Discussion: The Year In Music, 2010

The Year's Biggest Surprises, Best New Artists And More

collage of artists on the show i i
collage of artists on the show

Cee-Lo (upper left), Joanna Newsom (middle left), Buke and Gass (lower left), Jonsi (upper right), Regina Carter (lower right)

It's that time of year again: the end. For music lovers, that means obsessively re-examining every release you spent time with in 2010, and painstakingly ranking them. Of course, the gang at All Songs Considered is no exception. On this edition of the show, host Bob Boilen, producer Robin Hilton, NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson, and NPR Music contributor Carrie Brownstein share their favorites of the year. Hear our biggest surprises, best new artists, and more.

Be sure to vote for your favorite artists and albums of the year at the All Songs Considered blog. Voting is open until Dec. 13. We'll post the results the next day, on Dec. 14.

Also, if you haven't already seen it, be sure to check the 50 Favorite Albums selected by the NPR Music team and NPR stations. These are the artists and albums we enjoyed the most in 2010 — the ones that inspired us, surprised us and stayed with us more than any others.

As always, let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Year End Round Table Wrap-Up

Cover for Crazy For You

Best Coast

  • Album: Crazy For You
  • Song: The End

Favorite New Artist: "What I love about Best Coast and Bethany Cosentino is that she made an album that can't just be pulled apart into a couple of good songs…She has a personality. She has charisma. She can really sing…What she does is make pop songs, and writing pop songs seems effortless, which is, I think, one of the hardest things to do." --Carrie Brownstein

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  • "The End"
  • Album: Crazy For You
  • Artist: Best Coast
  • Label: Mexican Summer
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Songs For The Ravens

Sea of Bees

  • Album: Songs For The Ravens
  • Song: Gnomes

Favorite New Artist: "Sea of Bees is just one woman -- Julie Ann Bee or Julie Baenziger. I just love the sort of gritty, dark, ambient feel of this whole record. Her voice is lovely; it's really strong, but rough around the edges, and the album is strong melodically too. I think a lot of albums that strike tones like this tend to have mumbly, monotone melodies and singers, and she's not afraid to stretch it out." --Robin Hilton

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  • "Gnomes"
  • Album: Songs For The Ravens
  • Artist: Sea of Bees
  • Label: Crossbill
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for The Reluctant Graveyard

Jeremy Messersmith

  • Album: The Reluctant Graveyard
  • Song: Violet!

Favorite New Artist: "This is a wonderful, wonderful power pop record I kept coming back to again and again. It's by a guy from Minneapolis named Jeremy Messersmith. Basically he's self-released these three records as what he calls a 'life cycle trilogy.' This is the third record, and as you can imagine, this one's all about death. That said, there's this amazing '60s power pop sparkle to it." --Stephen Thompson

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  • "Violet!"
  • Album: The Reluctant Graveyard
  • Artist: Jeremy Messersmith
  • Label: Jeremy Messersmith
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for All Alone In An Empty House

Lost in the Trees

  • Album: All Alone In An Empty House
  • Song: A Room Where Your Paintings Hang

Favorite New Artist: "Lost in the Trees are sort of a folky, mini-orchestra from Chapel Hill. Ari Picker is the lead singer and the songwriter, and the songs come from a childhood that wasn't all that pleasant, to say the least. For him, they're a way to deal with the past. He started writing these songs at Berklee as a bedroom project; that was 2002/2003. These songs have just grown and grown, and each time I hear them, they get better." --Bob Boilen

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  • "A Room Where Your Paintings Hang"
  • Album: All Alone In An Empty House
  • Artist: Lost in the Trees
  • Label: Anti
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Treats

Sleigh Bells

  • Album: Treats
  • Song: A/B Machines

Album of the Year: "Every time one of the songs from this record pops up on my iPod, it just makes me want to punch someone in the face, but in the best possible way. I red line when I hear this album. Every time a song comes up it just blows me out of the water. It's got teeth. It's bold. It's fearless. It's totally new. It's just amazing. It just makes me feel so alive." --Robin Hilton

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  • "A/B Machines"
  • Album: Treats
  • Artist: Sleigh Bells
  • Label: Mom & Pop Music
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Riposte

Buke and Gass

  • Album: Riposte
  • Song: Your Face Left Before You

Album of the Year: "Buke and Gass are a duo from New York. They're good old friends -- a guy and a girl, both named Aron(e), and they make and play unique instruments. Buke is a shorthand for bass ukulele, and it's electrified with their own amps and their own speaker cabinets. And gass is a guitar-bass Frankenstein guitar that Aron made. It's a fantastic original sound." --Bob Boilen

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  • "Your Face Left Before You"
  • Album: Riposte
  • Artist: Buke and Gass
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West

  • Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  • Song: Gorgeous [Explicit]

Album of the Year: "It's as self-analytical and questioning as it is self-aggrandizing. It's as celebratory as it is damning. It's powerful, passionate -- it's very grandiose, but it has a specificity that makes it really poignant and personal. The whole album is fantastic and catchy, and feels like an instant classic. And it's really "West" -- showcasing all his strengths, as a rapper, not a singer on this one. He's a curator, and he's a hit-maker." --Carrie Brownstein

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Cover for Go

Jónsi

  • Album: Go
  • Song: Go Do

Album of the Year: "The whole record is this weird Icelandic gnome, empties out his entire toy box. As much as Sigur Rós is somewhat portentious and dark and swirling, and taking you on this journey of the mind -- this has a lot of that atmosphere, but it's also just this crazy, joy-filled romp. And it is such a loving, fun, sweet, record that I listened to allyear long and just love. And I'm not necessarily one that's given to fits of happiness, but this record made me so happy this year." --Stephen Thompson

