This was a year of ear worms, with the best music continuing to return to me in catchy, beautifully crafted tunes. Looking over my list of favorite albums from 2010, I love that it included veterans with decades behind them and groups that are just emerging.
1. The Roots, How I Got Over: Taking a gig as the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon could have been seen as a sign The Roots were done as a creative entity in their own right. But How I Got Over showed the band to be far from over. The relevant and engrossing album is perfectly tuned to uncertain times.
There's even a little Kentucky flavor with The Roots' take on Dear God by the Monsters of Folk, the side project of My Morning Jacket's Jim James. Far from diluting the talents of The Roots, TV seems to have focused and diversified the band's talents.
2. OK Go, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky: There was a lot of chatter about this being a Prince sound-alike album, and hits like White Knuckles — my favorite song of 2010 — sure help make that case.
But there is so much going on in this album, from the churchy soul of Skyscrapers to the psychological nudity of Last Leaf. Repeated listens reaffirm that OK Go can go anywhere, and more and more, it does.
If you haven't picked up this album, get the Extra Nice Edition with loads of remixes and other cool stuff.
3. Sleigh Bells, Treats: For a duo, Alexis Krauss and Derek E. Miller make a lot of noise. What's really striking with this 3-year-old band is how beautifully crafted its noise is and how many colors are in it, from percussion that sounds like it's being hurled down a staircase to Krauss's Kewpie doll vocals. Treats was this year's biggest shot of adrenaline.
4. Apocalyptica, 7th Symphony: How can you resist a band Tenacious D calls "classically trained to rock your (expletive) socks off?" What really sold me on this Finnish band I discovered through St. Louis photographer Todd Owyoung's Ishootshows.com was that it brings a symphonic sensibility to its bone-crushing brand of rock.
And the strings you hear aren't players for hire. They're the three Sibelius Academy graduates who front the band: Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen and Perttu Kivilaakso.
5. Vampire Weekend, Contra: The Ivy League crew followed up its head-turning 2008 debut with a tidy 37-minute album of catchy, clever, globally influenced tunes.
Released in the deep freeze of last winter, it includes songs like Cousins and Horchata that kept returning to my ears throughout the year, proving not all vampires suck.