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Paste may not be a physical magazine anymore, but that doesn’t stop them from consistently cranking out quality material on their website. And much like last year, when they had a different “Best of the Decade” list for every day of December, they are going list-crazy for 2010, too. And they aren’t wasting any time, because today they posted their choices for the top 50 albums of the year. Figured I’d share some thoughts. (You can click here to read the full list.)
- They get some of the most buzzed-about albums of the year out of the way quickly. Flying Lotus, Local Natives, Yeasayer, The Black Keys, and Deerhunter reside in spots #49-45, respectively. But Paste has always favoured their own “discoveries” to blog favourites, so I suppose that’s not too surprising.
- Fulfillment of requisite Josh Ritter slot? Check. (#38)
- I enjoy how after naming She and Him’s Volume One the best album of 2008, they are obligated to place Volume Two somewhat high on the list (#30)
- Laura Marling, Vampire Weekend, The Tallest Man on Earth don’t even crack the top 20? What’s even left? This either means that it was such an amazing year for music that those great albums have to settle for lower spots, or that Paste will have a top 10 that I don’t like/have never heard of.
- Apparently I’m not the only one who likes to make breathless pronouncements about things, because Paste writes the following in their review of Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues: “If [Earle] can keep his demons at bay, we’ll one day see his three names cozied up against those of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, George Jones and the other denizens of country music’s pantheon.” Perhaps I should check out this album (I like the couple of tracks that I’ve heard).
So before reading the top 10, I tried to think of what they hadn’t covered, and there were a lot of big releases that I thought might find a spot:
- Sufjan Stevens (who I predicted for #1)
- Arcade Fire
- Janelle Monae
- LCD Soundsystem
- Joanna Newsom
- Kanye West
- Mumford and Sons
- Antony and the Johnsons
- Johnny Flynn (he and Monae were both on their list of acts to watch in 2008, so I think they’ll want to include at least one of them – more likely Monae – here)
- Best Coast
This is way too “mainstream” of a top 10, so some will inevitably left off the list completely, but I had thought that a lot of these would at least fall in the 40′s or 30′s somewhere.
* * *
So in actuality, the Paste top 10 went like this:
10. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (I haven’t heard it, but I’ve heard great things about it)
9. Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz (Lower than I was expecting. And even though one listen is hardly enough to go on, this album doesn’t do much for me.)
8. Phosphorescent – Here’s to Taking it Easy (Haven’t heart it, but I do love his 2007 song, “Wolves”)
7. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (We’ll definitely be seeing this one a lot on top 10 lists. I do like the album a lot, but it still hasn’t totally won me over. I much prefer Neon Bible, at this point)
6. Sleigh Bells – Treats (I don’t get the love for this album at all.)
5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (I DO get the love for this album.)
4. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (It was inevitable. I haven’t listened to it yet, but apparently this album is “perhaps this century’s definitive portrait of torment, vanity, self-delusion, and pathos”. Wow.)
3. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (It’s becoming a bit of a mainstream crossover, and deservedly so. Fantastic album.)
2. Janelle Monae – The Archandroid (Time for some horn-tooting.)
1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (Well, I haven’t heard this one, either. But from previous work, I don’t think I’m the biggest LCDS fan.)
Either I’m better versed in new music this year, or Paste is going for bigger names. Because I’m familiar with all of these albums and have heard half of them already. And it usually takes me forever to catch up on all of the big albums from the year. Overall, it’s a predictable top 10, but not a bad one, I suppose.
2009 gets a bit short-changed with everyone focussing on their “best of the decade” lists, but these are my picks for the best movies and albums of 2009. I haven’t heard nearly as many albums as I’d like to, and it’ll probably take me until half way through ’10 to catch up on all of the movies that I want to see from last year on DVD. But from what I’ve seen/heard, here are my lists:
Favourite Movies of 2009
- (500) Days of Summer
- Where the Wild Things Are
- Sunshine Cleaning
- Star Trek
- The Hangover
- I Love You, Man
- Away We Go
- The Princess and the Frog
Favourite Albums of 2009
- I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers
- Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk
- It’s Blitz! – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Wilco (The Album) – Wilco
- My Old, Familiar Friend – Brendan Benson
- Fortress ‘Round My Heart – Ida Maria
- Territory – Two Hours Traffic
- It’s Not Me, It’s You – Lily Allen
- Backspacer – Pearl Jam
- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Here’s the second and final part of my “Best Albums of the Decade” list. Be sure to check out part one, which covered numbers 20-11. Feel free to let me know what you think of my list in the comments. Of course, this is all just my opinion, so let me know which albums from this decade struck a chord with you!
