This time of year every literate chump with access to the internet posts a Best Of... list. It's overdone but I love it. I discover a lot of great films, music and miscellany from critics and enthusiasts who do a wonderful job of enumerating worthwhile cultural offerings.
I should just leave it to them, but since I've got you here I just can't resist giving MY opinion and pretending you care.
So, without further ado, 8 albums from this year that I can confidently predict I will still be listening to in a couple years:
Beirut - The Flying Club Cup
On his second full length, Zach Condon, has added a full band and a French twist to his previous Balkan appropriations. The result is a glorious but accessible melange that, despite its exotic influences, won't be banished to the obscurity of the World music rack.
The National - Boxer
Growing up in North America I've grown weary of the suffocating ubiquity of guitars-bass-drums-male singer. So The National had a strong prejudice to overcome, but overcome they did. It's not my favorite disc of the year but it's definitely the one I'd recommend to the most people.
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
Pop? Jazz? Folk? Bird writes smart lyrics and vaguely familiar, but un-pigeonhole-able music. Occasionally, the literate and witty prose lends the music a little too much emotional detachment but, quibbles aside, I'm never disappointed when I give this album a spin.
The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters
With a squall of guitars thicker than the lead singer's Scottish accent, it's a wonder The Twilight Sad are able to retain so much nuance, wistfulness and even tenderness. Proof that loud music can have a heart.
Eddie Vedder - Into the Wild Soundtrack
I'm not a huge fan of Pearl Jam but I'm a sucker for Vedder's voice, which works perfectly here in these mostly quiet, acoustic numbers accompanied by mandolin, banjo, or acoustic guitar. This solo effort is, in my opinion, Vedder's best work. It worked really well with the movie (which is also great, by the way) but it also stands alone very nicely.
Amiina - Kurr
These ladies from Iceland play saws and other unusual instruments to weave the kind of spacious, ethereal songs that have come to define the Icelandic aural soundscape. But, while the similarities are definitely there, this is not the same otherworld of their compatriots and tour mates Sigur Ros. Rather than conjuring images of weightless astral ballets, these songs are more like lullabies from the alien homeland of a mother's womb.
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
This collective emerged out of Montreal a few years ago to rescue indie rock from cynical irony and mandatory naval gazing. They take on big issues with a big sound and the gusto of U2 or Bruce Springsteen (though they don't sound like either of those). This is their second disc and it's almost as good as the first. If you like rock and you haven't heard, check them out!
Radiohead - In Rainbows
This album deserves mention not only for the band's cavalier and visionary marketing of it but also because it's just a really good album. I like Radiohead, but the excessive hype and their musical experimentalism usual keep them from heavy rotation in my CD player. So, since they gave me the choice, I only paid a couple bucks for In Rainbows. I feel a little guilty now though because I think I've already listened to this one more than any other Radiohead album.