(feat. track – My Favorite Highway – “I Cannot Speak”)

My #1 pick of the year will be along on Tuesday.  But first…

As with last year, there were a lot of releases this year that were memorable and worthwhile but, for one reason or another, didn’t make the cut.  Either I didn’t get to spend enough time with them; or I love them but only when in a certain mood; or else they were great, just not quite great enough to sneak into the Top Ten (it was a very solid list this year and there was not much room for sneaking to be had). Regardless, these are all albums that were worth my time in 2010.  In alphabetical order:

Amusement Parks On Fire – Road Eyes – Like Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine had a swirly, grindy nu-gaze baby.  It’s territory that’s been well-trod by Silversun Pickups in the last few years, but frankly, I like this better.  Beautifully expansive; expansively beautiful.

Alkaline Trio – This Addiction – Let me say up front that this is least favorite Alkaline Trio CD of the last decade, and I really wavered on whether this even belonged on this list.  Ultimately, though, bad Alkaline Trio is still better than most other bands’ best work, and a couple tracks here (“Dead On The Floor” and “Fine” in particular) are truly fantastic.

Anarbor – The Words You Don’t Swallow – I’m not quite sure how Anarbor got lumped in as a “scene” band – their friends and their label, i suppose – but The Words You Don’t Swallow is a killer alt-rock album, full of unusual chordings, inventive melodies and surging drum patterns that somehow all fall into place.  Though this is their debut album, they’ve been playing together since 2003, and it’s really evident in their playing.  The energy fades a little on the back end, the only thing keeping this album from my Top 10.

Artist Vs. Poet – Favorite Fix – Lightweight pop-rock (heavy on the pop) that doesn’t skimp on the hooks.  Favorite Fix doesn’t break new ground, but it does what it does damned well, and sometimes that’s all you need.  One of my favorite good-time records of the year.

Breathe Electric – Lovestruck EP – This was, by and large, the year electropop died, but thank god nobody told Grant Harris.  Funky, fun, with massive singalong choruses, Lovestruck is chock full of great club bangers.  Six of the best dancefloor jams of the year.

Cee-Lo Green – The Ladykiller – Even excepting “Fuck You” (easily the catchiest song of 2010), The Ladykiller stands up to the finest of Cee-Lo’s solo and Gnarls Barkley work.  “Satisfied” (which for some reason sounds to me like a response to Prince’s “Never Take The Place Of Your Man”) and “I Want You” are a one-two punch of classic soul jams nonpareil.

The Graduate – Only Every Time – A remarkably consistent, well-crafted and catchy straightforward rock album with a slick, spacey vibe that often recalls bands like Acceptance and Anberlin at their best.  I find it astonishing that these guys haven’t really broken out in a big way; someone must not be doing their job (well, or at all), because songs like “Siren” and “Pull Me In” sell themselves.

Guster – Easy Wonderful – I’ve been a Guster fan since the mid-90s Goldfly days, and it’s been the case that, with every CD they release, I go from initial disappointment to being completely in love with it over about six months.  Easy Wonderful I loved from the first listen.  Frankly, that makes me nervous – does that mean there’s less to reveal itself over time, or am I just being silly?  All I can say is that, right now, it’s another classic Guster album.

He Is We – My Forever – The debut album from Tacoma, WA folk-pop duo He Is We fulfils all the promise of their demos; compact, bright melodies that positively flutter, ebullient hooks, and an endearing sweetness throughout.  This is the world through rose-colored glasses, and it sure is pretty.

Jimmie Deeghan – Pretty Miserable EP – Jimmie plays guitar in Every Avenue, but this EP, with its mix of easy Americana and dark, shambolic pop, couldn’t be further from his day job in sound or attitude, though it’s right up there when it comes to memorable melodies. A true diamond in the rough.

