Who says rock is dead? Independent rock faired nicely in 2010. That’s particularly so for Merge Records, which features three of the top ten selections on the following list. It’s appropriate that Superchunk is tops since the North Carolina super indie band, runs Merge. The health of major labels is in decline but the music never stops despite illegal downloads.
1. Superchunk ‘Majesty Shredding (Merge) (24)
Hats off to Superchunk, which released its first album in nine years. There’s no signs of rust. The group just picked up where it left off. The band is at its best during ‘Majesty Shredding’ just when it slams out straight-forward but brilliant tunes.
2. MGMT ‘Congratulations (Columbia) (15)
Congratulations, indeed to the tandem of Andrew Wyngarden and Ben Goldwasser. The band avoids a sophomore slump with a truly daring album. The album doesn’t feature songs as catchy as the cuts from its debut disc,’ Oracular Spectacular.’ There might not be anything as infectious as ‘Kids’ but the new collection of songs is deeper and denser. It takes a few spins to truly appreciate an album that works on many different levels.
3. M.I.A. ‘Maya (Interscope) (11)
Suzanne Vega noted during an interview that motherhood changed her approach to songwriting. She started writing simpler tunes. That’s not so for M.I.A., who continues to craft songs with intelligent wordplay, endless beats and hooks.
4. Gorillaz ‘Plastic Beach (EMI) (10)
It’s hard to believe that the British press once pitted Oasis’ Gallagher Brothers versus Damon Albarn. The former leader of Blur and mastermind behind Gorillaz easily trumps the British bad boys, who are so 1990s.
Their comparison is reminiscent of the mid-70s, who is better, Woody Allen or Mel Brooks debate?
Albarn scores big again with another adventurous Gorillaz effort. It’s not up there with the classic 2005 release, ‘Demon Days,’ but what could have been called ‘Damon Days’ is trippy and inventive.
5. Arcade Fire ‘The Suburbs’ (Merge) (9)
It’s not as instantly gratifying as 2007’s ‘Neon Bible.’ But the melancholy and at times brooding material is just as rich. This is Arcade Fire at its most dramatic and introspective.
6. The Posies ‘Blood/Orange (Rykodisc) (8)
A surprising comeback album from a band that deserves attention that it never received. The band’s best album since 1996’s overlooked but exceptional ‘Amazing Disgrace.’ The tandem of Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow prove that they still have it. It’s a shame the band is just a part-time project. Great harmonies, familiar guitar work and some nice keyboard lines.
7. The National ‘High Violet’ (4AD) (7)
The National gets better with each album. Bruce Springsteen’s favorite band scores again with warm yet gloomy country-rock.
8. Robert Plant ‘Band Of Joy (Rounder) (6)
Plant is the Cliff Lee of rock. Who would have guessed that out of all of the ‘70s icons, that Robert Plant would be the most respected a generation later? The greatest hard rock singer of all time could be making millions singing familiar nuggets on a Led Zeppelin reunion tour but he is opting to cover brilliant but unknown cuts from Los Lobos, Low and Richard and Linda Thompson.
9. Teenage Fanclub Shadows (Merge) (5)
The Fanclub was the buzz band coming out of the United Kingdom 20 years ago. The group never became household names in the U.S. but they have crafted consistent and challenging rock. Plenty of gentle and poignant gems.
10. Kanye West ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella Records) (5)
Hubris and Kanye West go hand in hand. But there is a reason the leading hip-hop artist is so confident. His latest disc is daring, complex and cerebral.