10. Amnesiac – Radiohead (2001)
I can see the merit of Kid A. I just don’t find it to be that enjoyable of an album to listen to. And while Kid A and Amnesiac are often lumped together, I see them as totally separate albums. Amnesiac has some typically lovely Radiohead songs, like “The Pyramid Song”. You can also find one of the most debauched, oddly raucous songs in Thom Yorke’s catalogue here – the jazzy “Life in a Glasshouse”. I may be one of those annoying “common” Radiohead fans that love The Bends and OK Computer more than anything from this decade, but Amnesiac is by far the best of their less accessible albums, in my opinion.
9. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (2008)
I don’t want to overstate the importance of Bon Iver’s (aka Justin Vernon’s) debut, but this is an album that I could see becoming something of a classic, over time. The back story is top-notch, as are all of the songs on here. “Skinny Love” is a phenomenal song, and “Re: Stacks”, “Creature Fear” and “Flume” all rotate as my second favourite song on the album. Justin Vernon followed For Emma up with his Blood Bank EP, and if these two releases are any indication, I’m definitely excited to see where his music is headed. Maybe all of the praise is premature, but even if he can never recreate the magic of this album again, at least we have this one.
8. Rockin’ the Suburbs – Ben Folds (2001)
Ben Folds Five is a band that is quintessentially 90′s. Snappy, piano-driven hits like “Kate” (which was on my Sabrina the Teenage Witch soundtrack) and “Brick” seem like nostalgic fun now. So perhaps it makes sense that Ben Folds would go it alone for the new millennium. Rockin’ the Suburbs still has the upbeat, vaguely gimmicky vibe that his music has always had, yet it also feels very honest. It’s power-pop at its best. “Zak and Sara” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs” are tons of fun, while “Gone” is just a plain fantastic tune. Ben Folds is fairly popular, but I still don’t think he gets enough serious credit as a songwriter.
7. I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning – Bright Eyes (2005)
Perhaps what I like best about Conor Oberst’s music is that he isn’t afraid to be earnest. His lyrics (while sometimes seeming contrived) are just ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation, but they are also distinct in their sentiment. And I don’t think he’s ever got that emotional-fuck-up sentiment as right as he did on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. He celebrates drugs, women, and making noise, but there’s a naiveté to his tales of rebirth and fresh starts that keep it all relatable and grounded. He might not be the “New Dylan”, but Oberst knows how to pull on people’s heart strings in precisely the right way.
6. Chutes Too Narrow – The Shins (2003)
The Shins hit it big with Oh, Inverted World, but I like their 2003 follow-up slightly better. Chutes Too Narrow is generally far more upbeat, and it suits James Mercer’s off-kilter, yelpy voice really well. “So Says I” is my favourite Shins song, and the rest of the album is an easily digestible, fun set of songs. I know that they’ve supposedly changed the lives of indie kids everywhere, but can’t people just enjoy the Shins for what they are – a really good pop band that writes fantastic pop songs – and stop with all the overstatements?
5. Close to Paradise – Patrick Watson (2006)
I’m always eager to support Canadian music, and even though not as much of it ended up on this list as I had originally hoped, I am incredibly proud to place Patrick Watson’s debut album in my #5 spot. Close to Paradise has slowly been growing on me since its release, and I’m now just about convinced that it’s a perfect album. Every song is lovely, and they all work together to create a fantastic atmosphere. From the piano-driven hymn “The Great Escape” to the slightly raucous “Drifters”, Watson always uses the precise emotion in his voice to convey his ideas. (Side note: if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Patrick Watson’s work with The Cinematic Orchestra on “To Build a Home“)
4. White Blood Cells – The White Stripes (2001)
Jack White is undoubtedly one of the hardest working musicians of the past ten years. People often whine about how rock stars are a dying breed, but this guy is singlehandedly keeping them alive. The White Stripes burst into the mainstream in 2001 with their third album, White Blood Cells. It’s an eclectic collection that even tosses in some country (“Hotel Yorba”), but even though the Stripes hadn’t entirely honed in on their blues-rock niche yet, this album is far from unfocussed. It’s obvious that Jack White knows exactly what he’s doing at all times, and it makes for a nice transition between their scrappier early work, and their more refined albums that would follow.
