The Rural Alberta Advantage - Hometowns
Playful drums, earnest vocals more than a little reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, and youthful exuberance in every strum of the guitar could be a recipe for disaster but in this case it all works to make this one of the most fun and listenable records of the year.
The Antlers - Hospice
I’ve heard that this story of a hospice employee and his terminally ill patient is merely a device to describe an emotionally abusive relationship. They say it isn’t real. My emotions don’t care. I spent many nights alone in a darkened car with this record. Cathartic.
Noah and the Whale - The First Day of Spring
If there were going to be a break-up record on this list I thought for most of the year it would be filled by The Swell Season, who did churn out some great songs on a solid record, but this disc swooped in to take it’s place. Runs the gambit of emotional tumult, which I can only imagine, since my only break-up was 12-year-old style.
Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy
The deserving winner of Britain’s Mercury prize became the first rap/hip hop album I’ve really loved. Debelle eschews the egotism and chauvinism that so ubiquitous in hip-hop, instead sharing her hopes, her vulnerability, intimacy.
Alela Diane - To Be Still
Beautiful wist to be sung during those quiet pauses while the ship is anchored or the horses are hitched.
tUnE-yArDs - BiRd BrAiNs
Tom Waits and Kimya Dawson locked their baby in the basement and she made this raucous little lo-fi wonder.
Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
I’ve heard of speak-singing but I didn’t think it was possible to speak-croon until I heard this lovely batch of orchestrated folk, full of stories ambling through nature.
David Bazan - Curse Your Branches
Despite a few dull songs, the album, which is an intimate self-portrait of a recovering alcoholic who has lost his faith, is emotionally devastating. It's capped off with a most tender and heart-breaking finale in which Bazan tells of “long walks with my daughter/ who is lately full of questions about You.”
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Up from Below
If only they cut half the songs, this could have been in my top three. Still, as it stands, Up from Below boasts a handful of truly great songs, including my undisputed favorite of the year, "Home," which can’t not make me smile.
Rodrigo y Gabriela - 11:11
Not quite as good as their debut, these heavy-metallers-turned-flamenco-guitarists nevertheless don’t have a song on here that won’t get your feet stomping.
The XX - XX
How is it that music so simple can be so fresh. Turn off the lights and succumb to the sexy, sleepy malaise.
The Twilight Sad - Forget the Night Ahead
Wall-of-sound Guitars + Thick Scottish Vocals = Never Gets Old
Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
I can't imagine this playful logophile and adroit instrumentalist putting out an album that didn't make my top 15.
Iron and Wine - Around the Well
This double disc compilation of songs not found on any of his LPs may be the last hurrah for the kind of hushed, poetic lo-fi folk that made me fall in love with Sam Beam. Push yourself musically Sam, but please, please come back to your bread and butter some day! Features one of my favorite songs of the decade, "The Trapeze Swinger."
Dan Deacon - Bromst
This frenetic experimental-leaning electronic record from the man known for making tunes that sound like the Chipmunks on speed, is unexpectedly beautiful.
I'm still incredulous that pop as catchy as this doesn't have me gagging after 10 songs.