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Critics' Picks 2010: music

On tape or on vinyl, local and big label, our reviewers choose the year’s best music

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Aloe Blacc, Good Things (Stones Throw)

Apollo Ghosts, Mount Benson (independent)
It's criminal to have so many equally passionate and comical pop songs squeezed into 25 minutes, so I plug in my air guitar and press repeat. –RH

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge) Mature and grown-up without losing their trademark energy, Arcade Fire take on sprawling streets with adult regrets and post-punk echoes. –RM

Bad Vibrations, Under Pressure (Sewercide)
This tiny four-song record descends into the murk, but there is an ethereal, unnatural quality that guides you. I like this cult and I believe in it. –AL

Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
The aural equivalent of a swoon, Teen Dream is effervescent, ethereal. It floats and fades between songs, effortlessly, hauntingly beautiful. –RM

Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
Big K.R.I.T., K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (Island Def Jam)
The Black Keys, Brothers (Nonesuch)

Bloodhouse, Bloodhouse (independent)
It's impossible that music this heavy can be so hummable. It's impossible to listen to six songs this much. Six months later, you find yourself wishing that every band could sound exactly like Bloodhouse. –AL

Broken Bells, Broken Bells (Columbia)
James Mercer of The Shins plus Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse) may seem like an odd couple on paper, but together, musically, they are pure audio gold. –TS

Caribou, Swim (Merge)
Colleen and Paul, Colleen and Paul (Boompa)

Cold Warps, Endless Bummer (independent)
Who says long-distance relationships can't work? The Halifax-Ottawa power-poppers sink the competition with catchy hooks and fun lines. –SCF

Construction & Destruction, Mutatis Mutandis (The Quarantine)
Cabin fever never sounded so good. Dave Trenaman and Colleen Collins come close to cracking up, but they keep it together in these songs. –SF

Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles II (Fiction)

Curren$y, Pilot Talk (Def Jam)
Both futuristic and nostalgic, Pilot Talk is colourfully produced but calmly paced by Curren$y, one of New Orleans' most promising artists. G-funk is still alive. –RH

Doug Taylor hits 500
Since 1999, I’ve been writing writing music reviews on pen and paper, then typing them at The Coast. As a lapsed math major, I know this is the 500th to see print. Before tossing the hundreds that didn’t, I save my favourite sentence from each, to mine for lost metaphors, snazzy adjectives or future fragmented prose. –DT

Doug’s top 2010 albums
The Stanfields, Vanguard of the Young and Reckless (GroundSwell)
A bad-ass jig within each riff, The Stanfields made a strong first impression at StanFest and out west. So east coast, so fierce, it’s got economics too.

Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer (Elektra)
He has such a way with orchestration for an ex-rapper. Cee Lo’s album is more classic soul than Gnarls Barkley, and his voice is like nobody else’s.

Daniel Romano, Workin' for the Music Man (You've Changed)
Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (4AD)

Diamond Rings, Special Affections (SecretCity)
Androgynous make-up and viral videos would seem frivolous otherwise, but John O is a seriously talented songwriter with heartbreaking lyrics and dance-defying beats. –SCF

Drake, Thank Me Later (Universal)
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part 2: Return of the Ankh (Universal Motown)

Frederick Squire, March 12 (Blue Fog)
The genuine warmth and plain beauty of these songs will help get folks through the coming winter, whatever it brings. –SF

The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang (SideOneDummy)
The Jersey boys cross the river to tell stories of New York, edging away from the nostalgia of The '59 Sound without losing its sense of longing. Brian Fallon's voice is almost as good as his lyrics now. –TT

Ghostkeeper, Ghostkeeper (Flemish Eye)
Storming out of northern Alberta in a haze of blues- and folk-fuelled rock 'n' roll, Calgary's Ghostkeeper's second album is one of the year's most intriguing, original releases. –LK

Gil Scott-Heron, I'm New Here (XL)
Off the top, Scott-Heron professes love for his grandmother from "the absolute marrow of my bones." This whole album comes from the same place. –SF

Grand Trine, Sunglasses (Divorce)
Hannah Georgas, This is Good (Hidden Pony)
Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy)

Jerry Granelli, 1313 (Divorce)
Some drummers are real characters. Jerry Granelli: now there's a character. His playing draws out his rhythmic, polyrhythmic, deeply grooved and deep-thinking self. –SF

Jenny and Johnny, I'm Having Fun Now (Warner)
Jim Bryson & The Weakerthans, The Falcon Lake Incident (MapleMusic/Kelp)
Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me (Drag City)
John Legend & The Roots, Wake Up! (Okayplayer)

Ten singles that keep us wanting more
We don’t want to do our homework or cut our hair, unless it’s soundtracked to one of the city’s best singles this year.

