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The best (and worst) albums of 2010

OW’s music critics pick the best from a banner year in sound

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The worst:

Michael Jackson: Michael – There seems to be no end to the embarrassment the Jackson estate will drag the King of Pop’s memory through. Admittedly, this collection of late-period castoffs from the singer, namely his last decade spent grasping for relevancy and settling for inner-circle guest-house wannabe producers, is a self-inflicted wound. But what was once only head-shakingly bad in “the lost demos” has been imbued with import and canonization with Michael, a distasteful toggle between self-deification (“Hold My Hand” and “Best of Joy”), self-pity (“Breaking News”) and Jackson’s ugly side – that ever-present, Jehovah’s Witness-based slut-shaming that reared its head fascinatingly on “Billie Jean” and now pathetically on “Hollywood Tonight.” The sole bright spot: album closer “Much Too Soon,” a folksy Thriller outtake.

Bao Le-Huu

The best:

Surfer Blood: Astrocoast We know we rule, but 2010 was finally the Year of Florida when it comes to the national indie stage. And these West Palm Beach boys kicked it off might-ily with this meteoric and utterly current album. Undeniably the Sunshine State’s brightest beam this year, the consistently forceful Astrocoast has already proven itself one of our most worthy and far-reaching indie rock exports of all time. And on its wings, the Florida gold rush is now on.

Suuns: Zeroes QC This one flew under the radar, but the electro threaded drone rock of this new Quebecois band is seriously dope. Mysterious and sexy, its forward thinking, on-downers steeze is a narcotic sound that has nothing to do with impenetrable echoes and haze. Their sonic spaces are drawn with vivid definition, but they swerve with dizzying elasticity. Since Autolux couldn’t fill its own shoes in moody, penetrating rock music this year with their highly anticipated but completely underwhelming follow-up, Suuns does so with maximum confidence.

Johnny Cash: American VI: Ain’t No Grave I came this close to including Roky Erickson’s resurrection album with Okkervil River (True Love Cast Out All Evil) because it’s another inspired and inspiring confab between legendary artist and caring producer, but I went with this one because, ultimately, it’s the more historical. Listening to a true American great musically etch his own headstone with such unflinching rawness is as harrowing as it is tender. This shit will break your heart.

The Black Keys: Brothers I’m a diehard fan of the greasy, ass-owning thump of their early material. Their 2004 breakout, Rubber Factory, moved away from that to widen their garage-blues vista, but it wasn’t until this brilliant album that they finally arrived at a beautifully rounded sound that effectively transcends their two-piece dynamic. Some of Brothers’ strongest moments don’t even rely on the Keys’ hallmark ruggedness. It’s a 
defining work by these modern American masters.

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