So yes, Brishen (registration required) beat me to it this year, but what with everything going on, combined with my laziness, means I haven’t gotten around to this yet. So, in alphabetical order (by artist), here are my top albums:
Antony & the Johnsons – I am a bird now What more could I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? A very difficult album, hear-breakingly direct and honest, yet so incredibly beautiful. The rare talent that has yet to be broken by experience. Winners of innumerable, well-deserved kudos from both the mainstream and the fringe. Also, notable to me for being the only band that I ever heard of for the first time while watching The New Music.
Art Brut – Bang Bang Rock and Roll The most fun rock album of the year. With self-deprecating (or pretentious-indie band satirising)lyrics and kife-edged riffs, this album is pure rock bliss. This is what I’d hoped Franz Ferdinand‘s follow-up would be like. This album is perfect to play right when the 3pm sleepies. Formed a Band is the obvious stand-out on the album, but Modern Art gives it a run for it’s money.
Devendra Banhart – Cripple Crow A product of the resurgent folk scene in America, this album is more of a collective effort than a solo outing. It contains the silliest song of the year, the one song that’s always stuck in my head, Chinese Children. With most guest-stars than tracks, this 22-song opus pushes the envelope at all 4 corners, featuring folksy arrangements coupled with an almost robotic distance in parts, not all songs are accessible. They are, however, all rewarding.
Common – Be This is upbeat, positive, conscious hip-hop at its absolute best. I’m not a huge hip-hop fan, and I despise the posturing of most mainstream acts. This, this I can get behind. The album was (I believe) produced by Kanye West. At the very least, his signature melodic beats are all over this album, giving some musical power behind Common’s lyrics, which, while no longer mouth-droppingly sharp, flow more like well-aged wine, and provide a chill, confident atmosphere, but are never arrogant or disdainful.
The Decemberists – Picaresque This was certainly the Decemberist’s year, wasn’t it? Featured in Time, starting the year with a solid show at Richard’s on Richards coming back just a few months later to a slew of sold-out shows at venues more than twice the size. And it was well-deserved – their live shows, which were somewhat endearingly awkward when I first saw them, have matured to be well-choreographed, uniformed extravanganzas, much like their subject matter. As is probably obvious, this album gets a nod as much for its supporting tour as for the album itself.
The Glimmers – DJ Kicks The DJ-Kicks series almost never disapoints, and this is yet another solid addition, produced by Belgium’s The Glimmers. Straight-out cheesy, house-y fun, this was my favourite dance mix of the year. Not the most original, not the most progressive, but by far the most enjoyable techno of the year.
LCD Soundsystem – eponymous This album is on here on the strenght of Daft Punk is playing at my house alone, an in-your-face, revenge of the music nerds track that’s just so damn catchy. Fortunately for all, that could well be the weakest track on this fantastic indie-techno-rock album. The whole album is a treasure trove of sounds, loops and jokes that reward the shoe-gazing music nerd who will listen to a track 10 times in a row on headphones to identify every last piece.
M.I.A. – Arular A pretty minimalist, “world” hip-hop album, this album’s simplicity is its genius as well. Basic, really old-school sounds that come across as universally appealing, mixed with hard-edged, multi-lingual lyrics. With all the hype surrounding MIA, much of her MC’ing skills were overlooked, but she can straight-up rap, in more than one language. This album gets bonus points for being the source of some of the best remixed I’ve heard all year as well.
Optimo – How to Kill the DJ, Part 2An eclectic DJ-mix album, this should have been a pretentious flop. Instead, it rises above to be a glitchy, kitschy, fantastic set that sounds like it is being played live at the club. 42 tracks on disc 1, another 18 on disc 2 showcase the sheer ambition of this project. Some samples last a mere few seconds, others longer – but nothing feels forced on this disc. For an example of just how good a DJ can be, this album is just too good to be missed
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (N.B. this review lifted entirely from Brishen, who said everything I wanted to say about it) When the word “epic” is used to describe an album it must come with an orchestra of instruments and egos larger than a small town’s sports star. Put on Illinois and it will strip away the layers of bloated production and wasted lyrics to reveal what is truly an epic. For those who don’t know this is the second in Steven’s attempt to cover all 50 states in 50 albums and if he’s able to do them all as well as this they’re going to have to give him his own section in the Smithsonian. Absolutely beautiful piano and picked acoustic guitar parts interweaving in and out of his voice and words. It all comes to head on John Wayne Gacy, Jr. where the mass murder is dissected and then placed back into society to the desperate depressing instrumentation.
Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary Swollen with the same grandiose sound as many of their Montreal contemporaries, Wolf Parade step out of the shadows with a darker, T-Rex/Bowie sound, and more direct lyrics. There are still of course the haunting images, but perhaps the delivery is what sets this band apart from, say, Arcade Fire, whose lyrics can be easily lost in the mix. This was the only album all year that made me stop what I was doing, lie down and listen to it from start to finish in order to get a feel of it. The hype around wolf parade almost made me ignore this one, but I’m glad I didn’t – I suspec this album will last in regular rotation longer than virtually all the other albums on this list.