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Favourite Music of 2010

photo by ghettojack on Flickr

This post is also featured as a guest entry at the Higher Ed Music Critics blog. Totally check it out.

I have heard some great music this year. In my recent memory I can't remember the last year I had a batch of personal favourite albums. It might have been in college. Usually only one or two really impress me. Cynical am I? Okay, maybe. But also really particular in what strikes my fancy.

So, top five, best records of 2010 (in my own opinion, as it were):

5. Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroidDriving home from someplace on the Chicago toll roads, WBEZ's "Sound Opinions" guys were featuring this record and it immediately caught my ear. It's an amazing marriage of R&B, soul, electronic, rock, doo-wop, and cinematic sounds. Janelle's voice is so powerful throughout each song and the music is even more infectious.

Interestingly enough, the story behind the album is even more interesting and eccentric than the fact that The ArchAndroid is a concept album about androids taking over the world and finding emotion, etc. The album itself was recorded in so many different ways - from your typical studio setup to middle-of-the-night bedside inspiration recordings. Even so, every song flows together like it was meant to be there. An "emotion picture" as they liked to market it...

4. The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night

The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring NightMan, what a great, powerful album. The minute I first listened to it, I was shot back to my college dorm room where I had Sunny Day Real Estate's How It Feels To Be Something On cranked LOUD. This Besnard Lakes record combines all the charm and old-timeyness of beard folk with the crunch and sound layering of 90s Shoegaze producing an emotionally stirring sound scape that impressed me like nothing since SDRE has.

3. Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love

Belle and Sebastian - Write LoveWrite About Love is a pretty significant departure from B&S records of old, and while a few tracks resound with the somber melancholy of If You're Feeling Sinister, melodically it's more in line with The Boy With The Arab Strap, though significantly more joyful.

I remember a lot of longtime fans up in arms because of the use of synthesizers on this album. Are you kidding me?? With how spot-on the song writing is, I think the synths add more than some other instrumentation would have.

Through all of the great sounds and songs, I have a couple of minor issues with the record. As a whole, you can tell the band has been on hiatus. It doesn't feel as complete as their past records, with some songs feeling completely out-of-place (not any less great, just odd). There's the duet with Norah Jones on Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John, that feels a little off, but is a great song nonetheless. One of the B-sides sound particularly like a Jayhawks song (Last Trip) and I think it was wise not to include in the official mass-market release. Then again, there are tracks like I Want the World to Stop that make any of these qualms irrelevant.

2. Vampire Weekend - Contra

Vampire Weekend - ContraAmazing, amazing, amazing album in its own right, Contra was the perfect followup to Vampire Weekend's first major release. It showed incredible growth, impeccable songwriting, and an all-around more mature package of work. I tend to be sceptical of second albums, and especially when it's tailing an album that was so popularly lauded by the mainstream. Regardless, I think Vampire Weekend are talented guys with a lot to offer.

Contra retains the band's signature African rhythms while adding in more synthesizers and a progression of music with catchy hooks, a song seemingly custom-tailored for the radio crowd, and a wide range of subject matter.

A good friend of mine who does remixes got a copy of the self-title release to me about a month before it hit anywhere else and I fell in love with it immediately, independent of the hype that surrounded the album on MTV and the festival circuit. I had a hard time imagining how Contra, a followup album, could be better. But it is.

1. Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can

You know, it's been a really, really long time since a single album has given me a full track listing of brilliant tracks that fit together so perfectly that I wake up in the morning craving a nice long listen. This is my absolute, #1 favourite album of the year.

One day on Facebook, I saw a recommendation that Ryan Adams (yes, the Ryan Adams) had made on his fan page. First of all, I was impressed that he maintains his own page, but second, DRA is probably my favourite artist of all time thus far, and any recommendation he gives is one I am going to check out. He had said this about the album:

this album has blown my entire mind. It's making me work 10 times harder than I was. I can't begin to imagine how a person could write these songs. This is surely the work of a genius. I needed to pass this along to you. DRA

And it really is. Instrumentation, songwriting, her incredible vocals. It's just a brilliant album that everyone should own and cherish. I had it on rotation for almost three months. For a long time I would wake up in the morning with one of her tracks in my head and would listen to the album over and over again at work.

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My wife got me the UK vinyl single of Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) for my birthday in September and the artwork is beautiful. In any case, you should really purchase this album.