The Top 50 Albums of 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010
Since I've spent so much of the past year or so doing end-of-decade overviews of 2000-2009, it's been hard to forget that 2010 effectively marks the beginning of a new decade. I don't think it's very useful to think about or speculate beyond the immediate future, at least in terms of music and art, but that has made me wonder a bit about where I'll be placing this year's music in terms of the whole decade in late 2019. In a way, I look forward to digging deeper into these albums and reevaluating them over the next ten years, because it was so hard to give a lot of them my undivided attention this year. 2010 was the first full year I spent as a dad, and so even though I was home more and theoretically had more time to listen to music, a lot of my music listening was done kind of with one ear while paying attention to my son, or quietly while he slept in the other room. I think in future years I'll be able to listen deeper again and maybe he'll want to too.

I'll also briefly acknowledge the inherent ridiculousness of doing a top 50 albums list -- I think it makes total sense for my singles list to be that long, but here I know it's a bit gratuitous since I probably listened to somewhere between 100 and 200 new albums this year, and many of them were local Baltimore things that weren't really eligible for this list. But I like to treat this space as kind of a yearbook, to catalog virtually all of the really notable releases I enjoyed in 2010. I'll be posting each of the 50 albums one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day (although that schedule may bend a bit if holiday travel makes it a bit hairy), and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. ROVA Saxophone Quartet & The Nels Cline Singers - The Celestial Septet (New World)
My favorite living guitarist is prolific enough that Nels Cline appears on this list just about every year, but 2010 was an especially productive year for him. Without ‘spoiling’ too much, I can mention that he has 4 albums on this list (two of them double albums!), and had so much music getting released throughout the year that I almost missed this one back when it was first released months and months ago, and was motivated to catch up on it when I found out the amazing news that the Singers and ROVA are playing at the Windup Space in Baltimore in a few weeks. Cline has worked with so many different combinations of musicians and instrumental configurations, but even as much as he always has one foot in the jazz world, he’s never done a whole lot of projects with horns, and probably none as heavy on them as this one. Cline’s inimitable, instantly identifiable guitar playing style pops up here and there, but for the most part he and the Singers are working as a backing unit for the saxes. The last section of the 25-minute! “Whose To Know” is especially great.

49. Lil Boosie - Incarcerated (Trill Entertainment/Asylum/Warner Bros.)
Boosie’s been making some of the best paranoid miserable desperate music in mainstream rap for years now, but it doesn’t really give that music any particularly resonant or exciting context for it to now be released on an album called Incarcerated while he’s in prison and may be in there for the rest of his life. It’s mostly just depressing to consider why he’s there, and how much his musical and career potential is being squandered. But I am glad that his label saw fit to drop this album anyway, and though it’s not as strong as Superbad or some of the mixtape/underground releases that preceded it, there’s some pretty good shit on here.

48. Pimp C - The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones (Rap-a-Lot)
Like his protege Boosie, Pimp C had an album released this year that he wasn’t really around to help assemble, but for the even sadder reason that he’s, well, dead. Although it’s definitely not as enjoyable as UGK 4 Life, there’s something perversely fun about listening to Pimp C talk shit from beyond the grave, particularly the extended spoken outro of the last song, “Massacre.”

47. Rasputina - Sister Kinderhook (Filthy Bonnet Co.)
Maybe it’s because I saw Rasputina live before ever hearing their records, but they’re now fixed in my mind as a great, funny, charismatic, unique live act but not a band that I really want to listen to at home all the time. Still, as far as the records I’ve heard, this is a good one, and “Holocaust of Giants” is pretty memorable.

46. The Superions - Destination... Christmas! (Fanatic Records)
Fred Schneider from the B-52s doing a Christmas album is the kind of unabashedly goofy idea that possibly only I could love. But really, I have a playlist of weird contemporary Christmas music that I put on every year around this time, and it was nice this year to have something else to jam to, “Crummy Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Those Bells” are just ridiculous.

45. Ciara - Basic Instinct (LaFace/Jive)
I’ve always kind of preferred The-Dream/Tricky Stewart projects with female singers over his own albums, but it can be unpredictable which ones work and which don’t -- I wouldn’t have necessarily expected his somewhat anonymous girl group Electrik Red to make an album ten times better than the one he made with Mariah Carey. Ciara’s somewhere in the middle, and seemingly right in his aesthetic sweet spot, and it can be surprising when they do fall flat, but there are enough songs here where they knock it out of the park that I’m enjoying it more often than not.

44. The New Pornographers - Together (Matador Records)
I’ve been enjoying random scattered New Pornographers tracks here and there for the past decade or so, but Together is the first record they released since I actually started listening to entire albums by them. As far as lavish power pop goes, they never entirely hit the spot like a lot of other acts do, but there are some really nice songs on here, particularly “We End Up Together.”

43. The Roots - How I Got Over (Def Jam)
The Roots have done a pretty good job over the years of making albums that are distinct from each other and subtly subvert the stodgy image the band hasn’t been able to shake since the mid-’90s (although they’re rarely as daring or expectation-defying as ?uestlove seems to think they are). How I Got Over, however, doesn’t boast any kind of fresh sonic signature beyond the abundance of annoying, slightly out of place white hook singers, and it kind of sounds like the chameleonic band that works up special covers on network TV every weeknight now takes a little more comfort in just sounding like themselves when they can. I wish the Peedi Peedi cameo lives up to the ones on the last couple albums, though.

42. Fabolous - There Is No Competition 2: The Funeral Service (DJ Drama)
Fab’s been kind of plugging away year after year, killing the remix circuit, dropping verses on R&B singles, and scoring the occasional solo hit. And 2010 was hardly his best year, since he caught a little of that grocery bag rhyme trend from Drake, but at least he dropped a mixtape instead of an album full of boring crossover stuff, and it was more entertaining than not most of the time.

41. The Bird & The Bee - Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates (Blue Note Records)
Greg Kurstin has kind of quietly become a ubiquitous producer and session player on an absurd number of major label alternative and pop albums in the past few years, so it was interesting to hear him apply his densely textured and playfully bright sound to the singles of hitmakers as venerable as Hall & Oates (although oddly enough, the album’s sole original composition, “Heard It On The Radio,” reminded me more of Dr. Luke’s production on Katy Perry’s summer radio hits “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls” than anything by Hall & Oates). The other half of The Bird & The Bee, Inara George, hardly has a voice as big or as soulful as Daryl Hall, the joy in her performance comes from the smoky charm of her performance on “Sara Smile,” or the way she joyfully tackles the melodic twists and turns of “Private Eyes” or “I Can’t Go For That.”

40. UNKLE - Where Did The Night Fall (Surrender All)
It amuses me that 12 years ago, UNKLE emerged as some kind of international fancy techno think tank with DJ Shadow as its most illustrious member, and now one of the guiding creative forces behind their latest album is the bassist from the little Baltimore bands Lake Trout and Big In Japan I’ve been going to see live forever and the whole album kind of has a brooding Lake Trout feel and features other Baltimore people like the singer from Celebration.

39. Sade - Soldier Of Love (RCA/Epic)
The kind of shockingly hard-edged title track and lead single where what made Soldier Of Love the first Sade full-length I checked out, but of course I wasn’t expecting a whole album like that, and was in no way disappointed to find that it was unique among the sumptuous slow jams the band is more known for.

38. JP, Chrissie & The Fairground Boys - Fidelity! (Rocket Science)
Chrissie Hynde’s first album ever outside the Pretenders banner sounds, unsurprisingly, a lot like later Pretenders albums. But this raspy JP guy makes a good foil for her, and there are some memorable songs on here, particularly “If You Let Me,” which is one of the most addictively anthemic rock songs I heard all year.

37. Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns (Warner Bros.)
I’ve always thought the earnest, clumsy incoproration of hip hop into their synth pop nu-metal added the right little bit of camp value to Linkin Park that made their better hits more fun than punishingly dour, so I was wary of their gradual dialing down of Mike Shinoda’s rapping in recent years and the epic pretensions of the lead single “The Catalyst.” In a weird way, though, their hip hop influences shine through in more fruitful, if more subtle ways than they ever have on this album, from the banger that provides the foundation of “Waiting For The End” to “Robot Boy,” which is basically a schmaltzier version of T.I.’s “What You Know.”

36. The Toadies - Feeler (Kirtland)
In the late ‘90s, my brother and I probably said to each other, or thought to ourselves, at some point: “hey, what happened to that band that did ‘Possum Kingdom’? The album was pretty good, why haven’t they made a second one?” As it happens, they did, and it was rejected by Interscope, and after a going back to the drawing board and releasing a couple other albums over the last decade, they finally went back and re-recorded those unreleased songs from 1997. And I may not love it as much as the 15-year-old me would’ve, but I do like it.

35. Raheem DeVaughn - The Love & War MasterPeace (Jive/Zomba)
DeVaughn’s last album, 2008’s Love Behind The Melody, was a pretty long, diverse and ambitious R&B album, so the follow-up being a vaguely political double album was just kind of asking for trouble, and indeed it isn’t remotely as enjoyable or consistent overall. But where I thought DeVaughn’s label paring the album down to a single disc and making the 2nd disc available as part of a ‘deluxe’ edition would be a merciful act of restraint, it turns out that somebody fucked up and left all the really great songs -- “Hopeless Romantic” and “Lose Control” in particular -- on the bonus disc. I still wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to digest all 2 hours, though, there’s some really bad songs and a bunch of Cornel West interludes that nobody needs to hear more than once.

34. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
I consider myself to be a pretty loyal music fan, who sticks with favorite artists over the years and gives every new album a fair shake. And I think there’s a lot of evidence of that in this list, new albums by artists who are undoubtably past their peak, or at least not at a particular high point at the moment, that I’ve listened to and found the good in. And that’s pretty much how I feel about this album: I’ve been a Kanye fan for a long time, and I think this is a decent album with some songs I really enjoy (at the moment “Blame Game” and “Lost In The World” being my favorites) but nowhere near as good as his first two albums. , Because most music critics seem to see this as his flawless 5 star masterpiece, however, I feel like I’ve kinda taken on the role of tearing down this album and telling everyone they’re wrong. That’s not a role I really like to play a lot, but seriously, this album’s just OK, don’t see what the big deal’s about.

33. Scarface - Dopeman Music (Facemob Music)
Every year or two, Scarface makes noises about retiring from rap and then makes another record, usually either a solo album for Rap-a-Lot or some kind of group or compilation project to give some shine to old friends or new proteges. Dopeman Music is ostensibly neither, his first ever mixtape, but it leans toward the latter, with half the tracks featuring anonymous but inoffensive sidekicks like B. James or Monk Kaza. Obviously, it’s not as essential as a proper Face album would be, but it’s not too far off, with typically weighty words when he is rapping and a solid beat selection -- at the moment I’m really loving the thumping drums and organ licks of “Hustle Game,” and the way Scarface just raps his ass off for 2 minutes and then it’s over.

32. Ne-Yo - Libra Scale (Def Jam)
BET’s “Top 25 Countdown,” where they give a rapper or singer a Saturday afternoon to show all their favorite videos (do they still do that? probably not), always gave a kind of unpredictable window into the artist’s tastes. For instance, a few years ago Ne-Yo predictably filled his countdown with Michael Jackson and Prince videos, but leaned much more heavily on the Dangerous/Diamonds & Pearls era than their ‘80s peaks, which I’m sure comes down to when the guy really came of age and fell in love with music. But that’s something that sticks with me on this, probably his most heavily MJ-indebted album. The first two singles are still duds, but somehow they work in the context of the relatively brief 10-song album, and help foreground the killer deep cuts like “Genuine Only” and “Know Your Name.”

31. The-Dream - Love King (Radio Killa/Def Jam)
For the last few years, Ne-Yo and The-Dream have been kind of running neck and neck as R&B’s two reigning songwriters-turned-stars, even if their respective music and appeal are pretty vastly different and it’s ultimately just easy to compare and contrast them as two hyphenated talents with hyphens in their names. I’ve always generally preferred Ne-Yo, but both waned commercially and creatively this year, and ultimately it was The-Dream who came up with a (slightly) more satisfying album, from the unabashed Prince retro of “Yamaha” to the bonus track gems “Sorry” and “Veteran.”

30. Young Jeezy - Trap Or Die II: By Any Means Necessary (Don Cannon)
Jeezy’s last album, The Recession, was damn near a classic, but it wasn’t exactly a commercial blockbuster, and in the two years since then he hasn’t kept his buzz up very heavy -- his biggest radio hit of the year, “Lose My Mind,” was so abrasive and bleak for a club banger than Def Jam seemed scared to launch his fourth album with it, and so he wound up 2010 with his release date still hanging in the air. And it’s a shame, because Jeezy’s still at the top of his game, as evidenced by the fact that his biggest mixtape of the year, nominally a sequel to his 2005 breakthrough mixtape, felt more like a follow-up to The Recession with simply massive hooks and killer original beats.

29. Elvis Costello - National Ransom (Hear Music/Universal)
King Of America was a one-off genre experiment among many at the time, but Ol’ Declan’s been sinking deeper and deeper into rootsy Americana for a few consecutive albums now, and in the context of such a capricious career it feels more like a groove than a rut, mostly because each time around he feels more comfortable, more light on his feet, and more adept at selling goofy trifles like “A Slow Drag With Josephine.”

28. The Living Sisters - Love To Live (Vanguard)
A harmony group featuring a couple women whose main projects I enjoy, Eleni Mandell and The Bird & The Bee’s Inara George, the Living Sisters teeter on the edge of a kind of goofy, campy retro, but the strength of the twangy tunes and the likeability of their voices makes it more of a refreshing diversion than an obnoxious novelty. And I liked to rock my son to sleep while listening to “Cradle.”

27. Nels Cline - Dirty Baby (Cryptogramophone Records)
Nels Cline’s second double album of 2010 (!) featured one of the most lavish ensembles he’s ever recorded with, and it’s kind of an unusual treat to hear his inimitable guitar playing have to compete with a cornucopia of equally intriguing and appealing instrumental textures.

26. The Posies - Blood/Candy (Rykodisc)
Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow’s drive to keep expanding the parameters of the Posies sound, and make the band’s post-reunion albums stylistically distinct from the music of their ‘90s heyday, is something I have to admit I find more admirable than enjoyable -- I’d love to hear one of the greatest contemporary power pop bands do something with a bit more power than most of Blood/Candy has. But seeing the band rock out these songs live helped me warm up to some of the album’s more experimental, ornate or downright twee indulgences.

25. Trans Am - Thing (Thrill Jockey Records)
Pretty much everything you read about Trans Am talks about them crafting parodies of or homages to their influences, of doing things with a tongue in cheek, and sometimes I wonder how much that’s come from their playful interviews and promo photos and occasional goofy song titles/lyrics. Because most of the time when I’m listening to their music, particularly the largely instrumental material on later albums like Thing, all I think about is what talented and creative technicians and musicians they are, and how seriously they must take this stuff to come up with these crazy textures and knotty rhythms. I’m not laughing or wondering if they’re having a laugh when I’m jamming out to “Naked Singularity” or “Apparent Horizon.”

24. Medications - Completely Removed (Dischord Records)
Though they’re somewhat from a different generation or at least run in different circles, I kind of group the Medications and Trans Am albums together mentally as two D.C.-based bands who I love for combining an aggressive post-punk pedigree with proggy complexity. The third Medications release was in some ways a much mellower and more studio-bound recording than their earlier EP and album, and I do miss some of the hooks and dynamics that made me love songs on those records and the album by the similar precursor Faraquet, but hearing the songs from Completely Removed live a couple times this year, first at an insanely rocking Medications show and then at a one-off Devin Ocampo solo gig, really helped me warm up to the album and appreciate it for what it is.

23. Fat Joe - The Darkside Vol. 1 (Terror Squad/E1)
Fat Joe is one of mainstream rap’s most tenacious minor stars of the past decade, using affiliations and trend-jumping to keep in the spotlight and occasionally land a fluke hit on his own merits. But being so consistent with his own bark and his ear for serious east coast bangers that it’s hard to begrudge him for, having found that the well of R&B hits had finally run dry, doing a calculated ‘return to real rap’ album that just fucking knocks too much to knock it as a cynical exercise in courting his hardcore fanbase.

22. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk (V2 Records)
I’ve always been into Mark Lanegan’s voice and what little I’ve heard of his solo and Screaming Trees music, and been intrigued by the idea of a member of Belle & Sebastian writing songs for him, but I didn’t get around to checking out one of their collaborations until this latest one. And it really is just some beautifully written and performed music, hitting a nice rich vein of dusky Americana that’s just dark and varied enough to not feel too predictable or overdone.

21. Jonathan Richman - O Moon, Queen Of Night On Earth (Vapor Records)
Jonathan Richman’s been writing songs for about 40 years now, without significantly changing up his sound or songwriting style for the majority of that time, particularly in recent years, that it’s kind of slowly becoming more and more remarkable how he manages to continue saying new things, coming up with clever ways to comment on life and human nature that resonate with me and make me wonder how his mind works that he can think of all these things nobody else has written songs about yet. The man is a national treasure, seriously.

20. Mike Watt - Hyphenated-Man (Parabolica Records)
Like Jonathan Richman, I basically consider Mike Watt a national treasure. Though the legacy of the Minutemen has loomed large over Mike Watt’s career over the past 25 years, in that time he’s restlessly pursued a wide variety of sounds with dozens of collaborators. And that’s why it’s so frustrating that his most overtly Minutemen-esque record since the demise of that band has flown almost completely under the radar in the American indie rock world he helped build the foundation of, and has so far only been released in Japan, available in the U.S. by import or less legal means.

19. Gucci Mane - Mr. Zone 6 (DJ Drama)
On a narrative level, Gucci Mane’s 2010 kind of felt like a rerun of his 2009 with diminishing returns: starting the year in jail, getting out and celebrating with a flood of mixtapes and guest verses, finishing the year off with an album performing below expectations and his freedom and career momentum once again in question. Just because it was a little less exciting to watch him go through that cycle again doesn’t mean that he still wasn’t probably the most consistently worthwhile rapper with a mainstream profile this year, and this mixtape probably offered the best collection of his 2010 output, from his paradoxically woozy doubletime flow on “Dats My Life” and “Stove Music” to the massive hooks of “Makin’ Love To The Money” and “Long Money.”

18. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) (Universal Motown)
The sequel to 2008’s dark, strange masterpiece New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) is hardly an equal to its predecessor, but in some ways it is a very welcome and appropriate yin to its yang (or yang to its yin?). The more relaxed grooves, identifiable samples and somewhat more earthbound lyrics on many of the songs made it feel almost too accessible and easygoing, but songs like “Agitation” and the fantastic bookends “20 Feet Tall” and “Out My Mind, Just In Time” were inspired and otherworldly enough to imbue the whole thing with that ineffable Badu magic.

