I’m a contributing writer for The Agit Reader, a weekly music webzine based in Brooklyn. Here’s a reprint of my recent piece for its Best of 2010 issue. The editors let us format our top ten lists however we liked, so I tried to have some fun with mine.
For me, 2010 was a warm and sudsy whirlpool of easy beats. I filled my ears mostly with new records from long-time favorite artists and new records from longstanding artists that were new to me. Here’s a customized emotional chart for each of my 10 picks.
10. The Apples in Stereo: Travellers in Space and Time (Yep Roc/Simian/Elephant 6)
Apparently, perennial American indie-pop outlet Apples in Stereo endeavored to make their seventh studio album sound like aliens playing ’70s R&B from a spaceship. I think they succeeded admirably.
Snapshot: Champagne optimism
Mood: “It takes less muscles to smile than to frown!”
Goes well with: multivitamins, kitten heels, not winning the lottery but not caring
9. Groove Armada: Black Light (Om)
This decoupage of digital rhythms and bright vocals knocked me over like a bag of synthesizers. “History,” featuring Will Young, wins my vote for Most Righteously Kinetic Song of the Year.
Snapshot: Shut up and dance.
Mood: I bleed electronica.
Goes well with: leftover gin from the bottle and hangovers associated with leftover gin from the bottle
8. The Budos Band: The Budos Band III (Daptone)
When you want to gyrate like no one’s watching and drink like no one’s judging, you’re Budos-bound. Pumped full of flint, this West African and Afro-Cuban soul outfit delivers an ambush of instrumental attitude.
Snapshot: achy Afro-soul
Mood: You’re welcome.
Goes well with: beating someone up, video games, scotch
7. Tracey Thorn: Love and Its Opposite (Merge)
If you miss Everything But the Girl and like stashing weapons for stressy days, this could be your record. “Why Does the Wind?” and “Oh, the Divorces!” are estrogen flag-fliers, while the Lee Hazlewood and Unbending Trees covers are committed and imaginative.
Snapshot: Everything But the Boy
Mood: gorgeous scorn
Goes well with: cardigans, Earl Grey tea
6. Freedy Johnston: Rain on the City (Bar/None)
Johnston’s first album in eight years convinced me that it’s possible (and sometimes preferable) to be filled up with loneliness. “The Devil Raises His Own,” “The Kind Of Love We’re In” and the title track are stunning examples of that.
Snapshot: melting snow
Mood: Me, myself, and I don’t really need you.
Goes well with: ’90s-era pining, good domestic beer
5. Horse Feathers: Thistled Spring (Kill Rock Stars)
Horse Feathers’ placid assemblage of folk-inspired tunes lends well to quiet homemade dinners, letter writing, and/or overall decompressing.
Snapshot: acoustic utopia
Mood: pillows—lots of them
Goes well with: melatonin, fuzzy socks
4. Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love (Matador)
The eighth studio album from this Glasgow group is predictably pithy but enjoyably unassuming, sort of like that moment when you dunk a spoon into your giant cereal bowl and anticipate the first crunchy mouthful.
Snapshot: As if.
Mood: stolen cigarettes
Goes well with: vintage eyeglasses, espresso
3. Sade: Soldier of Love (Epic)
At 51, Sade’s still got it—more than most of us will ever have it. Her first album in a decade is a gift to those who love intensely, act defiantly, and sometimes sing loudly in the car/shower/closet.
Snapshot: That’s right, you’ll bow down.
Mood: fierce sultry
Goes well with: sex, grudges, empowerment
2. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs: God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise (RCA)
I wanted to hate Ray LaMontagne after everyone and their Labradoodles became fans, but god, he’s good. God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise’s “New York City’s Killing Me” has secretly haunted me for months.
Snapshot: He did it. Again.
Mood: How many grains of sorrow are on the earth?
Goes well with: regrets, Rioja
1. Laura Veirs: July Flame (Raven Marching Band/Bella Union)
Named after a type of peach and recorded during the pregnancy of her first child, July Flame is pure and distinct and elevating and serene and nurturing and eloquent and dignifying.
Snapshot: girlie forest rock
Mood: ethereal antidepressant
Goes well with: knitting, Tofurky