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Best albums of 2010, so far

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We are at the midpoint of the year and it’s time to look back at some of the top albums from the past six months.

The first half of 2010 had several impressive releases and the coming months should be just as exciting with new works by Arcade Fire, Big Boi from Outkast and the possibility of a new Radiohead album.

Looking back, here are a few standouts that will probably remain true to be on many “Best Of” lists by the end of the year.

Vampire Weekend: “Contra”

Vampire Weekend’s first self-titled installment in 2008 was seamless and lived up to much of the hoopla surrounding it because of its heavy-laced with gems that got heavy air play all knew before the album dropped.

On Contra, the group picked up where they left off and didn’t steer too far from their constant-Afro-pop rhythms backed up against front man Ezra Koenig’s stinging falsetto.

Opening with “Horchata,” the lyrics “In December drinking horchata/ I’d look psychotic in a balaclava” resonate through a rumble beat with an uplifting tone. Keeping up with trends, the group did their share of flirting with electronic sounds in “California English” and “Giving up the Gun.”

With tracks like “Holiday” and “Cousins,” they make it an agreeable listen from start to finish.

Beach House: “Teen Dream”

The third album and first Sub Pop release by this Maryland duo will take you on a dreamy ride to enchantment.

This one blends pop melodies and borders on a shoegazing feel on tracks like “Walk in the Park” and “Zebra.”

Drive-By Truckers: “The Big To-Do”

No other band has come along in the past several years as important to the South and its culture than the Drive-By Truckers.

Their words of misfortune and hard-luck situations combined with an art of storytelling by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley place them somewhere along the Southern chain of command with sweet tea and Sunday NASCAR racing.

After releasing their most solid effort, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark along with a rarities album and live DVD within the past couple of years, they are back with The Big To- Do.

These similar themes return in this work with Shonna Tucker’s vocals in the droning “You Got Another” and the retelling of homicidal rage by Tennessee preacher’s wife, Mary Winkler, in “The Wig He Made Her Wear.”

Carolina Chocolate Drops: “Genuine Negro Jig”

On its Nonesuch Records debut, Carolina Chocolate Drops will take you back a century with their banjo-driven string music.

This is definitely a feel good record as one can tell with the cover of the R&B cut “Hit ‘Em Up Style” by Blu Cantrell.

Crazy Heart Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

It’s not too often you will find a soundtrack on a list of this type, but Crazy Heart features some of the best country music that’s been out in awhile.

With production help by T. Bone Burnett, actor Jeff Bridges not only plays his role well, but also fits right in with some top-notch cuts like “I Don’t Know” and “Fallin’ & Flyin’.”

Coinciding with the film, the gem is Ryan Bingham’s “The Weary Kind” – a stripped down song about resilience and comeback with a reflection of hitting rock bottom.

Jimi Hendrix: “Valleys of Neptune”

There is truth in the notion that good music can stand the test of time.

Given most of these recordings took place in 1969, opening a new album of Jimi Hendrix material more than 40 years later felt like a vintage act.

On this effort, Hendrix threw in some extra juice on classic tracks “Stone Free,” “Red House” and “Fire.”

High points in this album include the unreleased title track “Valleys of Neptune” and “Ships Passing Through the Night.”

Hendrix takes time to lay down some blues-based spatial tones on “Hear My Train A Comin’” which tends to create some great rising action early in the track selection and covers Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” along with bluesman Elmore James’ “Bleeding Heart.”

The Black Keys: “Brothers”

On their second installment with producer Danger Mouse, The Black Keys followed up to “Attack and Release” quite well.

Recorded in Muscle Shoals, this one has the sweaty blues-rock sound of old but explores more room than their early work and with a little more soul.

From the opening upbeat track of “Everlasting Light,” this one shines all the way to the closer “These Days.”

Band of Horses: “Infinite Arms”

Possibly one of the most anticipated albums in 2010, Band of Horses maintain their earthy sound and can be rocking and subtle from track to track.

Ben Bridwell’s stream of consciousness writing style is evident while lead vocals are passed on to Tyler Ramsey in the sorrowful “Evening Kitchen” and Ryan Monroe in “Older.”

My Most Enjoyable Awards:

Favorite 2 for 1 Benefit Download: Eddie Vedder’s “My City of Ruins” and Ben Harper’s “My Father’s House”

Favorite “Best of”: Pavement’s “Quarantine the Past”

Favorite Down and Out Album: Eels’ “End Times”

Favorite Surprise Album: Jakob Dylan’s “Women And Country”

Favorite Local Albums: Glossary’s “Feral Fire”; Courtney Jaye’s “The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye”

Favorite Album to Go to Sleep To: Sam Quinn & Japan Ten’s “The Fake That Sunk a Thousand Ships”

Favorite Album to Get Down and Dance To: Galactic’s “Ya-Ka-May”
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