17. Jaguar Love - Hologram Jams (Fat Possum Records)
When Jaguar Love lost their drummer and replaced him with a drum machine halfway through touring for their great 2008 debut Take Me To The Sea and started working up new songs with a self-proclaimed "Daft Punk meets New Order meets Black Flag" vibe, it seems like everyone who'd embraced the first record started quickly backing away from the band, including Matador Records and Pitchfork. And while Hologram Jams is definitely not as good as its predecessor and closes with a regrettable cover of "Piece of My Heart," its shrill shiny hammering sound grows on you, and I knew this album had to be at least somewhat high on my list simply for the fact that "Evaline" is one of my most played songs of 2010.

16. The Nels Cline Singers - Initiate (Cryptogramophone Records)
Last year’s solo exploration Coward was a great palate cleanser in the context of Nels Cline’s catalog, an interesting new isolated context for his guitar work outside of the Singers, the trio that’s been his primary creative outlet for the last decade. So I wasn’t sure how eager I was to return to Singers territory, when they knocked me over with a double album of a studio disc and a live disc that both summarized and surpassed everything they’d accomplished before.

15. Freeway & Jake One - The Stimulus Package (Rhymesayers)
In 2009, Freeway released over 130 songs in a variety of different formats, leading me to try to curate a list of the best of them. In 2010, he released maybe half as many songs, which is still a lot, but they were on a much more manageable and easy to follow group of full-length albums, mixtapes and collaborative releases, and he saved me the trouble of seperating the wheat from the chaff by having most of his best songs this year on his most high profile release of the year, The Stimulus Package.

14. Ted Leo/Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks (Matador Records)
Ted Leo might be my single favorite album artist of the last decade, and pretty much every time that he's released an album it's been in my top 5 at the end of the year. So this being at #14, as high as that is, represents kind of a big fall from grace; The Brutalist Bricks is by some distance my least favorite Pharmacists album. But where the jangly power pop songs kind of ran surprisingly hollow for me this time around, the more jagged, punky songs like "Mourning In America" and "The Stick" ended up grabbing me more. And one of the reasons Leo remains a great live act is even the songs I'm not too into here sound good in concert.

13. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty (Purple Ribbon/Def Jam)
Even at their best, I don't really hold Outkast up as the pinnacle of modern rap or southern rap or anything, so one half of the group doing a good solid Outkast-style thing isn't an event for me the way it's been for some critics this year. Still, it was nice to finally see this thing get released after all the hemming and hawing -- Big Boi really is a great MC and shouldn't have to work so hard to get people to pay attention when Andre's not around. And he's just having a lot of fun on this record and while there aren't a lot of songs I love, I pretty much like whatever track I'm listening to at any given moment.

12. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (Side One Dummy)
This album hews so closely to the formula they perfected on The '59 Sound that even if it was an overall better set of songs -- which it may be, I'm really not sure -- it's hard to really feel the same enthusiasm about it. Still, these guys are onto something and it's fun to watch them keep building a catalog of these big wistful rousing rockers. "The Diamond Street Church Choir" might be my favorite song of the whole year.

11. Casual Curious - Casual Curious (self-released)
I saw this band from North Carolina play an amazing set for a tiny crowd in Baltimore over the summer, and grabbed the self-titled album they were giving away on CD-r at the merch table, and even left a tip because I thought they were so awesome. Then, I couldn’t get the CD to work in any player I had, and found a download link for the album on the band’s Facebook page. As far as I know barely anybody knows about this band and the duo lineup that made this album and played the incredible I show is apparently not even going anymore, because they seem to have a new bigger lineup. But this is the kind of hidden gem I live for, just a great idiosyncratic DIY mix of synths and drums and vocals, memorable songs, creative production. The songs don’t sound as huge here as they did live, but I hope they come back to Baltimore to play sometime.

10. Yelawolf - Trunk Muzik (DJ Burn One)
Like most white rappers, he sometimes plays up the whole culture clash thing a little too much with stuff like that eye-rolling verse about Lynyrd Skynyrd and Beanie Sigel, but Yelawolf was still easily one of my favorite up and coming newish MCs of 2010 just for bringing back the slippery effortless doubletime flow so few young rappers even attempt anymore. Although the major label Trunk Muzik 0-60 EP sounds great and keeps a lot of the best songs fron this, ultimately I prefer the original mixtape.

9. Floored By Four - Floored By Four (Chimera Music)
The members of Floored By Four (Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Yuka Honda and Dougie Brown) are responsible for a total of 5 albums on this list, a whole 10% of my top 50. And I'm not sure if I necessarily like the first self-titled album by their supergroup together more than all their other great records in 2010, but putting this in the top 10 seemed like a good way to symbolize how much good music they provided me with this year. And the album really is fun, full of Cline's wiggy guitar leads, Watt's thudstaff and occasional spiel, Honda's textured organs, and Brown's thunderous backbeat.

8. Superchunk - Majesty Shredding (Merge Records)
For a lot of people, it seems like Superchunk releasing their first album in 9 years was just a reminder that the band still exists, and can still be as good as they remembered way back in the '90s. But for me, it was something I'd spent those 9 years waiting for, as I'd obsessed over the band's back catalog and snapped up every new song that trickled out on a single or EP, including a couple that ended up on this album. So it's really just kind of gratifying and relieving to just see them come back and be appreciated like this.

7. Waka Flocka Flame - Flockaveli (1017 Brick Squad/Asylum/Warner Bros.)
The many people I know who raved about this album were also the people that thought that "O Let's Do It" and "Hard In Da Paint" were great songs, which I pretty strenuously disagreed with, so I went into this album highly skeptical. But this is one of the most consistently enjoyable and well paced major label rap albums in recent memory, even if the star and most of the many many guest rappers are kind of just shouting random bullshit. Really, the shouting is what helps keep the energy so high, and the whole record is just one huge banger after another. Even those singles I always turned off when they came on the radio sound better in an album context.

6. Styles P. & DJ Green Lantern - The Green Ghost Project (Invasion Music Group)
Styles P. kind of lucked into appearing one of the biggest rap hits of the year, but "B.M.F." aside 2010 was kind of just another year for the underrated LOX rapper to kind of keep trudging along just above the undergound (while Sheek Louch for some bizarre reason got signed to Def Jam). And his album-length collaboration with probably the best producer to ever get his rep as a mixtape DJ lived up to the project's pedigree and provided the best no-frills east coast rap record of the year.

5. Nice Nice - Extra Wow (Warp Records)
In 2003, I was blown away by a live set by this Portland duo, but the album I bought at the show, Chrome, wasn't that hot and I kind of filed it away and all but forgot about Nice Nice. Then 7 years later, kind of out of nowhere I find out they're signed to Warp now and released this great record that totally follows through on the promise of that live show and shows what an amazing variety of sounds and textures these guys get with just drums and one guitar. It's kind of like having a one-night stand with someone, and then running into them years later and starting a real relationship.

4. Jazmine Sullivan - Love Me Back (J Records/Arista)
Jazmine Sullivan’s 2008 album Fearless was a promising debut from an R&B singer with a big voice and a bravely diverse production palette -- it also got nowhere near my top 10 that year because so many of the songs collapsed under the weight of her histrionic oversinging or simply weren’t as fun to listen to as they were bold or offbeat. Love Me Back, on the other hand, is an absolute joy to listen to, every little homage and genre exercise congealing beautifully into a unique whole and Sullivan’s voice remaining commanding but never overbearing.

3. My Chemical Romance - Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (Reprise)
Even though they committed big time to 2006's The Black Parade and it was a critical and commercial triumph for them, I get the feeling that My Cheical Romance kind of hate that album as much as I did, and spent a lot of the last 4 years trying to run in the opposite direction for the follow-up, first with a simple stripped-down rock record, then with the kind of splashy silly anthemic return to the goofy speed goth emo power pop of the band's first two albums. But regardless of why they got there, this is a great return to form for them, exactly what I'd hoped they'd come back with.

2. Diddy-Dirty Money - Last Train To Paris (Bad Boy/Interscope Records)
Sean Combs has been the single most instrumental figure in blurring the line between hip hop and R&B since the early '90s, when he was putting Biggie on smooth Isley Bros. samples and having Mary J. sing over "Top Billin'" drums. But it wasn't until the last few years, when he gave up the pretense of being a rapper entirely and started a group with a couple girl singers, that he was ready to make Last Train To Paris his masterpiece. This album is just a marvel of production, almost every song is an epic groove with some kind of memorable vocal that either digs deep into vulnerable emotion or says something hilarious about making love on marmalade. A huge collection of the biggest rappers and R&B singers of the moment show up, and they’re pretty much all consistently given better beats and better songs to work with than anything on their latest albums.

1. Butch Walker & The Black Widows - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart (One Haven Music)
Butch Walker is kind of a journeyman songwriter who played in a one hit wonder (Marvelous 3) and then kind of got into writing hits for pop stars (Avril Lavigne, Pink) and occasionally other alt-rockers (Weezer’s “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To”). I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart is the first album I’ve checked out by him, and I have no idea if it’s his best -- song titles like “Pretty Melody,” “Temporary Title,” and “Stripped Down Version” almost make this seem like a collection of throwaway tunes from a guy who’s generally got bigger gigs on his plate. And yet, it’s one of the most vibrant and infectious pop/rock albums I’ve heard in years, full of warmth and humor and hooks and riffs in just the kind of combination that I enjoy the most.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My latest live reviews for the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog were of Among Wolves, Brown Bird and Paul Masson @ Metro Gallery and Ted Leo/Pharmacists and Heks Orkest @ the G-Spot.

