I may normally just assume this is an incontestable fact but I will state it nevertheless; 2010 was a wretched year for music. Whether it was the flashy suits in corporate mainstream on down to the underbelly of the underground, there was a significant drought of quality music. This is very worrisome as it’s a growing trend year to year. You can blame the economy but I blame motivation. A majority of this Top 10 list are great albums; though some would simply not make the cut without such an indisposed competition.
10. Hillstomp – Darker the Night
What better way to start than with such a unique album such as this. Shoved back in the desolate forests of Oregon; Hillstomp showcases an album with high adrenaline finger-plucking banjos, gritty country blues guitar sprawls and all with a wicked backwoods twang. The menacing bell tones of “Hammer Ring” begins this strange album with the redneck refrain “Banjo Song #1” followed closely behind. The album gets a true ‘giddy up’ when the greasy guitar slides of “Cardiac Arrest in D Minor” arrive. For local enthusiasts, this song will bring reminiscence to Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and their high octane blues explosion. Hillstomp display their sense of humor, even if in a morbid way, with the murder inspired “Cold Dark Woods”. “Up Here” and “Old Plank Road” brings the browbeaten tone to a methodical pace, channeling the New York based band O’Death. While not all songs are solid, the band makes up deeply in the originality category. Almost nobody plays music like this, which makes it that harder to define. Hillbilly stoner rock? Psychobilly? Give a listen and you decide.
9. Street Sweeper Social Club – Ghetto Blaster EP
Yeah yeah, it’s an EP but believe me, it belongs on this list. Fronted by The Coup’s vocalist Boots Riley and Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist Tom Morello, SSSC is a misconstrued collaboration. Yes, it does sound eerily similar to RATM but you must calculate that Morello’s infamous guitar riffs and effects create the ambience of RATM and SSSC. That’s like saying Jack White sounds too much like White Stripes on a Raconteurs record. That is their sound! Boots Riley is no replacement for Zach de la Rocha and doesn’t try to be. “The New Fuck You” is as timidly revolutionary as SSSC gets. “Scars” shows Riley doesn’t take himself too seriously and can have fun with songs (unlike Zach) with lyrics like “The rubber on my sneakers used to flap when walkin’, It looked like two little muppets talkin’”. If that doesn’t win you over, check out the two re-imagined covers; M.I.A. “Paper Planes” and LL Cool J “Momma Said Knock You Out”.
8. Fireball Ministry – Fireball Ministry
With Fireball Ministry’s 2010 self titled release, it may be their most approachable record to date. Considering this band thrived on their underground status with only a few appearances on the mainstream (video games), this is kind of a big deal. It’s hard to compare this album with “Ou Est La Rock” and “The Second Great Awakening” that main-lined their core audience that craved their 70’s era acid rock. “Their Rock is Not Our Rock” was a hint of a feared underground betrayal but songs like “Thought It Out” and “Kick Back” on the new album take their sound even closer to the surface. That doesn’t mean the old faithful Fireball Ministry are subdued. The opener “Hard Lines” and “Followed by a Fall” changes very little from the sludgy guitar licks and furious percussions we have grown accustom. The standout track is “Butcher, Faker, Policy Maker” with its very poignant lyrics that creates a modern relatable atmosphere. Fireball Ministry may have a troubling trend to some on its recent records but its self titled release contains enough of their signature sound of Sabbath-soaked guitar styling’s and the piecing euphonic voice of lead singer James A. Rotta II to get them by this time.
7. Robert Plant – Band of Joy
Raising Sand, Robert Plant’s collaboration with country songstress Alison Krauss, had seemed to awaken this road torn soul. From Led Zeppelin sex god to down beaten bluegrass vocalist; that is a hell of a transition. As admired as Led Zeppelin is, it’s easy to misplace that this was over 30 years ago. “Angel Dance” is a fun and lighthearted song while the cover “You Can’t Buy Me Love” displays Plant’s halfhearted (or not) attempt to resurrect his signature vocals. Though songs like “Silver Rider” and “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down” brings a solemn tone to a record that is overall tender and soothing to the ear. Plant doesn’t sing like he once did and I believe he realizes this. This transformation was maybe more out of necessity but it is still welcome.
6. Hollerado – Record in a Bag
After seeing Hollerado live and in person recently as a total fluke coincidence, I have come to the conclusion that their debut album Record in a Bag is a good representation of this bunch from Manotick, Ontario. It’s a fun, simple and down to earth record that will always leave you with a good mood. “Do the doot da doot doo” launches the record with its contagious guitar riffs and chorus that is the epiphany of this power pop album. “Fake Drugs” is a light hearted take on the desperation of ingesting prosthetic substitutes. “Americanarama” is a sarcastic view of America with dry Canadian humor that Hollerado definitely contains. This album sounds like it was recorded in a basement or bathroom; all the while you can hear cheers and random comments of friendly spectators at the end of certain tracks. In an era of over-produced albums, Hollerado was able to create an intimate and unpretentious record. Not bad, ay?
