Some bloggers whinge and grouse (and gripe and whine) about year-end lists, calling them juvenile, obsessed with rank and order, and arbitrary. To these critics, a response in the classical argument form of tu quoque: you write music reviews, jackass. I, for one, find the year end lists an excellent source of new music, they help me to find the reviewers whose taste most clearly matches mine, and compiling my own gives me a chance to see the forest of the year’s musical offerings by closely examining the trees. I’m almost always surprised at how good a year it turned out to be. This year was no exception.
(Note: Eric at drawerb pointed out that Radiohead, my previous number 3, was officially last year. So, slide everyone up and add another excellent album to the list…)
10. Notwist– The Devil, You & Me
Neon Golden was so good that any following album by Notwist will be crippled by the comparison. Still, those head circling melodies are here and if there is a little less going on as far as song structure goes, sometimes simplicity is a good thing.
9. Marnie Stern–This is it and I am it and you are it and so is that and he is it and she is it and it is it and that is that.
Somewhat embarassingly Ms. Stern is the only woman on my list this year, but she so clearly outrocks anyone else on the list that she’s an excellent representative for the ladies. The innovative guitar work and the unrestrained vocals make this one of the year’s most energetic records. (The album’s title may be annoyingly long, but it more than answers the question by posed by The Strokes.)
8. Chad Van Gaalen–Soft Airplane
How can Chad Van Gaalen be Neil Young reincarnated when Neil is still alive? Nevermind. This Canadian’s third album sees him out of his small sophomore slump and expanding his songwriting horizons. Best one man band I know of.
7. Vampire Weekend–s/t
This makes private-school Robert, with a penchant for Peter Gabriel and Pennyloafers, very happy. It makes public-school Robert very suspicious, in no small part because it is catchy as as an STD in Thailand. Very difficult to dislodge from Car CD players.
6. Fleet Foxes–s/t
I get tires of My Morning Jacket’s Jams despite my love of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. (Jesus!) Fleet Foxes comes to the rescue with a debut that introduces us to one of the best vocalist’s going: Robin Pecknold. The Breugel cover of their album tells you something about their sound–let’s call it Feudal Folk and move on.
5. Mountain Goats–Heretic Pride
John Darnielle puts out his second best album–nothing will beat Tallahassee probably–but his second best is good enough to be one of the best of the year. Darnielle’s songs give us a peek through windows we would otherwise never approach, in part because the folks inside might be playing with pistols. Easily one of our best songwriters.
4. Devotchka–A Mad and Faithful Telling
Beirut and Calexico can put up their horns and balalaikas. Devotchka wins the international sound award. Take Roy Orbison, David Byrne, a Mariachi band and a polka band, put it all in a blender with a shot of vodka and you have Devotchka. Transliterator might be the best song of the year.
There’s definitely something Rapture-ous about these guys, but where The Rapture left the races and went off the tracks, Foals gets the checkered flag. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, with guitar and bass counterpoint. Pitchfork desperately needs to revisit their review on this one.
2. Bon Iver–For Emma, Forever Ago
The most beautiful album of the year introduces us to Justin Vernon, the year’s most exciting new songwriter. Sam Beam can relax–the gift doesn’t all rest on his shoulders now.
1. Deerhunter–Microcastles/Weird Era Cont.
An album in the top spot should be difficult to describe, and this one certainly fits that ticket. Deerhunter has thrown some elements of shoegaze in here, though without foregoing the crisp pop songs. There are drifting, semi-psychedelic melodies as well as bass-driven tunes of a Sonic Youthy color. This album just has everything. Even without Weird Era Cont., the accompanying disc of outtakes and add-ins which would probably merit a place on this list on its own, Microcastles is the most complete album of the year.