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Dante's Top Albums of 2010

(Disclaimer: I have never been, nor will I ever be, a music critic or music reviewer.  Also, I won’t claim to have heard all the albums that came out this past year, so I’m certainly missing a few that would likely have made it on here.)

#9 – Josh Ritter – “So Runs The World Away”.  There's not the overwhelming uptempo numbers like "To The Dogs Or Whoever", but the ballads are larger and more symphonic, making them much more striking than on some past Josh Ritter albums. Perhaps a joint performance his band did with the Boston Pops influenced him in the size of the sound - you can easily find parts of that performance on Youtube - but the music definitely seems larger than in the past, while still highlighting elements of Ritter's acoustic guitar. I only wish there had been more faster paced songs, because that's when the musical joy of the entire band has been most evident. "Change of Time" and "Folk Bloodbath" are particularly good.

#8 – Buke and Gass – “Riposte”.  The best way to describe this band, if you've never heard them before, is harmonious cacophony. There's only two people in the band, and they play a buke - some kind of bass ukelele - and a gass - a cross between a bass guitar and a guitar - while one stomps with a tambourine shoe and the other kicks a bass drum. There's just so much sound that comes together, and when it hits, like in "Page Break", it's overwhelmingly good. This is probably a band that is even more powerful in concert than in studio.

#7 – Band of Horses – “Infinite Arms”.  Band of Horses sounds somewhat alternative country rock - in an era when musical genres seem to blend and blur, that's about as appropriate a label as you can apply. The harmonies are strong, and there is some consistent switching back and forth between softer, more comfortable listening and steadily moving guitars like in "Compliments".

#6 – Mynabirds – “What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood".
This album is a cross between several songs highlighting lead singer Laura Burnhem's with a soul vibe, and others that have a slight pop edge to them. It's her voice that draws you in, and the albums just keeps adding songs to keep you listening. The title track is a strong example of the soul elements, and the addition of a horn is beautifully blended in with the harmonies. (I am a sucker for a good song with a trumpet.) "The Numbers Don't Lie" comes from the soul-pop side, and might potentially be the most memorable.

#5 – New Pornographers – “Together”.
 I love every album this band puts together, and while the songs here don't do the usual amazing New Pornographers feature of starting in one place and ending some place completely different, there is still a lot to like. There aren't many bands that can highlight so many different strengths, ranging from the number of different voices that can lead a song or blend together in harmony. A couple of upbeat songs like "Crash Years", "Your Hands (Together)", or "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" as well as the usual Neko Case near-ballads stand out.

#4 – Mumford and Sons – “Sigh No More”.
  I don't know anyone who didn't like this debut album when they heard it. In general, I tend to favor musicians who seem to demonstrate complete joy just in playing their instruments - I usually call them 'bangers' in regards to pianists who pound the keys - and every time the songs pick up in tempo, you can't miss that joy. A guitar, banjo, bass and keyboard all swell together while the four members make some beautiful harmonies. "Little Lion Man" is the clear top song, but "The Cave" and "Awake My Soul" are also fun and uplifting, even when the lyrics aren't.

#3 – The Tallest Man On Earth – “The Wild Hunt”.
  Is there anyone who sounds like Kristian Matsson? The Swedish man's voice seems to dominate every song, and is so distinctive you can't seem to mistake any of his tracks for another musicians. Even better, he doesn't try to overplay his voice at any point with the suporting music, which seems to mainly consist of a simple acoustic guitar. The title track highlights everything that is great about his music. He also released a 5 song EP this year that is just as enjoyable.

#2 – Jakob Dylan – “Women and Country”.
  Hate him all you want for not being his father, but this is a great album. This isn't the rock you might associate with The Wallflowers, but instead the starkness of Dylan and his guitar. He's supported vocally by Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, but the songs would still be intriguing even without them - and considering how much I love their voices, that says something. It's very easy to be sucked in by the subtle sorrow and joy in the lyrics as well. "We Don't Live Here Anymore" was particularly striking; as simple as some tracks are, you might find yourself listening several times before you realize how strong the album is.

#1 – Anais Mitchell – “Hadestown”.
  Hands down, my favorite album of the year. In what is essentially a folk album opera retelling of the story of Orpheus, with certain singers taking on the roles of Hades, Persephone, Hermes, and The Fates to join Mitchell as Eurydice, the songs still grab you even when you listen to them out of order. There's a ton of great voices on here like Bon Iver, Ani DiFranco, and in particular Greg Brown who completely kills as Hades. You take simple romantic songs like "Wedding Song", jazzier numbers like "Way Down Hadestown", or the stand-out "Why We Build The Wall" and "Our Lady of the Underground" . . . it doesn't matter which. The album is a real joy to listen to.

Honorable Mentions: There were a number of other albums that I liked parts of - She and Him's "Volume Two", Titus Andronicus' "The Monitor", The Thermals' "Personal Life", Local Natives' "Gorilla Manor", The Gaslight Anthem's "American Slang", and Belle and Sebastian's "Write About Love" - but none stood out enough from the others for me to create a tenth spot.

And I'm sure you feel I forgot the albums from Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Ray LaMontagne, Broken Bells, Sleigh Bells, or a numbr of others. Trust me, in this list, I didn't.

Other Favorite Individual Songs:  Future Islands - "Swept Inside", Yeasayer - "Ambling Alp", Cloud Cult - "Running With The Wolves", Ben Folds - "From Above", OK Go - "This Too Shall Pass"