To be honest, I don’t really care about raindrops on roses. However, whiskey stones are the best non music related invention I’ve come across this year. This isn’t about whiskey, it’s about music. People have been dishing out their Top 10 Albums Of 2010 lists since the beginning of December. Personally I loathe that list. Too often do I find that it’s strictly based on what is popular, or gets most air time and not on album content or how it’s produced. It’s rare to find a list that has an unknown album on it. So I choose to give you my top discoveries from 2010. This list of fine folks have been hard at work for years. Looking for something new? Head into 2011 with the knowledge of these fine artists I’ve gone weak in the knees for.

10. Fake Four Inc. – A record label nestled in New Haven, CT that represents artists from all over North America. (Intially this list was going to be all artists, but Fake Four Inc. is the exception to my rule.) Fake Four Inc. starting following my twitter, and because I’m a good person, I followed back. I recently had time to devote to “getting to know” the label; I am a changed lady.  By far my favorite record label discovery this year. Covering an eclectic range of genres from indie to hip-hop to experimental, Fake Four Inc. is all about the music. Pushing the boundries of creativity these artists are making music outside the box and Fake Four Inc. is giving it to you. Wanna see the Fake Four Inc. artists in action? Check out Fake Four Fest on Feb. 24 at the Echoplex in L.A. Together with Hipsters Who Heart Hip-Hop the showcase is in celebration of Awol One and Factor‘s newest release, “The Landmark” and will feature 12 other artists. If you’re going, let me know. I’ve got a serious chick boner for what these artists are creating and what they are creating needs to be covered. If you’ve got a floor, or a futon to sleep on, I’ve got good karma to send your way.

9. Half-Handed Cloud – John Ringhofer is the trombonist for Sufjan Stevens and talented solo artist. Rignhofer has been putting out albums since 2001 with Asthmatic Kitty Records. With small orchestration arrangements, loops and banjo As Stowaways in Cabinets of Surf, We Live-Out in Our Members a Kind of Rebirth is a 25 track album with no song reaching 3 minuets. It’s a playful album that will jerk you around every 2 min 30 sec or so just to keep you on your toes.

8. The Radio Dept. – The Radio Dept. is nothing new, but we haven’t seen a full length album from them since 2006 with the release of Pet Grief.  Signed to Swedish Indie Pop label Labrador Records 2010 brought us Clinging to a  Scheme. This beautiful, dreamy album has produced a much needed lighter note for the band. Layered multi-instruments and heavy synthesizer,  this seemingly sounding underproduced washes over you like the warm pacific ocean.

7. Archie Powell & The Exports – On the heels of their EP Loose Change, these four Wisconsin transplants have made Chicago home in 2010. Soon after they released their debut album, Skip Work in the fall the DIY band took out on an east coast tour. Nodding to the likes of Elvis Costello and Paul Westerberg AP&E bring to rock to indie-pop/rock. Following the a/b/a/b/c structure AP&E keeps it classic, Happy Days style. You wont have an urge to tap your  foot to this foursome. You will have the urge to jump up and down, and bop your body to every single song. Voted as the best new band in the Chicago Red Eye, these young pups have the world as their oyster.

6. Witness – John Parr is Witness. This Philly transplant in Minneapolis released  The Everafter LP this year. This is the finale in a set of three EP’s from the past five years. Witness brings back the soothing sounding, jazzy groves of early 90′s Hip-Hop, similar to A Tribe Called Quest with equal stylings of De La Soul. Want more? We’ve got it. Among the mixes and his rhymes, Witness takes dialogue samples and edits them into various songs. These samples vary from 60′s vinyl to Princeton University radio station. Signed to Japanese label Rockwell Product Shop, but still unsigned in the U.S. He’s young and he has a lovely raw talent, we’re hoping to see more of Witness in 2011.

5. Fences –  Seattle’s Chris Mansfield may be covered in tattoos, sing about binge drinking and the general fuckery a 20 something gets into but don’t let that bad boy image fool you. Mansfield has studied jazz since the age of 16, which sent him to acclaimed Berklee School of Music. Once in college he dropped out, headed back to the East coast and started writing. Contacted by Sara Quinn (of Tegan and Sara) he spent time in Canada as she co-produced the album. Fences is a beautiful, mature and nostalgic album. With a close listen one can hear the strict theory training he has received, spun into beautiful melodic arrangements.

4. Now, Now – (Formerly Now, Now Every Children) Currently signed with No Sleep Records has put out their first release since 2008, the EP Neighbors. Produced and engineered entirely on their own in their basement, Neighbors. Members Cacie Dalager and Brad Hale got their start at writing songs after high school marching band practice in Blaine, MN. Now, Now is a young and mature indie-rock band with strong melodies, drums and powerful guitar chords and lyrics. The album is thought provoking and clever.

3. Das Racist – A hip-hop group that self  procalims they dabble in dadaism? The theatre graduate in me and hip-hop fanatic in me has a huge nerd boner over dadaist hip-hop anything. – You know because there are so many hip-hop artist creating dada-esque rhymes.  Himanshu Suri, Victor Vasquez and Ashok Kondabbolu have struck gold with their catchy dance music and witty humorous rhymes. If you listen carefully,  you can deconstruct the hiliarity and see that infact Das Racist has a serious side. First coming to internet fame in 2008 with “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” Das Racist took the attention of Dan Decan and several music festivals. Releasing two albums for free download, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man in 2010 Das Racist has no where to go but up.

2. Astronautalis – It was 2008, my first year working with SXSW when I heard of Andy Bothwell, the man behind Astronautalis. It wasn’t until 2010 when “Meet Me Here Later” from Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters synchronistically presented itself in my inbox. I was fortunate enough to interview Bothwell in two parts and review a show of his in MN in October. Talent, ambition, wit, and a fine love of whiskey keep Bothwell busy with his career. With three full length albums already out, a pay what you can mix tapeThe Four Fists, an album in the works with P.O.S. and many other collaborations in process- I’m not quite sure how Bothwell enjoys a fine whiskey or even a nap. Bothwell has come so far in his career and with the range of his talent he has will only go farther. I’m very excited to see what the future holds for him and his collaborators. Astronautalis is one of the most fascinating artists I’ve explored in depth this year.

1. Cars and Trains – Tom Filepp is Cars and Trains. Upon first listen one might expect at least one or three other bandmates. Nope. This solo multi-instrumentalist uses voice, glockenspiel, trumpet, and synthesizers just to name a few. Who knows,  perhaps his handsome cat may have at one point pawed a key, or jumped on a loop pedal to contribute to his owners brilliant melodies- I doubt it. The Roots, The Leaves, Filepps’s second album is as refreshing as the Portland air. Layering simple and complex textures with several instruments, Filepp forms a cohesive and beautiful sound. Cars and Trains is one band I’ve got to book a ticket to Portland to see live.  Filepp isn’t just an outstanding, creative musician. He also runs Circle Into Square a Portland, OR based record label, magazine and community- also a Fake Four Inc. partner label.

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