3. Boxer – The National (2007)
This Brooklyn band has steadily been releasing great albums throughout the decade – it just took people (including myself) a little while to catch on. They earned massive critical acclaim for 2007′s Boxer, which was actually their 4th release of the decade. Boxer is home to a slew of fantastic songs, such as the timely, brooding “Fake Empire”. Matt Berninger’s voice has such wonderful feeling of melancholy in it, and The National extend that feeling throughout the record. I find new things to love about this album every time that I listen to it, and I think that this is an album that I will be listening to regularly for years to come.
2. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire (2007)
2004′s Funeral may have been the album that caught most people’s attention, but Arcade Fire’s follow-up, Neon Bible, was the one that caught my attention. The album sticks with the band’s signature grand arrangements, but also makes the songs feel more personal. There’s a desperation here that I like. Not to be morbid, but I like the anger, frustration, and near hopelessness that seems to run through this album. I think the grandness of Arcade Fire’s sound (not to mention the power of Win Butler’s voice) is much better suited to this kind of fare. I don’t know that it’s meant to be a concept album, but I feel like this album takes us through the course of a person’s life. Every song evokes a different feeling, yet they all work together perfectly to create a beautiful statement about what it means to be alive.
1. Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams (2000)
Leave it to Ryan Adams to out-brood everyone else on this list just by opening his mouth. Even when he’s singing an upbeat song, he still sounds miserable as hell. Heartbreaker, his debut solo album (his original band, Whiskeytown, imploded around the turn of the millennium) is one of his twangiest to date, but it’s also his most consistent, by far. Every song here is great, and integral to the over feeling of the album. The raw energy of Adams’ voice on songs like “Shakedown on 9th Street” and “To Be Young” contrast nicely with the wistfulness of “Come Pick Me Up”, and it all comes together to paint a portrait of a complicated man. Heartbreaker goes far beyond your typical “break-up album”, emotionally.
Though I was originally going to make this a top 50 list (and I did compile such a list), I decided to trim it down to 20. The list was starting to feel unfocussed, and I thought that it would be more interesting to really focus in on 20 albums from this decade that I really loved, rather than worrying about fitting in the certain albums I felt I had to have on my top 50.
So here is part 1 (#20-11). I think there are some unpredictable choices, which I like. It has some of the stuff you’d expect, but I tried to keep things a bit interesting. There’s lots of indie stuff, but I guess that’s just what I like to listen to most. Let me know what you think of my list, and feel free to share your own picks in the comments.
(UPDATE: Part 2, where I talk about my top ten albums of the decade, is now up! Be sure to check it out here.)
20. Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs (2008)
In just one of his many side projects of the decade, Jack White joined forces with some “old friends” (he and Brendan Benson share frontman duties) to form the Raconteurs in 2006. Their first album was something of a success, and they topped themselves (pun somewhat intended) with their sophomore disc. The album is split more definitively between White and Benson, and each bring a lot with their respective styles. Highlights include Benson’s “Many Shades of Black” and White’s “Top Yourself” and “Five on the Five”. Every track is fascinating, and the endless variations on style throughout the track listing are impressive.
19. Youth and Young Manhood – Kings of Leon (2003)
Kings of Leon have recently been spotted invading radio airwaves with “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” off 2008′s Only by the Night. But North America’s just been a little slow to pick up on these guys (which is odd, considering they’re American). Back in 2003, when they all had ridiculous haircuts and moustaches, they released their debut LP, which is full of catchy little retro tunes. I like the new Kings of Leon sound, too, but there’s something endearingly scruffy about their early work. “California Waiting” and “Red Morning Light” are raw, but the Followills’ ability to write an incredible pop song was evident early on.
18. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)
Gold refuses to stick to one style, and the eclectic sound suits Ryan Adams well. Adams handles country stompers (“Firecracker”), lovely ballads (“Good Night, Hollywood Blvd.), and even blues (“The Rescue Blues”, “Touch, Feel, and Lose”) deftly on his lengthy, sometimes erratic sophomore solo album. All of his genre-shifting is fascinating. Every song offers something new, and Gold proves that when it comes to his music, Adams is ambitious and fearless. Some of his best songs to date can be found here, and despite the diversity of styles, it never feels unfocused. Adams is one of the best songwriters of this decade, for sure.
