Dec. 29 2010 10:44 AM

The economy might've sucked, but music flourished in 2010

Gonjasufi made my top 10 list--did he make yours?

Widespread unemployment and deep budget cuts made 2010 a crummy year for money matters, but local music couldn’t have been better. Of all the excellent stuff that came across my desk this year, these are the releases I kept returning to. One, two, three years from now, I expect that they’ll be just as fresh.

10. King of the Beach, Wavves (Fat Possum): Wavves’ third record is a far cry from the scrappy stuff of 2008 and 2009, but this unlikely brand of pop-punk is still weird, bold and a million times better than blink-182. Top track: “Post Acid” Defining verse: “To take on the world would be something”

9. HH, Heavy Hawaii (Art Fag): Touching on all the hottest music trends of 2010 without being insufferably trendy, Heavy Hawaii frontman Matt Barajas combines lo-fi production, a sunny Beach Boys vibe and youthful ennui to make some of the most warped, haunting psych-pop I’ve heard all year. Top track: “Teen Angel” Defining verse: “Got this teenage problem, how old am I?”

8. Cali-Foreigner, Jimmy Powers (2012 Dynasty): Jimmy Powers’ debut full-length is excellent from front to back: The beats are solid, the hooks beefy, the rhymes technically proficient and full of attitude. Definitely consider quitting your day job, Jimmy. Top track: “True Currency (feat. Blame One)” Defining verse: “May 21st, ’01, new coast, no funds, no friends, snow coat”

7. Have You Met My Friend?, New Mexico (self-released): Striking an ideal balance between sophisticated songcraft and ass-kicking riffage, this 32-minute debut really gets my blood flowing. Expect big things from this SEO-unfriendly trio (formerly known as Apes of Wrath) in 2011. Top track: “Case Closed” Defining verse: “Knocked up by a pistol-whip”

6. Drone Machines, Author & Punisher (Heart & Crossbone): Demonstrating that you don’t need a guitar to play doom metal, Author & Punisher mastermind Tristan Shone uses precision-built machines on his third album to create clank-and-roar hell-noise that could not only scare the shit out of Ozzy Osbourne, but actually make him shit his pants if played loud enough. Top track: “Burrow Below” Defining verse: “I can see the salted path into the stagnant water”

5. Make Believe, Gayle Skidmore (Raincoat): In a show of serious ingenuity, singer-songwriter Gayle Skidmore played 10 instruments on Make Believe, self-released it on her own label and drew a coloring book to go with it. But it’s Skidmore’s heartfelt songwriting and agonizingly vulnerable lyricism that makes her first full-length truly special. Top track: “Hollow” Defining verse: “Don’t breathe a word, you’ll break me”

4. Endurance, Blame One (Polish Pub): With the inclusion of locals like Johaz from Deep Rooted, the elder statesman of San Diego hip-hop spotlights a younger generation of rappers on his fifth full-length. But Endurance also harks back to old-school craftsmanship with funky breakbeats and sage rhymes, which helps make it a classic. Top track: “Right to Exist” Defining verse: “Still doin’ me, can’t you see?”

3. Landmines & Chandeliers, Jamuel Saxon (self-released): In a show of production wizardry, Jamuel Saxon brain Keith Milgaten weaves seemingly unrelated elements into spellbinding electro-pop on his second full-length. Boards of Canada crosses paths with T-Pain, dub echo ripples over dance beats, catchy hooks hinge on distressing lyrics. I want to dance and geek out at the same time. Top track: “Mandatory Miscommunication” Defining verse: “I exist because of blood, sweat and tears”

2. Animal Feelings, Rafter (Asthmatic Kitty): Rafter’s previous efforts were experimental ADD outings, but his fourth LP plunges into pop territory with meticulous arrangements, funky percussion, sing-along hooks and even some Stevie Wonder-style talk box. The timing was perfect: While countless artists spent 2010 wallowing in pitiful nostalgia, Rafter delivered a big middle finger to the recession grind with a tribute to basic human instincts (love, sex) that no bank could take away. Top track: “No Fucking Around” Defining verse: “No fucking around”

1. A Sufi and a Killer, Gonjasufi (Warp): This isn’t actually a local release (in the same way albums by Wavves, Dum Dum Girls and The Soft Pack technically aren’t, since they live in L.A. or rep L.A.), but I wish it were. If there’s anything that gets me upset about great musicians leaving our fair city, it’s this mesmerizing collaboration between former San Diego residents Gonjasufi and The Gaslamp Killer. Albums like this don’t come out too often: With Gonjasufi’s one-of-a-kind voice (“timeless, incredible filth,” as Flying Lotus so aptly described it) and The Gaslamp Killer’s incongruously seamless vinyl mash-ups (psych-rock meets eastern vibes meets God-knows-what), this record is simultaneously one of the weirdest and one of the most natural things I’ve ever heard. Top track: “Change” Defining verse: “I wish I was a sheep; instead I’m a lion”