Ron Wadlinger

Top 10 Albums

Musically, 2010 seemed to be a year of transition and looking back. When going over the year, I’m struck by the fact that it’s the 21st century, yet I count sets by Guided By Voices, the Blues Explosion, Pavement, and Van Dyke Parks as my concert-going highlights. I tend to think of top albums as those about which, when I look back in 10 years, I’ll say, “That’s something that defined that year.” Maybe I’m just getting old (perhaps best evidenced by the fact that the top two albums in my best-of list also happen to be the top two albums of Rolling Stone), but I didn’t come across many of those year-defining albums in 2010.

With that said, there was definitely a lot of worthy music to listen to this year, and the number of good bands out there definitely isn’t decreasing. Perhaps most encouraging, many of the artists in my list are relatively young acts. In fact, I count four debut albums here. So, while maybe some of us were guilty of living in the past a bit too much this year, there’s still a lot of reason to look forward to the future.

Dum Dum Girls
I Will Be
Sub Pop/Hozac

I’ve been as guilty as the next one of joining in the girl-garage backlash. Nevertheless, the Dum Dum Girls seem to rise above the fray. I Will Be isn’t a perfect record, but it’s one that you keep coming back to, as the high moments definitely outweigh the few low ones. If the Ronettes came along 40 years later and took a lot of downers, this is maybe what it would sound like. In my book, that’s pretty good.

Birds of Maya
Ready to Howl

Philadelphia has rather quietly birthed a number of solid groups in recent years, and Birds of Maya are perhaps the dark horse of the scene. Ready to Howl was under the radar this year, but it’s definitely a must-listen for fans of stoner-blues pyrotechnics filtered through noisy psychedelia. Without traditional song titles, this album forces you to focus individually on its three sides, each of which presents a unique take on what could’ve been if classic rock wasn’t so self-indulgent.

Thee Oh Sees
Warm Slime
In the Red

Admittedly, Thee Oh Sees have been hard to keep up with, as the garage rockers seem to put out a new record monthly. Warm Slime cuts through the noise, however, coming through as a top summer album. The title track, which spans the length of side one, is an epic meditation on the Northern California sunshine. The real gem here, though, is the twangy, rollicking “I Was Denied,” which to my ears is 2010’s best song.

Puffy Areolas
In the Army 1981

Just as you’ll never see the same show twice from this Midwestern juggernaut, In the Army 1981 never seems to sound the same no matter how many times you listen to it. Sometimes the album sounds like one long, tight (albeit noisy) groove, and sometimes it sounds like a total spastic freakout. It always sounds good, though. Maybe its sacrilegious to call these guys the new Stooges, but I just did it.

The Unholy Two
$$kum of the Earth
Columbus Discount

While the Unholy 2’s previous releases—two 7-inches on the CDR label—were impressive, they seemed to serve as brief encapsulations of the loud and aggressive Unholy Two live experience. While $$kum of the Earth does include two live cuts, the album finds the band using the studio as another weapon in its shock-and-awe offensive. Even amidst all the feedback, noise and screams, the album sounds fleshed out and full, rewarding those of who have watched the trio over the years, as well as new listeners. Just make sure you dip your toe in the water before you jump in.

Dan Melchior und das Menace
Visionary Pangs

Dan Melchior has established himself as one of rock’s most consistent songwriters. Long-time Agit readers will note that I’ve included Melchior albums on my top 10 list for three years running now, and for good reason: each of his records seems to improve upon its predecessors while moving in a unique direction. Visionary Pangs comes off as more of a song-cycle weaving in and out of subtly clever pop-rock songs and brilliant guitar explorations. You probably won’t hear a more pointed assessment of the modern “indie” scene than “Pseudo Blog Ed.”

Guinea Worms
Sorcererers of Madness (4rd Year in a Row!)
Columbus Discount

The Guinea Worms’s debut LP was literally 10 years in the making (recordings on here date back as far as 2000). While the quartet is best known for their vinyl-nerd anthem “Box of Records,” the two discs that comprise Socererers are much more representative of the Columbus band’s sound. There’s a lot to digest here—from basement rock weirdness to rifftastic jams to countrified diatribes—but it’s all as good as the band’s loyal legion of fans have come to expect.

Ty Segall

When I saw Ty Segall at South By Southwest this year, he ended his afternoon set at Beerland by smashing a malfunctioning guitar. Maybe it’s kind of fitting, then, that Melted smashed my estimation of Segall as your run-of-the-mill, above-average garage rocker. This album adds a lot more to that equation thanks to Segall’s growing comfort in the studio, but what’s even better are the irresistible pop songs that he’s featured on this LP. The San Franciscan youngster’s definitely one to keep an eye on from here on out.

Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam

Yeah, enough words have been spilled about this one in the past month or so. Yeah, it’s on every two-bit rock journo’s list. But there’s something about this record that keeps me from caring about being cliche. I’ve never been too into Kanye, but he’s outdone himself and most other pop stars with his masterwork. Only time will tell if this is the hip-hop Pet Sounds, but for the moment I’ll be content to enjoy these songs.

The Black Keys

This year was big one for the duo from Akron, and Brothers will be a lasting testament to the band’s success this year. The blues-rock sound of the Keys has fully matured, as witnessed by the album’s effortless transition between sizzling, funky jams and nuanced falsetto-voiced ballads. Brothers finds the Black Keys finally mastering the studio as a means to enhance their sound, enabling them to take old rock idioms and turn them into something that truly sounds like our contemporary reality.

Honorable Mentions

Circle Pit, Bruise Constellation (Siltbreeze)

Superchunk, Majesty Shredding (Merge)

Tyvek, Nothing Fits (In the Red)