17. Parachutes – Coldplay (2000)
No matter how many jokes people make (or how vehemently Chuck Klosterman hates them), I honestly think that Coldplay is pretty excellent band. Their debut album, Parachutes, certainly showed a lot of promise. “Yellow” became a big hit, but it’s far from the best song of the album. “Shiver” is fantastic, and apparently it was Chris Martin’s attempt to write a Jeff Buckley song. Their signature sound can already be heard throughout the album, but I like that this is a smaller, more personal album than some of their later work. Scoff at the sappiness if you want, but there are some fantastic songs here.
16. Poses – Rufus Wainwright (2001)
I have a pretty huge spot in my heart for Rufus Wainwright. Something about the tone of his voice always makes me feel at ease. It’s hard to describe, but it’s unlikely virtually any other singing voice I’ve heard. On Poses (the follow up to his 1998 eponymous debut), Rufus gives us more of his signature theatrical fare. Though that’s not usually my taste, I love it when Rufus does the over-the-top stuff. He also gets folkier on his cover “One Man Guy” (it’s a wonderful interpretation of his father’s song), which is nice. I’ve heard that Wainwright was at the height of his drug addiction around this time period, but it’s a beautiful album nonetheless.
15. Elephant – The White Stripes (2003)
After the success of the song “Fell in Love with a Girl” (and the accompanying Gondry-helmed music video), The White Stripes managed to take advantage of their positive buzz and release another stellar album a mere two years later. It had a couple of songs that have since become radio staples (“Seven Nation Army”, “The Hardest Button to Button), but despite its more polished sound, there’s no way in hell that Jack White is selling out here. “Ball and Biscuit” is mighty, and this album features more of a blues influence than their past three. The White Stripes are a band that is constantly evolving, and following their journey over the decade has been a blast.
14. Trouble – Ray LaMontagne (2003)
His cuddly beard and raspy voice may seem commonplace in the wake of the recent folk movement, but Ray LaMontagne came before all of that. Before I discovered LaMontagne’s music, I thought that the song “Trouble” was some kind of soul standard. And all of his songs have that timeless feeling to them, which I always love. There’s so much soul in his music, and he sings every word with such emotion. I love music that is emotionally raw, and LaMontagne pretty much epitomizes that concept. His subsequent two albums are quite strong too, but his debut, Trouble, is his most affecting work to date.
13. I and Love and You – The Avett Brothers (2009)
The Avett Brothers have been releasing albums consistently since 2002, but they’ve just recently started making waves in the mainstream with their latest album. I and Love and You was helmed by super producer Rick Rubin, and the expected shiny production is there. But all that gloss doesn’t detract from the wonderfully eclectic collection of songs. There’s not a bad track on the album, and most of the tracks are exceptional. “Laundry Room” and “January Wedding” stay closer to the Avetts’ country roots, while “Slight Figure of Speech” is a spiky little pop gem. The signature rawness, beautiful harmonies, and thought-provoking lyrics that The Avett Brothers are known for haven’t gone anywhere.
12. New Wave – Against Me! (2007)
Fans accused these Florida punks of being sell-outs when they released this radio-friendly set of songs, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a pretty amazing album. They worked with Butch Vig, who made Nirvana famous with his production of Nevermind, and I can understand how the polished production would put some fans off. But I don’t think that it hurts the album at all. “Thrash Unreal” is an infectious, unexpected anthem, and “The Ocean” boasts lovely lyrics from Gabel pondering what his life could have been under different circumstances. It’s fierce, relevant, and uncompromising, which is all anyone can ask of a band like Against Me!.
11. The Woods – Sleater-Kinney (2005)
Most people probably thought that the “riot grrrl” movement died at some point during the mid-90′s, but Sleater-Kinney proved that they still have what it takes to write an awesome rock record. The Woods is ostensibly their final album (they’ve been on an “indefinite hiatus” since 2006), and I had the unfortunate timing of discovering their music just as they ceased making more of it. But what an album it is to go out on. It rocks harder than most albums released this decade, and “The Fox” and “Modern Girl” are great slices of songwriting. Sleater-Kinney were at the height of their musical career with 1997′s Dig Me Out, and The Woods gives that album a run for its money.
20. Beyond – Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr.’s 2007 comeback initially seemed to be under the radar, but then Beyond (the band’s first album in ten years) was met with great critical acclaim. It seems as the guys managed to please their original fans, and gain new ones, with their fuzzy anthems. The songs are great, and Beyond kind of picks up where Bug left off.
