1. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm (Vice)
I didn’t want to like this record as much as I did because the whole art school, post-punk, Gang of Four rip-off guitar show has grown hackneyed, but the melodies stick with you and mean something. And your favorite record should be the one you listened to the most. Well, this is it.
2. LCD Sound System, LCD Sound System (DFA)
James Murphy listens to good music. It’s obvious because he rips off everything under the sun, especially The Fall. Mark E. Smith has a lawsuit on his hands if he wants it-uh. This album still kills.
3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Self-released)
I was a much bigger fan of this album before I saw the band perform on Conan O’brien. My suspicions that the singer was a snotty, self-obsessed indie prick were confirmed. Still, if you can get past his nasally whine, which sounds like an emaciated David Byrne being stabbed with a hot poker, his band comes up with some unforgettable songs on this impossibly catchy debut.
4. Spoon, Gimme Fiction (Merge)
Britt Daniel is a bad ass. This is Spoon’s most focused, soulful, and minimal record to date, but you would never know that if you only listened to it once. The songs don’t jump out of the speakers the way they did on **Kill the Moonlight** or even on **Girls Can Tell**, but, trust me, this album is just as good, if not better.
5. Bright Eyes, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning (Saddle Creek)
Yes, Conor Oberst is a sniveling little emo twat, but I must admit the guy’s got a way with words. This is an intimate folk record that pierces through the bullshit just the way it should. He’s writing at the top of his game, losing the cryptic diary drama of his early work for songs that pack more than an emotional punch for fourteen-year-old girls.
6. Beck, Guero (Geffen)
This may be Beck’s most “mature” record to date, but the insanity of his lyrics hasn’t tapered a bit. Nor has his propensity for a relentless barrage of beats and grooves. It’s not as overtly showy as Odelay, but it grows more substantive each time you play it.
7. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (Sony)
Fiona Apple just has one of those voices that makes me want to listen to what she has to say. On her third record, she’s actually old enough to sell the angst in her voice, and now she can control it without relying on all that teenage, hyperbolic drama.
8. Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA)
So this calculatedly bumpkin band of fashion-spread, post-Strokes wannabes can actually write decent tunes. Not only that, but the tunes have presence beyond surface melodies. I was completely caught off guard by this record.
9. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop)
Obnoxiously indie in its aesthetic, Wolf Parade filters its perverted version of glam through a broken four-track’s hiss with more than a tip of the hat to Black Francis and David Bowie.
10. The Life and Times, Suburban Hymns (DeSoto)
Ex-Shiner frontman Allen Epley’s second act may not rock with as much muscle, but his raspy falsetto is still best in (math) rock. Overlooked and underdogged by default, Suburban Hymns' majestic melodies aren't easily forgotten.
11. Kanye West, Late Registration (Roc-a-fella)
With a glossier sheen than his debut, Kanye West strikes again with another killer batch of tunes. Jon Brion adds a classy edge to West's inherent crudeness, but the paring works, as "Gold Digger" should easily rank as single of the year.
12. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty)
Mini-folk orchestra is an oxymoron to be sure, but Sufjan Stevens creates them effortlessly, as he weaves his tainted historical narratives with a delicately soulful falsetto. Slightly more optimistic than its predecessors, Illinois furthers the same formula with equally engaging and heart-rending results.
13. The Rosebuds, Birds Make Good Neighbors (Merge)
There's something to be said for a good hook. When that chord progression is just right, you can feel how good the song is going to be before it even hits the chorus. The Rosebuds pull back on the energy, while adding some darker hues, and the result is a more expansive and nuanced musical flow. The songs feel distant and melancholy, but the hooks save them from any accusations of indulgent wallowing.
14. Deerhoof, The Runner's Four (Kill Rock Stars)
Throttling back some of the playfulness of its earlier work, Deerhoof returns with another batch of giddy, schizoid pop, but this time things are more spread out. Thematically, the band is as bizarre as ever, but the beats per minute seem to have halved. That doesn't stop the band from experimenting, however, as The Runner's Four glistens with boy/girl vocals trade-offs and snaky riffs.
15. The Wedding Present, Take Fountain (Manifesto/Scorpitones))
David Gedge writes exquisite pop songs regardless of the name on the sleeve. And even though the return of The Wedding Present may not have been as raucous as some of us would have liked, it's still a luxury just to have this man sing through his flailing relationships with a permanently warbled cadence.
16. My Dad Is Dead, A Divided House (Unhinged)
As dramatic as they seem, Mark Edwards' deadpan tales of woe never crossed the line into the emotional bedwetting party introduced to the world via emo. No, his version of pain is more cerebral and stoic. This album languished under the radar, just like the bulk of his career. All the same and more of it, this album still hits you where it hurts.
17. M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us (Mute)
With the addition of vocals M83 has much more focus, which is a diplomatic way of saying you can tell one song from the next. The cinematic layering of synthesizers ebbs and flows with actual goals, as opposed to the drifting, transient nature of Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. The debt to My Bloody Valentine notwithstanding, Anthony Gonzalez surges ahead with his ghostly vision and an arsenal of soundscapes that actually serve an end.
18. Broadcast, Tender Buttons (Warp)
With a noticeably scaled-down sound Broadcast wiggles away from expectation and turns out its most puzzling yet rewarding record to date. Upon first listen, the record feels half-baked, unfinished with ideas sprouting in unexpected tangents. But the streamlined synths and gossamer vocals shake off any preconceived notion of a Broadcast record and open up doors for experimentation that would have previously been impossible.
19. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Matt Sweeny, Superwolf (Drag City)
Will Oldham's warbling rarely has anything stronger than a clumsily strummed guitar to back it up. With Matt Sweeny on board on guitar, he provides Oldham with a much huskier foundation. Oldham mines familiar terrain with songs that wouldn't sound out of place on I See A Darkness, but the extra grit in guitar adds a level of intensity only known in Oldham's world in rare live incarnations.
20. Sleater-Kinney, The Woods (Sub Pop)
Sleater-Kinney bristles with energy and raucous noise on the most thunderous album of its career. Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein trade whopping, fuzzed-out licks like they're been listening to nothing but Jimi Hendrix for years. Cranky indie pop takes a back seat to redlining rock.