10. Erykah Badu – New Amerykah pt II: Return of the Ankh (Motown)
New Amerykah pt II: Return of the Ankh is a surprisingly slamming slab of R&B. Erykah Badu was able to accomplish something special with the second installment (of a projected four?) in her New Amerykah series: follow up the confrontational and experimental R&B of the first with a slick and sexy yet still thoughtful stunner. Return of the Ankh is a little like following What’s Going On? (1971) with Let’s Get it On (1973)*, there’s no dip in musical quality, but instead of getting in her listener’s faces about the injustices facing blacks and women, she acknowledges that sometimes we just want to do a little bump and grind. Plus, if she can sneak some social commentary in there once and a while, all that much better.

“Turn Me Away (Get Munny)”

9. Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type Records)
Oh Yellow Swans, how we’ll miss thee. There are few acts over the past few years who’ve been able to put out the quantity and quality of work to match Yellow Swans. These two understood how sounds, even harsh, almost unlistenable ones, could fit together and swirl around one another. For their final foray, Going Places, it’s not different. The duo still balances massive slabs of distortion and noise into almost pleasing and soothing waves lapping over you and enveloping you in a pool of static. Weather similies about for this group because Yellow Swans were, almost legitimately, a force of nature, now that they’re extinct, the DIY/avnat garde scene is weaker for the loss. The group also unleashed a companion piece to Going Places called Being There, consider that essential listening as well.

“Foiled”

8. Central Services – Forever Frozen in Television Time (Definitive Jux)
With hip-hop’s pre-eminent avant-backpack label on temporary hiatus, hopefully, the final releases, this and Camu Tao’s posthumous debut, aren’t just treasures because they both highlight a talent that was never fully realized, but because there’s the outside, but nagging chance they could be the final Def Jux platters ever. But if this free EP is one of the final volleys from the label, it’s a pretty damn fine way to go out. Tao’s collaboration with label head El-P (a/k/a El-Producto a/k/a Jaime Meline) is a raw, crackling, extremely funky chunk of tuneage. Central Services’ Forever Frozen in Television Time is simultaneously old-school and futuristic, throw-back and forward leaning. It’s not just the sonic palette, which seems to lean on P-Funk, De La Soul, and whatever out-there tip El-P and Camu were feeling back in mid ’08, but also Camu Tao’s omnibus vocal stylings which go from silky, soul croon, to nimble, acrobatic verses, to CBGB-echoing shouts. Taking all comers, as it were, can be a difficult sound, but the fusion is so seamless, so internalized and digested and mulled-over by these two, that is sounds perfectly natural for them. (Bonus nerd points for the Moby Grape sample on “Speak in Tongues.”)

“We Do the Work, You Do the Pleasure”

7. Alex Body – Chief of Time and Frequency (Night-People Records)
From the wheezy chug of album opener, “Dr. Max” (streaming below), to the expansive reverbed reflections of “Distorted Hallway,” at the cassette’s end, Alex Body’s Chief of Time and Frequency is easily my favorite release from my breakout artist of the year. I’ve articulated my shock, and that of others in Iowa City, at Body emerging from 12 Canons (the macabre folk duo) with a set of distorted synth pop, but after the shock wore off, what we’re left with is a series of great cassettes and CDr’s to mark an over-productive 2010. This release from Night-People is the most consistent.

6. Black Bilk – Album of the Year (Decon/Fat Beats)
Black Milk’s follow-up to his stunning 2008 record, Tronic, is a bit of a step down. Album of the Year–a chronicle of the year between the release of his previous album and submitting his latest, not a totally hubris-laden boast–is a bit tighter, and a bit more refined. Normally those adjectives are positive, but in this case, there was a certain freedom, a lack of caution to Tronic that was so exciting, so energized; AotY doesn’t feel safer, but it feels a bit less exciting. Much of that is due to Milk’s increased mic skills in recording his previous album and this one. Because he feels he has to prove less as an MC–he’s a lot better, some of the energy, the reckless abandon with which he rapped previously is cooler, and now that he’s not bubbling everywhere, his lyrical content is left without as much help from his delivery. Now that Milk’s a more accomplished mic-smith, he may want to take a bit more time with the pen and paper for the next go-round. But as a producer, Black Milk continues to grow and evolve and on that front, Album of the Year is as engaging as it’s predocessor. The inclusion of more live drumming, especially on “Oh Girl,” “Over Again,” and “Round of Applause,” is yet another thing to make me look a fool as I walk around with my headphones on. Just bump that cut below.

*The solid soundtrack for Trouble Man (1972) sits between Marvin Gaye’s dual masterpieces.

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