19. Ashtray Rock – Joel Plaskett Emergency
Joel Plaskett’s another one of those well-kept Canadian secrets. His band’s 2007 disc, Ashtray Rock, made the short list for the annual Polaris Prize, only to lose out to Patrick Watson (he lost to Fucked Up this year). There’s lots of fun to be found on Ashtray Rock, as well as some genuinely lovely moments, like the shimmering “The Glorious Life”.
18. Icky Thump – The White Stripes
I’m not really sure what to make of this album. I’m a huge White Stripes fan, but I’m still not able to connect with Icky Thump the way that I can with all of their other albums. It has some great songs (“Effect and Cause” is my favourite), but I think it just seems too calculated to me. But anything put out by the White Stripes is still better than most of the other music around.
17. Into the Wild – Eddie Vedder
Based on a lot of exasperating technicalities, Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack for the 2007 film, Into the Wild was not nominated for either of the songwriting Academy Awards. This collection of the songs that he wrote for the film (with a few instrumental tracks) is really lovely. It’s much more tender than anything Pearl Jam has done. You can decide if that’s a good thing or not.
16. A Weekend in the City – Bloc Party
I’m not really sure how one would classify this music, but whatever it is, I really like it. I’m not a big expert on Bloc Party, but when I first heard A Weekend in the City (their sophomore effort), I was immediately drawn to their sound. Their first album (which I’m yet to hear) seems to be more beloved among fans, but I’m not sure how they could be disappointed with this.
15. Welcome to the Night Sky – Wintersleep
Halifax, Nova Scotia makes its second appearance on this list in the form of Wintersleep. These guys had something of a hit with their first single off this album, “Weighty Ghost”. I was surprised to hear how much their style varies (“Oblivion” sounds like some especially good Interpol), and I think the entire album is really solid.
14. The Story – Brandi Carlisle
Apparently, Brandi Carlisle’s voice has been compared to Thom Yorke. I have listened to her music specifically trying to pick out the resemblance, but I don’t get it at all. But nonetheless, her music is great in its own right. Her songs are heartfelt and searing, and I think that it’s the emotion (which this album has heaps of) that is Carlise’s strongest suit.
13. The Stage Names – Okkervil River
This is one album on here that I just recently got around to listening to, and it caught my attention right away. I guess Okkervil River has a classically “indie” kind of sound, but I like it. Their songs are so impeccably written, and it seems like they have a lasting quality to them.
12. Cease to Begin – Band of Horses
This is where I began to have a lot of trouble putting the rest of the list in order. These twelve albums are all great, and I could probably justify putting any of them at the top spot. Cease to Begin has kind of an ethereal, slightly haunting sound that I really liked. There are lots of great songs to be found, including “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”.
11. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank – Modest Mouse
This album probably could have cracked the top five if they’d shaved a few songs off the track listing, since I’m generally biased towards shorter albums. But there are definitely some great songs on here, and I really like the addition of Johnny Marr on guitar. The Shins’ James Mercer also does some great guest vocals on a few tracks (most notably on “Missed the Boat”).
10. Era Vulgaris – Queens of the Stone Age
Queens of the Stone Age are one of the most popular hard rock bands to emerge in the new millennium, and Era Vulgaris is a great example of why this is the case. It may not have a hit as catchy as “No One Knows”, but the whole album is a fantastic mix of hard rock and solid songwriting. Josh Homme has one of the best voices in rock, too.
9. Easy Tiger – Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams is undoubtedly one of the most prolific songwriters around, and he kept up with his album-per-year standard with Easy Tiger. It’s probably one of his most consistent and listenable solo albums to date. I also think that “Two” and “Halloweenhead” are two incredible additions to Adams’ already impressive catalogue.
8. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – Spoon
No one writes a pop song quite like Spoon. The first single off Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, “The Underdog”, was one of my favourite songs of ’07. The album has a bit of a Beatles influence to it, in a very enjoyable way. Even if I’m in a terrible mood, this album is likely to make me smile.
7. In Rainbows – Radiohead
Kid A and Hail to the Thief lost me a bit with their heavy electronic influence, so I was glad to hear that In Rainbows was (somewhat) of a return to their earlier sound, circa The Bends. I think this is probably their fourth best album. And when the band I’m talking about is Radiohead, that’s no small feat.
