The music press has been poised, eyes fixed upon their clocks and calendars, to call the album’s time of death since before Metallica got all “uncool” and sued the pants off Napster–subsequently revving up the RIAA. But the album still remains. We still have lists dedicated to artists who we deem to have most effectively utilized the form. 2010 will certainly not be the death of the album. The year was marked by some of the finest hip-hop releases since Jay-Z retired (and should have stayed that way?), a wealth of DIY labels continue to furnish eardrums with all sorts of indie and major-aggravating tones, we saw some old masters come back and remind us not only why they were great, but how to keep chugging along as you begin to get AARP mailers. While the greats of indie-rock may have been lackluster or merely treading water, we had plenty of amazing talent out there picking up the slack if you bothered to listen.

20. Grinderman – Grinderman II (Anti-)
Nick Cave’s second outing with his garage-rock side project Grinderman, is better than the first. However, it took many listens for the sophomore effort to eclipse the stunning, self-titled debut. Grinderman II is not only more diverse, but, and it should be no surprise, the expanded sound palette shows no growing pains. Where a younger group would have stretch marks from expanding into new territory, Cave and Co. don’t really have many dark places left on the map. Once I resigned myself to not getting the explicit, playful, and maybe a bit overly gratuitious  rust-bucket stomp of the first album, Grinderman II became a joy. In fact, my favorite cut (highlighted on my top songs mix) would not have existed had Grinderman rehashed an album’s worth of “No Pussy Blues.”

“Heathen Child”

19. High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine (E1)
At this point, High on Fire just needs to show up to warrant inclusion on my year end best list. This Oakland, California metal outfit continues to bring the swagger on their fifth studio album, Snakes for the Divine. Always poised somewhere between the thick fog of stoner metal and the more straight-ahead bash of classic greats like Motörhead, High on Fire has always found the groove in metal. Much of that “funk” and extra chunkiness may be due to the propulsive bass lines of Jeff Matz being so up front in the mix.

“Bastard Samurai”

18. Emeralds – Does it Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego)
This Cleveland trio, featuring Mark McGuire, John Elliott, and Steve Hauschildt, has really stepped-up it’s game for their third full-length release, Does it Look Like I’m Here?. Emeralds has really moved past just constructing lush soundscapes, they’re now composing dense and interwoven works of beautiful, almost melodic ambient sound. The guitar work is as solid as ever, but the songwriting for the instrument is stronger with a better sense of purpose and direction. Not that Emeralds is writing pop songs now, though the amount of praise they’ve received from new outlets may be confusing, they are composing more thoughtful and direct experimental pieces and really highlighting their abilities to write pieces.

“Candy Shoppe”

17. Twilight – Monument to Time End (Southern Lord)
Twilight is a wet dream for metal heads, especially if you skew alternative and/or arty. This Chicago metal supergroup features: Blake Judd (Nachtmystium), Wrest (Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice), and N. Imperial (Kreig), – and new recruits Stavros Giannopolous (The Atlas Moth), Sanford Parker (Minsk, Buried At Sea) and Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom). If that weren’t enough, Robert Lowell (the eccentric mind behind Lichens and OM) provides guest vocals for three tracks. The wrap sheet is impressive, no? The music might be better. Monument to Time End is full of movement, not limited to plodding riffage or rock of Gibraltar overdrive, this troupe knows not just how to switch up the tempo like demons but also embrace dynamics (though “8,000 Years,” below, doesn’t showcase that talent all that much). Listening to metal can be brutally mundane, but the ebb and flow on Monument is constantly thrilling. Easily my favorite metal release of the year.

“8,000 Years”

16. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté – Ali & Toumani (World Circuit/Nonesuch Records)
The final release from this dynamic duo is a fitting farewell to Ali Fraka Touré–who passed away in 2006. The great Malian guitarist had numerous collaborations with, arguably, the world’s pre-eminent kora player, Toumani Diabaté, Ali & Toumani was recorded in 2005 and, for reasons unknown to me, was finally released earlier this year. This is a treasure. If you must only own one record of traditional African folk (with hints of contemporary African blues), this is probably your best bet. Just listen to Doudou below and try to ignore the beauty.


