At long last, it’s time to break down my favorite music releases of the year! This was a great music year all around with new albums from some of the best bands in the business. There were so many good albums that I’m breaking my list into two parts covering my favorite 50 albums! That’s right, 50. You’re getting your money’s worth this year! Today we look at 11-50 and my top ten will go live in a couple of days. Hope you enjoy!
11. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
The band that changed Natalie Portman’s life took their sweet time recording a record to capitalize on the hype generated by Garden State. The time was well spent as this record is definitely a worthy addition to their discography. The production is obviously more expensive, but their sound is still earnest yet carefree. James Mercer’s vocals have never sounded better.
Key Tracks: Sleeping Lessons, Phantom Limb, Sea Legs
Annie Clark’s debut album under the St. Vincent moniker is a stellar one. Her sound takes cues from her former tour buddies: Sufjan Stevens and The Polyphonic Spree. Her guitar work is very good and her lyrical turns of phrase are strikingly good for a first album. Plus, her album title makes me think of Arrested Development.
Key Tracks: Jesus Saves I Spend, Paris is Burning
Menomena’s inventive recording style yielded one of the finest indie-rock albums of the year. The stuttering rhythms and jerky horns add to the yelping vocals to produce a signature sound.
If I were making this list based only on cover art, this album would be number one. The cut away mural drawn by Blankets author Craig Thompson is sweet!
Key Tracks: Muscle’n Flo, Evil Bee
LCD SS mastermind James Murphy follows up his debut album of disco throwbacks with a more introspective… disc throwback album. The high hats and snares are still there, but pianos find their way into the mix as well. The real revelation is the serious tone of some of the lyrics. Murphy is a man examining his middle age and what that means for his career. This album gets better with each listen.
Key Tracks: All My Friends, North American Scum
Thanks to Steve Jobs and company, Leslie Feist enjoyed a breakout year with the hit single “1, 2, 3, 4”. But her talent goes way beyond that one track. This album finds her expanding on her sound with bigger ensembles on her choruses and more stage moxie. She even played SNL! There’s no stopping her now.
Key Tracks: 1234, My Moon My Man
MM takes on more step into mainstream acceptance with this album, the first with Smiths alum Johnny Marr as a member of the band. Marr’s influence can be heard throughout the album as the slick guitar riffs pile up. This album is probably the catchiest in the discography and was in my car rotation for weeks.
Key Tracks: Little Motel, Missed the Boat, Dashboard
Jimmy hasn’t exactly returned to the radioplay of The Middle, but they haven’t lost their talent either. This album finds JEW a little more mature and attempting to stretch their boundaries a little. The standards are all here: love songs, anthems and ballads. I’ll personally take the ballads any day. Also standard for JEW, a few throw away tracks. I really wish Jim Adkins would skip the “oh”s and write more lyrics instead.
Key Tracks: Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues, Dizzy, Here It Goes
No sophomore slump here as the band perfectly follows their debut with a record that surpasses it without rendering it obsolete. The sound is bigger and the lyrics are better. Their songs are even starting to pop up in commercials, a 00’s sign of indie success. They’re on their way up.
Key Tracks: Is There a Ghost, Window Blues
Wilco’s last two records were explorations in deconstruction. The alt-country sound was built and demolished as we listened and the results were lovely. With this record, Wilco takes another turn. This record is one of maturity and ease. The laid back sound reminds me of the 70’s folk revivalists. It’s the sound of a band that is playing for their own enjoyment, not trying to one up themselves. This time.
Key Tracks: What Light, Either Way, Impossible Germany
Webb continues to prove his worth as a solo artist. His forth album is another step in his evolution as he channels George Harrison’s guitar work. His point blank lyrics are still edgy enough to get people angry and/or excited. The political songs are perfectly balanced with spiritual and romantic tunes. By the end, you are sad it’s so short!
Key Tracks: A Savior on Capital Hill, I Want to Marry You All Over Again
Since I do have a full time job, let’s go to one liner reviews from here!
21. Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55
– Her voice is lovely and the keys are spooky.
22. Air – Pocket Symphony
– Love the band, but this release is nowhere near as good as Talkie Walkie.
23. Lavender Diamond – Imagine Our Love
– This one came out of nowhere. Fun folk music for everyone to enjoy.
24. Jens Lekman – Night Falls Over Kortedala
– Jens writes his best lyrics yet and the string and horn arragements are awesome.
25. Waterdeep/Don Chaffer – Heart Attack Time Machine/The Khrusty Brothers
– A proper Waterdeep album and a crazy side project in the same year?! Pinch me!
26. Blonde Redhead – 23
– Probably their best album yet. Should get them lots of new fans.
27. Bat for Lashes – Fur and Gold
– Another out of nowhere band. Dark and lovely. The music video for “What’s a Girl to Do?” is sweet!
28. The Clientele – God Save the Clientele
– This shoegaze/pop band has found its groove and it’s a good one.
29. Bright Eyes – Cassadaga
– Sadly,I’m not sure if it was even possible to record a worthy followup to Wide Awake/Digital Ash
30. Stars of the Lid – …and Their Refinement of the Decline
– Amazing double disc of ambient music.
31. Monarch – Lowly
– Brennan Strawn without the band loses something, but his voice still makes me jealous.
32. Interpol – Our Love to Admire
– The Joy Division comparisons won’t die, but the music is still great.
33. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
– Another case of trying to followup a masterpiece and coming oh-so-close.
34. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
35. Lovedrug – Everything Starts Where It Ends
– Great, great album with a sound all it’s own. American Swimming Lesson is incredible.
36. The Twilight Sad – Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
– The Scottish accents shine through and the shoegazing is perfect.
37. The National – Boxer
– Paste’s #1 is quite good, but not totally in my wheelhouse.
38. Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature
– Incredible finger picking and hushed vocals are perfect for evening walks.
39. The Besnard Lakes – …are The Dark Horse
– The Beach Boys sound has been adopted by many indie bands, but this is the best so far.
40. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
– Just not quite as good as Mysterious Production…
41. Low – Drums and Guns
– Listen to “Belarus” and you’ll begin to appreciate the growth of this band.
42. Bjork – Volta
– Could have been so much better. The marching beat is overdone.
43. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
– I’m not a fan of her other albums, but this one is a skin crawling masterpiece.
44. Bloc Party – A Weekend in the City
– On the upper edge of a soph. slump. Just not as catchy and fun as their debut.
45. Justice – [cross]
– “D.A.N.C.E.” could be the song of the year.
46. Battles – Mirrored
– Math Rock is alive and well in this crazy album. Just try to count these rhythms!
47. mum – Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy
– Iceland’s mum is back with a understated gem of an album.
48. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
– More Beach Boys worshipping on Pitchfork’s pick for #1. Could be a grower.
49. Deerhunter – Cryptograms
– Band with lots of issues creates a career defining album, but will their career last?
50. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
– Crazy, crazy band with a great album title. I’m never going to their show though, too much crossdressing and weird makeup.
Top ten later this week! I’m going to bed.