The hardest part about doing these end of the year lists is that I know as soon as I publish it, someone will suggest (or I’ll otherwise find) an album that shoulda been here. With that caveat, I proceed.

But before saluting artists on labels without “big money backing,” major label push, and attendant RIAA-enforcement, I feel the need to give a shoutout to mainstream hip hop in 2010. Poprap usually consists of a few sounds, mixed slightly differently by a bunch of different artists. Punch in Gangsta, Crunk, Califunk, etc., and you pretty much know what you’re gonna get. Yet this year the major labels took a few chances on some underground weirdoes and some hip hop stalwarts actually found inspiration, all of which led to some very, very good–and worth hearing–albums. This is an indie site, and it will always be one. But these records deserve to be recognized:

– B.O.B.-The Adventures of Bobby Ray. I bought your mixtapes, B.O.B., and if anyone deserves success, it’s you.
– The Roots-Wake Up! In a year marked by rappers coopting white indie rockers, The Roots joined with Joanna Newsome and make a craftly, slick hit that stayed true the game.
– Eminem-Recovery. Yeah, Em, you made it back. We’ll forget 2009 now.
– Cee Lo Green-The Lady Killer. More soul than rap, but . . . Wow.
– Big Boi-Sir Luscious Left of Foot. Andre who?
– Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I really didn’t want to like this one . . . But Ye brought  in some inspired and relevant Jay-Z (Hova still his life in him, despite last year’s lackluster release) and Nicki Minaj spat one of the most explosive bursts of her career.  Now if Kanye could be a little less long-winded…..

Okay, now for the list. I note few hip hop entries, which is weird. I gravitate to that kind of music, but ironically this year saw its best releases either as mixtapes or mainstream albums (see above). I don’t think that’s ever happened before, at least not since I started doing this in 2004.

Hit the break for the list.

Honorable mentions:

  • Black Mountain-Wilderness Heart. You can always count on Black Mountain for progressive, psychedelic weight. (Review)
  • Jeff the Brotherhood-Heavy Days. Bluesy, crunchy rock and roll at it’s honest, fist-pumping best.  (Review)
  • Bedouin Soundclash-Light the Horizon. The band returns with a new drummer and their best album to date.  (Review)
  • HoneyChild-Nearer the Earth. A terrific debut of a solid indie rock band–here’s hoping for more in the future.  (Review)
  • Apache, The-Apache, The. Intellectual punk by artists who broke up before they even got started. Damn shame, as this is one of the most exciting albums you’ll have the fortune of hearing.  (Review)

15. The Hot Rats-Turn Ons. A quick-and-dirty covers collection that completely reinvents the source material.  (Review)  And check out a live show here.

14. Eddy Current Suppression Ring-Rush to Relax. Channeling Iggy Pop, this half-spoken, half-sung punk record sounds like it was recorded in one take in my neighbor’s garage. And it’s awesome. (Review)

13.  First Aid Kit-Big Black and Blue. Haunting folk.  (Review)

12.  Spoon-Transference. The band best known for quick hooks experiments in long-form jams and gets it right.   The album came out in February and I’m still listening to it.  Seems they can do anything.  (Review)

11.  Hollywood FLOSS-House of Dreams. FLOSS makes his “official” debut after dropping some extraordinary mixtape work, with a thoughtful album about making it in the industry.  (Review)  NOTE: Hollywood is giving away the album, free!  Get it here.

10.  Nobunny. The masked garage rocker returns with another collection of rough garage rock.  (Review)

9. Joe Pug-Messenger. The gentlest album on my list, a sweet collection of sad acoustic tunes.  (Review)

8. Jason Boesel-Hustler’s Son. Rilo Kiley refugee makes his solo debut.

7.  Plants and Animals-La La Land. I have a soft-spot for this quirky, catchy band.  (Review)

6.  Bird and the Bee-Interpreting the Masters: Hall and Oates. Do I lose indie cred by putting this album of 1970s comfort food in my top 10? Guess what? I don’t care. Empty calories be damned, I don’t think I had more fun listening to any other rock album on this list.

5. Gaslight Anthem-American Slang. Every Goddamn song is a single. F-in’ A.  (Review)  And check out a bunch of live covers here.

4. Surfer Blood-Astrocoast. The best new band of 2010.  (Review)

3. Haji P-Neighborhood Kid. Yes, the artist behind the best independent hip hop release of the year also released one of the best EPs of the year.  Haji P has a lot of work to do if he’s going to top this year’s work in 2011.

2. Portugal. The Man-American Ghetto. PTM has its “I love weird music” followers, to be sure, but this release had the benefit of being more accessible–so I could like it, too! They came close to deposing Arcade Fire. Close, but not quite.  (Review)

1.  Arcade Fire-Suburbs. Because no year-end best-of list is complete without them.

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