John M. Borack’s top 20 CDs of 2010

by John M. Borack

I figured it was high time I knock this list out, seeing as we’re now in February already. Here are my top 20 discs of 2010, with brief annotations for each. Some relative unknowns, some surprises, some no-brainer picks. Unlike many “best of” lists, I included compilations because….well, because it’s my list and I can do whatever the heck I please. So there. At any rate, here goes…

1. Various Artists – Sweet Relief II: Hearts On Fire
24 ridiculously catchy jangly power pop tracks from artists hailing from all over the world, and nothing even close to ordinary. Old faves such as The Gripweeds, DM3 and The Shambles sit comfortably alongside such new (to me) upstarts as The Temponauts, Paisley and Charlie, and The Junipers. Plus, the proceeds go to a great cause. Divine.

2. Graham Parker – Imaginary Television
Raise your hand if you never expected a grizzled vet such as G. Parker to come up with one of his finest, most melodic and typically acerbic efforts in 2010. Yeah, my hand’s up, too.

3. Various Artists – A Kool Kat Kristmas
Another honey of a power pop comp, this time with a holiday theme. But Maple Mars’ “Christmas Time in the City” and Parallax Project’s “All I Want for Christmas (is a Chance)” – to name but two of the stellar tunes here – will provide the proper power pop pleasure all year round.

4. Seth Swirsky – Watercolor Day
A simply beautiful soft pop tour-de-force from the talented Mr. Swirsky, ably aided and abetted by producer Rick Gallego and some of LA’s finest musicians.

5. Taylor Locke & The Roughs – Marathon
Where the guitarist from Rooney releases his second solo effort in less than a year and trumps his “real” band. “The Honor Roll” alone would be worth the price of admission, and “Badfinger” just slays me.

6. Hans Rotenberry & Brad Jones – Mountain Jack
A great release from Rotenberry (leader of power pop icons The Shazam) and ace producer/wayward pop guy Brad Jones (remember his 1995 semi-legendary disc Gilt Flake?). Sounds like some bizarrely melodic amalgamation of the Faces, the Beatles and alt-country/folk.

7. Farrah – Farrah
Ho hum, just another in a series of outstanding pure pop releases from this flying-under-the-radar UK act.

8. Gin Blossoms – No Chocolate Cake
Surprised? I know I was. But there’s simply no denying the hookiness of the songs.

9. Elvyn – The Decline
Ever wonder what Teenage Fanclub would sound like if they jammed with a couple of alt-country dudes? These Canadians have the answer. Wonderful songs.

10. Nushu – Hula
They sing like angels, rock like mad and write cool tunes. What’s not to love? Oh, and the bonus track KILLS.

11. Duncan Maitland – Lullabies For The 21st Century
England’s answer to Seth Swirsky, dipped in XTC. Or something like that. Quirky yet beautiful.

12. The Rubinoos – Automatic Toaster
Old power popppers never die, they just hook up with producer/drummer Robbie Rist and deal out aces such as the sublime “The Pony Express” and the surefire winner “Must Be a Word.”

13. Locksley – Be in Love
They rock, they shout, and “21st Century,” “Love You Too,” “Darling, It’s True” and (especially) “The Whip” are almost criminally infectious.

14. Three Hour Tour – Looking For Tomorrow
These veteran Illinois pop guys have never released a bad record, and they didn’t do it again. Sweet, thick jangle abounds.

15. Gavin Guss – Mercury Mine
Understated Emitt Rhodes-like piano-based pop from the Pacific Northwest.

16. The Young Veins – Take A Vacation
Hard to believe that the two head honchos used to ply their trade in Panic! at the Disco; this breezy, good-time, Beach Boysy record certainly belies that. “Cape Town” = pop perfection.

17. Paul Collins – King Of Power Pop!
Proving that pure power pop is alive and well, Collins releases his finest album in nearly 30 years.

18. Jon Lindsay – Escape From Plaza-Midwood
Low key and lovely, introspective and engaging, with just the right amount of modern touches. Love his voice, too.

19. Rooney – Eureka
A pristine-sounding release that may not rock as hard as their previous output, but is consistently enjoyable nonetheless.

20. Michael Pink – Michael Pink
Another of those stupidly talented pop guys who writes all the songs, plays every instrument and recorded the whole shebang “in various bedrooms across the upper Midwest.”

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