By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
By Chaz Kangas
By Allison Babka
As far as major-label releases, Big Boi (of Outkast fame) had one of the most creative hip-hop albums of the year. Frenetically paced lyricism and energetic production made Sir Lucious Left Foot...The Son of Chico Dusty a welcome reward for the countless fans waiting on a new Outkast project. (For the record, Andre 3000 does not appear on Dusty as a vocalist.) Meanwhile, the Roots proved that nobody actually retires from rap when the group dropped How I Got Over, which features all the soulful instrumentation and slick wordplay for which it's known.
On the independent side of things, Pittsburgh's Wiz Khalifa put out another solid mixtape, Kush & Orange Juice, before promptly being signed to Atlantic Records. New Orleans rapper Curren$y has released two decent albums under Damon Dash's BluRoc label in the past six months, Pilot Talk and Pilot Talk II. And locally, Black Spade showcases his eccentric production and distinctive vocals on Build and Destroy, which is available via free download.
The St. Louis Underground Music Festival (SLUMfest for short) was the best local concert. An incredibly ambitious undertaking, the event incorporated every hip-hop element and featured over 70 performers in one day. Hopefully next year there will be more fans than performers in attendance...
And the best industry news of 2010? Jay Electronica announced his partnership with Jay-Z's Roc Nation imprint. Perhaps fans will finally get the studio album they've been waiting on for several years! — Calvin Cox
Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks: Scotsman Scott Hutchison led a raw and rousing confessional at the Old Rock House in May, shortly after his orchestral folk-rock band's third release. Hutchison is no longer chronicling the Chernobyl of breakups, but this album — the band's lushest — is full of invigorating anthems that steam with the full-body tingle of mulled cider.
The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt: Usually I don't go in for solo, acoustic, singer-songwriter types such as Kristian Matsson, but this Swede (who's actually of average stature) has fire in his warble. "King of Spain" — which references nimble, impish Dylan while keeping up its own offbeat gallop — has been stuck in my head all season.
Robyn, Body Talk: She's a platinum-plaited Swede and veteran of '90s sugar-pop, but on this full-length culmination of two Body Talk EPs released earlier this year, Robyn should be radio's ruling robot dancehall queen. With vocals that hit the bittersweet bull's-eye, Robyn neither minces words nor over-shares. The priority is interlocking mechanical beats that never sacrifice her unapologetic smarts.
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor: There's something sweet about this so-young punk quintet, that wants to blow your eardrums with visions of a dystopian heartland and mixed references to the Civil War and the FungWah bus. These New Jersey sons' (and daughter's) reckless, shadow-of-Springsteen set at LouFest fucking ruled.
Warpaint, The Fool: While Wavves and Best Coast cornered the market on retro fuzz that floated like a half-formed thought, the four California grrls of Warpaint made dreampsych with teeth and dangerous "Undertow." I missed the band's shows in town this year, but 2011 will be about not making the same mistake. For the fourth time. — Katie Moulton
Free Energy, Stuck on Nothing: This Philly band would be lost without Thin Lizzy, the Raspberries and a GPS set to the hippie party in the classic rock streets.
Sarah Jaffe, Suburban Nature: Properly gathered together for the first time, these songs demonstrate Jaffe's instincts for chamber-pop arrangements, harmonies and honesty.
Lissie, Catching a Tiger: Elisabeth Maurus has tasted viral fame with clever covers of Kid Cudi and Lady Gaga. Her debut is gimmick-free, with elegant Americana pop and one majestic coming-of-age song, "Bully."
Local Natives, Gorilla Manor: Some bands treat a debut as a warm-up. Local Natives treat it like a one and only chance, throwing everything plus the New York City indie sink at some surprising songcraft.
Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid: No one expected modesty from Monáe, but few anticipated just how entertaining a futurist concept album of wizard rock and cyber-funk could be.
Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More: After making a splash in the UK, the Brits' mix of gospel and clamorous folk resulted in a bracing U.S. debut and a sold-out show at Off Broadway this past June.
The Mynabirds, What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood: Laura Burhenn endures all the Dusty Springfield references with the help of producer Richard Swift, who smartly deconstructs the country soul.