The 2010 Remix Report Card: The Year-End Wrap Up

Tuesday, December 21, 2010
It's time to do this once again, culling through a year's worth of remixes for the best and the worst of 2010, following previous lists in 2009, 2008, and 2007:

The Top 20:
1. "Pretty Boy Swag (Remix)" by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em featuring Gucci Mane
2. "Love King (Remix)" by The-Dream featuring Ludacris
3. "My Chick Bad (Remix)" by Ludacris featuring Diamond, Eve and Trina
4. "Beamer, Benz or Bentley (Remix)" by Lloyd Banks featuring Jadakiss, Ludacris, Yo Gotti and The-Dream
5. "All I Do Is Win (Remix)" by DJ Khaled featuring Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Nicki Minaj, Fabolous, Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Swizz Beatz and T-Pain
6. "Toot It And Boot It (Westcoast Remix)" by YG featuring Snoop Dogg and Too $hort
7. "Super High (Sativa Remix)" by Rick Ross featuring Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y and Ne-Yo
8. "Lemonade (Remix)" by Gucci Mane featuring Trey Songz, Fabolous and Nicki Minaj
9. "Pretty Girls (Remix)" by Wale featuring Chris Brown and Fabolous
10. "Hard In The Paint (Remix)" by Waka Flocka Flame featuring Gucci Mane
11. "Bottoms Up (Remix)" by Trey Songz featuring Gucci Mane and Wiz Khalifa
12. "O Let's Do it (Remix)" by Waka Flocka Flame featuring Diddy, Rick Ross and Gucci Mane
13. "How Low (Remix)" by Ludacris featuring Twista and Rick Ross
14. "Window Seat (Remix)" by Erykah Badu featuring Rick Ross
15. "Pretty Girl Rock (Remix)" by Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West
16. "Holding You Down (Going In Circles) (Remix)" by Jazmine Sullivan featuring Mary J. Blige and Swizz Beatz
17. "Hello Good Morning (Remix)" by Diddy featuring Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj
18. "Power (Remix)" by Kanye West featuring Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz
19. "Ride (Remix)" by Ciara featuring Andre 3000 and Bei Maejor
20. "Shine Blockas (Remix)" by Big Boi featuring Bun B, Project Pat and Gucci Mane

Hall of fame: 6 appearances by Gucci Mane, 6 by Rick Ross, 4 by Ludacris, 3 by Swizz Beatz, 3 by Nicki Minaj, 3 by Fabolous

The Bottom 20:
1. "Deuces (Remix)" by Chris Brown featuring Drake, T.I., Kanye West, Fabolous and Andre 3000
2. "Lose My Mind (Remix)" by Young Jeezy featuring Drake
3. "I Wanna Rock (Interstate Trafficking Remix)" by Snoop Dogg featuring Rick Ross, Yo Gotti, Maino, Roscoe Dash, and OJ Da Juiceman
4. "Teach Me How To Dougie (Remix)" by Cali Swag District featuring Jermaine Dupri, B.o.B., Red Cafe and Bow Wow
5. "Fancy (Remix)" by Drake featuring Mary J. Blige and Swizz Beatz
6. "It Kills Me (Remix)" by Melanie Fiona featuring Ghostface Killah
7. "I'm Beamin' (All City Chess Club Remix)" by Lupe Fiasco featuring Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, the Cool Kids, Blu, Diggy Simmons, Dosage and B.o.B.
8. "Billionaire (Remix)" by Travie McCoy featuring Gucci Mane, T-Pain and Bruno Mars
9. "Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready) (Remix)" by Alicia Keys featuring Drake
10. "Whatever U Want (Bad Boy Remix)" by Consequence featuring Puff Daddy and The Lox
11. "Rude Boy (Remix)" by Rihanna featuring Rick Ross
12. "Sex Therapy (Remix)" by Robin Thicke featuring Ludacris
13. "Whip My Hair (Remix)" by Willow Smith featuring Nicki Minaj
14. "Stop The Party (Remix)" by Busta Rhymes featuring T.I., Cam'ron, Ghostface Killah, DMX and Swizz Beatz
15. "Tightrope (Wondamix)" by Janelle Monáe featuring B.o.B. and Lupe Fiasco
16. "Champagne Life (Remix)" by Ne-Yo featuring Rick Ross
17. "I'm Ill (Remix)" by Red Cafe featuring Ryan Leslie, Lloyd Banks and Claudette Ortiz
18. "In My Head (Remix)" by Jason Derülo featuring Nicki Minaj
19. "The Fire (Remix)" by The Roots featuring B.o.B. and John Legend
20. "Like A G6 (Like Three 6 Official Remix)" by Far East Movement featuring Three 6 Mafia

Hall of shame: 4 appearances by Drake, 4 by B.o.B., 3 by Rick Ross

Movie Diary

Saturday, December 18, 2010
a) The Killer Inside Me
Had no reason to expect this to be any good but man, it was just totally awful. Casey Affleck should never ever carry a movie, especially not one where he pretends to be southern and/or have a complex interior life.

b) The Crazies
I've never seen the original but I really enjoyed this remake, really easily one of the best horror movies I've seen of late. The scenario of a virus that makes people insane and violent but still pretty much themselves and not total zombies feels way scarier and more realistic than what usually happens in movies like this, and the tone, direction and acting were all pretty understated and well done.

c) Leap Year
I don't think of myself as being particularly gaga for Amy Adams but the skirt she wore for half the movie was almost reason enough to sit through this mediocrity.

d) The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
After all the talk of this being Heath Ledger's last film and an assortment of other actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell) stepping in to fill in the parts he didn't get to film, it was slightly disorienting for none of the above actors to even show up until about 25 minutes into the movie. But I did like how they handled having all those different actors play one character, although really some of Gilliam's psychedelic CGI screensavers were a bit corny-looking and made those parts of the movie a little flatter than they could've been. And the Devil being played by Tom Waits in a pencil-thin mustache is strangely an idea that seems better on paper than it is in practice.

e) The Slammin' Salmon
I haven't really thought much of the Broken Lizard movies since Super Troopers, but I ended up really liking this. It helped that they didn't make the plot too convoluted and kept everything in one setting and just kept the laughs coming, and there were a lot of funny bit parts by familiar people outside the troupe.

f) The Men Who Stare At Goats
Had heard pretty mixed and unenthusiastic things about this, so I didn't go in with high expectations, but this is pretty much exactly the movie I'd hoped for from the trailers and I thought it was pretty consistently entertaining. It kind of creeped me out that "More Than A Feeling," which plays during the movie and at the end over the credits, was playing on the radio when I got in the car a couple hours after I finished watching this.

g) The Road
I read and was not an especially big fan of the Cormac McCarthy novel, and I'm not very precious about adaptations taking inevitable liberties with the source material most of the time, but it did feel just a little bit gratuitous how they'd pad out roles for actors like Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall to justify putting them in the movie. And it really did make things a little more visceral to actually watch the bleak stuff I'd read about in the book, and they got the color palette of browns and greys pretty perfect. The minimal dialogue didn't translate very well, though -- having a 11-year-old boy say things like "please papa" all the time just comes off kind of ridiculous onscreen.

h) I Love You, Beth Cooper
This kind of surpassed my modest teen comedy expectations, not great but had a good cast and some decent writing, and I like that they actually made the dream girl character not just the usual one-dimensional caricature.

i) Observe And Report
I heard bad things about this, and given my ambivalence toward "Eastbound & Down" and absolute hatred for "The Foot Fist Way," I hesitantly watched this expecting the worst. And maybe it's because I braced myself, but it wasn't that bad. But it made me realize that Jody Hill basically is a Wes Anderson wannabe who happens to like crude and dark humor, his stuff is full of so many slow motion montages where he shows off his record collection and it kind of clashes with the type of comedy they're doing in a weird way.

j) Push
My wife watched this and seemed to like it, so I gave it a try later, and it just never held my interest enough to even figure out what was going on.

k) What Just Happened
Barry Levinson's had such an inconsistent career that it's hard to know what's worth even checking out, but I decided to give this a shot and it wasn't bad. It would've been better with someone less wooden than DeNiro in the lead role, and in the end the whole thing kinda felt like a shrug, but I liked the overall tone and approach to the side of Hollywood it was satirizing.

l) The Fall
Remember that movie The Cell that had the insanely creative and colorful visuals married to a boilerplate Silence of the Lambs knockoff starring Jennifer Lopez? Well, this movie has the same director, and it's just as visually arresting and outlandish, if not more so, but here there's an actual interesting story going on, told in a really offbeat and playful way, and some good acting too. This is probably my favorite movie I've seen in a while, really can't believe I've never heard anyone talk about how good it is.

m) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
I'd heard so much about what a travesty this was that I'd kind of made up my mind to not bother, but then it came on TV and I was like OK, let's see how bad this is. And it was kind of bland and unremarkable but I guess I was already kind of prepared for the worst parts so it didn't seem so bad all in all. Still obviously shouldn't have been made, though.

n) The Darjeeling Limited
It's really depressing to watch this after The Brothers Bloom and Observe And Report and realize that Wes Anderson feels as derivative of himself as anyone else is of his early films at this point. Granted, I haven't seen that animated one he's done since this yet, but man this and The Life Aquatic represent one horrible rut for this guy, and I say that as someone who still loves Bottle Rocket and Rushmore to pieces.

o) Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
There's something really off-putting about movies like this that act as if they're novel or cleverly structured, but really give you no particular surprises or artful narrative devices as they pile on the misery and death in a slightly non-sequential way. I mean, the story begins in a kind of mildly bleak place so there's nowhere to fall from grace, and even the moderately good intentions the characters start are kind of an inevitable path to the bad stuff that happens as a result. So I guess what I'm saying is naked Marisa Thomei is the only thing I really got out of this movie.

p) Spider-Man 2
Somehow I managed to see the first and third movies in this series without ever really sitting down and watching all of its most acclaimed middle installment, so I finally did that recently. And I gotta say, this stuff is just not aging well for me. A lot of people were turned off by some of the goofy dancing and shit in 3 but I thought Raimi laid on the camp a little thick on this one, too, and the action and effects just never really grabbed me or did anything substantially different from the first movie.

q) Bubba Ho-Tep
This seemed like a much more fun idea on paper than in practice, I think Bruce Campbell works best when he's working at a level of camp that isn't too knowing and deliberate and there's a little more level of sincerity to it.

r) About A Boy
I liked High Fidelity well enough and had been told this other Hornby adaptation was a good flick, but I don't know, something about it rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was mainly the horrible Badly Drawn Boy score or the kid's creepy eyebrows, though, some parts of the story and Hugh Grant's performance were good.

s) Wrongfully Accused
The day that Leslie Nielsen died, this was the only movie of his I could find on the Comcast OnDemand menu, and to be honest I probably could've honored his memory by watching one of his good movies again instead of seeing this weak later one for the first time. But really I'm kind of a sucker for these kinds of flicks and there were a few big laughs in this one, among the many misses.

