Man, what a year that was.
I can't help but feel that for everything local musicians achieved in the past 12 months, it was merely gathering steam, gearing up to explode in the months and years ahead. As 2010 becomes 2011, there's no sign that area acts are slowing down, so hold on and immerse yourself in the best albums our supremely talented scene had to offer.
1 The Orbans, When We Were Wild
The Orbans' frayed, ramshackle style belies the band's attention to detail. The songs on this full-length debut sound like the result of late nights stained with PBR, of single-minded friends cobbling together tunes from scraps of inspiration. It's the best record any North Texas band has produced this year, and yet it feels less like careful calculation and more like an offhanded stroke of brilliance.
2 Sarah Jaffe, Suburban Nature
Suburban Nature is a masterpiece of emotional clarity and musical skill. The 24-year-old Lufkin native spins engaging tales of heartache that feel torn from the pages of some private diary. Nature is a fulfillment of Jaffe's long-simmering potential and, most impressively, just a glimpse of what she is capable of doing.
3 The Beaten Sea, self-titled
The Beaten Sea grabs hold from its opening track and sustains a haunting, rustic mood throughout. Adept at slow-burn bursts of up-tempo exuberance and studied, almost minimalist restraint, Sea ebbs and flows as though this quartet of newcomers has been making music together for decades. It's an unerring, astonishingly assured debut.
4 Roy Robertson, Wonderness
Let the name roll around your mouth: Roy Robertson. It's one you'll be hearing a lot more in the future. The Denton-based singer-songwriter filters folk music through a baroque sensibility to deliver pleasantly fractured ballads. Selecting a single standout from this spectacular debut is difficult, although Icing lingers like a sharp, frosty breeze.
5 lalagray, Devil's Nest
Singer-songwriter Ashley Myrick, who performs as lalagray, is part of the Dallas Family Band collective, which slowly seems to be developing a stranglehold on the local scene. Myrick is unswervingly confident on this dazzling debut; most musicians would kill to write a tune like the wonderfully ambling Bag of Bones, never mind the other nine equally astonishing compositions that follow.
6 The Burning Hotels, Novels
The Burning Hotels is one of Fort Worth's sharpest acts, on record or in concert. This iteration of the Hotels didn't survive to year's end (drummer Wyatt Adams parted ways, making the quartet a trio), but that doesn't diminish the punk-tinged precision of this full-length debut. The band's kinetic sound virtually reaches out of the speakers and takes hold.
7 Analog Rebellion, Ancient Electrons
Aledo's Daniel Hunter broke away from his PlayRadioPlay! moniker with this vibrant album; the record's overall style -- an appealing blend of pop, rock and digital flourishes anchored by Hunter's limber tenor -- feels similar to PlayRadioPlay! but stirs in some fascinating new ingredients.
8 Doug Burr, O Ye Devastator
Walking a tightrope between cautious optimism and intellectual dread, Burr's songs are utterly compelling, folk-tinged dispatches from an uncertain present. Devastator -- littered with mesmerizing tracks like A Black Wave Is Comin' and High Blood and Long Evening Dresses -- sneaks up on you in dazzling fashion.
9 Nicholas Altobelli, The Regulator
Dreary and monochromatic, Dallas singer-songwriter Nicholas Altobelli's vivid sonic vignettes burst to life here. These nine songs, musically and lyrically, are best suited to December's frigid depths. The deep chill is reflected in austere tunes like Wooden Floors and bleakly beautiful tracks such as Everything Dies.
10 Whiskey Folk Ramblers, And There Are Devils
Religion figures prominently into these 13 songs, as WFR takes a wry, almost Tom Waits-ian approach to the subject matter. It's an eerie balancing act between the absurd and the horrific.
Although North Texas saw a rash of canceled shows -- Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Sting and Lilith Fair all bailed on us in 2010 -- there was still a slew of memorable moments. Whether at home or away (Austin had a strong year, so far as music festivals go), live music was alive and kicking, reminding us that the art form's true power lies onstage.
1 Roger Waters (American Airlines Center, Nov. 21)
A remarkable piece of rock theater, Pink Floyd's opus The Wall has scarcely aged a day since the British prog-rock outfit premiered it 30 years ago -- even if the feelings that bore it have long since cooled and calcified. Waters' performance was, quite simply, an artistic triumph that doubled as a victory lap for one of rock's chief architects.
2 Robert Plant (Meyerson Symphony Center, July 23)
Plant's sojourn down America's back roads has done him a world of good. For one thing, it has allowed the rock 'n' roll lothario to reinvent himself as a sharp-eared curator of the vast American roots repertoire. By casting aside expectations for a Led Zeppelin reunion, Plant has paved the way for himself to grow as an artist rather than stagnate as a jukebox sellout.
3 Jay-Z (American Airlines Center, Feb. 23)
As Jay- Z tore through a nearly two-hour set at American Airlines Center, it was easy to see why he can't give up the game: At 40, he's still one of the sharpest tongues around, grinding it out like a kid in search of a record deal. Whether spitting classics or fresh smashes, the Brooklyn native breathed fire all night long.
4 Gorillaz (Verizon Theatre, Oct. 20)
Call it anarchy as an art form. In concert, as on record, Gorillaz -- the brainchild of ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett -- gleefully smashes together disparate moods, styles and sounds. It should not hold together, let alone win legions of fans, but Albarn and Hewlett have done precisely that.
5 Band of Horses (Central Presbyterian Church at SXSW, March 19)
It was the sort of performance you pray for at SXSW: indie rockers Band of Horses turned out an astonishing, thrilling set at the Central Presbyterian Church. Their anthemic choruses filled the entirety of that holy space. Stirring, soaring and -- plainly put -- the best showing of the festival.
6 Miranda Lambert (Billy Bob's Texas, Feb. 12)
Three years to the day after her last appearance at Fort Worth's legendary honky-tonk, the award-laden singer-songwriter from Lindale tore into the capacity crowd like the confident superstar that she has become. Lambert's set, which drew from her trio of superb records, even featured a cameo from her high-profile honey, Blake Shelton.
7 Big Freedia (Fun Fun Fun Fest, Nov. 6)
The N'awlins-based "queen of sissy bounce" delivered one of the most sincerely raucous sets that I saw in 2010. From start to finish, it was sheer chaos that put a big, stupid grin on my face. Freedia even invited several dozen audience members onto the cramped stage to shake their moneymakers.
8 Janelle Monae (Verizon Theatre, June 14)
When you release a debut as accomplished as The ArchAndroid, you'd best have the stage chops to back it up. And Monae certainly does -- on her first of two trips through North Texas in 2010, the wunderkind spent a breathless 30 minutes opening for local hero Erykah Badu and proving exactly why she is bound for a long, interesting career.
9 Raul Malo (Granada Theater, Oct. 1)
Sometimes, it really is as simple as a guy and a guitar. Oh, and a voice like Malo's -- that helps, too. He would sound amazing singing a Chinese takeout menu, but at the Granada, Malo had the capacity crowd fairly dancing in the aisles, when its members weren't busy brushing stray tears from their eyes.
10 Ray LaMontagne (Verizon Theatre, Nov. 11)
It's not often that the headliner feels like an afterthought. Such was the case as LaMontagne thoroughly commanded an electrified crowd before rock icon Levon Helm arrived onstage. Even though Helm was welcomed with a passionate cheer, LaMontagne took a lot of the room's energy with him when he said good night. An elemental tour de force.