6. Wincing the Night Away – The Shins
The Shins released their third stellar album of the decade with Wincing the Night Away. “Phantom Limb” and “Australia” are two tracks that jumped out at me immediately, but the rest of the album soon grew on me in a big way. It’s too hard to pick my favourite Shins record. I’ll say it’s a three-way tie for first place.
5. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace – Foo Fighters
The Foo Fighters are constantly proving that they’re so much better than the “post-grunge” label that lazy critics slap onto them. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace has some fantastic, catchy hits, and hidden gems like “Summer’s End” and “Stranger Things Have Happened”. It’s some of their best work yet. Grohl seem to just get better with age.
4. Cassadaga – Bright Eyes
2007 may have been a bad year for Conor Oberst’s hair, but it was a perfectly wonderful time for his music. Oberst decided to embrace his country roots by taking a pilgrimage to…Florida? Seriously, though, Cassadaga is a great album, and it’s nice to see Bright Eyes expand their sound. There are lots of brilliant songs here, but I think that “Classic Cars” is my favourite.
3. New Wave – Against Me!
These Florida punks got a lot of flak for “selling-out” with New Wave, but it also gained them a lot of new fans (like yours truly). I’ve gone back, and I really like their older stuff too, but I think that New Wave is their masterpiece, so far. New Wave pretty much had a permanent spot in my CD player during late 2007/early 2008, and I connected to it in a way that I rarely do with new albums.
2. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire
2004′s Funeral earned Arcade Fire major acclaim, but I much prefer their follow-up, Neon Bible. The thing that I like most about this album is the atmosphere that they created. Each song has a specific feel to it, but the whole album is amazingly cohesive. “Intervention” is easily one of the best songs of the decade, and every song on the album feels like it serves a specific purpose.
1. Boxer – The National
How could this band possibly have released a better album than Against Me! and the Arcade Fire? It’s hard to explain, but it feels like everything came together perfectly on Boxer. The songs are aching and sombre, and Matt Berninger’s voice suits the mood beautifully. In a time when singles and ringtones are measures of success, I have so much respect for a band that can make an entire album that is this amazing.
I’ve had some lists kicking around for a while, so I figured I’d share some of my favourite albums from the past few years with you here. And what better place to start than last year? I don’t think 2008 had quite as many releases that I loved as 2007 did, but there were still some very worthy albums put out there. A lot of new artists proved themselves in a big way.
20. Bring Me Your Love – City and Colour
With his stunning voice and beautiful, simple melodies, Dallas Green’s music never fails to move me. His follow-up to 2005′s Sometimes sticks close to the style that has made him so beloved by indie and mainstream audiences alike, but why try to fix something that isn’t broken? “The Girl” is a fantastic, tender love song, and I love his duet with Gord Downie on “Sleeping Sickness”.
19. Oracular Spectacular – MGMT
MGMT burst onto the scene with hyped-up hits like “Time To Pretend” and “Kids”. Those are two of the standout tracks on their debut album, but so is “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”, which comes closer to the end. I’m not sure that I want to know what these guys do in their spare time, but their music is pretty infectious.
18. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
I think that if Conor Oberst wants to be taken more seriously as a “grown man”, and release mature music with a different vibe to it, like he does on Conor Oberst, I think he’s making the right decision to move away from the Bright Eyes name. Considering he’s only thirty, this guy’s had a long, consistent career, and Conor Oberst just keeps the tradition going.
17. A Piece of What You Need – Teddy Thompson
Ranging from reedy to rich, Teddy Thompson’s voice adapts easily to the diverse line up of songs on A Piece of What You Need. And while the album’s penultimate song, “Turning the Gun on Myself” is every bit as melancholy as the title would suggest, I like that Thompson manages to keep things sparse and haunting, rather than melodramatic.
16. Elephant Shell – Tokyo Police Club
They were one of the most buzzed about new bands before they even had a full-length album out, and Tokyo Police didn’t disappoint (much) with Elephant Shell. Their sound really grew on me, and even though I think a few of the songs could be a bit stronger, it’s an incredibly promising debut effort. And they put on a mean live show, too.
15. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie
I like Transatlanticism and Plans more for the sake of sheer listenability, but Narrow Stairs has some great songs (“Cath…”has to be one of their best yet), and overall it does not tarnish Death Cab’s badge of consistency one bit.
