To be quite honest, I am a little disappointed with music this year. It was rather difficult for me to come up with my top 10 again this year, not because there were just tons of great albums to choose from, but that there were tons of mediocre albums to choose from. There were just very few albums that I fell in love with, from beginning to end, this year. So here are the ones that stuck out to me the most, and don’t get me wrong there are some great ones in this list. I just think that the music business has seen and will see better years.
10 KaiserCartel – March Forth
One of the first bands I discovered via I Hope Your Ears Bleed mailbox that didn’t suck. In fact they didn’t suck so much that they made this list. They are a cheery pop duo that kept me whistling all year with this fantastic debut. If you are a Mates of State fan check out this album for a double dose of pop candy goodness. But don’t misunderstand that phrase and think that this album lacks substance or doesn’t leave you satisfied. Unlike most “pop candy” these guys have created something that will last. I will be enjoying this album for a long time to come.
09 She & Him – Volume One
She & Him is made up of the gorgeous and very likeable actress, Zooey Deschanel and the him part is indie folk artist M. Ward. With her voice and song-writing combined with his gorgeous arrangements you get one of the most enjoyable and accessible records of the year. I don’t know how anyone could not like this album at least a little bit. Which might be why it ended up as Paste’s favorite album of the year. It has a little something for everyone.
08 Anathallo – Canopy Glow
These guys are one of the most dynamic groups around. The orchestration on each song is very complex and they utilizes a wide variety of instruments, including horns, guitars, drums, piano, bells, strings, and the list could go on. But what makes them so unique, and why love them so much is they also love to use tons of unconventional objects like chains, velcro strips, stomp boxes, pipes and even their own hands. Plus they have incredible voices that they utilize as yet another instrument with great harmonies throughout the album. Even with its late November release it has become one of the most played records of the year for me. Who knows how high it might have climbed the list had it been released earlier.
07 The Silent Years – The Globe
This album provided for me not just the best song of the year, but just an all-around great rock album. If that’s what you want to call it. I have a hard time describing this album since it seems jump genres from song to song. But it does so gracefully. It isn’t disjointed at all. It seems like their drummer somehow seems to carry you safely from song to song. Not to mention the song-writing and vocals of Josh Epstein are impeccable. This is another album that utilizes a plethora of instruments. But I think my favorite thing about the album is the way they use silence as an instrument in this stand-out track from their great sophomore effort.
06 Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
While I think that this band is one of the more overrated bands out there, I couldn’t help but include it in this list. I probably listened to this album more than any other this past year. It is incredibly fun and very different than anything else that’s being played these days. Not to mention their song writing is very clever. There are many standout tracks on this album, and if somehow you made it through 2008 without hearing these guys you have to give this album a listen. I absolutely love the way the strings open this stellar track. It takes me back a couple centuries to a time when you still had to squeeze oranges to get fresh orange juice, yet you were still somehow more sophisticated than today.
05 MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
This album started with just two freshmen art students playing pretend that they were indie pop stars. They started off just playing around with some synthesizers and pre-recorded vocals playing shows and just having some fun. Before they new it they had a long-term deal with Columbia Records and were the opening act for Of Montreal. Still not able to believe their good fortune, when asked who they’d like to have produce their record, they responded with Prince, Nigel Godrich, Barack Obama, and “not Sheryl Crow.” Fortunately for us, they were hooked up with Flaming Lips collaborator, Dave Fridmann, who helped them create one of the best psychadelic indie-pop albums around.
04 Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
So if you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of catchy sing-a-long pop. That is so long as it doesn’t completely suck. Like this fantastically addictive, emotionally charged, hook-laden pop masterpiece. While they have injected a little more piano than in the past, they haven’t strayed too far from their roots. Hammel’s slick and drumbeats still drive the entire album, and Gardner’s vocals are better than ever. It’s soft and loud, sweet and sour, cheerful and melancholy. It’s a fully realized album that will appeal to indie snobs and ignorant radio listeners alike. So whichever you are, go out and buy this album today.
03 Noah and the Whale – Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down
Here is the fifth debut album to grace my top ten list (it’s not the last). Yes I am a sucker for folk-rock bands that use lots of strings and horns throughout their songs. But it is Charlie Fink’s songwriting that boosted this mediocre debut into the top of my list. It’s hopeful songs like “Give a Little Love” and its more melancholy successor “Second Lover” that make this album so great. And who isn’t put in a better mood when they hear “5 Years Time” pouring through the tv set?
02 Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
This is one of the last album’s I expected to make my list this year. But I have not been able to stop listening ever since I saw him live back in September. Just think of a happy and country version of Bright Eyes. I am blown away at how well Conor is able to do southern rock. Make no mistake though, this is not a solo album in the least. This record would be nothing without the Mystic Valley Band. Let’s hope that he doesn’t just kick them to the curb and that these guys have only just begun their musical journey together.
01 Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
While this list was difficult for me make, choosing who belonged on top was not. Justin Vernon isolated himself in a remote cabin in Wisconsin just looking to get away and take a break. And he walked out with the best album of the year. There was a tiny bit added upon his return in the studio (horns, backing vocals, drums), but the majority of the album is just Vernon and his hauntingly enchanting voice.
Well I hope you enjoyed the list and found at least one new album to out and purchase. And stay tuned for the albums we’re most excited about for 2009. Here’s to another great year of music. Huzzah!