January 1, 2011

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2010

sound wave

And so, another year marches to a close — another fantastic, adventure-filled, technicolor year. It’s the time when all of us start kicking around our neatly-bulleted lists of bests and worsts. For me, the more I read these lists, the more I feel that I missed more albums and artists than I heard this year.

The stats are staggering: in 2002, about 33,000 albums were released. In 2006 that number was 75,000. Last year close to 100,000 albums were released, with only roughly 800 of those albums selling more than 5K. It’s tough out there — to be heard, and to feel as a listener that you have adequately given a shot to even a fraction of a representative sample of one year’s offerings. I always feel this keening bittersweet regret at the end of each year, as so much more music was released than any one human woman can possibly digest or invest in.

That being said, I had a fairly simple time picking what my personal favorite albums were for 2010, of the ones I heard. I absolutely loved what Carrie Brownstein wrote on her NPR blog about these year-end lists.

She muses: “So I’ll admit that I’m not quite certain how to sum up an entire year in music anymore; not when music has become so temporal, so specific and personal, as if we each have our own weather system and what we listen to is our individual forecast. I’ve written a lot about music bringing people together, fomenting community, and many albums still did act as bonfires in 2010 . . . but many of us are also walking around with a little lighter in hand, singing along to some small glow that’s stuck around long enough to make us feel excited to be alive.”

That is exactly, precisely what I feel. And really, what is any top ten list but an assessment of those songs, those artists, those albums that have hit us square in the solar plexus exactly where we are sitting?

These are the albums that lodged deep and sharp into my red heart and made this year richer, smarter, harder and easier, sharper, sparklier, and all the more brilliant. And some of them seriously made me dance.



(Nonesuch Records)

This is just one of the coolest albums released all year — maybe all decade. And I mean the kind of cool that is quintessential, untouchable, badass, just strutting down a sunny street with-your-own-theme-song type of cool. It blends their trademark swampy, bluesy, fuzzed-out guitars with crisp sharp beats that sliced right through that weight the first time I put this album in, on my roadtrip to Missouri. I think I listened to it on repeat through at least two (long, loooong) states and it was love at first listen from that point on.

Additionally – if there is a sicker breakdown all year than what happens here at 1:02, I don’t wanna know about it.

The Go Getter – The Black Keys


dan mangan

(Arts & Crafts)

This album from the Canadian side of the verdant Pacific Northwest was an unexpected discovery this year, recommended to me by a friend who helps arrange the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (another favorite thing of this year, but hey we’ll get to that). Dan Mangan has made a dense, thoroughly gorgeous album, heavy on the intelligent lyrics, his oaky-warm voice weaving in amongst a whole orchestra of instruments. This album is beautifully arranged and well-crafted, one you can swim deeply in during rainy days all winter long (although I discovered it in August and it sounded just as good in the sticky warmth).

Basket – Dan Mangan

(Amigo/Amiga Records)

Drew Grow and his band The Pastors’ Wives hail from Portland, making music that easily straddles and jumps across genres to create something marvelously rich and endlessly interesting. The sound production throughout feels like an old, warm, crackly album (tip: get it on white vinyl while you can) with something urgent to say. From those fuzzy, sexy, pleadingly plaintive blues jams like “Company” to the aggressive push-and-tug of the rowdy “Bootstraps” and the dulcet golden ’50s croon of songs like “Hook,” this album has pleased me completely. Every song is a favorite.

The opening “Bon Voyage Hymn” sets the tone for this album (if it has one) of a sort of rough-hewn, honest, rock gospel as Drew howls, “Sing a shelter over me / With a mighty chorus, slaves set free.” And by that I mean the oldest spirit of gospel, in community and a shared love of singing, with our heads thrown back and our feet stomping — but while the guitar squalls and the dirty drums crash. At the house show they played for me in November, it was like the best kind of church, a jaw-dropping explosion of goodness.

Company – Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives

N.B.: Drew also has a stunning new acoustic EP.



From the first evening back in early summer when I streamed this Seattle six-piece’s songs on my tinny computer speakers, I was reeled in hook line and sinker. The song sang about something that sounds like a hallelujah, the sheer delight of embracing with all of your heart and both your dancing shoes, and no band this year has given me more of that musical enjoyment – whether in a parking garage very late at night, or in the living room of an old house. Amidst the warmth, the uncanny wisdom, and undeniably catchy musical & rhythmic foundations of this band, there is magic. We will be hearing a good deal more from them in 2011, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Sounds Like Hallelujah – The Head and The Heart


(XL Recording)

This is, simply put, a kinetic album. Jónsi blends his native Icelandic language with forays into English, creating the dizzying effect of running fast through a dream forest, not exactly understanding what is being said and not needing to. He’s made an intricate, joyful album of grandeur that is uplifting and challenging without being overly twee or silly. It is a delicate balance to strike. The paint-spatter of colors on the album cover precisely depict what this explosive album sounds like – purple, yellow, deep red, shot through with sunlight.

