The record industry is still dying, and yet very fine albums keep right on coming out. Here are my 10 favorites from 2010 -- that was the year that was.
(1) Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs" (Merge) -- Supposedly there aren't any "consensus" bands anymore, acts everyone can agree are worthy. Except for Arcade Fire, a Montreal band that's easy to love all the way around. Truly great.
(2) Laura Veirs, "July Flame" (Raven Marching Band) -- If you want someone's attention, whisper. Better still, murmur softly and set it to catchy, exquisitely crafted acoustic pop arrangements. Lovely.
(3) Doug Paisley, "Constant Companion" (No Quarter) -- Speaking of quiet, this is the sort of record that might have you holding your breath for fear of breaking the spell. It's sturdy enough to hold up, though.
(4) Robert Plant, "Band of Joy" (Rounder) -- Plant continues his Appalachian Mountain hop, this time with iconic Nashville country-blues guitarist Buddy Miller in charge of the proceedings, yielding wonderfully spooky results. Plant will bring this show to Raleigh in February. You'd be crazy to miss it.
(5) Titus Andronicus, "The Mointor" (XL) -- Screaming bloody murder also has much to recommend it, especially if one is obsessed with the Civil War and Bruce Springsteen in equal parts. Club-sized arena rock never had it so good.
(6) Kanye West, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" (Roc-A-Fella) -- You have to give the guy credit for boundless ambition, as befits an ego of West's magnitude, and danged if he doesn't pull it off. West still ain't quite as good as he thinks he is, but he's getting closer.
(7) Carolina Chocolate Drops, "Genuine Negro Jig" (Nonesuch) -- In which the best new old-time stringband in America (not just the Triangle) graduates from cool novelty to serious contender. The aforementioned Buddy Miller is tentatively set to produce their next album, which should be fantastic.
(8) Sharon Van Etten, "Epic" (Ba Da Bing) -- It's only 32 minutes long, barely album-length nowadays. Nevertheless, the cheekily titled "Epic" packs a year's worth of obsession, single-minded determination and emotion into its seven songs.
(9) The Love Language, "Libraries" (Merge) -- Brian Wilson has nothing on Stuart McLamb, main man of The Love Language. "Libraries" is a sonic pop cathedral, both beautiful and terrifying, haunted by McLamb's dead-of-night howl.
(10) Alejandro Escovedo, "Street Songs of Love" (Fantasy) -- Love lost, found, squandered and thrown away is the overriding theme to Escovedo's rippin' new album, a great followup to 2008's equally stellar "Real Animal." Long may he roar.