Breezeblog’s Best of 2010

Posted: December 27, 2010 in music

For what it’s worth, here is Breezeblog’s annual list of my favourite music from the past year. There was so much great music this year, I had a hard time settling on the top ten – and as always there’s tons of music I just never got to hear. Enjoy – and let me know some of the good stuff I missed.

To hear a playlist of some of the best tracks from this list, click here

1. The Arch Android (Suites II and III) – Janelle Monáe

Can’t say that I’m usually partial to albums about time-travelling androids but then there has never been an album quite like this stunning debut from Janelle Monae. The pint-sized Monae, whose towering hairdo is almost as tall as she is, is an electrifying performer on stage and in video and one of the most exciting talents to emerge in years. ArchAndroid, the follow up to her 2008 EP, Metropolis, which introduced ArchAndroid’s heroine freedom fighter Cindi Mayweather, was an extraordinary genre-defying production that swung effortlessly from hip hop to classical via funk, jazz and punk. There are excellent standout tracks – Tightrope, Faster and Dance Or Die, for example – but this is one album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. Seven months after its release I’m still listening to it and hearing something different every time.  I hope she’s around for a long time its tough to see how she could ever equal, let alone surpass this.

2. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

After two brilliant albums in Funeral and Neon Bible, Arcade Fire could have taken their foot off the pedal for their third. Thankfully they didn’t – The Suburbs was a strong set of subtle, often haunting songs delivered by one of the best bands in the world today at the very top of their game. Driving tracks like Empty Room and Ready To Start reminded me why they are still the band I’d most love to see live.

3. The Lady Killer – Cee Lo Green

With The Lady Killer, Cee Lo Green delivered one of the year’s best soul/pop albums with a murder tale by turns dark and exhilarating. The infectious and funny Fuck You was one of the songs of the year while Satisfied, Cry Baby and I Want You were stone cold soul classics. With a voice that echoes Sam Cooke, the Stylistics and David Ruffin – often all in the same song – Green is arguably the best male singer on the planet right now.

4. Distant Relatives – Nas and Damian (Junior Gong) Marley

American rapper Nas and Jamaican reggae artist Damian Marley teamed up for this masterful and spiritual blend of hip-hop and roots reggae that reflected not only on their shared African ancestry but the Distant Relatives that connect all humanity. Standout tracks: Dispear, Ancient Peoples, In His Own Words.

5. Soldier of Love – Sade

Comeback album of the year. It had been 10 years since their last studio album but it was the 80s all over again as Soldier Of Love – only their sixth album in 25 years! – percolated with that reassuring (if more mature) groove and sensuality. The title track, Babyfather and Be That Easy are as good as anything from their glittering back catalogue and Sade herself, who turned 50 last year, sounds and looks as good as ever. Woof!

6. Together – New Porngraphers

Another exuberant collection of songs from the Canadian indie stars and probably their best yet. Full of great hooks and melodies as always but this album just sounded more expansive. Sweet Talk Sweet Talk, Silver Jenny Dollar, and My Shepherd are superb but really there wasn’t a duff track on it.

7. Plastic Beach – Gorillaz

It took a few listens but this, the third outing for Damon Albarn and James Hewlett’s cartoon project, was arguably their most eclectic and ambitious in scope. It was one of those albums that was rewarded by a night in a dark room with an excellent set of headphones. Collaborators ranged from Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Snoop Dog, and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (late of The Clash) to The Syrian National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. Favourite tracks: two featuring Little Dragon (Empire Ants, To Binge) and On Melancholy Hill.

8. Next Stop… Soweto, Vol. 1: Township Sounds from the Golden Age of Mbaqanga

One of the highlights of my year was going to South Africa, not just for the football but to discover gems like this, the first of a two-volume set released to coincide with the World Cup that I found in a Cape Town record store. Mbaqanga – a vibrant and original mix of Zulu folk with American swing and jazz – was the underground music that developed in the black townships of Johannesburg in the 1950s and 1960s. Apartheid denied wonderful artists like the Mahotella Queens, the Meltone Sisters or Iza Wena a wider audience in their heyday and this is an uplifting reminder that even oppression and poverty cannot completely crush the human spirit.

9. Wake Up The Nation – Paul Weller

After the more introspective and pastoral 22 Dreams, the grumpy old Modfather came back blasting with both barrels in this album that echoed the latter years of The Jam – spiky social commentary (the title track attacks our internet and cell-phone obsessions), funk (Fast Car/Slow Traffic), anthemic rock (Find The Torch/Burn The Plans) and gorgeous Tamla-style soul grooves (No Tears To Cry).

