Another year almost over, another top ten list to create. So, without any more ado, let's get right to it...
10. Andrew Bird-Armchair Apocrypha. I've had this album for over a year, and it took practically the entire time for me to warm to it. I don't think it was until I heard his Daytrotter Sessions that I finally started to peel away at what Andrew Bird is doing on this record. Ultimately, there's a lot to like here once you accept that this record is simply far calmer and more meditative than his last one. I should have assumed as much, considering how long it took me to come around to Weather Systems, too.
9. Okkervil River-The Stage Names. I have a feeling that Will Sheff's voice is one of the love-it-or-hate-it types. Normally I go out of my way to avoid this kind of emotive singing, but his passionate, over-the-top singing voice just works for me. For some reason, I buy his emotion. Although he can intermittently be too much to handle, songs like "Unless It Kicks" have a great, Springsteen-esque bombast.
8. Ted Leo-Living With the Living. Might not have been this high or even made the list until I saw him at the McCarren Park Pool this summer. He's like the Sean Casey of the music world (for those of you that are baseball fans) in that he's just so likable and genuine that any of the stuff he does that might annoy me (e.g. the guitar solos that are, to be honest, only occasionally "anthemic") I just brush aside as an inoffensive quirk.
7. Arthur & Yu-In Camera. An unexpected surprise for me this year. If you're looking for a band that best captures the essence of the 3rd Velvet Underground record, this would be the one to check out. "1000 Words," in particular, is a haunting and beautiful song.
6. Wilco-Sky Blue Sky. The record merits inclusion if only for "You Are My Face," which has my single favorite guitar moment of the year at the 1:32 mark. Otherwise, the album has a great mellow, pleasant vibe that is the perfect recipe for 3 AM at a party, and who can have enough of those?
5. Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. My favorite Spoon record since Girls Can Tell and probably their best record, top to bottom. Although "Cherry Bomb" and "The Underdog" are the standout tracks on this record, this is the first time I've thought of one of their albums as something more than "singles and a bunch of filler." "Finer Feelings" is a particularly excellent song buried near the end of the record.
At this point, there needs to be some sort of gap, because while the records that came before I really enjoyed to varying degrees, these final four were, pretty clearly, my favorite records of the year:
4. Animal Collective-Strawberry Jam. Although I know that I use the expression "one-two punch" more that anyone really should, "For Reverend Green" and "Fireworks" really do constitute my favorite back to back moments on any record this year. It wasn't until I had the record for a month that I could even get past those songs on focus on the additional standout tracks like "Derek" (I insist the brass sound near the end of this song is meant to sound like a college marching band) and "Cuckoo Cuckoo." Although I've given up on convincing people of how good this band is, it should be noted that this record is their 3rd in a row that could truly fall into the category of "accessible pop music." That being said, if you don't think "For Reverend Green" is a phenomenal song basically from the moment you hear it, you're probably just never going to like them.
3. Radiohead-In Rainbows. The real unexpected surprise this year, for me and everyone else. After never being able to connect with "Hail to the Thief" I figured that Radiohead's taste and mine were forevermore heading in different directions. 2 months later I'm still shocked at both how good this record is and how foolish I was to write this band off. In Rainbows, definitely my favorite record of theirs since OK Computer, is full of incredible highs and lows, from the high-energy opening tracks "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers" to the more relaxed "House of Cards." In addition, musically and lyrically, "Reckoner" has to be one of Radiohead's top 5 songs of all time.
2. Jens Lekman-Night Falls Over Kortedala. With the bonus points I give Jens after seeing his solo show in Brooklyn this fall, this record could almost be "1B." Without even touching on the true standout tracks ("A Postcard to Nina," The Opposite of Hallelujah," "Your Arms Around Me"), what makes this record great is the way that this album seems to represent a synthesis of everything he does well. The typically great songwriting is less silly and more heartfult than his other records, while the music has a sustained 60's Doo-Wop/Motown vibe (with special props to The Tough Alliance for their help) that ties everything together extremely well. Finally, there's something trustworthy about his personality that helps to make every line he sings resonate more than it does with most other singers. When he sings lines like "I will never kiss anyone/That doesn't burn me like the sun," I believe him completely.
1. LCD-Sound of Silver. I can count on one hand the number of albums where I love EVERY SINGLE SONG, and this is one of them. I was trying to explain to someone a couple days ago just what makes this record so good, and it was hard for me to avoid explaining it in some sort of meta-musical sense. Basically, I feel that James Murphy has found a way to channel some of the greatest artists from the seventies and early 80s, in particular Brian Eno's early solo music and CAN, better than anyone else, no small feat considering how many artists mine this territory. And, what makes this especially incredible is his ability to sound completely fresh and distinct (and a lot of fun to listen to) while doing so. That being said, what really matters is that this record makes practically everyone that hears it happy! If you don't like the upbeat, especially easy-to-love songs "Time to Get Away" and "North American Scum," my tastes and yours are probably just never going to overlap. Anyway, what finally put this record over the top for me was all the unexpected heart found on this album. "Someone Great" is a poignant break-up song that works seamlessly with the music, while "All My Friends" perfectly captures the fear and sacrifices of getting older. This was my album of the year in January, and, incredibly, I still haven't heard anything in the last twelve months that can top it.
A few Honorable Mentions:
Vampire Weekend-Blue Cd-R. I really love practically every track on this record, but I need more time to decide if it's just a passing fancy.
Caribou-Andorra. "Melody Day" is my choice for the best opening track of the year.
Elliott Smith-New Moon. I suppose, technically, this is more of a reissue. Still, this was probably the strongest Elliott Smith release since X/O
Panda Bear-Person Pitch. I'm finally, way after everyone else, coming around to this record. The music was too dense for me the first couple times around, but I finally warmed up to the album through the charms of the song "Bros"
New Pornographers-Challengers. "Myriad Harbor" is a fantastic song, and helps to make up for what was kind of a disappointing release following their spectacular last album, Twin Cinema.
Feist-The Reminder. As my friend Brandon says, there's something very "NPR" (calm, respectable, daring you to dislike it) about her sound that turns people off when they first hear it. Still, there's a ton of heart in this record, and "1234" is a wonderful song, despite how sick you may be of it after the Apple commercial.
Black Kids-Wizard of Ah's. Promising EP, well-grounded in that '77-82 sound that, let's face it, most of us can't get enough of.
That's my list. Let me know if have any questions/comments, or if you want me to email you a song from any of these records...