Aloe Blacc, “I Need A Dollar”
Cold Warps, “Who Cares, I Guess”
Jenocide, “Beachball”
LCD Soundsystem, “Drunk Girls”
Long Long Long, “Cuba Gooding Jr.”
Mark Sultan, “Don’t Look Back”
The Pinecones, “Sage”
Robyn, “Dancing on My Own”
The New Pornographers, “Sweet Talk”
Vampire Weekend, “Giving Up the Gun”

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella)
Ambition can make Kanye West look pretty ugly sometimes, but his hyper-passionate commitment to outdoing himself makes for magnificent hip hop. –RM

Kuato, Kuato (Acadian Embassy)

Land of Talk, Cloak & Cipher (Saddle Creek)
This is Elizabeth Powell and company's expansion album. The lyrics, arrangements, vocal and instrumental performances are growing, all in the right direction. –SF

Laura Peek, Key (Just Friends)
There's an air of old-school confidence on Peek's latest, like a young Carole King, but she never loses that sweet, warbling charm. Bonus: Mike O'Neill produces and performs. –SCF

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More (Glassnote)
The National, High Violet (4AD)

Needtobreathe, The Outsiders (Atlantic)
This is a disc that gives something on every spin, from the stellar title track on down the track list. Thank you satellite radio! –TS

The New Pornographers, Together (Matador)

No Flyers Please, NFP (Independent)
Recorded in a single overnight session, this EP has a manic energy that's also totally sweet and devoid of pretension. It's three best buds, going apeshit, and it's fun as hell. –AL

Nü Sensae, TV, Death and the Devil (Nominal)
This Vancouver bass-and-drums duo sound like what would happen if Kim Gordon stopped trying to sing and started killing people instead. With her riffs. AL

Top five mixtapes of 2010

A-1, After School Special
Earl Sweatshirt, Earl
Droop-E, Black Diamond Life
Lil B, Red Flame
Theophilus London, I Want You


Old Man Luedecke, My Hands are on Fire and Other Love Songs (Black Hen)
More political but never crotchety, Luedecke keeps the home fires burning and the banjo at the forefront in his bluegrass follow-up to the Juno-winning Proof of Love. –SCF

Orchid's Curse, Voices: Tales of Broken Men (Diminished Fifth)
Melody, dynamics, bone-crunching riffs—yeah yeah, it's all there. More importantly, this album is cleverly crafted, with a seamless sense of narrative. Fiercely emotional. –AL

Owen Pallett, Heartland (Domino)

The Pack A.D., We Kill Computers (Mint)
Vancouver blues-rockers Becky Black and Maya Miller prove that two years of solid touring have only made them rock harder than ever on their fiery third record. –LK

The Pinecones, Sage (Just Friends)
Play Guitar, Play Guitar (Youth Club)

Postdata, Postdata (independent)
Wintersleep's Paul Murphy and brother Michael wrote an album for their mom. But this hauntingly quiet, heartbreaking record is for anyone who's experienced emotional loss. –SCF

PS I Love You, Meet Me at the Muster Station (Paper Bag)
Nearly perfection. Crunchy and soaring, they crack the chasm open just a bit. So you peek inside, and it's kind of intense, but it's also warm, and so you crawl in. –AL

Quaker Parents, Huge Mask (independent)
A friend calls songwriter Mark Grundy a "lyrical savant," which must be what's kept this eight-song tape in my stereo since June and the band playing every house party in the city this fall. –LK

Top five jazz albums of 2010

Dan Berglund, Tonbruket (ACT)
The Bad Plus, Never Stop (The Bad Plus LLC & eOne Music)
Brad Mehldau, Highway Rider (Nonesuch)
Mark McLean, Playground (independent)
Jaga Jazzist, One Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune)

–Lulu Healy, JazzEast artistic director

Ra Ra Riot, The Orchard (Arts & Crafts)

Ryan MacGrath, Cooper Hatch Paris (independent)
An ambitious, beautiful debut pop album, unlike anything else coming out of this region. MacGrath is hard at work, etching out his star. –SCF

Robyn, Body Talk (RCA)

Sarah Harmer, Oh Little Fire (Universal)
Harmer is so understated a performer and persona that we didn't realized how much we missed her these past four years. Don't let its upbeat nature fool you—sadness reigns, and beautifully. –TT

Secret Colours, Blackest Blackest (independent)

Seth Smith, New Problems (Noyes)
Handmade CDs and tapes? Vinyl that comes with a six-colour, hand-pulled silkscreen cover? What else could better accompany these lo-fi, bedroom-recording gems by our beloved Dog Day/YoRodeo song- and craft-master. –DH

Shad, TSOL (Black Box)
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone)

Slowcoaster, The Darkest of Discos (Company House)
Another hook-laden affair from these Cape Breton lads showcases their ability to produce pure ear-candy. –TS

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty)
We have come to expect momentous things from Mr Stevens, but Adz was a big-bang moment in a creative trajectory that eclipsed everyone's expectations. "Traitor" some shouted at the electronic wizardy. But astonishing it certainly was. –DH

Tanya Davis, Clocks and Hearts Keep Going (Sandbar)
If you thought that fuller arrangements would dilute the essence of Davis' poetic humanity, fear not. Working with the equally fantastic Jim Bryson, Davis has crafted a rich and remarkable third LP. –DH

Taylor Swift, Speak Now (Big Machine)
Thee Oh Sees, Warm Slime (In the Red)
Tindersticks, Falling Down a Mountain (Constellation)
Titus Andronicus, The Monitor (XL)
Tobacco, Maniac Meat (Anticon)

Toro Y Moi, Causers of This (Carpark)
Causers reps 2010 like few others—a melting pot of influences and sounds, from Brian Wilson to R. Kelly, mixed with a tropical twist. –RH

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