This album was completely unlike anything else that I heard this year, and made me simultaneously smile widely and furrow my brow. It’s the most imaginative album I’ve heard all year, perfect at evoking things like riding the back of a jet-black dragon over canyons. Yes, and yes. Please.

Go Do – Jónsi

Addendum: I also just laughed very loudly for a good minute and a half after I just connected the mental dots to the possible inspiration for this album, or at least this song.



(Pytheas Records)

I’ve said before that I think Josh Ritter is one of the most important and talented songwriters of our generation; this album is a stellar example of why. Through these thirteen sprawling songs, Josh demonstrates to me again exactly why I love the way that he sees the world. When I interviewed him this summer, he said he admires those who “see what everybody else has seen, think what nobody else has thought.”

Josh pens incisive, piercing, widely-varying folk songs with the comfortable intelligence of one who is in no hurry, yet is passionate in pursuing his muse and getting his stories out into the world. Highlights here like “The Curse,” “Folk Bloodbath,” “Another New World,” and “Lantern” are jaw-dropping. Josh has a remarkable way of teasing out truths about the world (seen and unseen), and poking into the human conditions in my own heart with a greater acuity than most out there.

Lantern – Josh Ritter

That song also contains one of my favorite lyrics of this entire year: “So throw away those lamentations, we both know them all too well / If there’s a book of jubilations, we’ll have to write it for ourselves / So come and lie beside me darlin’ — let’s write it while we still got time.”


(Fat Possum)

From the first time I heard Lissie’s soulful, immensely evocative voice earlier this year on her song “Everywhere I Go,” I was riveted. Who was this slight, freckled blond gal with the echoes of an entire fifty-member church choir in her lungs? Originally from Rock Island, Illinois, Lissie has harnessed both the brilliance of the sunshine of her new California home on her debut album, as well as all the gnarls of her roots. Bluesy, confident melodies and goosebump-inducing howls are here in scads — this is a notably substantial first album from a woman to be reckoned with.

Record Collector – Lissie



(Attitude Records)

“We could start tonight, slide back the deadbolts…” Matt Pond suggests at the beginning of this autumnal album with rich hues that gave me endless listening pleasure this year. I was glad I took him up on the invite. I’d admired the work of the Brooklyn songwriter in spurts and starts over the past few years, but this is the first album of his that I have really immersed myself into his uniquely lovely, thrumming view of the world.

There is a sort of expansive, wide-eyed glow in this album that seems to invite transcendent things to happen. From the specks of silver he sings about in the evening sky and the illumination all around us, I love the way things look like an adventure when I am listening. “First hips, then knees, then feet – don’t think anymore,” he sings. Good idea, Matt.

Starting – Matt Pond PA


(4AD Records)

This is a decimating, gorgeous, elegant album, much like Boxer was but with additional hints of weirdness and unsettled edges that I like. I was ridiculously excited about this album (in a sort of masochistic way, since I know full well what The National are capable of), devouring every word I could read about it before it came out. The single best definition I heard came from Matt Berninger himself when he said they wanted it to sound “like loose wool and hot tar.” In that regard, they completely succeed – their music is dark, burning, sticking to your skin and all your insides.

This is an incredible album full of terse, razor-sharp observations on the worries that wait in the shadows for me and gnaw when they get a chance: I think the kids are in trouble… you’ll never believe the shitty thoughts I think… I was less than amazing… I tell you terrible things when you’re asleep. But I won’t lie when I say I found some of the strongest redemption of my year in this music as well, with the closing track “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” — singing along with lines “all the very best of us string ourselves up for love / man it’s all been forgiven, swans are a-swimmin…” The honesty of the darkness shot through with these glints is what keeps drawing me back to these guys, fiercely.

Conversation 16 – The National


(Dead Oceans)

Kristian Mattson slays me – there are no two ways about it. When he sings on this album, “I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone,” it is almost comical because nothing really seems further from the truth. Mattson’s songs have the kind of heft and intricacy that make me certain his music will be around for a very long time after him. His guitarwork is sparkling, impassioned, and inspired. The words he selects and the way he delivers them are pointed and deliberate. I can’t tell if his lyrics are so sharp in spite of the fact that English is not his first language, or because of it – as if perhaps he can see more clearly through our muddy sea of language to pick out the iridescent rocks from the river.

