Since it was impossible to whittle this down to the original 50 we were
originally shooting for, we went for 100. Although this won’t be official
til New Year’s Eve, this is pretty much it. More descriptive content
coming soon, stay tuned – if you want single tracks, here’s our 100
Best Songs of 2010 list.
1. Paula Carino – Open on
This one tops the list this year because every single song on this
moody, pensive, wickedly lyrical janglerock album is good – not a single
2. Ran Blake and Sara Serpa - Camera
Serpa, a sometimes chillingly intense third-stream composer and
singer, is a protegee of Blake, the preeminent noir jazz pianist of the last
fifty years. Their collaboration is fascinatingly unpredictable: when it
comes to longing and angst, they don’t disappoint.
3. Norden Bombsight -
Intense, unhinged, darkly psychedelic art-rock that blends 70s
orchestrated rock influences with goth and Americana from this amazing Brooklyn
4. Sarah Manning -
Haunting, intensely lyrical, sometimes anguished jazz
concept album – about the fleeting nature of time – from this
brilliant alto saxophonist/composer and her quartet with Art Hirahara,
Linda Oh and Kyle Struve.
5. The NYFA
A massive five-cd box set that aims to be a definitive history
of edgy avant garde music and jazz in New York that succeeds amazingly well:
it’s the new music equivalent of the Harry Smith albums. Too many artists here
to list: see our review from
6. Redhooker –
Hypnotic, ambient soundscapes and pensive avant-chamber instrumentals
from Stephen Griesgraber’s marvelously shapeshifting new music ensemble.
7. The Roots of
Chicha 2 anthology
It’s the Rosetta Stone of classic psychedelic Peruvian
cumbia-rock from the 70s and 80s, a wildly entertaining blend of instrumentals,
dance songs, twangy guitar and rhythms from just about everywhere south of the
8. The Tivoli Trio’s first
Jazz pianist Frank Carlberg’s phantasmagorical, carnivalesque, often
macabre trio project.
9. Las Rubias del Norte -
Surreal, otherworldly and mysterious with gorgeous harmonies and a
global mix of songs with latin, Bollywood and Mexican influences, it’s the
Brooklyn band’s best album.
10. The Snow – I Die Every
Intense, smartly lyrical, alternately lush and sensuous art-rock and
chamber pop by Pierre de Gaillande and Hilary Downes’ brilliant New York
11. The New Collisions
- The Optimist
The Boston new wavers’ dark, brilliantly lyrical
shift into straight-ahead powerpop.
Mancini’s first album
Creepy, atmospheric, cinematic instrumentals with
organ, guitar and sax from an A-list crew of NYC sidemen.
13. Botanica – Who You
This era’s foremost art-rock band’s most diverse and ultimately most
14. Bad Reputation:
Pierre de Gaillande Sings Georges Brassens
full-length English-language album of songs by legendary French
songwriter Brassens is as potent and obscenely hilarious as his
15. Thomas Simon –
Another album of swirling cinematic soundscapes, these with more of a
guitar-driven, apocalyptic goth menace.
16. The Larch - Larix
Finally, the classic album these Brooklyn new wave throwbacks
always hinted they had in them: an especially tuneful, gleefully sung,
ferociously lyrical and funny one.
17. The Jack Grace Band – Drinking
Songs for Lovers
A country concept album that needed to be written, and it’s
a good thing this wry baritone crooner was the one to do it.
18. Bassam Saba – Wonderful
A tribute to the multi-instrumentalist composer’s native Lebanon, it’s a
characteristically lush, diverse album with influences that range from classic
Egyptian anthems to western baroque composition.
19. Elvis Costello - National
This is the one album on this list that we didn’t review, because we
figured you already knew about it. No? It’s a double album with his most recent
band, Americana rockers The Sugarcanes, and it’s one of the best things he’s
20. The Marc Cary Focus Trio - Live
Dark, magisterial, hypnotic and haunting, it captures one of the most
powerfully melodic, interesting jazz pianists of this era at the top of his
21. Æ’s first album
Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s
austere, ghostly, starkly evocative, innovative blend of Appalachian and
Balkan a-cappella songs.
