The thing that pops out at me most when taking in my top records of the past year is the American domination. Nine of the ten spots are filled by Yanks and the only outsider is Wolf Parade, who are Canadian. No Euros at all. Not sure what that means, but here is this year’s list. USA! USA! USA!
10. Kings of Leon – Only By the Night
I’ve grown increasingly bored of these guys since their rocking debut, Youth and Young Manhood, but this one puts them back on the musical landscape for me. However, I still think they’re better suited for a more stripped-down, garage-style sound with Caleb Followill’s classic rock ‘n’ roll pipes leading the way. I eagerly await their obligatory back-to-basics album, probably coming in 2010 or 2011. For now, this’ll do.
Standout Tracks – Use Somebody, Revelry
9. No Age – Nouns
L.A.’s No Age do their darndest to hide great hooks and melodies in a sea of noise and fuzz, but make no mistake – the hooks and melodies are there. They don’t hide them on every track, but the more memorable songs seem to be the most heavily layered. Nouns is just a solid modern punk record that takes a few listens to really appreciate. This old punk did, and does.
Standout Tracks – Eraser, Teen Creeps, Here Should Be My Home
8. Santogold – Santogold
Santi White aka. Santogold was rather inescapable in 2008. If you didn’t catch her singles L.E.S. Artistes and Lights Out on the radio, then you certainly caught them taking up time between your favorite TV shows. Bud Light, V05 and Ford were just a few companies that figured Santogold’s music was ideal for hawking their goods. Commerce aside, the album is a genre-defying listen that effortlessly hops back and forth among pop, rock, R&B and reggae. Many compare her to MIA, but in my opinion, she’s better.
Standout Tracks – L.E.S. Artistes, You’ll Find a Way, Say Aha, Lights Out
7. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Oberst ditched the Bright Eyes moniker for this release because long-time collaborator Mike Mogis didn’t have a hand in it and because he was working with a new group of musicians who called themselves the Mystic Valley Band for this release. All these changes work for me, as it is by far the most laid-back, unencumbered album Oberst has released since he hit puberty (yes, he has been making music for that long). He seems to be having fun on this album and that’s a side of the young songwriter that often doesn’t come through in his work. Perhaps he’s growing less angsty in his old age.
Standout Tracks – Sausalito, Lenders in the Temple, I Don’t Want to Die (In the Hospital), Moab
6. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
The Hold Steady are becoming a staple of my year-end Top 10 Albums lists. Their 2006 release, Boys and Girls in America, sits at number six as well. Maybe they’ll crack the vaunted top 5 in 2010. Anywho, Stay Positive is another great rock album with all the blazing guitar solos and piano-laden bridges you’d expect from a Hold Steady record. Where they separate this album and avoid becoming stale is with the different instrumentation and arrangements. They’re subtle, but they’re there. Looking forward to seeing these guys live again.
Standout Tracks – Constructive Summer, Sequestered in Memphis, Stay Positive, Slapped Actress
5. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend came out of virtually nowhere to deliver the funnest album of the year, an ultra-listenable record ideal for a party or, as I’m enjoying it now, a pair of headphones. And boy do the “indie police” hate “fun.” Vampire Weekend were the toast of the music blogs one day and a pariah the next after a little exposure and an SNL appearance. No, these well-educated preppies aren’t exploring much new territory here, but an upbeat pop record done as expertly as this should be enjoyed. Unless you’re too cool for school, I guess. Me, I’m too old to be cool anyway, so fuck it.
Standout Tracks – Oxford Comma, A-Punk, Boston, Walcott
4. The Walkmen – You & Me
As a fan of The Walkmen, I was a bit disappointed in the band’s 2006 release, A Hundred Miles Off. While it had a few redeeming tracks, it just didn’t have the overall “Walkmen feel” I got from Bows + Arrows and Everyone Who Pretended… I can’t exactly describe what I mean by “Walkmen feel,” but they just have this original sound that is uniquely theirs, and to me, it was missing on the previous album. Well, no such occurrence here. You & Me is a fantastic record that just sort of amiably drifts by, much like the holidays do this time of year. It is the ideal record to play while you’re sipping a hot beverage and sitting by the fire this winter.
Standout Tracks – In the New Year, Postcards From Tiny Islands, Red Moon, Four Provinces
3. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
Oh, Canada. I don’t know what’s been in the water up North the past four or five years, but damn if those Canucks aren’t putting out some fantastic records. When I reviewed this record when it “dropped” a few months ago I said it was perhaps a more consistent offering than their 2005 debut (which was/is a great album) but without the “knock you on the floor” standout tracks. I’m beginning to rethink that statement a bit however. Wolf Parade is proving to be one heck of a consistent side-project for Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug, and Mount Zoomer is outstanding, if maybe a notch below Apologies.
Standout Tracks – Language City, The Grey Estates
2. TV on the Radio – Dear Science
I’m not sure how this isn’t my number one album of the year, as from first listen to today, I’m still floored by it, but one release did eclipse it in my view. I already wrote quite a lengthy review, so I’ll be a little more restrained here. This album has a bit of everything, sometimes all in a single track. You can dance to it, play air-guitar to it, get depressed by it, all while being mesmerized by it. I’ve said it a few times, but I’ll reiterate it here, TV on the Radio is the best band in the world not named Radiohead.
Standout Tracks – Halfway Home, Dancing Choose, Golden Age, Family Tree, Shout Me Out
1. Deerhunter – Microcastle
It was going to take one hell of a record to keep Dear Science out of the top spot, and that is exactly what we have here with Deerhunter’s third full-length release. It is pretty much a flawless indie rock record with shades of post punk, shoegaze, psychedelia and the trademark artsy noise that Deerhunter is known for. The album flows seamlessly from track-to-track with impeccable tempo changes, and just when you think it’s winding to a solid but predictable end, Nothing Ever Happens, track nine, hits you over the head like an anvil. It’s absolutely my favorite song of the year and it carries the second half of the album to a triumphant conclusion.
Standout Tracks – Agoraphobia, Never Stops, Nothing Ever Happens