5. Spoon – Transference
Upon first listen, there’s nothing all that shocking here on Transference, Spoon’s seventh studio album. First thought is, “Hmm…sounds like another Spoon album.” Though that’s far from a bad thing! Spoon as a unit are consistent in their sound though that same consistency in quality makes every Spoon album dodge the pitfalls of redundancy. “Before Destruction” has the ragged acoustic guitars and kinetic beats of a snare with true pop gloss that only Spoon could display with its signature tight production values. Britt Daniel’s shuddering voice transcends on tracks “Written in Reverse” and “Nobody Gets Me but You.” The true breakthrough performance is the hypnotic bass playing of Rob Pope. On tracks “The Mystery Zone” and “Got Nuffin”, Pope sends us into an unsettling trance on his shifting rhythms that form the backdrop of these and many other songs. Just like Spoon, the beats are simple yet nimble. It seems with “Who Makes Your Money” and intertwined within multiple tracks with Transference, there seems to be more wobbly synth and other technological trickery in place of an ensemble of a classic collaboration of music instruments. Outside of production, there is little to distinguish this among other Spoon albums. A lot can be said for a band, even if in baby steps, attempting to mold itself away from its Pixie-pop roots. After more listens, I can’t help but feel that Transference is a calculated preparation in a different direction. This may be in the best interest of Spoon as their music is much more intriguing when it is much harder to fathom.
4. The Cocaine Wolves – Royal Feast
The Cocaine Wolves are a local Indianapolis treat for 3 years or more. I remember the first time I saw them at The Melody Inn, opening for Devil to Pay. They immediately thrashed into the face melting guitar solos of “Live Right, Live Tight”; followed closely by was their best song in my opinion, the whiskey laden riffs of “Snatching Death (From the Jaws of Life)”. I was blown away as they (literally) rocked the stage. I could see their beers on their Orange Amps bristling back and forth, spewing mounds and mounds of Bud Light into the cabinets. Afterwards, I ran up to the lead singer, known as “Mr. Steak”, and asked, “Do you have a CD?” He glared at me and giggled, “Um…not yet, man.” That was 3 years ago. I ran into them again coincidently at Zanies II a year and a half ago and asked the same question and got the same answer! I was dumbfounded that these guys never could AT LEAST put a tape recorder in the back of a room somewhere to have some form of merchandise. When I heard “Royal Feast”, I won’t go so far and say it was worth the wait but they sounded better in a studio setting, most notably with “Mr. Steak’s” vocals. For those who are already fans, the sarcastic fist pumping anthems are nothing new, but maybe the band knew something we didn’t by waiting this long. Somewhere “Judas Priest” and “Black Flag” are raising a glass.
3. The Quick and Easy Boys – Red Light Rabbit
I first heard of The Quick and Easy Boys thanks to Zaptown here when I was asked to do an interview/live review. This great band played a jubilant set on an unfortunately dismal night at The Melody Inn on the Westside of Indianapolis. I picked up Red Light Rabbit and found the album almost encompasses the hillbilly funk frenzy of their live shows. I say almost because not much could access with their live performance that night. Without rewriting what I already wrote on their music in my last article, this album is a great representation of The Quick and Easy Boys. It’s flamboyant, it’s fun and best of all; it’s still one of the top spinners in my car’s always sporadic CD player after all this time.
2. The Black Keys – Brothers
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys will be remembered for returning music back to the basics. Only The White Stripes could be in similar conversation in successfully recreating that vintage sound. Brothers is less of the personal relationship of Auerbach and Carney but more a revelation of their musical connection. The opener “Everlasting Light” has a classic feel with kick drum in full effect and Auerbach’s sly falsettos accompanying the chorus. Speaking of clever chorus, “Next Girl” achieves replay value with simple yet catchy lines such as “My next girl, will be nothing like my ex girl, made mistakes back then, won’t do it again.” I’m sure “Tighten Up” has graced most eardrums at this point with its introductory captivating whistles and sleek main guitar riff that will refuse to leave your brain for weeks. Also, a good video for this song (yes, they still make those) if you find the time to look it up. The Black Keys are masters of doing so much with so little. It’s amazing what a little creativity meshed within well written songs by individualistic musicians can do; even in this artificial modern era.
1. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards
Yes, that’s right, ANOTHER Jack White side project. The man is severely talented but clinically bored to continually create these sporadic endeavors. On The Dead Weather’s debut album Horehound, White largely submitted his front man duties to Kills singer Alison Mosshart. What followed was an album that was far from timid but lacked a tenacity that is a staple for a White controlled concept. On Sea of Cowards, White and Mosshart is a two-headed snake vocally while exchanging yelps, mumbles, screeches, etc. “Blue Blood Blues” lets everyone know that White refuses to remain stagnate on this record with quips like, “Check your lips at the door, woman, Shake your hips like battleships.” “Die by the Drop” is a perfect example of the compromised collaboration of White and Mosshart with the psychedelic thumping bass and effect driven treble intense wails of guitar while each singer competes to garner your attention. White can write a catchy chorus with such craftsmanship but ultimately refuses with Sea of Cowards. The album is full of curious hooks but is void of obvious standards in chorus development. With clattering drums, drowning bass thuds and fuzzed organ blurts; the driving rhythm of The Dead Weather is in the bizarre distorted flails of sound. “No Horse” is arguably the best track with Mosshart and her raspy/afflicted voice creates an ingenious flow to each verse while White and company build a marching tension that only her high pitched bellows could cut. A valuable lesson was learned on Horehound that Sea of Cowards quickly lamented into production; Jack White should never take a back seat to a project as it will only suffer. The man ideally has a quirky musical mind as is but is allowed to dig deeper with such a supporting cast of the equally inherent The Dead Weather. You may ask, why is this your number one? Other than it’s simply a great album; It’s different, even if to a fault. Sea of Cowards challenged me as a listener without snobbish exclusion and made me question the true foundations of song structure. As predictable and mundane as 2010 was, this concept is borderline revolutionary.