22. Cousin Silas - Canaveral
Yorkshire’s most evocative soundscape composer offers an
often terrifyingly allusive collection of electroacoustic tableaux here;
his latest one Adrift Off the Islands of Langerhans promises to be
just as good.
23. Tris McCall - Let the Night
Richly lyrical, uneasy New Jersey-themed concept album by the Overlord keyboardist.
24. Ben Syversen’s Cracked Vessel’s
The highly sought-after Balkan trumpeter also leads this
scorching, assaultive, aggressive trumpet-and-guitar noiserock/avant jazz band –
it’s a wild ride.
25. Katzenjammer – Le
Edgy, biting, satirical noir cabaret and new wave-inflected accordion
rock from this wildly popular all-female Norwegian quartet.
26. Natacha Atlas -
A biting, haunting, richly melodic look at the state of the world,
another classic-style Levantine art-song masterpiece by one of this era’s most
socially aware artists.
27. Under Byen – Alt Er Tabt
intense, moody chamber-rock from this ethereal Danish band.
28. Ted Hearne - Katrina
Sort of like the Dead Kennedys for chamber orchestra. It’s a
cerebral, brutally honest, often brutally funny depiction of the early days of
the Hurricane Katrina disaster, with songs incorporating art-rock, avant-garde
chamber music and jazz.
29. Victoire - Cathedral
Missy Mazzoli’s mesmerizing,
ambient/atmospheric art-rock band’s debut is a lush, shadowy swirl of
keyboards, strings and winds.
30. Patricia Vonne – Worth
The Texas Americana rock chanteuse’s most diverse album blends anthemic,
characteristically lyrical janglerock with a brooding southwestern gothic
31. My Education -
Bracingly ambient, reverb-drenched guitar soundscapes in a Mogwai
vein from this excellent Texas post-rock crew.
32. Gaida – Levantine
Slinky ballads and instrumentals drawing on Syrian, Lebanese and
Egyptian influences by the New York-based chanteuse and her excellent group.
33. Liz Tormes –
Smoldering, lyrical Nashville gothic songwriting by the New York
noir songwriter with a great band behind her.
Annie and Paul Wallfisch - Genderful
The noir cabaret legend and her
reliable cohort, Botanica frontman Wallfisch team up for a characteristically
haunting yet often very funny album, their best together.
35. Fernando Otero -
Intense, dark solo piano compositions from the eclectic Argentinian
36. Brooklyn Rider - Dominant
The adventurous string quartet’s tribute to Debussy, including his
string quartet along with pieces by Colin Jacobsen, Kojiro Umezaki, Dmitry
Yanov-Yanovsky and Justin Messina.
37. Avi Fox-Rosen - Welcome to the
Smart, sardonically timely concept album for the new depression by the
eclectic Brooklyn guitarist/songwriter and his funky, artsy band.
38. Either/Orchestra – Mood Music
for Time Travellers
Witty, virtuosically cinematic Ethiopian-flavored big
39. The Rough
Guide to Arabic Lounge compilation
An eclectic mix of cutting-edge
pop, classical and cabaret from around the Middle East.
40. Bobtown’s first album
their lush, beautiful four-part harmonies and stark, clever melodies that blend
chain gang songs, bluegrass and blues, they immediately made a mark as one of
the most innovative bands in Americana.
41. The Mingus Big Band –
Live at Jazz Standard
Allowing this album on this list is just plain unfair.
It’s an ecstatic New Year’s Eve show by some of New York’s best jazz players, a
wall-to-wall collection of Mingus classics, mostly from the late 50s Mingus
Mingus Mingus era.
42. Newspeak - Sweet Light
Potent and politically aware third-stream music that matches Lynchian
ambience to depressed Michigan autoland and covers Missy Mazzoli with a vivid,
43. The Universal Thump
– First Spout
Art-rock composer/pianist Greta Gertler’s irrepressible,
unpredictable sensibility has never been more potent or tunefully in effect
than she is here – and the album isn’t even done yet.