14. Only By The Night – Kings of Leon
Sell-outs or not (and look at that picture of them – they’re clearly sell-outs), Kings of Leon released a batch of great songs on 2008′s Only by the Night. There are good songs beyond the hits, but I’m still not sick of hearing “Sex on Fire” or “Use Somebody”. And my favourite radio station has been playing them consistently for over a year.
13. Terminal Romance – Matt Mays & El Topedo
Matt Mays is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, and he’s been putting out great work for a while. Some might compare him to Ryan Adams or even Bruce Springsteen at times (but really, who isn’t compared to Springsteen these days?) but he’s definitely worth listening to on his own merits. Great sound, great voice, great songs.
12. Evil Urges – My Morning Jacket
Evil Urges is probably the best summer album released in a while. It’s impossible to pin it down to one style, but I think that most people could find something on here that they like. It’s all a little twisted, but it’s also a lot of fun. The anthemic “I’m Amazed” is just one of the many great tracks here.
11. At Mount Zoomer – Wolf Parade
These indie favourites disappointed some with their latest disc. I’m not familiar with much of their older music, but their quirky style sure impressed me here, and according to me, Mount Zoomer was the best Canadian release of 2008. Side note: why do I find Dan Boeckner (far right) so attractive, when he is so clearly nothing but trouble?
10. Modern Guilt – Beck
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Beck Hansen. (Perhaps I should say, with his music. It makes me sound less crazy.) It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Sometimes I love his music, and sometimes it bores me to tears. But when he teamed up with Danger Mouse (The Grey Album, anyone?) the result fell drastically towards the “love” side of the spectrum for me.
9. Gossip in the Grain – Ray LaMontagne
Ray LaMontagne can do no wrong, in my eyes. Gossip in the Grain is packed with a slew of great little songs (including the much-discussed “Meg White”). All three of his albums have been good, and LaMontagne will surely earn himself a reputation for being one of the most consistent singer-songwriters around.
8. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends – Coldplay
Flame me all you want (who am I kidding? No one reads this blog), but I love Coldplay. After a bit of a misstep with 2005′s X&Y, they returned in fine form with their fourth album, Viva La Vida. If it’s possible, they’ve amped up the theatrics, and written some of their best songs yet. Viva la Vida, indeed.
7. Accelerate – R.E.M.
Before Accelerate came along, R.E.M (arguably) hadn’t made a great album since 1992′s Automatic for the People. So when they came back with a concise, (mostly) filler-free set of songs, it’s understandable that their fans reacted in such a big way. But Accelerate isn’t just good by “new R.E.M.” standards. It’s just really, really good.
6. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
I know that every blogger and their mom loves Vampire Weekend (literally – my mom and dad listen to their album frequently!) But this album was just way too good to pretend to hate. Time will tell if they become a one-album-wonder (remember when the The Strokes were the next big thing?) but what an album it is.
5. Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs
I’m probably going to like anything that Jack White is involved in, and The Raconteurs’ debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers, introduced me to the wonderful world of Brendan Benson. So the odds were pretty high that I’d like the sophomore effort from this “side-project”. But they actually surpassed my expectations and released an album that I know I’ll be listening to for a long time.
4. Made of Bricks – Kate Nash
One of the year’s most surprisingly fantastic releases came from this plucky Brit. Comparisons to Lily Allen continue to run rampant (for pretty good reason), but I might actually like Kate Nash more. She goes from sassy to melancholy in the blink of an eye, and Made of Bricks is one of the most listenable female singer-songwriter albums I’ve heard in a long time. Quirky, but not self-indulgent.
3. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
I feel a little bit guilty about succumbing to all of the buzz bands from 2008. But they put out such great new work, that it’s impossible to ignore. Fleet Foxes was no exception. Their shimmering, earthy folk is beautiful, and I find myself finding new favourite moments every time I listen to the album.
2. Nouns – No Age
Refreshingly different from a lot of the stuff that I was listening to last year, these California punks are apparently leading their own movement (Canada’s own Japandroids are similarly great). Nouns is raw and fuzzy, but also has a great pop sensibility, which is key for me.
1. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver
I know, I know. But I couldn’t help it! There’s a reason that For Emma appeared at the top of just about every blogger’s list last year. It’s that good! I think Justin Vernon is one of the most promising new artists around. “Skinny Love” is already a classic, and the rest of the album is gorgeous, too.