10. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul
I remember seeing posters all around town in Austin at SXSW in March and being very intrigued by the premise of this project (David Lynch working with Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous with a roster of vocalists including Nina Persson, Julian Casablancas, the Flaming Lips, Suzanne Vega and Iggy Pop), so i was very disappointed when the record label basically shelved this project [though the book of Lynch’s photos is still being sold, cleverly packaged with a blank CD]. The production is top-notch, layered and more upbeat than you might expect from a Lynch project. you can still hear the whole album on NPR’s site.
9. Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Such a leap forward from her debut, both the production and songwriting are so rich and intricate. I did think it had one of the worst album covers of the year (the deluxe edition cover is a huge improvement).
8. The Gossip – Music for Men
So slick and rock steady, defiant but ultimately just a knockout of a dance record. “Four Letter Word” was one of my top 10 favorite songs of the year.
7. PJ Harvey & John Parish – A Woman A Man Walked By
There was a great quote I read from Uncut’s review that said “Parish and Harvey sound confidently experimental, like two soldiers daring each other to ever more stupendous feats of bravery” – I think it’s truly incredible how PJ continues to find new ways to use her voice as an instrument and, especially on this album, uses it to conjure up a whole cast of characters, ranging from creaky and ancient (“April”), to child-like (“16, 15, 14”), to straight-up maniacal.
6. the xx – xx
I wouldn’t usually associate words like “hushed” and “subtle” with pop, but this album manages to combine great pop melodies with impressively restrained production. One of the things i love most about this album is that it sounds like it could have been released anytime during the last 30 years.
5. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
I think David Fricke hit the nail on the head when he called this album “a triumph of determined simplicity by a band that has been running from the obvious for most of this decade” – it reminds me of A.M. and Being There and it’s refreshing to hear these guys a little more stripped down, rocking out like the amazing live band they are. my favorites are”One Wing,” “I’ll Fight” “Wilco (The Song),” and “Deeper Down.”
4. Florence & the Machine – Lungs
The first two songs I heard from Florence were “Blinding” and “Between Too Lungs” and i was floored. I do think the album could be more focused stylistically, but it makes sense that a roaring debut would cause a bit of a frenzy.
3. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I didn’t give this album enough attention until the last couple months of this year, but i’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve heard this album described as almost giddy, and I’d have to agree. It’s a solid record, really textured and so refreshingly upbeat, it’s hard to resist wanting to make it my soundtrack anytime I’m out walking around the city.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
I think the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are officially my favorite band making music today; so much style, so much substance, so much swagger. I love that they continue to push themselves into new territories of sound, and that they can rattle a dancefloor with Karen O commanding “off with your head! dance til you’re dead!” one minute, then do a sweeping, heartfelt ballad like “Hysteric” or “Little Shadow” the next.
1. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
This album has definitely become a new classic for me over the course of this year. Ican’t say enough good things about it without resorting to tornado metaphors, from her soaring vocals to how she can spin one genius lyric like ”yes there are things that i’m still so afraid of but my courage is roaring like the sound of the sun/because it’s vain about its mane and it will reveal them to no one”) after another (“can’t give up acting tough, it’s all that i’m made of/can’t scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that i need love.”).
Technical disqualification: Beach House – Teen Dream – I would have this album at #2 had it been officially released this year. I was swept away by “Zebra” on my very first listen, and the rest of the album follows suit.
Honorable mentions: White Rabbits’ It’s Frightening and Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More were two records I listened to quite a bit. And I enjoyed and respect what might seem like glaring omissions from Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent and Dirty Projectors but I just never connected with them on the same level as the albums that edged them out of the top 10. I will also say Tori Amos’ Abnormally Attracted to Sin was much better than I expected, but I can’t get past her refusal to edit for the sake of cohesiveness or quality control. But it’s still nice to know she’s got songs like “Lady in Blue” and “Fast Horse” up her sleeve. Passion Pit’s Manners had some great tracks but the album as a whole didn’t stick with me.