1. At the Cut, Vic Chesnutt
Chesnutt has made a career of being challenging, and frustrating, endearing himself to his fans while at the same time having a very prolific, very uneven career. All of these albums on this list are great, but emotionally, this is a steamroller of an album, both Vic’s most directly personal lyrically, daring at times in its simplicity, and also his most self-assured musically (see full review).
2. Embryonic, The Flaming Lips
Who would have thought 25 years ago that this crazy art-rock band from Oklahoma that could barely play but played crazy live shows and made albums that had songs with titles sentences long about sci-fi themed surreal situations would be one of the most important American bands of all-time? This may be the Lip’s Magnum Opus. It explores all of the themes which they have been exploring throughout their career, the place of expression in technological advancement, freedom in a controlled space, recorded music as art-happening, the search for meaning in such an ordered universe in a world that seems absurd and dangerous. The interplay between the minimal and the complex, the loud and quiet, the aleatory and the composed is brilliant, and this is their strongest album instrumentally. Here too, the band is able to reconcile their influences and love for 70’s rock (from The VU to Sabbath with even some Joy Division), which are staples of live shows and they attempted to do on their previous album; one strain of influence which is often missed in the US is that the Lips drew their influence directly from Kraut Rock bands like Can, Neu! and Faust, rather than those bands via Pink Floyd. Yet, this is a uniquely Flaming Lips album, and while it may not get the expose it deserves because it lacks any singles, its one of their best.
3. Veckmitiest, Grizzly Bear
Just a perfect pop album (see full review).
4. Middle Cyclone, Neko Case
One of the difficulties that faces Case is that her incredible voice, perhaps the most distinctive and strongest of her generation, is so unique it has been difficult to find areas to let it shine. Well, in this album she takes full control of each note and makes it her own. An album that is sly, elegant, and aggressive.
5 (TIE). Album, Girls
This is how to be clever without being pretentious; following the Jonathon Richman and Marshall Crenshaw school of hip to be square throwback rock, this is a deceptively made album of subversive pop tunes, with some gorgeous compositions that have far more honesty and do more than you initially think.
An album I should have hated, I seemed to be the only one who liked this album. I though it was a brilliant step in taking Freak Folk to new levels of inter-textuality. (see full review)
7. When The Devil’s Loose, AA Bondy
One of the best alt-country albums of the decade (see full review)
8. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Kasabian
The love it or loathe it album of the year; well, me and NME loved it, everyone else hated it. Then again if you want to get rock street cred maybe getting a scathing review from the likes of Pitchfork is a great way to start? That said the negative reviews called it excessive, superficial, and derivative. But isn’t that what made rock and roll? I mean, right there you kick out The Rolling Stones, Elvis, and David Bowie. As far as originality, I spent all year listening to bands that played cute 80’s inspired pop music, used cheap synths, and sounded like Animal Collective. This was the only one that sounded like this, and the only one that sounded like a bonafide rock classic. Bombastic, epic; think of it as a rock album with hip-hop sensibilities .
9. Strict Joy, The Swell Season
A break-up album that’s as pretty, intimate, and honest as their previous album, an exploration of the joy of new love. Definitely belongs on the same shelf as Shoot out the Lights, Blood on the Tracks, Otis Blue, and Sea Change, as all-time great heartbreak albums.
10. Why there are Mountains, Cymbals Eat Guitars
Originality is so overrated…forget the resemblance to Pavement or Modest Mouse or Arcade Fire, and just enjoy this incredible rock album. An amazing debut and a refreshingly emotional album at time when rock seems to become so calculated and over-conscious of itself. It’s catchy, layered, and has takes you on several thematic turns.
11. Logos, Atlas Sound
12. Fever Ray, Fever Ray
13. Beast Rest Fourth Month, Bear in Heaven
14. These Four Walls, We Were Promised Jet Packs
15. Wilco (the album), Wilco
16. Primary Colours, The Horrors
17. Hospice, Antlers
18. Us, Brother Ali
19. It’s Frightening, White Rabbits
20. Post-Nothing, Japandroids
21. Popular Songs, Yo La Tengo
22. The Crying Light,
23. Dark Night of the Soul, Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse w/ Various
25. The Ecstatic, Mos Def