Short version: you should buy How I Got Over, Watertown, White Light, Station to Station, and The Black Album. What follows are more highlights from my year, month by month. As in 2008 and 2009, the general rule here is I don't care if it actually came out in 2010, it's just that I happened to pay attention this year.
Ama Maïga, Une Fleche Malienne. Kora + Afro-pop. The first and last tracks are my favorites.
Linda Perhacs, Parallelograms. Think Joan Baez/Joni Mitchell-esque dreamy acoustic guitar with solid songwriting. This album's vibe would echoed in October with one from Françoise Hardy...
Steve Roach, Structures from Silence. I'm not quite sure how to distinguish good ambient music from bad ambient music, aside from maintaining a general sort of peacefulness, but I liked this a lot.
Frank Sinatra, Watertown. This is my favorite one that wasn't released this year. It's another of his heartbreak concept albums, and it definitely holds its own against In The Wee Small Hours and Only the Lonely. I have no idea why this one is still underground.
Sayeeduddin Dagar, Lineage of Dhrupad. I hadn't listened to much Indian vocal work before this year, but this album sold me on it, especially the old dhrupad stuff. The voice and breathe control is super-impressive. Lots more to come later in the year.
Young Jeezy, The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102. Atlanta's own. He's not the best lyricist, but I love his voice/delivery and the steady, drenched sound you hear in most of the production. And he has good samples. Standout tunes are Hypnotize and The Inspiration (Diana Ross sample!). Great nighttime city-driving music.
Hariprasad Chaurasia, Charm of the Bamboo Flute. This might be my favorite Indian album this year.
Magdalena Kožená, performing a collection of French Arias. Charles Gounod's O ma lyre immortelle from Sapho and Nuit resplendissante from Cinq-Mars are the best ones. Ambroise Thomas' Connais-tu le pays from Mignon is a close third.
Crystal Tears is a solid Renaissance collection from Andreas Scholl singing with Julian Behr on the lute and the Concerto di Viole Basel. John Bennet's Venus' birds whose mournful tunes is a good one and John Dowland's Go, crystal tears is a classic.
Flanders Fiamminghi Orchestra and conductor Rudolf Werthen put together the awesome An I Fiamminghi Collection. Highlights for me are Alan Hovhaness' Prayer of St. Gregory and Henryk Górecki's Pieces in the Olden Style.
Mariem Hassan, Deseos. This might be my favorite African album of the year. Sick desert blues riffs + powerful vocals. Check out Magat milkitna dulaa, or Sbar. Mariem Hassan con Leyoad is not quite as good.
Kraftwerk, Radio-Activity. A lot of it is pretty toned-down and spacey compared to the earlier stuff I loved so much last November.
Gundecha Brothers & Uday Bhawalkar, Timeless Dhrupads. Whoever is playing mridangam here is just killing it.
Glenn Gould recorded Brahms' Ballades, Op. 10 and Rhapsodies, Op. 79. I don't know if Gould is a good Brahms interpreter or not, but he helped me overcome my long-standing aversion to the guy. I like the Ballades in particular.
This was baroque month, apparently. While only two albums stood out, they were very, very good.
Rosso - Italian Baroque Arias, sung by Patricia Petibon with Andrea Marcon conducting the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Highlights for me: from Stradella's San Giovanni Battista, Queste lagrime e sospiri; from Handel's Giulio Cesare, Piangerò la sorte mia; and from Sartorio's L'Orfeo, Orfeo, tu dormi. Dang, y'all.
May was odd in its uniformity. I'm not sure what connects Bach and Bowie, but they were both highlights for the next month...
Collegium Vocale Ghent and conductor Philippe Herreweghe did some good work on Christus, der ist mein Leben: Bach Cantatas BWV 27, 84, 95, 161.
Devo's Something For Everybody was surprisingly fun. It doesn't seem very ambitious, just upbeat, tight, and it reaps major benefits from keeping the songs brief and to the point.
Sundrips, Slow Futures. More ambient. Everything I've heard from Sundrips has been pretty good.
Ramakant & Umakant Gundecha, Ancestral Voices. More dhrupad. There is something incredibly fulfilling about the pattern of slow, meditative, exploratory beginnings that build to rhythmic extravagance by the end. Sooltal of Raga Charukeshi is a favorite here, but it's not as satisfying if you don't listen to the opening.
The Roots, my friends. How I Got Over is my favorite album released this year. It's a lovely piece of work. Writing, production, performances, variety. It's all in there. Favorite track = Now or Never, followed closely by the title track.
This month actually kicked off with Beat Connection's Surf Noir EP, which was available on their site and is probably easy to download somewhere else now. Sunburn followed by In the Water is one of the great album openings. Nice closer, too, with Same Damn Time.
Like St. Vincent's Actor last year, The Ruby Suns' Fight Softly gets better as it goes along. It's not as sharp as Annie Clark's work (but what is?), but solid nonetheless. Two Humans is the one to hear.
Ash Ra Tempel, Inventions for Electric Guitar. Something like Steve Reich + Robert Fripp, maybe? Whatever the ingredients, it's good space-trippy music.
Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Slow Version. The speed change creates a whole different feel for a great body of work.
The Clientele, Minotaur. Like an updated version of The Byrds, tempered with a dash of Devendra Banhart or Iron & Wine or something.
This might have been the best month overall. The favorite was Darker Than Blue, Soul From Jamdown 1973-1980. Jamaican bands cover American funk. Win-win. Check out Freddie McGregor's cover of Get Involved (George Soule's original) and John Holt's For the Love of You (Isley Brothers original).
The Clientele, Bonfires on the Heath. Another solid album.
Washed Out. The Life of Leisure EP came out late last year, but somehow I missed it. I can't wait to see this dude for the third time in just a few weeks. I say this summer's song, You and I, is a must-listen. Love that slow disco-stomp + sweet bass line.
As I did with Brahms, this year I also finally came to understand That Which Is Hendrix. Are You Experienced? did the job.
The collection of Brahms Symphonies from Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and conductor John Eliot Gardiner helped me get Brahms. It'll take a few more listens to settle in, but they are good recordings.
Gene Clark, White Light and Roadmaster are excellent 70's country-rock albums. Check out The Virgin, Where My Love Lies Asleep, and 1975. I'd never heard Clark outside of The Byrds, and I was surprised these solo albums were so good. His later album No Other misses the mark a bit for me (though Some Misunderstanding is superb).
Heart is an amazing band. I knew some of the songs from the radio, but never heard Little Queen and Dreamboat Annie all the way through. I didn't expect them to be so good. It's like a female-dominant Led Zeppelin + Rush + Fleetwood Mac + something else. Favorites include Love Alive, Too Long a Time and Dreamboat Annie.
Xavier Cugat, Cugi's Cocktails. A lot of latin albums drive me nuts, but this one really hit the spot. I want to have a party where I try to mix+serve+consume each song's corresponding drink before the song ends. The frenzy! The fun! Small portions, naturally. Favorites are Zombie and, of course, the Old-Fashioned.
Bach. Boom. James Kibbie recorded all of Bach's organ works and they're free for download. !!!
Jay-Z, The Black Album. Holy shit, guys. I take it all back. Jay-Z's voice used to drive me nuts, but his writing from this era is so good. This is a seriously once-in-a-lifetime album. The Blueprint is also worthwhile. I need to check out the rest. (His latest album, with the exception of What We Talkin' About, blows).