The Best Free Albums of 2010

Leor Galil
Photo by: Caroline Mort

Though it's a tough environment for musicians to try and make a living, some artists have built and broadened their audience because of their free tunes.

Perhaps everything is free in the age of downloading, but more and more artists are releasing music free of charge. Or, rather, free of the idea of initially charging for music. Though it's a tough environment for musicians to try and make a living, some artists -- such as Brooklyn hip-hop duo Das Racist -- have built and broadened their audience because of their free tunes.

With the growing presence of Bandcamp, which allows bands to upload and customize paying options for their music, the ability to share new, free music has never been easier. Which has also led to a certain glut of free music. Still, with so many free mixtapes, blog-sponsored compilations, and band-sponsored MediaFire download links, a handful of free albums have managed to stand out.

These may not be everyone's top picks, and there's always a good chance something no one's noticed this year will be a huge hit in 2011 -- Tyler, the Creator's free album from last year, Bastard, saw many reviews packed with praise just this year. Ultimately, these are the albums and collections of songs that stuck out and stuck with me in 2010.


Artist: Earl Sweatshirt

Album: EARL

Label: Odd Future


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US Release Date: 2010-03-31

UK Release Date: 2010-03-31

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List number: 10

Earl Sweatshirt

Of all the rappers in the Odd Future crew, a collective of L.A. teens who have captured the minds of many music critics and bloggers, Earl Sweatshirt has the most palatable and accessible tunes. Much of the conversation about the crew has been focused on morality: that being, how can we listen to kids who spit out misogynistic rhymes about rape and violence that seem tethered to reality due to the sparse and bleak instrumentation beneath their shocking prose? Yet, Sweatshirt stands out because he fully confronts the absurd nature of his rhymes and lyrics. Take the opening few lines to "Earl": "I'm a hot and bothered astronaut / Crashing while jacking off to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating applesauce." Sure, it sounds dark and depraved, but there’s a bit of humor in the bleak imagery that's quite compelling.

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Artist: It's a King Thing

Album: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Label: Self-released


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US Release Date: 2010

UK Release Date: 2010

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List number: 9

It's a King Thing
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Philadelphia-area indie-pop act It's a King Thing has quietly been churning out emo-flavored pop-rock akin to the Get Up Kids for years. Perhaps that's why their newest album, despite having one of the more annoying album titles around, sounds so well polished. The twelve tunes in Buffalo are the kind that could easily pack a big venue with folks looking for hook-filled, sweet-natured tunes. Perhaps giving an album away for free will help It’s a King Thing get there.

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Artist: Wale

Album: More About Nothing

Label: The Board Administration


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US Release Date: 2010-08-03

UK Release Date: 2010-08-03

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List number: 8

More About Nothing

Wale's major label debut, 2009's Attention Deficit, didn't quite light up the music world the same way his earlier collection of mixtapes did. But rather than sulk in defeat, Wale jumped back into the fold by returning to his breakout mixtape, the Seinfeld-inspired Mixtape About Nothing, with this year's More About Nothing. Perhaps the lukewarm reception Wale received for what was supposed to be his big mainstream hit was the kick in the pants he needed to churn out some more great material, though at 21 songs, More About Nothing is a tad sluggish. Fortunately, Wale's sheer passion and perseverance make More About Nothing an enjoyable listening experience.

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Artist: Caddywhompus

Album: Remainder

Label: Community Records


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US Release Date: 2010-05-11

UK Release Date: 2010-05-11

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List number: 7


New Orleans' Caddywhompus makes the kind of indie music that straddles the line between a perfect, complex mathematical equation and utter chaos. Though only a duo, the band is able to make lush blasts of noise that streamline diverse sounds that are trademarks of some top-tier names in indie such as No Age and Animal Collective. Sure, it may sound like a bit of a mess, and some points of Remainder certainly are turbulent: fortunately, the chaos on the album's eight tracks is the creatively induced kind that many musicians before Caddywhompus have tried, and failed, to create.

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Artist: BBU

Album: Fear of a Clear Channel Planet

Label: Ruby Hornet


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US Release Date: 2010-03-15

UK Release Date: 2010-03-15

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List number: 6

Fear of a Clear Channel Planet

BBU is the kind of hip-hop act that comes out guns blazing. "BB Who?", the first proper track on this year's Fear of Clear Channel Planet is an energized blast of fast-paced juke music that sees the Chicago trio passionately name-check everyone from OutKast to Bad Brains, Nina Simone to Gil Scott-Heron. The fact that the mixtape is a riff on Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet is intentional: BBU's sound owes a lot to P.E., and the mixtape features songs that juggle political sloganeering, unexpected and shocking blasts of noise, cultural demystification, and thrilling, danceable tunes. Clear Channel Planet isn't without a few bum notes, but when BBU is on, the result is electrifying.

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