This list is my top 10 (well, actually 11) favorite albums of 2010. This year, unlike some others, is so stacked with good music that most of these records could have been my #1 if released in a different year.
Don't pay so much attention to where they're ranked because all of these albums are "must-hear" material. And without further ado...
MID YEAR TOP-10 LIST: 1. Eli "Paperboy" Reed - Come and Get It [link] Come and Get It sets the bar for every other album this year. Reed's neo-soul sound could have stepped off American Bandstand but it is still fresher than ever. Every single track is an absolute gem, and I can't recommend it enough.
2. Motion City Soundtrack - My Dinosaur Life [link]
As a longtime fan, I knew that My Dinosaur Life would be Motion City Soundtrack's make-or-break album for me after 2007's major label disappointment. However, the band is playing for keeps this time around—the record sparkles beyond anything I had expected. These are among the best songs they've ever written, and the renewed sense of purpose in My Dinosaur Life is one of the most refreshing things I've heard so far this year.
3. Steel Train - Steel Train [link]
Every year I have a couple albums that come out of left field and make an impression on me, and so far this year, Steel Train is the second (Eli "Paperboy" Reed being the first). I generally overlooked the band because of their former record label but I'm seeing the error of my ways after hearing this self-titled album. It's a more orchestral version of Fun—less jubilation, a little slicker, but still thickly layered and insanely catchy.
4. Black Kettle – Narrative [link]
Fans of Tegan & Sara or Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis would do well to take a flier on Black Kettle's Narrative. Superbly self-produced by the Berklee grads, you'll have these melodies bouncing around in your head for days.
5. Blitzen Trapper - Destroyer of the Void [link]
I didn't get into Blitzen Trapper until well after Furr released, but since then, I've been spinning both that album and the follow-up EP, Black River Killer. Destroyer of the Void lives up to its predecessors with a twist—it feels slightly less folk-country influenced and more concerned with warbling guitars and lush arrangements. As long as their fans don't jump off the bandwagon, this album has the potential to propel Blitzen Trapper into the stratosphere.
6. Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away [link] So Runs the World Away is an intriguing mix of Ritter's last two albums—not quite as up-tempo as his last, which I loved. As always, the imagery is vivid and the songs tug at your heartstrings like no other singer-songwriter can.
7. Foxy Shazam - Foxy Shazam [link]
Queen for the Pop-Punkers, a.k.a. Foxy Shazam have been lauded for their incendiary live show (literally—the singer eats lit cigarettes on stage) for months now, and I'm proud to say the recorded version passes the bullshit test with flying colors. The band's self-titled major label release is quirky and unpredictable with a side order of smoke inhalation.
8. Hanson - Shout It Out [link]
Hanson is one of those bands that forever will be associated with one song, no matter what they go on to do. Some bands choose to mail it in as a result, but the Oklahoma trio has instead crafted a pop-rock album that puts most of their contemporaries to shame (and is a worthy follow-up to their similarly lauded 2007 album The Walk). There are potentially massive singles on Shout It Out—songs that simply will not quit. The pop-meets-R&B and soul sound is a nod to the band's inspiration—artists like Chuck Berry and Otis Redding—and it settles the "one hit wonder" argument. The Hanson brothers are here to stay.
9. Stacy Clark - Connect the Dots [link] Connect the Dots maintains a healthy balance between pop and indie—weaving a middle ground between pop radio and indie powerhouses like as Regina Spektor. Her winning charm fights Connect the Dots onto this list, and hopefully onto yours too.
10. Poema - Sing It Now EP [link]
I remember when Poema first signed to Tooth & Nail and how I was blown away with their demos, hoping they'd be the "next big thing" and Sing It Now is a fantastic first taste. The Albuquerque duo (siblings Elle and Shealeen) have so many possibilities and so much potential. Poema's music is self-conscious and charismatic, reminiscent of Taylor Swift at times, yet heavy on the strings and supremely polished, and Sing It Now is well-worth your time.
HONORABLE MENTION The Narrative – The Narrative [link]
I tried my hardest to put The Narrative's self-titled record in my Top 10 list and I just couldn't downgrade anyone else. It is a fantastic full-length debut and I fully expect them to go on and do big, big things. The band's two lead vocalists each bring something totally different to the record—Jesse Gabriel's lead songs recalling Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Straylight Run, while Suzie Zeldin's range puts even some of the greats to shame. If you want to hop on a bandwagon before an artist becomes a household name, I'd put my money on The Narrative.