that we’ll be hearing much more from Brooks in the near future. This is very good news.
7. It’s Alive – Human Resources
Hailing from Lake Mary, Florida, this post-grunge quintet burst onto the rock scene this year with their debut, “Human Resources.” Lead singer Zach Webb’s voice is just plain infections, as heard on the lead single and stand-out track “Pieces.” While it’s true that you won’t hear anything truly groundbreaking on this album, you will hear a band that is on the brink of stardom – you can’t make alt rock this good and not have people take notice. It also should be said that every so often there comes an album that lyrically meets you exactly where you’re at – this is that album for me this year. When I listen to it, I truly feel like I was there with Webb as he penned the songs. Be on the lookout for It’s Alive in the years to come.
6. The Damned Things- Ironiclast
What happens when two members of pop punk idols Fall Out Boy, two members of old-school punk legends Anthrax, and the lead vocalist of metalcore heavyweights Every Time I Die form a band? The Damned Things. And it rocks. This modern take on classic rock is heavy, melodic, aggressive, and just plain fun. If you don’t want to turn up your stereo when listening to “Friday Night (Going Down in Flames),” you might want to check your pulse. Keith Buckley’s vocals are spot on – who knew this guy could sing like this? Joe Trohman (Fall Out Boy) and Scott Ian (Anthrax) masterminded this project and absolutely shred the heck out of every track on this album, adding just enough flare without getting too cheesy, to make for one of the best rock records of the year.
5. Deepspace 5 – The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be
After a five year wait, indie hip hop heads were finally treated to another round from the super-group, Deepspace 5 in early 2010. All of the usual suspects are back and in prime form on one of the best collaborative hip hop releases of the past few years. With this much talent, it’s literally a can’t miss, but as usual, each member steps up their game to a level that makes each track a banger, and the production is top-notch. There really isn’t another hip hop group around right now that can come close to rivaling these guys, so let’s hope that the sorry state of underground hip hop doesn’t keep us from getting another batch of DS5 in the very near future.
4. Pigeon John – Dragon Slayer
It’s not a well-kept secret that I love Pigeon John. I mean, really – if you know me, if we’ve ever had a conversation, you know how much I love this man. John went a new direction with “Dragon Slayer,” choosing to produce the album completely in analog and not inviting a single guest appearance. “So wait, this is a rap record with real instruments and a real artistic vision?” Yes. Crazy, right? It shouldn’t be, this is the way hip hop should sound. Couple the musical honesty with PJ’s notable transparency and you’ve got one of the most honest hip hop albums in recent memory. When John says “With all the girls and all the drugs, well I’m a rap cliché/was convinced I’d never be one, would have sworn on my grave,” he’s not lying. What you see with Pigeon John is what you get – a broken man with a knack for combining humor, honesty, darkness, and hope into a well-crafted hip hop album that shines brightly amongst its peers. Let’s hope the rest of the hip hop world takes notice.
3. Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place
Like many others, I was a bit underwhelmed with Anberlin’s 2008 offering, “New Surrender,” but luckily for all of us, the guys came out blazing in 2010 with a stirring, challenging, and dark new album. Drawing influence from 80’s pop rock, “Dark is the Way” finds Anberlin treading new territory while still maintaining the accessible rock sound that has made them staples on alternative radio. Producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine) may be just what the band needed to reinvent themselves. The lead single “Impossible” is one of the best songs of 2010 and sets the tone for an album that looks into the dark world of broken relationships and the struggle to find hope that ensues. “The Art of War” is a stellar track, featuring a haunting intro and some of Stephen Christian’s best vocal work to date. While “Dark is the Way,” may not have surpassed their magnum opus “Cities,” it certainly stands alone as a fantastic album and adds to the stellar back catalogue of one of the best (and most underrated?) rock bands of the decade.
2. Circa Survive – Blue Sky Noise
This is that moment. The moment when the band filled with potential and on the brink of greatness finally hits on all cylinders and releases the album everyone knew they had in them. “Blue Sky Noise” is what Circa Survive was meant to sound like. Sure, both “Juturna” and “On Letting Go” were both memorable in their own right and showed flashes of greatness, but Circa Survive has now become more than just “Anthony Green’s band.” Every member of Circa shines at different moments on this release, with the vocals and instrumentation complementing each other perfectly – it never feels as though Green is stealing the show. That’s not to say that his vocals aren’t incredible – they are. The man is an absolute freak of nature, but this time his band mates appear more in sync, more focused, than their previous work showed. Stand out tracks include “Get Out,” “Imaginary Enemy,” “I Felt Free,” and “Spirit of the Stairwell,” but each track on the album feels well placed as it winds and curves, painting a sonic landscape trickled with drops from inside of Green’s head. If you haven’t gotten into this band, now is a very good time to do so.
1. Underoath – Ø (Disambiguation)
With the loss of founding member Aaron Gillespie early in the year, many were left to wonder if Underoath could still formulate another groundbreaking record. The band appeared convinced that they could and with the release of “Disambiguation,” they were right. Adding Daniel Davison (ex-Norma Jean) behind the drum kit and letting Spencer Chamberlain man both the clean and screaming vocals, Underoath sounds as tight and focused as they ever have. Davison’s drumming, while different than Gillespie’s, fits perfectly into the new Underoath sound. Most impressive on this record is Chamberlain’s vocals – he absolutely owns this album. I can honestly say that while listening, I never once thought “this would be better if Aaron was still around.” No, this is who Underoath is now. Heavier, more melodic, and a little looser. With more room to breath within the tracks, the Tim McTague and James Smith’s guitars wander while Chamberlain’s croons draw a resemblance of a Layne Staley/Anthony Green hybrid. Add in the best synth work to date from Chris Dudley and the always amazing bass playing of Grant Brandell and Underoath have crafted a record that today’s screamo bands will be attempting to copy two years from now. But by then, the men in Underoath will be already be breaking new ground . . . again.
Guilty Pleasures of 2010
Travie McCoy – Lazarus
Katy Perry – Teenage Dream
Before Their Eyes – Untouchable
Band on the brink
The Afterlife Kids
Most Anticipated of 2011
Further Seems Forever
Top 10 Movies of 2010
2. The American
3. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
4. The Town
5. 127 Hours
6. The Social Network
7. Toy Story 3
8. The Runaways
9. Animal Kingdom
10. Shutter Island
Honorable Mention – The Crazies