Some year I’m going to design an elaborate March Madness style bracket to determine my favorite album, but this was not that year. Instead, I listened to 1134 of 1516 tracks in my 2010 playlist, alphabetical by artist and album, between December 1 and, uh, right now, and I made a list: top 25 albums and the last five out of the official list; three re-releases; two live albums. (In my defense: I had listened to the rest of those tracks at some point in the last three months. So I didn’t neglect anything. I was just overly ambitious and I have a lot of music.)
There’s no science in this list; it’s almost all feeling, with a hefty helping of at least knowing an objective definition of “really great”. Some of these albums sat on the list from January on — some barrelled onto it in the last week. And I was, let it be said, utterly insane by the middle of the G’s in my relistening. For what it’s worth.
Behind the jump: let’s do this thing.
- Two Cow Garage — Sweet Saint Me: I’m in love with this album like an old soul song. The songwriting is spectacular start to finish — Lord Almighty, Micah can turn a line — and it’s just a runaway, polished, shivery rock and roll album that sounds even better live. My favorite album this year by about a mile.
- Mason Jennings — The Flood: Mason made this album for me. I mean, maybe not for me, specifically — but for me, and a hundred other Carleton kids of my generation. I would have loved it if it was the phone book, like always, but instead it was the songs of my college years, and it broke my heart in all the best ways.
- The Black Keys — Brothers: the dirtiest, swampiest, bluesiest album released in 2010. Their best work to date.
- Woodpigeon — Die Stadt Musikanten: I am the only person who loved this album the way I love this album, but it’s stunning, complex orchestral indie rock and we all know how much I love that.
- Josh Ritter — So Runs The World Away: this was a slow grower, but it’s beautiful; his best songwriting yet, just deft and delicate and gorgeous.
- The National — High Violet: sealed for me when we saw them live; powerful is the only word for this album. Powerful, and staggering.
- Various Artists — Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: the Songs of John Prine: if compilation albums are cheating, I’m a dirty cheater. Every track on this album is unique, both to the album and to songs of John Prine, and they’re all fantastic.
- Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed & the True Loves — Come And Get It: there was a lot of great neo-soul released this year, but this was the best of it. Lord, how is this boy from Rhode Island?
- Drive-By Truckers — The Big To-Do: their best album in five years; Patterson’s songwriting on this one is perfect.
- Gaslight Anthem — American Slang: This was the right album at the right time for me, and it kept me satisfied until I got the Two Cow album.
- The Morning Benders — Big Echo: sweet sunshiney surfer pop that rolled me through the spring.
- J. Roddy Walston & the Business — J. Roddy Walston & the Business: so last Thursday I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business and longing for my own death at about 2:45 pm, and this kicked on in my Great 2010 Relisten, and I had one of those moments of clarity that don’t come too often, but when they do: I knew this was a good album before last Thursday, but holy fucking cow, this is an incredible album. 2011 resolution: finally see J. Roddy live. The end.
- Frontier Ruckus — Deadmalls & Nightfalls: the perfect fusion of my top two albums from 2009, I cannot wait to get to see these guys in 2011. I think they’re going to be amazing live.
- Frightened Rabbit — The Winter Of Mixed Drinks: Scott Hutchison is one of the only songwriters who makes me heartbroken and hopeful at the same time.
- Beach House — Teen Dream: like the National, one of those albums that I probably don’t have to explain; it’s just really, really brilliant and shivery-beautiful.
- Futurebirds — Hampton’s Lullaby: I keep waiting for the hipsters to discover these guys in droves, and being both pleased and disappointed when they don’t; at least I don’t have to fight them off yet. February at Kings with Filthybird.
- Superchunk — Majesty Shredding: new Superchunk. New Superchunk that is fucking excellent.
- Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses — Junky Star: For “Direction of the Wind” and “Lay My Head On The Rail”, not “The Weary Kind”. Although that one is stunning.
- Preservation Hall Jazz Band — An Album To Benefit …: gorgeous music for a great cause.
- Justin Townes Earle — Harlem River Blues: an album I didn’t spend as much time with as I should have, or wanted to, really, but oh, this is lovely. The title track is miraculous, and “Rogers Park” makes me cry.
- Glossary — Feral Fire: I wish Glossary toured more, because seeing them only once in support of this seems like a real goddamned shame. Joey can write a song like nobody’s business and the line in “No Guarantee” that slays me every time is you got all Tennessee on me. Just perfect roots rock.
- The Fox Hunt — Long Way Home: one of the best pop/trad bluegrass albums released this year, bar none. Stellar, clever songwriting and great playing.
- Fitz & the Tantrums — Pickin’ Up The Pieces: the second best neo-soul-funk album released this year.
- The Moondoggies — Tidelands: one of the most subtle, slow moving, gorgeous albums of 2010. Flew under the radar and I like it that way; sometimes I like to have secret bands of my heart.
- Butch Walker & the Black Widows — I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart: Butch Walker is one of those songwriters I’ve always wanted to like more than I ever actually did; one of those songwriters I thought I should like. Imagine my delight when this album was a pop songwriting gem.
Last five out: Have Gun Will Travel — Postcards from the Friendly City (Florida Americana with a creepy undertone); Tim Barry — 28th & Stonewall (when Tim’s good, he’s brilliant); I Can Lick Every Sonofabitch In The House — Sounds of Dying (the best kind of grown-up rage); the Hold Steady — Heaven Is Whenever (I love the Hold Steady more when I am feeling lonely and martyred, so this year it didn’t really work for me, even though it’s a great album); Ray LaMontagne & the Pariah Dogs — God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise (for finally making me pay attention to Ray LaMontagne, mostly, and because it’s great).
Honorable mentions to Lost in the Trees’ All Alone In An Empty House, the Constellations’ Southern Gothic and Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More, three albums that saw re-release in 2010 on new labels, but which weren’t pure 2010 albums. Mumford & Sons got a career-making US release, but Meg sent that album to me in 2009. The Constellations are still not making the waves I think they should, because that album is awesome. And Lost In The Trees, lord, I thought so hard about how much that album belonged in my list — I love it, from start to finish, but no matter how gorgeous the Anti- re-release is, the version of my heart is the 2008 original Trekky Records release. Not a diss on Ari or on Anti-, but that’s the AAIAEH release of my soul, and it did not come out in 2010.
Two live albums that rocked me this year were the Avett Brothers’ Live, Vol. 3 and Mason Jennings’ Live at First Ave. It’s particularly apt for me to have the Avetts on here, because tonight I’m going to the Cradle to see them live for the first time. I hear their live show’s even better than a live CD. Yeah? Yeah.
And that is that.