The Top 50 Singles of 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010
This year, I wrote about over a hundred songs on The Singles Jukebox, and I often felt like the biggest curmudgeon on the site, and I have a strong hunch I give a much lower average score than most of the other writers on the site, as I handed out a shitload of 0s and 1s and 2s and 3s throughout the year. So even though the past couple years I've pared my year-end singles list down from where it was up to 100 a few years ago, I still like to go all out with at least 50 singles on this list every, if for no other reason than to just show that I actually do like quite a lot of popular singles. I'll be posting each of the 50 songs one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. Trey Songz f/ Nicki Minaj - “Bottoms Up”
Although "Monster" is pretty much the consensus pick for Nicki Minaj's greatest guest verse of her breakout year, I have to say, if I am going to listen to one of her verses (and I'm not necessarily saying I'd want to, god knows most of the time I'm just not in the mood for that kind of forced wackiness), the one I'd pick is "Bottoms Up." It's shorter than the "Monster" verse and compresses more goofy voices, including an Anna Nicole Smith impression and R.I.P. shoutout, into that space, while keeping to and running circles around the meter of the Trey Songz verses. I think my favorite part is "I don't say 'hi' I say 'keys' to the Benz," like saying "hi" to her car would have been the normal thing to do.

49. Pink - “Glitter In The Air”
We're now 2 years out from Pink's great blockbuster album Funhouse and she's finally moved onto the next project, a greatest hits collection and the obnoxious but catchy victory lap single "Raise Your Glass." But at the beginning of the year, she was still playing out the end of the album's very long singles campaign and using a great Grammys performance as a chance to milk it for one last top 40 hit, the gorgeous closing ballad "Glitter In The Air," which I'd loved as part of the album and enjoy just as much on its own.

48. Keri Hilson - "Breaking Point"
When the first single from Keri Hilson's second album appeared a few months ago, I listened to it once, shrugged, and pretty much forgot about it. But then when the follow-up singles "Pretty Girl Rock" and "The Way You Love Me" started getting a buzz and increasing my anticipation for the album, I went back to "Breaking Point" and realized it's a pretty great song in its own right, even if I'm not too surprised at its failure to score as a radio hit. As Timbaland trudges toward self-parody and cheesy dance pop, it's nice to hear him throw out such a subtle little R&B jam with no particular fanfare.

47. Toni Braxton - "Hands Tied"
When this popped up on Singles Jukebox a few months ago, I listened to it once or twice, nodded in mild approval, gave it a 6 and then more or less forgot about. Then when I heard it again more recently, it really surprised me how great it sounded and how much it stuck in my head afterwards.

46. Nick Jonas & The Administration - “Who I Am”
As the Jonases fade into memory as the less sensational tween sensation that came and went just before the Bieberpocalypse, their most likely breakout star pondered what career path to emulate after his teen idol phase: Justin? Hanson? Nope: John Mayer.

45. John Mayer - “Heartbreak Warfare”
Meanwhile, the real Mayer was in top form, singing bighearted breakup songs with puppydog eyes while his actual skeevy wisecracking oversharing horndog alter ego (i.e. his actual personality) was getting all the headlines this year.

44. Usher f/ Jay-Z - “Hot Tottie”
Me enjoying this song was kind of a pleasant surprise given the mediocre output of all 3 men who made it in 2010 -- Usher and Jay-Z have been running on fumes for years now, and Polow Da Don has barely been earning his superproducer clout for a while now. It was also interesting, if a little anticlimactic, to finally hear Jay on a Polow beat, since Polow was saying back like 4 years ago that he had some great track that would've saved Kingdom Come.

43. Ne-Yo - “One In A Million”
At first I thought this was merely pleasant, and only a relief compared to the two awful Libra Scale singles that preceded it, "Beautiful Monster" and "Champagne Life." But this song has really grown on me the last few weeks, great simple groove and bewitching melody. I still think it's vaguely in poor taste for an R&B singer to release a single with the same title as a classic Aaliyah song, but I guess his only other real option was to call this "Best I Ever Had" and there was a much more recent hit with that title.

42. Good Charlotte - “Like It’s Her Birthday”
I liked some of their early singles more than probably anyone should admit, but by the time of 2007’s “Dance Floor Anthem (I Don’t Want To Be In Love)” it seemed like their inherent glossiness and pop instincts had taken over to the point that there were just too smooth to turn out anything remotely actually catchy. But this surprised me, it’s kinda clever by their standards and as shamelessly hooky as anything from their underrated pinnacle.

41. Diddy-Dirty Money f/ Drake - “Loving You No More”
A really nice simple, understated kind of R&B jam that Diddy’s getting really good at making, and the first Dirty Money joint that really lets the girls emote and not sound too anonymous. Too bad about that Drake verse, though. I should also add that this morning I heard this group referred to as “Diddy Dusty Coupons” on Twitter and I will probably only be callin them that from now on.

40. Lady Antebellum - “Need You Now”
I like contemporary mainstream country more than I dislike it, but I've paid less and less attention to it over the past 5 years and always mean to give it more time -- really I just need to add a country station to my pre-programmed stations in the car. But as usual, there was at least one or two songs that crossed over to the pop charts and won me over, and for most of 2010, this jangly gem was my token country pick.

39. Sugarland - "Stuck Like Glue"
And then toward the end of the year, another co-ed group popped up with a pop hit that I liked even more than "Need You Know," with the kind of goofy shamelessly cheesy bubbly appeal that modern Nashville does best. The video would be funnier if Pink hadn't done a pretty similar one a year before, though.

38. Ke$ha f/ 3OH!3 - "Blah Blah Blah"
Ke$ha has constantly ruled pop radio with five back-to-back top 10 hits over the past year, and I found four of them absolutely repulsive and borderline unlistenable. Oddly enough, though, it was the most deliberately obnoxious and nonsensical of the whole bunch that I ended up warming up to a little bit, no doubt partly because it felt a lot less ubiquitous than the others.

37. B.o.B. f/ Bruno Mars - “Nothin’ On You”
Bruno Mars has had a shockingly speedy ascent to ubiquity -- at the beginning of the year, he was a relative unknown who'd written one forgettable Flo Rida hit. Since then, he's co-written five top 10 hits, two as a solo artist and two as a hook singer. And it all started with this shamelessly shiny pop gem that was first offered to Lupe Fiasco, who seemed so embarrassed by its obvious crossover appeal that he sounds kind of sheepish on the version he did record that has since leaked, and ultimately went to B.o.B., who used this song to complete his transformation from a promising southern rapper to a total top 40 sellout. I have to admit, though, as much as I can't really stand most of the other stuff this year that these two guys made or that this song kind of made possible, I don't really have any problem with "Nothin' On You," it's catchy as fuck and just plain sounds good.

36. Ciara - “Speechless”
When "Speechless" first leaked during the long protracted run up to the Ciara album that's just now about to be released, it was a duet with the album's producer, The-Dream. A lot of people were disappointed when the song was released as a single with just Ciara soo, but really I think it works better with just her.

35. Green Day - “Last Of The American Girls”
I hate when bands that are big enough to release four singles off every album wait until the fourth single to release the really catchy song off the record, after people have pretty much stopped paying attention.

34. T-Pain f/ Rick Ross - “Rap Song”
Almost 4 years ago, T-Pain scored his biggest solo hit by basically doing a sing-song mashup of Lil Jon's "Snap Yo Fingers" and Lil Scrappy's "Money In The Bank," and after a brief fallow period, he finally scored his first hit in a while by just singing the hooks from as many hip hop hits as he could squeeze into one song, with a clever lyrical concept to make the whole thing feel more creative than shameless this time around.

33. Pitbull f/ Sensato, Black Point, Lil Jon & El Cata - “Watagatapitusberry”
It's truly kind of wonderful and bizarre what a convoluted path this song took to getting into MTV Jams rotation. To put it as straightforwardly as possible: DJ Class made a Baltimore club tune incorporating modern AutoTune vocals called "I'm The Ish" in late 2008 and got signed and remixed it with a bunch of mainstream stars, including Lil Jon and Pitbull. Then, some Dominican rappers named Sensata and Black Point took the beat for a crazy song called "Watagatapitusberry," which became a viral hit when some kids made an unofficial YouTube video for it. Then Pitbull grabbed the song, had DJ Class produce a new version with Lil Jon and the original guys, and it ended up, well, not a big hit, but pretty high profile for such a funny, weird song with so many divergent points of origin.

32. Monica - “Love All Over Me”
This song hooked me with its weirdly harsh snare sound cutting through a pillowy slow jam, but really what keeps me listening to it every time it comes on the radio is how hilarious the lyrics are if you interpret them as being about bukkake.

