Rocks Off's Favorite Albums Of 2010
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Mojo: Big surprise, I know. But not only did "I Should Have Known It" vault into my Top 5 Heartbreakers songs the first time I heard it - and make me a bigger Led Zeppelin fan in the process - but others like "Candy" and "Good Enough" also held up a big funhouse mirror to my life in 2010. I won't go into why, but in a year I really didn't like a whole lot of new albums, Mojo was far and away the best.
Old 97's, The Grand Theatre Vol. 1: The (somewhat) Dallas band snapped back into pre-Satellite Rides form big time with this one. My favorites were "State of Texas," "Champaign, Illinois," "The Magician" and "Every Night Is Friday Night," but they're all winners.
Mike Stinson, The Jukebox In Your Heart: An empty bottle, a broken heart, and you're still on my mind. On his first album as a Houstonian, Stinson makes a solid case that he's the smartest, sharpest and saddest honky-tonk songwriter since Gram Parsons.
The National, High Violet: This year I was reminded of the main reason the National remains one of my favorite bands; they consistently and reliably release high-quality, emotionally aware records. This year's High Violet is no exception. Brooding frontman Matt Berninger brings endless dramatic brilliance to its lyrical content, expressing his signature unreservedly romantic sentiment on tracks like "Conversation 16." High Violet is the soundtrack to emotional ruin, the coming of age, and obsessively devoted love; such a manic combination earns this record the title of my favorite of the year.
Beach House, Teen Dream: While the Baltimore duo's third release doesn't exactly deviate from their ardently characteristic dream-pop sound, it successfully meshes droning organ, hazy guitar effects, and hazy vocals with a listener-friendly quality that the band's previous records may have lacked. Teen Dream blends front woman Victoria Legrand's smoky vocals with influences of soul and 70s pop, a la Fleetwood Mac meets Mazzy Star meets Nico. Tracks like "Take Care" showcase Legrand's patiently-awaited emotional baring, as she professes, "I'll take care of you/ If you ask me to/ In a year or two."
LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening: What I like best about LCD mastermind James Murphy is once I think I've pegged his genre, I'm proven wrong. Murphy piles on electro dance beats, electric guitar riffs, and introspective and simultaneously humorous lyrics. Happening includes everything a quality record should: A couple of addictive radio-ready singles ("Drunk Girls," "I Can Change"), a sarcastic satire ("You Wanted a Hit"), and an empathetically intelligent track ("All I Want"). Rumor has it Happening will be Murphy's final LCD album; I'd say it's one hell of way to bow out.
LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening: Admittedly, I checked into LCD Soundsystem rather late. Nothing makes me happy the way this album can. If it's playing in my house, I'm almost certainly dancing with shameless abandon, much to the horror of my cat.
The Gold Sounds, Seismic Love: If there is a local band more criminally underrated than Deer Park's The Gold Sounds, please let me know. This album blew me away on first listen, and even in February I had it pegged for local album of the year. Seismic Love is big, stomping, and fun, with some nice gritty rumble in the bass. It's not a one trick pony, either, and the slow songs fit in nicely with the big rockers. Think Zeppelin, The Who and Tom Petty, with a dash of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Howl.
The Black Keys, Brothers: The Black Keys can do no wrong, it seems, but Brothers appears to be the album that finally broke them into the mainstream conscious, and for good reason. I had this on repeat for days when I first bought it, and while it has a couple misses, the majority of this album is solid gold.
John Seaborn Gray: I didn't hear anywhere near the amount of new music I should have this year, but of the albums I heard, I have to say I keep coming back to The National's High Violet. It's what they've been building to over their past few albums: a cohesive collection of stirring, gorgeous music.
Other than that, I'd say I was most pleasantly surprised by Neil Young's Le Noise, in which he basically invents a genre - American folk metal - while somehow sounding stripped-down and epic at the same time. My favorite new act this year would have to be Janelle Monae, whose The ArchAndroid updated weird, spacey funk for a modern age. She's just fantastic.