Happy New Year! It's time for one last look back on the year in music. This was an odd year for me. I listened to close to two-hundred albums that came out this year, and though I liked a great many of those, there were few that felt truly amazing. However, I'm aware that often that kind of attachment to an album comes only after years of listening. That said, I still believe it was a great year in releases. Folk was definitely the big winner of the year, with most of the albums I loved falling into that category. On the other side, this was the worst year I can remember in terms of straight up rock records. Thankfully, there seems to be some on the horizon for next year...after all, rock and roll can never die.
Here is my list of the top 25 albums from this year. So enjoy, debate, or tell me I'm crazy for some omission or horrid inclusion...though I can't promise I'll hear it as my ears will already be filled with albums for next year.
1. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me: (folk): In a year where few albums felt legendary to me, this one did. A rare triple album that feels as though every song is necessary. Though on this album, my literature bias is surely a part of it. It's poetry set to music.
2. Evelyn Evelyn - Evelyn Evelyn: (dark cabaret) A concept/ story album about Siamese twin sisters who narrowly escape being murdered at birth to be raised in a chicken coop until they are sold into child prostitution, only then to become circus performers and ultimately Internet music sensations. A brilliant and twisted story with perfect musical accompaniment.
3. Karen Elson - The Ghost Who Walks: (folk) Jack White's wife delivers a fantastic Americana folk album. Her voice is beautiful, the songs are outstanding. This is a timeless album that I'm sure to enjoy for years to come. I only wish I'd been able to get the peach-scented vinyl before it become ludicrously expensive.
4. Portugal. The Man - American Ghetto: (indie psychedelic pop) Another gem from a band that had two albums on my list last year. This Alaskan band (now Portland) is easily one of the best bands of this just done decade with a consistently impressive and ever-evolving catalog of albums. Not to mention that this one gets my vote for the best album cover of the year.
5. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs: (Bruce Springsteen revival) I was shocked that I liked this as much as I do. The band's first album is probably one of my top ten or twenty of the 2000's but I found Neon Bible to be average at best and Eddy and Cruisers Season in Hell at it's worst. But this album is pretty brilliant, tapping into the emptiness felt by those of us who grew up in the sprawl of North American cities over the past twenty-years.
6. Wu Tang vs. The Beatles - Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers: (mash up) Combining the band that revolutionized the power pop and the band that revolutionized hip hop made both sound incredibly new. Absolutely brilliant in every way.
7. Menemona - Mines: (hipster trash): A late entry onto my list as I just got this for Christmas. It's an album I've been fiending for since it came out months and months ago and I'm sad I waited so long. Another band that has to rank up there with most impressive outputs in the 2000s, this album brings together all that they do best in a glorious indie psych rock album.
8. Midlake - The Courage of Others: (folk) in a year with a lot of albums like this, this one stood out for me. There is a Wordsworthian strain running through this album, making it sound like a manifesto of Romanticism principles instead of one of many other melancholy folk albums. A rich, full sound also helps it to rise above.
9. Holly Miranda - The Magician's Private Library: (singer/songwriter) Sounds to me like a female version of Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago". Holly's voice is the heart of this record around which the swirling electronic folk swirls. Simply beautiful and a close contender for best album cover of the year.
10. Manic Street Preachers - Postcards from a Young Man: (socialist mass communication) One of my favorite bands of all time, the lads from Cardiff return to the big sound of "Design for Life" in this album about how the ideals of our youth slowly fade away. This album was a grower for me. First few listens, I enjoyed it. Next few listens, I caught the thread of shattered idealism that runs through it and discovered how truly moving it can be. The Manic's strength has always been their ability to add so much meaning to songs that can also fill arenas. "Golden Platitudes" ranks as one of their best songs ever.
11. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: (transcending masterpiece) Only the semi-annoying John Legend track kept this from my top five, but this album hits on every level and shows what an artist pushed to the limit can do when given the space to create without concern. This is the most ambitious hip-hop record in year and years. As he says, he's going after whoever who has it, and he plain took them down.
12. Natural Snow Buildings - The Centauri Agent: (space drone folk) Known for their hours long drone folk masterpieces, the French duo returned this year with another 2+hour record and for the first time exploring the realm of space rock. A beautiful listen that certainly fits with some of their best work.
13. Sparrow and the Workshop: Crystals Fall: (indie folk rock) Glasgow trio creating one of the best Americana albums of the year. A fantastic sound that rises and falls within each song. This is one that I've been listening to a ton in the last month or so.
14. Moonface -Dreamland EP: (indie experimental) Bored genius Spencer Krug (of Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown and Frog Eyes) treated us with this 20 minute experimental track that works on the same level of his regular bands to produce a meaningful journey worth taking.
15. Lightspeed Champion - Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You: (indie pop) Expanding on his stellar debut, this album infuses blues guitar into his clever Beatles-esque power pop tunes of modern observations. Just a wonderful collection of songs.
16. Smoosh - Withershins: (teen sadness) Now in their late teens, the girls from Smoosh created a near masterpiece on their third album. As with their last album, this one captures an honest look at the kind of hopeful despair that can only come from the voice of youth. Beautiful.
17. Electric Wizard - Black Masses: (stoner metal) Heavy, heavy, heavy as usual, but with an acquired sense of melody, making this one the band's most complete releases to date.
18. Samantha Crain - You (Understood): (folk country) My favorite new discovery from last year returned with another great album. One of the best voices I've ever heard singing over simple acoustic indie folk guitar, Samantha Crain writes deeply moving songs that never fail to find their way into my heart.
19. A Silver Mt. Zion - Kollaps Tradixionales: (indie experimental) One of the first albums I heard from 2010, this one never strayed too far from my mind. A hard album to define, it crosses genres and ranges from soft to heavy. A very original album.
20. Angus & Julia Stone - Down the Way: (indie folk pop) The duo from Down Under released another impressive album this year. The two voices blend beautifully on this album, singing sad songs that stood-out in a year when there were many albums trying to accomplish the same thing.
21. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger - (Acoustic Sessions): (indie folk) Sean Lennon's new direction shines brilliantly. Along with girlfriend Charlotte Muhl, the couple have created an album of modern fairy tales that feels fresh while continuing the whimsical side of Sean's father. Amazing songs created out of isolation.
22. Jakob Dylan - Women + Country: (americana) Another son of a legend, I've never been a fan of Jakob Dylan's solo work or his work with Wallflowers, but taking a detour on the road of americana songs, he really soars above his previous output. These songs are meaningful and memorable.
23. Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou - Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou: (British Folk) Formerly known as Indigo Moss, the couple returns with another gem of old-style british folk music. Clever lyrics and rollicking rhythm providing insight on our world.
24. Those Poor Bastards - Gospel Haunted: (gothic country/ death folk) One of the best in the genre, another great album of hellfire hymns about damnation and temptation. A fiery sermon that shouldn't be missed.
25. J. Tillman - Singing Ax: (singer/songwriter) A minimal acoustic sound with a voice that reaches inside of you, J. Tillman is a preacher in the same sense Leonard Cohen is a preacher. Deeply moving.
#?. HIM - Screamworks: (acoustic rock) This one needs to be on here, but I'm not sure where. The official studio album is nothing more than OK, never wandering from the band's recipe for success. HOWEVER, the deluxe edition of the album includes a bonus disk of Ville Vallo's acoustic demo for the album. That bonus disc is what I'm really including on here. If that had been the official release, it would easily have made it into my top 5 for the year.
(Honorable Mentions: Albums that in most cases are equal to the last ten album on this list and I would feel amiss in not mentioning them.)