31. Trey Songz - “Already Taken”
During the year that My Mans Trey Songz killed the radio with back to back hits from back to back albums, this great little Polow Da Don-produced soundtrack single got left by the wayside. And that's a real shame, since it has a sweetness and a subtlety woefully missing from both his histrionic ballads and his hectoring club bangers.

30. Flo Rida f/ David Guetta - “Club Can’t Handle Me”
I pretty genuinely think "I Gotta Feeling" is too good a pop song to think of it as a guilty pleasure, but Guetta's "I Gotta Feeling" knockoffs, particularly the one by Flo Rida, are kind of a different story.

29. Sick Puppies - “Odd One”
The soft/loud verse/chorus is straight out of the most overused ‘90s alt-rock playbook, but for some reason this song has always felt kind of dusky and intimate in a way that I rarely get from mersh rock these days.

28. Justin Bieber f/ Usher - “Somebody To Love (Remix)”
Bieber’s braindead persona and blank little girl voice weren’t going to sell them very hard anyway, but “Baby” and “U Smile” would’ve been useless bland songs in any singer’s hands. This one, however, transcended his limitations to prove that a Bieber song can be kind of rousing and lively, if the chorus is actually well written and especially if one of his grown up buddies turns up to show him how it’s done.

27. The-Dream - “Love King”
The-Dream's first four solo singles were all sizable hits, reaching #6 or higher on the R&B charts -- the last five or so since then have all been decisive misses, with this one being the biggest and still peaking at only #26. It seems like the guy still had the zeitgeist in his hands and it just slipped out somewhat unexpectedly. Maybe female R&B fans finally got a good look at him and realized they can't seriously listen to this weird-looking motherfucker sing about love and sex all the time -- video killed the Radio Killa. And in a way I'm kinda glad for his commercial slump, because I like plenty of his music but generally think he's pretty overrated by some R&B fans and critics, and some of the flops, like "Make-Up Bag," deserved to be ignored. But I actually really liked this song and think it's one of his better ones. There’s nothing sadder than a lead single that’s also the album’s title track -- if it flops, you can’t really drop another single and pretend it didn’t exist (like he did with “Let Me See The Booty”).

26. Lady Gaga - “Alejandro”
The drab, overlong video and inelegant horseshit like “hot like Mexico, rejoice” keep me from really fully embracing this song or ever really rooting for Gaga, but this is still a pretty safe, if distant, 2nd favorite after “Bad Romance.”

25. Keri Hilson - “Pretty Girl Rock”
I’ve been trying not to watch the video because it’s just cloying and saccharine enough that I think it’ll make me notice those qualities the song more, and I like thinking of this song more the way it first sounded to me on the radio, as this kind of assured, confident song with hard drums.

24. Fabolous - "You Be Killin' 'Em"
I don’t know if this is up there with “Addiction,” “Good Love,” or “Everything Everyone Everywhere,” but this continues a killer run of great Fab/Ryan Leslie collaborations.

23. Drake f/ T.I. & Swizz Beatz - “Fancy”
There may be no ubiquitous rap star I find more inherently worthless than Drake, but the things that make him so bland and devoid of redeeming value --- his calculatedly derivative Kanye + Wayne formula and eagerness to piggyback on existing sounds and trends -- all but insure that he inevitably ends up on some songs I enjoy in spite of myself. I could just say I like to pretend it’s a T.I./Swizz song, but I do usually jam that first Drake verse too. Not that outro, though, that shit is garbage.

22. J. Cole - “Who Dat”
J. Cole is a terribly uncool rapper among people I know, a guy who gets compared to Drake a lot despite not really sounding at all like Drake (I guess just light-skinned and well-connected is the main comparison point?). So this song is kind of a guilty pleasure, even more than an actual Drake single, but I gotta say this is what I wish debut singles from new rappers should really always sound like: an anthemic, no-nonsense rap song with no guests or R&B hooks, just a nice straightforward showcase for a new voice. But really I like this more for Cole's production than for his kind of bland rhymes, it's the kind of bright, hard regionless beat that I identify with Timbaland or the Neptunes at their peak, or more recently Polow Da Don.

21. Fat Joe f/ Young Jeezy - “Ha Ha (Slow Down Son)”
Fat Joe's post-"Lean Back" career has consisted of kind of an alternating series of vaguely loathsome pop radio grabs and total head-nodding bangers, and this one fell into the latter category. I like that though the Jeezy chorus, which managed to get on the radio even though practically every other word is "murder," is the main hook of the song, the feel and the sound is still totally Joe and his verses make the song.

20. Enrique Iglesias f/ Pitbull - “I Like It”
Nothing better represents U.S. pop music’s shift toward openly catering to the douchiest clubgoers in the world than that they put the cast of “Jersey Shore” in the video to this song to help make it a hit, and it worked. But this song feels so massive and fun that it really does kind of make me want to do the fist pump and put product in my hair.

19. Katy Perry f/ Snoop Dogg - “California Gurls”
"California Gurls" would probably be in the top 10 if its follow-up single "Teenage Dream" hadn't almost immediately eclipsed it. But this song still ran the summer for a couple months and that slap bass hook still jams.

18. Nickelback - “This Afternoon”
In the increasingly self-conscious and compulsive annual round of conversations about what the year's "summer jams" are, I mostly was happy to stick by those big obvious Katy Perry songs as my default answer. But really for a while there this was the song that was just rocking my world in the heat of July, and it was really just as cheesy and shameless and unhip as a summer jam could and should be.

17. Cavo - “Crash”
Cavo are one of the hoardes of grungey young bands who aren't remotely as well known as Nickelback, and this is one of the two hits they have so far, and it is massively, massively catchy. Technically this song broke in late '09 but I didn't hear it until this year.

16. Erykah Badu - “Window Seat”
I knew she’d never return to her days of making great radio singles like “Next Lifetime” or “Tyrone” or even “Love of My Life,” but with all the talk of New Amerykah Part One being the dark esoteric yin and New Amerykah Part Two being the more upbeat yang, I had high hopes that this album would turn out some great standout single. And initially this seemed like a total disappointment in that regard, being so mellow and groove-driven, and the stupid controversy-baiting video didn’t help my impression of the song. But slowly, surely, it grew on me in a big way.

15. Sara Bareilles - “King Of Anything”
Bareilles makes just the kind of adult contempo piano pop I go head over heels for when it's done right, and her breakthrough single "Love Song" really hit that sweet spot a couple years ago. This one nearly equals it, however, by not trying to copy its success, letting percussion and a killer horn arrangement be the emphasis of the song instead of the piano, while the amiable grain of her voice still takes center stage. I like how sassy and pissed off she tries to be but still comes off kind of sweet.

14. Paramore - “The Only Exception”
I fell in love with Paramore’s 2007 breakthrough Riot! because of how respectably tough and aggressive the riffs and drums were behind the undeniable pop appeal of Hayley Williams’s voice, and I appreciated that they didn’t gun for a crossover power ballad. When I heard this song on their follow-up album, though, I knew it was too good a song to not release as a single, but I ended up being disappointed when it was kind of overshadowed by Hayley’s anonymous hook on that terrible B.o.B. song.

13. 30 Seconds To Mars - “Kings & Queens”
It's totally horrifying that Jared Leto and his stupid screaming and his pompous epic videos have catapulted his damn mediocre band into the closest thing to serious rock stardom that exists anymore, but I have to admit I kind of love this song. Great shameless soft/loud verse/chorus, killer drumming, and more of that stupid screaming that climaxes with the big finishing "WE ARE THE QUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENS."

12. John Mayer f/ Taylor Swift - “Half Of My Heart”
Taylor Swift fans will never admit this, but her big-hearted adult contempo songwriting is in a very similar vein to John Mayer, and she really just isn't remotely as good at it as him, as demonstrated by the great song that he got her to sing a perfunctory little bit of backup on. The fact that they apparently had some type of relationship is totally skeevy, though.

11. Neon Trees - “Animal”
I've never thought of myself as having a particularly good ear for picking hits or predicting what will take off. But early in the year, this was just one of many random new major label alt-rock bands that was in rotation on MTV2, and it immediately stuck out to me as having a huge, indelible hook, and sure enough it slowly took off and became a big crossover hit.

10. Train - “Hey, Soul Sister”
In my recent series on the best singles of the '00s, there was probably no pick I took more shit for from more people than putting "Drops Of Jupiter" in the top 10 rock singles of the decade. And that song is probably considered way more acceptable than this song, which is kind of this bizarre gross ukulele-driven pop hit about untrimmed chest hair that sounds like it was written while masturbating to a Beyonce video. But it also has a great hook and I just could never quite bring myself to let my embarrassment overcome my enjoyment of the song. I’m so disappointed Weird Al Yankovic rejected my suggestion to parody it as “Anal Fister.”

9. Ciara - “Gimmie Dat”
This one is still slowly rising up the chart and I’m kind of rooting for it and praying for it to become a real hit, because it’s just fucking nuts and is one of the most propulsive dance tracks I’ve ever heard on mainstream R&B playlists. And the hardcore Ciara fans seem to prefer “Ride,” which I hated.

8. Linkin Park - “Waiting For The End”
For a band that's always gone for the jugular with ruthlessly straightforward verse-chorus-verse anthem rock, whether the verses were rapped or not, it's really refreshing to hear a Linkin Park song that for once takes on on kind of a winding path, where you're not really sure when Mike Shinoda's gonna hand the mic to Chester Bennington or how long he'll have it once he does, or even which part is technically the verse and which is the chorus. And in spite of all that, this is one of the most wonderfully pop things they've ever done.

7. Lloyd Banks f/ Juelz Santana - "Beamer, Benz or Bentley"
I didn’t think much of this at first, although I’ve always thought Lloyd Banks was a top notch punchline rapper and that it was a shame that the sinking momentum of G-Unit in recent years kept him from being a radio fixture the same way as the similarly talented but uncharismatic Fabolous has been. But slowly without thinking about it I came to really highly regard this song as one of the best mainstream rap hits of the year. Even Juelz’s verse is kinda tight!

