This list took forever – for which I’m sorry.
I knew some of the sure fire candidates that were going to be on here – but had to think back to some of the others that had come out this year that I enjoyed. My rather slack blogging activity probably didn’t help matters, and this year I’m determined to review albums within days of their issue (JapanFiles’s sudden licensing split with UFW blew my usual trend of reviewing Morning Musume’s newest album before I had gotten my physical copy, and I never found a leak in time.) My marriage plus the holidays on top of that… you get the picture. And I wasn’t going to pull a stunt like I did in 2007 and do the entries in small installments either, at first, but since I’d rather move forward, this methodology will have to do this time around.
One caveat: the new albums from Morning Musume (Fantasy Juuichi) and Ayumi Hamasaki (Love Songs) that were just released this month are not going to be considered for this list for one simple reason: They’re too new. They’ll be eligible for the 2011 list as I’m sure I’ll be playing them a lot over the next twelve months. And with regard to Mike Watt’s hyphenated-man album, even though it came out in Japan in October, I’m holding off on both counting it for this list and reviewing it until the domestic release happens this spring.
So, here goes nothing…
10. ERODE AND DISAPPEAR – Scythian Lamb (self-released 12” EP/CD package; visit www.erodeanddisappear.com) This duo is actually 2/3 of the Philadelphia trio Northern Liberties, singer/percussionist Justin Duerr and bassist Kevin Riley, and the band/project’s name comes from NL’s first full length album of the same name. With NL’s drummer (and Justin’s brother) Mark having to semi-curtail his participation in the group in the wake of becoming a father, Justin and Kevin chose to occupy the idle time by continuing to make music solidly in the NL tradition, this time with Justin taking over the drum kit as well as singing. A long time in coming since the project started, Scythian Lamb makes for a more than adequate continuation/tideover of the NL sound until the trio’s next release (set for later this year).
9. GIRLS GENERATION – Hoot (SM Entertainment) – The unstoppable Korean nonet seems best taken in EP-length doses (Their second album Oh! and its companion “deluxe reissue” RunDevilRun seem to be very slow growers as far as listener appeal, despite many stellar tracks), and in the 007-vibed title track the group has its strongest song since “Genie”. How soon will SM fully target the US with these ladies, now that they’re making inways into Japan?
8. DEVO – Something for Everyone (Warner Bros.) – A fine comeback from the influential quintet. Sadly, Warners dropped the ball after their initial support for the group’s comeback, failing to release the uncharacteristic ballad “No Place Like Home” as a follow-up single as well as failing to continue their remastered back catalog program (Oh! No It’s Devo and Shout still await the deluxe treatment afforded the band’s first four albums).
7. RICK ROSS – Teflon Don (Maybach Music/Def Jam) – Although materialistic rap in general may be fading (witness the relative sales and critical failure of Lloyd Banks’ “comeback” album after making such a strong impression saleswise with his first post-Interscope single “Beamer Benz and Bentley”), Ross has a strong, booming voice and an unlimited supply of clever punchlines going for him, and when he has stellar production behind him (see: first single “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)”, “Maybach Music III” with its live orchestral[!] backing), the songs work. When of his guest vocalists can hold their own next to the big man (see: Cee-Lo Brown on “Tears of Joy”, Jay-Z and John Legend on “Free Mason”, Drake on “Astin Martin Music”, Kanye West – who also produced – on “Live Fast Die Young”), it’s icing on the cake. When the production isn’t all there or the guest features are just lame (Gucci Mane’s terrible vocals bring down “MC Hammer” drastically), it weakens the album – but fortunately those moments are rare.
6. BUONO! – We Are Buono! (Pony Canyon) – Still unstoppable even after three albums. Does one even have to be reminded why? Now if only Miyabi, Airi and Momoko would actually pick up instruments…
5. SCANDAL – Temptation Box (Epic/Sony) – And speaking of unstoppable, the Osaka Four’s second full-length outing finds our heroines progressing nicely without losing the edge that brought them to the dance in the first place. (The companion cover versions EP R-Girls Rock!, issued a few months later, also helps ground the young ladies by reminding them of how they got to the dance in the first place.)
4. KODA KUMI – 8th AL Universe (Rhythm Zone/Avex) – Kuu-chin goes organic for the first half of the album, then goes back to her more urban/electronic side for the second half, and it all works.
3. AYUMI HAMASAKI – Rock n Roll Circus (Avex) – While not as entirely rock-influenced as the album title suggests, Ayu reached high, made up for the somewhat weak Next Level, and handed in one of her strongest albums in years (and kept going strong, what with the late-December release of yet another studio album, Love Songs).
2. NICKI MINAJ – Pink Friday (Young Money/Universal); KANYE WEST – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Rockafella/Def Jam) – Two artists, one a rookie and one a veteran, both with something to prove, and both succeeding both artistically and at the cash register. And both did it with high levels of creativity and without resorting to gangsteresque/materialistic bullshit. The fact that these albums outsold G-Unit flunkie Lloyd Banks’ would-be “comeback” album several times over – apiece – says, along with Nicki’s labelmate Drake and mentor Lil’ Wayne – more good things about the direction of hip-hop rap than had been said at least a year or so before.
1. MORNING MUSUME – 10 My Me (Zetima) – MoMusu at their most experimental, closing out their “emo” period with finality and looking forward to the future – and this would be just part one of their current story. The December 2010 release of the equally strong (and less experimental) Fantasy Juuichi and the addition of the 9th Generation members are merely the beginning of another chapter. They’ll keep going and going and going, and music will be better for it.