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  • "Go Do"
  • Album: Go
  • Artist: Jónsi
  • Label: XL
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for The Age of Adz

Sufjan Stevens

  • Album: The Age of Adz
  • Song: Too Much

Biggest Surprise: "The guy hadn't put out a record of songs like this in five years, and he said he wasn't even sure if he wanted to make music anymore. Literally two weeks after that he comes out with one great album. And then a few weeks after that, another amazing album, The Age of Adz. It's this grand, incredibly huge sound. It's nowhere near as precious as anything he's ever done before, and it really threw me for a loop when I first listened to it. If he had just put out another little wispy, sentimental, soft voiced album, it probably wouldn't have resonated with me." --Robin Hilton

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  • "Too Much"
  • Album: The Age of Adz
  • Artist: Sufjan Stevens
  • Label: Asthmatic Kitty
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom

  • Album: Have One on Me
  • Song: Soft As Chalk

Biggest Surprise: "Part of my surprise with this album was how insanely long it was -- how I didn't mind or really notice. Also, there've been a few "best of" lists that came out, and I'm surprised that this hasn't been on them, because I think that she is unequalled. And I think that any year that a Joanna Newsom record comes out is a better year for music. It really elevates what it means to be an artist, a musician -- to be an album maker, to put yourself out there in a way that is boundless and mystifying." --Carrie Brownstein

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  • "Soft As Chalk"
  • Album: Have One on Me
  • Artist: Joanna Newsom
  • Label: Drag City
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Live At The 9:30 Club

The Tallest Man On Earth

  • Album: Live At The 9:30 Club
  • Song: A Lion's Heart

Biggest Surprise: "My biggest surprise was actually at a live concert. What surprised me so much about that show -- it was just him and an acoustic guitar to 1,000 people -- a Swedish singer that does folky kind of music -- and he had a wrapped attention of the audience for the entire time. I just fell in love with him more and more this year." --Bob Boilen

To download this concert for free, visit All Songs Considered's Tallest Man On Earth In Concert page.

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  • "A Lion's Heart"
  • Album: Live At The 9:30 Club
  • Artist: The Tallest Man On Earth
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Reverse Thread

Regina Carter

  • Album: Reverse Thread
  • Song: N'teri

Biggest Surprise: "This is an artist that I would never have heard in one million years if it weren't for the Tiny Desk Concerts. We had a jazz violinist come in named Regina Carter, and she brought with her an accordion player, and a kora player. They wove this incredibly hypnotic tapestry of sound. I was so taken with it. I really fell in love with it and the fact that she weaves together jazz with a lot of African sounds, while playing the violin." --Stephen Thompson

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  • "N'teri"
  • Album: Reverse Thread
  • Artist: Regina Carter
  • Label: E1 Music
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Twin-Hand Movement

Lower Dens

  • Album: Twin-Hand Movement
  • Song: I Get Nervous

Song of the Year: "When they came by for a Tiny Desk Concert it looked like they had made everything themselves out of cardboard and duct tape. It turns out that they know a guy that makes all the pedals for them, so that's how they get their sound. Every time I hear that song, it just elevates me. That song is the most perfectly balanced song. Everything is just placed just so. That drone they have just sits right there in the middle of the mix." --Robin Hilton

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  • "I Get Nervous"
  • Album: Twin-Hand Movement
  • Artist: Lower Dens
  • Label: Gnomonsong
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter

  • Album: So Runs the World Away
  • Song: Rattling Locks

Song of the Year: "Josh Ritter makes really good records. And this year, he made a really, really great record. This song just kills me. The words to this song, "Rattling Locks," and the way this song builds and builds -- you can listen to this song and listen to each player, each builds their own part to this perfect ending." --Bob Boilen

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  • "Rattling Locks"
  • Album: So Runs the World Away
  • Artist: Josh Ritter
  • Label: Pytheas
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for Epic

Sharon Van Etten

  • Album: Epic
  • Song: Love More

Song of the Year: "This particular song is the slowest song on this record she put out this year called Epic. Usually she writes about these very small moments, and the way these very small moments illuminate larger feelings. This particular record is actually about more of a mission statement. It's making a larger statement about the way that our struggles ultimately feed us and make us better for them. She's amazing." --Stephen Thompson

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  • "Love More"
  • Album: Epic
  • Artist: Sharon Van Etten
  • Label: Ba Da Bing
  • Released: 2010
 
Cover for The Lady Killer

Cee Lo Green

  • Album: The Lady Killer
  • Song: F--- You [Explicit]

LANGUAGE ADVISORY:  This song contains explicit language not suitable for all audiences.
Song of the Year: "Using swear words is tricky in songs. It can be gimmicky or shocking, and sometimes they begin to lose their effect. But the contrast between Cee Lo's soulful sound and voice, and the bite, and flippancy, and humor with which he delivers the phrase -- it just makes it timeless. I feel like this chorus could be added to the canon of great phrases in soul songs. This is a song I came back to over and over again once it came out. I love it. It's potent." --Carrie Brownstein

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  • "F--- You [Explicit]"
  • Album: The Lady Killer
  • Artist: Cee Lo Green
  • Label: Elektra/Asylum
  • Released: 2010
 

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