Also: it’s worth noting that his EP released this year was equally good – serious brilliant work.

King of Spain – The Tallest Man On Earth


cataldo - signal flareCATALDO – SIGNAL FLARE
(self-released, 2008)

I cannot stop listening to Eric Anderson, as evidenced by the fact that I have put him on just about every mix I made in 2010, and listen to this album most days lately on my walk to work. After a chance encounter with his music on a college radio show of a friend, I’ve been smitten by his earnest, unvarnished, incredibly catchy way of looking at the world that simultaneously makes me smile and breaks my heart. You know me. I like that.

He’s got a new album “Prison Boxing” coming out in 2011, according to Facebook. I plan to be substantially more on top of that one.

Signal Flare – Cataldo

Burning Stars – Mimicking Birds [link]
Tell ‘Em – Sleigh Bells [link]
Safe and Sound – Electric President [link]
Six O’Clock News (Kathleen Edwards cover) – Paul Jacobsen [link]
If A Song Could Get Me You – Marit Larsen [link]
Second Mind (live at the SF Independent) – Adam H. Stephens [link]
Fuck You – Cee Lo Green [link]
Carry Us Over – Kelli Schaefer [link]
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub [link]

Bringing Jeff Buckley’s music to a new life through Shakespeare [link]
Talking to my Italian musical hero on the Santa Monica Pier [link]

My forays into presenting house shows:
Drew Grow and The Pastors’ Wives with Kelli Schaefer (Nov 4, 2010)
The Head and The Heart (Nov 9, 2010)

Andy Clockwise at SXSW (March 2010)

Joe Pug house show (February 28, 2010)

Tallest Man On Earth (May 19, 2010)

Megafaun and their in-the-crowd rendition of “Worried Mind” (April 12, 2010)

Telluride Bluegrass Festival, holy mackerel.

This one.


I started 2010 with a Polar Bear Plunge and a vow that this year was gonna be ours, a year of intentionally acquiring adventures and memories that would make me smile when I was old and withered.

I think we did it, and these were the things that soundtracked it all.

[Sound Wave” sculpture at top by Jean Shin]


  • Fantastic selection as always, I went for The Head and The Heart as my top choice. I’d really appreciate you having a look at my list (http://listenwithdanger.blogspot.com/2010/12/albums-of-2010.html) and maybe a snoop around my blog and let me know what you think. At the risk of sycophancy I started a blog after being inspired by your own and want to thank you for introducing me to so much fantastic music this year. More of the same for 2011 please!x

    Tommy Danger — January 2, 2011 @ 5:04 am

  • Thanks for another fantastic year of sharing music with us, Heather! I’m looking forward to what you discover for me in 2011. Hopefully our paths will cross at a show again sometime. Happy New Year!

    Luke — January 2, 2011 @ 9:03 am

  • Lissie?? The EP was a masterpiece, the album was a trainwreck.

    Steve R. — January 2, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  • Great list. Personally, I would add Vampire Weekend’s “Contra” and Carla Morrison’s “Mientras Tú Dormías (I’m a Spanish teacher). Also, while I’m not a huge fan of rap, I have listened repeatedly to Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (clean version) and it really is as good as all the “Top 10″ lists proclaim it to be.

    I read a lot of music blogs but yours remains my favorite, hands down. Keep on rockin’!

    Anne V.

    Anne V. — January 2, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  • Those are some sobering statistics you cite. Judging by your samples this is a pretty mellow top ten.

    So much out there to hear, then you say how you got “endless listening pleasure” or “can’t stop listening” I am impressed you have the time, even if this is kind of a job/labor of love.

    I’m trying to get a friend to check out Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ (did ya hear their new CD?) show on February 11 and he is asking me about this Lissie person, who will be at the Bluebird January 17.

    Charles — January 2, 2011 @ 11:16 am

  • Thanks for a great list (although I’m suprised you couldn’t find room for either Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” or Gaslight Anthem’s “American Slang”). Nonetheless, some new music here for me to check out – thanks again

    Girodin — January 2, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mike beebe and Alasdair Lindop, Eversilences. Eversilences said: Fuel/Friends favorites of 2010: And so, another year marches to a close — another fantastic, adve… http://bit.ly/fdQeg4 (fuelfriends) [...]