6. Young Jeezy f/ Plies - “Lose My Mind”
One of my favorite rap singles of 2009 was “Wasted,” which featured Atlanta star Gucci Mane getting upstaged by 12 quotable bars by Miami C-list dumbass Plies. This year, the cycle repeated itself, with Plies instead screaming obscenely in between verses by Gucci’s nemesis Jeezy. It still befuddles me that this song, which wasn’t really intended to be a big radio single, ended up getting huge spins, but Def Jam just kind of sat on Jeezy’s album and has still yet to release it 6 months after it hit.

5. Katy Perry - “Teenage Dream”
"Teenage Dream" packs enough hooks to fuel at least two or three pop hits -- specifically, the pre-chorus, the chorus and the recurring bridge could each work just fine on their own (I'm still waiting for some enterprising house producer to sample the pre-chorus and make a club smash called "Dance Until We Die"). Instead, they're all stacked together into one strangely slinky and ethereal blockbuster.

4. Sade - “Soldier Of Love”
Sade could've dropped a smooth-ass slow jam like everyone would be happy to hear form them, but instead they dropped probably the hardest drums and synth stabs heard on R&B radio all year, and sometimes it really does work great when someone zigs when you expect them to zag.

3. My Chemical Romance - “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”
The whole trend of YouTube lyric videos, and especially the more recent trend of major label acts uploading professionally made ones when a song is first released and the real video isn't out yet, is kind of interesting, and in a weird way it has helped me focus on the lyrics of songs in the rare occasion that something new leaks and I can't stop listening to it, which was the case when MCR finally released their first new original song in 4 years. At first its appeal was in how mindlessly monolithic and breathlessly energetic it is, but watching that video with the lyrics flashing across the screen helped me realize what a densely written and funny song it is too.

2. Gucci Mane - “Lemonade”
I got some shit from fellow critic and all-around Gucci Mane enthusiast David Drake, who put "Lemonade" on his year-end top 10 at the end of 2009, for the fact that I consider this a 2010 single and am only listing it now. But in December '09, it was just a promo single with a video circulating on the internet, one of many great Gucci songs in the best year his career has had and probably ever will have. But it entered the charts in February and peaked around April, and it was only around January that I even started hearing it on the radio and seeing it on MTV Jams and really feeling how great this song is, and how perfectly it crystallizes both Gucci's appeal, the post-"A Milli" production style Bangladesh has been toying with the last couple years, and the color-themed rap song archetype that's been done so many times before and even since then (such as Gucci's perennial enemy Young Jeezy's "All White Everything"). "Lemonade" and the single that directly preceded it, "Spotlight," had virtually identically chart positions, both peaking at #8 on the Billboard Rap chart and #15 on the R&B chart, while "Spotlight" got to #42 on the Hot 100 and "Lemonade" stalled at #53. And yet "Spotlight" was a forgettable Usher collaboration that was considered both a failed grab for a big crossover hit and a disappointing rejection of the things people actually like about Gucci Mane's music. By comparison, "Lemonade" was a triumph of him just doing him in the best possible way, and subsequent singles from other projects throughout the year just didn't remotely come close to competing with it.

1. Rihanna - “Rude Boy”
Rihanna has hit #1 on the Hot 100 a staggering nine times now, four of those songs just in 2010 alone, so it's hard to really make a case for why "Rude Boy" feels bigger than almost any of those songs outside of "Umbrella" and maybe one or two others, but it's much easier to articulate why I think it's perhaps her best. Stargate's pinging synth steel drums bring out her Caribbean accent more than it'd been heard in years, with Rihanna herself revealed powers of emphasis and intonation that had been all but nonexistant in most of the hits she's belted out like a foghorn. And that newfound gift for real vocal expression also made this an actual sexy song with a sexy performance, whereas the singer's physical beauty had so often done the heavy lifting in that department before.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Elvis Costello’s new album, National Ransom, is more similar to his last album, 2009’s Secret, Profane and Sugarcane than any two consecutive albums, or probably any two albums, in his long career. When writing about Sugarcane last year, I noted that Elvis seemed to be moving away from his long held pattern of veering between extremes (a rock record then a classical record, a pop record then an acoustic record, and so on) and doing several albums in a row leaning more and more towards a rustic roots rock sound. Ransom and Sugarcane even have similar covers, both drawn by Tony Millionaire.

National Ransom being overwhelmingly reminiscent of its immediate predecessor isn’t as much of a downer as I thought it might be, however, since the album is longer than Sugarcane (16 songs in over an hour) and yet feels somehow more focused, with more concrete lyrical imagery and memorable songs and evocative titles (my favorite being “That’s Not The Part Of Him You’re Leaving”). The occasional rock songs, like “The Spell That You Cast,” which has a great electric guitar tone reminiscent of Brutal Youth, feel like a very organic and welcome change of pace, where sometimes Costello’s more deliberate later ‘return to rock’ can sound a little forced. The jaunty pop jazz of “A Voice In The Dark” is a little too goofy, though, almost a parody of the kind of indulgent genre pastiche people have come to expect from Elvis Costello at this stage in his career. But National Ransom, which boasts kind of an all-star cast of backing musicians from several different types of Costello albums (the usual Attractions-turned-Imposters, T Bone Burnett, Marc Ribot, among others) seems happily comfortable in its generous length and variety, a little less overwhelming than, say, Spike.

Friday, December 10, 2010
The Awl asked about 100 people to name their #1 album of 2010, and I was one of them, so y’know, check that out if you don’t care about spoilers when I post my full year-end list later.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

This week the Baltimore City Paper ran its annual Top Ten Issue and as usual I submitted a ballot for The Year In Music and The Year In Local Music lists. Nothing from my ballot made it onto the former list, but four local albums I voted for got onto the latter, and I wrote the blurbs for three of them: Dirt Platoon’s Deeper Than Dirt, Los’s Shooter and The Art Department’s Paperwork/Birdwork. I’m also happy to see Labtekwon, J Roddy Walston and the Business, and Dustin Wong on the list. Later this month I’ll be posting my full year-end albums list on Narrowcast and my Baltimore hip hop year-end list on Government Names.

The Top 25 TV Shows of 2010

Tuesday, December 07, 2010
2010 was a year full of disappointment and mediocrity in television: the failure of "Treme," "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Walking Dead" to live up to their next great cable drama hype (and the renewals for 2nd seasons they all got anyway), "100 Questions" and "Gravity" competing tenaciously for the title of worst show I've ever seen, and the crushingly awful final season of "Lost" managing to be almost as bad as new "Lost" knockoffs like "The Event" and "Flash Forward." But there was also a lot of good and great TV this year, a lot of the shows from my 2009 list are still at the top of their game, and there was a whole lot of promising new stuff. And as I spent all year at home raising my son, I saw quite a lot of it, and feel pretty qualified to give my take, although of course taste is a subjective thing and there are a lot of well regarded shows I just don't particularly like (by which I mean: don't look for "Mad Men" or "Friday Night Lights" here). I'll be posting one entry of the list at a time over the next two days, the first 15 on Tuesday and the top 10 on Wednesday, and you can follow me on Twitter to get updates every time I add a new entry:

25. "Haven" (SyFy)
Outside of "Battlestar Galactica," which I haven't been able to get into, original series on the channel formerly known as SciFi never get much love or attention, and indeed dull writing and cheap-looking special effects tend to hold back most of their shows from being as fun or entertaining as they probably could be. But the first season of "Haven," based on the Stephen King novel The Colorado Kid, showed some pretty serious promise, partly by focusing more on atmosphere and mystery, and managed the rare feat of being about an FBI agent investigating unexplained events without feeling like any kind of "X-Files" knockoff. And the finale left things off on such an intriguing note that I can't wait to see the show come back for a second season next year.

24. "The Kids In The Hall: Death Comes To Town" (IFC)
I wasn't sure what to think about the news that my favorite sketch comedy troupe of all time would finally be returning to TV with a murder mystery mini-series. And while "Death Comes To Town" was often more bizarre than it was funny, it proved to be kind of a shrewd middle ground between the sketch-driven work they're known for and the more sustained narrative that proved ill-fitting in their one feature film, Brain Candy. You simply can't get these 5 guys together without ending up with a few lines that make me double over with laughter and quote them obnoxiously for months.

23. "The Music Video Exposed" (VH1 Classic)
I started watching MTV religiously in the early '90s, around the time they started putting director's credits at the bottom of the screen and video directors started becoming name brands unto themselves. So it's refreshing and illuminating to see this series spotlight the guys who helped create the whole visual language of music videos in the '80s, guys you've probably never heard of like Steve Barron or Kevin Godley whose work you've nonetheless probably seen hundreds of times.

22. "Rubicon" (AMC)
Between this and the HBO WW2 mini-series "The Pacific," James Badge Dale was kind of the kind of slow moving, mildly underwhelming cable drama this year. But "Rubicon," as much as it kind of feels like a failure now, both because of its cancellation and because of its deeply unsatisfying finale, did have a few real moments of intrigue and excitement here and there, spread throughout a season that was actually kind of likable in how oddly paced it was. And it didn't hurt that Jessica Collins, Annie Parisse and Lauren Hodges were nice to look at.