15. Living Ghost – Wilderness Names (youtouchusyoudie Records)
One man band is a difficult gimmick. Not only is all the looping, programming, or acrobatics trying to balance, but not sounding too precisely timed or horribly canned is almost impossible, especially on record. This is a feat which Daniel Davis a/k/a Living Ghost has managed to avoid on his debut Wilderness Names. Davis has also effectively straddled two very divergent lines, hardcore/post-hardcore and shoegaze. Both angular and gauzey, loud and ethereal, Wilderness Names is a tour de force for both a one man band but also merging two disparate ethoses.

14. Awesome Color – Massa Hypnos (Ecstatic Peace!)
Awesome Color’s  Massa Hypnos is nothing particularly new. It’s a collection of eight garage rock tunes from the home of garage rock, Detroit. Massa Hypnos, like the band’s first two records, doesn’t care whether you think they have a bit of The Stooges or this song is a bit MC5, Awesome Color doesn’t give a fuck, they just stomp on their Big Muff distortion pedals and wail. The real secret to the band’s success, beyond thoroughly kicking out the jams, is Derek Stanton’s voice. Stanton’s versitile instrument matches the intensity of cuts like “Slaughterhouse,” but when the group takes more phychedelic romps like on “Zombie” (below), he drops down to a Lou Reedian drawl and still sells every note as effectively.


13. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid: Suites II & III (Bad Boy/Wonderland Arts Society)
Janelle Monáe has compiled one hell of an audition tape for her full-length debut, The ArchAndroid: Suites II & III. From channeling James Brown (“Tightrope”), Debbie Harry (“Come Alive”), to her futuristic spins on classic torch singers (“Sir Greendown”) to just straight up R&B diva. It’s a tough balance to strike, like a multi-genre mixtape, but Monáe largely succeeds. The album could be too scattered but it rarely feels that way. If nothing else, the biggest knock against ArchAndroid may be that Monáe was too concentrated as the album does run on a bit long. But the scope and execution on the first two-thirds of her debut is too impressive and enjoyable to ignore.

“Cold War”

12. Rene Hell – Porcelean Opera (Type Records) / Baroque Arcade (Night-People Records)
I’ve already lauded Jeff Witscher’s latest output under the guise of Rene Hell, but I’m at it again. Largely because the dude rarely releases anything south of the Mendoza line. But under Marble Sky and Rene Hell, he’s been almost unimaginably good. In fact, his dreamy cassette from Night-People (which I received too late to include on the Miscellaneous Releases list), may be his weakest contribution, and it’s still a warm and inviting collection of more or less ambient waves of analog buzz. However, his full-length debut for Type Records, Porcelean Opera, is a marvel. Witscher has so inhabited this bizarre space between ambient, found sound collage, and 50’s sci-fi scores and sound effects, it’s hard to believe he’s ever done anything else. “Razor. P+,” below, and “IV 18:54” are particularly enjoyable and beautiful.

“Razor. P+”

11. Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (Self-Released/Def Jam?)
Bedroom rap just got a shot in the arm. Mississippi MC and producer Big K.R.I.T., recent Def Jam signee to boot, is responsible for one of the strongest hip hop releases of 2010 and what’s more impressive (despite that until he was signed do Def Jam it was all free!) is that, save a few guest verses, it’s all his doing. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, loaded with soul loops (“Across 110th St.” by Bobby Womack forms the basis for one of the strongest cuts streaming below) and soul-food drawl, backed with one hell of an attitude and chip on K.R.I.T.’s shoulder roughly the size of Mississippi makes for one hell of a listen. The album’s first four songs alone make this one of the strongest rap releases of the year. And K.R.I.T.’s hunger, alone, ensures the quality of each verse and beat.

“Just Touched Down”