Jimmy Eat World – Invented – While Invented doesn’t reach the heights of Jimmy Eat World’s holy trinity ( Clarity / Bleed American / Futures), it has some great moments.  “Coffee & Cigarettes” seems to have divided the band’s fanbase more than song they have released – count me in the “love it” camp. And it’s great to finally hear Tom Linton sing on record again.

Ke$ha – Animal / Cannibal EP – If you don’t know Ke$ha’s music, you’ve been living under a rock.  I don’t need to write about this.

Minus The Bear – OMNI – I don’t know what’s come over Minus The Bear; there’s nothing major they’ve changed about their sound, but suddenly they’ve gone from angular paranoia to straight-up sexy.  OMNI is slinky and seductive and groovy, and that mood works for them just as nicely.

My Chemical Romance – Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys – MCR buried these songs inside a weak post-apocalyptic narrative, but look beyond the futurist trappings and there’s a great retro rock-n-roll album underneath.  “Party Poison” slays like the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” on hyperdrive, “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W” floats shades of “Black Hole Sun” Soundgarden, “The Kids From Yesterday” finds New Order’s “Temptation” in it’s dreamy “ooh”s, and they’re all bookended by two thrashy garage classics, “Na Na Na” and “Vampire Money.”

David Cook (iamdavidcook / Timepiece / My Favorite Highway) – All Is Fair In Love And War EP, “Bastille” single (Timepiece); “The Pleasure Of Your Company,” “I Cannot Speak” (MFH singles) – My Favorite Highway went their separate ways at the end of this year, but on their way out they left behind two of my absolute favorite singles of the year. “The Pleasure Of Your Company” is a rumpshaker on par with the best of Maroon 5’s catalog; “I Cannot Speak” is a jaw-droppingly strong profession of love worthy of its name (and my #1 favorite song of the year).  Meanwhile, head-MFH David Cook released a gorgeous solo EP and an additional single, both in the singer-songwriter vein, first under the iamdavidcook name, then again as Timepiece.  Regardless of genre or name, it’s becoming abundantly clear that anything Cook touches turns to gold.

The Secret Handshake – Night And Day – Forget anything you might have known about The Secret Handshake.  On Night And Day, Luis Dubuc reinvents himself as a classic soul-funk Motown-style act, complete with horn section and a chorus of girls giving their best “ooh-ooh-ooh”.  It’s a bold move, one that ultimately alienated his fanbase and basically killed the band, but it made for one hell of a fun CD while it lasted.

Sleigh Bells – Treats – One of the rare “blog bands” that truly lived up to the hype.  With the amp turned to 12 and the boom box volume to max (with Bass Boost on!), Treats sounds like nothing so much as the explosive joycrackles of a rupturing supernova star.  Not only the most unique, groundbreaking album of 2010, but a giddy listen.

Tom DeGrazia  (The Best Week Ever / That’s Outrageous!) – “Suitcases,” “Unforgettable,” “You Don’t Wanna Know” (TBWE singles); “RE: Why I Killed My Girlfriend,” “Head Shot At The Ballet Recital” (TO! singles) – Tom DeGrazia is the man behind two projects that each released multiple excellent singles this year. One , The Best Week Ever, is a spunky female-fronted pop act; the other, That’s Outrageous!, chug-a-chug synthy hardcore. What do they have in common? An incredible sense of melody and hooks fat enough to nab a tuna. Sadly, The Best Week Ever are no more, but I’m looking forward to whatever Tom does in 2011, both with That’s Outrageous! and elsewhere.

Valencia – Dancing With A Ghost – A huge leap forward from their pop punk roots, with their strongest songwriting to date, split between surprisingly subtle grooves that recall Jimmy Eat World in their darker moments and more upbeat rockers. A great solid, unflashy rock album.

The Wonder Years – The Upsides – Loud fast and heartfelt pop-punk from another of easycore/new wave of pop punk’s torchbearers. A little too one-note to crack my Top Ten, but a worthy album and one that’s got me excited for the future.