Every year at this time, my friend Andy sends out a highly excitable e-mail asking about a dozen of his most rabid, music-obsessed friends -- sound engineers, club promoters, DJs, designers, anyone for whom music is less a casual dalliance and more like lifeblood -- to compile their personal lists of the year's best music, so we can all discover something new and/or gently mock each others' weird tastes in African banjo disco, kazoo jazz funk or ambient doom metal.
No music critic by training, I nevertheless dive into this venture with a great and all-consuming fervor coupled to a bottle of premium sake and much scouring of my ever-aflame iTunes library. More than 25 years of music ardor means my palate is still pretty wide and endlessly deep and I not-so-humbly submit that I know well of what I speak. Yes, even with the Danzig. Trust me.
Here's my contribution for 2010, a very good year for music indeed.
10) Tame Impala -- InnerSpeaker
Retro-cool '70s-inspired psychedelia from a quartet of young Aussie dudes who already sound so confident, accomplished and musically inventive, you'd think they were twice their age and half as stoned, and that no effing way was this their debut record. They call it "hypno-groove music" and you'd be hard-pressed to do any better.
9) Beach House -- Teen Dream
The pinnacle of the compressed, dreamy, retro, happy-kids-in-the-sunshine, everybody-into-the-pool chillwave movement that hit last year and continued with startlingly good results through most of 2010, and included lovely popcraft from the likes of Tamaryn, Houses, Teen Daze, et al. Another one that came out way back in January and so almost gets forgotten. Don't let that happen.
8) Danzig -- Deth Red Saboath
Look, don't even start, all right? This record is badass incarnate and you don't dare roll your eyes until you've heard it like, 10 times, naked and drunk and clawing at the moon. Remember that tune on The Hangover soundtrack, a dank, moody thing that was nevertheless somehow perfectly matched to a light black comedy? It was called "Thirteen" and at first I couldn't place it, finally SoundHounded it and turns out it was, yes, Glenn Danzig, the old-timer muscle-bound punk/goth doom rocker dude from way back when his underground hit "Mother" was a Oedipal complex writ large and snarly.
DRS is Danzig's first new record in forever, and it's a thick, meaty, hammer-chorded motherf--er, surprisingly catchy, endlessly blastable. He sounds great. Just crank "Ju Ju Bone," where Danzig channels Elvis on a heroin porn binge, and try not to smile a dark and dirty smile. Unevenly produced, terrible artwork, who the hell cares. Turn it up, slam your firewater and curse the gods. Awesome.
7) OoOoOO (EP)/James Blake -- Klavierwerke/CMYK/The Bells Sketch (EPs)
Outstanding EPs by two equally weird, small-time indie electronica acts destined for great things, so I combined them as one entry. Blake is some sort of wobbly genius-in-training, a walking Ketamine hit, all spacey rhythms and oddball time signatures on one snail-slow track, then something almost completely different and even more impenetrable, next. Try his cover of Feist's "Limit to Your Love" (creepycool video here) where, unlike on Klavierwerke, he actually sings.
OoOOo's EP is just a single, tantalizing bite of wonky ambient atmospheric electronica that doubles as a rather passionate, if obvious, love letter to Burial. It's the best trippy, obscure little snippet of wonderful nothingness you'll hear all year. Bonus: great cover art.
6) Jónsi - Go
First time I played the single "Go Do" for my gorgeous ex (or rather, showed her the delightful video) she absolutely hated Jónsi's voice, which was also the first time I'd ever realized the Sigur Rós frontman's mesmerizing falsetto wind chime of an instrument might be a little difficult for some to take in. Understandable. Then again, with a record this meticulously delightful, you can't help but want to share.
Every Sigur Rós album to date has been an eclectic mishmash of gorgeous songcraft hitched to often massively overblown symphonic grandeur. Not here. Jónsi's first solo record is a hugely accessible, Skittles-smashed kaleidoscope of colors and textures, pagan drumming and pop sensibility, with Jónsi's impeccable voice soaring hither and yon, mouthing lovely words mostly from the English language instead of Sigur Rós' trademark quasi-Icelandic gobbledigook. It's like Pop Rocks for your soul.
5) Spoon -- Transference
Came out way back in January, so it's easy to forget, but this is easily the loosest, catchiest, jangliest, hook-ladenest record of the year; it never gets old and never feels tired. Every song is bright and immediate, every lyric half fantastic and half complete, joyful nonsense. Try "Written in Reverse" on full volume with all the windows down when it's about 71 degrees outside and you feel like driving to the end of everything you've ever worried about....
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the SF Chronicle and SFGate. Get it at Amazon and beyond. He recently wrote a fine letter to whiny young Democrats, a column about the adorable ignorance of the Tea Party, and the trouble with the Arcade Fire. His website is markmorford.com. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...