    Tweets that mention Fuel/Friends favorites of 2010 | Fuel/Friends Music Blog -- Topsy.com — January 2, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  • Yay. Lissie, and The Head and the Heart.

    jay — January 2, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

  • Very nice list. I feel like I’ve been waiting for Matt Pond PA to put a record like ‘The Dark Leaves’ together for a really long time. It was totally worth the wait.

    About the only two I would add to the list are Horse Feathers’ ‘Thistled Spring’ and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheels’ ‘In Memory of Loss.’ However, like you said, music has become this personal experience, and while I enjoyed them and connected with them, there’s no reason to bicker with you about them not being on there. Especially when you have such solid taste in music.

    Adam — January 3, 2011 @ 7:09 am

  • Thanks for sharing with us this year. It has been a blast to follow you and see some great things. All the best in 2011.

    Jake — January 3, 2011 @ 10:17 am

  • I haven’t heard a note from 5 out of your 10 picks, I’m looking forward to putting them under the magnifying glass. I was beginning to grow worried as I scrolled further and further down, my eyes not finding High Violet and The Wild Hunt, I’ve a hard time taking any year-end list seriously that omits those undeniable masterpieces that have given me so much joy and emotional fulfillment over the course of these last few months. Furthermore, my top 10 list includes (in order, from 3 to 10): Beach House, Arcade Fire, Local Natives, Laura Veirs, Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, The New Pornographers and First Aid Kit. Anyone care to throw in a “hell yeah” in support of any of those albums? ;-)

    Christof — January 3, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  • Haha you’re right about the Black Keys song,..most excellent,….and conversation 16, i think that might be my favorite National song of all time.

    Happy new year!

    Josh — January 5, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

  • [...] Fuel/Friends Favorites of 2010 by Heather Browne [...]

    Rap Round Table, Week Ending 1/7/2011 — January 7, 2011 @ 4:39 am

  • I also really like safe and sound by electric president, but all this time I thought he was saying “when there’s no way out, I will come and marry you” but I just found out it’s actually “I will come and bury you.” Thoughts on this critical distinction?

    Mary — January 11, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

  • Superb list, unsurprisingly, and some interestiung choices in the comments too.
    My picks (www.tincanland.wordpress.com)were:
    Tom Petty – Mojo
    Dessa – A Badly Broken Code
    Joe Pug – Messenger
    Local Natives – Gorilla Manor
    RayWylie Hubbard – A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C)
    Joe Bonamassa – Black Rock
    Perfume Genius – Learning
    Tinie Tempah – Disc Overy
    Robert Randolph & the Family Band – We Walk This Road
    Jeff Beck – Emotion & Commotion
    Honorable mentions to the Crayonettes (a children’s album), Sharleen Spiteri (a movie songbook) and Thea Gilmore‘s Strange Communion (a late 2009 Christmas album).

    And 7 UNHERALDED SONGS: Thea Gilmore – How The Love Gets In (best song of the year!!); Damien Jurado – Rachel & Cali; Watson Twins – Midnight; Dylan Leblanc – If The Creek Don’t Rise; Mates of State – True Love Will Find You..; Barton Carroll – Do You Want To Get Out Of Here; Old Believers – Granny’s Song

    Thanks for all the time you put in Heather!

    tincanman2010 — January 17, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

  • [...] Fuel Friends Blog (Top 10 of 2010) “Dan Mangan has made a dense, thoroughly gorgeous album, heavy on the intelligent lyrics, his oaky-warm voice weaving in amongst a whole orchestra of instruments. This album is beautifully arranged and well-crafted, one you can swim deeply in during rainy days all winter long (although I discovered it in August and it sounded just as good in the sticky warmth).” [...]

    Dan Mangan – May 6th | Billsville House Concerts — April 25, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  • [...] Have Known In 2010,” and they made it onto several “Best of 2010” year end lists, including I Am Fuel, You Are Friends and, well, Tadpole Audio, to name a couple.  I’ve reviewed their live show twice, once for SXSW [...]

    tadpole audio » Blog Archive » RIYL Mixtape / The Head and The Heart :: There’s No Place Like Home? — November 8, 2011 @ 10:04 am

  • [...] 43. Cataldo – Signal Flare – blogged it- Listen to Signal Flare- Download the shit out of it (via Fuel Friends) [...]

    50 Listens legacy: the 250+ Listens/Best Songs I Heard This Year From People I’d Never Heard of Before | Jealous, Bitches? (continued) — March 24, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

Comments RSS

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →