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The Best Music of 2010 - Part 1

Gaslight Anthem's American Slang was one of the best releases of 2010 Gaslight Anthem's American Slang was one of the best releases of 2010

Like most people, I find myself in a reflective mood this final week of the year. As a lover of great music, it’s hard not to look back on the releases of 2010 and feel pretty damn satisfied. There was a raft of great new music from both old favorites and newcomers alike, and in almost any genre you can name. Gaslight Anthem, Glasser, Teenage Fanclub, Ghostface Killah, Against Me!, Janelle Monae, Band of Horses, The National, and Jamey Johnson are just a few of the artists who hit me hard this year. If it’s a sign of things to come for this second decade of the 21st century, then the future is bright. Without further ado, here are my highlights of what went down in 2010, from rap to country to punk to pop, in no particular order.

 

Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

The Jersey Shore quartet have become the foremost purveyors of roots-influenced punk rock in the world. 2008’s The ’59 Sound, which caught the attention of  everyone from critics to record buyers to Bruce Springsteen, had big expectations accompanying it, created big expectations for Gaslight Anthem's follow up and American Slang delivered on those high hopes.

The album picks up where The ’59 Sound left off, featuring more down-home songwriting, earnest lyrics, and memorable melodies, all in an early punk rock jangle that would make Joe Strummer proud. American Slang also built on Gaslight Anthem’s momentum, charting in the Top 20, and finding its way onto several international charts as well, far outdoing any of the band's previous success.

The National – High Violet

The National became a big deal this year with the release of High Violet. The indie rockers have generated a steady wave of buzz over the past few years, and 2010 found them near the top of the charts in countries around the world, including at #3 on US charts and #5 in the UK.

The National’s personal and moody compositions on High Violet possess a quiet, driving intensity that is absolutely infectious, garnering them widespread praise. The hallmark of this extremely inviting record, the band’s best to date, is that even at its most meditative and least familiar, High Violet provides moments that demand to be held close and cherished.

Glasser – Ring

Ring is a work of one-woman electronic compositions, at once haunting, strange, and compellingly catchy. Glasser – aka Cameron Mesirow – started as a homemade Garageband project, but with the release this year of Ring, Glasser’s debut full-length, all that has changed. Mesirow’s ear for melody combined with her imaginative construction of mood takes flight on Ring, a rich production of textured sounds and swirling harmonies.

Glasser’s quirkiest moments recall Bjork, who set the standard in the ‘90s for left-field electronic pop. The strength of Glasser, as it was with Bjork, is the artist’s ability to maintain a strong pop-songwriting sensibility, even amidst unusual execution. She has managed something magical, which is to produce a work that is both challenging and accessible.

Coheed & Cambria – Year of the Black Rainbow

Coheed & Cambria’s fifth full-length shows a band continuing to grow, but never takes an unwanted left turn from the group’s signature blend of progressive-rock, post-rock and heavy metal. Year of the Black Rainbow’s exploratory moments still leave plenty of room for the rock, and although the record never quite hits the highest points of 2007’s No World For Tomorrow or 2003’s In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth, it is still an excellent bunch of songs.

For those of you still trying to keep up, Year of the Black Rainbow is the prequel to the four-part series of concept albums that started with Coheed & Cambria’s debut full-length in 2002. I have no idea what the story is about at this point, but the nerdiest part of me retains a deep admiration for the band’s ambitious lyrical expedition.

Band of Horses – Infinite Arms

These indie-rock heroes were back at it, on a new label, releasing their biggest album to date with Infinite Arms. But even with a new level of fame, this is still the Band of Horses you know and love. The jangly guitars, the evocative vocals, and the slight twang are all still there, even if something of the rawness of the earlier releases is missing.

Infinite Arms also features some beautiful atmosphere and aching harmonies. The band has undergone nearly a complete overhaul since their first release, but singer Ben Bridwell remains the center and the principal creative force, which finds Band of Horses much as we left them, a good thing to be sure.


Ghostface Killah – Apollo Kids

In a year that featured much-ballyhooed hip-hop albums from commercial and/or critical big shots like Kid Cudi, Eminem, and Kanye West, I found myself much more compelled to listen to records like Apollo Kids, the latest from Ghostface Killah. Ghostface Killah has been the most consistent and prolific member of the Wu-Tang Clan since that group’s heyday, and arguably also the only member of the Wu-Tang Clan to have gotten better since 1993’s rap classic, 36 Chambers.

Apollo Kids features a few Wu-Tang alumni, including Method Mad, Raekwon, and GZA, as well as the likes of Busta Rhymes, Redman, and Black Thought, among others. But for all his collaborators, Ghostface Killah himself is consistently the highlight of Apollo Kids, as was often the case on another one of 2010’s best rap albums – Wu-Massacre, an excellent collaboration between Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and Method Man, and also worth picking up for hip-hop heads.

Against Me! – White Crosses

Against Me! continued their evolution to a more mature band with this year’s White Crosses. From humble anti-establishment beginnings, it’s been a strange journey for the Gainesville, Florida punks, who hit the Top 40 with their 2010 full-length on a major label. But their increasingly commercial approach to songwriting has at least made for excellence in terms of catchy hooks and multi-layered execution. And of course their thought-provoking lyrics have remained in tact from the first, whatever the complaints of their original fanbase.

At the end of 2010, Against Me! parted ways with their major label employers, Sire, who had released both White Crosses and 2007’s New Wave. Maybe selling out hasn’t worked out for the ex-anarchists’ consciences, but for better or worse it’s helped them make an incredible record that has reached tens of thousands more listeners than their D.I.Y. efforts ever did.

Jamey Johnson – The Guitar Song

Jamey Johnson has been kicking around Nashville for a decade or more now, but with the release of The Guitar Song, he’s set to become a bonafide country music star. Not only did the album reach #1 on the US Country charts, but it hit #4 overall. The album has also demonstrated crossover appeal, with many rock and pop critics talking it up. I think that’s mostly due to Johnson’s outlaw aesthetic, which is more appealing to non-country music fans than the squeaky clean or redneck or ‘80s throwback cheeseball image of other top country artists.

That’s not to say that The Guitar Song isn’t an excellent album - it assuredly is - but the rough edges that distinguish it from other modern country albums aren’t really such a far cry from the likes of, say, George Strait or Trace Adkins (both of whom Johnson has written for). And Jamey Johnson isn’t without his moments of country radio kitsch, but when he’s at his best, he’s the cream of the crop in Nashville. One can only hope he turns out to be a trendsetter as well.

Stay tuned to RosebudMag.com for Parts 2 & 3 of The Best Music of 2010, featuring Black Mountain, Janelle Monae, Jimmy Eat World, and more.

 

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Last modified on Thursday, 18 October 2012 15:47

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