44. Annabouboula -
Slinky, psychedelic Greek rock with Greek, Turkish, reggae and
45. Krista Detor - Chocolate Paper
Some lists consider this a 2009 release (to be fair, we’ve snuck a few
others from late in that year onto this list – hey, a good album is a good
album). Either way, it’s a torrent of pensive lyrics delivered with Detor’s
eerie calm and eclectic sense of melody.
46. Ninth House - 11 Cemetery
& Western Classics
The long-running New York-based Nashville gothic
rockers’ best album.
47. Klezwoods’ first
Ostensibly this is klezmer, but violinist Joe Kessler’s big band plays
music from every corner of the former Ottoman Empire, with wit and
48. Khaira Arby - Timbuktu
An innovative, fearlessly feminist mix of desert blues, art-rock,
afrobeat and psychedelia by the pioneering Malian desert blues diva.
49. Vieux Farka Toure -
About time the Malian guitar god (Ali Farka Toure’s oldest kid) made a
live album – it’s sort of like an African Albert Collins record, all chilly
sonics and lightning riffage but no wasted notes, just raw adrenaline.
50. Robin Aigner -
Witty, historically imbued, slyly innuendo-driven Americana and
oldtimey songs from one of the most captivating voices around.
51. John Sheppard: Media Vita – Stile
A collection of otherworldly, death-obsessed Renaissance vocal
works by the outstanding self-directed UK choral group.
52. Tarbaby -
An End to Fear
One of the most unbelievably tuneful jazz albums of the year –
and a powerfully socially aware one too. Pianist Orrin Evans is on the hook for
a lot of this, along with
bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits plus the
estimable JD Allen on tenor. They cover the Bad Brains and give a shout-out to
the Jena Six.
53. Brass Menazeri – Vranjski
Fiery Balkan brass dance tunes and anthems from this Bay Area
54. Changing Modes -
Artsy, smartly lyrical somewhat retro 80s rock that ranges from snarling
punk to creepy, goth-tinged songs.
55. Kasey Anderson – Nowhere
Snarling, Steve Earle-style lyrical Americana rock. Anderson’s
forthcoming 2011 album Heart of a Dog goes in an even harder-rocking
56. Abaji - Origine Orients
multi-instrumentalist and instrument inventor’s latest eclectic collection draws
on Middle Eastern, Greek, and gypsy music as well as Americana.
Dissard – Paris One Takes
A brilliant way to build a fan base:
edgy,world-weary, amusingly lyrical French rocker Dissard offers this one as a
free download. It’s one of the funnest albums of the year – even if you don’t
58. Copal – Into the Shadow
Slinky, hypnotic, original Middle Eastern and gypsy-tinged
violin-and-cello world music dancefloor vamps from the most original groove band
on the planet.
59. The Spy from
Cairo - Secretly Famous
Hypnotic, psychedelic dub-flavored Middle
Eastern instrumentals, many with a trip-hop feel.
60. El Pueblo - Isla
hypnotic and psychedelic, this has to be the most diverse roots reggae album
released in awhile – the Brooklyn band have more dubwise styles than you can
61. The One and Nines’ first
Sultry oldschool Memphis style soul from these New Jersey
62. Bassekou Kouyate &
Ngoni Ba - I Speak Fula
Hypnotic, diverse anthems and ballads from
the Malian lute virtuoso and his desert blues-style band.
63. Fishtank Ensemble – Woman
Raucous original gypsy music taken to the next level with jazz and
Middle Eastern influences, with a frontwoman whose vocal wail and theremin are
hard to tell apart.
64. Benjamin Herman
– Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg)
Don’t let the silly title scare you
away – this wild, psychedelic, surfy jazz album covers some of famous Dutch
jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s most memorable tracks.
65. The Rough Guide to Desert
At the risk of giving you too many of these, it was a
good year for the Rough Guides: this has all the usual suspects (Etran Finatawa,
Ali Farka Toure and Tinariwen) but also a ton of obscure brilliant cuts by
Marien Hassan, Tartit, Malouma and Tamikrest.
66. The Sometime
Boys – Any Day Now
The debut of the acoustic Americana side project by
the brain trust from artsy, powerful rockers System Noise is funky, virtuosic
and tuneful with some of frontwoman Sarah Mucho’s most compelling
67. Mostly Other People Do the Killing
– Forty Fort
A clever, often hilarious whirlwind of postbop quotes and japes
from these self-styled “bebop terrorists,” with some of the funniest liner notes
ever courtesy of nonagenarian jazz know-it-all “Leonardo Featherweight.”
68. The Dither Guitar Quartet’s
Swirling psychedelic avant garde dreampop instrumentals by
five cutting-edge composers.
Cookers - Warriors
Deliciously tuneful, inspired 1960s style postbop jazz
from a bunch of vets: Billy Harper, Craig Handy, Cecil McBee, George Cables,
Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson and David Weiss.
70. The Debutante Hour
– The Birth and Death of Meaning
Quirky, fun, harmonically beautiful oldtimey
sounds with cleverly amusing lyrics from this sultry Brooklyn trio.
71. Mark Sinnis – The Night’s
Arguably the finest and most diverse effort to date from the
ominous baritone frontman of Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House, ranging from noir
cabaret to dark blues to country. He’s the guy that Voltaire ripped off.
72. Bryan and the Haggards
- Pretend It’s the End of the World
Outsider or mostly outside jazz guys
(Bryan Murray, Jon Irabagon, Jon Lundbom, Moppa Elliott, Danny Fischer) cover
Merle Haggard. As absurd and cruelly funny as you would expect.
73. The City Champs - The
Like a more diverse, cinematic, noir Booker T & the MGs, the
Memphis organ instrumental trio offer a psychedelic yet danceable collection of
74. Carolann Solebello –
Glass of Desire
The Red Molly
multi-instrumentalist/singer’s diverse, soaringly intense new solo album of
Americana and folk-rock.
75. Black 47 - Bankers and
Larry Kirwan never runs out of ideas, never gets stale. We ranked
these Irish-American legends’ 2008 album Iraq as that year’s best; this
depression-themed one is just as tuneful, wittily perceptive and anthemic.
76. Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece - Little Echo
period-perfect late 50s style vibraphone jazz. It ought to be the
soundtrack for Mad Men’s next few seasons, if the show lasts that long.
Unselfconsciously sexy stuff.
77. The Pre-War Ponies –
Introducing the Pre-War Ponies
Daria Grace, their frontwoman and baritone uke
player, is one of the most casually compelling, sultry voices in oldtimey and
Americana music. This is her charming, unselfconsciously romantic 20s/30s
project where she covers all kinds of great obscure period pieces.
78. Gato Libre -
Quietly tuneful Japanese gypsy jazz-flavored tunes from pianist Satoko
Fujii’s obscure accordion project – like one of those great bands that only
plays Barbes once every couple of months.
79. Thunderball - 12
Spinning with layers of dub-inspired keys, guitars and effects,
their cinematic instrumentals are trippy beyond belief, and funny too.
80. Comic Wow
– Music for Mysteries of Mind Space and Time
We’re sticking all the
psychedelic stuff here for lack of a better place to put it. Some of this you
might call dubstep, some is cinematic, some is funky, some is disco. Either way
it’s insanely layered, insanely good stoner music.
81. The Smiles and
Frowns’ first album
Period-perfect: these guys sound like they stepped
out of a Top of the Pops performance alongside the Pretty Things and Electric
Prunes, 1968. Whatever they’re smoking out in Arizona where this band is from
seems to be working just fine.
82. Jeremy Messersmith - The
File this under psychedelic pop, with a goth touch – it’s
nothing if not original. Clever lyricist, solid powerpop tunes, a 60s
fascination that’s not cheesy – he saved that for his Star Wars song.
