10. Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More (Glassnote)
The year’s most startling debut (and one of the best live performances I saw in 2010) came from this unassuming group of Brits. Lead singer Marcus Mumford has one of those Ray LaMontagne/David Gray voices that aims right for your heart and attaches to it, and the group’s songs have a similar (if slightly rootsier) quality. Sigh No More is definitely my pick for the I’m-a-sucker-for-love-and-romanticism-and-heartbreak album of the year.
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9. Band of Horses, Infinite Arms (Fat Possum/Columbia)
I’m a sucker for harmonies. While my appreciation for Band of Horses also has a lot to do with great songwriting (and an unexplainable fascination with bearded, hippie-ish dudes, it’s those CSN&Y-style harmonies that make my ears (and heart, if we’re being truthful here) melt. Much like with Mumford, my love for them was sealed with a live performance, and the extraordinarly odd video for “Dilly” was the cherry on top.
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8. Damian Marley & Nas, Distant Relatives (Def Jam)
I own Welcome to Jamrock and like it okay, but I wouldn’t consider myself a Damian Marley fan. Nas alternately makes me want to crown him as one of his generation’s greatest poets and curse him for two decades worth of blatant hypocrisy and underachievement. Put both of them together? Perfection. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. With Marley providing the most sympathetic production of Nas’s career and Mr. Jones dropping some of the most focused, emotional rhyming of his career, Distant Relatives served as type of successful cross-genre mashup that Nas’s former rival Jay-Z tried (and failed miserably at) with his R. Kelly and Linkin Park collaborations.
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7. Steven Page, Page One (Zoe)
I fell in love with Barenaked Ladies nearly a decade and a half ago, saw them live a few years later and walked away with the belief that Steven Page was one of the greatest vocalists I’d ever encountered on a stage. I’m not sure that I thought much of his songwriting ability only because I’d always assumed the songwriting process at BNL HQ was a multi-member, democratic-style process. Flash forward to Page’s inaugural post-BNL effort, which teems with the same sly and intelligent lyricism that made Maroon one of my favorite underrated albums. The vocal prowess hasn’t diminished either, and the fact that some of my favorite below-the-mainstream-radar artists (such as Esthero and Glen Phillips) contributed to the making of Page One solidified the Canuck’s solo effort as one my favorite listens this year.
As a side note: Esthero, please please please PLEASE make a new album. Thanks.
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6. Robyn, Body Talk (Cherrytree/Interscope)
Sure, tons of pop music these days is snotty and irreverant, but lots of it seems gimmicky. Robyn? I think she’s just a bad-ass. A bad-ass who understands that you don’t have to sacrifice heart for the sake of getting asses moving on the dance floor. Body Talk was the rare dance-pop album that sounded just as good in a sweaty club packed full of people (or at least I imagine it would-I haven’t been inside one of those places in a long ass time) as it does when you’re at home dancing on your own (pun referencing my favorite song of the year totally intended).
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