#1 V.V. Brown's Travelling Like the Light (Capitol/EMI)
It's hard to be a black pop singer, thankfully her debut Travelling Like the Light makes her case well. With a voice that smooths out the feel-good "Shark in the Water," is quirky on "Quick Fix," and balmy with "Bottles," Brown never hesitates in artistically stating what pop music can still do.
#2 Scissor Sisters' Night Work (Polydor)
The Scissor Sisters are nothing if persistent. Following behind 2006's Ta-Dah!, Night Work arrived like a heady rush. The laser thump-a-thump on the title track is instantly hypnotic, making short work of resisting the charm of Night Work. There is even space for pretty, anthem-driven pop in "Fire with Fire" and "Skin Tight." The unrepentant party record of the year is a must listen.
#3. Macy Gray's The Sellout (Concord)
Gray has surpassed several of her neo-soul counterparts, who shall remain nameless for the sake of comment box controversy. The Sellout, Gray's fifth opus, saw her return to her songwriting after a stylish detour on BIG (2007). Gray still has plenty to rhapsodize about and whether it's heartbreak ("Let You Win"), global group hugs ("Beauty in the World"), or her own psyche ("Help Me") she reigns it in with the best experimental sounds in contemporary R&B.
#4. Katie Melua's The House (Dramatico)
Katie Melua's The House is her moment to step forward into a larger creative space. While most of England (and Europe) know her prior pastel toned pop, teaming with William Orbit only strengthened her strengths and dropped in surprises. Murder ballads rub elbows with world music pop, but her torch material still remains epic.
#5. Adriana Evans' Walking with the Night (Expansion)
While most will know Ms. Evans as the cool voice behind the theme of LOGO's black gay drama Noah's Arc, Adriana Evans fifth long player Walking with the Night demands wider exposure. An alluring splish splash of hip-hop, bossa nova, and jazz are for the unlocking for the uninitiated or the Evans head in the know.
#6. Robyn's Body Talk (Cherry Tree/Konichiwa/Interscope)
An ambitious project proceeded by two EP's before the final product landed this month, Swede popper Robyn slays any doubters with her fifth album Body Talk. Equal amounts of brashness ("Fembot") and sweaty house chops ("None of Dem"), Robyn does it all.
#7. Erykah Badu's New Amerykah: Return of the Ankh (Universal Motown)
The first part of the New Amerykah series, 4th World War (2008), leaned on the external, political themes. On the second chapter, Badu looks inward and rocks her inner soul glow. A summery smorgasbord of R&B with that kooky Badu flavor makes this album her the most accessible since Baduism (1997) or World Wide Underground (2004).
#8. Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite (Parlophone)
Yes, we can feel her in our stereos and Minogue's Aphrodite is an effective taste of European pop. There are plenty of clubbers that will be filling floors but the "quieter" cuts such as "Illusion" and "Closer" will bewitch too. "Better Than Today" almost steals the show with its exuberance, one of her best since "2 Hearts."
#9. Kelis' Fleshtone (will.i.am music group/Interscope)
R&B artists are only allowed a certain degree of experimental freedom, as long as it doesn't veer too far from the code of rhythm and blues ethics. In a daring maneuver, Kelis threw herself headfirst in the electronic arena on Fleshtone. Far from an easy ride, Fleshtone requires the listener to take a journey through a kinetic garden of diverse, jarring sounds.
#10. Seal's Seal 6: Commitment (Warner Brothers)
Seal stumbled on 2008's Soul, his first standards set, and a blundered opportunity to put his mark on that time honored tradition. Then again, after creating five masterpieces prior to Soul, one can forgive him. He regains his footing and presents his best vocal work on Seal 6: Commitment. The backdrops are soul-pop heartthrobs with a nod toward the honey and clover of "Best of Me."
Runner-Up Records of 2010: Second Movement
#1. Toni Braxton's Pulse (Atlantic)
Braxton has been in the business of crafting expert R&B records since 1992. Her sixth long player Pulse is no exception. Balancing between tasteful contemporary spins ("Lookin' At Me") and classic soul ("No Way"), Pulse is crafted to Braxton's velvet voice.
#2. KT Tunstall's Tiger Suit (Virgin)
Since her debut Eye to the Telescope (2004/2005), Tunstall has added different genres to her folkloric presence. Tiger Suit borrows from a few electronic whizzers and whirrers, as heard on "Glamour Puss." Rejuvenating versus radical, Suit excites with tribalism on "Uummannaq Song" and chills on the tear inducing "Lost."
#3. Chrisette Michele's Let Freedom Reign (Def Jam)
Let Freedom Reign, La Michele's junior effort, is spangled, modern R&B. Expanding on her past step into a more commercial air with Epiphany (2009), Reign's confidence ("I'm a Star") is buoyed by sincere pleas and confessions ("I Know Nothing").
#4. Corinne Bailey Rae's The Sea (EMI)
With Rae's sophomore outing The Sea, Rae took her husband's untimely death and used it constructively. An aural spread of vintage soul, Rae's flower print vocal rends on "I'd Do It All Again." There is room for healing and celebration in the new romance of "Paris Nights/New York Mornings."
#5. Sade's Soldier of Love (Epic)
Bleak in contrast to the warmer Lovers' Rock (2000), Soldier of Love is a work of art in its own right. Sade and Co. prove that they can still lay on the grooves that translate the dusty voiced approach of their lead singer beautifully.
#6. Goldfrapp's HeadFirst (Mute)
Marking their 10th year in recording, Will Gregory (a modern day Dave Stewart) works synthesizers to Alison Goldfrapp's glacial sing song voice. Refusing to be pigeonholed Goldfrapp have placed themselves in the keyboard fault lines from Van Halen's '84 power rocker "Jump" with a few Euro kicks.
#7. Shakira's Sale El Sol (Epic)
Last year, Shakira almost had the gold on her sixth record She Wolf. The title track along with "Men in This Town" and "Gypsy" ranked as Shakira's best work. Sale El Sol, her first Spanish project since Fijación Oral Volumes 1 & 2 (2005), courts the energy of the mentioned trio of She-Wolf cuts over an entire record.
#8. Hanson's Shout It Out (3CG)
Damn it all if Hanson hasn't been behind some of the most creatively fertile albums since people wrote them off after 2000's This Time Around. Hanson makes like the Jackson 5 heading to Epic Records in the mid-'70's and puts down funk-lite, horn kissed music that is all played, sung, and performed earnestly.
#9. Hot Chip's One Life Stand (EMI)
Obtuse British dance acts aren't necessarily rare. Hot Chip claim to fame is a special ingredient they infuse to their oddly appealing electro: Alexis Taylor. The lead vocalist of the outfit, Taylor's clipped, cool, and unorthodox calm elevates One Life Stand.
#10. Jamiroquai's Rock Dust Light Star (Universal)
The title brings to mind a funkier brilliance than given here. Not that what is on this long player is lacking, it reworks the same '70's R&B passions Jamiroquai have been known for since 1993. "Blue Skies" sweeps and tempo ascendancy is heard on "She's a Fast Persuader."
[Editor's Note: A thank you to Andrew Bird for his amazing art and Darren Spence for coming through in a tight spot. Much love to you both.-QH]