2010: The Year In Music

2010: The Year In Music
Jason Nocito
Beach House

It was a weird year for popular music. Many artists released well-hyped, buzzed-about albums, but very few of these had staying power or lingered beyond their initial sales surge. Some call it a product of our no-attention-span society; others blame it on declining artistic quality. (The jury's still out.) Still, 2010 was also the year that independent artists cemented their place in the big time: Artists from Vampire Weekend to Arcade Fire debuted high on the Billboard charts, a hallowed place normally reserved only for mainstream mainstays such as Taylor Swift and Kanye West. These days, being underground is more a state of mind than an actual place. The RFT's freelance music writers had diverse takes on popular music. Although several acts appeared on multiple lists – hint: Dreamy Baltimore band Beach House and electrowhizzes LCD Soundystem – our favorites had no rhyme or reason. Alt-rock, punk, hip-hop, indie, twang, pop, rap – all of these genres cropped up in some fashion. St. Louis acts also rated quite a few mentions, from hip-hop collective the Force to producer/electronic-music scientist Phaseone. Really, the only common thread in these lists of favorites? They're written by non-jaded music fans sharing their raves and favorites without being too cool to admit when something stirs their hearts.— Annie Zaleski

I'm obliged to summarize 2010 in one event: Sufjan Stevens dropped the F- bomb. Sixteen times. In one song. I'm not personally offended by the profanity, but I have no precedent for Sufjan going from parent-friendly to parental-advisory; I'm confused and overwhelmed. Such were my last twelve months in music.

I dug gems from newbies Fang Island, Maps & Atlases and Free Energy as well as new records by old favorites Broken Social Scene, Tokyo Police Club and Menomena. Arcade Fire won me back with The Suburbs. 2007's Neon Bible was about as fun as shooing Jehovah's Witnesses off your front porch, but this transcendent followup was the soundtrack of my ambivalence toward fashionable blog-buzz bands. When Win Butler condescendingly mentions "the kids," I think of Best Coast (there isn't enough reverb in the ocean to make derivative surf-pop interesting) and Wavves (who seriously sounds like Blink-182).

Some of my favorite moments were the year's strangest. Jim O'Rourke's All Kinds of People Love Burt Bacharach, is a bizarrely fascinating tribute album. Pianist Vijay Iyer's Solo is a different sort of captivating listen, brainy minimalism with the grandiosity of Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue." 1-Bit Symphony by Tristan Perich may be the year's most unique release: The composer's five-movement work is embedded onto a single microchip and packaged in a jewel case with a headphone jack on its spine. Plug in, and the chip creates Perich's composition on the spot.

Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Julie Roberts
Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Arcade Fire.
Eric Kayne
Arcade Fire.

2011 is upon us. Albums can literally play themselves. I heard a Jim O'Rourke song on a Wal-Mart commercial. Sufjan Stevens said the F word sixteen times. The kids are far from alright. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I don't know how I feel anymore. — Ryan Wasoba

O Sweet Carolina
The Carolina Chocolate Drops' album Genuine Negro Jig brought a nearly lost art form — African American string-band music — to audiences beyond the old-time music circuit. The trio accomplished this by incorporating sophisticated musicianship, topical themes and a rich history too often ignored by textbooks.  The album's title track, which is also referred to as "Snowden's Jig," was rescued from obscurity; it was originally written some 150 years ago by a black family in Ohio with the surname Snowden. It's the sound of three people channeling a dark history through a beautiful medium, between Rhiannon Giddens' moaning fiddle, Justin Robinson's funeral-march beat-boxing and the skeletal rattle of the bones Dom Flemons clacks between his fingers.

Giddens' vocals anchor the album. With a background in opera and Gaelic music, her voice embraces multiple histories, which are then blended with the present. She sings 1936's "Why Don't You Do Right?" with a subtlety that erases all memory of Jessica Rabbit and gives Blu Cantrell's 2001 tune "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)" depth and feeling that transcend the original's pop gloss.

The band played in St. Louis three times in 2010, including a set at LouFest that mesmerized the sun-drenched crowd. Giddens' unaccompanied, perfect — yes, perfect — voice embraced the English ballad "Reynadine," leaving the crowd transfixed and ready to follow her anywhere, even into the jaws of a werefox.

Two months later the band left the Sheldon shuddering, thanks to the stomps and hoots of one of the most enthusiastic concert crowds of the year. The group also contributed a rousing version on the harmony-driven rollick of "Don't Get Trouble in Your Mind" to Live at KDHX, Volume 8. In a city with a divided racial history that it sometimes can't seem to shake, the Carolina Chocolate Drops doesn't just represent great music; it's a sign that divided histories can meld into something full of beauty, joy and enlightenment.   — Robin Wheeler

Rap Recession
Despite the multitude of high-profile rap albums released this year, pickings were pretty slim for anyone who lacks a high tolerance for crossover. Drake's Thank Me Later managed to outperform Lil Wayne's I Am Not a Human Being, and Eminem, Kanye West and B.o.B. all had major album releases, but none of these records felt like a definitive masterpiece. Here's what I enjoyed the most.

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