1. Elizabeth Cook – Welder
I do have a conflict of interest with this artist. Tim Carroll is Elizabeth’s guitar player and husband, I’m not sure what came first. But he’s an old Indiana music friend of mine. They both have lived the music life and have had many bumps in the road as most of us music types do. This Don Was produced album in a country music winner. Honest and up front production brings to life these new classic songs that pull at your heart while making light of some of the sillier moments in life. Songs like Til Then and Heroin Addicted Sister hit the emotional tear duct while Not California gives you good country pop. My only non starter is the Snake in the Bed song – I always skip that one. The smiles and cries that make up this album really hit home for me and it’s one of my top favorites this year. Pick up a copy!
2. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
I really don't know much about these guys. I heard a little thing on NPR when this first came out and it caught my ear. Apparently it caught fire since then and now they're the break out act of 2010. Well deserved because this album is full of catchy folk lore rock that is served with a pint and fish-n-chips. Everyone gets to sing along and if you’re a fan of the movie Once, or Damien Rice's first album, then you'll love these guys. Now where did that rosin go...
3. Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame
Once again a band I stumbled on via an email from the Pabst people. There’s seems to be a lot of these guitar pop bands with skinny guys who like the long beard thing going on. Most of them surf in one ear and out the other for me, but not this one. This Pennsylvania band has two lead singers and I assume two song writers. The song writing is a notch above what is usually out there and their influences are hinted at in a good way. Guitar player and lead singer Scott McMicken’s tight and high voice lends itself well to the pop tunes, while bass player Toby Leaman hits The Band-meets-Bowie ghost on the head on his more roots songs. I have not gone back and checked out their earlier albums but Shame, Shame is a great album from start to finish. Songs to check out our Shame, Shame and Shodow People.
4. John Vanderslice – Green Grow the Rushes
Not sure if EPs count on this list but Matt said we could break the rules. I’m sure Vanderslice is not for everyone but I love this guys dark side. The song that originally snagged me to this guy was White Dove…look it up, it’s worth it. His pop senses are like a stormy day at a garden party on the grounds of Strawberry Fields, perfect in my book. He’s also a great studio engineer and his production style is cool and catchy from electronic blurps-beeps to retro distorted guitars, all good. It was great seeing him at Turner this year. Current favorite song on this disc is I’ll Never Live Up To You.
5. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul
Hats off to Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) for once again bridging the gap between electronic production and what I call guitar pop music (Beatles, The Shins, etc). This intriguing and always interesting album really caught my ear this year. Of course you have to give credit to Sparkelhorse (Mark Linkous RIP) and David Lynch for their part in the collaboration, and all the other guest stars (Frank Black, Iggy Pop, etc). Of course I still have to look at my iPod (currently my Droid) to see who it is every time a track pops up. Current favorite song is Little Girl.
6. Broken Bells - Broken Bells
I think Brian Burton had a pretty good year. Some of this album runs together in my minds ear, but Ghost Inside and The High Road are a perfect blend of studio and pop acery. I find myself grabbing this CD before any road trips.
Oh, and the Ghost video stars Joan Holloway so that's a plus in my book.
7. Tift Merritt - See You On the Moon
Coming out of that great Chapel Hill music scene many years ago, Merritt had some good buzz building her up. I once heard a great demo session bootleg CD, but that never translated to her real releases (for me). This album is the first one of hers that really hit home. I find it mature, fun, intimate and alt-country enough while hinting at all those seventies chick singers that still haunt my musical synapsis...so where's that AM radio when you need it. 88Nine has done a great job playing the hit single Mixtape.
8. MGMT – Congratulations
I found these guys along with the rest of the world when Oracular Spectacular shook up the music world back in 2008. It was a great new pop album that still spends a lot of time in my cd player . The follow up was Congratulations, and I must admit it caught me by surprise. I love the fact that these guys flipped the finger to the music suits that must have freaked when the heard the full sea change of direction form Oracular that Congratulations is. I see this album as a type of Dukes of Stratosphere roll out for MGMT, as the Dukes were for XTC. Some of these tracks I find a little light on the depth of emotion that I usually desire, but it’s catchy enough to make my list. Current favorite song is Congratulations.
9. Band of Horses – Infinite Arms
Another not so new but we-like-beards guitar pop band who I’ve recently discovered. Seems they’ve been eating a lot of Hollies-vs-Beach Boys cereal for breakfast. I’m not sure which side won yet, but I’m liking the battle. Infinite Arms is full of super catchy tunes that will stick in your ears like Captain Crunch sticks in your teeth, plus all the sugar.
10. The Mike Benign Compulsion
Word on the street is that the bass player is an ass but the album is pretty good. Check it out. (file under shameless self promotion)