ALBUMS. Major caveat: over the last few years, I’ve really relinquished any claim to being a “pop critic” in the broad sense of the term. I don’t make a living nor pursue a hobby in staying on top of pop music trends (and truly, even at the height of my freelance career, I was always writing about specific genres, never “pop” at large). That’s not to say I’ve abandoned pop at all; I love pop music but I feel no compunction to be in the mix with every major release. As a result, this list below is highly personal but isn’t meant to be a definitive statement as to “the best albums of 2010.” They’re just my favorites.
Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Part 2 (Return of the Anhk) (Motown). The previous installment might be more critically acclaimed but song-for-song, I don’t think I enjoyed any album more than this one. Loved how the album simultaneously nodded to the ’70s and ’90s.
Joe Bataan: Singin’ Some Soul (Fania/Codigo). Also available on vinyl. I’m obvious biased here since I wrote the liner notes but this is easily the best pure soul album released during the whole “Latin soul” era and until this year, hadn’t been re-released on vinyl, ever.
The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch). My bad – I’m actually annoyed at myself for neglecting to write this up earlier in the year because it was a surprisingly delightful discovery on my end (even though the band isn’t new…just new for me). These two Akron brothers went down to Muscle Shoals to record this and the result might get labeled “blues rock” but it’s a much more impressive chimera between garage, psych, funk and soul.
Chicano Batman: Chicano Batman (Unicornio). This EP from a trio of local Angelinos scored the summer of 2010 in all the best ways: dreamily languorous and melancholy.
Cut Chemist: Sound of the Police (Stable Sound). Not just a capstone for all the incredible African-themed material released this past year but the fact that Cut put this together so seamlessly with one turntable + a foot pedal is a mindblowing feat of mixing.
Syl Johnson: The Complete Mythology (Numero Group). A new gold standard in career anthologies?
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone). Every album has been a step forward for the crew and this fourth outing is no different. Vinyl hounds are highly advised to get with the 7″ boxset version of the album.
Tammi Terrell: Come On and See Me (Hip-O Select). For the first time, a complete collection of Tammi Terrell’s solo material. Way overdue and completely revelatory to anyone who only thought of Terrell as “Marvin Gaye’s singing partner.”
V/A: Good God! Born Again Funk (Numero Group). The Syl Johnson is the more thorough package but this second installment in Numero’s gospel funk series got far more rewinds from me. More volumes please.
V/A: Luk Thung! The Roots Of Thai Funk (Zudranama, 2010). I know The Sound of Siam (which I haven’t spent enough time with) is a more prominent release given the Soundways connection but I can say, without hesitation, that Luk Thung! was a revelation and that, if you like either comp, you should absolutely grab the other. The blend of styles and rhythms with Thai singing is so striking and memorable and the custom packaging may be gimmicky but that doesn’t mean it’s not still good.
Akwid: Esto Es Pa Mis Paisas. La Raza for 2010 w/ banda tuba, ftw! RIP Bobby Espinoza.
B.o.B. (feat. Bruno Mars): Nothin’ On You . I didn’t care much for the actual lead artist on this but Bruno Mars’ hook is one helluva earworm.
California Swag District: Teach Me How to Dougie. This beat was bubblegum, so I had to chew it.
Cee-Lo: Fuck You. Forget “Forget You.” (Don’t sleep on Dennis Coffey’s version!)
Fat Joe: Slow Down (Ha Ha). Every few years, Fat Joe will hook up with the right producer and kill. Last time around, it was with Just Blaze. This time, Scoop Deville flips Soul II Soul something lovely for this heater.
Mayer Hawthorne: I Need You (Stonesthrow). Slow release year for Mayer given his touring but at least he and Nottz blessed us this lovely little summer slow jam. (Still avail on 12″)
Lil Wayne (feat. Cory Gunz): 6’7″. Is it time to retire the 808 clap? Only if this track makes it under the wire.
Lord Echo (feat. Lisa Tomlins): Thinking Of You. It’s hard to improve on anything that Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards put together but New Zealand’s Mike Fabulous aka Lord Echo makes a pretty good case with his cover.
Quantic: Dre En Cumbia. Totally self-serving of me to include this since I’m claiming (partial) credit for its inspiration. C’mon though; it’s pretty frickin’ cool, no?
Kanye West (feat. Pete Rock, Jay-Z, Charlie Wilson, Kid Kudi): The Joy. My first reaction when I heard this over the fall was to say, “man, Pete let that Curtis loop go too long. But then I heard Kanye’s album, with its endless codas and I forgave Pete and then some. This sounds so much better after suffering through 8+ minutes of “Runaway.” This would never have fit into the album; another reason to applaud the GOOD Friday series.
Dan Charnas: The Big Payback. You already know what’s up.
Jay-Z: Decoded. More about Jay-Z than you’d thought you’d ever want to know.
Nasher Museum of Art: The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl [Catalogue]. Makes you want to drive out to Durham, NC to see this incredible show about the art and culture of vinyl records; for those who can’t make it in person, this is the next best thing.