21. "The Big C" (Showtime)
I've always had a vague distaste for Showtime's original programming, which tend to have likable casts and interesting premises but end up kind of hollow and poorly written ("Weeds," Californication," etc.). At times, "The Big C" felt a bit like that, or perhaps like a lower stakes version of "Breaking Bad" (which would probably be on this list if I wasn't still catching up on DVD and haven't seen any of this year's episodes yet). But over the course of the season, I've really started to enjoy watching Laura Linney and Oliver Platt play their characters, and the great offbeat supporting cast, like the homeless brother and the neighbor with Alzheimer's, whose storyline's end was probably the most heartbreaking moment in a show that never tried too hard to go for the big emotional moments that could've come easily to them.

20. "Raising Hope" (FOX)
There have been a lot of mildly enjoyable new sitcoms premiering this fall that I've been watching faithfully and hoping they improve ("Mike & Molly" and "Better With You" in particular), but so far "Raising Hope" is the one that I've really gotten stuck on immediately, and just has a great cast with a great indefinable chemistry together, and a comic sensibility that veers wildly between dry and dark or heartwarming.

19. "Futurama" (Comedy Central)
"Futurama" may not have gotten quite as triumphant a rising from the dead as "Family Guy" did, returning with new episodes on basic cable with fewer episodes a season and sometimes visible lower animation budget, but the show still looks better than just about any cartoon on TV, and is just about as funny and clever as it ever was.

18. "Sons Of Anarchy" (FX)
This would probably be higher on the list, if I hadn't begun watching the 3rd season of the bleak biker drama just after binging on the superior first 2 seasons on DVD. The new season hasn't really been a fall off, but I do have to admit that the whole babynapping Irish adventure thing is getting a little old and is just not as compelling as earlier storylines. Still, an incredibly addictive show with some great acting.

17. "Lay It Down with Cee-Lo Green" (Fuse)
Cee-Lo's been an amazing rapper and singer for a long time, but I have to say I've been less than thrilled with his musical output in recent years, particularly with most of his current fame coming from a Bruno Mars-penned novelty song. But he's still a really smart, fascinating musician and Fuse had the brilliant idea to give him an interview show where he gets to interview people who influenced him (Public Enemy) and who he's influenced (T-Pain, Ludacris). The tone is remarkably low key, almost like a hip hop version of the Charlie Rose show, and the conversation is always interesting and insightful.

16. "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" (NBC)
So far, "Conan" on TBS has gotten off to a good start and I look forward to Conan staying on that show for years to come. But so far it hasn't quite eclipsed the entertainment value of those insane last 2 weeks of his aborted run hosting "The Tonight Show," as NBC's whole ridiculous mishandling of the situation with Jay Leno and Conan played out in the newspapers and Conan just decided to make the best of it and go nuts on TV every night until they finally took him off the air.

15. "Childrens Hospital" (Cartoon Network)
I'm not one of those people that still bitches about MTV not playing videos, but seriously, everytime I see a non-animated show on the Cartoon Network, I'm automatically annoyed. But Rob Corddry's hysterical satire of nonsensical medical dramas like "Grey's Anatomy" is just too great for me to deny on mere principle, and boasts an all-star cast of marginally famous people who are really funny.

14. "The Soup" (E!)
Even though Joel McHale is currently entertaining me more on "Community," the show that launched his career is still essential viewing for wringing that little bit of entertainment and WTF value out of every shitty show on TV that isn't worth watching itself. It's the reason I can fill this list entirely with shows I admire and respect and not include any shitty guilty pleasure shows; "The Soup" processes them into something actually well written and funny on purpose. And the spinoffs like "The Dish" and "Web Soup" and especially the offbrand knockoff "Tosh.0" are all worth watching too.

13. "Modern Family" (ABC)
I wasn't totally sold on "Modern Family" as the big breakout sitcom of the 2009-2010 season and its mockumentary style has been kind of stale and overused for a while now, but it's been hitting a pretty enjoyable groove and is starting to feel like a suitable flagship for ABC's slowly rising comedy block.

12. "Parenthood" (NBC)
When it first debuted as a mid-season replacement early in the year, I thought most of my enjoyment of "Parenthood" was coming from the inevitable resonance of me just having become a father a few months before, and my residual affection for various cast members' previous roles and the 1989 movie the show is based on. After all, the stories were kind of cliched most of the time and sometimes its humor was a bit obvious (which is why for a while it felt like "Parenthood" and "Modern Family" were using identical gags on a regular basis). But as it's settled into an involving 2nd season, I have to admit this has become one of my favorite shows to tune into every week.

11. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (Comedy Central)
Year after year, "The Daily Show" is something I can't live without. Sometimes, like after Stewart softballs a potentially big interview, or that whole pointless rally thing, it feels a little less urgent to tune in for every new episode, but I have to admit, I'm one of those twentysomethings who gets a lot of their news from Comedy Central.

10. "The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central)
Colbert and the show that launched his career have been kind of dancing up and down this list and taking turns being higher or lower every year that I've done it, and although I'll ultimately always hold "The Daily Show" in higher esteem overall, this year I think "The Colbert Report" really killed it with funnier broad humor and that sharper, meaner satire that only Colbert can sneak past you so well with a shit-eating grin.

9. "Men Of A Certain Age" (TNT)
Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula are kind of an odd trio of TV vets to headline this meditation of middle-aged manhood, but they ended up being perfectly cast as their own minor and major personal crises played out over the first season earlier in the year, and look to be gearing up again as the 2nd season begins this week.

8. "Last Comic Standing" (NBC)
This year was a great one for TV if you really enjoy watching comedians practice their craft and talk about it -- in addition to the great Showtime panel discussion show "The Green Room with Paul Provenza" and Louis C.K.'s FX show "Louie" (which I was less than enthralled with but enjoyed the standup parts), the long-running comedian version of "American Idol," which has had a pretty up-and-down history, had probably its best season ever, with a new host, an almost shockingly great lineup of competitors, and a judging panel that included the underrated Greg Giraldo, who sadly died a few months after wrapping the season.

7. "Bored To Death" (HBO)
When it debuted last year, "Bored To Death" got dangerously close to its title being unironically appropriate. But I did a total 180 on this show with its 2nd season, and I'm still not really sure if it got way better or if I just like it more. But where before it felt dry and quirky to a fault, now the show feels more like a sitcom, almost as much a satire of its generation of neurotic New Yorkers as "Seinfeld" was for its generation. It's still behind "Cheers" and "Damages," but this show just leapfrgged ahead of "Becker" to become the third best series of Ted Danson's career so that's...something.

6. "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS)
I've been a faithful watcher of this show since the first season and haven't remotely been motivated to sound the shark-jump alarm, but I have to admit there have been times when my interest in the show has wavered, including this year. But the show going into syndication this fall has made me appreciate how good it can be all over again, and occasionally great new episodes like last month's "Natural History," perhaps one of the most perfect episodes in the show's 6 year history, have affirmed that they can still hit all the right notes of hilarity and sentiment now and again.

5. "The Venture Bros." (Cartoon Network)
"The Venture Bros." is 2nd only to "30 Rock" as the most tightly scripted comedy on TV, nearly every second of every episode packed with devastating one liners, slow burning obscure references, and nuanced, character-driven subtext. It just happens to be an animated show about super scientists and costumed villains on Adult Swim, and makes nearly every show it shares airtime with seem puerile and inane by comparison. The second half of season 4 that just wrapped up with the show's incredible first hourlong episode, "Operation P.R.O.M.," was something of a refreshing return to the show's classic form after the last couple years leaned a little too heavy on origin stories and action outside the Venture compound.

4. "Party Down" (Starz)
"Party Down" was my favorite new show of 2009, and it had a rough 2010 that it ultimately didn't survive; before the second season even began, one of the standout cast members, Jane Lynch, had been plucked from the show for the biggest new network hit "Glee," and within a few months another, Adam Scott, had moved onto another network show, "Parks & Recreation." And even by the standards of Starz, a movie channel that most people don't even know has original programming, the ratings were abysmal, so it was no surprise when it was soon cancelled. But the second season was still frequently hysterical and only a slight dropoff from the near perfect first season, and it'll be interesting to see what co-creator Rob Thomas of "Veronica Mars" has in store for the two network shows he already has in the works next.

3. "30 Rock" (NBC)
It's really just insane how airtight the writing and performances on "30 Rock" have been for going on 5 straight years now -- even at its weakest it's still one of the funniest shows on TV, and memorable guest spots (Matt Damon and Elizabeth Banks in particular) have helped make 2010 an especially exciting year for the show.

2. "Terriers" (FX)
The reasons that barely anyone watched "Terriers" and its cancellation was officially announced on Monday are many and obvious, particularly the misleading name and the lack of a big enticing conceptual hook or movie star lead that most of FX's other gritty dramas have. But this unpredictable and brilliantly plotted private detective noir set in a sun-soaked California beach community is by far my most exciting television discovery of 2010. Comcast has been putting FX shows OnDemand a week after airing, so I’m still waiting for the finale to become available and watch it in the next day or so, like a gift waiting to be opened. I mentally prepared for the inevitable cancellation a while ago, so at this point I'm just anxious to get this on DVD and rewatch and pore over these 13 episodes again and just be thankful they were made at all.

1. "Community" (NBC)
"Community" was my favorite new show of the fall season on last year's list, but I really had no idea how quickly or how hugely it would grow and mutate and improve and top itself with the second half of its first season and the first half of its second season in 2010. Yes, I refer mainly to the high-concept movie parody episodes (the Goodfellas chicken fingers saga, the incredible paintball episode, the Apollo 13 homage, the zombie Halloween episode and this week's Christmas claymation episode), but in between those great, creative one-offs, the relationships between the characters and the huge stockpile of running jokes that accumulate along with them, have continued to evolve in hilarious, unexpected ways, as Joel McHale and Danny Pudi and Alison Brie and Donald Glover have helped make "Community" one of the sharpest comedic ensembles on TV.