Two guys from Akron not named LeBron gave us their best in 2010
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
To be sure, 2010 was more whimper than bang to begin. It took until April or so for the truly great stuff to start coming in waves, but once it did, momentum carried through to December. Music fans were lucky enough to get more great records from some great artists of the past decade, along with enough newcomers to keep things interesting.
Of course, this list will be the personal favorites of one music fan, me. Maybe you’ll like some of these, maybe you missed some, and maybe you’ll think I’m an idiot for my exclusions (example: The Arcade Fire). That’s all well and good, of course. I’ve been called much worse.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The Black Keys — Brothers: Since this site launched in 2005, settling on the the best record of the year has never been so easy. It was eagerly anticipated (releasing the "Tighten Up"/"Howlin' For You" single on Record Store Day was marketing brilliance), and those expectations were exceeded by the end of the opening track, "Everlasting Light."
The Black Keys have grown up quite a bit since their rough-and-tumble debut in 2002, moving from drummer Patrick Carney's basement into grown-up studios, and haven't been shy about experimenting and expanding their sound. The path beyond the two-man, guitar-and-drums setup to now has been welcome and fruitful, even if their bare-bones approach is still exciting and powerful. But that can always be explored on stage. On vinyl, in the studio, Carney and Dan Auerbach have shown a willingness to stretch out while displaying the good sense to keep everything tasteful. The range was always there, but it's never been better. From the soul of "Never Gonna Give You Up" to the biting drive of "Next Girl," the Black Keys never, ever sound in over their heads.
There are no wasted notes, no excess. Just a tight, pounding record, the best I heard in 2010.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR (SUMMER EDITION)
The Dead Weather — Sea of Cowards: As captured in an earlier column, finally taking the time to track down this sophomore record by the Dead Weather was a welcome shot in the arm. Alison Mosshart and Jack White have incredible chemistry; the two voices blend in and out, sounding at times like different registers from the same singer. And more importantly, they share an edge. There's nothing cute or sweet about any of the 11 songs on Sea of Cowards. This record takes on the personality of its twin leaders: it has bite, it's exciting and it demands attention.
CONCERT OF THE YEAR
The Flaming Lips — July 6. Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, R.I.: July was the hottest month on record for Providence, and the 6th turned out to be the peak, topping out at 102 degrees. The crowd packed into the steamy theater that night felt every degree, and then some. The staff spent the night spraying down the crowd and tossing water bottles, while Wayne Coyne, who went so far as to take off his suit jacket, led the band through a typically weird and wild set. Heavy on 2009's Embryonic, with plenty of confetti to spare, the band made a sticky, uncomfortable night more than tolerable. It was such a good night, in fact, that I wound up getting tickets to see them three weeks later in the woods of Holyoke, Mass.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Best Coast — Crazy For You: Call me crazy (ha! puns!), but I don't and won't understand all of the references to "surf rock" I read when in reference to Best Coast. This was a garage rock record in the purest sense. Though definitely West Coast, it's not polished in the spirit of Dick Dale and the Beach Boys, it's rough, jagged and fun, with mature themes settling in nicely next to more superficial tales of weed, lust and cats.
SINGLE OF THE YEAR
Cee Lo Green — "Fuck You": Disappointing censored versions aside, this immediately vaulted into the lead on our figurative singles leaderboard when first streamed in the late summer and never ceded. Granted, the many alternate versions ("F*** You," "Forget You") are putting this on track to become one of the more overplayed songs in some time. So consider this minor honor a method to recall how great a tale of male angst this was on the first 100 listens, before it's ruined in the next 25 Vince Vaughn movies.
BEST ARCHIVAL RELEASE (FOR NOW)
The Rolling Stones — Exile on Main Street: Cleaning up the sound on a classically murky record is a tricky proposal — the muck is half the mystique of Exile, after all. The digital overlords struck a nice balance, though, helping the listener appreciate the songs and the interplay that much more without stripping away the essence of the excessive, drug-laden sessions. Adding in a disc of rarities and outtakes was icing on this sleaze-rock cake. It's the Stones' masterpiece, and it's never sounded better.
BEST ARCHIVAL RELEASE (PENDING)
Bruce Springsteen — The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story: All those nice things about Exile aside, if I'd had the $100 for this box set by now, which includes the original album remastered, two CDs of outtakes that would've made an amazing album in its own right, a DVD of The Promise documentary, two more DVDs of live footage, and the 80-page book reproduced to mimick one of Springsteen's worn, spiral-bound tomes of the time, I have a hard time believing this package wouldn't have topped the Stones. But in fairness, I haven't had the chance to obsess over it — yet.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Spoon — Transference: It seems as though Spoon can release a record every two years for the next 40, and every time, it will be one of the best of the year. Brit Daniel will be remembered as one of the best of his generation.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — Beat The Devil's Tattoo: Their blend of doom-laden folk and blow-out-the-walls sound is getting close to perfect. Of course, that just means they'll change it up again for the next record.
Band of Horses — Infinite Arms: They took a couple of years to get their third album together, but it was time well spent. The songwriting on Infinite Arms was much stronger than, albeit in the same spirit as, their first two records. They’re settling into a good place.
Quasi — American Gong: Making their first album in seven years, Quasi pulled no punches and put some of the best guitar freakouts of the year on tape.
Woozy Viper — Rock & Roll: This duo from Brooklyn channels the best of the '60s through a low-fi setup, making for one of the catchier records I’ve heard in some time.
REST IN PEACE
Choosing the year's best record was a breeze; this was more difficult. Record Store Day was a blast, as always, and led to a happy pair of eardrums for this seaside Massachusetts resident. Any number of late-night listening sessions, whether it was with a classic Kinks record or a new favorite, could've made the cut. Or perhaps getting covered in so much confetti at two Flaming Lips shows that I was finding bits of it in my apartment months later.
In the end, there was only one choice. I've had my differences with Pearl Jam regarding their music and their choices recently, but hearing them play perhaps my favorite song in Hartford's aging hockey arena was a moment I'll keep with me for the rest of my life. There's nothing quite like hearing the guitars cut through on "I Got Id" with symbols crashing and bodies bouncing.
In all honesty, questioning a band I'd followed so diligently for so long, I was likely looking for something to cling to that night. I didn't have to look too far, though, just to the middle of the first set. For those three minutes, they gave me more than enough.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org