Top CDs of 2010 | Laura Hamlett

Underworld merges disparate styles, making an album that’s built equally for singalongs and dance floors.

1. Underworld | Barking (Om)
I’ve been following Underworld since they debuted in the ’80s. At first, they were what would now be called indie rock; after two albums they went electronic, their music more appropriate for dance floors and raves than college students’ headphones. Two things have remained constant, though: Karl Hyde’s ruby-throated vocals and the band’s ability to craft catchy songs, no matter the genre. That said, I was happy as hell to receive Barking; on it, Underworld merges these disparate styles, making an album that’s built equally for singalongs and dance floors. By a huge margin, “Always Loved a Film” is my favorite song of 2010.
2. Nitzer Ebb | Industrial Complex (Artists Addiction)
After a reunion show last year, ’80s industrial rockers Nitzer Ebb decided to reform and release a new album. The result is Industrial Complex, a completely addictive collection of songs that span a handful of genres; here, industro, electro, post-punk and rock combine in brilliant fashion. The album is as in-your-face as you’d expect, but it’s also often laidback and chill. To say it holds up well to repeated listens is an understatement; you can obsess over this one for weeks.
3. Black Lab | Two Strangers (Black Lab World)
Paul Durham can do no wrong. It sounds like overstatement but, really, it isn’t. As Black Lab, Durham has been releasing near-perfect albums since 1997, beginning with Your Body Above Me. The man is a constant source of creativity; 2009’s Give Us Sugar is 36 songs of b-sides and unreleased material. B-sides, people—and not a single track could be considered a throwaway. With Two Strangers, a collection of new material, Durham once again proves his alternative-rock musical expertise. If you’re not familiar with Black Lab, do yourself a favor and check them out.
4. Tommy Keene | Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983–2009 (Second Motion)
It’s not the first career retrospective Keene has released—1993’s The Real Underground was a catch-up thus far—but it is by far the most comprehensive overview, by Keene or nearly anyone else. Two discs deliver a whopping 41 tracks that, truly, leave you in awe of this undersung artist’s talent. Even if you already possess everything in Keene’s library, do yourself a favor and pick up this disc, if for no other reason that the quality of these songs will amaze you every time. And if you’re new to the Keene bandwagon, by all means grab this impressive collection. You’ll wonder why you—hell, why the whole world—have overlooked the power-pop genius all these years.
5. Doves | The Best of Doves (The Places Between 2000–2010)
I have a few Doves CDs in my library, but it was this collection that made me pull them out and listen again. The Best of Doves is a stunning display of the British trio’s talent; like me, you may wonder why they haven’t been in greater rotation on your iPod all these years. Already a huge fan? Tucked in among a bunch of killer tracks, new song “Andalucia” is by itself worth the price of admission. With his butter-smooth vocals, singer Jimi Goodwin could sing anything and make it sound good.
6. Matthew Ryan | Dear Lover (Dear Future Collective)
Nashville rootsy crooner Matthew Ryan follows up the solid Matthew Ryan vs. the Silver State with Dear Lover, a hushed collection of yearning, softly beautiful songs. Ryan’s everyman personality shines through the songs (see the man in concert and you’ll realize this isn’t an act; Ryan really is that down-to-earth). Dear Lover is soothing, a familiar friend who knows just what to say. You’ll find yourself in his characters…and it’s not a bad place to be.
7. Eddie Cohn | Stay With Me (self-released)
The Midwestern-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter comes from musical blood (his uncle is Marc Cohn of “Walking in Memphis” fame), and his talent is readily apparent. It took a full five years for Stay With Me to be released after Cohn’s debut If I’m Happy, It Ends, and the wait was well worth it. These songs combine sounds and influences—ranging from Bob Dylan to Pearl Jam to African tribal chants—into a near-perfect collection of heartbreaking and heartfelt songs. (Another disclaimer: I was such a huge fan of If I’m Happy, It Ends that I more than happily helped spread the word of this release and a rare fall 2010 Midwestern tour.)
8. Kings of Leon | Come Around Sundown (RCA)
This one took a while to grow on me. Only by the Night it’s not, but it’s still Kings of Leon. Caleb Followill’s voice is as intoxicating as ever; you can’t help but be drawn in to his musical stories and rock ’n’ roll riffs. Kings of Leon have become an old friend to their fans; they’re familiar and comforting, while also trying to release a record that isn’t a carbon copy of their last.
9. Mike Mains & the Branches | Home (self-released)
I came into this one very, very late in the year; in fact, my top 10 list was complete—and then I received Home. Holy hell. Michigan natives Mike Mains and his very talented Branches craft near-perfect indie rock, complete with yowly, passionate vocals, keyboards and shimmering female background vocals. I’ve been scratching my head for comparisons, and the best I’ve come up with are Bright Eyes, Bad Veins, James (thanks, Jim for that one). It’s not derivative or imitative, but rather takes the best of other indie acts and puts Mains’ spin on things. The album has not left my stereo in weeks…it’s that good.

10. Prefab Sprout | Let’s Change the World With Music (Tompkins Square)
With his smooth-as-butter vocals, Prefab Sprout singer/songwriter Paddy McAloon can do no wrong. Let’s Change the World With Music, the band’s first new release since 2003, is a love letter to Music, the beautiful muse. McAloon bows down at the angel’s feet, finding inspiration and acceptance; music, he asserts, makes the world a better place. And he does all this in such a comforting and beautiful manner that you can’t help but fall in love with her holiness, too.
| Laura Hamlett
About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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