83. Flugente - Flugente
A guy after our own heart: the once-and-future Blam frontman hates gentrification, despises
yuppies and trendoids and has the lyrical chops to give his somewhat Leonard
Cohen-esque acoustic rants an original, witheringly funny edge.
84. Jim Guttmann - Bessarabian
Joyously and often darkly eclectic klezmer themes and dances from
the Klezmer Conservatory Band’s bassist.
85. Very Be Careful - Escape
We don’t usually pay attention to bloggers who can’t write, but one of
them actually complained about how loud the accordion on these wild LA cumbia
punks’ album is. Reason enough for us to put it on the list.
86. The Ellen Rowe Quartet – Wishing
Lush, plaintive, beautifully lyrical jazz from the pianist/composer and
her inspired band including several memorable Ingrid Jensen cameos.
87. The Whispering Tree – Go
Call the Captain
These folks really love 6/8 time, and it works for them,
through an uncommonly smart mix of uneasy acoustic Nashville gothic
and Appalachian-tinged ballads.
88. Razia -
Eclectic rock, Afrobeat, jazz-tinged ballads and
Mediterranean-style songwriting from the Malagasy chanteuse and her band.
89. Phil Sargent – A New
We love albums like this, that transcend boundaries and push the
envelope. Guitarist Sargent, backed by a rhythm section and Aubrey
Johnson supplying vocalese, runs from motorway ambience to roaring
metal/art-rock and pensive jazz instrumentals.
90. Bern & the Brights –
Swing Shift Maisies
Lush yet austere: art-rock with indie production values,
but which actually enhance the violin-fueled bite of the surprisingly complex,
91. Jacam Manricks –
Bad title, great album. The alto saxophonist’s previous album
was all about lush, gorgeous charts and tunes; this one’s about great playing –
with more of those tunes, albeit somewhat more stripped down.
Afrobeat Ensemble - Toubab Soul
This is one of the most amazingly
melodic, memorable albums of the year even though most of these instrumentals
are basically one-chord jams! Lush, hypnotic, often fiery Ethiopian-influenced
grooves from this smart Barcelona-based group.
93. Jay Banerjee -
“Ban-er-jee,” Just Like It’s Spelled
Like a lo-fi Byrds, the impresario
behind NYC’s best rock event, Hipster Demolition Night airs out his bag of
catchy, retro 60s Rickenbacker 12-string janglerock licks and savagely satirical
94. Debo Band – Flamingoh (Pink
The Boston-based Ethiopian dance band’s debut ep – a deliriously
fun live recording made on tour in Africa – would be further up this list if it
was longer. Which it will be soon – watch this space.
95. Spanglish Fly - Latin Soul y
Their debut ep is a throwback to Spanish Harlem circa 1965 or 1966, a
blend of oldschool retro soul and oldschool retro salsa – think Joe Cuba but
with better production values. Plus you can dance to this like crazy.
96. Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis - Cerulean
This is about as bluesy as Shostakovich, but it’s gorgeously
melodic, with all kinds of interplay between the adventurous, eclectic
saxophonist (who stays within himself pretty much here) and the glimmering
third-stream piano titan.
97. Denis Matsuev/Valery
Orchestra – Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3./Rhapsody on a Theme of
How do you resist putting a recording this robust of two of the
iconic late Romantic masterpieces on a Best Albums list? Answer: you don’t.
98. Magnifico –
Stagy, wry, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes over-the-top Balkan
dancefloor madness. He satirizes dumb American culture, and fascist Balkan
dictator types, and gets away with it because everybody loves it and it’s so
Joel Yennior Trio – Big City Circus
guy’s alternately retro and rather chillingly noir small-combo debut –
check out the righteously wrathful suite Justice Lost.
100. The Bobby Avey Trio - A New
On one level, it kills us to put such a great album - magisterial,
frequently murky modal jazz piano from one of the best up-and-coming players out
there – at #100. Then again, a lot of people scroll all the way to the bottom.
And he doesn’t need the press from us anyway.
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