I seriously can't remember the last time I've had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can't remember the last time I've had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I'm one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here's a list of the 20 best albums I've heard in 2010.
1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye's childish tirades infuriate me, I'll be damned if his music doesn't always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I'll forgive 'Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.
2. Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I'm New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron's voice, but much like Bob Dylan's most recent work, age has given the artist's voice additional resonance.
3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That's definitely the case with the Black Keys' Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn't (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.
4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon...
5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
"Fuck You" (or "Forget You," if you're easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what's more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.
6. Nas & Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley: Distant Relatives
Needless to say, this was a good year for hip-hop. Political and passionate, but still sweet and melodic, Nas is on point lyrically and Marley provides the album with organic, sympathetic production. He should produce every Nas album from here on in.
7. Band of Horses: Infinite Arms
You will never hear sweeter harmonies than on this record. You might not hear better country-flavored rock and roll, either. Give the Byrds or CSNY a little modern flair, and you've got Band of Horses in a nutshell. I also doubt you'll see cooler facial hair.
8. Vampire Weekend: Contra
Despite being released in the dead of winter, Vampire Weekend captured the sound of summer for the second consecutive album. It's easy to overlook lead singer Ezra Koenig (as well as keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij)'s perpetually tongue-in-cheek lyrics when the music is this fun, but that's not to say you should.
9. Steven Page: Page One
His former Barenaked Ladies soldiered on admirably without him (All in Good Time was a pretty okay album), but after hearing Page's solo debut, it becomes obvious that he took a great deal of songwriting and singing magic with him when he left.
10. John Legend & the Roots: Wake Up!
It was a great idea for John Legend to team up with the Roots for this collection of mostly obscure soul covers. As great as the idea was, though, I can't help but wish Legend, ?uestlove and Co. would have put all the passion and soul they put into Wake Up into a collection of equally passionate and soulful originals.
11. Robyn: Body Talk
She may not sell as much as contemporaries like Britney and Christina, but there's no doubt who makes the most interesting music. Even if "Body Talk" consisted of "Dancing on My Own" ten times in a row, it would have been worthy of inclusion on this list. Thankfully, there's other material on here that further qualifies Body Talk as the dance-pop album of 2010.
12. El DeBarge: Second Chance-
One of R&B's greatest should've-been stories returns after a decade and a half in the wilderness, and he hasn't lost a step. Talented enough to write beautifully about his personal struggles and smooth enough to create masterful collaborations with the normally insufferable likes of 50 Cent, this is a must-have for contemporary R&B fans.
13. B.o.B.: The Adventures of Bobby Ray
This Atlanta newcomer made a definite case for the eclecticism of modern-day hip-hop. Capable of recording playa anthems with T.I. as well as rockin' pop jams with Dr. Luke and Rivers Cuomo, rapper/singer/multi-instrumentalist B.o.B made the year's most fun record.
14. Big Boi: Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty
The less-heralded member of OutKast more than made up for his partner Andre 3000's absence with an album funkier than those drawers you've worn all week. Mixing socio-political commentary with a fair amount of shit-talking, Leftfoot almost made me stop wanting an OutKast reunion. Almost.
15. Crowded House: Intriguer
One of the best songwriters of his generation, Neil Finn never disappoints. The second album by Crowded House Mach 2 (well, 3, actually) finds the band regaining their footing with aplomb following the somewhat tentative Time on Earth album.
16. Method Man, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon: Wu-Massacre
Wu-Tang Clan certainly has the capability to be scattered and messy. Even a cursory listen to much of their recent output (together and solo) bears that truth out. However, this album finds group MVP Ghostface re-teaming with a newly energized Raekwon as well as Method Man, who obviously had a fire lit under his lazy ass by the other two men. Result? The best Wu product in a decade, easily. So good I won't even harp on the paltry 30-minute run time.
17. Bilal: Airtight's Revenge
It sucks that all left-of-center R&B vocalists seem to fall under the radar at one point or another. Nine years after his solid debut, 1st Born Second, Bilal Oliver returned from space (or wherever he was hiding) to deliver his deliciously bizarre sophomore effort. Who needs D'angelo when you've got this dude?
18. RJD2: The Colossus
Is it hip-hop? Is it indie rock (what the hell is indie rock, anyway)? Is it R&B? Who the hell cares? It's good! One of the more underappreciated underground (damn, I was gonna say hip-hop) artists out there, RJ capably straddles boundaries and genre lines with his excellent fourth solo album.
19. Scissor Sisters: Night Work
The sophomore slump killed the Scissor Sisters' Ta-Dah critically, while some unfortunate comments made at a retail convention killed the group's career commercially. After taking a few years off, Jake Shears and company returned with the year's most decadent, hilarious dance record. Shears sings like Barry Gibb's long lost son and he's got a capable foil in the band's female member Ana Matronic.
20. Drake: Thank Me Later
I hate Lil Wayne. So the fact that his protege ranks on my list of the year's top albums says much about Drake's level of talent. The amiable Canadian might be an unlikely hip-hop star, and the buzz that surrounded him prior to his album's release was way over-inflated, but good music always wins out over buzz, and Drake's rapping and singing skills are capable (if not amazing) enough to have won me over. Maybe Weezy should concentrate on being a talent scout or something.