2010 was another great year for music, with more musicians blurring genres and creating wild and interesting styles and sounds. It’s simple for lesser-known bands to spread the word about their songs these days, and hopefully this widespread availability and new ways of finding out about and distributing music continues to expand. It will be interesting to hear what 2011 brings.
Here we go…
Houston Calling‘s favorite albums of 2010
1. Minus the Bear, Omni (Dangerbird)
Without a doubt, I listened to this album more than any other during 2010. While lyrically simplistic–which admittedly could turn some listeners off–the music on Omni is really what kept me coming back. The drummer is amazing and the songs range from breezy pop singalongs to stoner-worthy jams. As it’s been said, this is the “classic rock of the future.”
VIDEO: “Hold Me Down” (live)
2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge)
I’ve only given Arcade Fire’s albums a cursory listen or two over the years–ignoring the buzz as I sometimes do–but I was curious about this album after reading a few articles about the concept behind The Suburbs and frontman Win Butler’s connection to Houston (via The Woodlands, anyway). Only a few songs in, I immediately knew this album was something special and it’s continued to stay in my playlist.
VIDEO: “Ready To Start” (live)
3. The Black Keys, Brothers (Nonesuch)
All of The Black Keys’ albums are excellent, but Brothers helped the Ohio duo earn some well-deserved attention this year. I could listen to nothing but this music for the rest of my life and be perfectly content.
4. Scott Lucas & The Married Men, George Lassos the Moon (G&P)
Just when you think you have someone pegged… Local H‘s Scott Lucas strips down with a new band of Chicago musicians and creates a mellow and beautiful batch of songs. Sure, the lovelorn angst is still there, but Lucas masks its brilliantly by letting the music instead take center stage. With “Extra Special Bitter,” Lucas has written his greatest song to date–and that’s impressive after nearly 20 years making music.
5. Band of Horses, Infinite Arms (Columbia)
It took me a while to pin down what songs I kept humming to myself over and over again after a particularly long commute or day at the office, but inevitably it was something from this album.
6. Wild Moccasins, Skin Collision Past (Self-released)
While I wasn’t big on the band in its infancy, Houston’s own indie popsters definitely won me over with a combination of lively shows (SXSW!) and this stellar set of songs–especially the catchy title track. While it’s easy to concentrate on the singing duo, it would be a disservice not to mention the band’s excellent musicianship. This is a band to watch.
VIDEO: “Skin Collision Past” (live)
7. Midlake, The Courage of Others (Bella Union)
After the critical success of The Trials of Van Occupanther, anything this Denton-based band did was going to have naysayers in an uproar. Some deride The Courage of Others as drab and overly reliant on 70s British folk. Others (like me, for instance) like that sort of thing. Repeatedly it seems.
VIDEO: “Acts Of Man”
8. Maserati, Pyramid Of The Sun (Temporary Residence)
The death of drummer extraordinaire Gerald Fuchs thankfully didn’t keep the Athens band from not only making a new album but experimenting with new directions. Pyramid… is one of those albums that’s perfect for late night drives.
VIDEO: Live in Athens
9. The National, High Violet (4ad)
Another band I pretty much ignored until now, The National’s dark–almost gothic–music quickly won me over. That High Violet is on a lot of year-end lists is no surprise, and well-deserved.
VIDEO: “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
10. Co-Pilot, The Course of Empire (Self-released)
Here’s what I wrote about this EP in my review (which you can read here): With its new EP–five tracks of sedate, lush soundscapes punctuated by moments of balls-out, fuzzy rock–Co-Pilot lets the songs, each of which flows into the next, very gradually build to the point where you’ve almost accepted that there won’t be a breakdown into the amped-up thrash that, while stereotypical of the genre, never fails to work.
MP3: “Land Empires”
11. Everest, On Approach (Warner Bros.)
Having seen this band–which includes former members of Earlimart and Great Northern–live three times this year, and listening to the album countless times, it’s easy to see why Warner Bros. took such an interest in the band this year. Lead single “Let Go” is undeniably catchy, and the band’s ability to write a great pop song while still being able to jam makes them a standout.
12. Paul Weller, Wake Up The Nation (Yep Roc)
Thankfully, Weller hasn’t lost the creative spark. Many musicians his age are busy rehashing old songs (from other people), and while he’s done that in darker days, over the past few years the former The Jam frontman has made some of this best music since Wild Wood. With this album, Weller successfully melds the rock’n'soul formula he’s been honing since his days with Style Council. “Tears To Cry” is just one gem among many on this album.
VIDEO: “Tears To Cry”
13. Exit Calm, Exit Calm (Sonic Unyon)
These shoegazers keep the Britrock torch alive with an impressive album of fuzzy, droning songs that hearken back to early Verve. It’s a rare thing to hear an album like this these days, and the guys in Exit Calm most definitely know what they’re doing.
VIDEO: “Hearts and Minds”
14. Steve Mason, Boys Outside (Domino)
Former Beta Band frontman Mason has one of the most unique (and dreamy) voices in music, and Boys Outside is an album people will discover 20 or 30 years from now and wonder why they’ve never heard Steve Mason’s names among the best songwriters of this generation.
VIDEO: “Am I Just A Man”
15. The Roots, How I Got Over (Def Jam)
As if The Arcade Fire and The National weren’t enough, a single listen to this album convinced me I’m an idiot for sometimes ignoring bands with a hype factor. Repeated listens to How I Got Over not only made me a fan but easily became of one my 2010 favorites.
VIDEO: “How I Got Over”
16. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach (Virgin)
I’m sure Blur frontman Damon Albarn is as surprised as anyone with the success of his Gorillaz “side project.” Plastic Beach may be Gorillaz jumping the shark for some, but there’s no denying the creativity, musicianship, and balls that it takes to make an album like this.
17. The Futureheads, The Chaos (Dovecote)
Although the group has never been as big in the States as in its native England, The Futureheads continue to crank out Gang Of Four-inspired songs that will haunt your head for days.
VIDEO: “I Can Do That”
18. The Pack A.D., We Kill Computers (Mint)
The female (and Canadian) Black Keys. I was introduced to these guys rather late (thanks Ben!) but quickly became a fan–seeing them live during SXSW sealed it for me. It’s gritty and raw, blues-influenced garage rock.
19. Girl Talk, All Day (Illegal Art)
It begins with Black Sabbath and includes 373 samples in 71 minutes–including Ice Cube, White Zombie, and Grateful Dead. But All Day‘s most interesting point may be that its hype may be enough to keep musicians from suing since it’s likely no one wants the negative publicity. Has he sampled Metallica yet?
20. Admiral Radley, I Heart California (The Ship)
Mix two parts Earlimart and one part Grandaddy to get a potent combination of summery pop and laid-back indie rock. I caught the majority of the group’s sets during South By Southwest and was never disappointed.
Check back soon for Houston Calling‘s favorite Houston releases of 2010.