10. The Promise – Bruce Springsteen

For fans of The Boss, this was a treat and a half – a long-awaited double CD of 21 unreleased songs from the fabled 1978 sessions for his classic fourth album, Darkness On the Edge of Town.  How good would it have been had he included Because The Night, Fire, This Little Girl – all tracks given away to other artists? Others like Sherry Darling and Ties That Bind turned up on later albums. The fact that The Promise sounds like it was recorded yesterday is testament to his extraordinary song-writing talent. The boxed set, which included a remastered Darkness plus a documentary and three concert videos, was a real collector’s item, packaged in a replica of Springsteen’s notebook from the sessions.

11. Body Talk Pts 1, 2 and 3 – Robyn
Swedish singer-songwriter Robin Miriam Carlsson (Robyn) has been getting better with age and this triple play – released as three albums in June, September and November (the latter also included the best from Parts 1 and 2) – was a real tour de force of electropop at its best. Hang With Me and Dancing On My Own were standout singles but you could put the whole lot on and happily dance the night away.

12. Codeine Velvet Club  – Codeine Velvet Club
This was the only album from a disappointingly short-lived project between Scots Jon Lawler of The Fratellis and burlesque Lou Hickey. Vanity Kills, Hollywood and The Black Roses were my favourites from a collection of wonderfully dramatic songs that wouldn’t have been out of place on a 70s movie soundtrack.

13. Volume Two – She & Him
She is actress Zooey Deschanel and he is singer-songwriter M. Ward and together they make deceptively simple and sparkling Spector-ish pop that echoes back to the 60s. Their gorgeous harmonies, songs and arrangements were even better than their impressive Volume One.

14. I’m Having Fun Now – Jenny and Johnny
I’m a sucker for anything Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) does and while this album with boyfriend Johnathan Rice wasn’t quite up to Rilo Kiley standards, it was a beautifully harmonised slice of bittersweet power pop.

15. Flamingo – Brandon Flowers
Jenny Lewis also popped up duetting with the Killers’ front man on Hard Enough, a track on Flowers’ fine, if inconsistent, solo debut that echoed glam-70s era Bowie and 80s pop.

16. Band Of Joy – Robert Plant
Like fellow Brit Elvis Costello (below), the ex-LedZep frontman sounds remarkably authentic when tackling American roots music. This album of fairly obscure country and blues covers was just as enjoyable as his more whimsical 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss on Raising Sand.

17. National Ransom – Elvis Costello
Costello continued to plough the Nashville furrow he started with T Bone Burnett last year on Secret, Profane & Sugarcane with a stronger and more diverse collection. Not his best ever album but contained more than enough of his brilliant wordplay and ear for a melody to make it worthwhile.

18. Record Collection – Mark Ronson & The Business International
After the success of his covers album Version, UK DJ/producer/musician Mark Ronson’s follow up was a pleasant surprise – an eclectic set of 80s-influenced tracks topped by Bang Bang Bang (with rapper Q-Tip) and probably the only album to ever feature both Spank Rock and the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

19. Oil City Confidential – Dr. Feelgood
Rip-roaring soundtrack to Julien Temple’s excellent documentary about the short-lived but much-loved and influential 70s British r and b outfit – and a reminder of just what a blinding guitarist the eccentric Wilco Johnson was.

20= Exile On Main Street Deluxe Edition – The Rolling Stones
The Stones’ 1972 classic Exile was remastered (again!) along with 10 previously unreleased tracks and alternate takes. Coupled with the fascinating “Stones In Exile” documentary, and the release of the rarely-seen “Ladies and Gentlemen… The Rolling Stones” film of the 1972 North American Exile tour, it was a welcome reminder of one of the best bands of all time at their decadent and creative peak.

20= The Union – Elton John and Leon Russell
Another of the year’s pleasant surprises as Elton teamed up with the man he used to open for on his early US tours. The two veteran singer-songwriters sounded so effortlessly at ease with one another that had it been released in the early 70s, The Union might have been talked about in the same breath as John’s classic Honky Chateau or Madman Across The Water albums.

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Comments
  1. james says:

    …just received Springsteen’s ‘The Promise’ box set companion book, amazing original photos and stories frm the Darkness tour. Limited Edition http://www.thelightinDarkness.com

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